Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 28, 2011

Blagojevich Likely to Lose State Pension

Convicted former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is likely to lose his $65,000 annual state pension.

Director of the General Assembly Retirement System Timothy Blair said according to state law, any elected official or public employee convicted of a felony committed on the job, is ineligible for retirement benefits.

"No other benefits would be payable," Blair said. "So that's happened several times, in most of the retirement systems. That would apply to people who are teachers, state employees, and of course members of the General Assembly Retirement System. And that's the provision that George Ryan was subject to."

Blair said employees like Ryan can get back contributions they made to their pensions. He said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office will be asked to make a recommendation on whether Blagojevich should lose his pension. Then the board will take a vote based on that opinion.

A spokeswoman for Madigan's office said the former governor must first be sentenced before the pension can be denied.

It is uncertain when he will be sentenced.

The 54-year-old Democrat could start collecting his state pension on his next birthday December tenth.

Blair said he hopes the pension board will have a ruling before that.

Blagojevich could get $15,000 a year in federal retirement for the years he served in Congress. He could start drawing his federal pension at age 62.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 28, 2011

Gov. Pat Quinn Signs Workers’ Compensation Reform

New regulations clamping down on workers' compensation abuses in Illinois have been signed into law.

The changes include a 30 percent reduction in medical payments. Other provisions include letting payments for carpal tunnel syndrome last only 28 1/2 weeks, instead of 40. New guidelines also will make it harder for intoxicated workers to win claims.

During a visit to Champaign Tuesday afternoon, Governor Pat Quinn praised the measure, saying the changes are reasonable.

"The reforms we enacted I think will help workers and maintain their right to get compensation for an injury and at the same time be fair to the employers, and not in any way take advantage of them," Quinn said.

But State Senator Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) said the workers comp legislation does not go far enough. He said it could do a better job connecting injuries that happen as a result of a job, rather than at a job.

"With causation, it's like putting a band-aid because you're still going to have claims filed that probably shouldn't be filed and attributed to workers' comp," Cultra said.

The changes to workers' compensation are expected to cut between $500 million and $700 million from the $3 billion workers' compensation system.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 27, 2011

LIFE ON ROUTE 150: The Stigma of Food Stamps

The 2008 recession has taken its toll up and down U.S. Route 150 - and the U.S. Department of Agriculture says almost every Illinois county along the 150 corridor has seen an uptick in 2010 in use of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. But anti-hunger advocates say many people who have lost their jobs are NOT taking advantage of SNAP. Illinois Public Media's Dave Dickey reports as a part of the series "Life on Route 150.

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 24, 2011

Home Sales in Champaign County Show a Slight Slowdown

The inventory of available houses and condos on the market in Champaign County is ample and growing. So says the head of the county's Association of Realtors - potentially good news for buyers, but he says sales are relatively slow.

May figures from the state realtors' organization shows 204 sales during the month, down 20% from May of 2010, with year-to-date sales down more than 15%.

Champaign County Association of Realtors president Max Mitchell says tax credits for first-time home buyers have come to an end, and since then buyers have been hesitant. "In 2011, with the interest rates being so favorable, it has gotten people out, but people are a little bit nervous simply because they've heard on the news that you have to have a higher credit score to qualify for a loan," Mitchell said.

Mitchell says the potential for higher required down-payments also has buyers and real estate observers worried. On the other hand, state figures suggest that home prices in Champaign County are holding their own compared to the rest of the state - the median sale price in May held nearly steady with the median price a year ago.

But Mitchell cautions that foreclosures are becoming more of a problem for the market. He says up to now, foreclosed homes have been a target for investors. "Now there are more foreclosed properties, and unfortunately, investors see that if you're going to own a foreclosed property, you aren't going to be able to resell it for a much higher amount in today's market.

Categories: Business, Economics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 24, 2011

LIFE ON ROUTE 150:  Rural Churches Look for Ways to Survive

In rural towns throughout Central Illinois, deciding where to attend worship service today could mean giving up youth activities or choir for a smaller service, or sacrificing a local connection to seek out parishioners of a similar age in a large congregation. As part of the series, 'Life on Route 150', Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert looks at rural churches, and what some in the region are doing to survive in today's climate.

(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 24, 2011

Quinn Hints at State Budget Direction

A state budget plan on the Governor's desk will undergo some changes.

Governor Pat Quinn says he will put his own stamp on a spending package after lawmakers, primarily in the House, put together a bipartisan document that cut spending levels in areas like education and health care.

Quinn says those are priorities for him and hinted he will shift spending to reflect that. "It's obviously a tough budget time," Quinn said. "But that's why we have a Governor. The legislature doesn't dictate everything. We will look at their outline and make changes we think are better."

Quinn has no authority to add money to the budget, but he could rework spending lines so that money is freed up for what he wants.

Lawmakers could agree with his changes or try to override him. However, they are not set to return to the capitol until the fall. Quinn expects to act on his changes next week, before the new fiscal year begins July 1.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 24, 2011

IL House-Senate Panel to Study Tax Climate for Businesses

The way Illinois taxes businesses has developed a bad reputation. A growing number of companies cite it as a hindrance. Now, though, the leaders of the state Senate and House are making an overhaul of the tax structure a priority.

Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman sent a letter to Governor Pat Quinn in March outlining how Illinois lawmakers' actions were making it harder for him to withstand the heavy courtship of other states wanting the Peoria-based equipment-maker to relocate.

The letter set off a frenzy because Caterpillar's moving would be a major loss to Illinois. Oberhelman later refined his point and says the company has no plans to leave.

Nonetheless ... the focus was drawn to Illinois' business climate. Since then, there has been a drumbeat of headlines about this year's tax hike, and about subsequent tax breaks given to corporations like Motorola and Navistar to entice them to stay, which is why the House Speaker and Senate President formed a joint committee to consider overhauling the business tax structure.

Democratic Representative John Bradley of Marion will be a co-chair. "The idea being here that we're going to try to make Illinois keep up with the times and be handling the corporate tax structure that is efficient, fair, balanced and competitive manner," Bradley said.

Hearings will be held this summer, but times and locations haven't yet been set.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 22, 2011

IL Lawmakers Quickly Approve Construction Spending

State construction projects will go on without further trepidation. Senators approved funding for them Wednesday, and at the same time knocked down their own pay a bit as they returned to the Capitol for the first time since the end of the regular session.

The threat had been looming that roadwork and all other ongoing infrastructure projects would need to shut down, including the project to rebuild Lincoln Hall on the University of Illinois' Urbana campus. The legislature adjourned in May without voting to pay for them.

Senate Democrats had tried holding back the $18 billion as a way to pressure the House to approve more money for education and human services, but they ultimately backed down from those demands. Governor Pat Quinn says that ensures thousands of construction workers will keep their jobs.

But Democratic Senate President John Cullerton says concerns remain with the budget, which is on Quinn's desk. "We will take up the shortcomings of the House budget that we did pass, when we come back perhaps in the fall, most likely in January," Cullerton said.

It's relatively insignificant, but about $500,000 will be saved via another measure headed to Quinn. It freezes elected officials' pay and requires they take 12 furlough days. Legislators' base salary will be about $65,000, though some earn more for extra duties.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 22, 2011

Champaign Non-Union Staff to Get Raises in Fiscal Budget

The next fiscal budget for the city of Champaign will include two percent raises for non-union employees.

Those staff members didn't get raises in the current fiscal year. The city council quickly signed off on the budget plan Tuesday night.

Raises for Champaign's union workers, such as those with AFSCME, are unclear since they are in contract negotiations. And the city's firefighters union is waiting on a decision from an arbitrator. City Finance Director Richard Schnuer said it is difficult to gauge what impact the non-bargaining staff raises will have, but he said each citywide salary increase of one percent is worth about $400,000 in personnel costs.

Schnuer said some unanticipated increases, like the cost of snow removal, were factored into the budget.

"As the year progressed, and the negotiations progressed, we realized that we were going to have increases," he said. "So the adopted budget does reflect the increases that were agreed to by the council and unions."

The city council's earlier action to restore three positions at the police department is included in the budget, but two of those positions are currently vacant. Next month, the council is expected to discuss the future of those jobs, along with potential new sources of revenue.

Cutting those positions would mean shutting down the police front desk during overnight hours.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 22, 2011

Health Care Group Urges Lawmakers to Avoid Social Security Cuts

Members of a health care advocacy group are urging Congress to avoid touching Social Security as a bipartisan panel looks to reduce the national deficit.

Champaign County Health Care Consumers has sent a letter to Senator Dick Durbin, speculating that his 'Gang of Six' is still looking at cuts to Social Security. The group's Medicare Task Force says a myth is being spread on Capitol Hill that the program adds to the deficit. Thomas Rohrer is a member of the group's Medicare Task Force. He said he is concerned about any efforts to privatize Social Security.

"The stock market crashed a couple years ago, and people lost a lot of money," Rorher said. "And if social security people lose their benefits - where would they go? What would happen? At least the government provides a safety net."

The consumers' group also opposes any talk of raising the retirement age from 67 to 69. Rohrer said he has friends who simply can't stay in their current jobs until that age, and worries about age discrimination for anyone trying to find new work.

The Health Care Consumers' Executive Director Claudia Lenhoff criticized AARP, noting that the agency is willing to consider raising the retirement age. She said it is 'selling out its constituents' as a result.

"They talk out of both sides of their mouth, saying that they want to protect social security and that making cuts to social security benefits and raising the retirement age is a cut - is important for saving social security," Lenhoff said. "They say that everybody recognizes that social security retirement age must be raised. Really? Everybody?"

Lenhoff noted that the federal government has borrowed $2.6 trillion from the Social Security Reserve Fund.


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