Illinois Public Media News
The president of the state Senate says Illinois should consider taxing the retirement income of some senior citizens.
Chicago Democrat John Cullerton said Monday that Illinois needs to overhaul its "outdated" tax system. As part of that process, the state could tax pensions or 401(k) plans for wealthier retirees.
He told the City Club of Chicago this could bring in roughly $1.6 billion a year, which could then be used to lower other taxes.
A spokeswoman says Cullerton would pursue the idea only if it was revenue neutral and had Republican support.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn said he hadn't seen Cullerton's proposal but would be willing to consider it in the interest of tax "fairness.
Events Friday tied to the Unofficial St. Patrick's Day brought in a large amount of people to East Central Illinois...thanks in part to the social networking website, Facebook.
Extra police officers from Champaign, Urbana, and the University of Illinois campus were stationed around the community to prevent major disruptions and maintain public safety. There were 364 people who received court appearance notices for charges related to indecent behavior and public intoxication, and more than half of those cases were people who lived outside the Champaign-Urbana area.
While these figures are up from 2010 and 2009, Urbana Police Lieutenant Robert Fitzgerald said he thinks his department did a great job during the night.
"The police departments were all out there in force to make sure that everyone was safe," Fitzgerald said. "I don't think we could change much in the next year than what we did this year."
Meanwhile, a University of Illinois student who was struck by two vehicles over the weekend has died. According to the Champaign County coroner's office, 21-year-old Bradley Bunte passed away late Monday morning. He had been in critical condition since late Friday night, when an eastbound van clipped him at University and McCullough in Urbana. Bunte was then run over by a second vehicle. He was a Champaign native and a sports reporter for the Daily Illini.
Urbana Police are not saying at this point if the incident was connected to the Unofficial St. Patrick's Day celebrations.
Gov. Pat Quinn says he will act this week on a bill that would abolish executions in Illinois.
Quinn said Monday that he's "going to act" this week, but not Tuesday. He said there's still information he wants to read and research he wants to do before acting on the legislation.
The legislation reaches Quinn after former Gov. George Ryan dramatically cleared the state's death row in 2000.
Quinn has said his decision will be based on his conscience. He has spent two months consulting with prosecutors, murder victims' families, death penalty opponents and religious leaders as he weighs his options.
Illinois is one of 35 states to have the death penalty. The state currently does not carry out executions because of the 2000 moratorium.
Opponents of a plan to locate a coal mine in Southern Vermilion County will take their concerns before the County Board this week.
Sunrise Coal, which is in the process of buying mineral rights, wants to build on the county line, reaching into Eastern Champaign County. The group 'Stand Up to Coal' is led by retired farmer Charles Goodall of rural Sidell. He contends that a mine would devastate water quantity and quality, as well as public health.
"They (Sunrise) actually started sending out land agents well before there was any public discussion of the issues that inevitably affect everyone, not just a few people who are leasing," Goodall said. "The community in that sense was heavily disadvantaged. I happen to think that in a democracy, we all ought to be involved in these big discussions."
Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon said it's good to get these issues out in the open, but he says there are no zoning regulations in place to prevent the mine.
"Homeowners should be well informed of what is trying to be built in your community, and whether you support it or not." he said. "And that's when you come to your land usage people and say, 'You know what? The best interest of us might not be coal. Or the best interests of us might not be a hog farm.' That's when the public gets to stand at the plate, but when there's no zoning, there are no regulations that says they can't do any of that stuff."
McMahon said it would take two years before a land usage plan could be developed in Vermilion County. Champaign County Board members learned last fall that the Illinois Attorney General couldn't block Sunrise from locating in the area.
McMahon said there are no agenda items addressing coal at Tuesday night's Vermilion County Board meeting, but least two opponents to Sunrise's plan are expected to speak. The meeting begins 6 p.m. in the board room in the Vermilion County Courthouse Annex building in Danville.
Chicagoans are paying steep prices at the gas pump lately. It's prompted one Chicago congresswoman to call for action against the oil companies.
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Chicago, said Monday gas prices are so high, they could create another recession.
"I think we need to put on the table everything, including dipping into the reserves, in order to avoid that," Schakowsky siad. She said the U.S. government should end its subsidies to oil companies because their profits are so high.
Meantime, new statistics from AAA show Chicagoans are paying an average of $3.72 per gallon at gas pumps. That's 37 cents higher than last month.
"We're seeing very, very high oil prices for, really, any time of the year," Beth Mosher, a spokeswoman for the organization, said. "The situation in Libya, the unrest in Libya, has prices very, very high."
Mosher suggests commuters stick to public transit - since prices aren't expected to come down for at least the next few weeks.
(Photo by Tony Arnold/IPR)
A two-week hearing begins Monday to determine the fate of Tribune Co. more than two years after an ill-advised $8.2 billion buyout drove one of the oldest U.S. media companies into bankruptcy protection.
The proceedings follow four years of tumult and intrigue at Tribune Co. The company has been through the disgrace of a bankruptcy case that has lasted far longer than planned, a CEO departure triggered by complaints about management's raunchiness and the whiff of a financial scandal fanned by a court-appointed examiner's conclusion that parts of the 2007 buyout had bordered on fraud.
The hearing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del., will affect the ownership of the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, The Sun of Baltimore, other daily newspapers and 23 television stations. The TV stations include Chicago-based WGN, which reaches more than 70 million homes nationwide, mostly through cable and satellite systems.
The hearing edges Tribune Co. closer toward shedding most of the roughly $13 billion that it carried into bankruptcy protection. If it can unload the debt, the company believes it can make money while it tries to adapt to a marketing shift to the Internet.
Judge Kevin Carey is being asked to choose between two competing reorganization plans. The plans differ in their appraisals of Tribune Co.'s current value and their limitations on which participants in the troublesome buyout can be sued for saddling the company with too much debt.
Either way, the outcome is likely to leave Tribune Co. controlled by its creditors. The new owners are expected to replace the patchwork management team that has been running the Chicago-based company since the previous CEO, Randy Michaels, resigned in October amid complaints about risque conduct.
Tribune Co., founded in 1847, filed for bankruptcy protection in December 2008, making it the first major U.S. newspaper publisher to do so during the Great Recession. The deep downturn magnified the challenges facing newspaper publishers as readers and advertisers moved from print to digital alternatives.
The slump prompted more than a dozen other newspaper publishers to follow Tribune Co. into bankruptcy protection. Like Tribune Co., several of them were saddled with billions of debt taken on during better times. Most of them have emerged from bankruptcy protection already.
The complex 2007 buyout engineered by real estate mogul Sam Zell complicated Tribune Co.'s effort to return to normal business operations. The allegations of financial conduct made many creditors less inclined to make concessions during negotiations on a reorganization plan. The independent examiner's report last summer prompted the company to back off one proposal.
This month's hearing makes it more likely that Tribune Co. will finally emerge from bankruptcy court this year. The legal fallout could last for years, however. Both plans envision creditors pursuing lawsuits in an attempt to recover more of their losses, and there could be an appeal of Carey's decision in the case.
The stakes riding on the resolution of the convoluted saga are expected to attract a crowd. Carey is setting up a video feed in an overflow room to accommodate up to 100 more people beyond the 175 spectators that can cram into his courtroom. The judge also is clearing space in the courtroom for more than 2,000 exhibits expected to be submitted during the hearing.
"It will take some time and involve some tedium," Carey said during a housekeeping hearing last week.
The hearings also could shed more light on Tribune Co.'s operations and the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that led to the Zell buyout, which took the company private and turned employees into part-owners.
Reams of documents in the case have been kept under wraps to protect what has been described as confidential business information. Carey so far has rejected requests to unseal the documents, but he has warned that some of the information could come out during the hearing because he doesn't plan to close the courtroom.
Tribune Co. favors a plan that would turn over ownership to the company's major creditors, including some that had helped line up the ruinous financing, which already has triggered lawsuits. It would shield the lenders involved in the buyout from lawsuits after the company emerges from Chapter 11. Opponents of the plan contend it would also block attempts to sue former Tribune Co. shareholders who received $4.3 billion in the buyout's first phase.
This proposal has the backing of Tribune's Co.'s proposed new owners - a group led by banker JPMorgan Chase & Co., distressed debt specialist Angelo, Gordon & Co. and hedge fund Oaktree Capital Management. It's also supported by Tribune Co.'s committee for unsecured creditors.
A group of creditors that owns Tribune Co. debt issued before the Zell buyout has proposed an alternative plan primarily because they want fewer limits on which parties can be sued for alleged fraud. The plan also contends these note holders, led by hedge fund Aurelius Capital, are entitled to be paid bankruptcy claims totaling $1.2 billion instead of $761 million offered in the proposal backed by Tribune Co.
Zell, still Tribune Co.'s chairman, has filed objections to both plans because he and a business arm, Equity Group Investments, would remain exposed to lawsuits alleging fraud.
The competing reorganization plans also came up with dramatically different estimates on Tribune Co.'s business value. The company-backed plan pegs it at $6.7 billion, compared with $8.3 billion in the Aurelius-led proposal.
Tribune Co. has been gradually recovering from the recession, primarily because of an industry-wide revival in television advertising. The company's revenue last year totaled $3.1 billion, 2 percent below 2009, based on court documents.
But the company still gets more of its revenue from newspapers and other publishing sources. Tribune Co. has predicted its revenue this year will decline 4 percent, dip another 2 percent in 2012 and slip 3 percent in 2013.
Those forecasts assume the new owners won't break the company apart by selling some of the newspapers and TV stations.
Union groups plan to continue rallying at the Indiana Statehouse to protest several bills supported by Republicans.
The Indiana AFL-CIO says it expects thousands to attend a "We Are Indiana" rally Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the west side of the Statehouse. Tuesday, unions are planned to mourn the "death of the middle class" with a New Orleans-style funeral procession.
Members of the AFL-CIO and other unions have been gathering at the Statehouse to protest what they consider anti-union legislation backed by Republicans who control the House and Senate. House Democrats are boycotting that chamber in an effort to derail some of the proposals.
Democrats say they won't come back until Republicans negotiate, but Republican House leaders refuse, saying they won't be bullied into dropping bills.
The Indiana House of Representatives could consider abortion legislation this week. The Indiana Senate approved two bills dealing with reproductive issues. Now, the House could take them up.
One bill would prohibit the state from making contracts or grants with organizations that provide abortions. Hospitals would be exempt.
Another bill would require a doctor to tell any woman who is seeking an abortion that life begins at conception, and that her fetus might feel pain. Planned Parenthood of Indiana says the bills amount to a legislative assault on women. The group's planning a rally at the statehouse Tuesday that's meant to kill the proposals.
It's not clear whether there will be debate, though. Indiana Democrats are in a legislative boycott related to labor unions.
About 80 Champaign employees, most of them in public works, are being asked to begin scheduling furlough days to reduce the impact of salary increases that went into effect last July.
City human resources director Chris Bezruki said the AFSCME union workers are being asked to take six furlough days between now and the end of August. He said the salaries of non-union city employees were frozen this fiscal year, but AFSCME received a 3-and a quarter percent raises. The union has responded to the furlough mandate by filing an unfair labor practice charge against the city of Champaign, alleging leaders negotiated in bad faith. Their complaint will go before the Illinois Labor Relations Board.
City negotiations with AFSCME Council 31 started in December. Bezruki said the two sides started to discuss the impact of furlough days.
"How many we need to take, and how we're going to do that?" Bezruki said. "How we're going to schedule it? What employee input should there be? Should they schedule a furlough day next to a holiday if they want, or things like that? They refused to make a counterproposal at all, and so we had declare an impasse just last month. And so now we're proceeding with implementing this process."
Michael Wilmore, a Staff Representative with the AFSCME union, said the city chose to ignore a number of other cost saving options, including a pay freeze, removing the cap on overtime pay to comp time, and starting a four 10-hour day schedule for public works. He contends the moves could have saved more than $200,000 additional dollars.
Bezruki said the complaint filed by AFSCME means the Labor Relations Board will request information on negotiations between the two sides, the proposals that were exchanged, and whether a hearing will take place. He said that process can be drawn out as long as six months.
A leader of University of Illinois graduate workers said the Urbana campus is actively working to soften the blow on those affected by a computer problem that meant taxes weren't withheld for seven years.
The payroll glitch on tuition waivers means 17 graduate employees will not see a paycheck for three months as the U of I owes thousands in back taxes. More than 250 other graduate assistants will be taxed for part of their tuition waivers starting this month, which could mean more than half of their pay.
Graduate Employees Organization co-president Stephanie Seawell said the U of I is actively meeting with the union to find solutions, but the two sides have yet to come up with a concrete plan.
"Hopefully we can find some sort of solution where they could spread out how they have to pay it," Seawell said. "Or in some cases, if they do a lot of teaching work, they might be able to be teaching assistants instead of the classifications that generate these sort of taxes."
The GEO said the deepest impact may be felt on international students, some of who have spouses who aren't eligible to work in the U.S. U of I spokesman Tom Hardy said the only apparent solution now for the graduate workers is taking out a loan.
"We are obliged to make these withholdings," Hardy said. "And we greatly appreciate the patience and cooperation on the part of these graduate students."
Hardy said graduate assignment classifications for many of the students vary on the Urbana campus, making it difficult to find a uniform solution. The U of I's change to the Banner computer system was only made in Urbana, and graduate workers in Chicago and Springfield were not affected.
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