Alvarez Resigns From Illinois Tollway

By Frank Conklin, The Chicago Times

March 15, 2022

SPRINGFIELD, IL – Another political appointee of Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker has resigned from the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority.

According to Pritzker’s office, Jose Alvarez submitted a letter of resignation that stated his departure would be effective immediately.  Alvarez was hand picked by Pritzker to head the allegedly corrupt and wasteful Illinois Tollway system.  Alvarez’s resignation follows the departure of Illinois Tollway System board president Will Evans.  Evans had struggled for power with Alvarez and attempted to take charge of day-to-day operations, but later resigned.

A Pritzker spokesman declined to comment if both Evans and Alvarez were asked to leave by Governor Pritzker.  Alvarez and Evans are connected with former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker.  Hooker became involved with the ComEd bribery scandal that now threatens to send former Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan to federal prison.

The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority was founded in 1941 and opened the first Illinois toll road in 1958.  The ISTHA oversees the construction, operation and maintenance of Illinois toll roads.  As of 2017, the ISTHA maintains and operates some 294 miles of tollways in northern Illinois.  The current budget for the ISTHA is a stunning $1.49 billion dollars.

FORMER ILLINOIS HOUSE SPEAKER MIKE ‘APPLES’ MADIGAN INDICTED

By Frank Conklin, The Chicago Times

March 2, 2022

SPRINGFIELD, IL – Former Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan was indicted Wednesday on 22 criminal counts including racketeering and bribery.

According to federal prosecutors, for decades Madigan, 79, used the power of his elected offices and professional position to further his personal criminal enterprise.  John Lausch, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois has also demanded that Madigan and a co-defendant forfeit $3 million in ill-gotten gains.  Madigan faces criminal charges for bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud, and racketeering conspiracy.

Over the past 40 years, Madigan allegedly built up his “Madigan Enterprise” while serving as a state representative and then jointly as the Illinois House Speaker and Illinois Democratic Party chairman.  Known for eating precisely sliced apples for lunch everyday, Madigan would often be seen calmly eating his apples plotting his next move to funnel business to his multi-million dollar law firm that appealed property tax rates to unsuspecting taxpayers.  Madigan and his “crew” allegedly received tribute and bribes to doll out favors to cronies.  Prosecutors claim to have secretly recorded Madigan’s conversations with Danny Solis, former Chicago alderman turn informant, in which Solis tells Madigan that he coerced a building owner to hire Madigan’s law firm.

“I was never involved in any criminal activity.  The government is attempting to criminalize a routine constituent service: job recommendations. That is not illegal, and these other charges are equally unfounded. Throughout my 50 years as a public servant, I worked to address the needs of my constituents, always keeping in mind the high standards required and the trust the public placed in me. I adamantly deny these accusations and look back proudly on my time as an elected official, serving the people of Illinois.” Madigan said in a statement.

Madigan was the longest-serving Illinois House Speaker, having held the position from 1983 to 2021 minus two years after being defeated by Republican Lee Daniels in 1995.  Daniels once claimed that when Madigan vacated the House Speaker’s office, Daniels discovered a small tin first aid kit on the desk. 

Madigan is expected to be arraigned on March 9.

Springfield To Address Teacher Shortage

By Janice Cameron, The Chicago Times

March 2, 2022

SPRINGFIELD – Lawmakers presented legislation last Thursday that proposes to solve the alarming teacher shortage that is plaguing Illinois.

The proposed legislation will extend the number of days retired teachers would be able to teach within a given school year, lower age restrictions for paraprofessionals, and waive substitute teaching licensing fees.

According to the Illinois State Board of Education, there are 4,120 teaching and support vacancies across 852 school districts within the state. The Illinois Association of School Administrators claims that 88 percent of school districts that responded to a recent survey reported a shortage of full-time teachers.  Furthermore, the Illinois State Board of Education claims there are 1,242 vacancies for paraprofessionals statewide.

Lawmakers declined to comment if the shortage is related to the rapid decline in population that Illinois has experienced over the past decade, which has cost the State one congressional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Illinois Judge Dismisses Pritzker’s School Mask Mandate

By Frank Conklin, The Chicago Times

February 18, 2022

SPRINGFIELD, IL – Governor J. B. Pritzker’s appeal of a Sangamon County’s ruling over school mask mandates has been dismissed by an appellate court early on Friday.

In earlier February, a Sangamon County judge ruled that Pritzker’s mask mandate was invalid.  Pritzker appealed that ruling to Illinois’ Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals despite the expiration of the mask mandate order on Sunday.

In a stunning vote, the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules voted 9-0 to not renew the mask mandate on Tuesday.  Sources within the Governor’s Office said Pritzker was furious by the vote and was heard shouting at staffers that he is in charge and shouldn’t have to deal with other branches of government.

Before the release of the decision of Friday, a three-judge panel ruled late Thursday that Pritzker’s appeal was “moot”, citing the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules objections and suspension of the Illinois Department of Public Health’s emergency rules.

“Because the emergency rules voided by the TRO are no longer in effect, a controversy regarding the application of those rules no longer exists. Thus, the matter is moot.” the panel wrote.

In the decision, the appellate court added that school districts are free to impose mask mandates or take other steps to address COVID-19.

Pritzker Touts Reelection Year Tax Relief

By Frank Conklin, The Chicago Times

January 31, 2022

SPRINGFIELD, IL — Governor J.B. Pritzker plans to present on Wednesday a reelection year budget proposal with $1 billion in one-time tax relief.  Many critics see this proposal as a reelection gimmick to buy votes.

Pritzker was set to present his budget before a joint session of the state legislature.  However, House members canceled the session after being frightened by a typical Midwest snowstorm that is expected on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Despite the cancellation, the Governor’s Office will release the plan to public. 

According to the governor’s budget office, the new budget proposes to temporarily remove a 1% sales tax on food, a freeze on the gas tax that is conveniently tied to the Consumer Price Index, and a small rebate of $300 dollars on property taxes.  The freeze on the gas tax is expected to save consumers a measly two to three cents per gallon.

Deputy governor Andy Manar said “It’s about groceries, gasoline and property taxes.  Those three things combined are what the governor is proposing to the legislature that we have a robust discussion about. And that’s tackling the impact that inflation is having on working families across the state.”

According to Illinoispolicy.org, Illinois property taxes are ranked the second highest in the nation.  Despite task forces and investigations, property tax reform has never been taken seriously at both state and county level.

Pritzker believes the temporary tax relief is necessary and will not be a long-term burden on the Illinois budget.  However, Pritzker hopes the temporary relief will help on the campaign trail as he seeks reelection.

Frank Conklin, Illinois Political Reporter/Columnist for The Chicago Times.  Views and comments expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the official position of The Chicago Times.

Plainfield Man Arrested After High-Speed Chase In Indiana

By David Slavik, The Chicago Times

January 21, 2022

LAPORTE COUNTY, IN – A Plainfield man was arrested Thursday after leading Indiana State Police in high pursuit chase in LaPorte County, Indiana.

According to Indiana State Police, state troopers were following a black Jeep Grand Cherokee with stolen plates southbound on Franklin Street.  After several minutes the Jeep sped off westbound on Interstate 94.  ISP pursued the Jeep onto I-94, which then exited onto I-90 where the it suffered a flat tire near mile marker 27.

Keyvon Johnson, 23, was arrested along with a male passenger.  Johnson, from Plainfield, Illinois, was charged with resisting law enforcement with a vehicle, theft, reckless driving, and possession of drugs, according to ISP.

ISP later said the Jeep was reported stolen in Plainfield, Illinois as part of a Facebook sales scam.