Statehouse

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Illinois' pension overhaul might be on hold, but credit ratings agencies say they're not concerned. A Sangamon County judge Wednesday ruled that reductions to public employees' retirement benefits will not go into effect next month, as planned.                                                  

Gov. Pat Quinn
Brian Mackey/WUIS

The Illinois unemployment rate is at its lowest mark in five years. Democratic Governor Pat Quinn is touting the news, but the state still lags the nation.       

Governor Quinn was exuberant during a stop at a manufacturing company in the Chicago suburbs.

“Unemployment is at it's lowest rate in the last 5 and a half years and we're very happy to say that Illinois' economy is on a roll,” Quinn said.

The unemployment rate fell to 7.9 percent, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security. 

Temporary Hike Costing Average Taxpayer $1,100 This Year

May 15, 2014
flickr/scottjwaldron

The temporary income tax hike Illinois lawmakers are considering extending is costing the typical taxpayer about $1,100 more this year, according to calculations by the Governor's Office of Management and
Budget.
 
The 67 percent increase on individuals approved in 2011 is producing about $6.6 billion in additional revenue for the state this year. Democrats promised when they raised the individual rate from 3 percent to 5 percent that it would roll back to 3.75 percent in January 2015. Now Gov. Pat Quinn and legislative

Illinois Lottery

A state lawmaker wants Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to fire the company responsible for running the state’s lottery.

John Cullerton
Illinois Senate

An Illinois Senate panel Wednesday approved a measure to pay tribute to one of the chamber's most distinguished former members.                                         

Barack Obama was once one of 59 state senators. He had a desk. And a chair. And someone had the foresight to put them into storage.

flickr/LizMarie_AK

  An Illinois House panel Wednesday signed off on a budget for the state's public school system.

The $13 billion dollar appropriation is almost a billion more than this year's budget, reversing the state's trend of cutting funding for K -12 education.

The Capitol
Brian Mackey/WUIS

  Officials at the University of Illinois say they are willing to work to retain faculty who opted to retire early as a result of mistakes in the state's pension overhaul.

It was a small typo, but it turned out to have big consequences for the state's public universities and community colleges.

ILGA.gov

In the House Democratic budget plan, most state institutions would get level funding or a slight increase.

One of the few cuts is directed at the Illinois Math and Science Academy.

Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, a Democrat whose Aurora district includes IMSA, says the decrease is because the elite high school has failed to meet diversity goals.

Amanda Vinicky

  One of Illinois' main tools for attracting and retaining companies in the state would get a revamp under a plan unveiled yesterday by the Speaker of the Illinois House. It drew immediate criticism from business groups.

More than 700 companies have what are known as EDGE tax credits, given in exchange for keeping, or creating new, jobs.

House Speaker Michael Madigan says his aim in changing it is to "insure that he program is being run in a way that benefits both the recipients and the taxpayers of Illinois."

Brian Mackey / WUIS

Illinois House Democrats are assembling a budget plan for state government. But a big piece of the puzzle is being left out.

The plan makes it seem obvious House Democrats have heeded Gov. Pat Quinn's call to keep the income tax rate at 5 percent. Except they won't actually say that out loud.

Rep. Greg Harris of Chicago typified the coyness.

"This always comes own to the last couple weeks," he says, "and we have to look at different sources of revenue. We have to look at: Do we add here? Do we cut there?"

  A judge has blocked Illinois pension overhaul from taking effect next month. It's a temporary victory for government employees who say the law is unconstitutional.

State employees, teachers and university workers were supposed to begin seeing changes to their retirement plans in June. It's part of a sweeping pension overhaul passed late last year.

Members of the Illinois House are spending Wednesday afternoon in a series of budget hearings. The House Speaker says that's meant to lead the way to an income tax vote.

The hearings all focus on one thing: Illinois' next spending plan.

In particular, one that spends money as if Illinois' income tax rate is still 5-percent -- even though the rate is set to drop halfway through the next fiscal year.

Critics say it's illegal for the House to go forward spending at higher levels, without first voting to extend the higher tax.

Amanda Vinicky

A hearing set for this afternoon could determine if some, or even all, of Illinois' new pension law will be suspended.

The pension law is supposed to take effect next month.

The We Are One coalition of unions wants a hold put on the entire law, until a broader lawsuit seeking to have it declared unconstitutional is resolved.

Anders Lindall is a spokesman for AFSCME, the state's largest public employees union. He says once someone retires, that can't be reversed.

  Southern Illinois University Carbondale's financially-struggling student newspaper would get an infusion of cash under newly introduced legislation.

A spending measure filed in the Illinois House would give The Daily Eqyptian 70-thousand dollars.

The paper had asked for a nine-dollar-per-semester student fee, but the SIU Board of Trustees has not given approval.

The Daily Egyptian's faculty adviser, Eric Fidler says he's still hopeful that will happen this summer. But he says the 70 thousand dollars would be a buffer.

Alden Jewell (Flickr/autohistorian)

An Illinois lawmakers is trying to change state law so car dealers can be open on Sundays. But he's facing long odds.

When Sen. Jim Oberweis, from Sugar Grove, learned it was against the law for a car dealer to be open on Sunday, his Republican instincts kicked in.

"Being a business guy, I thought that I would be the hero of the automobile industry by getting this over-reaching government off the backs of car sales," Oberweis said.

Harvey Tillis / Illinois Information Service

Even as the "We Are One" broad coalition of unions seeks to prevent any of the pension law from taking effect next month, a new agreement would prevent parts of it from being implemented.

It mostly affects university and community college employees nearing the end of their careers.

The deal, between the State Universities Annuitants Association and the attorney general, could put a stop to a surge of retirements at Illinois' public universities.

Casino Queen
Paul Sableman (pasa47) via Flickr

  While Illinois lawmakers continue to debate whether to extend the income tax increase. But that's not the only source of money being considered. Backers of expanding gambling also project the state would get a windfall.

State Rep. Bob Rita (D-Blue Island) is once again taking a stab at gambling expansion.

He's got two options: Either authorizing a casino for Chicago, or a broader plan that would put casinos in Chicago, Danville, Rockford, Lake County and the south suburbs. Horse race tracks would also be permitted to have slot machines.

Wikimedia Commons

  Lawmakers are exploring a way to stabilize Illinois communities hit hard by the Great Recession. Advocates say a statewide property tax credit would boost development in blighted areas.

When houses are left vacant, it drives down property values for the entire block. In Cook County alone, there are an estimated 55,000 such vacancies.

Dozens of state jobs involved in a dispute over whether they should be free of politics were filled by Gov. Pat Quinn's administration with candidates who were politically connected or gave campaign money to the governor's party.  
That's according to an Associated Press review of state documents.  

Brian Mackey/WUIS

After a weekend break, Senators will return to Springfield this afternoon, as the calendar draws closer to the scheduled May 31 adjournment.

While the end of the month is a key date, it's another one, about a half a year away, that will largely guide much of what happens these next few weeks: the November election.

Listen To State Week - May 9, 2014

May 10, 2014
State Week logo
Dan LoGrasso / WUIS

Getting attention is a plan to change  school funding that  would shift a larger share of the state funding to poorer school districts.  And scrutiny of Governor Pat Quinn's Neighborhood Recovery Initiative continues.

Host Amanda Vinicky and guests Kent Redfield (UIS) and Andy Maloney (Chicago Law Bulletin) discuss legal troubles for both Bruce Rauner and Gov. Pat Quinn among other topics.

CapitolView is a production of WSEC-TV/PBS Springfield, Network Knowledge.

  Two emergency services are pit against each another in a fight for state funds. 

Illinois' Poison Control Center receives more than 82,000 calls a year. Some are from health care providers looking for expertise, but mostly they're from the general public.

"Some of them are very simple ones, like can I take Tylenol and Nyquil together? And the answer would be no," the center's director, Dr. Michael Wahl, says.

He says callers have often been waiting longer to get that advice. He says funding cuts, and the resulting staff shortages, have tripled wait times.

Bruce Rauner
Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner has been able to self-fund much of his campaign. That's thanks to the fortune he made as a partner in a private equity firm. But some of his investments continue to haunt him politically.

Lawsuits attribute deaths at nursing homes to Rauner's former investment company, GTCR.

They allege that cost-cutting at one of the company's subsidiaries led to patient neglect.

flickr/LizMarie_AK

  Downstate schools would be the primary winners under a proposed school funding overhaul before the General Assembly. A report from Illinois' board of education could lead to a regional divide when it comes up for a vote.

Illinois' public school system relies heavily on property taxes, often meaning the quality of a student's education will depend on his or her zip code.

But a proposal in the General Assembly would completely change the state's complicated funding formula.

WUIS/Lee Strubinger

A report says Illinois officials can look forward to more than a billion dollars in tax collections they hadn't been expecting this year. A group of lawmakers already has a plan for the money.

Thousands of state workers are owed an estimated 112 million dollars in back wages. Governor Pat Quinn negotiated raises with members of AFSCME back before the 2010 elections, but lawmakers never came through with the money to pay them.

Now some Republicans say this year's unexpected tax windfall ought to be used to finally make good on the contract.

Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

  The two men dueling to be Illinois' next governor tried Thursday to win over business leaders with their plans for the state's finances. They both made appearances before a joint meeting of Illinois' retailers and manufacturers in Springfield.

Quinn got a standing ovation as he took the stage, but the response after that was lukewarm.

Just before Quinn's speech, several business owners had been at the podium, complaining about Illinois' high unemployment rate, regulations and taxes.

Wikimedia Commons/user: kmaschke

Jury duty could soon be open to people who are not fluent in the English language. The Illinois Senate today approved a pilot program to provide translators for jurors.

Illinois law currently says jurors must be able to "understand the English language." This proposal would allow jurors who speak other languages to have interpreters.

It's the idea of Dan Locallo, a retired Cook County judge.

Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  As Illinois' medical marijuana pilot program is still getting up and running, lawmakers are already looking to add a new category of patient: children with epilepsy.

At just two months old, Michaela Frederick's tiny body suffered up to 100 seizures a day. A lack of oxygen to her brain at birth is thought to have caused her severe epilepsy.

Traditional FDA-approved drugs have been able to cut that number of seizures in half. But her father, Adam Frederick, says they put Michaela in a vegetative state.

  A group of lawmakers granted themselves subpoena power Tuesday, to further an investigation into an anti-violence program favored by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. Brian Mackey looks at whether it's necessary — or just for show.

The Neighborhood Recovery Initiative was rushed out in fall 2010, as Quinn was up for election.

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