Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 07, 2011

Illinois Senate Leader: Tax Deal Reached

Top Illinois Democrats have agreed to push a plan that would temporarily boost income taxes by 75 percent and double cigarette taxes, Senate President John Cullerton said Thursday.

Illinois' personal income tax rate, now 3 percent, would climb to 5.25 percent for four years under the plan Cullerton outlined. After that, it would drop to 3.75 percent.

That means someone who now owes $1,000 in state income taxes would owe $1,750 at the new rate, then $1,250 after four years.

The permanent portion would be used several ways. Some would be devoted to schools and some to repaying an $8.5 billion loan that would be used to pay overdue bills, Cullerton said.

Another chunk would go to property tax relief in the form of annual $325 checks, he said. The checks would replace the property tax exemption that homeowners can now claim on their income taxes.

Cullerton said House Speaker Michael Madigan and Gov. Pat Quinn fully support the tax proposal, although Quinn once promised to veto any increase of that size.

Madigan's spokesman said he couldn't discuss the speaker's position. The Senate has approved tax increases in the past, so the biggest question about this proposal is whether Madigan can find enough votes to get it through the House.

The governor's office put out a statement that stopped short of saying the three leaders had reached a final agreement. Rank-and-file legislators said Quinn described the tax plan to them earlier in the day and portrayed it as a deal among all three of the powerful Democrats.

Democrats say they have no choice but to raise taxes as one part of a solution to Illinois' massive budget crisis. The state deficit could reach $15 billion in the coming year. The government is borrowing money to cover some obligations, letting bills go unpaid for months and cutting corners everywhere from state prisons to state parks.

"We are in desperate need," Cullerton said at a news conference in his office.

Cullerton said the higher taxes would generate about $7.5 billion a year during the four years they're at their highest.

The tax on cigarettes, now 98 cents a pack, would jump to $1.98, Cullerton said. The money would be earmarked for education.

Quinn, Cullerton and Madigan want to pass something before the current General Assembly formally ends Jan. 12. After that, they lose some of their Democratic majority as well as outgoing legislators who might be persuaded to support a tax increase as they leave office.

Madigan has repeatedly said he doubts that a tax increase could pass in the House without Republican support. But Republican leaders have not been included in tax and budget negotiations, and there was no indication Thursday that they were prepared to cooperate with the Democrats.

"If they think this is a solution, they should go ahead and put their own votes on it," said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont.

Cullerton emphasized that taxes would be just one part of the solution.

Quinn and the Legislature already have cut spending significantly. They've also reduced pension benefits for future state employees and passed a plan to help limit the cost of providing health care to the poor.

Cullerton said there also will be a moratorium on new programs and spending growth would be held to 1 percent a year.

"We are not doing a short-term fix," he said.

The tax proposal puts Quinn in an awkward position. It would boost the tax rate by 2.25 percentage points, but the governor promised last year to veto any increase above 1 percentage point.

Last summer, a Quinn aide suggested taxes might have to be raised by 2 points. Quinn quickly disavowed the comments and said he opposed anything beyond his proposed hike of 1 percentage point.

"I'm going to veto anything that isn't my plan," Quinn said at the time.

Quinn's office didn't comment Thursday on the conflict between the tax plan and his campaign promise.

Radogno said it would be "dishonest" for Quinn to approve it after promising a veto.

"To me, that's kind of a bait and switch," she said.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 06, 2011

Coroner: Danville Girls Died of Carbon Monoxide

The Vermilion County coroner says two young girls who died in a house fire in Danville were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Coroner Peggy Johnson said Thursday that preliminary results of autopsies conducted on 5-year-old Deziray Mott and 4-year-old Seiona Haywood showed that they had inhaled large amounts of smoke and soot from the fire in their home.

The house caught fire early Wednesday morning. Two adults and two young boys escaped the blaze.

Fire investigators have said they believe the fire was started by children playing with a lighter.

Categories: Community

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 06, 2011

Decatur Electronics Moving Manufacturing Operation Out of State

A company in Decatur that produces police radar and traffic enforcement equipment for police agencies in the United States and in other countries is moving its manufacturing division to Arizona and California.

Decatur Electronics will relocate the department to a larger 50-thousand square foot facility near Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, and it will also set up an assembly line in San Diego. Forty-three workers would be affected as a result of the move, and 10 of those employees are customer service representatives who will relocate to Arizona.

Tim Roberts, the company's customer service manager, said the sluggish economy has meant that fewer law enforcement agencies are buying new equipment, and instead ordering upgrades or repairs. He said the motivation behind the move is part of an effort to strengthen business

"We're going to a much bigger facility that will allow us to expand our business in the international market as well," Roberts said. "We do service people all over the world, and we need to continue that. So, this will allow us to serve those customers better."

Roberts said it is unclear how many jobs will ultimately be eliminated. He said the company will provide interview training and resume writing workshops to help employees find new work if they lose their jobs.

"We appreciate the functionality and the people who have been here during this time," he said. "We're going to do everything we can to make sure they get job placements and/or transition smoothly."

Relocating the company's manufacturing base is expected to take about three months. The company, which is owned by U.K.-based Bowmer and Kirkland, says the move will not disrupt services or the delivery of products.

Categories: Business, Economics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 06, 2011

Obama Chooses Daley as Chief of Staff

President Barack Obama named veteran political manager William Daley to be his new chief of staff Thursday, selecting a centrist with Wall Street ties to help navigate a newly divided Congress and a looming re-election.

"Few Americans can boast the breadth of experience that Bill brings to this job," Obama told reporters in the East Room as Daley, 62, stood at his side.

"But most of all, I know Bill to be somebody who cares deeply about this country, believes in its promise, and considers no calling higher and more important than serving the American people," the president said.

The appointment represented the most significant move in a far-reaching and ongoing staff shakeup that included the departure of Obama's press secretary and several key deputies and economic advisers. It came the day after Republicans officially assumed control of the House and increased their numbers in the Senate.

Daley, who served as commerce secretary for President Bill Clinton, offers criteria Obama wants for the new environment in Washington: an outsider's perspective, credibility with the business community, familiarity with the ways of the Cabinet and experience in navigating divided government.

"I'm convinced that he'll help us in our mission of growing our economy and moving America forward," Obama said.

Daley made a pledge to the president: "This team will not let you down - nor the nation."

Daley replaces Pete Rouse, the interim chief of the last three months and a behind-the-scenes Obama adviser who did not want the position permanently and recommended Daley for it. Rouse, who received warm praise from Obama and sustained applause from staffers watching in the East Room, will remain as a counselor to the president, an elevated position from his former job as senior adviser.

Daley was expected to start as chief of staff within the next couple of weeks. His brother, Richard Daley, is the mayor of Chicago, the post that Obama's first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, left his job in October to seek. The Daley brothers are sons of Richard J. Daley, who was Chicago's mayor from 1955 to his death in 1976.

Although Chicago is also Obama's hometown, the president has not had a close relationship with his new chief of staff. But Obama alluded to the Daley political legacy, joking that he "has a smidgen of awareness of how our system of government and politics works. You might say it is a genetic trait."

Daley will assume one of the most important and influential jobs in American government as an adviser and gatekeeper to Obama. He will be thrust into the heart of national politics just as Obama adapts to a new reality in Washington, with Republicans working to gut his signature health care law and pushing for major cuts in spending.

Although Daley has not sought elective office himself, he has long been immersed in politics.

He helped Clinton pass the North American Free Trade Agreement before joining his Cabinet. Later, he ran Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign and the historic recount effort that ended with Gore conceding the race to George W. Bush.

When Obama launched his presidential campaign, the Daley family put aside its deep connections to Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton and endorsed the young Illinois senator. Until then, Obama and the Daleys had largely operated separately in Illinois politics - not helping each other much but not attacking each other, either. After Obama's victory, Daley helped oversee the presidential transition.

Daley, a lawyer and banker, now serves as Midwest chairman of JPMorgan Chase. His appointment could raise questions about the White House's closeness with Wall Street just as Obama is eager to enforce reforms that benefit the little guy.

Liberal groups reacted negatively to the announcement, with MoveOn.org calling it "troubling" because of Daley's "close ties to the big banks and big business." By contrast, the choice won praise from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which Obama has recently begun to woo after clashes with business groups. The chamber called Daley "a man of stature and extraordinary experience in government, business, trade negotiations and global affairs."

The reactions underscored Obama's determination to play to the middle as he ramps up for his re-election fight in 2012, even if it means alienating allies on the left.

Daley laid out his political ideology last year upon joining the board of Third Way, a moderate Democratic think tank.

"We must acknowledge that the left's agenda has not won the support of a majority of Americans - and, based on that recognition, we must steer a more moderate course," he said at the time.

Obama is ushering in changes across his senior leadership - the result of internal staff fatigue, a need to shift energy and people to Obama's re-election campaign, and an adaptation to the fresh limits on Obama's power. Although many of the names of the players may not be familiar to the electorate, the collective personnel changes will influence not just Obama but the national agenda.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs announced Wednesday he was resigning by early February, senior adviser David Axelrod will be leaving soon, and both of Obama's deputy chiefs of staff, Jim Messina and Mona Sutphen, are exiting soon, too. David Plouffe, a key member of Obama's inner circle as his former presidential campaign manager, will be joining the senior staff of the White House on Monday.

Daley emerged as a natural candidate for the chief of staff post, particularly after other internal candidates ended up in other positions. He is close to some of those in Obama's orbit, including Axelrod, Emanuel and senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 06, 2011

Illinois Senate Votes to Overhaul Medicaid

Illinois lawmakers are considering a major overhaul of the program that provides medical care to the poor, part of an effort to control costs during a budget crisis and build support for a tax increase.

The legislation would emphasize HMO-style "managed care" and reduce the use of costly institutions for people with physical and mental disabilities. It would require the state to pay Medicaid bills sooner, reducing late-payment penalties. It also would take steps to ensure ineligible people don't sign up for medical care.

The lawmakers who negotiated the changes predict they'll save at least $800 million over the next five years. That would amount to roughly 2 percent in a program that costs about $7.6 billion a year.

But with the state budget in a shambles, legislators are searching desperately for any place to save money. In addition, Democratic leaders trying to pass an income tax increase could point to the Medicaid changes as evidence that they're cutting back and not simply grabbing for taxpayers' wallets.

Gov. Pat Quinn met repeatedly with legislative leaders Wednesday, searching for some version of a tax increase that could attract enough support to pass. There were no indications of a breakthrough that might generate the mix of Republican and Democratic votes that would almost certainly be needed to pass such a touchy measure.

Quinn, Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan want to pass something before the current General Assembly formally ends Jan. 12. After that, they lose some of their Democratic majority and the outgoing "lame-duck" legislators who might be persuaded to support a tax increase as they leave office.

The state's budget deficit could hit $15 billion this year.

The Medicaid legislation passed in the Illinois Senate 58-0 and now goes to the Illinois House.

Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, acknowledged the changes would save relatively little money. But she and others portrayed it as an important first step toward streamlining Medicaid.

"This is turning an enormous ship. It's hard and it's going to take a lot of work," Steans said.

The bill would require at least half of Medicaid clients to be placed in HMO-style managed care by 2015. It also would make it easier to transfer money to help move disabled people from expensive institutions into cheaper residential care.

Another change would end a policy that allows Medicaid bills to go unpaid for months. That practice costs the state late-payment penalties and disguises the depths of Illinois' financial problems.

Other changes would help ensure that only eligible people enroll in Medicaid. Clients would have to provide additional evidence that they meet income requirements, live in Illinois and, for continuing clients, that they're still eligible.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 06, 2011

Cherry Orchard Residents Move Out of Apartment Complex

Health officials are moving forward with a plan to transfer residents living in Rantoul's Cherry Orchard apartments to new homes.

This is in response to health concerns that have marred the apartment complex for nearly two and a half years. Health inspectors learned in Sep. 2007 that there was something wrong with the Cherry Orchard apartments after discovering sewage seeping from a septic system into nearby farmland. Since then, there have been reports of mold, inadequate heating, and power outages.

The landlords of the property, Bernard Ramos and his father, Eduardo, promised that by late last year they would address the septic tank issue by moving tenants into housing units that were up to code. Ramos told health officials that he would vacate two of the apartment buildings (#7 and #8) by Dec. 3. Then two other complexes (#2, #3, and #4) were supposed to be unoccupied by Dec. 20. Jim Roberts is the Director of Environmental Health with the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District (CUPHD). Roberts said there is only one building known to have a fully functioning septic system (#6).

"Ramos agreed to move people from occupied buildings to maybe another building that would have a properly treated sewage, and he failed to do so," Roberts explained. "What we're trying to do is we're trying to eliminate the people from the places that we know have raw, untreated sewage."

By Wednesday afternoon, there were still around a dozen residents living in the apartments. The landlords of the Cherry Orchard apartments are scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 24 for failing to move their tenants and fix their sewer and septic systems as originally promised.

"I don't have enough money to move to another apartment," said one tenant who has lived at Cherry Orchard with her four children for the last year and a half. "It's not good for someone to live there."

The Cherry Orchard apartments are home to many migrant workers who spend part of the year in Rantoul working for one of the large agricultural companies, like Pioneer, Monsanto, or Syngenta. Many of those workers move to Rantoul in the summer to work during the harvest season, and leave before the winter.

"We need to prevent people from moving in there until this (health) issue is addressed," CUPHD administrator Julie Pryde said.

After a meeting Wednesday night between health officials and the tenants, the Salvation Army agreed to temporarily move Cherry Orchard's current residents into hotels. The CUPHD is now trying to move those individuals into permanent homes with assistance from other human service agencies, like the United Way and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

The Cherry Orchard apartments, located on U.S. 45, are in an unincorporated part of Rantoul, making it difficult for health officials to enforce zoning ordinances. Pryde said her department is pushing to tighten the county's housing codes.

"It's not a problem that does not have a solution," she said.

(Photo courtesy of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District)

Categories: Community, Economics, Health

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 05, 2011

Judah Christian Administrator Still Wants School in Southwest Champaign Location

The head of Champaign's Judah Christian School hasn't given up on plans to relocate in a developing area to the southwest.

Tuesday night the city council rejected the annexation agreement for 50 acres with developer Jacob's Landing, located at Kirby Avenue and Rising Road. School Administrator Tim Hayes the decision comes as a shock after hearing positive remarks in the past from city leaders.

The council voted to 4-4 with one member abstaining, but the item failed since it needed a two-thirds majority. Some council members were concerned that the non-profit school couldn't reimburse property taxes for emergency services, and that building a new school to the Southwest would set a bad precedent as Champaign's Central High School looks to rebuild in a few years.

Hayes said he is working with Judah Christian's real estate attorney to see if the school can go back before the council with an amended request for the same area.

"At this point, we're trying to decide whether it would be in our best interests to move forward," he said. "We'd like for it to be this piece of property, but I don't know what our options are, and I think we're trying to establish that before we make a decision on whether we're going to move forward or look for another piece of property."

Judah Christian is nearly at capacity with just under 600 students, and the lack of athletic facilities means the school has to rent out areas for baseball and soccer games. The school on Prospect Avenue has been trying to re-locate for the last few years, including to an area in North Urbana.

In 2008, city leaders there rejected the plan since the industrial location wasn't compatible with a school. Champaign Planning Director Bruce Knight says it's possible the school could alter its relocation plan to include a payment in lieu of taxes. Unless the city council suspended its rules, Judah Christian would have to wait six months to come back before the council.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 05, 2011

Attorney: Lura Lynn Ryan in Intensive Care

An attorney for imprisoned former Illinois Gov. George Ryan says his wife, Lura Lynn Ryan, is hospitalized in intensive care, and doctors say she may have only hours to live.

Mr. Ryan's attorney, former Gov. James Thompson, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Ryan's family has been called to Lura Lynn's side. He says an emergency motion has been filed in federal court to allow George Ryan to be released from prison so he can join his wife of 50 years.

Thompson says attorneys have also appealed to prison authorities to release Ryan under a program that enables inmates temporary leave to visit gravely ill family members.

Lura Lynn Ryan was admitted to the hospital Wednesday after apparent complications from chemotherapy. She has been diagnosed with lung cancer.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 05, 2011

Champaign Council Rejects Judah Christian School Annexation Plan

Champaign city council members have rejected an annexation agreement that would have allowed Judah Christian School to relocate.

The plan called for the re-development of 50 acres just outside Southwest Champaign, at Kirby Avenue and Rising Road. The private school on Prospect Avenue has sought a new location due to space concerns.

Council member Marci Dodds said she has nothing against Judah Christian, but since it is a not-for-profit religious school, she said it does not provide any property taxes for the city, so it will not reimburse for emergency services. The proposed location is not served by Champaign-Urbana's Mass Transit District, and Dodds said heavy traffic will cause wear and tear on the roads. The land was originally zoned for single-family homes.

Council member Tom Bruno said he is troubled by the pressure on Champaign schools to locate in the same area when a new Central High School is built.

"Facilitating the movement of any school to the very periphery of town, out in the cornfields, where every single kid will arrive by private motor vehicle for years, decades, maybe a century to come - just bothered me." Bruno said. "We need to continue to send the message that the community ought to be more compact and contiguous, and we ought to build things in the heart of town and re-build things things in the heart of town rather than just sprawl."

The land was originally zoned for single-family homes. The council tied 4-4 with one member abstaining, but the annexation failed since a two-thirds vote was required.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 05, 2011

Champaign City Council Opens Process For District 5 Appointment

Those interested in applying for a vacant Champaign city council seat have until next Tuesday to apply, but a name won't be chosen for nearly a month.

Members are expected to choose a temporary appointment to the vacant District 5 seat on Feb. 1. In Tuesday night's study session, the council chose Jan. 11 as the deadline for applicants, and will hold interviews at its Jan. 18 meeting. Gordy Hulten resigned from the seat Tuesday to be sworn in Wednesday morning as the next Champaign County Clerk.

Paul Faraci, Jim McGuire, and Cathy Emanuel have already filed to run as write-in candidates for the District 5 seat in April's election, but applicants will be considered whether or not they plan on running this spring. Council member Deb Frank Feinen said she has real concerns with naming one of those three to the seat, saying it gives them an edge before voters have a say.

"It provides an advantage for someone that we as a group of 8 have decided maybe is the best fit for the council, but that the voters haven't had the opportunity to decide about," Feinen said. "And I find that troublesome."

But Council member Marci Dodds said that is part of the democratic process.

"This sort of idea that we're giving an instant leg up to the three people running as write-ins, I think, is premature," Dodds said. "It also means it voters in District 5 have a chance to say 'yeah, we don't like what you did. You're out of here."

Mayor Jerry Schweighart has already suggested one possible appointment to serve in the seat, but only until May. Mike Hosier formerly served on the city council in the 1980's. Council members decided against leaving the District 5 seat vacant until May, which would violate a state law requiring it to be filled within 60 days. Meanwhile, those seeking a write-in candidacy to run in for the seat in April have until Feb. 3 to file.

Hulten spent less than nine months with the Champaign City Council, but he said last night's resignation was still an emotional one. The District 5 Republican said as a result of serving on the council, he has learned much more about the issues facing his neighbors, and how a well-run body of government should function.

"You can have vigorous disagreements over fundamental issues facing the city," Hulten said. "We can discuss them in a cordial way, we can vote our conscience, we then can move on to the next issue and we don't become mortal enemies. And that's a rare and special thing in politics these days - and I'm glad there's some a commitment to nurturing that on council."

Hulten was given a round of applause by his council colleagues before the meeting adjourned.

Categories: Government, Politics

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