Joe Ferguson stepped down on Friday after 12 years overseeing Chicago’s Office of the Inspector General, the office charged with investigating and exposing waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement and corruption in Chicago’s government. Ferguson sat down for an extensive exit interview with The Daily Line’s Alex Nitkin to catalog a litany of issues he said are still undermining the public’s trust in city government, from lax oversight by the City Council to structural shortcomings in the Chicago Police Department and broken promises by Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot pitched her $16.7 billion budget plan for the 2022 Fiscal Year as an “investment in the success of generations to come.” But can the plan really help climb Chicago out of the financial hole it has been digging for decades? And will it position the city for financial stability after its $1.9 billion share of American Rescue Plan funding dries up? The Daily Line editor Alex Nitkin spoke to Chicago Chief Financial Officer Jennie Bennett, Budget Director Susie Park and Comptroller Reshma Soni about how they tried to build the mayor’s budget to stand the test of time. And Amanda Kass, associate director of the Government Finance Research Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, shared her reactions to the mayor’s budget plan and delved into the history of how Chicago got stuck with its infamous pension crisis.
After months of discussions, negotiations and delays, the Illinois General Assembly has finally approved a new omnibus energy bill aimed at moving the state from using traditional fossil fuels to be more climate friendly. The proposal, known as The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, was signed into law last week by Gov. JB Pritzker. To break down the various components of the new law, The Daily Line’s Joel Ebert talks with Sen. Michael Hastings, the Tinley Park Democrat who helped shepherd the measure through the Senate. For additional analysis of the new law, Ebert also talks to Colleen Smith of the Illinois Environmental Council about how the energy law compares to others states and Abe Scarr from the Illinois Public Interest Research Group about a provision that he says will continue to provide guaranteed profits for Commonwealth Edison.
The Chicago Police Department is the most expensive, and arguably most controversial, piece of Chicago’s nearly $12 billion budget. And as the City Council gets ready to pass a new spending plan for 2022 with the help of a $1.9 billion boost from the federal government, a battle is underway over how much funding should go toward police. Chicago Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20) and Emma Tai, executive director of United Working Families, talked to Alex Nitkin about what the “defund the police” movement means to them, and how they plan to advance its principles in the city’s budget when Mayor Lori Lightfoot and most of the City Council supports maintaining or growing funding for police.
The COVID-19 pandemic generated discussions in Illinois and all across the nation about the importance of affordable housing in new ways. This year, Illinois lawmakers introduced and passed several housing-related bills. On this episode, The Daily Line’s Joel Ebert discusses lawmakers’ work during the spring legislative session with Housing Action Illinois policy director Bob Palmer and Sen. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago). In separate interviews, Palmer and Feigenholtz share their views of the various bills approved this year and look ahead at other housing-related issues that remain on their radars.
While trees seem to be everywhere in Chicago, the city is having to remove trees faster than it can replace them, whether due to pest infestation or storm damage. And as the city is feeling the effects of climate change with higher temperatures and derechos, the importance of tree coverage across the city has come to the forefront. The Daily Line's Erin Hegarty spoke with Malcolm Whiteside, head of the city's Forestry Bureau, and Cook County Comm. Bridget Degnen (D-12), chair of the Cook County Environmental Commission, about the city's tree stock and what's being done to expand the canopy.
Sam Toia is an extremely visible presence around city government, whether he’s standing alongside the mayor at press conferences, lobbying aldermen behind the scenes or promoting public education and tourism initiatives. As president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association, Toia’s job is to advocate for eateries across the state — to make sure the restaurant industry is “at the table, not on the menu” for public policymakers, as he puts it. That job got much harder after restaurants were decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Toia has had a front-row seat to the panoply of federal, state and local programs that have been put in place to try to keep restaurateurs afloat. He spoke with The Daily Line’s Alex Nitkin about the deep toll the pandemic took on Chicago’s restaurant scene, and what it’s going to take for the industry to bounce back, including a new round of funding from the federal government and a purge of red tape by the city.
For months, Illinois’ top elected officials, including Gov. JB Pritzker, House Speaker Chris Welch and Senate President Don Harmon said ethics reform was one of lawmakers’ top priorities for this year’s legislative session. Little significant action was taken until May 31, the last scheduled day of session.
Despite the new proposal, good government groups and even the sponsors of the ethics reform package said more work is needed on the issue.
This week on the CloutCast, Joel Ebert interviews Alisa Kaplan, executive director of Reform for Illinois, about the latest new ethics bill, which now heads to the governor for action.