Illinois Public Media News
Owners of Champaign liquor stores say it's unfair to target one type of business in order to save three positions at the city's police department.
During last night's informational meeting on the suggested 4-percent tax in package liquor sales, those who run stores like Colonial Pantry and Sun Singer say the tax will hurt business, and drive their customers elsewhere.
And Picadilly Beverage Shop owner Jack Troxell claims enacting the tax will force layoffs.
"We're not in a high-margin industry," Troxell said. "We're in a volume industry with low margins. And that's the way it works. If your business drops off, you don't need as many employees. And when that happens, they don't have the same hours, and you can't afford to pay them."
Kam's and Pia's owner Eric Meyer said the liquor tax unfairly singles out an entire sector of business for just one cause. Meyer, who's also the Vice President of the Illinois License Beverage Association, suggests a tax closer to one percent.
The city council tentatively backed the liquor tax last month in order to avoid losing jobs, and ending overnight hours at the police department's front desk. Former Mayors Jerry Schweighart and Dan McCullom criticized the quick manner in which the council proposed the liquor tax. McCullom labeled it 'seat of the pants' decision making without time for deliberating, and Schweighart said when the city council quickly gave the tax their initial support, members abandoned a budget process he'd been working on the council with for months
Mayor Don Gerard, who defeated Schweighart in April's election, said he will consider other revenue proposals, but his intent is saving jobs.
"As the agenda was lined up that night, it was both or neither (the liquor tax and police cuts)," Gerard said. "So we had no choice. Now we can table this until July if we want, and we'll continue to discuss it, but as far as the hullabaloo from the former mayors about the manner in which I do things, well, I just do it a little diffferently, I guess."
The tax is expected to bring in $700,000, well over the $200,000 necessary to restore the police positions. The funds could also go to restore overtime at fire station 4 on Champaign's west side. The liquor tax is the focus of a study session next Tuesday, while business owners suggest different revenue streams, including a hike in the overall sales tax.
The cities of Danville and Decatur have more money to hunt down properties that may have hazardous chemicals sitting underneath them. The land may have once held gas stations, dry cleaners or manufacturers.
Danville will use a $400,000 federal grant announced Monday to investigate past records and eventually test a few of the sites that may pose the most problems to health or redevelopment. Decatur has received an identical grant.
Danville planning and zoning manager Chris Milliken says there may be as many as 300 properties that have some sort of underground contamination. So, he says the city will have to decide which so-called brownfields receive tests. "That includes sites around Danville High School and some other prominent locations," Milliken said. "The main factor engaging the importance of sites we want to pursue is going to be visibility, and then also the potential for redevelopment -- for instance, sites that are along North Vermilion or other developable corridors already."
Milliken expects it will take about a year to identify new sites and conduct testing on about 20 to 40 of them. Danville officials can use those test results to plan cleanups when money becomes available -- those cleanups could range from removing buildings to removing the soil underneath.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
Gov. Pat Quinn says he's calling lawmakers back to work in Springfield.
Quinn announced Monday he would be talking to legislative leaders about a date to come back because he says there's an outstanding issue with the state's capital construction program.
The Chicago Democrat says lawmakers adjourned last week without approving an appropriations bill so the state can spend money on its ongoing capital construction program.
Quinn says he wants the lawmakers back to the state Capitol promptly so work doesn't have to stop on projects around the state, including road, bridge and other construction projects.
Mahomet Republican Chapin Rose says this nearly $300 million re-appropriation bill is separate from a lawsuit pending before Illinois' Supreme Court over the Illinois Jobs Now! plan, saying the capital funds that legislators have yet to vote on are already in place.
He believes something will be worked out over a day or two in Springfield this summer, and Rose agrees there are some important projects in the measure. But he's not happy the way the bill was handled by Senate Democrats:
"We are talking about austerity, and trying to right the ship, and not spend more money on projects," said Rose. "So frankly, for the Senate Democrats to do this is highly cynical. But that's what they've chosen to do is highjack the construction part of the budget."
Champaign Democratic Senator Mike Frerichs says the construction issue may take longer than a day or two in Springfield.
"I think there's pretty much agreement on the need to pass the capital component of this," Frerichs said. "But there are some real differences of opinion on spending priorities between the House and the Senate that were also included in this bill."
The Senator says that includes new money attached to the bill in the Senate to help those with developmental disabilities and mental health issues, areas identified as priorities in the Senate Democratic caucus. Rose says the most important thing is that Illinois' operating budget passed last week, and that a vote on capital projects will have no impact on schools, universities, and everyday travel on roads and bridges. Quinn says if work stops on the projects it will throw 52,000 people out of work.
A survey on the greatest health needs in Champaign County has been broken down into four general areas.
The state requires the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District to complete a local assessment of needs plan every five years. After more than 11-hundred replies last year, priorities were identified as access to care (or paying for medical, mental and dental health), accidents (including DUI crashes and those in the home), obesity, and violence (including alcohol-related abuse and domestic violence.)
CUPHD Epidemiologist Awais Vaid says the county's current Community Health Plan was narrowed from 10 categories five years ago. He says public health is given no specific guidance on how to come up with the priorities.
"It's basically the community partners, the community leaders that get together and decide one what should be included," said Vaid. "But the last time we identified 10 of them, it became too much to address each of them, because each takes time and resources."
Vaid says community coalitions are being put together to address the four areas, each of them involving members of the public health district.
"The last time we finished the process, and thought as time goes by, some group will start addressing each one of these. It didn't happen," said Vaid. "So most of them were not addressed the way we were expecting to. But this time we do have specific groups that have a vested interest."
Yearly progress on the surveyed areas will be posted on the CUPHD's website.
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.
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.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the new head of the Chicago Public Schools plan to save $75 million by trimming administrative and non-classroom spending from the district's budget.
Emanuel and schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard announced the cuts Thursday.
The mayor's office says $16 million in savings will come from limited layoffs, eliminating some open positions and other reductions at the district's Central Office. Another $44 million in planned savings would come from minimizing debt servicing costs.
Emanuel says he's trying to cut bureaucracy so the schools can focus resources on supporting students and teachers.
Brizard says he wants to make the system more efficient so he can spend every dollar he can in the classroom.
Tax revenue keeps going up in Illinois, and that means a continued rise in an indicator of how well the state's economy is doing.
The monthly University of Illinois Flash Index rose.2 in May to 96.8. For the past two years it's been creeping ever closer to 100, the break-even point between economic growth and contraction. The Flash Index uses tax revenue from sales and income to measure the overall economy.
U of I economist Fred Giertz authored the index. He says a small portion of that increasing tax revenue may have come from rising prices on food and fuel. "Some tax revenues are stimulated by inflation, actually -- for example, the sales tax on gasoline," Giertz pointed out. "So it's not directly about that; certainly over the long run it would be related, but not over the short run. The more direct link would be something that came out (Tuesday) about consumer confidence."
Last month's confidence index dropped sharply - Giertz says that's a more significant result of higher food and gas prices.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn kept up his criticism Wednesday of the budget lawmakers sent him, and heaped scorn on a massive gambling plan despite the Chicago mayor's support for it.
The General Assembly forwarded to Quinn a spending blueprint of about $2 billion less than what he proposed, including a cut of nearly $300 million for schools and universities. The Democrat said lawmakers "didn't get the job done" but would not say what he would do with the plan.
"They kicked bills into the next fiscal year. That's not cutting the budget," Quinn said at a news conference. "You've got to invest in things that count, that matter for jobs, that matter for families."
With some of the strongest veto powers of any governor in the country, Quinn could strike out parts of the budget or reduce spending amounts. But he may not add money. Quinn would not say whether he would call legislators into special session in an attempt to persuade them to kick in more for schools and other of his priorities.
Quinn continued to lambaste the huge gambling plan that calls for five new casinos and slot machines at horseracing tracks, Chicago's airports and even the state fairgrounds.
"Most people in Illinois, when they take a look at the size of this, would say it's excessive, it's top-heavy, it's too much," Quinn said.
He said he would listen to constituents before deciding what to do with the gambling legislation, which supporters say would bring in $1.6 billion in upfront fees and $500 million or more annually.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel lobbied hard for the bill because it includes the first-ever gambling house for Chicago. Quinn risks alienating the new, popular mayor by saying "no" to the legislation.
"I'm beholden to the people of Illinois," Quinn said, "not to legislators, not to mayors."
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
A retired state legislator from Danville says Governor Pat Quinn would send a strange message if he approved a casino for Chicago and nowhere else.
During a Wednesday morning press conference, the governor described the gambling legislation passed by lawmakers as 'top heavy', but that he planned to listen to the people before deciding whether to sign or veto the bill. Quinn says he could envision a casino in Chicago if it's properly done.
Former Republican House member and current Danville Alderman Bill Black says he understands all the moral arguments against gaming, but favors a riverboat casino after seeing the economic benefit for cities like Metropolis and Joliet.
And Black says it's unrealistic to believe his city should focus solely on industry and agriculture.
"You can't just sit back and say 'I only want to attract a certain kind of job," said Black, "And I'm not going to lift a finger to bring in any other kind of job. So I realize it's controversial, I realize there's a downside, I realize that some people unfortunately will get themselves in trouble by gambling, but they do that now."
Black says he can't turn his back on a plan to bring in $300-million in private investment, along with construction jobs and 800 permanent positions when a casino is up and running. Black says he's written Governor Quinn, urging him to support it.
"I just said 'take a long look at it governor, because this is something that might pump enough money into Danville where we can help finance some of our own infrastructure projects," said Black. 'I know it's not a panacea, and I know it will not solve all our problems for the next 20 years."
The former legislator says he warmed the idea of a Danville casino in his later years in the legislature, citing improved security measures at riverboat casinos as well as better infrastructure for the facilities.
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