Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 09, 2011

No Sign of Movement on Ill. Tax Proposal

A drive to raise Illinois taxes dramatically was stuck in "park" Sunday as Democratic leaders came and went without comment and legislators waited for hours.

Gov. Pat Quinn met Sunday afternoon with the Illinois Senate president and House speaker to strategize on their efforts to raise income taxes and sales taxes. All three left through back exits after the meeting rather than answer questions.

Quinn, cornered by reporters as he tried to leave the Capitol through a basement exit, would say only that he's "working hard" to pass a plan that will rescue state government from its paralyzing financial crisis.

A House session scheduled for mid-afternoon was delayed for hours, then ended quickly after representatives voted to end free mass-transit rides for senior citizens.

Lawmakers will be back to work Monday, but with some of their time and attention devoted to the inauguration of Quinn and other statewide officials.

Rep. Joseph Lyons, a Chicago Democrat and a member of House Speaker Michael Madigan's leadership team, called the tax issue a "potential career-ending vote."

"Are the political will and votes there to do it or not? At this stage, I don't know the answer," he said.

Democrats are considering a plan to boost the 3 percent income tax rate to 5.25 percent for four years, a 75 percent increase. They're also looking at a dollar-a-pack increase in cigarette taxes, more than double the current rate.

Together, the increases would produce about $7.5 billion a year, backers say. The money would be used in several ways: to close the gap between annual government costs and revenues, to provide money for education and property tax relief, and to finance borrowing about $8 billion to pay off the state's backlog of overdue bills.

After four years, the income tax rate would drop, although not all the way back to current levels. With officials still negotiating, it was unclear how much the rate would drop.

Supporters of the tax increase argue it must be part of the solution to a budget deficit that could hit $15 billion this year. The deficit is so large that the government is borrowing money to make its annual contribution to retirement systems and is months behind in paying bills.

Democratic leaders want to pass something before the current General Assembly formally ends Wednesday at noon. After that, they lose some of their Democratic majority as well as "lame duck" legislators who might be persuaded to support a tax increase as they leave office.

"Time is running short," said Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie, another member of House leadership.

Dan Rutherford, a Republican who will be sworn in as Illinois treasurer Monday, objected to Democrats trying to pass a tax increase during the lame duck session. He predicted "a tremendous backlash from the public" if it happens.

Rep. Frank Mautino of Spring Valley, a budget specialist for House Democrats, said lawmakers have multiple worries about the tax proposal.

Some object that it would push Illinois' business tax rate to the highest in the country, he said. Others want firm limits on government spending, while others see a need for more property tax relief. Those differences make it tricky to negotiate a plan that can pass, even with Madigan pressing his members to support it.

"There's no one person that can magically make this vote go on its own," Mautino said. "The decision on the tax itself is personal, and it's regional. The suburban people need property tax relief. The downstate guys are concerned with spending."

State officials held a series of receptions Sunday. More events were planned for Monday afternoon, after the inauguration ceremony at a Springfield convention center.

State police said they don't plan any significant changes to security after the Arizona shooting spree in which a member of Congress was critically wounded. But the department said some officers would be added in public areas to serve as a visible deterrent to anyone thinking of causing trouble.

The House voted 95-15 to end a perk that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich granted to all senior citizens, regardless of income: free rides on public transportation across the state.

Transit systems complain that the free service costs them tens of millions of dollars at a time when they're cutting service and jobs. The House bill would limit the free service to poor senior citizens, starting six months after the measure became law.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 08, 2011

Ill. Rep Concerned for Safety After Ariz. Attack

Illinois Congressman Bobby Rush says he's "very concerned" about his own safety and the safety of other congressmen following the shooting attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.

The Chicago Democrat tells The Associated Press the climate for political leaders is bad, particularly for those who've supported President Barack Obama.

Giffords has described herself as a former Republican and current moderate centrist Democrat.

Rush says he's told those around him to be more vigilant. But he doesn't plan to scale back on any public appearances.

Giffords is recovering after undergoing surgery.

Capitol police have asked members of Congress to step up security in the wake of the shooting which left at least five dead and wounded several others.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 08, 2011

Illinois’ Lieutenant Governor Position to be Filled After a Two-Year Vacancy

Illinois' lieutenant governor position is about to be filled after a two-year vacancy.

Sheila Simon will be sworn in Monday, along with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. He'll be sworn in for his first full term as governor.

Quinn was lieutenant governor until January 2009. That's when he took over from then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich who was removed from office by lawmakers after his arrest on federal corruption charges.

The inauguration festivities will include the Inaugural Ball at the Prairie Convention Center in Springfield.

Hundreds of friends and supporters hosted a send-off for Simon in Carbondale Friday evening. The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan reports Simon performed with her bluegrass band called Loose Gravel. Simon plays the banjo, bassoon and sings.

She is the daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 08, 2011

Ill. Congressmen Offer Prayers After Shooting Attack on Rep. Giffords

Illinois congressmen are offering sympathy and prayers after the shooting attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.

Congressmen Jesse Jackson Jr., Mike Quigley and Jan Schakowsky say the attack is horrific and they're offering condolences.

At least two people were killed and several others wounded Saturday, as Giffords met with constituents in Tucson. Hospital officials say Giffords' outlook was 'optimistic.'

A Jackson spokesman says the congressman's events are frequently staffed by security personnel, but it's too early to tell if changes need to be made.

A Quigley spokeswoman says security for the congressman hasn't been addressed yet in light of the attack.

Police say the shooter was in custody.

(Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 07, 2011

State Legislator Serving for a Day May Vote On Income Tax Hike

Shane Cultra's longtime aide, Russell Geisler, will be taking over his boss' Illinois House seat for just one day this Sunday --- the day that Democrats could bring their budget measure to a vote.

Under the plan outlined by Senate President John Cullerton on Thursday night, Illinois' three percent income tax would jump to a rate of five and a quarter. For taxpayers that is a 75 percent increase. After about four years, the rate will drop, making it a solid 25 percent hike.

Champaign Republicans have raised concerns about Geisler's temporary appointment to the General Assembly, saying he should not be allowed to vote during his day in office.

Cultra said he believes Geisler will vote for the legislation to raise the state's income tax, just as he would. The measure also includes an increase in the corporate income tax that Cultra said would make it the highest in the country. The Onarga Republican said the state needs to cut spending before it considers raising taxes.

"This is a huge, huge tax increase," Cultra said. "It's going to hurt people. I think you have to bite the bullet, and start cutting programs back. You're just going to have to start cutting everything."

Cultra could have another chance to vote on the income tax proposal if it comes to the Illinois Senate --- a body he will join next week. But State Senator Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) said he is not sure if the proposal will make it that far.

Frerichs would not commit to supporting the take hike, which he said he still needs to review. However, he did say along with spending cuts, the state needs to find new revenue to address a deficit that could hit $15-billion this year.

"There's a general agreement in our caucus that we don't want to see devastating cuts to our universities, to our education system, to our pension contributions," Frerichs said. "In order to make those payments, we need to find revenue so that we can pay our bills."

Democrats are hurrying to get the legislation passed before Wednesday when the lame duck session ends. Democrats will still hold the majority in both chambers when lawmakers are sworn in on Jan. 12, though there will be more Republican in the General Assembly.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 07, 2011

Ill. Legislators Pause Before Big Tax Push

Illinois legislators are taking a break before Democrats push forward on a major income tax increase.

House leaders will try to round up support for the 75 percent increase before returning to Springfield on Sunday.

After the House adjourned today, Rep. Frank Mautino said the tax plan doesn't have enough support to pass right now. But the Spring Valley Democrat predicts it will pass in the end.

There's little doubt it will succeed in the Senate, which resumes work on Monday. That's when Gov. Pat Quinn and other statewide officials are sworn in for a new term.

Several Republican lawmakers criticized the idea of raising taxes so dramatically, even if most of the increase would expire after four years. They say it would drive jobs out of Illinois.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 07, 2011

Local Lawmakers Takes Sides on Illinois Death Penalty Repeal

State Senator Mike Frerichs said he expects to vote to repeal the Illinois death penalty --- if the measure comes up when the Illinois Senate meets on Monday.

The repeal bill narrowly passed the Illinois House on Thursday, and Frerichs said he thinks other lawmakers will join him in supporting it. The Champaign Democrat says the important point to him is that the death penalty has been handed out to too many people who were found to have been wrongly convicted.

"I think the penalty has (been) shown to have grave errors over the last few decades here in our state," Frerichs said. "I think that's why a lot of people are probably supportive of the appeal."

But Onarga Republican Shane Cultra said he still believes the death penalty is a necessary deterrent to violent crime --- and that the introduction of DNA evidence has done a lot to prevent wrongful convictions.

"I think there's enough safeguards in place," Cultra said. "Certainly there's more that we can do --- they haven't fully implemented all the things that were supposed to be done, but they've done enough of them. And plus some of these crimes are so heinous, that I just feel that life imprisonment just isn't enough."

Cultra voted against repealing the death penalty in the Illinois House, and he may get a chance to vote on it again, if the Senate takes up the bill in the final days of the veto session next week. Cultra will be sworn in as a State Senator on Sunday, taking the place of Treasurer-elect Dan Rutherford.

There have been no executions in Illinois since former governor George Ryan declared a moratorium ten years ago. While maintaining the moratorium, Governor Pat Quinn has said he supports the death penalty for the most serious crimes.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 07, 2011

U of I Professor Says Holdup Over Federal Judgeships Isn’t Surprising

US Senator Dick Durbin has re-submitted three names for federal judgeships from Illinois' Central District.

4th District Appellate Court Justice Sue Myerscough, Peoria Judge James Shadid, and Rock Island Prosecutor Sara Darrow were all nominated by President Obama last year. But they didn't get an up or down vote prior to November's elections, so those 3, along 39 others will go back before the Senate Judiciary Committee. University of Illinois Political Science Professor Brian Gaines says it's not surprising, since both parties have 'played hardball' with judicial nominations in recent years.

"I think both parties are finger-pointing and they're both right. " he said. "Both parties have decided in the past they'd block even the non-controversial judges in an effort to get the other side to withdraw nominations of more controversial figures. That's certainly the case of at least two of three, and maybe all three of these. They're not particularly controversial figures."

Gaines says Judge Shadid may have the most bipartisan support and be the least controversial, noting that he has the backing of Peoria Congressman Aaron Schock. Gaines says the slowdown when filling federal judgeships is nothing new, noting the same the same thing happened under President George W. Bush, when Democrats filibustered some Bush nominees that they felt were too conservative. Despite political battles, Gaines says the nominations are likely to speed up and address what Durbin calls a 'judicial emergency' in the 112th Congress.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 07, 2011

Ex-Governor Ryan Visited Ill Wife This Week

Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan was temporarily let out of prison to visit his gravely ill wife on Wednesday, according to a new government court filing.

Prosecutors said in the Friday morning filing that the Federal Bureau of Prisons granted Ryan's request to visit his wife, Lura Lynn Ryan, who's said to be dying of cancer at a Kankakee hospital. Ryan visited with her for about two hours on Wednesday night, according to the filing.

The filing by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago is the first time the visit had been made public. Ryan's attorneys this week made an appeal to the Bureau of Prisons to allow for his temporary release in order to see his wife of 55 years, who they say may only have weeks to live. They also made a second appeal to a federal judge for his release, based in part on the gravity of his wife's condition.

But in Friday's court papers, federal prosecutors argue that Ryan should not be released from prison based on his wife's illness, since he'd already been granted a temporary release to see her. "A two-hour visit obviously is much less time than Ryan wishes to have with his gravely ill wife," prosecutors wrote, but they maintained that Ryan doesn't deserve "special treatment" by the court simply because his wife is ill.

Lura Lynn Ryan was admitted to the hospital Wednesday after apparent complications from chemotherapy. According to the court motion, the 76-year-old Lura Lynn Ryan has been diagnosed with an incurable cancer of the lungs, back, pelvis, ribs and liver.

Last month, the federal judge overseeing Ryan's case denied an appeal from his lawyers, saying Ryan's six and a half year sentence for receiving kickbacks while in office, "exacted a stiff penalty not only for himself, but also his family."

(Photo courtesy of the Kankakee Public Library)

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 07, 2011

Illinois Senate Leader: Tax Deal Reached

Top Illinois Democrats have agreed to push a plan that would temporarily boost income taxes by 75 percent and double cigarette taxes, Senate President John Cullerton said Thursday.

Illinois' personal income tax rate, now 3 percent, would climb to 5.25 percent for four years under the plan Cullerton outlined. After that, it would drop to 3.75 percent.

That means someone who now owes $1,000 in state income taxes would owe $1,750 at the new rate, then $1,250 after four years.

The permanent portion would be used several ways. Some would be devoted to schools and some to repaying an $8.5 billion loan that would be used to pay overdue bills, Cullerton said.

Another chunk would go to property tax relief in the form of annual $325 checks, he said. The checks would replace the property tax exemption that homeowners can now claim on their income taxes.

Cullerton said House Speaker Michael Madigan and Gov. Pat Quinn fully support the tax proposal, although Quinn once promised to veto any increase of that size.

Madigan's spokesman said he couldn't discuss the speaker's position. The Senate has approved tax increases in the past, so the biggest question about this proposal is whether Madigan can find enough votes to get it through the House.

The governor's office put out a statement that stopped short of saying the three leaders had reached a final agreement. Rank-and-file legislators said Quinn described the tax plan to them earlier in the day and portrayed it as a deal among all three of the powerful Democrats.

Democrats say they have no choice but to raise taxes as one part of a solution to Illinois' massive budget crisis. The state deficit could reach $15 billion in the coming year. The government is borrowing money to cover some obligations, letting bills go unpaid for months and cutting corners everywhere from state prisons to state parks.

"We are in desperate need," Cullerton said at a news conference in his office.

Cullerton said the higher taxes would generate about $7.5 billion a year during the four years they're at their highest.

The tax on cigarettes, now 98 cents a pack, would jump to $1.98, Cullerton said. The money would be earmarked for education.

Quinn, Cullerton and Madigan want to pass something before the current General Assembly formally ends Jan. 12. After that, they lose some of their Democratic majority as well as outgoing legislators who might be persuaded to support a tax increase as they leave office.

Madigan has repeatedly said he doubts that a tax increase could pass in the House without Republican support. But Republican leaders have not been included in tax and budget negotiations, and there was no indication Thursday that they were prepared to cooperate with the Democrats.

"If they think this is a solution, they should go ahead and put their own votes on it," said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont.

Cullerton emphasized that taxes would be just one part of the solution.

Quinn and the Legislature already have cut spending significantly. They've also reduced pension benefits for future state employees and passed a plan to help limit the cost of providing health care to the poor.

Cullerton said there also will be a moratorium on new programs and spending growth would be held to 1 percent a year.

"We are not doing a short-term fix," he said.

The tax proposal puts Quinn in an awkward position. It would boost the tax rate by 2.25 percentage points, but the governor promised last year to veto any increase above 1 percentage point.

Last summer, a Quinn aide suggested taxes might have to be raised by 2 points. Quinn quickly disavowed the comments and said he opposed anything beyond his proposed hike of 1 percentage point.

"I'm going to veto anything that isn't my plan," Quinn said at the time.

Quinn's office didn't comment Thursday on the conflict between the tax plan and his campaign promise.

Radogno said it would be "dishonest" for Quinn to approve it after promising a veto.

"To me, that's kind of a bait and switch," she said.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

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