Illinois Public Media News
A major increase in state income taxes has squeaked through the Illinois House as lawmakers search for a way to solve a historic budget crisis.
The tax would set the personal tax rate at 5 percent, up from 3 percent now. That would be a 67 percent increase. Corporate taxes would climb, too.
Gov. Pat Quinn's office says the tax increase would generate about $6.8 billion a year.
The increase passed 60-57. It now goes to the state Senate, which could still vote Tuesday night.
The Illinois House has rejected a proposal to raise cigarette taxes by $1 a pack.
The measure was one part of a larger tax plan that would generate about $7 billion a year to help close Illinois' massive budget deficit. The cigarette portion was supposed to produce about $375 million.
The cigarette proposal got only 51 of the 60 votes needed to pass Tuesday, but it could be brought back for another vote later.
Adding a dollar would more than double the tax rate for cigarettes.
Many lawmakers said that would hurt convenience stores and gas stations that sell cigarettes. They said the impact would be particularly harsh in border areas where neighboring states have lower taxes.
A total of five people will be vying for a vacant Champaign city council seat.
Two additional people have submitted applications, in addition to Paul Faraci, Catherine Emanuel, and Jim McGuire, who are also seeking the District 5 seat in a write-in election this April. Former Champaign County Board member and township official Linda Cross, and Steve Meid of Signature Homes also met Tuesday's noon deadline with hopes of holding the seat on an interim basis.
The Champaign City Council seat became vacant following the appointment of Gordy Hulten as Champaign County clerk.
Interviews will be held at next Tuesday's city council meeting, and an appointment will be made Feb. 1.
The Illinois Senate voted Tuesday to abolish capital punishment, sending the historic issue to Gov. Pat Quinn and putting the state back at the center of an ongoing national debate.
Quinn wouldn't say whether he would sign the legislation.
In a state that has removed 20 wrongly condemned people from death row since 1987, the Senate voted 32-25 to end execution more than a decade after a former governor halted the punishment he called "haunted by the demon of error."
"We have a historic opportunity today, an opportunity to part company with countries that are the worst civil rights violators and join the civilized world by ending this practice of putting to death innocent people," said Sen. Kwame Raoul, the Chicago Democrat who sponsored the measure.
Illinois would be the fourth state since 2007 to rid its books of capital punishment.
But Democrat Quinn, already wrapped up in a debate over a massive tax increase that could sully his political future, won't say what he will do with an issue historically so explosive it can end careers. He supports the death penalty but said he would not lift the moratorium on executions imposed in 2000 by then-Gov. George Ryan until he was sure the system worked.
National experts and advocates said repeal in Illinois - which has executed a dozen people in the last three decades and at one time had 170 condemned inmates - puts weight behind the national discussion.
"This is a state in which this was used and then stopped, it was debated for years, fixed - or reformed - and finally there was a resolution by just getting rid of it, so that's about as thorough a process as any state could do," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "That's significant."
Former law enforcement officials in the Senate had argued prosecutors need the threat of death to get guilty pleas from suspects who opt for life in prison. They said allowing police and state's attorneys to continue seeking capital punishment will make them more willing to accept reforms in the ways crimes are investigated and prosecuted.
Others argued citizens still want the death penalty option for the worst of crimes.
"It's not a question of vengeance," said Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton. "It's a question of the people being outraged at such terrible crimes, such bloodletting."
Illinois would join 15 states and the District of Columbia in ridding its books of capital punishment, including three - New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York - since 2007. A New York court declared the state's law unconstitutional in 2004 but decreed three years later it applied to the last inmate on death row.
"It's a clear trend," said Debra Erenberg, Midwest regional director for Amnesty International USA. Illinois' problems have "been a very clear exhibit of the flaws in the death penalty and the way it's been implemented across the country."
Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Maryland and Montana are among other states that have considered repeal in the past year or still are pursuing it, experts said.
There's no proof Illinois ever executed an innocent person. But one man was hours from death before he was exonerated and 12 others had been removed from death row when Ryan put a moratorium on death and created a commission to study its problems. Just before leaving office in 2003, he cleared death row by commuting the death sentences of 167 people and exonerated four more.
Lawmakers, who already had created a state fund to pay for competent capital defenses, implemented further reforms that year, including training for defense lawyers, more thorough investigative practices such as videotaping confessions, and easier access to DNA testing.
Those reforms are working, opponents argued.
"This is a tool to save additional lives," said Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford. "Use it sparingly, yes, but to take it away will cost us additional lives."
Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, took issue with several characterizations of a potential death penalty as a prosecutor's "tool." He said a prosecutor's promise not to seek death in exchange for a guilty plea holds the potential for as much mischief as confessions manufactured by police tortures in the 1980s that led to videotaping suspect interviews.
"This is not a tool. This is an awesome power," Harmon said. "Can you imagine if you had the power to say, 'You should do what I'm telling you to do, or I will use the full force of the law and the power of the state of Illinois to try to kill you?'"
Several senators, including those who revealed personal encounters with violent crime, explained their evolving positions on the issue, revealing its emotional potency.
Sen. Toi Hutchison, D-Chicago Heights, said she would likely want to see death for anyone who hurt her children, but the state should find life in prison sufficient for evil in this world.
"You deal" with prison, she said, "and then burn in hell for what you did.
Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure went to his old school Tuesday morning, and told students at the Centennial High School gym in Champaign what his plans are for the fall.
"I'm here to announce that I will forgo my senior season at the University of Illinois, and enter the 2011 NFL draft," Leshoure announced to cheers from the assembled students.
Leshoure rushed for 17 touchdowns last fall, and set Illinois' single-season rushing record, with 1697 yards, breaking the mark set by Rashard Mendenhall three years earlier. He said he has done everything he can do at the college level, and is ready for professional football. He also said he is not deterred by the possibility that a labor dispute could lead to a player lockout that curtails his first season in the NFL.
"I definitely thought about all those things in my decision, took a long time to think about it, prayed on it," Leshoure said. "I still woke up with the same decision that I made today. So, I'm willing of the risks and I know, you know, what's at stake."
The 6-0, 230-pound Leshoure is projected to be taken anywhere from the first through fourth rounds in the April draft.
Although he is giving up his senior year in college, LeShoure said he still plans to eventually earn his degree in communications. He told the athletes in the Centennial High student assembly to study hard if they want to reach their goals and have a good life beyond the playing field.
"Sports won't be here forever," Leshoure said to students. "Regardless of how good you are and what you think, it won't be forever. You need a backup plan and it starts here at Centennial."
Leshoure's old high school coach was on hand for the announcement. Centennial High School Football Coach Mike McDonnell cited Leshoure's maturity as a high school player.
"I was always impressed with his character and his maturity, because he was always older than what he was," McDonnell said. "I think that's part of his success, because he understood the importance of working out during the off season, getting his grades."
McDonnell credited Leshoure's mother, with instilling her son with self-discipline at an early age.
Illinois football coach Ron Zook also had praise for Leshoure. An article posted on the U of I's Fighting Illini website quoted Zook: "I am extremely proud of how Mikel has matured as a young man and leader for our football team since his arrival at Illinois. He'll be remembered here as one of the greatest running backs in Illinois football history. We hope he has a long and successful NFL career."
Leshoure's announcement comes a day after Illini junior linebacker Martez Wilson said he'll also enter the NFL draft.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
A legislative aide got to step into his boss' shoes for one day to represent residents in the 105th Illinois House District in east-central Illinois.
Shane Cultra left his House seat to become state senator, and he tabbed aide Russell Geisler to take his spot for one day before Jason Barickman was sworn in.
Geisler got to vote while in the House, but Barickman says he's OK with that because he agrees with the votes.
Barickman tells WJBC Radio that Geisler did something in 24 hours that Cultra couldn't do in eight years _ voting to end free public transit for most senior citizens.
Some Republicans criticized the appointment, saying it trivializes the legislative seat.
Cultra was appointed to the state Senate to replace Dan Rutherford, who's now Illinois' treasurer.
Illinois' new Treasurer is challenging all state officeholders to make their mark amid a massive budget deficit.
Longtime legislator Dan Rutherford was among the six officeholders sworn in Monday at the Prairie Capitol Convention Center. Rutherford reflected on coming to an inauguration as a young boy, when his grandfather was vice chairman of the Livingston County Democrats. The former Senator and House member from Pontiac said he will invest Illinois' money in the most secure way possible with solid business practices. But Rutherford said he will also base his work on prior experience.
"I intend to use this statewide stage and not be an obstructionist with my friends in the legislature in the executive branch of government," he said. "But I not going to be shy about articulating what I believe is necessary to help the economic standing of this great state of Illinois."
Rutherford served in the Illinois House from 1993 to 2002, and in the Senate from 2003 until resigning his seat Sunday night.
The proposal that could come up for a vote Tuesday would have a slightly lower income tax hike of 67 percent, compared to 75 percent that was announced last week.
The corporate rate would also see less of an increase. Much of the tax hike would be temporary as the state tries to dig itself out of a massive budget deficit. Cigarette taxes, property tax relief and spending caps are also part of the discussion.
Democratic leaders want to beat a Wednesday deadline. That's when a new General Assembly is sworn in with fewer Democrats, meaning passage of a tax hike would likely be more difficult.
A federal appeals court on Monday denied a request by imprisoned former Illinois Gov. George Ryan to free him on bail so he can spend more time with his terminally ill wife, though the ex-governor's attorneys said they would continue working to win his release.
In a one-page ruling, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago rejected an emergency motion filed by Ryan's attorneys last week after Lura Lynn Ryan was taken to intensive care suffering complications from chemotherapy.
Ryan, the ruling said, hasn't met the legal requirements that would allow for his release while the 76-year-old's defense team tries to overturn his 2006 conviction for racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud and making false statements to the FBI.
The three-judge panel notes that Ryan asked in the emergency motion about the possibility of release from his Indiana prison during daylight hours so he could be at his wife's side. The court said it didn't have the jurisdiction to grant that wish.
"This possibility might be a humane way to address the personal aspect of his motion," it says. But "a request for such an arrangement must be presented by the appellant to the Bureau of Prisons."
Prosecutors made public for the first time Friday the news that prison authorities did, in fact, escort Ryan to see his wife for two hours the same day she was admitted to a Kankakee hospital. They cited that clandestine visit as one reason judges shouldn't grant Ryan's release.
"Obviously, I am disappointed and I know the family is exceedingly disappointed," said Ryan attorney and a long-time family friend, former Gov. James Thompson.
But Thompson also assured the family that attorneys would take several steps in response, including asking Democratic President Barack Obama to grant clemency to the former Republican governor. They will ask Obama to commute Ryan's sentence from 6 1/2 years to his three years already served.
Other steps would include asking the Bureau of Prisons to grant Ryan a long-term furlough, possibly under conditions where he would have to stay at a county jail overnight. Thompson added he would ask prosecutors to support that request.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer -- who presided over Ryan's trial -- upheld his conviction and denied his request for bond. She acknowledged his wife's plight, but said Ryan's conduct "exacted a stiff penalty, not only for himself but also for his family."
Ryan's attorneys had argued parts of his conviction should be tossed based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision curtailing anti-fraud laws -- known as "honest services" laws. Pallmeyer said Ryan's circumstances were different enough that his conviction should stand.
Defense attorneys have appealed Pallmeyer's ruling upholding the convictions.
Officials with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District (CUPHD) are scrambling to find homes for a dozen displaced Rantoul residents who left the Cherry Orchard apartments last week after reports of poor living conditions.
Even though most of the Cherry Orchard tenants have left the apartment complex, CUPHD administrator Julie Pryde said one family continues to live there, but will move out once they have a permanent place to live.
"They have heat and water now, so they are safe in that regard," Pryde said.
The rest of the tenants have temporarily moved into hotel rooms. The CUPHD is trying to secure residential leases for those individuals with area landlords. Jennifer Valade, the social services director with the Salvation Army of Champaign County, said her agency's waiting for the public health district to help set up the lease agreements, so that the Salvation Army can work with people who need help with rent.
"It's obvious that they're going to need agencies to help them out, and unfortunately they were put in a situation that they didn't deserve," Valade said.
Problems with Cherry Orchard apartments stemmed from a Sept. 2007 review by health inspectors who discovered a broken septic system leaking sewage into nearby farmland. Since then, tenants have complained about inadequate heating, mold, and power outages.
Pryde said CUPHD has hit a snag in securing a lease for each individual. She said she is close to finding one family a permanent home, but still struggling to find homes for everyone else.
The Cherry Orchard apartments have traditionally housed many migrant workers, who live in Rantoul for part of the year while working for a large agricultural company, like Pioneer, Monsanto, or Syngenta. Some of them may not have a strong credit history, which can make it difficult to get a residential lease agreement worked out.
"The issue is some of these folks don't have a very good rental history, if any," said Andy Kulczycki, executive director of the Community Service Center of Northern Champaign County. "A lot of landlords screen their potential tenants."
Cherry Orchard's landlords, Bernard Ramos and his father, Eduardo, are schedule to appear before a judge during a Jan. 24 bench trial for failing to move their tenants and fix their sewer and septic systems as they originally promised.
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