It's been a while since Indiana reported revenues exceeding projections, but that's what happened in May.
Indiana's State Budget Agency reported today that the state took in $1.2 billion, roughly $151 million more than forecasters projected.
The increase covers a nearly $90 million revenue shortfall in April.
"It is clear that individual income tax collections have improved dramatically in 2011 compared to 2010 due to strong employment and income growth," agency director Adam Horst stated in a written statement. "Payroll withholdings, the largest component of individual income tax collections, have consistently grown in excess of 6 percent throughout 2011. For April and May, individual income tax collections grew 20 percent compared to the same time period for 2010."
In this fiscal year, which ends at the end of June, Indiana's collected $128 million more in taxes that the state's forecasting committee projected.
Revenues are also up by over 9 percent this year than last.
The only down side to the forecast was gaming revenues for the state.
Horst said riverboat wagering tax collections again fell short of the monthly target, and now lag behind 2010 revenues by 3.4 percent.
"On the other hand, racino (horse racing) wagering tax collections continue to exceed monthly targets, and are running 7.4 percent ahead of 2010 revenues," Horst said. "Through May, total gaming revenues trail the revenue forecast by $13 million and are running $8 million behind collections for the same time period last year."
Northwest Indiana is home to five casino boats along Lake Michigan.
The stale gaming numbers come at a time when Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is considering signing a bill that would dramatically increase casino licenses in the state.
Under the proposed plan, a casino could be approved for a south suburban location, as well as for downtown Chicago. Either location could eat into revenues taken in by casinos in Northwest Indiana.
It's been six weeks since a Champaign County judge ordered the closure of an apartment complex between Rantoul and Thomasboro.
But public health officials say people continue to live there. Indeed, as of Thursday, there were several cars parked in front of a far east building, which had a new dumpster nearby and kids playing in the yard.
The first collection buildings in the complex, known as Cherry Orchard, looks empty from the main highway - County Road 1500 East. There appears to be no cars and no people.
In April, a Champaign County judge fined its managers, Bernard and Eduardo Ramos, more than $54,000 and ordered them to close down the property following a nearly four-year-old Champaign County Public Health Department case.
New painted words "For Sale" have replaced "Cherry Orchard" on a large, weathered wood sign. New phone numbers with the 202 area code have appeared. The property is listed for $1.3 million on this website. There is no longer a "for rent" sign.
The main entrance is blocked by an old telephone pole propping up a door turned on its side decorated by the word "Closed" in spray-paint. An electrical cord of some type serves as a make-shift rope between two trees that flank the main entrance.
By all appearances, from the corner of county roads 1500 East and 2700 North, the 11-acre, 68-unit apartment complex looks to be in compliance with the April court order.
A woman answered a call to one of the phone numbers listed on the sign, but pleasantly declined to give her name and said she would only discuss the details of the complex and its selling price with serious buyers. She said the complex was "empty, completely empty."
The Ramoses were accused of failing to legally connect sewer and septic systems for six of their eight apartment buildings on the property. The apartment complex has traditionally housed many migrant workers.
The Health Department had sought to stop the Ramoses from renting out the property until the septic system could be legally fixed.
Bernard and Eduardo Ramos have repeatedly declined to comment for any news stories about the complex - including not returning calls seeking comment and posting signs warning "media dogs" to stay away. After April's ruling, the pair flashed a sign at reporters that read "slander- lying" as they left the courtroom.
The Ramos incurred more legal troubles when they failed to show up for a status hearing in May, after reports that the complex had yet to be closed and tenants remained. They notified the state's attorney's office prior to the hearing to report that they were on an extended trip to Texas.
At the May hearing, Judge John Kennedy issued a civil contempt warrant and a criminal contempt warrant for both Bernard Ramos and his father, Eduardo. The arrest warrants each include a $10,000 bond. If arrested, the judge requires that the Ramoses post the full amount - a total of $20,000 each - rather than the typical 10 percent before they can be released.
Soon after, the complex appeared to have been closed down.
But health officials who regularly spot-check the complex have found people living there, and neighbors have reported to health officials that men are working on apartments during the day as well and that residents remain in the buildings.
A visit to the area on Thursday morning showed the same.
While the main entrance to the complex is closed, a second driveway - accessible further down County Road 2700 North - leads right to the far east building (noted as number 5 on the map below).
There appeared to be a work van and four or five cars parked in front of the complex.
There were also children playing out front.
Neighbors have also reported that new air conditioners have been installed in the windows and a new dumpster was placed nearby.
Health Department officials do not have the authority to physically remove anyone from the complex; however, they remain concerned about the safety and health of residents who continue to live there due to the conditions of the complex.
Health officials are also concerned that the Ramoses are preparing the place for additional tenants - migrant workers who typically move to the area during this time of year, said Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde.
As of Friday, Bernard and Eduardo Ramos have yet to be arrested on the outstanding warrants for contempt of court.
The County Board of Health plans to meet next week with officials from the county to see what options they can legally pursue to ensure that the apartment complex is vacated and the illegal discharge of sewage ends, Pryde said.
(Photo by A. H. Gorton of CU-CitizenAccess)
Recent Photos Taken of the Cherry Orchard Apartment Complex:
President Obama's administration took its first stab Wednesday at reversing Indiana's controversial ban on funds to agencies offering abortion services, primarily Planned Parenthood.
Donald M. Berwick, administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, sent a letter to Indiana's Family and Social Services Administration. Berwick said the law improperly bars Medicaid beneficiaries from receiving services from a qualified provider, as federal law requires. Indiana could face penalties if the law is not changed, he warned.
But Bryan Corbin, spokesman for the Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, said the state intends to fight for the law.
"We are reviewing the Center for Medicaid Services letter with our client, the Family and Social Services Administration to determine our client's options, but we will continue to defend the statute," he Corbin.
The Republican-led Indiana General Assembly approved the bill in late April. It was signed in early May by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, also a Republican, even though Daniels had sought a "truce" on social issues. The law bans $3 million the state receives from going to any agency that provides abortion services or to agencies that deal with Planned Parenthood.
The law also bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy unless there is a substantial threat to the woman's life or health.
At the time, it was thought that Daniels signed the legislation to appease conservatives as he contemplated a run for the Republican nomination for president, which he ultimately decided against. Daniels explained, however, that he supports the law because a majority of Hoosiers oppose abortion. He said women can obtain health care needs from providers other than Planned Parenthood.
Daniels said agencies that lost funding can have them restored if they cut ties to Planned Parenthood of Indiana. Planned Parenthood officials say 9,300 low income Hoosier women will or have lost coverage because of the new law.
The University of Illinois will spent the next several months researching the feasibility of a high-speed passenger rail line between Chicago and Champaign.
Governor Pat Quinn on Thursday announced the $1.25 million study for 220-mph trains. Such a line could also include cities like St. Louis and Indianapolis, and is meant to compliment an already planned 110-mph network connecting Chicago to other Midwest cities.
U of I President Michael Hogan says such a train can have a huge impact on regional economic development throughout the Chicago area. Hogan says this is also an area where the U of I can make a huge difference in the world of freight and passenger rail.
"The possibility of a high-speed rail link, bringing our two campuses closer together, facilitating that kind of big science and collaboration, and not just in engineering and hard sciences, but in the medical sciences as well," said Hogan. "The impact that could have in tranforming an already great university into a super power university."
The U of I, Illinois Department of Transportation, and a special advisory group will provide input throughout the course of the study. The Executive Director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, Rick Harnish, sits on the panel.
"Turkey is already running bullet trains," said Harnish. "There's 4,000 miles in Europe. There's 4,000 miles in Asia. And there's been bullet trains in Japan since 1964. All of those countries are enjoying faster, lower cost, and more reliable travel than we are today. This is what keeps U of I on the global map."
The study will involve the U of I's Rail Transportation and Engineering Center and the Department of Economics on the Urbana campus, and the Department of Urban Planning on the university's Chicago campus. The results from the study are expected late next year.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
The prosecution has begun an aggressive cross-examination of Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich at the ousted Illinois governor's corruption retrial.
Prosecutor Reid Schar asked Blagojevich if he was a convicted liar. Blagojevich answered yes.
Prosecutors likely relished the chance to grill Blagojevich. At his first trial last year - in which he was convicted of lying to the FBI - the ousted governor never took the stand and prosecutors never had a chance to cross-examine him.
During five days of questions from his own attorney, Blagojevich denied all the allegations against him, including that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
Earlier, Blagojevich tried to carefully explain conversations he had with his advisers in late 2008 about various ways he could leverage his power to appoint a U.S. senator.
The conversations were secretly recorded by the FBI, and the jury in Blagojevich's federal corruption trial has already heard them.
At one point, Blagojevich is heard talking with members of his inner circle about his desire to be appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services by President Barack Obama.
"If [HHS] was available to me, I could [appoint Obama friend] Valerie Jarrett in a heartbeat," Blagojevich said on the call.
Asked on Thursday morning by his attorney, Aaron Goldstein, to explain that statement, Blagojevich analogized it to saying, "If I could play center field for the Cubs, I would do that in a heartbeat, too."
Blagojevich testified he understood the cabinet appointment was not going to happen. He said that's because, in part, one of his friends and closest political supporters, the SEIU's Tom Balanoff, told him it was not a possibility.
Why, then, was Blagojevich still talking about the idea on wiretapped conversations with his advisers?
"It goes to one of my insecurities," he explained. "I was embarrassed by the flat out dismissal of the idea by [Balanoff]."
The ex-governor testified that he was "trying to not look too irrelevant to my staff."
Guided by Goldstein, Blagojevich reiterated that no actual deal was offered involving the cabinet job and a Jarrett appointment. He explained that no decision had been made.
Labor Union Gig
The testimony then moved on to another alleged scheme, that Blagojevich would appoint Jarrett if Obama was able to arrange for the governor to become a national coordinator for the labor advocacy group "Change to Win."
Blagojevich testified that such a job would put him in a position to "have my cake and eat it too." He said it would allow him to make money to help his family's finances, while being involved in an issue important to him, and allow for a possible - though admittedly unlikely - political comeback.
But once again, Blagojevich told jurors he wasn't sold on the idea and didn't try to make it happen.
"I never decided to do it," Blagojevich testified. "I ultimately didn't like the idea."
Non-Profit Advocacy Leader
Instead, Blagojevich said he started to focus on another idea he found "more appealing." He wanted to land a leading role at what would be a new non-profit that would advocate for children's healthcare.
At this point in his testimony, Blagojevich tried to further an underlying theme to his defense: that he was influenced by the words and assistance of his advisers.
Regarding the non-profit idea, Blagojevich said he talked to his top government lawyer, Bill Quinlan, "constantly and continuously" about how to form such a group.
Judge James Zagel has barred Blagojevich from employing an "advice of counsel" defense to the charges he faces. But he is allowed to state that informal advice from his staff contributed to his "state of mind." Blagojevich insists he was acting "in good faith."
Getting to Rahm
On one of the wiretapped phone calls, Blagojevich is heard chatting with his former aide, Doug Scofield, about the non-profit idea. They were trying to figure out the best way to get a message to then-U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, to see if he'd be willing to approach some big Obama donors to provide start-up cash for the advocacy group.
The ex-governor said he was being clear to Scofield that he didn't want there to be any commitments made to Emanuel, who at the time was the incoming White House chief of staff. They planned to ask John Wyma, an insider who was close to both Emanuel and Blagojevich, to be the emissary.
"I didn't want him to give the wrong impression that I was promising something I hadn't decided on," Blagojevich testified, referring, in part, to the U.S. Senate seat.
Blagojevich acknowledged he believed it would be "highly unlikely" for Emanuel to agree to help set up the advocacy group, but added, "Why not see if he'd be willing to help? You never know."
The ex-governor said he did not make the call personally, because he was "frankly being sensitive to Rahm."
The message apparently never got to Emanuel, who is now the mayor of Chicago. Testifying last week as a witness for the defense, Emanuel said he was never approached about a potential deal involving the Senate seat, and an advocacy group.
More Emanuel Contact
Earlier on Thursday, Blagojevich testified he talked, directly, to Emanuel three times about the Senate appointment.
The ex-governor said he raised the idea of appointing Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the Senate, in exchange for some sort of possible legislative deal with her father, House Speaker Mike Madigan.
Blagojevich said he believed Emanuel was "pleasantly surprised" that the governor was considering a Madigan appointment.
"[Emanuel's] a sensible guy and understood the politics as well as the good things that could be done," Blagojevich said on the stand.
Madigan "Mega Deal"
Blagojevich testified that "throughout the entire period, [Lisa Madigan] was always on my mind" as a Senate pick.
Blagojevich referred to a possible deal involving the Madigans as the "mega deal." He said he directed his deputy governor, Bob Greenlee, to prepare a document containing a legislative wish list that could be presented to Speaker Madigan.
"I love that document," Blagojevich said, noting it included an expansion of state-funded healthcare, passage of a statewide construction bill, and a written promise from Madigan that he would seek no sales or income tax increases.
"I couldn't get any of it done without Michael Madigan unless I found creative ways around him," Blagojevich testified. "But we needed him to do this."
Describing other items on the document, including climate change and poverty reduction initiatives, Blagojevich was warned by Judge James Zagel to read the list "without your campaign speech."
And he would have help making the deal, Blagojevich said. The governor said he had conversations about it with a number of U.S. Senate Democrats, including Nevada's Harry Reid, Illinois' Dick Durbin and New Jersey's Robert Menendez. He said they wanted Lisa Madigan to be appointed, and it was his hope that - should he choose to go through with the deal - "they would be the ones to broker [and] negotiate" it.
Blagojevich has yet to be cross-examined by prosecutors. But they are likely to point out, as they often have, that there was, in fact, no Madigan "deal," because the Madigans were not approached about it.
The former governor and his attorney tried to stay one step ahead of that argument. Blagojevich testified he was trying to "line up everyone I could [in support of the deal] before [making] the ask."
School lunches and breakfasts are sometimes a lifeline for children whose families face problems affording healthy food. School officials understand that and are extending school meal programs into the summer.
Starting Monday, Champaign Unit 4 food service crews will bring breakfasts and lunches to four community centers - they'll be available free to children under age 18.
Unit 4 food service director Mary Davis says the federally-funded program is there to fill the gap when school lets out and children on free or reduced-price lunches still need food.
"Especially now where jobs are hard to find and so money isn't coming into a household like it was, this is going to help all those households," Davis said. "It'll take a worry off their mind because it's both breakfast and lunch. So it does help."
Davis said people at the sites won't ask for proof of need. She said she expects the nine sites across the Champaign area will give out about a thousand breakfasts and up to two thousand school lunches every weekday through the end of July.
Six of those sites are open to anyone - the sites at the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club (201 E. Park Ave.), First Presbyterian Church (302 W. Church), Douglass Community Center (512 E. Grove) and Jericho Church (1601 W. Bloomington Rd.)open Monday. Sites at Carrie Busey and Stratton schools open June 13th.
On Friday, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is expected to visit another school meal program funded by the Department of Agriculture. Decatur's Boys and Girls Club is one of several sites in that city where the Summer Food Service Program is also taking place.
Trailing Ohio State 4-1 late in the Big Ten tournament opener, Illinois had to win to keep its season alive and had just two outs left to do it.
Right on cue, the Illini produced four runs in the bottom of the ninth to rally - and they weren't the least bit surprised they did it.
Their whole season, in fact, has been one big comeback to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 years. After opening the season 12-21, the Illini won 16 of their last 20 and won the conference tournament.
"We cut it close, I would say," coach Dan Hartleb said Thursday, laughing at his own understatement. "There's no doubt - we had to win the (Big Ten) tournament to get into the NCAA tournament."
The fourth-seeded Illini (28-25) will face No. 1 seed Cal State Fullerton (40-15) in Fullerton, Calif., on Friday. Illinois will play at least one more game over the weekend against either Stanford or Kansas State in the double-elimination regional.
The regional winner advances to the super regional round and a shot at going to the College World Series.
For the first time in a while, Illinois can lose Friday and keep playing, though pitcher Kevin Johnson isn't looking at the game that way. He said the now-or-never pressure suits him.
"I like to think about this game, it's make or break," said Johnson, a sophomore right-hander who will start Friday's game against the Titans. "I like to put that pressure on myself."
The Illini have played under that kind of pressure since their low point in April, a 4-1 loss to Eastern Illinois that left them in a deep hole. Hartleb said the game ended with a "pointed and direct" conversation with three key players - first baseman Matt Dittman and outfielders Willie Argo and Casey McMurray - whose early struggles explained a lot of what was wrong with Illinois.
"It was an ugly loss. We couldn't hit, we couldn't field. We played terrible," Hartleb said. "I just told them, 'You guys have to start producing for us to be successful. Forget about the past; we're gonna' judge you by your next 19 games.'"
Over the next couple of weeks, Hartleb said, those three came around and they brought the rest of the team with them.
Fullerton's 40 wins, No. 13 ranking and the 20 straight seasons the Titans have made it to at least the NCAA regionals sound like good reasons for the Illini to be worried. The Illini's Johnson said the Titans play small ball, an offensive style he prefers facing as a pitcher.
"We can't put any more pressure on ourselves," said Johnson, speaking by telephone from beside a pool in Southern California. "We've got nothing to lose.
State Representative Jason Barickman says he is running for the State Senate in the newly redrawn 53rd Senate District --- and for the seat held by his processor in the House --- Onarga Republican Shane Cultra.
During a tour of towns within the new 53rd district borders, Barickman, a Champaign attorney and chair of the Champaign County GOP, said he wants to straighten out Illinois' business climate, which he calls a national laughing-stock.
"Our business policies in the state are a disaster for small and mid-sized business owners," he said. "This state needs a different approach to how it governs and how it attracts businesses to come here rather than to leave."
If Barickman wins the 2012 senate race, it would be a first for him. He was appointed to his statehouse seat last fall following Cultra's move to the senate. Cultra had replaced Dan Rutherford, who is now state Treasurer.
Cultra said he will make his own campaign plans known later. He said pending legal challenges to the proposed redistricted maps could change their ultimate design. But Barickman said he believes that the maps passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature will go into effect without changes, noting that House Republican Chapin Rose of Mahomet has already indicated he'll run in the re-drawn 51st Senate District that includes all or part of 10 counties. Meanwhile, Republican House member Dan Brady of Bloomington said he will run for re-election in the newly redrawn 105th House District, which makes up half of the new 53rd Senate District.
The proposed 53rd district includes parts of McLean, Livingston, Ford, Woodford, Iroquois and Vermillion counties. Barickman's family has farmed in Livingston County since the 1830s. Barickman would have to move into the district from Champaign County if elected, and he said he plans to relocate somewhere between Normal and Pontiac.
"I have long talked about my interest in coming back towards McLean County, Livingston County where we farmed, and that is certainly on the horizon," said Barickman. "That's long been our intention, and we look forward to fulfilling that."