Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign County Board will get its first look Tuesday night at a proposal to raise salaries for countywide elected officials.
County Administrator Deb Busey's proposal outlines three options, providing the greatest increases to the county clerk, treasurer, and sheriff. The memo applies to fiscal years 2013 through 2016.
But County Board Chair and Democrat Pius Weibel, who would also benefit under the memo sent out by Busey, said he is leery of any increases when Illinois' fiscal situation is so unstable.
"The state has been erractic in making payments to us, so we can't depend upon them," he said. "This deals with more than the issue of pay raises, how to budget when you have an uncertain income?"
Democrat Brendan McGinty, who chairs the board's finance committee, suggests the proposal comes from overconfidence in one-time balances. He favors Option 1 of 3, which freezes salaries for the Circuit Clerk, Coroner, Recorder, and Auditor over four years, while the County Clerk, Treasurer and Sheriff receive 2-percent increases each year through 2016.
"That's something we think we can afford," McGinty said. "That's something that I think is fair, based on today's economy, and something that also reflects our seriousness as a whole with the county when we deal with nearly 1,000 employees."
A comparison with other Central Illinois counties shows average salaries for officials are more in McLean, Peoria, and Sangamon. But County Board Republican Alan Nudo said the memo should be expanded to salaries in the private sector.
"It's a self-fulfilling prophecy," he said. "One county looks at what the others are doing, and they say 'hey, we're behind', so then they jump ahead, and then the next county looks at it and says 'hey, we're behind', and they jump ahead. I want to see what competition in the private sector is doing as a true base."
Nudo also said he wants the board to consider some worst-case scenarios, like members did in the spring of 2008.
There's no rush for the board consider the raises. A new salary schedule must be released by May.
The Champaign County Board Committee of the Whole meets Tuesday night at 6 as the Brookens Administrative Center.
A major Illinois union is accusing Gov. Pat Quinn of excluding the public from the process of deciding whether to close some state institutions.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is angry that Quinn aides have been meeting quietly with a handful of legislators to discuss closing facilities for people with mental disabilities and illnesses.
The Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled also complained about the meetings Monday.
Quinn tried to close several facilities last year but was rebuffed by lawmakers. Now he is working on a new proposal, which his office says will be announced soon. The Democratic governor says closing outdated facilities will save money and improve care.
Another group, Equip for Equality, supports the way Quinn is planning the closures.
(With additional reporting from the Associated Press)
The state's top Republican legislative leaders say Illinois' income tax hike hasn't been a solution to the state's fiscal problems, and they're pushing for an immediate repeal.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation last year that raised the personal tax rate to 5 percent from 3 percent for four years, which is a 67 percent increase. Corporate taxes also went up.
The goal was to help bring Illinois out of its deepest budget hole in history.
A report by the Illinois Policy Institute claims the increase made Illinois less competitive for business and had other negative impacts.
Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno and House Minority Leader Tom Cross want an immediate repeal and support legislation filed last year.
Cross said the state needs to look at steeper budgetary cuts, pension reform, and salary freezes for union workers.
"If you're an Illinois taxpayer, you ought to resent this, and you ought to be angry about this," he said. "You ought to say, 'Why didn't you do the things you know needed to be done, and we could have avoided going down this road?'"
Democratic State Representative Naomi Jakobsson of Urbana said the tax hike was the right thing for the state.
"We knew that it wasn't going to magically solve all of the problems overnight," she said. "But at the same time it set the tone for working on the budget the way we did last year, and I anticipate the way we will again this year."
Quinn's office disputes the GOP leaders and think tank's claims. A spokeswoman said the increase brought in $7 billion last year.
The Salvation Army is exploring the prospect of creating a family shelter in Decatur.
The facility would be separate from the city's existing Salvation Army building, located at 229 W. Main Street. Major Robert Gauthier, who works at the Decatur office, said planning for the project is still in the very early stages.
"Well, we have to do a feasibility study, and then determine whether or not we can raise the money needed, not only to build a facility but also to operate it," Gauthier explained.
This week, Decatur's Salvation Army dedicated a new room to its existing building that is an extra 11,880 square feet. It will be used as a space for community groups and emergency housing following a catastrophe. Gauthier said in the past, the center's gym was used for emergency assistance, but he said it didn't really provide enough space.
"If for some reason (the Emergency Management Agency) would be affected by the disaster, then of course the Salvation Army would be available to them," Gauthier said. "It would also give us a place to feed people who may be displaced from their homes, as well as house people."
The Salvation Army has provided service in the city for nearly 125 years.
A citizen's watchdog group says it will appeal Ameren's latest rate hike.
On Tuesday, The Illinois Commerce Commission granted the utility a $30-million request - roughly 60-percent of what it originally wanted for natural gas delivery rates. The request before the ICC was filed 11 months ago.
Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris says Ameren doesn't make any money on the natural gas itself. He says the utility is still determing what impact the hike will have on bills. Delivery rates impact a third of a customer's natural gas bill.
Morris says it's a matter of calculating what are called tariffs through Ameren's old CILCO, CIPS, and Ameren IP territories.
"They're a matter of public record, and will be available both on our website (www.AmerenIllinois.com), and they're in a filing with the Illinois Commerce Commission," Morris said.
Citizens Utility Board spokesman Jim Chilsen questions the company's need for the hike when its parent company reported 3rd quarter earnings of more than $380-million. He says the ruling threatens to wipe out potential savings due to a mild winter.
"It's the absolute worst time for a rate hike, with the economy the way it is," said Chilsen. "We are pleased that it appears the company didn't get as much as it wanted. But we're disappointed with today's (Tuesday's) ruling because it gave the company more than it needed or deserved."
In the next few weeks, Chilsen says CUB will ask the ICC to re-hear the case. If the argument is rejected, the Commerce Commission can appeal that decision as well.
Morris says he expects the increase will show up on bills by February.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels used his last State of the State speech Tuesday night to tout his state's accomplishments over the past seven years, but he also laid out its current challenges.
The Republican Daniels spoke before a near-capacity crowd of the Indiana General Assembly, although some members of the Democratic caucus stayed away.
House Democrats are simmering over Republicans muscling through House Bill 1001, the so-called right-to-work bill that would prevent companies from requiring workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment.
Daniels supports the bill, saying businesses are passing over Indiana in favor of right-to-work states.
"Everyone knows that, among the minority favoring the status quo, passion on this issue is strong, and I respect that. I did not come lightly, or quickly, to the stance I take now. If this proposal limited in any way the right to organize, I would not support it. But we just cannot go on missing out on the middle class jobs our state needs, just because of this one issue," Daniels said inside the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. "For the sake of those without jobs, and those young people just beginning the ascent of life's ladder, I ask you to remove this obstacle and make Indiana the 23rd state to protect the right to work."
Daniels says Indiana is a much different state than it was in 2005, when he took over from Democrat Joe Kernan.
"Then, we were broke and other states were flush," Daniels said. "Tonight, while states elsewhere twist in financial agony, Indiana has an honestly balanced budget, a strong, protective reserve in our state savings account, and the first AAA credit rating in state history, one of just a handful left in America. Our credit is better - imagine this - than that of the federal government."
Among other things, Daniels touted Indiana property tax rates, which he says are the lowest in the nation.
"We have worked relentlessly to move Indiana up the list of great places to do business," Daniels said. "We have made steady progress, coming from nowhere to the top tier in every ranking: No. 6 according to the nation's site selectors, No. 6 according to CEO Magazine, No. 5 according to real estate decision makers. ...
"Here's another encouraging sign: More people are moving into Indiana than moving out. Our population is growing at the fastest rate from Iowa to Maine."
But Daniels joked on how, just as Indiana's economic picture was improving, the nation's was not.
"We became the prettiest girl in school the year they called off the prom," he said.
Daniels says Indiana is now seen as a leader in business and education reforms, increased public education spending and improved environmental track record.
"We are now, indisputably, seen as a leader," Daniels said.
Although Daniels touted Indiana's $1.2 billion investment in road and bridge construction, he made no mention of projects in Northwest Indiana or plans to rebuild the Cline Avenue bridge, which runs through East Chicago and Hammond. Area leaders have made the bridge's return a priority, but the state's latest proposal is to build a toll-road, which would likely mean expending fewer state dollars.
The governor mentioned a need for Hoosiers to continue donating to a fund for victims of last summer's stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair.
But Daniels' comments about and support for right-to-work legislation captured the most attention and disdain from the hundreds of pro-union workers at the Statehouse Tuesday evening. And, although House Democratic leader Patrick Bauer of South Bend attended the governor's speech, many Democrats did not.
State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon (D-Munster) said she did not attend because she felt Republicans denied the public's right to voice opinions on the right-to-work bill. Democratic leaders have asked the Republican leadership to hold public hearings on the hot-button issue, but those leaders pressed on. Just hours before Daniels' address, a majority on the House's labor committee voted to send the bill to the full House, which could vote on the measure by Friday.
"I really decided not to go because I was incensed by the way the public was not given a voice," Reardon said. "They (committee members) gave six minutes to a policy that will have long-reaching effects on the state of Indiana. They (Republicans) chose to ignore their voices."
State Rep. Scott Pelath (D-Michigan City) said he was most proud of protesters who attended Daniels' address but spoke loudly against right-to-work.
"The State of the State was not the story tonight. The story was the thousands of citizens, including whole families, who filled the statehouse who came to protest this so called right-to-work which will drive down wages," Pelath said. "The sound of Democracy is beautiful music."
Indiana State Rep. Charlie Brown (D-Gary), who did attend the governor's address, said he thought the speech was confusing in that the governor touted the state's sound fiscal policy but then talked about how badly the state needs right-to-work in order to attract business.
"It was kind of a mixed message," Brown said.
Brown does support Daniels' call for a statewide smoking ban, which Daniels mentioned in a list of lingering legislative items on his remaining agenda. Brown has pushed for such a ban for years but met stiff resistance from business groups, including casino interests, which argued Indiana would lose tourism dollars to states that did not restrict smoking.
Bauer, meanwhile, took fault with Daniels' descriptions of Indiana as a magnet for new jobs and expanding personal incomes. Bauer pointed to the state's current 9 percent unemployment rate, compared to the 5.5 percent jobless rate when Daniels took office.
Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) plans to reconvene the House at 12:30 Central time Wednesday, but it's unknown if Democrats will return.
A California-based pharmaceutical company says it expects to hire 234 people by 2016 at a new operation on the site of a former Pfizer Inc. drug plant near Terre Haute.
The Terre Haute Tribune-Star and WTHI-TV report officials with California-based NantWorks LLC told the Vigo County Department of Redevelopment on Tuesday that they plan to invest $120 million at the site in a southern Vigo County industrial park.
Pfizer employed more than 800 workers there before shuttering its operations in 2008.
NantWorks officials say they expect the new plant to begin production of various drugs by 2015. It says the scientists, chemists and engineers employed by the plant will earn an average annual salary of about $51,000.
The University of Illinois' Board of Trustees will consider a student fee increase when they meet next Thursday in Chicago.
The rate hike covers services such as information technology, transportation, and maintenance. Randy Kangas, who is the U of I's associate vice president for Planning and Budgeting, said the change would amount to a $5 a semester increase for each student on the Urbana campus, going from $1,436 to $1,441.
"It's much smaller than (in previous years)," Kangas said. "There aren't any big initiatives. We're not building the rec center."
Trustee Ed McMillan, chair of the board's budget and audit committee, said he is confident the proposal will be approved by the Board of Trustees.
"Last year there was a little confusion over whether all the fees had been approved by all the campuses," McMillan said. "This year those basics have all been touched on each campus in each group, and as best as I can tell, everyone's in agreement going forward with the proposals that have been put forward."
As part of the fee proposal, students on the Chicago campus would pay $3 more each semester, and students on the Springfield campus would pay $18.50 more per semester.
The university's Board of Trustees will also consider increasing undergraduate student housing rates each semester by $118 dollars in Urbana, $99 in Chicago, and $100 in Springfield.
Last week, Moody's Investor Service downgraded Illinois' credit rating to the lowest of any state in the country. The state still owes the University of Illinois more than $242 million in unpaid bills, which is about $200 million less than what it owed a year ago.
Illinois Lawmakers to Try Again for Gambling Expansion
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn says lawmakers will try again this year to pass a gambling bill.
Decatur lost its only taxi service last year.
But its city manager hopes the owner of that company can start up something new, and be ready in about a month. AOK Taxi was shut down last year, after reports of the company using an unregistered vehicle, and making unannounced changes to the company and fleet.
Decatur City Manager Ryan McCrady says company owner Anthony Walker applied for a new license on Tuesday. But Walker also asked to hold off on a recommendation to city council until he reviewed his financial plans. If he moves forward with it, McCrady says that will essentially wipe the slate clean for Walker.
"If he meets all the requirements to have a license, then there's really no sense in trying to open old wounds and bring those issues back up again," he said. "The key thing is to get a service operating in Decatur that meet the requirements of the city than our residents can safely operate in. And if Mr. Walker can do that with his new company, then that's the best case scenario for everybody."
If that doesn't happen, McCrady says offers have come in from taxi services in nearby towns. Meanwhile, Walker says he'll decide whether to follow through with his plan by next week. If that happens, Walker says he plans to raise cab fares to make them more in line to what other nearby companies charge.
"It's a service to the community, but I don't want to run this operation like the community needs it, then it doesn't need to be profitable," he said. "Because that's the wrong way I looked at it once before."
Walker says the hike in fares is needed with the rising cost in fuel. He plans to meet with local bar owners next week to discuss potential collaborations before deciding whether to move forward.
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