Illinois Public Media News
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.
Jason Barickman says the message is clear: "I just don't know how you look the voters in the face unless you substantially decrease the spending,"
Barickman was sworn in Monday morning as a State Representative to Illinois' 105th House District. He took the oath of office at the Livingston County Courthouse from Circuit Judge Jennifer Bauknecht with his his wife, Kristin, by his side. Barickman will be sworn in again Wednesday in Springfield for full two-year term. He replaces Shane Cultra, who was appointed Sunday to the State Senate.
Barickman said he is ready to get his feet wet right away, and vote against Democrats' proposed income tax increase of nearly 75-percent.
"Our government in Springfield has continued to spend too much money, and failed to address any of those serious reforms that they talked about," he said. "There's rumors of maybe some reforms to worker's compensation, but it appears to be nothing more than window dressing. We still have a pension system that's dramatically underfunded, and continuing to obligate the state to huge sums of money for the next 10, 20, 50 years."
Barickman hopes that the re-drawing of legislative districts will allow him to run for another term in 2012. A Livingston County native, the 35-year old is a founding partner of the Champaign law firm Bartell, Barickman and Powell. He lives in Champaign, and has served as Champaign County's GOP Chair since 2006.
Democrat Pat Quinn has been sworn in to a full term as Illinois governor, two years after he got the job when his predecessor was kicked out of office and left behind an immense budget crisis.
Quinn began his inaugural address on Monday by calling for unity. He also offered promises to solve the state's fiscal crisis but no firm details of how it would be done.
Quinn takes the reins as the budget deficit could hit $15 billion. He and other Democratic leaders are trying to pass a major income tax increase that would boost the 3 percent income tax rate to 5.25 percent for four years.
Quinn was lieutenant governor until January 2009 when he took over from then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was arrested on federal corruption charges.
Illinois State Police plan to beef up security a bit when Gov. Pat Quinn and other state officials are sworn into office.
Spokesman Scott Compton says there won't be any major changes in the aftermath of an Arizona shooting spree that left a member of Congress critically injured.
But Compton says some additional officers will be present for Monday's ceremony. He says they will be visible to the public in an effort to discourage anyone who might be thinking about causing trouble.
Even before the Arizona shooting, Illinois police had plans for protecting officials as they are sworn in and for responding quickly to any threat.
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.
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.
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.
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