Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 03, 2012

Shimkus Addresses Health Care, Ag Bill in Meeting with Seniors

Congressman John Shimkus believes the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act resulted from a lack of debate in Congress.

The 19th District Republican from Collinsville said he was right on the individual mandate, and that the Commerce Clause can't be used to force a person to buy a good or service. But Shimkus said it was surprising that the high court used taxing authority to confirm the law was constitutional.

Speaking to Champaign County's Active Senior Republicans Monday, Shimkus said the bill wouldn't have passed in the first place if it were part of the legislative debate in Washington.

"And then I segue into the frustration that there was some deception by the legislative branch and the president," he said. "(President Obama) knew it was a tax, and was trying to portray it as not a tax to get to the final conclusion where they're at today, with a piece of legislation that is now the law of the land."

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Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 03, 2012

Johnson Seeks Review of Tax Cuts in Town Hall Meeting

Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) has laid out a vision for his final months in public office, a time he believes that may call for allowing some tax cuts to expire.

In what was described as his first town hall meeting back home in years, Johnson told the more than 100 attendees at Urbana Middle School that he was simply there to listen.

A question regarding tax credits for wind energy prompted the Republican to suggest more than cuts for dealing with a national deficit exceeding $16-trillion.

"Everybody is in room is going to have to share in the sacrifice that's necessary to deal with the debt - including taxpayers who make a lot of money," Johnson said. "Am I philosophically enthralled with the idea of a confiscatory tax system? No, I'm not, because I don't think that's what America is all about. But the reality is, we've got to raise more revenue."

Johnson said the shared sacrifice needs to not only come from personal sacrifice, but each side of the political aisle... to examine other tax credits and loopholes.

"If you give us a huge tax bill - legislation that extends all the tax cuts, I can't say no to a middle class taxpayer just because they also extend the tax cuts to the highest-income Americans,' Johnson said. "But we have to look at that. It's not palatable, it's not philosophically something I support, but it's something we very well may have to do to get a grip on this national debt."

Johnson also took questions on his opposition to military conflicts overseas, immigration, and political discord in Washington.

The retiring Congressman says he has yet to hear from his replacement on the ballot for Illinois' re-drawn 13th Congressional District about a possible endorsement. Johnson said he and Rodney Davis have only spoken for a few minutes.

When his term is up in January and comes home, Johnson said he still plans to do limited work for a local law firm, and teach upper level political science classes at either the University of Illinois, or Illinois State University.

The Congressman said either school would be fine, but believes ISU may better suit his schedule.

(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 03, 2012

AFSCME Raises Back In Hands Of Arbitrator

The wait continues for 20,000 state workers hoping to be paid salary hikes they were supposed to get a year ago.

Rather than deciding if they should get the raises, a Cook County judge passed the decision to an arbitrator. It's a situation members of Illinois' largest public employees union, AFSCME, had never before found themselves in.

Although their contract with the state guaranteed union members' would see their wages go up by more than 5 percent last year, 20,000 workers instead saw their paychecks remain steady. AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said state employees deserve to be fairly compensated.

"We've never encountered a unilateral pay freeze imposed by an employer like this before," Lindall said. "People are upset, they're angry, they want out of their way repeatedly to defer promised increases, to take furlough days ... and the thanks they've gotten is for the Governor to walk away from his side of the agreement and refuse to make them whole in the end."

Gov. Pat Quinn said he had to cancel the raises because the budget didn't include enough money to pay them.

The two sides have been battling it out in court.

Rather than settle the matter, a Cook County circuit court judge has sent it back to an independent arbitrator. The arbitrator will have to decide if, in fact, Illinois didn't have money to pay the employees.

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Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 02, 2012

Supreme Court Health Care Ruling Impacts Illinois

By Sean Powers, Craig Cohen, and Jim Meadows, with additional reporting from The Associated Press and Illinois Public Radio


(Duration: 5:13)

The Supreme Court has upheld the Affordable Care Act's health insurance requirement for most Americans, as well as other elements of the health care overhaul. The High Court ruled in a 5-4 vote that the health insurance requirement for most Americans in the Affordable Care Act was not, in fact, a mandate, but a tax.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 02, 2012

Governor Quinn Approves New State Budget

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a $33.7 billion state budget for 2013, but not before cutting $57 million from it that lawmakers had originally sent him.

The budget cuts discretionary spending by $1.4 billion from last year, and paid $1.3 billion in old bills, closes and consolidates 57 facilities and restructures the state's Medicaid program.

But the cuts include millions lost for school funding, public safety, mental health facilities with no plan to address rising pension costs.

The bill cuts education funding by $200 million and child-welfare spending by $85 million.

"Cutting the budget is never easy but we must make the difficult decisions necessary to restore fiscal stability to Illinois," Quinn said during a late Saturday morning press conference at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago.

Quinn says his actions will save the state about $82 million in the coming year by shuttering the facilities.

The closures include: - Tamms Correctional Center, Dwight Correctional Center, Southern Illinois Adult Transition Center, Decatur Adult Transition Center and the Westside Adult Transition Center in Chicago; - Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro and Illinois Youth Center in Joliet; - Tinley Park Mental Health Center, Singer Mental Health Center and Jacksonville Development Center.

Quinn says he wants to redirect at least $50 million back to the Department of Children and Family Services that lawmakers had originally cut out.

"Are we going to keep outdated, half-full facilities or are we going to invest and make sure we protect vulnerable children who are in danger of being neglected and hurt," Quinn said.

Quinn will have to work with lawmakers to restore that funding during the veto session in November.

Quinn is also hoping to get back $165 million from the U.S. Department of Corrections if it choses to buy the Tamms supermax prison. Quinn says the state is in negotiations with the federal government but it might take a while to complete. The prison is scheduled to be closed by the end of August.

Quinn noted that the amount of the budget going toward state pensions is now three times what it was five years ago.

He says of the 2013 budget, about $5.3 billion is to pay retirement costs for teachers and other state employees.

In 2008, it cost was $1.7 billion.

"We cannot continue on a path of having more and more of our budget devoted to pensions. The crying need to have pension reform is right now," Quinn said.

But lawmakers left Springfield at the end of May without approving a pension reform package. Leaders have been meeting in Chicago ever since but still no deal.

The hang-up appears to be a plan to shift pension costs from the state to suburban and downstate school districts. There's little confidence, however, anything will get worked out before the fall elections.

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Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 02, 2012

Champaign County Restaurants Fail Inspections

Champaign County Restaurants Fail Inspections

(Reported by Pam G. Dempsey of CU-CitizenAccess)

Public health officials continue to give failing scores to restaurants in Champaign County each month, but after more than three years of study they still have not decided how to make those inspections routinely public.

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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 30, 2012

Clinic, Small Business Group, Respond to ACA Ruling

Clinic, Small Business Group, Respond to ACA Ruling

A spokesman for a Champaign clinic helping those with little to no insurance sees Thursday's ruling on the Affordable Care Act as a positive, helping 30-to-50 million people across the country.

But Ben Mueller says Avicenna Community Health Center will still likely see dozens of patients who are undocumented immigrants.

Mueller serves as director of outreach and partnerships for the facility managed by the Central Illinois Mosque. He expects free clinics and hospital emergency rooms to stay in demand until more federal efforts to help immigrants are in place.

Mueller notes President Barack Obama is developing ways to address that, citing the recent order that young people from overseas without criminal records would be exempt from deportation.

"We're in a political year, and the election could bring a whole set of policies," he said. "It's conceivable in the future that legislation such as the Dream Act would provide a path to citizenship. And there's other implications for immigration reform that may provide some relief for persons who do not have health insurance that are currently covered under the Affordable Care Act."

Mueller says there's a lot hinging on policies tied to the Affordable Care Act. He says Medicaid rolls in Champaign County alone have grown from nearly 24-thousand in 2006, to 33-thousand last year.

Governor Pat Quinn says he expects to expand the Medicaid rolls with the high court's ruling, relying on federal assistance.

The Supreme Court's decision also brings to question how it will impact small businesses.

Steven Banke with the Chicago-based Small Business Advocacy Council favors health care co-ops over the exchanges that most states, Including Illinois, have yet to organize.

Benke, who chairs that group's health care committee, says that idea would bring much-needed competition to the market.

He says the difference between the two is a little complicated. Banke compares a health care exchange to the foundation of a building, while a co-op and its insurance companies, are the tenants.

"It's a type of risk-bearing entity or insurance company if you will," he said. "And it will operate on the exchange alongside of all the carriers. So we will be one of those carriers, if you will, that will show up on the exchange, and people will see us right next to Blue Cross, Aetna, United Health Care, and so forth."

Banke says one of the biggest challenges for him to provide coverage to a small office is that no one program size fits all.

He's hoping the exchange or co-op will allow them to get whatever type of health care they need.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 30, 2012

Quinn to Take Action Saturday on Illinois Budget

Gov. Pat Quinn's office says he will take action Saturday on the Illinois budget for fiscal year 2013.

Quinn received budget legislation from state lawmakers Friday.

According to his public schedule, he will take action on the budget Saturday morning in downtown Chicago. Quinn has until midnight Saturday to act on the budget.

The Senate sent seven key budget bills and a technical measure allowing spending for fiscal 2013 to the Democratic governor's desk.

Revenue forecasts forced lawmakers to slash primary school funding by $210 million. Spending on prisons and state police drop $69 million.

There's money to keep open prisons at Dwight and Tamms. Quinn says he'll close those anyway.

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Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 29, 2012

Ex-Chicago Alderman, Ex-County Official Charged

Former Cook County commissioner Joseph Moreno and former Chicago Alderman Ambrosio Medrano are being charged for taking bribes.

Prosecutors say Moreno took a $5,000 bribe to insure development of a waste transfer station in Cicero while he sat on the town's economic development panel. They say he also used his position as a Cook County commissioner to get kickbacks for pushing Stroger Hospital to buy bandages from a particular company.

Ambrosio Medrano worked for Commissioner Moreno. He's also charged, but he was also a Chicago alderman who pleaded guilty in 1996 in another bribery scheme. Medrano is being held in jail because prosecutors say he's a flight risk. Judge Young Kim will hear more on that at a hearing on Tuesday.

The charges were unsealed Thursday afternoon in Chicago federal court. Medrano and Moreno were among seven defendants charged in the case.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 29, 2012

Governor Quinn Offers Tamms Prison to Feds

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is offering to sell the Tamms prison to the federal government.

In a letter dated Friday and obtained by The Associated Press, Quinn tells the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons that the 14-year-old Supermax lockup he plans to close by fall would be a "valuable addition'' to the U.S. correctional system.

The Democratic governor says the high-security Tamms must close to save money. It was built to house inmates who cause trouble in regular penitentiaries. But its costly mission has fallen out of favor with many.

Neither a spokesperson for Quinn nor the federal prison bureau had immediate comment.

Quinn has been criticized by angry southern Illinois lawmakers who want him to keep the prison open and keep its hundreds of employees working.

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Categories: Government, Politics

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