Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 29, 2011

Illinois House Rejects Business Tax Incentives

The Illinois House overwhelmingly rejected a $250 million package of tax breaks meant to help businesses and keep several major companies from leaving the state.

Only eight people voted for the package, while 99 opposed it Tuesday. It's still possible another version of the tax breaks could be considered.

The financial exchange company CME Group Inc. and Sears Holdings Corp. have threatened to leave if they don't get some tax relief.

Other companies across the state could benefit from an array of smaller tax credits in the bill. It also includes relief for individual taxpayers and low-income workers.

The measure passed the Senate earlier.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 29, 2011

DNA Test Shows Construction Worker Was Gacy Victim

After her older brother disappeared in 1976, Laura O'Leary suspected that the 19-year-old construction worker had probably died at the hands of John Wayne Gacy. But the family was never able to prove it.

They got little help from authorities. And they couldn't locate any dental records to compare with the skeletal remains found beneath the serial killer's house.

So O'Leary waited, clinging for more than 30 years to a few items that once belonged to William George Bundy - a bracelet she'd given him for his 18th birthday, a high school photo ID and an autographed school book.

O'Leary's worst suspicions were confirmed Tuesday, when authorities announced that Bundy was one of the eight unidentified young men found under Gacy's home.

"Today's terribly sad, but it is also a day that provides closure," O'Leary said. "We have been waiting for a long time for closure."

The identification of Bundy came weeks after the sheriff's office issued a public plea for families of young men who disappeared in the 1970s to submit DNA samples for comparison with the victims' remains.

Investigators exhumed the remains earlier this year, hoping that the passage of time and advancement of technology would work in their favor. They established a hotline and a website for people to file reports.

O'Leary, who was 15 when her brother vanished, said she immediately went to the site after hearing the news. She and her brother, Robert, provided DNA samples. The sheriff's office also received a call from a friend of Bundy's who said he believed his friend may have worked for Gacy.

"For so many years, we've had unanswered questions," O'Leary said. "There were no leads. Time went by."

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said the office received calls from 29 states and developed a total of 125 leads, 80 of which required follow up.

Eleven DNA samples were submitted in connection with some of the seven other victims. Four samples did not match, and investigators are waiting on the others, working with a lab at the University of North Texas.

"People are really desperate to find their missing loved ones, and there are not a lot of outlets," Detective Jason Moran said.

He said investigators were learning more about Gacy, his victims and gaps in police work in the 1970s and 1980s, including missing-persons reports that were never followed up or pursued.

Gacy is remembered as one of history's most bizarre killers, largely because of his work as an amateur clown. He was convicted of murdering 33 young men, sometimes luring them to his Chicago-area home for sex by impersonating a police officer or promising them construction work.

The building contractor stabbed one and strangled the others between 1972 and 1978. Most were buried in a crawl space under his home. Four others were dumped in a river.

Gacy was executed in 1994.

Bundy, who grew up in Chicago, was last seen in October 1976 heading out to a party, authorities said. He had forgotten his wallet at home.

A day after he vanished, his family filed a missing-persons report. But, O'Leary said, "it wasn't pursued aggressively."

Bundy's family contacted authorities again when news of Gacy and his victims became public, but they had no way to identify any remains. Their dentist had retired and destroyed all dental records.

Two years later, Bundy's remains were found under Gacy's house, identified only as "Victim No. 19" because his was the 19th body removed from a crawl space beneath Gacy's home.

Investigators said there is no way to know for sure the circumstances of Bundy's death or how he came into contact with Gacy. But Dart said it appeared the motive was luring Bundy with the promise of construction work.

Bundy's disappearance and the unanswered questions weighed heavily on O'Leary's family. Her parents died years ago.

"My mother, she was never really the same," O'Leary said, declining to discuss matters in detail. She said she and her brother want time to heal.

O'Leary and her brother recalled Bundy as a teenager who had a lot of friends, was an excellent diver and excelled at gymnastics. Many of her girlfriends wanted to date him, she joked.

She said learning the truth about his fate allowed the family to close a door. Bundy's amended death certificate was submitted to the Cook County medical examiner's office.

The family plans to put up a grave marker for Bundy in the spring and have a ceremony at the cemetery where other relatives are buried.

"The sorrow will eventually go away," she said. "And I'll have a place to visit him."

(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 29, 2011

Jaguars Being Sold to Urbana Businessman

The NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars have reached an agreement to sell the small-market franchise to Urbana businessman Shahid Khan.

Majority owner Wayne Weaver made the announcement Tuesday, hours after he fired coach Jack Del Rio and gave general manager Gene Smith a three-year contract extension. He said Khan will have 100 percent control of the team. Weaver called Khan "a great American success story'' and said the Pakistan-born entrepreneur plans to keep the team in Jacksonville.

Khan, a University of Illinois alumnus, is the owner and CEO of the Flex-N-Gate Group based in Urbana, Ill. Khan had been a candidate to buy controlling interest in the St. Louis Rams last year. In September, the U of I named an addition to its College of Applied Sciences after Khan and his wife Ann, who donated $10 million to help fund construction of the facility.

The sale of the franchise and the firing of Del Rio are the city's most significant news since the team's inception in 1993.

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)

Categories: Biography, Business, Sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 29, 2011

Illinois to Allow Civil-Union Couples to File Joint State Tax Returns

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)

Starting in January, Illinois will allow couples who obtained civil-union licenses this year to file joint state income tax returns, a symbolic change that likely won't save couples money but that one gay-rights group called an important step.

Monday's announcement comes after Illinois became the seventh state, along with the District of Columbia, to give same-sex couples significant legal protections. Gov. Pat Quinn signed the state's civil union law in January.

That bill included the right to decide medical care for an ailing partner and the right to inherit property, but it didn't include the ability for same-sex couples to file a joint tax return.

While federal law does not allow same-sex couples to submit taxes together, Quinn pushed for the state to make the change after signing the civil union bill, Illinois Department of Revenue spokeswoman Susan Hofer said Monday.

"This was basically the governor saying, 'Find a way to make this work,'" she said.

New tax paperwork and other details haven't been finalized. Officials plan to have same-sex couples who will file individual federal returns also fill out a joint federal return for the state's use only, Hofer said.

The state income tax forms are based on a couple's adjusted gross income on the federal return.

Illinois has a flat income tax of 5 percent, so the benefits couples receive from filing together for federal taxes won't apply at the state level, Hofer said. Still, she added that couples wil still have some additional benefits, like property tax exemptions or education assistance tax credits.

"It's a fairness issue," she said. "And that's the way the governor presented it."

The policy would have no bearing on filing federal taxes jointly because of federal restrictions on gay marriage.

"But this is still a major step because it allows civil union couples to be treated in the same way as married couples are treated, and that's exactly what the lawmakers intended," said Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov.

Cherkasov said he hopes Illinois' recent efforts to extend rights to same-sex couples carry over to the federal level. He also said the change would benefit same-sex couples in the future if lawmakers change the state tax code.

"We wanted to make sure that we don't give up on that fight now only to create a real disadvantage for civil-union couples later down the road," he said.

According to the group, Illinois will become the 10th state, along with Washington, D.C., to allow joint state tax returns.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 29, 2011

Lawmakers Return to Springfield to Consider Tax Break Bill

State lawmakers are back in Springfield on Tuesday to try to pass legislation that will keep a pair of major corporations happy enough to stay in Illinois while also doing something for smaller businesses and everyday taxpayers.

A scaled-back tax package is before the General Assembly after it became clear earlier this month during the regularly scheduled veto session that there wasn't enough support for a larger and more expensive version. However, there is still no telling if the new plan will succeed.

What's now the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group cites its namesake city as its birthplace when in 1848 the world's first futures exchange was created.

Sears came to the city not long after in 1887. The company is now in suburban Hoffman Estates.

Despite their long histories in Illinois, both fixtures are threatening to leave. They are being lured by other states with bids of tax breaks and incentives.

Illinois legislators fearful of losing all of those jobs are back at the capitol crafting a counter offer.

Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion), who chairs the House Revenue Committee, has pushed a plan that creates, extends and increases a smattering of other taxes to the benefit of other businesses, and to individuals.

Bradley's proposal has an annual price tag of $250 million, which is $850 million less compared to an earlier proposal. It would include $85 million in relief for Chicago-based financial exchanges that are threatening to leave the state. It also includes $15 million in tax credits for Hoffman-Estates based Sears, which says it may also move.

"We're trying to create fairness, we're trying to create balance, we're trying to spend the money we have as wisely as possible and we're trying to do it in a sustainable manner," Bradley said. "I wish we had more, I wish we could do more. But the reality is that we need to pay bills, we need to keep these companies in Illinois, we need to provide as much relief as we can small businesses and working men and women."

At about $600 million less than the earlier package, Bradley said the plan he is sponsoring is what Illinois can afford.

Businesses groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Manufactures Association say they are pleased with the proposal. They like that it no longer retroactively reverses a tax break that lets companies delay paying taxes on big machinery purchases. They also like that it extends a research and development tax credit, that it partially reverses a suspension of the net operating loss deduction, and it provides relief on the estate tax.

The GOP's negotiator, Rep. David Harris (R-Arlington Heights), said the plan is designed to benefit small and medium businesses.

"The objective is to key in, for business proposes, to show that it's not just the big guess, but small and medium businesses that we want to help as well," Harris said.

There's even a live theater production tax credit, after Broadway in Chicago has continually testified it will help bring acts to the city.

That wide range is why House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) gets miffed.

"I think there are serious questions about the top heavy nature about this proposition," Currie said. "I think there are serious questions about the issue of whether we ought to just jump when some other state says 'we're going to steal your businesses away from you.'"

Currie suggests the General Assembly consider narrow measures targeted solely at the Mercantile Exchange and Sears. The package has blossomed because legislators will be attracted to the various components. Especially when they are hearing protests like that of Toby Chow, with the Make Wall Street Pay Illinois coalition.

"Let me tell you what fairness really means," Chow said. "It means saying no to further budget cuts, which will pile misery upon misery for the 99 percent, and it means saying no to tax breaks which will pile idle wealth upon idle wealth for those in the 1 percent. It means standing up to their extortion and blackmail and threats to leave Chicago."

In the spirit of appeasing some of those concerns, the package breaks not just for businesses but also to individual taxpayers. It increases the earned income tax credit, to the benefit of the working poor. But the credit's significantly smaller in this new, scaled back version of the package.

Gov. Pat Quinn's budget director David Vaught said the administration wants more.

"That makes a huge difference to that single mother, and it also makes a huge difference to our economy," Vaught said. "So, it makes a huge difference out there for those folks who are not happy with government."

That's not to mention critics who argue the package does nothing for the middle class. The standard tax exemption gets a one-time raise, but going forward it will not be tied to inflation as originally proposed.

House sponsor John Bradley said there is pressure to add here, subtract there, but he said he will continue negotiating in an attempt to get enough votes. But at some point, he said, it will be time to move forward.

If getting a package through the General Assembly is being done to please the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, time is nearly up. Its chairman was upset earlier this month because the legislature couldn't get it done during its regularly scheduled veto session. That's why lawmakers hurried back.

To the consternation of some legislators, nobody from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange present at the committee was wiling to testify how long it'll wait.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 29, 2011

Quinn Announces Plan to Save Facilities Marked for Closure

Gov. Pat Quinn says he's reached a deal to keep seven state facilities he'd planned to close open through the fiscal year.

Quinn's office announced the deal Monday. State budget director David Vaught tells The Associated Press that the estimated $200 million cost of keeping the seven centers open through the current fiscal year, which ends in June, will be covered by moving funds from other parts of the budget.

Vaught says Quinn's veto of $376 million from the $33.2 billion budget passed by the legislature this year made the deal possible.

Earlier this year, Quinn said the state needed to close seven centers, including a prison and centers for the developmentally disabled and mentally ill. The closures would have resulted in nearly 2,000 layoffs.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 28, 2011

Mourners Pay Respects to Maggie Daley

Mourners remembering Chicago's former first lady of 22 years have called her an inspirational and passionate woman, but she's also being called the greatest gift Pittsburgh ever gave to Chicago.

The funeral Mass for Maggie Daley was Monday at one of Chicago's oldest churches. The Rev. John Wall of Old St. Patrick's Catholic Church says he often bragged to strangers about Maggie Daley, who grew up in Pittsburgh.

He called her a gift from the East Coast city and thanked members of her family.

The wife of former Mayor Richard Daley died on Thanksgiving after a long battle with cancer. She was 68.

Hundreds attended the service, including stars of the political and movie worlds. Among them were first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and filmmaker George Lucas.

Categories: Biography
Tags: people

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 28, 2011

Judge Denies Blagojevich Request to Hear New Tapes

The federal judge who will sentence impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges had harsh words for one of the former governor's latest legal moves.

Blagojevich's attorneys filed a motion last week asking for permission to play tapes at the governor's sentencing hearing Dec. 6.

They say the tapes are necessary to show Blagojevich's lack of ill intent, an indication that Blagojevich is not likely to apologize for his crimes.

In denying the motion Zagel notes it was filed on Thanksgiving day. Zagel said the court was closed and this was not an emergency motion because there was no new evidence, the defense has been in possession of the tapes for many months.

Zagel noted that the defendant didn't even give the court the courtesy notice through email and writes that the practice is, "difficult to defend under any circumstances and made more so because of the nature of the motion."

Zagel said Blagojevich's attorneys didn't say what part of the calls they want to play. He said they're basically asking for his quote, "blind approval."

Blagojevich is set to be sentenced in 8 days.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 28, 2011

Ameren Ending Partnership in FutureGen Project

A partner in the FutureGen clean-coal project in Illinois is withdrawing from the effort within weeks.

The FutureGen Alliance that has included St. Louis-based Ameren Corp. says the utility won't continue its cooperative agreement for the project past the end of this year. The coalition says it is negotiating a plan to buy for the project a portion of a power plant Ameren intends to soon close near the west-central Illinois village of Meredosia.

The alliance also is asking to be allowed to take over an agreement between Ameren and the Energy Department for development of the $1.65 billion project.

Ameren says it will still maintain the plant so it can be retrofitted as planned for the effort, which also includes storing carbon dioxide.

Categories: Energy, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 28, 2011

GOP Legislative Rivals Wary of Tax Break Bill

Two Republican lawmakers who plan to run against each other in the March primary both say they are wary of the tax break measure that will be presented to them on Tuesday. The measure would give tax breaks for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Sears --- both of which have threatened to leave the state.

State Sen. Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) said he wants to see tax changes that would help farmers and small businesses, and State Rep. Jason Barickman (R-Champaign) said he doesn't favor any bill that provides tax breaks for some, but not for all.

Barickman and Cultra have both filed their petitions to get on the March primary ballot in the new 53rd Illinois Senate District.

Cultra, who is the incumbent in the race, currently represents the old 53rd Senate District, and he said his experience as a lawmaker gives him an advantage over Barickman.

"It's up to him to convince people that they need a change," Cultra said. "The district that I represent, I represent very well. It fits me personally as far as the views that I have are the views of the district."

Barickman is running in his first election, after being appointed to take over Cultra's old House seat. Barickman said he does not want to make the race a personal battle between him and Cultra. But Barickman does say that Illinois needs effective, conservative leadership.

"For Republicans, what we have to do is put the best leaders that we can in Springfield who can voice a conservative message, but can also reach across party aisles and bring some of those Democrats with us on issues that are important, like concealed carry and limited spending," Barickman said.

With the veto session starting this week, both lawmakers say they are uneasy about supporting a new package of possible tax breaks for Illinois businesses. The measure passed the House Revenue Committee on Monday afternoon by a 6-0 vote.

The measure's main goal is to provide tax relief to Chicago area companies that have threatened to leave Illinois due to last January's tax hike. They include financial exchange holding company CME Group and Sears Holdings, which owns Sears and Kmart.

Barickman said the tax increases passed last January affected everybody, and that any tax rollbacks must help all businesses and taxpayers, not just specific big corporations.

"Those types of people need to have a voice in Springfield. And I'm certainly going to fight for tax relief that helps them, and not necessarily the one that just helps a specific, cherry-picked group," Barickman said.

Meanwhile, Cultra said he is looking for specifics in the package ---- specifics that helps farmers and small businesses, like a lower inheritance tax and a restoration of the research and development tax credit for corporations.

"These were all things that were in place, that were done away with, that we created more reasons for people not to invest in Illinois. And it just makes common sense to have these things in place," Cultra said.

The latest version of the tax break package released on Monday would restore the tax credit, and make changes in the estate tax. It would also include tax breaks for families and the poor.

The new 53rd Senate District includes all of Ford and Iroquois Counties, and also parts of McLean and Vermilion. Barickman and Cultra used the first day of the filing period to file their petitions for the March 20th Republican primary.

Candidates have until next Monday to file petitions in state and local races.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

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