Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 13, 2011

U of I to Restrict Late-Night Access to Campus Libraries

In a new security measure, the University of Illinois said it will limit admission to its Urbana campus libraries after midnight to those with university I-D cards, also known as I-Cards. The restriction begins when the spring semester starts on Tuesday, Jan. 18.

Libraries on the U of I Urbana campus are open to the general public during the day, and early evening. But U of I Associate Librarian for Services Scott Walter said security concerns have led them to restrict library admission after midnight to those with I-Cards, which are provided to university students, faculty and employees. Student fees pay to keep the Undergraduate, Grainger Engineering and Funk ACES libraries open late. Walter said students have made it clear their priority for those hours is having a safe place to study.

"The primary concern is the provision of study space for students and for faculty users, during those late-night hours, when other safe and secure academic spaces are not necessarily available," he said.

Walter said no particular incident led to the new policy, but he said faculty, students --- and students' parents --- have all expressed concerns about library security, amid recent incidents of crimes in and near the Urbana campus. He said the policy is similar to those at other university libraries with late-night hours.

In addition to the late-night I-Card requirement, the lower level of the Undergraduate Library will now be closed after midnight, although materials from that floor can still be requested.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 12, 2011

Republican Lawmakers Push for Income Tax Repeal

Democratic leaders are fresh off their victory in getting an income tax hike through both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly, but now Republicans in the state Senate are challenging the legislation by calling for its repeal.

State Senator Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) joined his fellow GOP lawmakers in voting against the tax hike, and he is now crafting legislation to repeal the tax increase. Murphy said he is confident an ample number of his colleagues will support the plan, noting that Republicans have more seats in the new legislature. He also said several of the Democratic Senators who voted against the tax hike will continue serving.

"Do I expect the Senate President to allow this bill to move, or the Speaker, or the Governor to sign it?" Murphy said. "I don't, but nobody ever got somewhere by saying I might as well not get started because it probably won't happen."

The legislation calls for a 67-percent increase in the state's income tax along with a spike in the corporate tax. Murphy said the move will cost the state jobs.

It is eliminated that Illinois' budget deficit could reach $15 billion this year. State Senator Dale Righter (R-Mattoon), who serves as the Senate's deputy minority leader, said a tax increase is not something he would make a pledge to block in every situation, but he said in this case, lawmakers have failed to go through the budget line-by-line, and make cuts.

"The tax increase was wrong in the first place," Righter said. "I think it's going to make things worse. It's going to fuel more government spending, and it's going to lead to greater job loss and diminish economic activity."

Governor Pat Quinn says he will sign the income tax legislation, calling it a necessary step to generate revenue.

"It's important for the state government not to be a fiscal basket case, and that's what I confronted when I arrived," Quinn said. "I've said for two years, I said it in campaigns, we needed to restrain spending. We have. And we also need revenue to pay these overdue bills. And we will.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 12, 2011

Walker Uses Ill. Tax Increase to Bolster Wisconsin

Gov. Scott Walker tried to take full advantage of Illinois lawmakers passing dramatic tax increases Wednesday, saying Wisconsin would welcome any businesses from its neighboring state that care to relocate.

Absent from Walker's sales pitch was the fact that Wisconsin's top income tax rates remain higher than Illinois even under the increase.

Even so, the Republican Walker was reveling in drawing a comparison between Illinois, which has a Democratic governor, and his agenda to cut taxes.

"Years ago Wisconsin had a tourism advertising campaign targeted to Illinois with the motto, 'Escape to Wisconsin,'" Walker said in a statement. "Today we renew that call to Illinois businesses, 'Escape to Wisconsin.' You are welcome here."

Walker referenced Illinois' problem in a speech to business leaders on Tuesday, issued a statement hours after the tax increase vote on Wednesday and then called a news conference to talk about it as well.

Wisconsin lawmakers were picking up on it as well. Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, said he welcomed any chance to "kind of stick it to them" in Illinois. He said lawmakers there raising taxes played right into Walker's hands.

And while income tax rates are higher in Wisconsin, corporate income taxes in Illinois would be higher.

Wisconsin has a graduated income tax rate that goes from 4.6 percent to 7.5 percent. Illinois has a flat rate that would increase from 3 percent to 5 percent under the move passed by the Legislature to help plug a $15 billion budget hole. Lawmakers there also approved raising the state's corporate income tax rate, effectively moving it from 7 percent to 9.5 percent. Wisconsin's rate is 7.9 percent.

Walker hasn't yet proposed lowering the state's income or corporate tax rates. But he has called for eliminating taxes for companies that move to Wisconsin from Illinois or anyplace else. He also wants to cut taxes on small businesses already in the state. He argues that those moves, along with lawsuit and regulatory reforms, will make Wisconsin a more attractive place to do business.

Vos, co-chairman of the Legislature's budget committee, said he wants to change Walker's small business tax cut proposal into a $1,000 income tax credit to companies for every job created in the state. The Legislature could vote on the tax cut proposals as soon as next week.

The key is that Wisconsin is moving toward lowering taxes while Illinois is raising them, said James Buchen, a vice president at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state's largest business group.

"It just makes Wisconsin look more attractive relative to our neighbor to the south," Buchen said.

Walker has adopted the mantra that "Wisconsin is open for business" and has repeated it at nearly every turn ever since his election in November. He's pledged to add 250,000 jobs in Wisconsin by 2015.

Wisconsin faces a two-year $3 billion budget shortfall. Walker has said his budget, which will be released next month, will balance even with the business tax cuts he's already proposed.

While Walker's talking about taking jobs away from Illinois, Wisconsin's neighbor has already tried to woo Talgo Inc., a train maker that said it will move its manufacturing jobs out of Milwaukee next year because the state rejected federal funds for high-speed rail.

Talgo spokeswoman Nora Friend said Illinois's tax structure would be one of many factors in determining whether the company would relocate its manufacturing there.

"Illinois is still a very strong state because of its strong supply chain and strong will to expand its rail plan," she said Wednesday. "Our analysis includes a lot of factors. (The tax situation) would not weigh in as a positive but it's difficult to say whether it's the deciding factor. It would be one more factor that gets weighed in."

She said Illinois, Washington and Florida are among the top three candidates for Talgo's new site.

Categories: Business, Economics, Government

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 12, 2011

Quinn Won’t Say if He’ll Sign Death Penalty Bill

More than a decade after Illinois put all executions on hold, a bill to abolish the death penalty altogether awaits only the governor's signature.

But Pat Quinn's approval is hardly assured. While he says he supports capital punishment when properly applied, he has not yet indicated whether he will sign the proposal, despite intense pressure from fellow Democrats.

"I think it's important, given the importance of this measure, that people from all over Illinois express their opinions," Quinn said Wednesday, a day after lawmakers sent the historic bill to his desk. "I'm happy to listen and reflect, and I'll follow my conscience."

And as he listens, the world watches.

Former Gov. George Ryan thrust Illinois' death penalty system into the spotlight when he imposed the moratorium in 2000 and again when he emptied death row in 2003.

When Ryan called for the moratorium, the state had executed 12 death row inmates since 1977. The sentences of 13 others had been overturned.

In some of those 13 cases, evidence showed the suspects were innocent. In others, the trials were deemed unfair or confessions were found to be coerced by abusive police. Since then, the number of overturned capital cases has risen to 20.

In Illinois, perhaps more than anywhere else in the country, the death penalty is an issue that pits those who have lost loved ones to violence against those who have lost years of their lives to prison for crimes they didn't commit. And both sides plan to give Quinn an earful.

Bill Sloop said death is the only just punishment for the man who shot and killed one of his daughters and wounded another in a 1996 attack that also left a second girl dead and two toddlers permanently injured.

To Sloop, inmates "wouldn't be on death row if they didn't deserve to be there."

"To keep them on life in prison without parole . that's our taxpayer dollars keeping somebody alive that didn't care about other people's lives," Sloop said. The convicted killer, Daniel Ramsey, "did not care what our daughter asked. She asked him not to shoot, and she begged, and he went ahead and did it. And the only real justice for him is the death penalty."

But for former death row inmate Ronald Kitchen, the death penalty delivered anything but justice. Kitchen spent 13 of his 21 years in prison on death row after being coerced into confessing to five murders he had nothing to do with. He was released in 2009 and plans to lobby Quinn to sign the repeal.

"I want Governor Quinn to see my face," Kitchen said. "Just nine years ago, I was sitting on death row, fighting, hoping that the truth will come out, that my innocence will be proven ... that I was an innocent man sitting on death row waiting to be murdered by the state."

"The system is not working," he said.

Three years after imposing the moratorium, Ryan cleared death row of 171 people, commuting most sentences to life in prison and freeing four more inmates whose guilt was in doubt. Significant changes - including more money and training for defense attorneys, videotaped interrogations and easier access to DNA evidence - soon followed.

Just a month after death row was emptied, courts began sentencing inmates to death again. Death row currently has 15 occupants. The last execution in Illinois was in 1999.

If Quinn rejects the death penalty repeal, he would go against his fellow Democrats, who pushed the bill through the Legislature over the last week.

State Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, urged colleagues to help the state "join the civilized world by ending this practice of putting to death innocent people."

There's no proof Illinois ever executed an innocent person.

Quinn is being tight-lipped not only about his decision but also his decision-making process. Asked whether religion will weigh in his thinking, he repeated that he plans to listen carefully. The newly inaugurated governor is Roman Catholic, a church that condemns capital punishment.

Former law enforcement officials in the Senate had argued that prosecutors need the threat of death to get guilty pleas from suspects who opt for life in prison. And prosecutors complained that legislators rushed the repeal measure through.

"I believe that they're leaving the family members completely out of the process," said Jefferson County State's Attorney Nicole Villani, who helped to prosecute death row inmate Cecil Sutherland. "I just don't feel like their voices were heard."

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have already ended capital punishment. Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Maryland and Montana are among those that have considered repeal in the past year or still are reviewing it, according to abolition advocates.

"This is just the beginning," said Jeremy Schroeder, executive director of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. "Illinois is really in the beginning of a wave.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 12, 2011

Rep. Bob Flider Leaves Office After 8 Years in General Assembly

Wednesday is State Representative Bob Flider's final day as a member of the Illinois General Assembly.

The Mt. Zion Democrat narrowly lost his re-election bid in November against Decatur Republican Adam Brown. Flider, who has served in the Illinois House since 2003, described his time in office as a period marked with frustration from an ousted governor to a sluggish economy.

"The thing that's most frustrating about this place is it's about power, it's about politics, and it's about posturing," Flider said. "To so many it's easy to sit in a minority and point fingers and blame the majority for all the problems."

Flider noted that it bothers him when lawmakers are criticized for appearing not to do enough work.

"You know coming together on important issues like raising revenues and expenditures is a real challenge," he said. "The people who work here who represent their constituents who come here everyday don't deserve to be viewed as if they are slouches not getting the job done."

Reflecting on his career in the legislature, Flider praised his efforts working with community leaders by focusing on infrastructure needs. He also cited his work to pass utility reforms aimed at saving consumers money. He said as the state progresses financially, there needs to be more of a concentration on matching the state's ability to generate electricity with the growing economy.

"If Congress decides to enact new rules and laws that makes it difficult to use the Illinois coal we have from the power plants that we have," he said. "We're going to have to come to terms with getting new generation online that is not being built right now."

As one of his final legislative acts Tuesday night, Flider reluctantly voted in favor of an income tax hike, even though he has traditionally come out against supporting one. He said it was the most difficult vote he has cast during his eight years in office.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 12, 2011

Ill. Lawmakers Look Ahead at Higher Ed. Budget Plan

In the 11th hour of the 96th General Assembly, lawmakers in Springfield passed an income tax increase, which could chip away at unpaid bills to the state's universities.

But there is another measure in the Illinois House that will be introduced later this year sponsored by Rep. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) and Rep. Chad Hays (R-Daville) that seeks to improve the economic outlook for higher education without raising taxes.

"How do we work together in a way that makes sense to do a better job with limited resources?" Hays said. "This is one small step in that direction, and my hope would be that we're having many of these conversations as we go forward."

The legislation would create a moratorium on new, unfunded mandates on state universities. University of Illinois spokesman Tom Hardy said even public policy with the best intentions can lead to mandates which make it difficult for universities to operate in a cost-effective way.

"You know, unfunded mandates that gets talked about frequently are tuition waivers," Hardy said. "That's something that should be looked at to free up potentially millions of dollars in tuition waivers that public universities across the state are funding."

The University of Illinois system is waiting on $413 million in reimbursements from the state. It has explored ways to improve its budget situation through furloughs, department consolidations, and a tuition hike. The U of I's Board of Trustees is slated to vote Jan. 20 on a series of fee increases for its students.

Hays noted that another important part of the legislation includes a provision that would create a single procurement officer who would coordinate purchases for every university in the state.

He added that the legislation was influenced by the recommendations of officials at the University of Illinois and Eastern Illinois University, and he expects the measure to be introduced in the spring.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 12, 2011

Ill. Lawmakers Pass Income Tax Increase

Democrats in the Illinois Legislature on Wednesday approved a 66 percent income-tax increase in a desperate and politically risky effort to end the state's crippling budget crisis.

The increase now goes to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who supports the plan to temporarily raise the personal tax rate to 5 percent, a two-thirds increase from the current 3 percent rate. Corporate taxes also would climb as part of the effort to close a budget hole that could hit $15 billion this year.

The higher taxes will generate about $6.8 billion a year, Quinn's office said - a major increase by any measure. In percentage terms, 66 percent might be the biggest increase any state has adopted while grappling with recent economic woes.

It will be coupled with strict 2 percent limits on spending growth. If officials violate those limits, the tax increase will automatically be canceled. The plan's supporters warned that rising pension and health care costs probably will eat up all the spending allowed by the caps, forcing cuts in other areas of government.

Other pieces of the budget plan failed.

Lawmakers rejected a $1-a-pack increase in cigarette taxes, which would have provided money for schools. They also blocked a plan to borrow $8.7 billion to pay off the state's overdue bills, which means long-suffering businesses and social-service agencies won't get their money anytime soon.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, sounding weary, said Republicans should have supported some parts of the plan instead of voting against everything.

"They're on the sidelines. They don't want to get on the field of play," the Chicago Democrat said. "I'm happy that the day has ended."

But Republicans noted they were not included in negotiations. They also fundamentally reject the idea of raising taxes after years of spending growth.

"We're saying to the people of Illinois, 'For eight years we've overspent, now we're going to make it your problem,'" said Rep. Roger Eddy. "We're making up for our mistakes on your back."

The increase means an Illinois resident who now owes $1,000 in state income taxes will pay $1,666 at the new rate. After four years, the rate drops to 4 percent and that same taxpayer will then owe $1,333.

Republicans predict the tax eventually will be made permanent.

"It's a cruel hoax to play on citizens to say this is temporary," said House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego.

Democrats bristled at the idea that they are to blame for the state's financial problems, although they've controlled the governor's office and both legislative chambers since 2003.

They said some parts of the problem began under Republican governors and that Republicans backed some of the budgets that increased spending. They argued the national recession sent state revenues into a nosedive and that Democrats already have cut spending by billions of dollars.

"This mess is a mess that is the responsibility of all of us as Republicans and Democrats, of several different governors and part of the mess isn't even anybody's fault," said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago.

The new tax money will balance the state's annual budget and let officials begin chipping away at the backlog of unpaid bills. Borrowing money, and then repaying it with a portion of the tax increase, would have allowed those bills to be paid immediately, aiding organizations that provide services for the state but go months without being reimbursed.

The delay and the spending limits are "very troubling" to groups pushing for the state to come up with money to pay its bills, said Sean Noble, policy director for Voices for Illinois Children, a member of the statewide Responsible Budget Coalition. Still, he called the tax increase "an enormous step" toward putting Illinois on sound financial footing.

The proposal passed the House on Tuesday night by a vote of 60-57, the bare minimum. No Republicans backed the measure there or in the Senate, where the measure passed 30-29.

Legislative leaders were eager to pass the plan before a new General Assembly was sworn in Wednesday, taking a slice out of the Democratic majority and removing lame-duck lawmakers who might be willing to support the tax before leaving office.

The governor has refused to discuss the tax proposal publicly, although his aides say he supports it. During his election campaign, Quinn promised to veto any tax plan that was higher than his proposal for a 1-point increase.

Early Wednesday, Quinn's office called the approved measure "strong action" that will strengthen the budget and actually help the state economy.

Republicans accused Democrats of doing irreparable harm to Illinois families and businesses. Business leaders decried the proposal as a job-killer.

"Based on this particular legislation the only businesses that will benefit are the moving companies that will be helping many of my members move out of this particular state," said Gregory Baise, head of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association.

"This is the nuclear bomb of jobs bills," said Sen. Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington.

Democrats countered that even with the increase, Illinois' tax rate will be lower than in many neighboring states - Iowa's top rate is 8.98 percent, Wisconsin's is 7.75 percent. They also maintain that without more money, state government may not be able to pay employees by the end of the year. Major government services might have to be halted, they warn, and groups waiting for state payments will go under.

"The wolf is at the door, ladies and gentleman," said Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago.

Spending limits were added to the plan to win the support of some suburban Democrats. Republicans said the limits don't do enough to clamp down.

The limits allow next year's spending to increase considerably so the state can make its required contribution to government retirement systems, pay overdue bills and cover other costs that had been shoved aside. After that, however, spending could not grow more than 2 percent annually for the next three years or else the tax increase would be reversed.

"We're really trying to handcuff ourselves and the governor in our spending," said Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 11, 2011

Illinois House Passes Massive Tax Increase

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.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 11, 2011

Ill. House Rejects $1-a-pack Hike on Cigarette Tax

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.

Categories: Economics, Government, Health

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 11, 2011

Five People Under Consideration for Champaign City Council Seat

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.

Categories: Government, Politics

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