Illinois Public Media News
About one in 10 restaurants in Champaign County failed a health inspection from April 2007 through April 2011, according to a review of inspection records by CU-CitizenAccess.org. But customers have no easy way of knowing just how sanitary the places at which they eat really are. Dan Petrella reports.
(With additional reporting by University of Illinois journalism alumna Jennifer Wheeler, CU-CitizenAccess reporter Pam Dempsey and UI journalism alumnus Steve Contorno)
Despite delays and debunked predictions-and a never-ending wait for Gov. Pat Quinn's decision on a gambling expansion bill-supporters of expanded gambling in Illinois say they expect to find common ground by Oct. 25, the first day of the fall veto session.
The bill, stalled for months due to policy differences, political infighting and Quinn's reluctance to increase gambling venues, remains a top priority.
But the waiting game may be ending soon. Unless Quinn outlines his concerns "in short order," legislative leaders will present him with their own version of a clean-up gaming bill, known as a trailer bill, that will tighten control over the proposed Chicago-owned casino, according to State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), House sponsor of the bill. Other revisions may be coming as well, Lang said.
The options will be limited: Any change risks losing a vote on a bill that was a delicate balance of interests among Chicago, struggling cities such as Danville and Rockford that want new casinos, the horse racing industry and places like Joliet and Aurora where existing casinos fought the increased competition.
An amendatory veto, which would allow Quinn to change the bill and send it back to lawmakers for a re-vote, would be an unwise choice, Lang said.
"Substantial changes would put the speaker in a position of weighing compliance with the (Illinois) constitution on the amendatory veto," said Lang, who is House Speaker Michael Madigan's floor leader. "That's not a good way to go. If the governor thinks we're going to have substantial changes by way of amendatory veto, I think he's mistaken."
Whether lawmakers' power play will work remains to be seen. Quinn is occupied by daily state budget pressures. He announced Thursday a series of employee layoffs and facility closings that also will be a top item of negotiation during the fall veto session.
For now, the gambling bill that narrowly passed the legislature in May is not on Quinn's desk. In an unusual legislative gambit, Senate President John Cullerton is holding the bill in his chamber, even though it passed, for fear the governor will veto it. And by delaying, he is buying time for an ongoing negotiation. Once the bill reaches Quinn, he must act within 60 days or it becomes law.
Lang, along withSenate sponsor Terry Link, a Democrat from Waukegan, and Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, have been waiting for more specifics from the governor on which parts of the bill make him uncomfortable, but so far the governor has not been forthcoming. Lang and other proponents of the gambling expansion bill spent months crafting legislation with the right ingredients to win approval from a diverse General Assembly. The bill passed the House with only five votes to spare. It passed the Senate with the minimum 30 votes. If Quinn vetoes the bill, lawmakers would need to override his action with supermajorities in both chambers. Supporters would need six more votes in the House and six more in the Senate-likely an impossible threshold on such a controversial piece of legislation..
The more realistic option is to craft a trailer bill that addresses Quinn's concerns while keeping the original bill's vote intact. Starting over, bill sponsors said, is not an option. Many lawmakers who voted against the bill opposed it on moral grounds or voted "no" to protect existing casinos in their districts, which would be hurt by the competition. Ten casinos already exist in Illinois in Elgin, Aurora, East Peoria, East St. Louis, Metropolis, Rock Island, Alton and two in Joliet. The newest casino opened in July in Des Plaines.
Other lawmakers who voted against the bill feared more gambling would not play well in their districts. Those minds would be difficult to change, especially in an election year when they are running in new territories. The boundaries of all House and Senate districts will change for the 2012 election cycle because of redistricting.
When lawmakers return to Springfield this fall for a two-week veto session, some of them may not know whether they are facing competition next year.
"During the periods of time we'll be in Springfield for veto session, the time to circulate nominating petitions (to get on the ballot) will still be going on. So some legislators will be a little nervous about that," Lang said.
Even a follow-up gambling bill addressing Quinn's concerns could be tricky. Just a few cold feet would topple the coalition Lang and Link created last spring to pass the original bill.
For example, Link was able to bring reluctant Republicans on board, including state Sen. Larry Bomke of Springfield, by adding a year-round horse-racing component at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Lang pulled House colleague Luis Arroyo, Democrat of Chicago, into the "yes" column by promising a stream of casino revenue to a fund that would help homeowners facing foreclosure.
They convinced downstate representatives who would not benefit directly from expanded gambling to support it anyway by committing new money to county fairs, a source of pride for farming communities. They included a Danville casino to the bill, which added one senator and two state representatives as supporters.
As a result, the bill is a delicate pyramid of political trades. Any significant changes from Quinn would be a major setback.
"The timeframe is veto session or game over, right?" said Tony Somone, executive director of the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association, who says the bill is the last hope to save his industry. "I think we've showed the governor how our industry is on life support and we need him to sign the bill as is."
In addition to policy differences-Quinn said from the beginning the bill was too big-political infighting has slowed it down.
Quinn and Cullerton share a mutual lack of trust. One flare-up in May prompted Cullerton to call the governor "irrelevant" during state budget negotiations. Cullerton has refused to send Quinn the gambling bill until they reach a compromise, fearing Quinn might remind the legislature of his relevance by vetoing it outright. The bill is trapped in limbo between Cullerton's desk and Quinn's indecision.
The legislation would create the nation's first city-owned casino in Chicago, along with four others around the state. The measure also would allow the state's five horseracing tracks and Chicago's two airports to add slot machines, and it would allow existing casinos to expand.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who wants the bill, cranked up the pressure on Quinn several times already and is planning more. The Chicago City Council on Thursday approved a resolution supporting a new casino. In mid-summer, Emanuel publicly unveiledthe projects a new casino would fund and organized a news conference of minority aldermen who called on Quinn to sign the bill. Emanuel also is expected to drum up more publicity by working with downstate groups who want Quinn to sign the bill.
Last week, Emanuel hosted a tour for General Assembly members, bringing them on Chicago Transit Authority buses to the National Teachers Academy to meet with Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, followed by a visit to the 911 Emergency Communications Center. They ended the visit at a Millennium Park reception. The Chicago casino wasn't an explicit topic of conversation, but the tour gave Emanuel a chance to outline the city's needs.
Like all of Emanuel's moves, the timing was strategic. Lawmakers next month will be addressing the casino bill, however it plays out. Emanuel desperately wants it. The projected revenue boost for the city alone is an estimated $650 million annually, a huge cash cow for a city facing its own budget pressures.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
President Barack Obama urged a joint session of Congress Thursday night to pass a job creation scheme valued at around $450 billion. The plan is getting support from several possible contenders in the newly drawn 13th Congressional District race, which includes Champaign, Decatur, Bloomington, Springfield, and the Metro East area near St. Louis.
President Obama describes the jobs legislations as a balanced plan that would reduce the deficit by making additional spending cuts and modest adjustments to health care programs, like Medicare. That worries David Gill, an emergency room doctor in Bloomington who is the only Democrat to officially enter the race in the 13th Congressional District.
"I certainly would not weaken Medicare and I wouldn't make it more difficult to become a Medicare recipient," Gill said.
Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Urbana), who plans to run for re-election, said he likes the President's plan on the surface, but he said he isn't ready to come out at support it just yet. Johnson said he want to know more about how the legislation would impact the economy.
"What meat is structured on the bones over the course of the next few weeks is critical to the success or the lack of success of this program, and how that will play out in the economic future success of America," he said.
The President said he will ask a newly-formed congressional "super committee" to come up with a plan to pay for the proposals that are outlined in the jobs legislations.
The measure would offer different types of tax credits to businesses that hire new workers. Collinsville Democrat Jay Hoffman is considering a run in the 13th Congressional District. The former Illinois House Representative said those tax credits should focus more on companies that create additional jobs, rather than simply bringing on new employees
"Incentives should be geared toward providing incentives for businesses that actually add people to their payroll," Hoffman said. "Give employers an incentive to put them to work."
Truck driver Sam Spradlin, a Springfield Republican, is also considering a run for the 13th Congressional seat. He said he wouldn't support the measure. One of his objections to the jobs bill is that it looks at cutting the Social Security payroll tax for tens of millions of workers and employers.
"Cutting the payroll tax period is a big mistake," Spradlin said. "It's a continual source of revenue for the government. That's one thing they should not be cutting right now."
The President also talked about pumping money into infrastructure projects. That excited Greene County State's Attorney Matthew Goetten, a Democrat, who recently expressed interest in the Congressional seat.
"I would add projects utilizing our District's strong agri-business heritage." Goetten said. "From the Mississippi and Illinois rivers near my home to the cutting-edge agricultural research of my alma mater, and every farm in between, we have a resource rich area with a hardworking labor force ready for further economic growth with the right investment."
Meanwhile, the president's plan is getting bipartisan support from the Illinois congressional delegation, but several lawmakers are concerned over the details of the plan and how it will be funded.
Rep. Randy Hultgren (R- Winfield) said he likes the president's plans to encourage small business growth and hire more veterans. But he said he does not like Obama's plan to pay for the measure.
"You know, spend this now, and then we'll figure out over the next ten years, you know, where we could make cuts to pay for it," Hultgren said. "I think people are tired of that. They've seen through that game of 'Trust us - we're gonna pay it now, and then we'll find it somewhere else, you know, 10 years down the line.'"
Representative Danny Davis (D-Chicago) said he doesn't see much room for debate in the proposal. He said the speech was designed to bring politicians together, not draw partisan lines in the sand.
"When you consider that it focuses around rebuilding our infrastructure - roads and bridges and highways, things you can't really do without - it's pretty often difficult to argue about that."
Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-Manteno) said he agrees with Obama's plan to reduce taxes, but he, too, is skeptical about how the president wants to pay for it.
"The president made a mistake in saying, you know, for forty minutes, 'This is paid for, let me tell you how,'" he said. "Then when he finally reveals it, it's just by adding $400 billion on to the target of the super committee - so in essence, spending the money up front, with the promise of cuts later."
Representative Dan Lipinski (D- Chicago) said he thinks the president should have focused on jobs earlier. He said he is most interested in seeing how much money the president wants to devote to transportation infrastructure.
"I think that the president took his eye off the ball on jobs, but now we look forward and hopefully we can come together and get something done," Lipinski said.
Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk said the president's call for free trade agreements with Panama, Columbia and South Korea would help some major Illinois businesses, such as Boeing and Caterpillar. But he said he's been told the bill is at least a week away from being ready.
"If I had counseled the president, I would've said that, 'If you're going to do a big, high-profile speech before a joint session of Congress, the bill should be on the podium.'"
Meanwhile, Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in his chamber, said the plan should stimulate economic growth without adding to the country's deficit. But Durbin said he doesn't like how Republicans acted cool to the president's $450 billion proposal.
"If (Republicans) don't believe that we need to be serious, focused and make a substantial investment in America, then this economy is not going to get back on its feet.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio and The Associated Press)
Gov. Pat Quinn says the layoffs and closures he's announcing are a direct result of lawmakers' choices on the Illinois budget.
He said Thursday that members of the General Assembly can't vote to slash the budget and then complain if that requires closing state facilities and cutting jobs.
The Democratic governor said lawmakers need "a rendezvous with reality.'' He announced that he wants to layoff more than 1,900 people, and close seven prisons and mental facilities around the state.
"It's only somewhat comforting that Pontiac Correctional Center was not mentioned," State Sen. Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) said in a statement. "The Livingston County area has dealt with facility closure twice. Any cuts to security staff at our correctional centers should be considered extremely short-sighted. I expect the announced closure of Logan Correctional Center will only negatively affect our correctional system."
State Representative Jason Barickman (R-Champaign) questions why Governor Quinn can't manage with the dollars that are available. The freshman lawmaker says he's not sure how lawmakers will able to address the cuts this fall, but says cuts need to be across the board.
"Over the course of the last 5 or 10 years, you've seen social service providers get hit tremendously hard, and disproportionate to maybe some of the other areas in the budget," said Barickman. "We all recognize that there's a limited amount of means that our government can and should spend. But again, just targeting some specific places is not necessarily the best way to lead the state."
State Representative Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana) says legislators need to look at the Governor's cuts as a proposal, and a call to action during the fall veto session. Jakobsson says she's not sure what will happen when legislators return to Springfield, but says she's already looking where the residents will go should the three mental health facilities and two developmental centers indeed close.
"In fact, many people would like to see more community-based facilites, so that people can live in the community, and have a greater quality of life, and be near families or the communities that they're familiar with," said Jakobsson.
But Jakobsson says any closures, that have been discussed in the past, should happen on a gradual scale. A document from Governor's office indicates all the facilities are targeted to be closed by the end of next March, and some by the end of 2011.
State Representative Chad Hays (R-Catlin) says he doesn't understand why Quinn would push for these cuts, especially after lawmakers earlier this year approved a 67-percent income tax hike designed to boost revenue. Hays says it's unrealistic for Quinn to expect that the tax increase would improve the state's economy.
"The governor got exactly what he wanted without a single Republican vote," he said. "A massive tax increase was muscled through, and five minutes was muscled through, and five minutes later he's crying foul, we don't have any money. You can't have it both ways."
Advocates say the proposed closure of five Illinois facilities for mentally ill and developmentally disabled adults must be handled with care. Tony Paulauski heads the Arc of Illinois, an advocacy group for people with developmental disabilities. His group has pushed to move residents to community settings, and he said that has proven successful in other states.
"If it's funded that we can transition people from state institutions to community living then that's a good thing," Paulauski said. "I'm hoping this isn't totally driven by dollars and cents. That wouldn't provide safe transition for those folks in state institutions."
Paulauski said money should be set aside to make sure community care is available and time is given to families having to make location choices.
Even though the budget cycle has about nine months remaining, Quinn said he is starting the process of working within the financial restrictions lawmakers laid out.
"Decisions made by members of the General Assembly I may or may not agree with, but once they have adopted their budget, it is now the law of our state," Quinn said. "We have to implement this in a responsible manner."
That would violate an agreement Quinn struck with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The union is almost certain to sue.
The major public employees union in Illinois said it will fight Governor Pat Quinn's threat to close 7 state facilities and lay off close to 2,000 workers. Anders Lindall is a spokesman for the union AFSCME.
"These cuts would throw those thousands, up to 2,000 working men and women out of a job," Lindall said. "People who get up everyday, and do often thankless, frequently difficult, and in the prisons and elsewhere, real dangerous work - the real work of state government."
The union - like Quinn - said the moves could be avoided if the legislature appropriates more money when it meets next month.
The governor should not count on support from State Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine).
"He has come here to lecture the General Assembly, to spend even more," Murphy said. "That tax increase that was sold as temporary, how temporary does it look right now when it doesn't even pay the bills we have today."
The closures and layoffs wouldn't take effect for several months. A legislative committee will examine Quinn's proposal, but does not have the power to block it.
The list of the seven state facilities Gov. Pat Quinn has targeted for closure due to Illinois' budget deficit and the number of workers at each location, according to the governor's office:
_ Tinley Park Mental Health Center - 195 staff members
_ Singer Mental Health Center - 150 staff members
_ Chester Mental Health Center - 464 staff members
_ Jacksonville Developmental Center - 420 staff members
_ Jack Mabley Developmental Center - 163 staff members
_ Logan Correctional Center - 270 security guards and 87 non-security workers
_ Illinois Youth Center-Murphysboro - 101 staff members
A federal judge has ruled against state employees in a dispute over whether Gov. Pat Quinn can cancel raises promised in union contracts.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said Thursday it will appeal the ruling.
The union says Judge Sue Myerscough questioned the governor's actions and said he could simply have asked legislators for more money rather than canceling raises. But she ultimately ruled Wednesday that his action wasn't an illegal "impairment'' of the contract.
The Democratic governor canceled raises that were supposed to take effect July 1. His move affected about 30,000 state government employees.
Quinn said lawmakers didn't provide enough money to provide the required raises and still keep government running for a full year.
A top Indiana legislator is asking state university officials to defend tuition hikes made over the last decade.
State Budget Committee chairman Jeff Espich says that growth in tuition costs at public universities "far outpaces'' inflation and the growth in Hoosier incomes. He noted that in 2000 average in-state tuition rate accounted for about 12 percent of per capita income. That average is expected to grow to 19 percent of income by 2013.
Representatives from Indiana University, Purdue University and other state universities are expected to testify Thursday during a budget committee meeting.
University leaders have argued that tuition increases have been necessary to maintain education quality during a time of reduced state funding.
A new state report finds that nearly 2,300 workers at eleven Illinois companies will be laid off in the next few weeks.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports the information from an August report by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Among the cuts are about 630 at Chicago Restaurant Partners, nearly 500 at an Edwardsville warehousing and storage company and nearly 200 at Lowe's Home Centers.
Employers must inform the state before any mass layoffs under the Illinois Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. Mass layoffs include 250 or more full-time employees or 25 or more full-time employees if they consist of more than a 1/3 of full-time workers at a company.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says he'll announce further budget cuts later this week, and Quinn indicated Tuesday that he will include layoffs.
If the layoffs move forward, then that would break an agreement the governor made with the major state employee union.
The governor would not say how many layoffs to expect.
"We have to do what we have to do in order to make sure we get through this fiscal year with the appropriation that the General Assembly provided," Quinn said.
Quinn said lawmakers didn't appropriate enough money for him to keep his agreement with AFSCME, the union representing thousands of state employees. Before last year's election, he signed a deal with the union, pledging not to close facilities or lay off any workers though mid next year. But he has already broken part of the deal, earlier this summer when he halted pay increases.
Anytime somebody enters into contract, you expect them to live up to it," AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said. "And anytime somebody gives you their word, you expect them to keep it."
But Quinn said he's not betraying the union. He claims union agreements are always subject to appropriations from the General Assembly, and if "the General Assembly appropriates less money, then everyone has to adjust to that."
That fight is still taking place in court.
"Those who are unhappy about any cuts really should visit their members of the General Assembly, their representatives and senators," Quinn said.
That said, Quinn denies the layoff threat is just an effort to force lawmakers to appropriate more money.
Meanwhile, not all lawmakers are believing the governor's threats to cut state workers and close facilities.
Senator Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) said he hopes Quinn is serious about reining in the cost of government, but Murphy said he is also skeptical.
"My worst fear is this is sort of a political stunt on the part of the governor to go in to areas represented by Republicans and dangle large job losses to try to pressure support for his almost 9 billion dollar borrowing scheme," Murphy said.
Quinn wants to borrow to pay off a large backlog of bills but Republicans have blocked it. While Murphy has said he doesn't want to borrow or give the governor additional spending authority, some of his fellow GOP lawmakers, like State Senator Larry Bomke (R-Springfield) are less opposed to those approaches.
"What my suburban colleagues feel is the right thing to do, that's up to them," said Bomke, who represents a large number of state workers. "I'm all for keeping people gainfully employed and not laying people off when it's not necessary."
The issue is expected to get attention when lawmakers begin their fall session next month.
A group of Illinois lawmakers are scheduled to travel to Cuba on Tuesday, in hopes of striking deals between Cuban officials and Illinois businesses.
Representative Dan Burke of Chicago will be going on what he calls a learning mission for him and other legislators. The Democrat said Cuban imports and exports with Illinois have dropped dramatically in the past, but he thinks now is a good time to turn things around.
"Being an agricultural state, we have everything that they would potentially need, I think the controls over the commerce and industry in Cuba has been lessened in the last few months so there are business opportunities for our state based companies that might be pretty dramatic," Burke said.
Burke said the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba is a reason for a decrease in exports and imports.
Taxpayers won't be footing the bill for the trip, as lawmakers will be paying their own way from either personal funds or their political accounts. Burke said the group will publish a report of the trip when they return home.
This isn't the first time Illinois politicians have visited Cuba. Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan was the first sitting U.S. governor to visit Cuba after Fidel Castro took power.
Republican Congressman Tim Johnson of Urbana says he will introduce legislation that would require lawmakers to approve a budget every two years, rather than each year.
The measure would also establish an appropriations cycle starting Oct. 1 of each odd-numbered year, and any budget or appropriations bill passed by one chamber would have to be voted on in the other chamber within a two-week period. Johnson said there also couldn't be any hods, filibusters once one chamber acts.
Johnson said his budget plan will also give the federal government more time to assess how well agencies and departments use money that they are appropriated.
Illinois, which has a multi-billion dollar budget deficit, is on an annual budget cycle. Meanwhile, Indiana passes a budget every other year. Johnson said Indiana's billion dollar surplus is a testament that such a plan works.
"They have a surplus every year," Johnson said. "Look at what we're doing in Illinois. Illinois is an abyss of fiscal stewardship. No state in the union is operating worse than Illinois, and it has for years. So, if Indiana is our partial model, and looking at the results they have, I in many ways am glad to look at the model."
But John Ketzenberger, president of the non-partisan Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, said there isn't much connection between his state's budget cycle and its surplus. He noted that there are other reasons why Indiana has a surplus.
"There were more than a billion dollars in cuts," Ketzenberger explained. "When the recession started, more than a billion dollars in reserve, and the state used about $2 billion dollars in federal stimulus money over the course of the recession."
Ketzenberger said Indiana's biennial budget plan has helped the state by encouraging more fiscal discipline.
Johnson is running for re-election in a newly drawn 13th congressional district, which includes Champaign, Decatur, Bloomington, Springfield, and the Metro East area near St. Louis. He said he expects to get bipartisan support for his legislation.
His Democratic challenger, David Gill of Bloomington, said he would also support a two-year window for approving the federal budget. However, Gill criticized Johnson, saying his decision to vote against raising the nation's debt ceiling shows he doesn't have any credibility in tackling budget issues.
"The fact that he voted against that bipartisan deal to raise the deficit after the Democrats had compromised, and bent over backwards in terms of spending cuts and any kind of increased revenues," Gill said. "That makes me question where he's coming from and how much of his proposal for a two-year budget simply is playing politics."
Gill ran unsuccessful bids against Johnson in 2004, 2006, and 2010. Former Illinois lawmaker, Democrat Jay Hoffman of Collinsville, is also considering a run for the Congressional seat, but he hasn't announced his candidacy.
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