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Regional
7:00 am
Thu May 29, 2014

One Western Ill. School Cuts Ag Program, Another Hopes To Bring It Back

Barry High School and West Pike High School consolidated into Western High School. This is the entrance to the ag shop in Barry.
WUIS/Lee Strubinger

Pike County calls itself the "pork capital of the world." However, in an area so tied to farming, it might be a bit surprising that a local school district has cut its agriculture education program.  I graduated from high school there five years ago, and went back to report on how districts are struggling to pay for activities not tied to the core curriculum.

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Budget FY15
7:37 pm
Wed May 28, 2014

Cullerton, Madigan Come To Budget Agreement, Will Revisit Revenue After Election

Credit Illinois Senate

  Illinois Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) says he's come to an agreement on state spending with the speaker of the Illinois House. But Cullerton is leaving the door open for an income tax hike after the November election.

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Statehouse
4:02 pm
Wed May 28, 2014

Quinn Supports Minimum Wage Referendum

Credit wikimedia

Gov. Pat Quinn says he supports asking voters whether Illinois' minimum wage ought to be raised to $10 an hour.

The state Senate approved that question today for the November ballot.

Senator Kimberly Lightford, a Democrat from Maywood, says polling shows support for the hike across the state. She says a ballot question could give lawmakers the push they need.

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Regional
3:09 pm
Wed May 28, 2014

Sangamon County Same-Sex Couples Can Get Marriage Licenses This Week

Sangamon County Clerk Joe Aiello
Credit co.sangamon.il.us

Same sex couples in Sangamon County will be able to get their marriage licenses early.

Sangamon County Clerk Joe Aiello says his office will begin issuing marriage licenses on Friday in order to accommodate ceremonies taking place this weekend.  He says the office will be open during normal business hours from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
 
However, Aiello says a couple's marriage won't be legally valid until the date the same-sex marriage law goes into effect, this Sunday.

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Statehouse
2:34 pm
Wed May 28, 2014

House Votes To Undo Medicaid Cuts On Adult Dental, Podiatry

Credit Karen Roach/iStockphoto.com

The Illinois House has voted to undo a series of cuts in the state's program of health care for the poor. Backers of the change say the cuts have come with a significant cost.

 Two years ago, Democrats and Republicans agreed to massive reductions in the Medicaid program, with savings estimated at greater than $2 billion. Now Democrats say some of those cuts are costing more than they're worth.

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Illinois Capitol
2:20 pm
Wed May 28, 2014

Reagan Statue Requested At Statehouse

Bronze statue of former President Ronald Reagan in the Capitol Rotunda by Chas Fagan. The statue was given by the state of California to the National Statuary Hall Collection.
Credit Public doman

A state senator is spearheading an effort to get a statue of Ronald Reagan built at the Illinois Capitol. Darin LaHood of Dunlap, a Republican, is among those who have sent a letter to the Architect of the Capitol requesting a Reagan memorial.

LaHood says it coincides with the 10th Anniversary of President Reagan’s death on June 5.

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Statehouse
1:56 pm
Wed May 28, 2014

Lawmakers Push To Speed Up Fracking Even After Proposal Dies

Anti-fracking activists rally in the Capitol against fracking last spring.
Credit Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

  Lawmakers are giving up on an attempt to override state regulators in order to jumpstart fracking in Illinois. But they still say Gov. Pat Quinn's administration is dragging its feet on a potential economic boom.

It's been a  year since hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, was approved in Illinois. The law was hard-fought, but in the end, industry and environmental interest groups signed off.

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Statehouse
11:37 am
Wed May 28, 2014

IMSA Spared Funding Cut Over Diversity ... For Now

State Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, is concerned about ethnic and economic diversity at the Illinois Math and Science Academy.
Credit ILGA.gov

The Illinois Math and Science Academy has been spared a significant cut under the budget approved Tuesday in the Illinois House.

Lawmakers had previously voted to slash $1.8 million from the elite public school's state funding.

Representative Ken Dunkin is a Democrat from Chicago and chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. He says in prior years, IMSA has gotten increased state funding in order to improve diversity. Dunkin says he has not been satisfied with the results.

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Education funding
12:33 am
Wed May 28, 2014

Senate Approves School Funding Overhaul

Credit flickr/LizMarie_AK

  The Illinois Senate has passed a plan to overhaul the way schools are funded. But the proposal has a long way to go before becoming law.

After months of negotiations and with just four days left on the General Assembly's spring calendar, the measure was deemed "ready for primetime." The plan would direct state funding to more impoverished schools and divert funding from schools in wealthier areas.

Supporters of the plan, like Sen. Mike Noland (D-Elgin) say this would help remedy inequity in school funding.

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Statehouse
11:16 pm
Tue May 27, 2014

House Democrats Reject Gov's Budget Ultimatum

The floor of the Illinois House during Tuesday's debate over the FY15 budget.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Two months after Governor Pat Quinn laid out his vision for Illinois' budget, the House of Representatives has approved a state spending plan. Quinn presented two options: make 2011's temporary tax hike permanent, or make steep cuts across government. Lawmakers considered those options and chose ... neither.

Quinn has been clear about the potential consequences of letting Illinois' income tax rate drop, as it's scheduled to do at the end of the year.

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Statehouse
5:57 pm
Tue May 27, 2014

Budget Plan Said To Lead To Layoffs, Payment Delays

Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, presents budget legislation Tuesday in the Illinois House of Representatives.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

The Illinois House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a spending plan for state government.

This is not an extension of Illinois' 5 percent income tax rate. It's also not the doomsday budget Gov. Pat Quinn and other Democrats warned would result without that permanently higher tax rate. Rather, it holds spending essentially flat across state government. But that doesn't mean Illinois' financial problems are solved.

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Statehouse
5:22 pm
Tue May 27, 2014

"Soda Tax" Defeated At Statehouse

Credit flickr/DCJohn

An Illinois House committee has rejected a proposed tax on sweetened drinks that supporters say would help fight obesity.  

The House Revenue and Finance Committee defeated the so-called ``soda tax'' Tuesday. It would have added a tax of 1 cent per ounce to any sweetened beverage.  

Rep. Robyn Gabel is an Evanston Democrat. The Chicago Sun-Times reports Gabel told legislators the tax would give people an incentive to choose a healthier drink. It also would generate an estimated $600 million in annual revenue.  

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Statehouse
2:03 pm
Tue May 27, 2014

Illinois General Assembly Moving Forward With New Budget

Credit wikimedia commons

The Illinois Legislature is moving forward with a scaled-back budget lawmakers say will lead to layoffs and further delays in paying the state's bills.
 
The House is expected to vote Tuesday on the approximately $35 billion spending
plan.
Lawmakers drafted the plan after House Speaker Michael Madigan announced his
chamber had given up on extending a temporary income tax increase. That will
result in a roughly $1.8 billion revenue drop next year.
 
Democratic Sen. Dan Kotowski says the new budget plan ensures education

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Budget FY15
1:21 pm
Tue May 27, 2014

Arrested Advocates: In-Home Health Services Essential For Independence

Mike Ervin, of Chicago, was arrested and forcibly removed from the Capitol Monday evening when he and other advocates wanted to stage an all-night sit in. Ervin says without an extension of the state's 5 percent income tax, in-home health care could be decimated.
Credit Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  As the Illinois General Assembly considers a so-called "middle of the road" budget for next year, some programs could be cut or reduced to make up for the expiration of the 20-11 income-tax hike. Advocates for people with disabilities say a reduction could be catastrophic for that population.

One of the biggest parts of Illinois' budget is Medicaid, which not only provides health care to the poor, but also to those with disabilities. Those who can live independently usually elect to with the help of in-home health service.

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Statehouse
8:14 pm
Mon May 26, 2014

Illinois House Democrats Regroup, Craft Budget Without Higher Tax

Credit WUIS

Illinois House Democrats have given up on extending a temporary income tax increase and have begun working on a scaled-back state spending plan.
 
Speaker Michael Madigan said Monday that House working groups would begin work
on a ``middle-of-the-road'' budget that's in line with a revenue estimate of about $34 billion.
 
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn wants to make permanent the income-tax increase that's set to roll back in January. It's costing the typical Illinois taxpayer about $1,100 more this year.
 

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Earned income tax credit
4:54 pm
Mon May 26, 2014

Bipartisan Support For Earned Income Tax Credit, But Budget Stands In Way

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

  With less than a week remaining in the Illinois General Assembly's spring session, advocates are still working to double the state's tax credit for the working poor.

Advocates say the Earned Income Tax Credit is more effective at lifting people out of poverty than welfare or raising the minimum wage.

More than 900,000 Illinois workers receive the state's version of the EITC, which is currently worth 10 percent of the federal version of the credit.

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Statehouse
12:00 pm
Mon May 26, 2014

Marijuana Cousin Winding Way Through General Assembly

Hemp rope
Credit Emilian Robert Vicol

Universities in Illinois may soon get the chance to research industrial hemp.  HB5085 is weaving it's way through the legislature.

The Illinois Farm Bureau has been pushing the idea.  But hemp was banned in the 1970’s and labeled a controlled substance, as it is related to marijuana.

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Statehouse
1:50 pm
Sat May 24, 2014

Lawmaker's Stepson Shot And Killed In Peoria

The stepson of a state lawmaker from Peoria has been shot dead.

The (Peoria) Journal Star reports (http://bit.ly/1t6ts30 ) that 22-year-old Derrick Booth Jr. was pronounced dead early Saturday at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center.

He was the stepson of Democratic Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth and the son of Manual Academy basketball coach Derrick Booth Sr.

The newspaper reports that the victim was found on the porch of a home with a gunshot wound to the chest.

It was the second homicide in the city this year.

Statehouse
3:09 pm
Fri May 23, 2014

Illinois Lawmakers Adjourn For The Weekend

Credit WUIS

The Illinois Legislature has adjourned until Monday.  
The Senate wrapped up early Friday afternoon, shortly after the House completed its work for the week.  
Legislators in both chambers are scheduled to return to the Capitol on Monday for the final week of the spring session.  

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Budget FY15
2:39 pm
Fri May 23, 2014

"Doomsday" Budget Fails In House

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

  The Illinois House overwhelmingly rejected a so-called "doomsday budget" Friday — one that does not rely on extending 2011's income tax hike. It would have imposed deep cuts across Illinois government.

It was the budget that few legislators — Democrat or Republican — actually wanted to pass. It would have slashed education and other government services.

But the budget did not pass. In fact, only five lawmakers voted for the stripped-down budget, including Rep. Fred Crespo, from Hoffman Estates.

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State Week
1:47 pm
Fri May 23, 2014

Listen To State Week - May 23, 2014

Credit Dan LoGrasso / WUIS

No agreement so far on a state budget, while debate continues on whether or not to make the temporary state income tax permanent.

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Lincoln
8:45 pm
Thu May 22, 2014

Effort To Mark Historic Trees At Oak Ridge Cemetery

Credit flickr/DavidWilson

You can take a "Spirited Stroll Into The Past" this Saturday afternoon at Oak Ridge Cemetery.  The Lincoln Monument Association has an event that is designed to raise funds to mark historic trees at the site.   

From 1-4 p.m.,  you can tour and hear about some of those trees, visit the newly renovated Lincoln's Tomb and hear the Springfield Municipal Band perform.  Ice cream and cake will be sold.
 

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Education funding
8:43 pm
Thu May 22, 2014

Republicans Push School Funding Legislation To Prevent Underfunding

Credit Wikimedia Commons

  While the state's budget for next year is still in flux, Republicans in the Illinois Senate say they have a new plan that would fully fund public schools. They say it's something that would help schools now, unlike a competing Democratic proposal that's still building support.

Illinois has been shortchanging schools for several years. Instead of funding them at the full amount required by law, they've been cutting — it's at 89 percent this year. That's because mandatory spending on things like health care and pensions has been choking out other priorities.

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Statehouse
3:25 pm
Thu May 22, 2014

Speaker Wants 'Millionaire Tax' Referendum

House Speaker Michael Madigan wants voters to weigh in on his so-called "millionaires' tax" at the November elections.

The referendum would ask if income greater than a million dollars should be taxed an additional three percent, with the money going to schools.

Earlier this year, Madigan tried to put this before voters as a constitutional amendment, but he says there wasn't enough support in the House.

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Retirement savings
3:18 pm
Thu May 22, 2014

House Advances Retirement Savings Legislation

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

  The Illinois House is advancing legislation intended to get more people saving for retirement. Advocates say "nudging" workers into a savings program could help keep them out of poverty in retirement.

The so-called Secure Choice retirement savings program is an idea of the conservative Heritage Foundation. The plan would require all companies with more than 25 employees to automatically enroll workers in a state-supervised retirement program.

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Business
3:11 pm
Thu May 22, 2014

Unemployment Falls In Springfield, Decatur

Credit Photo Credit http://www.innov8social.com @Innov8Social

Unemployment in the Springfield metro area last month dropped to its lowest level in 6 years.   The rate of 5.7 % is below both the state and national averages.   

The Illinois Department of Employment Security says the Springfield area added 2,000 jobs last month, mostly in construction, educational and health services and retail.

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Health Desk
3:11 pm
Thu May 22, 2014

Schnucks Walnuts Recalled By FDA

Credit flickr.com/photos/fdaphotos

A St. Louis based produce distribution company is recalling walnuts that the FDA says may be contaminated.

Sherman Produce distributed 10 ounce packages to Schnucks Grocery Stores where they were sold under the store brand.  The FDA says that the walnuts could contain Listeria-which can cause fever, nausea and diarrhea.

Lori Willis, a spokeswoman for Schnucks, says the walnuts were sold a few weeks ago.   But Willis says the company takes the recall seriously.

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Statehouse
12:19 pm
Thu May 22, 2014

Republican Leader: Latest Budget Moves 'Typical End-Of-Year Misdirection'

House Republican Leaders Jim Durkin says he thinks Democrats will round up enough votes to make the 5 percent income tax rate permanent.
Credit Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

  A day after House Democrats said they're unwilling to extend Illinois' higher income tax rate, government observers are trying to figure out what happens next. Top Democrats say they're moving forward on an austerity budget, but things in the Statehouse are rarely as clear as they seem.

House Speaker Michael Madigan took a closed-door poll of his Democratic lawmakers, and found just 34 of the 60 votes needed to make the current income tax rate permanent.

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Statehouse
1:46 am
Thu May 22, 2014

Budget Fight Moves From Taxes To Spending — For Now

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has called for permanently setting the state income tax rate at 5 percent.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Democrats in the Illinois House on Wednesday handed a significant defeat to Governor Pat Quinn. Fewer than half are willing to go along with his push to extend a higher income tax rate. That could mean significant cuts in state spending. Brian Mackey reports on how Democrats backed themselves into this corner, and where they go from here.

Quinn has for two months been asking lawmakers to make 2011’s temporary income tax hike permanent.

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Business
5:25 pm
Wed May 21, 2014

Survey Finds Positive Economic Outlook In Sangamon County

Credit Flickr/JimParker

Sangamon County employers have a positive outlook about the economy.  The University of Illinois Springfield Survey Research Office polls businesspeople twice a year for the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce. 

This spring's results mark the first time since 2012 that expectations were as high.   However, just over half of  those responding expected employment to stay the same in the county in the next year.     

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