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Madigan: Vote Again
8:05 pm
Tue April 22, 2014

Initial Obama Library Vote A "Misunderstanding"

President Barack Obama
Credit BarackObama.com

Illinois legislators will vote a second time on a plan to spend $100 million to help lure Barack Obama's Presidential Library and Museum to Chicago, following a controversy.

A lesson in politics: Whichever party is in charge can often use the rules to its advantage. Like last week, when the Obama library proposal passed out of a Democratic-controlled House committee with nine votes ... even though only five representatives were there. Republicans had skipped the hearing, and many say they're opposed to spending the money given Illinois' financial situation.

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Illinois Democratic Party
5:39 pm
Tue April 22, 2014

Legislator Protests Madigan As Party Chair, Won't Say Why

House Speaker and Illinois Democratic Party chair Michael Madigan speaks at a meeting of the Democratic State Central Committee on Tuesday.
Credit Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

  The man who has led the Democratic Party of Illinois for the past sixteen years will hold onto that title, but he did face a rare display of opposition.

Party leaders met in Springfield today to re-elect House Speaker Michael Madigan as their chair.

There are those who view Speaker Madigan as an icon of all that's wrong with Illinois politics.

And then there are those who seem to see him as a Democratic demigod.

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Education Desk
3:13 pm
Tue April 22, 2014

Referendum Won't Be On Next Ballot Says School Board Pres.

Chuck Flamini
Credit sps186.org

The board president of the Springfield School District says there's no chance a tax referendum will get on the November ballot. 

A community group is pushing an idea to raise property taxes,  and the board's vice president is pushing for a county-wide sales tax hike. Both would benefit district 186, though the county sales-tax hike would help all schools in the county and most the money would have to go to facility costs.

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Education Desk
9:27 am
Tue April 22, 2014

Springfield Schools Consider Weekly Late Start Or Early Dismissal

District 186 Headquarters
Credit Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Springfield public schools may start classes later once per week, beginning next school year. But the district is going to garner more public feedback before making a final decision. After district officials spoke with a group of parents, it was clear some are against the original plan of pushing back the start of the school day. Now another option is on the table: early dismissal. Either way - it'd be a redistribution of hours slated for professional development.

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Statehouse
6:20 am
Tue April 22, 2014

Tax Returns Revealing ... But Not Revealing Enough

Lt. Gov Sheila Simon
Credit Illinois.gov

  Gov. Pat Quinn is the latest Illinois official to disclose his tax returns. They show he paid about $29,000 federal taxes, $7,700 in taxes to the state. Still, a lot of information about politicians' finances can remain hidden.

There's no law requiring politicians make their tax returns public, though they often do.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon says that's a positive thing.

"I think it shows that people are demanding more disclosure," she says.

But Simon says it doesn't go far enough.

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Election 2014
6:13 pm
Mon April 21, 2014

Quinn Releases Tax Returns; Rauner's Waiting

Credit Illinois Department of Revenue

 Gov. Pat Quinn has released his 2013 tax returns. They show basic information: like that his taxable income is $161,962.98.

That left him paying about $7,700 in state taxes, and about $29,000 to the federal government. Plus another $3,000 or so in property taxes.

But they also reveal some other insights.

As with last year, Quinn chose to put some of his refund to charity via Illinois' voluntary checkoff program: giving ten dollars to most causes, and $100 to the Military Family Relief Fund.

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Statehouse
5:32 pm
Mon April 21, 2014

Quinn Signs Law Intended To Lower Cost Of Auto Leasing

Credit Flickr user oldbrochures

Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday signed legislation intended to lower the cost of leasing a car in Illinois. Backers of the law say far fewer people lease in Illinois than in surrounding states.

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Statehouse
7:24 am
Mon April 21, 2014

Illinois Medicaid Paying For The Dead

Credit Ill. Atty General

Gov. Pat Quinn is promising tighter controls after a review found that the Illinois Medicaid program paid an estimated $12 million for medical services for people who were dead.  

Quinn told reporters Saturday he's not happy with the findings and the state is on track to recoup all of the money.  

The Associated Press learned of the mistakes from an internal state government memo it obtained Friday through the Freedom of Information Act.  

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Education
7:09 am
Mon April 21, 2014

Wait Continues For Schools' Fate Under Proposed New Formula

Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, introduces his Senate Bill 16, which would overhaul how Illinois determines state funding of schools.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

Illinois lawmakers are considering a major change to the way local schools get money from the state. But information about how individual school districts would fare in the new system won't be ready until just before the end of the spring legislative session.

Illinois' schools are primarily funded by local property taxes, which means that there's a big disparity in how much money is spent on a student depending on her zip code.

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Education
5:06 pm
Fri April 18, 2014

Illinois Finally Gets 'No Child Left Behind' Waiver

Credit flickr/LizMarie_AK

After more than two years of trying, Illinois has finally won a waiver from the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind. Brian Mackey reports on what this means for schools in Illinois.

  The short answer is not much.

Illinois has already been moving beyond the No Child Left Behind law for some time, even as it waited for permission from the federal government.

Matt Vanover, a spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education, says there were problems with No Child Left Behind.

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Pensions
3:38 pm
Fri April 18, 2014

U Of I: Illinois Pension Overhaul Had Costly Mistake

Avijit Ghosh
Credit Univ. of Ill.

University of Illinois officials have worried for months that state pension reforms will push employees to retire early. But they say language inadvertently placed in pension law may provide even stronger
incentive.
 
Avijit Ghosh is a senior adviser to university President Robert Easter. He said at a trustees' meeting Friday that the pension law passed last year would effectively take away a year of pension benefits from about 4,000 University of Illinois employees if they don't retire before July 1. Those pensions would be reduced by up to 35 percent.
 

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State Week
2:30 pm
Fri April 18, 2014

Listen To State Week - April 18, 2014

Credit Dan LoGrasso / WUIS

This week, the legislature works to bring the proposed Barack Obama presidential library and museum to Chicago, more information on corruption charges leveled against lawmaker Derrick Smith, and the debate over charter schools currently taking place at the Statehouse.

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Jobs
6:00 am
Fri April 18, 2014

Employment Improves, But Illinois Still Lags U.S.

The Illinois State Capitol, in a fog.
Credit Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

The latest state job numbers are out and the news for Illinois is mixed. The unemployment rate is down. But fewer people were hired than expected, and Illinois still lags the nation.

Illinois' March unemployment rate is 8.4 percent. That's the best it's been in more than five years, but it's still among the worst rates in the country.

On top of that, officials blame the unseasonably cold weather for the fact that fewer jobs were added in March than in the previous month.

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State developmental centers
6:19 pm
Thu April 17, 2014

Murray Center Advocates Win Appeals Decision

Credit wsiu

  Residents fighting to stay in Centralia's Murray Developmental Center can remain where they are ... for now. An appellate court decision blocks the state from moving people out without the permission of a court-appointed guardian.

The ruling gives Murray Center families reason to hope for a favorable outcome in another case — one trying to block Gov. Pat Quinn's efforts to close the institution.

Gov. Quinn has pushed to shutter large state-run institutions, like Murray, and transition residents into community-based care.

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Education Desk
10:46 am
Thu April 17, 2014

Interview: John Tinker & The Landmark Case On Students' Right To Free Speech

John Tinker
Credit Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Public schools are not allowed to forbid students' right to freedom of speech, unless it disrupts education. But that wasn't necessarily true until a court case from Iowa made its way to the Supreme Court back in the 60s. John Tinker was behind the case, known as Tinker v. Des Moines. He and other students went to school wearing black arm bands to protest the Vietnam War. They were kicked out and told not to come back to class unless they removed the bands and the rest as they say, is history.

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Statehouse
6:00 am
Thu April 17, 2014

State Legislation Hints At Marijuana Legalization

Credit en.wikipedia.org

Last year, Illinois approved medical use of marijuana after years of debating the issue.   But could Illinois be closer to following the lead of some other states that have given the o-k to recreational use?   

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Gambling
5:00 am
Thu April 17, 2014

Plan Threatens Proposed Downstate Casinos

In one of the latest gambling proposals, slot machines would be denied to Fairmount Park (though not other horse racetracks) over concerns it would hurt the nearby Casino Queen, in East St. Louis.
Credit Paul Sableman (pasa47) via Flickr

A group of Illinois lawmakers considered two different plans to expand gambling Wednesday. One tracks other recent proposals to add five casinos across Illinois; the other focuses on Chicago.

Every expansion of gambling in Illinois has required a delicate balance of competing geographic and businesses interests.

That's why plans in recent years have called for slot machines at horse racetracks, and five new casinos: in Chicago, the south suburbs, Lake County, Rockford, and Danville.

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Statehouse Bureau
4:44 am
Thu April 17, 2014

How Much Would Your School District Lose?

Credit flickr/LizMarie_AK

  New data suggests just how big a hit most school districts would take if Illinois' income tax rate rolls back as scheduled at the end of the year.

Illinois' budget could play out a lot of different ways. But under one scenario -- the one Gov. Pat Quinn says will be the case if tax rates aren't kept at five percent -- kindergarten through high school classrooms across Illinois will get $450 million dollars less from the state.

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Health Desk
6:07 pm
Wed April 16, 2014

Unmet Needs: Living With Mental Illness In Central Illinois

Debra and Zach Medlyn
Credit Sean Powers

According to federal labor statistics, there are more psychiatrists working in Illinois than most states, with the bulk of that service concentrated in the Chicagoland area. But mental health providers say there are major gaps in service across Illinois, especially downstate. 

Zach Medlyn, 27, of Champaign did not start hearing the voices until about seven years ago, when he was a student at the University of Illinois.

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Early childhood education
2:22 pm
Wed April 16, 2014

Study: Pre-K Education Provides For Economic Growth

Credit flickr/LizMarie_AK

  As Illinois navigated the economic downturn, lawmakers made lots of cuts -- including to early childhood education.

Advocates say over the years, that cut off 25,000 kids from access to preschool.

Business leaders say it's time to restore the funding, in the name of economic efficacy later on.

A new report from Cornell University claims that for every dollar invested in early childhood programs, the local economy recoups $1.94.

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Politics
9:46 am
Wed April 16, 2014

Quinn, Rauner Announce Campaign Donations

Credit flickr/dborman

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican gubernatorial challenger Bruce Rauner have filed their latest campaign reports with the state.  

Rauner on Tuesday announced he raised more than $9 million in the first three months of the year.  
Quinn says he raised $5 million in the first quarter, much of it from labor unions. He spent little of it defeat a little-known challenger in last month's Democratic primary.  Quinn finished the quarter with $8.8 million in his campaign fund.  

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Statehouse
9:04 am
Wed April 16, 2014

The Vanishing Millionaire Tax

Brian Gaines
Credit IGPA

House Speaker Michael Madigan pulled his plan for a so-called "millionaire tax" last week.   The plan would have raised taxes on those earning $1 million or more a year, with the proceeds going to schools.  It would have required a constitutional change. 

Professor Brian Gaines has studied the idea.  He's with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois.  He called Madigan's change of heart a bit surprising:

Brian Gaines' essay on the "millionaire tax" -

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Regional
11:22 pm
Tue April 15, 2014

City Approves More Video Gaming Despite Upcoming Ordinance

Despite concerns over gambling parlors cutting into the bottom line of local bars and restaurants, the Springfield City Council last night approved zoning changes to allow more of the establishments to open shop.  Aldermen Cory Jobe voted in favor, even though he's pushing an ordinance to require video gambling only at places that earn 60 percent or more of revenue from food and beverage sales. 

Jobe says the city is skirting the spirit of the law.  But he says there’s no conflict in his vote.

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Statehouse
4:37 pm
Tue April 15, 2014

Rutherford: Dismiss Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

Lawyers for Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford are asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit by an ex-employee alleging sexual harassment and forced political work on state time.  

The motion in U.S. District Court in Chicago seeks to end the lawsuit by Edmund Michalowski.
Michalowski worked for the former Republican candidate for governor for three years before leaving in January and filing the lawsuit.  

The document contends Michalowski's claims that he was disciplined for not doing campaign work on state time are not plausible.  

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Federal Spending
1:43 pm
Tue April 15, 2014

Durbin Calls For A Return of 'Earmarks'

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin speaks with reporters in this file photo.
Credit Hannah Meisel/WUIS

It's been a few years since Congressional "earmarks" were eliminated from federal transportation spending. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin says it's time to bring them back.

Earmarks have a bad name — remember the "bridge to nowhere," a plan to spend nearly $400 million on a bridge to an island in Alaska with 50 residents?

Durbin says earmarks should have been reformed, not eliminated. He says legislators are in touch with the transportation needs of their districts and states.

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Gas tax
10:49 am
Tue April 15, 2014

Gas Station Owners Warn Against Fuel Tax Increase

Credit Amanda Vinicky

  A coalition of Illinois gas station owners say they're wary of a plan to increase motor fuel taxes. Opponents say it would cause too much pain at the pump.

Engineers, the state Chamber of Commerce, and local mass transit agencies have a strategy to shore up the state's deteriorating highway network and other infrastructure needs: a strategy that includes raising Illinois' tax on gas, which hasn't seen an increase in 24 years.

For now, it's just a plan; no state lawmaker has committed to supporting that proposal.

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Statehouse
8:08 am
Tue April 15, 2014

Quinn, Rauner At IEA Conference - Full Audio

Credit WUIS

Republican Bruce Rauner and Democratic Governor Pat Quinn made their first joint appearance of the campaign when they took the stage Friday at an Illinois Education Association meeting in Chicago. More than 1,000 people were in attendance. 

The two answered questions and also took political jabs at one another. IEA President Cinda Klickna moderated the question and answer session.  

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Regional
4:11 pm
Mon April 14, 2014

Steely Dan To Play State Fair Grandstand

Steely Dan's Donald Fagen (left) and Walter Becker
Credit Steely Dan.com

Grammy Award-winning rock band Steely Dan will play this year's Illinois State Fair.  

State officials made the announcement on Monday afternoon. They say the band will play its ``Jamalot Ever After'' tour at the fair on Aug. 15. Steely Dan had a string of hits during the 1970's. They won a Grammy in 2000 for Album of the Year.  

Tickets will go on sale for the show May 3.

The fair runs from Aug. 7 to 17 in Springfield. Other acts this year include country singers Jake Owen and Hunter Hayes, Florida Georgia Line and Boston. 

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Campaign Finance
6:00 am
Mon April 14, 2014

Illinois Senate Joins Push For U.S. Constitutional Convention

America has had only one national constitutional convention — so far.
Credit Howard Chandler Christy via Wikimedia Commons

The Illinois Senate has joined a push for a national constitutional convention. Organizers want to change the way political campaigns are financed.

The last time there was a Constitutional Convention, it was presided over by George Washington.

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Health Desk
5:40 am
Mon April 14, 2014

"Making Sense Of Obamacare" Lecture At UIS

Prof. Ted Marmor
Credit Brandeis.edu

Ted Marmor has studied the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.  The author and Professor Emeritus at Yale sees both good and bad with the new law.

"My overall view is simple. That it's a very confusing piece of legislation, not very well explained," he said.

"It perpetuates the cost and complexity of American medical care. But it makes some improvement in the availability of health insurance and the protection of some Americans from being devastated by expensive hospital stays and expensive pharmaceutical treatment."

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