Illinois Public Media News
(With additional reporting from the Associated Press)
The state's top Republican legislative leaders say Illinois' income tax hike hasn't been a solution to the state's fiscal problems, and they're pushing for an immediate repeal.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation last year that raised the personal tax rate to 5 percent from 3 percent for four years, which is a 67 percent increase. Corporate taxes also went up.
The goal was to help bring Illinois out of its deepest budget hole in history.
A report by the Illinois Policy Institute claims the increase made Illinois less competitive for business and had other negative impacts.
Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno and House Minority Leader Tom Cross want an immediate repeal and support legislation filed last year.
Cross said the state needs to look at steeper budgetary cuts, pension reform, and salary freezes for union workers.
"If you're an Illinois taxpayer, you ought to resent this, and you ought to be angry about this," he said. "You ought to say, 'Why didn't you do the things you know needed to be done, and we could have avoided going down this road?'"
Democratic State Representative Naomi Jakobsson of Urbana said the tax hike was the right thing for the state.
"We knew that it wasn't going to magically solve all of the problems overnight," she said. "But at the same time it set the tone for working on the budget the way we did last year, and I anticipate the way we will again this year."
Quinn's office disputes the GOP leaders and think tank's claims. A spokeswoman said the increase brought in $7 billion last year.
Airlines have canceled more than 425 flights at Chicago airports as a snow storm sweeps across the region.
The Chicago Department of Aviation says more than 325 flights were canceled at O'Hare International Airport and delays to and from the East Coast averaged 20 minutes. Southwest Airlines has canceled all flights in and out of Midway International Airport, totaling more than 100 flights or 25 percent of the airport's flights.
The National Weather Service in northern Illinois predicts 6 to 8 inches of snow in Chicago and Joliet and 4 to 6 inches in Rockford, Dixon, LaSalle and Pontiac. Between 2 and 5 inches of snow are forecast in central Illinois.
Ice and snow covered roads were reported around Freeport, the Quad Cities, Bloomington and Jacksonville.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) wants to know why so many suspects charged with murder and other serious crimes are simply being allowed to live their lives after they flee the country.
The Illinois Democrat is scheduled to meet Thursday with federal, state and local law enforcement officials in hopes of coming up with a plan to capture international fugitives who've committed crimes in the state.
Durbin has urged U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to do something after a newspaper reported that scores of fugitives remain free even though, in many cases, authorities know exactly where they are.
The Chicago Tribune found a lack of coordination between local, federal and international agencies to capture suspects, some of whom the paper's reporters found living openly in their hometowns in Mexico.
An Indiana legislator is broadening her proposal for a state law on how the national anthem should be performed.
The proposal from Republican Sen. Vaneta Becker of Evansville would require any performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner'' in any public place be in its entirety and without embellishment. She had earlier proposed a bill for the state education department to set standards for singing and playing of the national anthem at public schools.
Becker told a state Senate committee Wednesday that she believes such a law might not be very enforceable but would send an important signal about the respect the national anthem deserves.
She says the bill isn't aimed at off-key singers. It sets a possible $25 fine. The committee won't vote on the bill until at least next week.
An Indiana House committee has approved a bill for a broad statewide smoking ban that's tougher than a proposal that failed in the Legislature last year.
The House health committee voted 9-3 in favor of the bill Wednesday after adding an exemption for retail tobacco shops. The bill would prohibit smoking in most public places and workplaces, including bars. The proposal would allow smoking only on the gambling floors of casinos, fraternal and veterans clubs and cigar and hookah bars.
Its sponsors expect some legislators will try to add exemptions for bars when the bill is debated in the full House.
A Senate committee chairman says a bar exemption that the House approved last year might be needed for the restrictions to win passage.
The Salvation Army is exploring the prospect of creating a family shelter in Decatur.
The facility would be separate from the city's existing Salvation Army building, located at 229 W. Main Street. Major Robert Gauthier, who works at the Decatur office, said planning for the project is still in the very early stages.
"Well, we have to do a feasibility study, and then determine whether or not we can raise the money needed, not only to build a facility but also to operate it," Gauthier explained.
This week, Decatur's Salvation Army dedicated a new room to its existing building that is an extra 11,880 square feet. It will be used as a space for community groups and emergency housing following a catastrophe. Gauthier said in the past, the center's gym was used for emergency assistance, but he said it didn't really provide enough space.
"If for some reason (the Emergency Management Agency) would be affected by the disaster, then of course the Salvation Army would be available to them," Gauthier said. "It would also give us a place to feed people who may be displaced from their homes, as well as house people."
The Salvation Army has provided service in the city for nearly 125 years.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
Agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland Co. says it will cut 1,000 jobs from its company-wide work force of 30,000. The move will cut about 15 percent of the Decatur-based company's corporate staff.
The news is a blow to the central Illinois community. Decatur City manager Ryan McCrady said he learned about the layoffs the same way others did, through news reports. The town received no advance warning.
Decatur is home to ADM's world headquarters. The agribusiness giant employs 4,000 people in the city. McCrady said it is too soon to know how many jobs will be lost locally, but he said he expects the community will be able to handle the cuts.
"They've been through these situations before," McCrady said. "This announcement isn't great news for us. But when you package it with all the other things that have gone on, it's two steps forward, one step back. And we'll get through this."
At this point, the impact on Decatur is uncertain. ADM spokesman David Weintraub said the company will not announce any layoffs until February, after a number of employees have been offered a voluntary retirement incentive.
"Employees who are 57 or older and have seven or more years of service and are salaried can elect to retire early, and we're giving them an inventive to do so," Weintraub said. "That will reduce the number of people who are affected."
Weintraub says the impact on any specific community won't be known immediately. He said the cuts were brought on by increased competition in the global agri-processing business, and the company is now focused on ways to improve productivity, as well as reduced energy usage.
McCrady said he has been told by the company the cuts will not affect production in the city.
"That's good news because of course ADM is a big player in Decatur, but there are many other smaller businesses that supply and support them," McCrady said. "So when you have a cut in production, it's a compounded negative effect on your community."
McCrady said all the city leaders can do is wait to see which jobs ADM targets. He said the city has proven resilient in the past. He also said the Decatur economy is cyclical. McCrady points to cuts Caterpillar made in 2009 during the downturn. Since then, that company has rehired many workers and re-invested in Decatur.
ADM does everything from processing crops to make food ingredients, to shipping grain overseas. The past year has been a volatile one for agribusiness companies, with crop prices swinging wildly on global markets.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
A citizen's watchdog group says it will appeal Ameren's latest rate hike.
On Tuesday, The Illinois Commerce Commission granted the utility a $30-million request - roughly 60-percent of what it originally wanted for natural gas delivery rates. The request before the ICC was filed 11 months ago.
Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris says Ameren doesn't make any money on the natural gas itself. He says the utility is still determing what impact the hike will have on bills. Delivery rates impact a third of a customer's natural gas bill.
Morris says it's a matter of calculating what are called tariffs through Ameren's old CILCO, CIPS, and Ameren IP territories.
"They're a matter of public record, and will be available both on our website (www.AmerenIllinois.com), and they're in a filing with the Illinois Commerce Commission," Morris said.
Citizens Utility Board spokesman Jim Chilsen questions the company's need for the hike when its parent company reported 3rd quarter earnings of more than $380-million. He says the ruling threatens to wipe out potential savings due to a mild winter.
"It's the absolute worst time for a rate hike, with the economy the way it is," said Chilsen. "We are pleased that it appears the company didn't get as much as it wanted. But we're disappointed with today's (Tuesday's) ruling because it gave the company more than it needed or deserved."
In the next few weeks, Chilsen says CUB will ask the ICC to re-hear the case. If the argument is rejected, the Commerce Commission can appeal that decision as well.
Morris says he expects the increase will show up on bills by February.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels used his last State of the State speech Tuesday night to tout his state's accomplishments over the past seven years, but he also laid out its current challenges.
The Republican Daniels spoke before a near-capacity crowd of the Indiana General Assembly, although some members of the Democratic caucus stayed away.
House Democrats are simmering over Republicans muscling through House Bill 1001, the so-called right-to-work bill that would prevent companies from requiring workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment.
Daniels supports the bill, saying businesses are passing over Indiana in favor of right-to-work states.
"Everyone knows that, among the minority favoring the status quo, passion on this issue is strong, and I respect that. I did not come lightly, or quickly, to the stance I take now. If this proposal limited in any way the right to organize, I would not support it. But we just cannot go on missing out on the middle class jobs our state needs, just because of this one issue," Daniels said inside the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. "For the sake of those without jobs, and those young people just beginning the ascent of life's ladder, I ask you to remove this obstacle and make Indiana the 23rd state to protect the right to work."
Daniels says Indiana is a much different state than it was in 2005, when he took over from Democrat Joe Kernan.
"Then, we were broke and other states were flush," Daniels said. "Tonight, while states elsewhere twist in financial agony, Indiana has an honestly balanced budget, a strong, protective reserve in our state savings account, and the first AAA credit rating in state history, one of just a handful left in America. Our credit is better - imagine this - than that of the federal government."
Among other things, Daniels touted Indiana property tax rates, which he says are the lowest in the nation.
"We have worked relentlessly to move Indiana up the list of great places to do business," Daniels said. "We have made steady progress, coming from nowhere to the top tier in every ranking: No. 6 according to the nation's site selectors, No. 6 according to CEO Magazine, No. 5 according to real estate decision makers. ...
"Here's another encouraging sign: More people are moving into Indiana than moving out. Our population is growing at the fastest rate from Iowa to Maine."
But Daniels joked on how, just as Indiana's economic picture was improving, the nation's was not.
"We became the prettiest girl in school the year they called off the prom," he said.
Daniels says Indiana is now seen as a leader in business and education reforms, increased public education spending and improved environmental track record.
"We are now, indisputably, seen as a leader," Daniels said.
Although Daniels touted Indiana's $1.2 billion investment in road and bridge construction, he made no mention of projects in Northwest Indiana or plans to rebuild the Cline Avenue bridge, which runs through East Chicago and Hammond. Area leaders have made the bridge's return a priority, but the state's latest proposal is to build a toll-road, which would likely mean expending fewer state dollars.
The governor mentioned a need for Hoosiers to continue donating to a fund for victims of last summer's stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair.
But Daniels' comments about and support for right-to-work legislation captured the most attention and disdain from the hundreds of pro-union workers at the Statehouse Tuesday evening. And, although House Democratic leader Patrick Bauer of South Bend attended the governor's speech, many Democrats did not.
State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon (D-Munster) said she did not attend because she felt Republicans denied the public's right to voice opinions on the right-to-work bill. Democratic leaders have asked the Republican leadership to hold public hearings on the hot-button issue, but those leaders pressed on. Just hours before Daniels' address, a majority on the House's labor committee voted to send the bill to the full House, which could vote on the measure by Friday.
"I really decided not to go because I was incensed by the way the public was not given a voice," Reardon said. "They (committee members) gave six minutes to a policy that will have long-reaching effects on the state of Indiana. They (Republicans) chose to ignore their voices."
State Rep. Scott Pelath (D-Michigan City) said he was most proud of protesters who attended Daniels' address but spoke loudly against right-to-work.
"The State of the State was not the story tonight. The story was the thousands of citizens, including whole families, who filled the statehouse who came to protest this so called right-to-work which will drive down wages," Pelath said. "The sound of Democracy is beautiful music."
Indiana State Rep. Charlie Brown (D-Gary), who did attend the governor's address, said he thought the speech was confusing in that the governor touted the state's sound fiscal policy but then talked about how badly the state needs right-to-work in order to attract business.
"It was kind of a mixed message," Brown said.
Brown does support Daniels' call for a statewide smoking ban, which Daniels mentioned in a list of lingering legislative items on his remaining agenda. Brown has pushed for such a ban for years but met stiff resistance from business groups, including casino interests, which argued Indiana would lose tourism dollars to states that did not restrict smoking.
Bauer, meanwhile, took fault with Daniels' descriptions of Indiana as a magnet for new jobs and expanding personal incomes. Bauer pointed to the state's current 9 percent unemployment rate, compared to the 5.5 percent jobless rate when Daniels took office.
Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) plans to reconvene the House at 12:30 Central time Wednesday, but it's unknown if Democrats will return.
When University of Illinois Police Chief Barbara O'Connor leaves her job in Urbana next month, someone familiar with the interim title will take over.
Deputy Police Chief and Assistant Director of Public Safety Jeff Christensen was interim chief from 2007 to 2009. He's not expected to serve more than a few months at the top job this time, but Christensen says that doesn't mean the department will rest on its laurels.
"We'll continue to aggessively follow the programs we've been looking at as well as the initiatives," he said. "We're going to be afraid to implement any new initiatives, too. Being in this role before, you need to keep moving forward. Maybe there is some treading water being the interim, but we've got group of people and great support from the campus and community. We'll continue to march forward."
For example, Christensen says there are plans in place to expand the number of outdoor security cameras. He's been with the department since 1985. O'Connor announced last month that she was returning near her roots. She leaves next month to become the next police chief at the University of Connecticut.
Christensen will serve as acting director until March 3rd, when he will become interim director with O'Connor's official departure.
U of I Associate Chancellor Mike DeLorenzo says the search for a new permanent chief and public safety director will be led by a consulting group, and should be completed by this spring.
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