Several legal challenges to the pension law were consolidated in Sangamon County. The county's courthouse is in downtown Springfield.
Credit: Amanda Vinicky/IPR
November 21, 2014

Judge Rules Illinois' Pension Law Unconstitutional

An Illinois judge has ruled that a law intended to fix the nation's worst state employee pension crisis violates the state Constitution.

University of Illinois professor Bruce Reznick, who's taught math at the school for 35 years, says the state's pension system is what attracted him to the job in the first place.

Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Belz ruled Friday in favor of state employees and retirees who sued to block the state's landmark pension overhaul.
 
The state is expected to appeal the ruling directly to the Illinois Supreme Court.  The overhaul was approved by lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn last year.

Years of underfunding had put the state's pension systems roughly $100 billion short of what they need to cover benefits promised to employees.
 
The law reduces benefits for retirees, but also reduces employee contributions.

The lawsuit argued that the Constitution prohibits reducing benefits or compensation.  The state argued that pensions can be modified in times of crisis.

Gov. Pat Quinn says legal challenges were expected with a pension overhaul that's been found unconstitutional by a Sangamon County judge and he'll urge the Illinois Supreme Court to take it up.

In a statement Friday, Quinn's spokesman Grant Klinzman says the historic law eliminates the state's unfunded liability and stabilizes the systems. 

Gov-elect Bruce Rauner issued a statement of his own.

"It is my hope that the court will take up the case and rule as soon as possible," said Rauner.  "I look forward to working with the legislature to craft and implement effective, bipartisan pension reform.”

"We plan to immediately appeal the decision to the Illinois Supreme Court so that we can obtain a final resolution of these important issues and allow the Governor and General Assembly to take any necessary action," said Attorney General Lisa Madigan.  "We will ask the Court to expedite the appeal given the significant impact that a final decision in this case will have on the state’s fiscal condition.”


November 20, 2014

Judge Hears Arguments For, Against IL Pension Law

A Sangamon County judge says he'll issue a ruling Friday over the constitutionality of Illinois' pension overhaul.

Attorneys wrapped up oral arguments Thursday over whether the Illinois Constitution bars lawmakers from cutting their pension benefits.
 
Lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn approved a law in December 2013 overhauling the operation of Illinois' pension systems.

Years of underfunding have put them roughly $100 billion short of what they need to cover benefits promised.
 
The law reduces benefits for retirees, but also reduces employee contributions.


Bruce Rauner speaks with reporters during a press conference on term limits in Springfield during his campaign for governor.
November 20, 2014

Gov-Elect Rauner Calls On Quinn To Freeze Hiring

Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner is calling on outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn to freeze all hiring in the final weeks of his term.

Rauner spoke Thursday at the Capitol, where he's meeting with elected officials in preparation for taking office Jan. 12.
 
The Winnetka Republican says he wants Quinn to agree not to make any additional hires or appointments.

He also wants the Chicago Democrat to refrain from reclassifying employees into union-protected jobs so they can keep their positions in a Rauner administration.
 
Rauner says in past transitions, governors have rewarded people with jobs on their way out the door. He says he doesn't have reason to believe Quinn is doing so, but that a freeze is "good management practice.''
 
But Quinn's office wouldn't commit to a freeze. Spokeswoman Katie Hickey says Quinn has "directed cabinet members to manage their agencies in a responsible manner'' to ensure basic state operations continue.


November 17, 2014

Washington Marks One Year Since Tornadoes, Makes Strides In Construction

Residents of central and southern Illinois and elected officials are marking the one-year anniversary of deadly tornadoes that left more than a half a dozen people dead and destroyed numerous buildings.

Among the hardest hit in the November 2013 tornadoes was the central Illinois community of Washington.

Mayor Gary Manier tells Chicago's WLS-TV that the community has become closer during the recovery with neighbors helping and supporting one another.
 
Gov. Pat Quinn stopped in Washington Monday for a memorial service. In a statement, he says it's time to reflect on the healing process.
 
Communities in the region have received millions in state aid to help make repairs. Some are making progress rebuilding.
 
Meanwhile, Officials say most of the buildings that were damaged or destroyed one year ago in Washington will be rebuilt by the end of 2014.
 
The Peoria Journal Star reports that not only do officials estimate that 75 percent of the 1,108 buildings will be rebuilt by the end of the year -  but that the number might climb as high as 90 percent by the end of 2015.
 
City Administrator Tim Gleason says the numbers are "amazing'' because officials expected only about half the buildings would be rebuilt by the end of this year.
 
More than a half dozen people died as a result of the tornadoes that stuck Washington and other area communities in November 2013.


November 15, 2014

In Illinois, Smooth Start For Insurance Sign-Ups

More than 70 Illinois events in libraries, hospitals and churches are being held to mark the launch of insurance sign-up season under the nation's health care overhaul.

Gov. Pat Quinn stopped by a wellness fair on Chicago's south side Saturday, the opening day of a three-month enrollment period for 2015 insurance coverage.

He says the goal is "to give everyone across Illinois access'' to health care.

People involved say it's a more streamlined process this year and that the once-troubled HealthCare.gov website is working well.
 
In East St. Louis, Patrice Howard says people are "trickling in'' and enrollment counselors are excited to get them signed up.

The Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation has a goal of enrolling 8,300 people for health insurance in Madison and St. Clair counties.
 


U of I President Robert Easter
November 13, 2014

U of I Trustees Wrap-Up: $180K Bonus For Easter, Gov. Quinn's Budget Pitch, Med School Plans

University of Illinois Trustees Thursday apporoved $180,000 in incentive-based compensation for President Bob Easter.  That amount would be paid to the president within 30 days.

His current salary is just over $478,000. Easter received a 3.5 percent raise last September. Trustees also approved a $90,000 bonus for Easter last fall. 

"President Easter's leadership has been instrumental in both maintaining the University's excellence and charting a course for the future that will continue its long, rich legacy of service to our students, our state, and our nation," said U of I Trustees Chair Christopher Kennedy, in a press release. 

Easter plans to retire at the end of June 2015.  Trustees this week have reportedly been interviewing candidates to succeed him, and are expected to name that person soon.

Quinn's Last Meeting

Governor Pat Quinn stopped by the Board of Trustees meeting, his last appearance an an ex-officio member. 

The governor made a final pitch to extend the 2011 temporary state income tax hike, which is scheduled to drop beginning January 1st. Quinn says his budget plan -- which was not approved by lawmakers in the Spring -- included a boost in funds for the state's public colleges and universities.

"As you know, I proposed a budget this year that would've done, I think, important things for higher education across our state," he said. "I really feel that was the right thing to do. I don't apologize for it, I think we need to use our revenues in Illinois in a way that makes our state a better place to live."

Quinn also thanked three outgoing members of the board, including Chairman Chris Kennedy (a Quinn campaign supporter), who the governor appointed to the position after the University's "Category I" admissions scandal, where the Urbana campus gave special preference to politically connected applicants, at times admitting those students over better-qualified applicants.

Governor-elect Bruce Rauner has the power to fill holes on the Board when he gains control of the governor's mansion in January.

Income Tax Concerns

Before leaving, Quinn also gave a last appeal for extending the 2011 temporary state income tax hike.

U of I officials said they're worried about the expiration of the state's temporary income tax hike, set to roll back partially in the New Year. The reduction could spell $70 million dollars less for U of I next year, which represents about 1 percent of the University's total operating budget.

During his re-election campaign, Quinn said he thought he could persuade lawmakers to extend the 2011 income tax hike it in November or December, during the General Assembly's veto session. But Quinn was defeated by Rauner last week, and Rauner says he wants to reduce the tax over time.

Kennedy expressed concern about the financial impact of the tax's sunset at the meeting, asking U of I's Chief Financial Officer, Walter Knorr, about potential consequences.. 

Kennedy: "Can you explain what happens if the income tax is not dealt with in the veto session."
Knorr:  "That would end up being about a 10.6 percent cut or impact on us, which would be about $70 million dollars, basically..."
Kennedy: "About what?"
Knorr: "70. $70 million."

Knorr said the state's pension debt is also taking a toll on the University.

Competing Med School Plans

Trustees will consider two competing proposals for medical schools in the Spring. The Urbana campus is proposing an engineering-based medical school, while the Chicago campus wants to expand their existing med school, and add a bioengineering institute. 

Urbana Chancellor Phyllis Wise has pushed for a new med school, which would be geared toward engineering-focused approaches to medicine. 

Engineering professor Rashid Bashir told the Board the med school would be an opportunity for the University to be a leader in modern medicine.

"Our healthcare system, we all agree, is broken," he said. "We need to look into the future and try to see if we can wipe the slate clean ... We know how to alter society at its very core with this healthcare system in terms of education and research. And I believe that the world looks to us for exactly that."

The school has been proposed as partnership between the U of I and Carle Health Systems. 

If approved, the school would be separately accredited from UIC's medical school, which has students in Chicago, Rockford, Peoria and Urbana.


 


Illinois Governor Pat Quinn
November 05, 2014

Quinn Concedes Illinois Governorship To Rauner

Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn has conceded to Republican businessman Bruce Rauner in the Illinois governor's race.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Rauner had a nearly 5 percentage point lead over Quinn. Rauner declared victory on election night, but Quinn said he'd wait for all votes to be counted.

Quinn's campaigned noted outstanding ballots in Chicago and suburban Cook County.
 
On Wednesday, Quinn said it was clear his campaign didn't have the votes to overcome Rauner's lead.
 
He had sought a second full term. He was locked into one of the nation's most competitive and expensive governor's races with the Winnetka venture capitalist.

 Quinn first became Illinois governor in 2009 in the wake of ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's corruption scandal. He narrowly won in 2010 over Republican state Sen. Bill Brady.


November 03, 2014

Gubernatorial Candidates Make Final Campaign Stops Before Election Day

The major-party candidates for Illinois governor toured the state Monday in a final surge of campaigning before Election Day on Tuesday.  

Governor Pat Quinn started his tour in Chicago, appearing with Democratic party leaders at a South Side campaign office on Monday morning.

"I love Illinois; this is home. Home is worth fighting for, home is worth sacrificing for”, said Quinn.

Those in attendance at the rally included Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan who's seeking re-election against Republican Paul Schimpf and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin who is being challenged by GOP state Sen. Jim Oberweis. 

The Democrats continued their plug for raising the minimum wage and stressed the state's union strength. 

Quinn was set to appear in Illinois cities the rest of Monday including Rockford, Peoria and Marion. 

Meanwhile, some of Illinois' top Republicans joined GOP candidate Bruce Rauner as he urged supporters to go to the polls  --- and bring their friends. 

Rauner was joined Monday by former Gov. Jim Edgar, U.S. Congressmen Aaron Schock and Rodney Davis, and 2012 GOP gubernatorial candidate and State Senator Bill Brady. 

"I love Illinois, this is home”, said Rauner at a rally in Bloomington. “Home is worth fighting for, home is worth sacrificing for.”

During a stop at a Bloomington diner, Rauner told supporters to ``Get out there and vote.'' 

Edgar supported then-state Sen. Kirk Dillard during the Republican GOP primary. But he says ``Illinois is in trouble'' and the state needs a governor who can get the budget and the economy on track. 

Rauner started his day at a Chicago diner before planned stops in Springfield, Moline, Rockford and Lincolnshire. 

Election eve for both candidates ended with Get Out the Vote events in the Chicago area.

And both Quinn and Rauner "celebration parties" scheduled in the city, for once the polls close.

Libertarian Chad Grimm of Peoria is also on the gubernatorial ballot.


November 01, 2014

Sparknotes For Illinois Voters

For voters who want a rundown of where Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner stand on major issues, here's some help.

Illinoisians have been casting votes in an election that could determine the future of our state… But many voters say that while they want to know more about Democratic Governor Pat Quinn and Republican Bruce Rauner’s plans for Illinois - they can’t sift through the fog of negative ads. So Lauren Chooljian of Chicago public radio station WBEZ wrote up a questionnaire for both candidates on the top issues of this cycle… And she’s dug through their answers and put them into a sort of audio Sparknotes for Illinois voters.

Listen

October 31, 2014

Former Governor Edgar To Help Rauner's Campaign

Former Gov. Jim Edgar will campaign with fellow Republican Bruce Rauner as Rauner makes his final push to become Illinois' next governor.

Edgar is scheduled to join Rauner Monday in Bloomington, Springfield, Moline, Rockford and the Chicago suburbs.
 
Rauner is in a tight race with Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.
 
Edgar supported then-state Sen. Kirk Dillard in the GOP primary. He says in a statement Friday that after 12 years of Democratic governors "voters are eager for change'' and Rauner is "exactly what Illinois needs.''
 
They'll also stump Monday night for Republican Bob Dold, who's challenging Democratic U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider in the 10th Congressional District.
 
First lady Michelle Obama is headlining a Saturday rally for Quinn and other Democrats in Moline. She's among several top Democrats who've campaigned for Quinn.


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