Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lawmakers say budget deal fixed mistakes

By Jamey Dunn

A plan the General Assembly approved yesterday to shift money to and from various funds would correct what some lawmakers say were errors in the original budget they passed last spring.

The agreement that Gov. Pat Quinn and the legislative leaders reached yesterday was primarily meant to halt the looming closures of seven state facilities and the layoffs of almost 2,000 employees. However, additional money would be filtered toward human services programs, such as addiction treatment, mental health services and programs to combat homelessness. The plan would be paid for with money from Quinn's budget vetoes and transfers from state funds outside the General Revenue Fund.

Sara Moscato Howe, chief executive officer of the Illinois Alcohol and Drug Dependence Association, said that the original budget cut allocations for addiction treatment further than the House budgeting committee for human services intended. “We were reduced by about 25 percent when the budget came out in July, and that was not the intention of the legislature,” Moscato Howe said.

“It was essentially a math problem,” said Chicago Democratic Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, who heads the human services budgeting committee in the House. She said the committee was working off of last fiscal year’s spending numbers without accounting for an infusion of funds late in the fiscal year by Quinn to ensure that addiction treatment was funded through the end of FY 2011. “We found ourselves $28 million in the hole.” Feigenholtz said that the lump sum budgeting process that lawmakers resorted to for the first two years Quinn was in office made it difficult to track when and where Quinn may have shifted money. “Hopefully, now that we’re line-iteming our budgets again, these kinds of errors will not occur again.”

Feigenholtz said a cut to mental health services was also inadvertent, resulting from a much less complicated mistake. “The mental health cuts were a typographical error, frankly.” She said House members meant for the funding level to be approximately $143 million, but “somebody hit an extra one” and turned the number into $114 million. The House passed a trailer bill last spring to correct the issue, Feigenholtz said, but the Senate did not take it up for a floor vote. She said that before yesterday's vote to reallocate funds, the human services budget “was heading in the opposite direction than the committee had intended to move.”

Moscato Howe said addiction treatment providers had cut programs, laid off workers and extended waiting lists in the last six months because of what is now being described as an accidental cut. “We’ve been cut every single year. Without this restoration, we were down 50 percent from where we were in FY [20]09.” She said that addiction treatment has never been funded to a level that could offer “treatment on demand,” but she said new funds should help cut wait times for patients.

Feigenholtz said she hopes human services will stop being a primary target for cuts. While human services have seen some cuts during the current budget crisis, providers have also had several brushes with the possibly of debilitating cuts, only to have them scaled back at the 11th hour. “Human service providers, just like any businesses in this state, deserve predictability,” she said. “We have to get them off this roller coaster.”

Those hoping for more education dollars were disappointed by the plan approved yesterday. No funds would be put back into general state aid, which was cut under the House budget passed last spring, or school transportation funding, which was cut by Quinn’s vetoes.

“It would be wonderful if we could [restore general state aid funds],” David Vaught, Quinn’s budget director said. “That’s a policy objective of the governor he’d very much like to see addressed. …We’ve got a lot more to do on the education priorities.

“One hundred million dollars was vetoed out of the budget for education by the governor, and none of it was restored,” said Rep. Roger Eddy, who is a school superintendent in Hutsonville. “It was cut more than the other budgets.”

Eddy, who is the ranking Republican on the House education budgeting committee, pushed for more transportation spending in the FY 2012 that budget after Quinn had cut them from the FY 2011 budget. “All we’re doing is reimbursing districts for what’s required," Eddy said. But Quinn removed the money with his veto pen.

Eddy said that during negotiations for yesterday's deal,  downstate lawmakers went through a list of funds looking for the approximately $30 million they believe is needed to go toward transportation, and they offered to give up more than $20 million out of funds that are vital to downstate Illinois. Eddy pointed specifically to $4.5 million moved out of a tourism promotions fund, $6 million from the Downstate Public Transit Fund, $1.4 million from a conservation fund and $1 million from a fund meant to address the digital divide that were included in the overall budget plan that passed yesterday.

“It’s almost like a bait and switch,” Eddy said. “Bottom line is, I’m not sure we would have agreed to taking that money out of downstate funds if it wasn’t going to go toward education.”

Vaught said Quinn’s administration negotiated with Republicans in both the House and Senate. “This agreement was put together with both sides of the aisle,” he said. “We did something that they haven’t been able to do in Washington -- you know, actually get both parties to agree to do spending changes and reductions.”

Pension fund
One fund transfer, out of a fund that feeds the State University Retirement System, raised eyebrows yesterday. Money from that fund, which contains dollars brought in from unclaimed property, normally goes into SURS, and then any shortfall from the required payment is covered through general revenue funds. The original budget did not appropriate $95 million from that fund. According to Senate Democratic staff, the money was sitting idle and would not go into SURS without legislation to move it. Lawmakers voted to push the $95 million into SURS and shifted the $95 million from general revenue funds to other spending in yesterday’s plan. So after that shell game, the total amount of money that would have ended up in the pension system -- without lawmakers voting to add more -- is still there.

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GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips - November 30, 2011

Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 102,592 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the November 30, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tax plan fails while budget plan sails


By Jamey Dunn

 
In a session day that one legislative leader described as “ a mixed bag,” lawmakers approved a budget deal to keep state facilities open but failed to pass a tax incentive package geared at keeping businesses in the state.

 
Legislators returned to the Statehouse today for a single session day that was scheduled for the explicit purpose of approving a tax break plan meant to appease the CME group, which owns the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade, and Sears. Both businesses have threatened to leave the state in recent months.

 
But the two chambers were unable to agree on a bill. Yesterday, a House committee approved Senate Bill 397, scaled back version of previous plans that had been floated. However the Senate approved House Bill 1883 this afternoon. (Each chamber amended a bill from the other chamber and added its plan.) The Senate measure mirrors the House version except for a few important areas that became the sticking points that prevented lawmakers from finding an agreement that could clear both chambers today.

 “We just don’t have an agreement yet as far as I know,” said Senate President John Cullerton.

 
HB 1883, like  SB 397, offers about $200 million in tax breaks to CME and Sears. Both bills also include an extension of the research and envelopment tax credit and a reinstatement of the net operating loss provision in 2012 for losses up to $100,000.

 
However, the proposal from the Senate offers more tax breaks for individuals. Under SB 397 the earned income tax credit would increase from 5 percent of the federal credit to 7.5 percent in 2012 and 10 percent in 2013. The House version only calls for an increase of 7.5 percent. The Senate plan would link the personal tax exemption to the federal exemption, while the House plan would only tack on a flat $50 to the exemption. The House shot down HB 1883, with 99 “no” votes and only 8 “yes” votes. Cullerton said he doubts that the Senate would approve SB 397 because of the lower earned income tax credit.

 
Rep. John Bradley, who worked on SB 397, said many in the his chamber think the proposal from the Senate is too costly. He said his plan relies on a tax credit that is being fazed out and would not dip into general revenue funds in the near future. “We had created a package that we felt was sustainable without getting into general revenue funds,” he said. Bradley, a Marion Democrat, said the Senate’s larger earned income tax credit would cost about $50 million more than the House plan annually, and the personal exemption would be about $25 million a year.

 
Bradley announced on the House floor that he did not have enough support to pass his own plan. “At this point and time,we have reached a temporary impasse. This is not going to happen tonight,” Bradley said.  “We are prepared to come back as soon as there is an agreement and as soon as we are able to work this out in order to save the two companies that are threatening to leave and in order to try to provide relief to working families and relief to small business in Illinois. Unfortunately, that day is not today. Whether it’s tomorrow the next day or next week, we’re prepared to come back as soon as this is settled.”

 
“I think there’s ample time,” Gov. Pat Quinn said as he was leaving the Capitol this evening to catch a plane. Clearly the House and the Senate are deeply divided on the issue.”  Quinn said he thinks lawmakers should “take a step back.”

 
He added: “If you’re going to have any kind of tax relief package, it must have significant relief for working families — raising kids, working hard. That’s my fundamental bedrock principle. And unless that happens, there won’t be any action.” Quinn supported the Senate version of the tax plan.

 
“We are disappointed that today, the legislature was not able to reach agreement and pass a package that will help us remain an Illinois company,” Sears spokesman Chris Brathwaite said in a written statement.  “It is our hope that lawmakers will achieve a compromise very soon as our timeline for making a decision about our future by the end of the year has not changed.  We sincerely appreciate the efforts of many members of the General Assembly over the last several months on our behalf.”
 
The General Assembly did approve budget changes late this evening that are meant to avert the seven state facility closures and nearly 2,000 layoffs that Quinn announced in September.

 
Under the new plan, the facilities would remain open through the current fiscal year, paving the way for the governor’s plan to close some state facilities in what he describes as a slower and more deliberative manner.

 
“[The legislation] will enable us to create a sensible, reasonable, responsive and effective plan for moving people from state operated facilities into the community,” said Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, who sponsored the budget plan in the House. Currie, a Chicago Democrat, said the proposal would not put state spending over the caps set with the income tax approved in January.

 
The plan combines money from the governor’s budget vetoes with cash transferred from various state funds and Medicaid reimbursements brought in from the federal government. The total amount of dollars shifted would be more than $270 million, and a strategy called “churning” is projected to bring in an additional $136 million in Medicaid dollars from the feds.  Just over $200 million is slated to keep state facilitates open. Additional money would be spent on human services and other programs that Quinn and some lawmakers did not want to see cut in the budget that was approved in the spring, including:

  • $30 million for mental health programs.
  • $4.7 million for programs to combat homelessness.
  • $8 million for indigent burials.
  • $28 million for substance abuse programs.
  • $33 million for Monetary Award Program grants for college students.
 
Opponents voiced frustration over the funds that were not restored. Rep. Roger Eddy, who is a school superintendent in Hutsonville, said it was “unfair” that money for transportation, which has been drastically cut in recent years, was not restored when state law requires schools to provide transportation.  Eddy, a  Republican, said the transportation cut hits downstate school districts harder than Chicago districts, which are mostly represented by Democrats. Eddy said downstate legislators agreed to shift money from funds for spending that did not end up in the final bill. “That money wasn’t used exactly the way we thought it was going to be used.” The plan passed with no debate in the Senate.

 
Kelly Kraft, a spokesperson for Quinn’s budget office, said Quinn is working to avoid all layoffs announced under his original closure plan. However, she said the state might have to work out agreements with unions for employees who have already been laid off.

 
“That, I think, was a great victory for the public that we are able to have adequate human services,” Quinn said. “Think back [to] last summer of how dire this was. We were able to, I think, rescue the people of Illinois from a budget disaster.”

Republican Leader Christine Radogno, who called the session a “mixed bag,” said Quinn should have been more actively involved in the tax plan. She said when the two chambers battle over an issue, as they have tended to do recently, Quinn should work to diffuse the situation and find a compromise. She said a deal was not reached today because of "a failure of leadership."

 

Read more...

Tax plan fails while budget plan sails


By Jamey Dunn

 
In a session day that one legislative leader described as “ a mixed bag,” lawmakers approved a budget deal to keep state facilities open but failed to pass a tax incentive package geared at keeping businesses in the state.

 
Legislators returned to the Statehouse today for a single session day that was scheduled for the explicit purpose of approving a tax break plan meant to appease the CME group, which owns the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade, and Sears. Both businesses have threatened to leave the state in recent months.

 
But the two chambers were unable to agree on a bill. Yesterday, a House committee approved Senate Bill 397, scaled back version of previous plans that had been floated. However the Senate approved House Bill 1883 this afternoon. (Each chamber amended a bill from the other chamber and added its plan.) The Senate measure mirrors the House version except for a few important areas that became the sticking points that prevented lawmakers from finding an agreement that could clear both chambers today.

 “We just don’t have an agreement yet as far as I know,” said Senate President John Cullerton.

 
HB 1883, like  SB 397, offers about $200 million in tax breaks to CME and Sears. Both bills also include an extension of the research and envelopment tax credit and a reinstatement of the net operating loss provision in 2012 for losses up to $100,000.

 
However, the proposal from the Senate offers more tax breaks for individuals. Under SB 397 the earned income tax credit would increase from 5 percent of the federal credit to 7.5 percent in 2012 and 10 percent in 2013. The House version only calls for an increase of 7.5 percent. The Senate plan would link the personal tax exemption to the federal exemption, while the House plan would only tack on a flat $50 to the exemption. The House shot down HB 1883, with 99 “no” votes and only 8 “yes” votes. Cullerton said he doubts that the Senate would approve SB 397 because of the lower earned income tax credit.

 
Rep. John Bradley, who worked on SB 397, said many in the his chamber think the proposal from the Senate is too costly. He said his plan relies on a tax credit that is being fazed out and would not dip into general revenue funds in the near future. “We had created a package that we felt was sustainable without getting into general revenue funds,” he said. Bradley, a Marion Democrat, said the Senate’s larger earned income tax credit would cost about $50 million more than the House plan annually, and the personal exemption would be about $25 million a year.

 
Bradley announced on the House floor that he did not have enough support to pass his own plan. “At this point and time,we have reached a temporary impasse. This is not going to happen tonight,” Bradley said.  “We are prepared to come back as soon as there is an agreement and as soon as we are able to work this out in order to save the two companies that are threatening to leave and in order to try to provide relief to working families and relief to small business in Illinois. Unfortunately, that day is not today. Whether it’s tomorrow the next day or next week, we’re prepared to come back as soon as this is settled.”

 
“I think there’s ample time,” Gov. Pat Quinn said as he was leaving the Capitol this evening to catch a plane. Clearly the House and the Senate are deeply divided on the issue.”  Quinn said he thinks lawmakers should “take a step back.”

 
He added: “If you’re going to have any kind of tax relief package, it must have significant relief for working families — raising kids, working hard. That’s my fundamental bedrock principle. And unless that happens, there won’t be any action.” Quinn supported the Senate version of the tax plan.

 
“We are disappointed that today, the legislature was not able to reach agreement and pass a package that will help us remain an Illinois company,” Sears spokesman Chris Brathwaite said in a written statement.  “It is our hope that lawmakers will achieve a compromise very soon as our timeline for making a decision about our future by the end of the year has not changed.  We sincerely appreciate the efforts of many members of the General Assembly over the last several months on our behalf.”
 
The General Assembly did approve budget changes late this evening that are meant to avert the seven state facility closures and nearly 2,000 layoffs that Quinn announced in September.

 
Under the new plan, the facilities would remain open through the current fiscal year, paving the way for the governor’s plan to close some state facilities in what he describes as a slower and more deliberative manner.

 
“[The legislation] will enable us to create a sensible, reasonable, responsive and effective plan for moving people from state operated facilities into the community,” said Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, who sponsored the budget plan in the House. Currie, a Chicago Democrat, said the proposal would not put state spending over the caps set with the income tax approved in January.

 
The plan combines money from the governor’s budget vetoes with cash transferred from various state funds and Medicaid reimbursements brought in from the federal government. The total amount of dollars shifted would be more than $270 million, and a strategy called “churning” is projected to bring in an additional $136 million in Medicaid dollars from the feds.  Just over $200 million is slated to keep state facilitates open. Additional money would be spent on human services and other programs that Quinn and some lawmakers did not want to see cut in the budget that was approved in the spring, including:

  • $30 million for mental health programs.
  • $4.7 million for programs to combat homelessness.
  • $8 million for indigent burials.
  • $28 million for substance abuse programs.
  • $33 million for Monetary Award Program grants for college students.
 
Opponents voiced frustration over the funds that were not restored. Rep. Roger Eddy, who is a school superintendent in Hutsonville, said it was “unfair” that money for transportation, which has been drastically cut in recent years, was not restored when state law requires schools to provide transportation.  Eddy, a  Republican, said the transportation cut hits downstate school districts harder than Chicago districts, which are mostly represented by Democrats. Eddy said downstate legislators agreed to shift money from funds for spending that did not end up in the final bill. “That money wasn’t used exactly the way we thought it was going to be used.” The plan passed with no debate in the Senate.

 
Kelly Kraft, a spokesperson for Quinn’s budget office, said Quinn is working to avoid all layoffs announced under his original closure plan. However, she said the state might have to work out agreements with unions for employees who have already been laid off.

 
“That, I think, was a great victory for the public that we are able to have adequate human services,” Quinn said. “Think back [to] last summer of how dire this was. We were able to, I think, rescue the people of Illinois from a budget disaster.”

Republican Leader Christine Radogno, who called the session a “mixed bag,” said Quinn should have been more actively involved in the tax plan. She said when the two chambers battle over an issue, as they have tended to do recently, Quinn should work to diffuse the situation and find a compromise. She said a deal was not reached today because of "a failure of leadership."

 

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GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips - November 29, 2011

Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 102,505 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the November 29, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Lawmakers look at public campaign financing and corporate tax breaks

By Jamey Dunn

Illinois lawmakers might approve tax cuts to help keep businesses in the state, but they apparently are a long way off from shelling out state dollars to finance political races.

A task force created under the law that set campaign donation limits in Illinois is delving into other potential campaign finance reforms. Today during a legislative hearing, the group looked at public funding of campaigns.

Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat, told the task force that she doesn’t think the recently enacted contribution limits will change much in the state. “While I voted for the campaign [contribution] limits … I don’t really think that they do anything to take money out of campaigns, and out of politics, and out of influence of government. So, I would say, ‘Yes, we did that.’ But that’s been done since the 1970s at the federal level, and I don’t see anything that’s removed the influence of money or reduced the amount of expenditures on campaigns on the federal level,” she said. “So I don’t think that there’s any need to wait to see what the impact will be in the state of Illinois.”

Nekrtiz said that she supports spending limits. However, she said “the U.S. Supreme Court is not headed in that direction. So we have to find an alternate method to get that done, and I think the next best thing is to create incentives for candidates to control spending.”

She said that during the current budget crisis, money is probably too tight for the state to offer public funds to political candidates. But she said lawmakers should have a plan for when the state is on better financial footing. “It’s critical that we have the dialogue and be prepared [for] such time as we can come up with a source of funding for public financing.”

However, Kent Redfield, an emeritus political science professor at the University of Illinois Springfield, said any plan to publicly fund governor or General Assembly races would not find enough support to become a reality. “If you are trying to get a system to substitute public money for private money, I don’t think there’s a political will to do that. The cost is just way too high, and I’m not even sure that it’s good public policy to try and do that. You’d be spending so much money to affect a very small number of races, and the rest of it would be going to people who were either going to lose or win regardless of how much money was there.” Redfield said many candidates in close races likely would not take public funds because then they would be tied to a set amount of spending. “There are states that finance their gubernatorial races through public finance, and there’s longstanding traditions, and it would be really bad form not to take the money. They tend to be smaller states where it’s a lot cheaper to run. But to institute that kind of system in Illinois would be very difficult.”

The federal government offers public funding for presidential races, and at least a dozen states have some sort of public funding system for elected offices.

Redfield said that instead,  Illinois should offer smaller grants to candidates who raise money from small contributions, which often come from private citizens. Redfield said such grants would “encourage candidates to raise money in small amounts and provide resources for people who otherwise would not be able to run.”

He added, “Those are positive things for the system, but they’re not game changes in terms of who control the House or the Senate.”

Redfield did advocate for public funding for judicial races, saying that the state’s judiciary may have “crisis of credibility” in its future. “The more that you get big private interests that are interested in the outcome of a judicial decision engaged in political campaigns, the more you’re going to call the independence of the judiciary into question, and that’s very corrosive. If people don’t accept the legitimacy of the courts, the foundation of the whole system is gone.”

Meanwhile, the House Revenue and Finance Committee approved a plan today that is geared at keeping two businesses in the state.

Senate Bill 397 would offer about $100 million in tax breaks to the CME Group, which owns the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade, and Sears, both of which have recently threatened to leave the state. Other breaks meant to benefit the business community at large, such as an extension of the research and development tax credit, are also in the bill.

The plan also includes an increase to the earned income tax credit and a $50 bump in the personal income tax exemption. The proposal would cost an estimated $250 million annually, which is scaled back from a plan floated last week that would have eventually cost the state about $850 million a year. A vote on the package is expected in the House tomorrow.

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State will let couples in civil unions file joint returns

By Jamey Dunn

Illinois couples in civil unions will now be required to file their state tax returns in the same way as married couples. The new plan is a reversal from a previous policy, under which couples in civil unions could not file state taxes together.

The Illinois Department of Revenue had decided that such couples would have to file separately because they could not file their federal taxes together. Sue Hofer, spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Revenue, said the agency looked to New York, which legalized same sex marriage this year, when trying to find a way to allow couples in civil unions to file joint state taxes.

Hofer said partners in a civil union would fill out the federal form as if they were married, and then fill out the state form as a married couple.  The federal return would be sent only to the state, along with the state form, to be used as a dummy to base the state return upon. Those in civil unions would still have to file separate federal returns as single because the federal government does not recognize their partnerships. Couples who do not wish to file a joint return would still file as married but would be able to file separate state returns.

Hofer said joint filing for state taxes will not result in large tax benefits for couples -- the substantial benefit comes at the federal level for couples with disparate incomes. If one person has a much smaller income, it can move the household into a lower tax bracket than the individual was in. “In Illinois because we are a flat tax state, you really aren’t going to see any significant change to your taxes. … With the state, everybody pays a 5 percent flat tax. But there will be some benefits.” She said that exemptions such as for property taxes or education expenses, could be applied a couple’s total income instead of just an individual’s earnings.

Randy Hannig, director of public policy for Equality Illinois, declined to comment specifically on the change because he said the group had not received an official announcement from the department. However, he said he is “cautiously optimistic.”

Hofer said the department will work in the coming weeks to get the word out about the change so couples in civil unions know what to do when filing their returns early next year. “We realize we had to make a decisions before the end of the year,” she said. “We will be talking with advocates and folks that this will impact.”

Rep. Greg Harris, a sponsor of the law that legalized civil unions in the state, said he did not know whether the department had created a final policy on the issue. “I do know in having talked to tax partners in a number of major law firms ... that this change would bring us in line with what other states do,” Harris said. He said the problems the department had in sorting out tax policy for couples in civil unions highlight a disparity that exists at the federal level. Harris, a Chicago Democrat, said because the federal government does not recognize civil unions, couples will miss out on tax benefits and have to jump through “additional hoops” to file state taxes together. “There’s still an inequality in the way relationships between same sex couples are treated and the way relationships between opposite sex couples are treated.”

Read more...

State will let couples in civil unions file joint returns

By Jamey Dunn

Illinois couples in civil unions will now be required to file their state tax returns in the same way as married couples. The new plan is a reversal from a previous policy, under which couples in civil unions could not file state taxes together.

The Illinois Department of Revenue had decided that such couples would have to file separately because they could not file their federal taxes together. Sue Hofer, spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Revenue, said the agency looked to New York, which legalized same sex marriage this year, when trying to find a way to allow couples in civil unions to file joint state taxes.

Hofer said partners in a civil union would fill out the federal form as if they were married, and then fill out the state form as a married couple.  The federal return would be sent only to the state, along with the state form, to be used as a dummy to base the state return upon. Those in civil unions would still have to file separate federal returns as single because the federal government does not recognize their partnerships. Couples who do not wish to file a joint return would still file as married but would be able to file separate state returns.

Hofer said joint filing for state taxes will not result in large tax benefits for couples -- the substantial benefit comes at the federal level for couples with disparate incomes. If one person has a much smaller income, it can move the household into a lower tax bracket than the individual was in. “In Illinois because we are a flat tax state, you really aren’t going to see any significant change to your taxes. … With the state, everybody pays a 5 percent flat tax. But there will be some benefits.” She said that exemptions such as for property taxes or education expenses, could be applied a couple’s total income instead of just an individual’s earnings.

Randy Hannig, director of public policy for Equality Illinois, declined to comment specifically on the change because he said the group had not received an official announcement from the department. However, he said he is “cautiously optimistic.”

Hofer said the department will work in the coming weeks to get the word out about the change so couples in civil unions know what to do when filing their returns early next year. “We realize we had to make a decisions before the end of the year,” she said. “We will be talking with advocates and folks that this will impact.”

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GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips - November 28, 2011

Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 102,419 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the November 28, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips - November 27, 2011

Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 102,386 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the November 27, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips - November 26, 2011

Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 102,356 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the November 26, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks

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Friday, November 25, 2011

GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips - November 25, 2011

Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 102,318 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the November 25, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips - November 24, 2011

Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 102, 271 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the November 24, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips - November 23, 2011

Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 102,202 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the November 23, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Study: Illinois is no longer a model of higher education

By Jamey Dunn

A new study found that Illinois’ higher education system, once one of the best in the country, has lost substantial ground in recent years

A Story of Decline: Performance and Policy in Illinois Higher Education found that between 1998 and 2008, there was a 10 percent drop in the number of high school graduates who enroll in college within four years of graduation and an 8.5 percent decline in the number of students who enroll in college directly after graduating.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Research on Higher Education also found many factors that could lead to a college degree becoming less affordable in the state. “From 1999 to 2009, median family income in Illinois fell by 7 [percent] in constant dollars while tuition increased by 100 [percent] at public four-year universities and by 38 [percent] at public two-year colleges. At the same time, state support for need-based grants dropped from $1,036 to $745 per undergraduate full-time student, a decline of 28 [percent.]”

The study found racial disparities among Illinois college students. “Blacks and Hispanics and individuals with low incomes are far less likely than other Illinoisans to enroll in college or, if they do enroll, to earn degrees. For example, as of 2009, only 36 [percent] of black students and 44 [percent] of Hispanic students attending four-year colleges and universities were graduating within six years, compared with 66 [percent] of white students and 69 [percent] of Asian-American students,” said the report.

The report pointed to a lack of universal priorities in the state’s higher education planning, as well as the existence of few incentives for schools to increase performance in areas such as graduation rates and closing learning gaps. “The Illinois legislature, for its part, is seen as partisan and lacking consistent and substantive leadership for higher education. State leaders we interviewed, including state legislators, questioned the legislature’s ability to establish shared goals and priorities for higher education,” said the study. The study said that recent governors have not made higher education a priority, and political corruption has only made matters worse.

George Reid, executive director of the Illinois State Board of Education, said that the study is outdated. “My take on that study is that it might have been accurate two or three years ago, but it definitely does not characterize higher education in Illinois today.”

Reid said the Illinois Public Agenda for College and Career Success, a master plan released by the board in 2008, is an integral part of the turnaround. Reid said many of the problems pointed out in the University of Pennsylvania study are included in the agenda, along with the state’s plan to address them. “The legislature and [Gov. Pat Quinn] and all of us are now singing from the same hymn book,” he said.

Reid said the board is working to address the performance gaps found in Illinois’ higher education system. “We know we have two states of Illinois.” He said one state is filled with residents who have financial security. However, Reid said, “we have this underside of Illinois where people are not doing well — where they don’t have a job, and their economic outlook is not good. … What we found out in the public agenda is that if you have a college degree, that is the gateway of rising out of that underside.”

The authors of the report agree that education is the key to closing that so-called prosperity gap. However, they say the agenda needs more focus. “There are so many recommendations without a clear sense of the priorities,” said Laura Perna, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and an author of the report. She said that especially during a budget crisis, state leaders must agree on a set of realistic priorities if the higher education system is to be led in a coherent direction.

The report cites funding cuts as part of the problem, and said the often staggering totals of overdue payments to universities have eroded trust between academic leadership and lawmakers. However, the report also said that the decline began before Illinois’ current budget crisis. “The state is also facing substantial fiscal shortfalls, but it is important to note that the decline in higher education performance began before the recent budget challenges; it is likely that increased funding alone will not improve performance.”

Illinois is looking to create financial incentives for schools to improve performance. In August, Quinn signed House Bill 1503, which is the first step to linking funding and school performance. The bill calls for a commission to create metrics to measure the performance of higher education institutions. Chicago Democratic Sen. Edward Maloney said that work on the metrics has been productive and he expects them to be released sometime next month. He said that one important detail has been to ensure that schools are not measured in an across-the-board manner, but that the system takes into account each institution's unique circumstances and mission. He said one way this might be accomplished is giving schools more credit for positive outcomes for students who have been determined as “at risk.”

Maloney, chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said that the amount of funding linked to performance would likely be small at first. He said that one of the biggest challenges to the plan is the state budget. Maloney said the idea is to reward schools that are doing well, not punish schools that are under-achieving. But he said if higher education funding is cut or even holds steady, the end result would be punitive — taking away money from current funding levels — instead of a positive incentive — getting bonus funds for good performance. “The higher ed community has celebrated flat funding as a victory. That is unfortunate, but that’s where we’re at.”

Perna and her research partner, Joni Finney, who is also a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, looked at Illinois as part of a series of five state studies and plan to release data on other states in the near future. The project focuses on the possible causes of higher education outcomes in different states. Perna said that other states are struggling with issues similar to those facing Illinois. However, she said that the findings in Illinois are particularly disheartening because the state was performing very well in recent years. According to the study, Illinois was a leader on enrollment rates and college affordability during the mid-90s. “Illinois was once a state that people looked to as the model for higher education performance, as well as public policy and government, and it's not really any longer,” Perna said. She said that Illinois' more positive performance history is an indicator that higher education in the state could bounce back. “The potential is there, but there’s been a serious erosion. … Some profound things have to change.”

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GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips - November 22, 2011

Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 102,128 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the November 22, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks

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Monday, November 21, 2011

GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips - November 21, 2011

Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 102,072 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the November 21, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips - November 20, 2011

Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 101,997 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the November 20, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips - November 19, 2011

Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 101,951 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the November 19, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks

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Friday, November 18, 2011

GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips - November 18, 2011

Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 101,866 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the November 18, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips - November 17, 2011

Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 101,796 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the November 17, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips - November 16, 2011

Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 101,727 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the November 16, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips - November 15, 2011

Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 101,619 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the November 15, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks

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Monday, November 14, 2011

GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips - November 14, 2011

Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 101,565 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the November 14, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips - November 13, 2011

Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 101,495 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the November 13, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips - November 12, 2011

Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 100,467 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the November 12, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks

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Friday, November 11, 2011

GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips - November 11, 2011

Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 101,386 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the November 11, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Quinn hopes to slow facility closures

By Jamey Dunn 

Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to close seven state facilities may soon be put on hold, but layoff notices have already gone out to some workers.

Members of the General Assembly are in talks with Quinn about shifting funds to avoid the looming closures, which Quinn had planned to implement in the closing months of 2011 and the beginning of 2012. Kelly Kraft, Quinn’s budget spokesperson, said she expects an agreement to be reached when lawmakers return for an additional session beginning on November 29. The House announced last night plans to return to the Capitol later this month to work on a business friendly tax incentive plan that didn’t gel during the time frame that legislative leaders set for the General Assembly's fall veto session.

But Quinn has not backed away from the idea of closing state institutions. The new plan calls for the shuttering up to four centers for the developmentally disabled and at least two mental health centers.

The plan would transition about 600 of the 2,000 people with developmental disabilities in state institutions to community care settings.  Michael Gelder, senior health policy adviser to the governor said the transition would take two and a half years. Once the plan gets rolling, he said, about 20 people a month would be transferred according to individual transition plans based on assessments of their needs.

“As appropriations increase, we’ll be able to maintain these facilities over the course of this year. That is our goal,” Gelder said.

Gelder said the plan could result in closing more than two psychiatric hospitals by 2014. “That would be the minimum. We think we could do more with that planned thoughtful approach working with local hospitals and working with other community base service providers to prevent emergency psychiatric admissions that are now treated in our state centers.”

Kraft said the money to keep the facilities open would likely come from Quinn’s budget vetoes, which stand because they did not come up for a vote this week, and transfers from special funds — the same funds targeted by Senate Democrats as a revenue source during their failed attempt to add spending to the budget shortly after it passed. She said federal Medicaid dollars might also be tapped.

Union officials, who represent many workers at state institutions, were not impressed with Quinn’s new plan to close facilities in a slower and more deliberate manner. “Governor Quinn is under fire for his irresponsible push to cut mental health care, force people with severe developmental disabilities out of the homes they have chosen and destroy thousands of middle-class jobs. Spreading that pain out over the coming years doesn’t make it any less wrong,” Anders Lindall, spokesperson for the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 31, said in a written statement.

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability voted to keep all seven  facilities open. Though many members said they thought some facilities should be closed, they objected to Quinn’s rushed timeline. Republican legislators, including House Majority Leader Tom Cross, have accused Quinn of targeting facilities in Republican districts. These opponents called on the governor to slow down the process and put all state facilities on the table.

“There’s a right way to close these places and a wrong way to do it, and I thought this was the wrong way,” said Rep. Kevin McCarthy, an Orland Park Democrat. “We are over-institutionalized in our state. We understand that. We want to move forward.” COGFA plays an advisory role in the process, but according to COGFA co-chair Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, no governor has gone against its recommendations on a facility closure.

While lawmakers argue that they want all facilities up for consideration, many members of COGFA say that it would be impossible to close either the Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln or the Chester Mental health center, which houses the criminally insane. “There are two facilities I think that we just couldn’t close, and it’s incumbent upon us to find the resources. One is Chester, one is Logan [Correctional Center in Lincoln,]” Rep. Michael Tryon, a Crystal Lake Republican, said at a previous COGFA hearing. “[Chester is] the only maximum security facility for the criminally insane and those who are not fit to stand trial. … These are not the kind or prisoners that we should put in Alton [Mental Health Center] or any other facility.”

The proposed plan to close Logan, which Schoenberg said “defies imagination,” involves housing prisoners in the gymnasiums of other prisons.

The new tack described by Gelder did not focus on correctional facilities, although Quinn’s original plan called for closing Logan and the Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro. “We would rather spend less on maintenance of institutions and more on the people who are served in [them.] So we will move ahead with a planned thoughtful approach — stopping admissions, initiating assessments and completing care plans and transition plans that will enable us to serve and meet the needs of the people that we all want to meet wherever they are in the state,”Gelder said . “We will work with the General Assembly…to identify the facilities and prioritize those facilities. Not everybody is going to agree.”

Although members of Quinn’s administration say he wants to put the breaks on closures, the state sent out layoff notices earlier this month to 200 employees of the Tinley Park Mental Health Center. The layoffs would be effective December 3. Kraft said if legislation to shift funds is passed soon, it would save those workers’ jobs, but the state is obligated by law to give them layoff notices because the money is not there to pay them. If a plan is not approved soon, about 160 workers at the Singer Mental Health Center in Rockford would be the next to get pink slips.

Kraft said there are no plans to reinstate 21 Department of Agriculture employees who have already been laid off under the original closure plan.

COGFA co-chair Rep. Patricia Bellock said hearings held throughout the state on the proposed closures helped to raise awareness among lawmakers about the need to give more patients access to community based care. “Besides the 12 members of COGFA, at all those hearings, the local legislators were there. So now you have 35 or 40 legislators who are familiar with this process in Illinois of institutionalization and are ready to move forward with the [Quinn] administration on this in a serious way,” said Bellock, a Hinsdale Republican.

She added, “This will not go away.”

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GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips - November 10, 2011

Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 101,298 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the November 10, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks

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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

House plans additional session to finish business incentive plan

By Jamey Dunn

Lawmakers will likely be returning to Springfield later this month to wrap up a plan intended to keep businesses in the state.

As the legislative session was drawing to a close this evening, it was announced on the House floor that legislators should be prepared to return to the Statehouse for session on November 21. Veto session was originally scheduled to last through tomorrow. “It will be an opportunity for the House Revenue Committee to report a tax incentive bill,” House Speaker Michael Madigan said after the announcement. When asked whether the tax incentive package, which began as a plan to keep the CME Group from making good on threats to leave the state, would be addressed, Madigan said, “That’s the plan.”

A spokesperson for Senate President John Cullerton said Cullerton is “surveying his members” to see if they are available for more session days.

Cullerton introduced a bill that would cut taxes for the CME Group, which owns the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade. CME representatives said the recent income tax increase would result in the company owing the state $158 million. Republicans demanded other business friendly provisions and said they would not support a bill that was geared to only one business. Sears is also looking for incentive to stay in the state. Since the introduction of the bill, wish lists from all sides have been piled on, and Madigan seems to be seeking more time to iron out a deal that can pass.

Additional session days would allow sponsors who have been unable to drum up support for their bills more time to try an find “yes” votes.

One such sponsor could be Skokie Democratic Rep. Lou Lang. Senate Bill 1849, a revamped version of a gaming expansion package, failed to pass today in the House. Lang said yesterday that he was seeking a veto-proof majority, but the bill failed to gain even the simple majority needed to move it over to the Senate.

Lang said the new bill was a better version of a gaming package that lawmakers approved last spring. “This bill provides less gaming and more oversight.” He said he took Gov. Pat Quinn’s complaints about SB 744, which Quinn vowed to veto, under consideration when drafting the new plan. But in the end, the sticking point is allowing horse racing tracks to have slot machines. Quinn is opposed and Lang and Waukegan Democratic Sen. Terry Link, who is the gaming point man in his chamber, say a gambling expansion cannot pass in the legislature without them. Quinn’s office did not respond to an inquiry about the governor’s position on SB 1849.

“The first thing that the governor said was, No help for our agribusiness people. No help for central and southern Illinois. 'No help for you. You’re on your own. You’re on your own. Oh, we’ll continue to cut jobs in your communities. We’ll close facilities in your communities,'” Lang said during floor debate. “It would make me angry if I lived in central Illinois.”

Lang attempted to tweak legislative frustration with the governor toward his favor, but in the end, it may have been Quinn’s opposition that pulled off of this new bill at least some of the original 65 “yes” votes for the larger gaming package approved in spring.

Madigan said Quinn’s opposition to slots at horse racing tracks and what most see as an inevitable veto for SB 1849, if it should pass, may have damped support. “That could dissuade people from voting yes.”

“Clearly several people who voted for this in May did not vote for it today. I had several members who voted no last time that told me that they were going to vote yes today,” Lang said. “We’ll get to the bottom of it and figure out if we can find the necessary votes to pass it by tomorrow.”

Lang said legislators should not allow Quinn’s veto threats to sway their votes. “That happens around here a lot. And that would be not a proper way to make legislation. We have a Constitution that provides for three coequal branches of government, and I would hope that legislators would not abdicate their responsibilities under the Constitution worrying about what [the governor] might do if we pass a bill.”

Other issues could bleed into extra session days. House Minority Leader Tom Cross has yet to call, SB 512, his plan to reduce pension benefits for workers hired before reduced benefits kicked in this year. The deadline has passed to override Quinn’s budget vetoes, which include a cut to Medicaid reimbursements for hospitals and an unpopular cut to funding for school transportation. Without a corresponding rate cut, the Medicaid reduction would essentially push bills into next fiscal year. The vetoes stand, so lawmakers may look to make budget tweaks in the near future.

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House approves plan to pay school administrators

By Jamey Dunn

School officials who have worked for months without pay are one step closer to getting a paycheck.

The Illinois House today approved Senate Bill 2147, which would pay regional superintendents out of a local revenue stream. The administrators have not received pay since Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed the funding for their salaries last summer. However, many have continued to work. Regional superintendents' duties include inspecting schools, certifying teachers, training bus drivers and conducting background checks on job applicants.

The legislation's sponsor, Rep. Frank Mautino, a Spring Valley Democrat, called the situation “an embarrassment to the state of Illinois, and it needs to be corrected.”

The bill would allow for regional superintendents to be paid for one year, including back pay from the time they have worked without compensation, out of personal property replacement tax revenues. The measure also calls for the creation of a task force that would make recommendations on potential consolidation of the Regional Offices of Education, which are run by the superintendents.

Mautino said that the plan would cost about $13 million. “It’s a one year hit of less than 1 percent, less than a penny on the dollar.” But local representatives of local governments say the real issue is not the price tag, it’s about the state shifting the cost onto local governments of an office created by the legislature.

Joe McCoy, legislative director for the Illinois Municipal League, said the move to pay regional superintendents from local funds falls into a larger pattern of the state looking to shift expenses to local governments during the current budget crisis. He said there is concern that some lawmakers are starting to view money from the personal property replacement tax as a “slush fund of the state of Illinois.”

McCoy said that although the provision that would end payment out of the tax revenue after one year does provide a safeguard, “it doesn’t really address our underlying concern, which is that the state is going to begin to cost shift onto local governments.”

The deadline has passed for lawmakers to override Quinn’s veto, so the bill appears to be the superintendents’ only hope. “We have to act today because an override is no longer an option. Because if we do not, the next time we will meet will be in January, and they will not have been paid for seven months,” Mautino said today on the House floor.

But some opponents said the General Assembly should not swoop in to fix a problem that Quinn created. "I don’t know how many times we’re going to have to keep cleaning up the mess that our governor is making. This is the mess that he’s created, and he’s asking us to fix it. We shouldn’t do that for him,” said Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat. Franks was critical of Quinn for cutting the superintendents’ pay without a clear plan of who would handle their responsibilities, many of which are required by law. “If he didn’t think that the Regional Offices of Education were necessary, then he should have had their duties transferred to the state superintendent of schools, but he didn’t do that.”

A Senate committee approved the bill this evening, and supporters expect it to come up for a floor vote in that chamber tomorrow.

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GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips - November 9, 2011

Articles of interest to Illinois Republicans recently posted by ABC7, NBC5, CBS2, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain's Chicago Business, Daily Herald, Suburban Chicago News, Suburban Life, Pioneer Local, Southtown Star, Rockford Register Star, Bloomington Pantagraph, Peoria Journal Star, Springfield State Journal Register, Belleville News Democrat, Southern Illinoisan, Illinois Review, Public Affairs, Champion News, Illinois Family Institute, Americans For Truth, Chicago Daily Observer, Tom Roeser, Capitol Fax, etc. Since January 1, 2005, GOPUSA ILLINOIS has brought 101,181 such articles and information on many upcoming events to its subscribers' attention each morning, free of charge, and without any advertising. To view the November 9, 2011 GOPUSA ILLINOIS Daily Clips, please visit www.gopillinois.com. Thanks

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Pension changes still up in the air

By Jamey Dunn

A bill to overhaul pensions benefits for state workers was approved by a House committee tonight, but the measure’s future remains uncertain.

An amended version of Senate Bill 512 would reduce retirement benefits for workers hired before a new benefits system took effect in January. If the measure becomes law and survives court challenges vowed by unions, employees hired under the old system would be allowed to keep all the benefits they earned until the law goes into effect. After the law kicked in, they would have to pay more to keep their current or so-called tier one benefits, switch to the so-called second tier that contains any workers hired after January and offers reduced benefits and a later retirement age, or move their money to a savings plan similar to a 401(k).

Under a previous incarnation of the plan that failed to gain the support needed to pass last spring, the amount employees would have to pay to remain in tier one would have been recalculated every three years in order to reflect the real cost of tier one benefits. The proposal that House Minority Leader Tom Cross presented today would allow for a single recalculation after three years with any increase capped at a 2 percentage points. Cross said the change reflects a willingness to compromise and is meant address complaints that members of tier one would have difficulty planning around required contributions that could change every three years. However, he said without the additional recalculations, members of tier one will likely end up paying less than the actual cost of their retirements.

“The downside is that it doesn’t completely cover the cost of the benefits. I think you’ll hear from people who will say … it should be higher, and that was the rational for the original version. But in the legislative process, we try to hear what people are saying,” said Cross.

Supporters of Cross' plan said the state’s billions in unfunded obligations to the pension system would continue to eat up the budget, leaving little money for core state services such as education and public safety.

“Without reform, we must either watch as pension contributions crowd out all other state services … or accept responsibility for allowing the pension funds to fail,” said Tyrone Fahner, president of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, one of the driving forces behind the pension reform push.

However, union officials argued that changes to benefits for employees hired under the old plan are unconstitutional.

“Whether it was corporate tax breaks or new programs — for decades these tax breaks and these programs have been paid for in part by putting off or ignoring pension payments due to these good workers," said Michael Carrigan, Illinois AFL-CIO president. “Pensions have become an issue because they weren’t a priority when spending decisions were made over the past decades. Had pensions been adequately funded down throughout the years, the recent economic downturns … could have been weathered.”

Opponents of SB 512 said that reductions in benefits would not automatically create reform in the system and questioned the lack of a guarantee in the bill that the state would make its required contributions. Rep. Karen May said she would like a so-called lock-box provision in the bill that would end the increased contribution levels for workers if the state fails to make its contribution.

May, a Highland Park Democrat, and Rep. Daniel Biss, an Evanston Democrat, said that they thought the proposal needed improvement. Biss said that since the effective date for SB 512 is not until July 2012, with most of the provisions kicking in even later than that date, lawmakers can work until the spring legislative session on a better bill. However, he said as of now, “there is not a clear counter proposal on the table.”

Biss added that he hopes working groups with representatives from all sides of the issue can come up with a more holistic plan. “I’m going to be for a major pension reform bill this spring. Period. If there’s nothing better on the table than Senate Bill 512, I’ll be for 512. I hope that’s not where we are.”

After the hearing, Cross declined to comment on his next move. He claimed in the first week of veto session that he has 30 Republican “yes” votes for the plan and said it was up to bill co-sponsor House Speaker Michael Madigan to supply 30 Democratic supporters and call the bill for a floor vote. When asked yesterday when he planned to call the measure, Madigan replied that the bill belongs to Cross. Senate President John Cullerton has said that he believes that the bill is unconstitutional, but he said he would allow it to come for a vote in his chamber if it passes in the House.

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New gaming plan could cut out Quinn

By Jamey Dunn 

A sponsor of legislation to expand gambling in the state said he is looking for enough votes to override a potential veto from Gov. Pat Quinn.

Skokie Democratic Rep. Lou Lang sponsored Senate Bill 744, which the General Assembly passed last spring. Senate President John Cullerton used a procedural move to hold the bill to try to negotiate with Quinn. However, Lang said the strategy did not work. “Throughout the summer, there were many meeting held with the governor, but none of those meetings are what you would call negotiations. There was never a point in time that the governor chose to negotiate,” Lang said. “And so we were left with trying to figure out how to handle this.”

During a news conference shortly before veto session began, Quinn said he would veto SB 744 if it were sent to his desk. He also detailed some suggestions for rewriting the bill. He said he supported new casinos but would not go along with allowing slot machines at horse racing tracks. He also raised concerns about the oversight included in the original plan.

Sen. Terry Link, sponsor of SB 744 in his chamber, introduced another bill, SB 747, during the first week of veto session that he said was based on Quinn's suggestions. Quinn came out strongly against Link's proposal, and the plan has not been called for a floor vote.

Lang said he tired to take Quinn’s thoughts — as well as criticisms from Illinois Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe, newspaper editorial boards and others — into account when drafting a new gaming expansion bill, SB1849. A House committee approved Lang's bill today.

The measure includes slots at horse racing tracks but does not allow for slots at the Illinois State Fairgrounds or Chicago airports. It would reduce the number of gaming positions available to casinos from 2,000 in the original bill to 1,600. They currently are allowed 1,200 positions. The Chicago-owned casino proposed in the plan would be allowed 4,000 positions. Lang said any unused positions at a facility could potentially be transferred to another casino that would use them. “It is in the benefit of our citizens to have all of those positions used.” Lang said that it would be up to the Gaming Board to create the procedure for transferring positions.

SB 1849 does not include a controversial provision that called for the Gaming Board to issue temporary licenses within 60 days of application to bars and restaurants seeking video gaming. The proposal was meant to spur the board to implement video gaming, which was approved as part of the funding for the state’s capital construction plan. So far, no licenses have been issued and no revenue from video gambling has come in.

Lang said some lawmakers were uncomfortable with issuing the temporary licenses. His new bill calls for the board to begin implementing video poker before any new casinos can be licensed and before horse tracks can get a license for a permanent location for slots. However, they would be able to operate out of a temporary facility, such as a tent. Lang said he wanted to ensure that the board did not “skip over” video poker to begin work on a gaming expansion. “That could be one machine, it could be 10,000 machines, but they’ve got to get it up and running.”

Lang said the legislation should clear up concerns about oversight of the Chicago casino. He said the ultimate authority would belong to the Gaming Board. Quinn complained that the city would be allowed too much regulatory leeway under SB 744.

But Lang’s stated goal of finding 71 “yes” votes in the House — enough supporters to override a veto from Quinn — indicates that he is less worried about pleasing the governor with his bill and more concerned with getting as much support from his fellow lawmakers as possible. While Quinn has yet to take a position on the plan, Lang's goal shows that he is anticipating a veto. A spokesperson for Quinn said his administration is “reviewing the proposal.” Quinn has said numerous times that he opposes allowing slots at horse racing tracks. He has said that such a proposal allows for too much gambling in the state and would lead to the cannibalization of business from existing casinos.

Current casinos owners oppose Lang’s plan for that very reason. “We’re not opposed to a casino in Danville. We’re not opposed to a casino in Rockford, Chicago, the Waukegan area. … We are opposed to the facilities right next door to existing casinos,” said Tom Swoik, executive director of the Illinois Casino gaming association. Swoik said casino owners are not opposed to expansion as long as it is “reasonable” and in “new market areas.”

He added: “The state isn’t going to get the kind of money that they think they are going to get out of this. We’re just transferring gamblers from one area to another.”

But Lang said the bill would bring in roughly $1 billion in licensing fees in addition to future revenues from taxes paid by casinos and racetracks. “I think we’ve made a very good piece of legislation better; one that will raise billions of dollars for the state, one that will pay our old bills,” Lang said. “At a time when our unemployment rate has reached 10 percent, this is something that we must do.”

He said finding the backing for a veto proof majority is “not going to be easy,” and he is not above exploiting recent rifts between the governor and the legislature to rally the votes he needs. “I will use any legal means to get a veto proof majority to pass this bill.” He said Quinn’s proposal to close state facilities, his comments implying that campaign contributions influenced votes to override his veto on a smart grid plan and his refusal to negotiate about gaming caused some animosity toward the governor among lawmakers. “I think when the governor announced two weeks ago that he was not in favor of slot machines at racetracks, it made some people very angry. … I’m going to go to those legislators, and I’m going to get them angry.”

Lang said he hopes to call his bill for a floor vote tomorrow.

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