Illinois Public Media News
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
Three legislators and Danville's mayor are happy to see plans for a casino in the city remain intact after a review by Gov. Pat Quinn.
But Catlin Republican House member Chad Hays said removing slot machines at racetracks from the gaming measure will keep it from passing. He said backing of the bill for many downstate House lawmakers hinged on connections between horse racing and agriculture. Revenues from the racetrack slot machines would have gone toward conservation districts and county fairs.
Hays sad there are still options, including an override of a gubernatorial veto, but he said getting the necessary votes in the Senate is a long shot.
Hays noted that Senate President John Cullerton could introduce a 'trailer bill' to try and accommodate the governor, but he said he believes that won't get the necessary backing without the so-called 'racinos.'
"Being close enough to the process, and knowing the members on the (House) floor, where they are geographically, and what their relationship is to agriculture," Hays said. "I think you would lose a significant number of votes, probably 15 or 16 at least, if the 'racinos' would not be in the bill."
Hays said Quinn also has the option of taking no action once getting the bill over a period of 60 days, too late for any action in the veto session.
Champaign Senator Mike Frerichs said it was good to see Gov. Quinn recognize that Danville made a compelling case for a casino, and put forth some suggestions of his own. But he agrees that Quinn's removal of slot machines at racetracks, will cost a number of votes from downstate lawmakers because of the slot machines' benefit to agriculture.
Frerichs called Quinn's comments a good starting point, but he said a lot of work lies ahead in order to come to a compromise.
"I believe the sponsors acknowleged there may need to be some changes in order to scale back the extent of the expansions," Frerichs said. "I think (Gov. Quinn) has scaled it back so far that the bill will have lost several supporters in the House, downstate members who feel there's probably not a lot left in for downstate in what he's proposing."
Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said he is excited that Quinn has recognized the need for a casino in his city, but he also fears the loss of the slot machines at racetracks and changes to the Chicago casino license could kill the measure. Eisenhauer said he will keep tabs on changes to the bill as legislators prepare to return to Springfield.
"I'll talk to different legislators around the state to get a feel for what resolutions for what might be offered up to find out what discussions are in fact taking place, and is there anything that we can provide that would help in those discussions," Eisenhauer said.
Eisenhauer also said he plans to visit Springfield during the fall veto session, which starts Oct. 25.
The gambling legislation passed the General Assembly in May, but Senate President John Cullerton has been holding on to the measure until Quinn gave details on what he would support.
"We will be sure to include them in the discussions going forward at the idea of trying to come up with an appropriate compromise that can pass both the general assembly and the governor's support," said John Patterson, a spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton.
(With additional Reporting by The Associated Press)
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says he can accept new casinos in Danville, Chicago and other cities. But he is drawing the line at allowing slot machines at racetracks, airports and other locations.
At a news conference Monday morning, the governor discussed his objections to a gambling bill (Senate Bill 744) passed by lawmakers, but not yet sent to him.
Quinn laid out a framework for gambling expansion that includes five new casinos that the legislation calls for, including Chicago, Danville, Rockford and two suburban locations. But he said he can't accept allowing slot machines racetracks, Chicago's two airports and other locations.
"I don't think anybody in Illinois wants 14 new gambling locations --- including the state fair, including our airports," Quinn told reporters. "When people get off a plane from another country or another state, the first thing they see are armed guards next to casinos? I don't think so."
Quinn also wants both suburban locations to be decided by the Illinois Gaming Board --- rejecting the Park City location named in the gambling bill for a new casino in Lake County. Quinn said cities should compete to host a new casino in the western suburbs, as well as another one in southern Cook County.
In addition, the Governor wants to change the rules for communities that don't want to host legal video gaming. Quinn said that with the expansion of gaming in other areas, communities should be able to choose or reject video gaming on an "opt-in," instead of an "opt-out" basis.
Quinn said the gaming bill passed by lawmakers has too many tax breaks and protections for casino owners, and fails to provide sufficient tax revenue for Illinois' education and infrastructure needs. He said the proposed tax structure in the bill would lower tax revenues from casinos, compared to existing tax rules.
Quinn urged lawmakers to craft a new gambling bill and not pursue the one they passed --- because he said he will veto it if it's sent to him.
Hundreds in Springfield and Peoria have joined the protest against corporate greed and economic disparities that began with the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York.
About 300 protesters marched in downtown Springfield on Saturday to join a global day of demonstrations. The Occupy Springfield rally was peaceful and there were no arrests. One protester, 55-year-old Joe Feiden of Petersburg, the State Journal-Register he was at the rally because corporations have too much political influence.
Another 300 people staged a march Saturday in Peoria. The Journal-Star reports the group plans to rally every Saturday and may set up a permanent occupation in a park. The mostly liberal protesters included some supporters of Texas Republican Ron Paul, a favorite of libertarians.
Another demonstration was held in downtown Champaign Saturday, where a group marched from Main Street to West Side Park.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
A couple of Champaign County Board members are offering very different suggestions to boost what's described as a healthy fund balance.
Democrat Brendan McGinty says the county has exceeded revenue projections this year by about 2-percent, and underspent as well. Meanwhile, the county has downsized through attrition and furlough days, and McGinty says he's still seeking ways to replenish a depleted fund balance, and what he calls 'bare bones' operations.
McGinty says one way would be to conduct an audit of the county's fee structure.
"A lot of people don't want to increase fees, and I understand that," he said. "But when you have not increased fees, and kept up with the cost of delivering services for 30 or 40 years, then you fall behind. And you're missing out on potential revenue that can help the health of the county and help employ the right number of people, because we're pretty trim right now."
One example is a hike in marriage license fees, which did recently go up from 20 to 30 dollars. McGinty says the few thousand dollars coming from it won't make much of an impact. The original proposal called for raising the fee to $75.
County Administrator Deb Busey told the board this week that revenue projections are actually up a bit. County Board Republican Stan James says county government is getting away from its intended purpose, like law enforcement and infrastructure.
"We're getting into a lot of programs that are sort of an outreach or an outshoot, and maybe we need to revisit those like we do with the quarter-cent safety tax," he said. "We give to youth groups. I'm not saying I'm against that, but I'm just saying that it's tax money that could be used to to pay the bills that need to be paid."
McGinty also endorses Republican Alan Nudo's suggestion of offering more private-pay rooms in the Champaign County Nursing Home. He says the county needs to work with hospitals to transfer patients needing long-term care. The state currently owes Champaign county $1-point-8 million in Medicaid reimbursements.
The days could be numbered for more than 30 postal service facilities in Champaign County.
The U.S. Postal Service has been holding a series of public forums about post offices and stations that may shut down in an effort to close a $10 billion budget deficit.
About 40 people attended a meeting Tuesday night on the University of Illinois campus to defend two of them - one station located at 302 East Green Street in Champaign, and another in the U of I's Altgeld Hall.
Retired U of I employee Margrith Mistry showed up to the meeting, urging the postal service to keep these facilities open. Because of their proximity to campus, Mistry said these stations are a valuable resource to international students who attend the university.
"I think with all the international students in there sending very expensive packages home to Korea, China, or somewhere," Mistry said. "It must be a gold mind. So, I just can't understand how they could think of closing that."
Scott Fraundorf, a graduate student at the U of I, said he has been using both stations at different times over the last five years. He said without them, it wouldn't be possible for him to visit a post office because of his busy schedule.
"I often work late either on my research or helping out the students that I'm teaching," Fraundorf said. "I don't have time to go home, and then drive off to the post office. It's really unfortunate that at a time when everyone is trying to save fuel, we'd now be faced with a situation where he would have to drive out somewhere to get to a post office."
Moderating the discussion was Mike Pfundstein, who manages nearly 130 post offices in east central Illinois. In total, he said the U.S. postal service is considering closing 3,700 of its facilities across the country.
"We've never had a proposal to close that many post offices," he said. "Usually, they are considered individually based upon local factors. This is the first time we've looked at closing post offices based on wide spread criteria."
Pfundstein said as the postal service decides which facilities to close; it will look at the amount of business each one gets and whether there are other mail distribution alternatives located nearby. He said post offices could begin closing early next year.
If the service stations in Champaign-Urbana end up shutting down, both cities would still have a downtown post office.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
Chanting protesters from two different groups have filled portions of downtown Chicago. The groups eventually joined forces Saturday afternoon.
Occupy Chicago is a spinoff of anti-wall Street protests in New York. They held signs and chanted slogans including "This is what democracy looks like'' before joining the Midwest Anti-War Mobilization rally.
That group gathered on the 10th anniversary of the start of the Afghanistan War to call for an end to U.S. military action there. Protesters planned to march past President Barack Obama's re-election headquarters and a military recruiting station.
Chicago police reported no arrests. A similar anti-war event was held at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus on Friday.
Meanwhile, downtown Champaign was the site of a noon-hour rally on Saturday, held by Central Illinois Jobs with Justice, along with members of the Illinois Education Association, the Channing-Murray Foundation, and the Service Employees International Union.
SEIU field organizer Ricky Baldwin says the march is meant to send a strong message to lawmakers that large corporate layoffs are not acceptable, especially after the federal bailout.
"We want action to create jobs, not to destroy them," said Baldwin. "The bailout recipients - if they're not going to use the money - to help with the economic problems that regular people are having, then they should pay the money back.
Governor Pat Quinn says the state could be re-structuring some of its debt in light of a report showing improved revenues from Illinois' income tax hike.
The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability says that growth is exceeding the rate of the hike, bringing in $1-point-4 billion last month. COGFA also showed a steady growth in income tax and sales tax revenues during the summer months.
With the legislature's fall veto session approaching, Quinn says the state is at a spending limit of just over $32-billion. But he says spending could be re-allocated within that limit, and help some of those anxiously waiting state funds.
"We can use that to pay bills that we owe, and we'd like to use some of the revenue to restructure debt we have so that those who are owed money, like the University of Illinois, get paid right away," said Quinn. "And I think that's something that needs to be addressed."
Governor Quinn was at the U of I Friday morning for the groundbreaking of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering's new facility.
The latest reading of the University of Illinois Flash Index shows some improvement in the Illinois economy. The Flash Index was at 98.8 for September, up one point from where it had been for the past three months. That number still shows the state's economy to be contracting --- the Index needs to break 100 to show economic growth. But 98.8 is the highest Flash reading since December of 2008.
Economist Fred Giertz of the U of I's Institute of Government and Public Affairs says the September improvement suggests that fears of a double-dip recession in Illinois may be overblown. But he cautions that results for a single month may be due to "transitory factors".
The Flash Index is based on income, corporate and sales tax receipts in Illinois. Giertz says revenue from all three taxes were up in September compared to a year ago --- after being adjusted for recent increases in tax rates.
Approval for new funding for the Champaign County Convention & Visitors Bureau has been put on hold.
The Urbana City Council Monday night was expected to vote on giving the bureau about $19,000, but instead, the council sent that issue to the Committee of the Whole with a few provisions.
Alderman Brandon Bowersox-Johnson introduced a motion calling for a contractual agreement to identify which services would be funded, and how those services impact the community. The motion also looks at whether 40 North Arts funding should be handled through the CVB or the city.
Bowersox-Johnson said this should resolve some of the concerns about funding the bureau.
"Simply writing a check is not all of the puzzle," he said. "There are other pieces that I think it's up to us to solve, and to put into place so that we know if the city of Urbana invests in the CVB what benefit we can expect it to bring to the community."
Even without the motion being introduced, it was clear the funding measure wouldn't pass on Monday night. It wouldn't have had enough votes with two members of the city council absent.
CVB Director Jayne DeLuce was at the meeting. She said she is ready to work with Urbana officials on the issues outlined in the motion, but she admits the council's decision not to vote on the funding is a setback.
"We want to grow," DeLuce said. "This area is growing. Champaign County has so much to offer, and when you're strapped with a minimal level of funding, and you're about the fourth lowest funded CVB at least in the state of Illinois, it's hard to keep moving forward with very little resources."
DeLuce said the bureau has to match more than $320,000 it receives in state tourism grants, and she said so far, her department been able to meet about 80 percent of that funding.
Back in July, Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said the agency has not been effective, and that the nearly $72,000 in the budget for the CVB could be used to help fill two police vacancies instead.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was in Chicago this week, promoting his new book "Keeping the Republic: Saving America by Trusting Americans." Gov. Daniels writes about the nation's growing debt problem, especially as it relates to Social Security and Medicare, and he explains how his own policies have helped turn his state's debts into surpluses. Speaking with Illinois Public Radio's Michael Puente, Daniels started off by talking about the potential damage of national debt.
(AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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