Macomb Local News Archives for 2018-02

Illinois lawmakers move wave of gun control measures through committee after recent shootings

Illinois lawmakers are working to channel the outrage over recent gun deaths to pass more restrictions on firearms and accessories.
Citing the recent school shooting in Florida and the recently slain Chicago Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer, lawmakers made their case to pass laws that would create a number of new restrictions on owners and sellers of guns.
Named after Bauer, who was shot Feb. 13, state Rep. Dan Burke’s bill would limit magazine capacity to ten rounds and make selling body armor illegal in most circumstances.
Burke, a Chicago Democrat and former policeman, said owners of the newly-illegal magazines would have 90 days to give them up.
“These extended magazines are not appropriate in our society,” he said.
Some of the most common handguns on sale today come standard with magazines that carry more than 10 rounds. The Glock 19, for instance, was one of the most popular guns sold in 2016. The standard model comes with a 15-round magazine.
“This bill is a confiscation bill,” said Todd Vandermyde with the Federal Firearms Licensees of Illinois. “We have 2.2 million [firearms owner identification] card holders in the state. If every single one of them has one magazine, that's two million magazines plus to be turned in.”
Another bill, presented in committee by state Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-Addison, would allow for people to report people they consider a threat to others to the Illinois State Police.
“The system definitely failed,” she said, referring to the ignored reports that the shooter in Parkland, Florida was dangerous. “I don’t want Illinois to be one of those failures.”
Lawmakers questioned her bill, saying it was too broad and would allow for gun owners to be targeted and have their gun rights taken away. Rep. Barb Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, said she supported some parts of Willis’ legislation, but the bill was too far reaching.
Wheeler's main concern was that the bill allows Illinois State Police to show up at a gunowner's house and order that person to report to a mental health facility for evaluation -- at the gunowner's expense -- all based on an anonymous tip, with no accountability for the person making it. She said the process could easily be abused and said this was "probably one of the scariest bills that I have ever seen."
“The rest of this bill that you’re presenting today is probably one of the scariest bills that I have ever seen,” she told Willis.
Other bills would ban bump stocks, which were used in a recent mass shooting in Las Vegas, and ban the sale of AR-15-style rifles to anyone under 21.
The bills each got thousands of people signing as supporters and opponents.
Illinois has 64 laws regulating guns, more than all but five states, according to Boston University’s State Firearm Laws project.


President Thomas holds 'Executive Institute and Strategic Plan' press conference

(photo: Thomas speaks at the Tuesday press conference. Photo via Western Illinois University Facebook)


Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas held a press conference Tuesday in which he outlined the university's 'Executive Institute and Strategic Plan.' In his presentation, Thomas explained several different concepts and philosophies that WIU will institute in order to increase enrollment.


One goal Thomas outlined was providing more ways for students to earn money while earning their degrees. According to Thomas, 75% percent of students receive federal financial assistance, with many students working over 20 hours per week. This tends to result with students needing more time to graduate from WIU. 


We are launching new initiative to ensure timely graduating," Thomas said. 


One of these programs is the Learn and Earn Program through the College of Business and Technology. In this program, students complete paid internships and other forms of experiential education and classes at the same time.


“This negates the need for employment for students' beyond the normal credit hour load, gives job related experiences and advances our mission to prepare students to lead in their communities," Dr. Thomas said. 




Thomas also emphasized the concept of online classes, given that they are cheaper for students. He said these type of classes also provide more flexibility. 


Another area Thomas discussed was the relocation of the Centennial Honors College. Thomas has created a task force to look into the idea of moving the college from the University library to portions of the third floor of what is known as the old Western High Library and study hall in what is now Simpkins hall.
“This is an excellent opportunity for reinvestment and celebration of this great university,” Thomas said.
Dr. Thomas cites the "natural pairing,” of the Honors College and the Department of English, which is already located inside Simpkins Hall. 
This move will be funded by donations. Donations and funds can not be use for operating or salary expenses, something that Thomas reiterated during the press conference. 
All of this comes within the confines of tightened state funding. Western Illinois University has undergone a decade of decreased funding. From 2015-17, University funding from the state has decreased by 10%.
Western, along with other Illinois state schools, has had to navigate the state's recent budget impasse. Thomas will be in Springfield Thursday for the first budget testimony of the year. 
“We will be there to advocate for more adequate and predictable funding," Thomas said. 



After detailing harassment, intimidation allegations in his office, Speaker Madigan says he won't step down

Speaker Michael Madigan says he won’t step down, after revealing Tuesday nine different cases of staff wrongdoing within his legislative office over a five year period.
The allegations included harassment, unwanted advances, retaliation, intimidation, creating a hostile workplace and discrimination over the past five years. Madigan's office conducted the internal review. He encouraged other legislative leaders to do the same.
Madigan, D-Chicago, said the reason for Tuesday’s reveal was because of growing questions.
“We prepared this document as an educational document so people can understand the nature of the complaints that have come into the office,” Madigan said.
The document wasn't comprehensive. Broad categories of complaints were excluded, including unresolved complaints.
Some allegations were resolved quickly with minimal intervention. Others were resolved with increased supervision, counseling, or reassignment. One case was resolved when the person was removed from a position. Another was resolved through an attorney. The internal review included some details, but others including when the incidents happened, was omitted "due to confidentiality concerns."
In one case, a legislator made an inappropriate sexual comment to a woman staffer. "Later that day, the member apologized to staffer and self-reported to the Ethics Officer,” the internal review said.
Another allegation was that a “female staffer reported that a male staffer had been sexually inappropriate with her and had used his position to intimidate and manipulate her.”
“The individual requested the matter remain confidential,” the review found. “The Chief of Staff reprimanded the male staffer and advised further complaints would result in termination.”
Yet another of the nine complaints listed was that a “former staffer advised the Ethics Officer that a male staffer had attempted to intimidate her, including making such claims as he would ruin her career when she ended their personal relationship,” the document said. “The individual requested the matter remain confidential. The Ethics Officer began monitoring the staffer.”
The review didn't include six broad categories of complaints, such as complaints by a member about another member; complaints by a member about a lobbyist; complaints by a lobbyist about a member; complaints by staff about a member regarding manner of treatment or derogatory comments; or complaints about another caucus leader, caucus member or caucus staff. Unresolved complaints also were excluded.
Madigan’s attorney Heather Wier Vaught wouldn't disclose how many unresolved complaints there were, but said it was a small number.
Before Tuesday’s reveal, several members of Madigan’s party and his caucus have called for him to resign as Speaker and as Democratic party chair.
“I’m not resigning,” Madigan said. “I’m moving forward. I’m working with this particular issues and we’re going to work our way through it and we’re going to provide good strong leadership as I’ve done for several years.”
For nearly three years of the five years outlined in the one-page document, there was no legislative inspector general, the officer who typically takes such complaints.
Vaught said the law recently changed for such cases to be reviewed.
“So if any of these individuals have submitted complaints to the legislative inspector general, she would have full authority to review those,” Vaught said.
Madigan was asked if this document shows a culture of inappropriate behavior within his office.
“There’s no culture with me and if you read through these were processed you’d see at the leadership level we don’t tolerate inappropriate behavior,” Madigan said. “We just don’t tolerate it.”
Vaught said the Office of the Speaker had about 250 employees. It wasn't clear why the internal review was limited to the past five years.
The cases are only from his legislative office, not his political operations as the state’s Democratic party chair.
Madigan has reported two cases of wrongdoing by political operatives within his operations. Both individuals in those cases were let go.


Inman, Illinois mayors, urge lawmakers to put Home Rule Referendum on ballot

Macomb Mayor Mike Inman and mayors across the state, are calling on the General Assembly to pass a resolution that would put a referendum on the November 2018 ballot to grant home rule status to 169 municipalities across Illinois. There are 1,298 municipalities in Illinois.


This would allow Illinois voters the opportunity to lower the population threshold for home rule status. Currently, communities can become home rule either automatically when they reach a population of more than 25,000 or by local referendum. This amendment would lower the threshold to more than 5,000. This constitutional ammendment was first proposed by Toi Hutchinson (D-Chicago Heights).


Municipalities with home rule status can adopt any policy unless prohibited by state law. Non-home rule municipalities can only adopt policies for which expressed authority by state law is provided.


Inman, who is First Vice President of the Illinois Municipal League, spoke about how home rule status would benefit Macomb. 


"Home rule authority would allow Macomb to provide financial stability to our residents and our budget without being increasingly reliant on property taxes," Inman said in a press release. "In today's environment, non-home rule municipalities are dealing with higher costs and more mandates while being given less state-shared revenue. This proposal gives us the tools we need to address local needs in a fiscally responsible manner."


As a release from the Illinois Municipal League states, "Home rule municipalities have greater opportunities for local self-governance, enhanced services for the health, safety and welfare of residents and options to lessen the reliance on property taxes. This ultimately allows local leaders and their constituents to craft creative solutions for their communities at a time when the state is either cutting or withholding funds it owes to municipalities."


Congresswoman Bustos calls on Speaker Ryan for vote on bill to help end workplace sexual harassment

Tuesday, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (IL-17) published an open letter to Speaker Paul Ryan asking him to allow a vote on the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act of 2017. Bustos’ bill has earned broad bipartisan support including garnering a letter from the Attorneys General from all 56 states and territories calling for passage of this legislation.


The full open letter can be read below:


Dear Speaker Ryan,
The time to take real action to end sexual harassment in the workplace is right now and you have the power to make it happen.
I’m writing this open letter to ask you to do something real and something substantive by standing with Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate, with companies like Microsoft, and with the Attorneys General from all 50 states, plus the five territories and the District of Columbia.
Since the launch of the #MeToo movement, we’ve seen tremendous energy and enthusiasm to change the way we, as a nation, address sexual harassment.
We’ve heard horror stories about how “hundreds” of women, who just wanted to earn a decent living at Jared and Kay Jewelers, were “routinely groped, demeaned and urged to sexually cater to their bosses to stay employed.”
We’ve heard about Charmaine Anderson, who worked hard to earn $3.95 an hour as a waitress at a Waffle House in Mississippi. Even though her boss texted her images “of his penis, then threaten[ed] her with a knife if she reported him,” the lawyer she spoke with advised her to drop the complaint because the deck was stacked against her in a way that she just couldn’t win.
And we’ve all heard about former Fox & Friends host Gretchen Carlson, who was prevented from suing Fox News after enduring years of systemic sexual harassment from abusers above her and enablers around her. Like all of the other women who made allegations of sexual harassment at Fox News, Gretchen couldn’t sue the network because a clause buried deep into the boilerplate, take-it-or-leave-it, language in her employment contract prevented her from doing so. That same clause, requiring mandatory arbitration for workplace complaints, also appeared in the contracts of the women at Jared and Kay Jewelers, Charmaine Anderson and approximately 60 million hardworking men and women across our nation.
While we know that most businesses take sexual harassment seriously and work to prevent it, mandatory arbitration affords bad actors the dual benefit of keeping negative stories out of the media and avoiding substantial payments to victims. That’s because the arbiters who handle claims all but work for the companies they are supposed to be judging impartially – after all, why would a company continue to use an arbiter who rules against them? This is probably why, by some estimates, complainants only win about one in five of their arbitration cases and, when they do win, they only get about 7 percent of the award that they might have won in a court.  And when a complainant does win an arbitration case, if they didn't already have a non-disclosure agreement in their employment contract, you can bet the settlement includes one.
That's why, after nearly a year of working behind the scenes to line up bipartisan, bicameral support, I introduced the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act of 2017 at a press conference with my co-leads, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Lindsey Graham and Reps. Walter Jones, Pramila Jayapal and Elise Stefanik. We were also joined at our announcement by Gretchen Carlson, who spoke of her experience to the extent she's legally allowed to.
Our legislation is straightforward and simple. All it would do is give victims of workplace sexual harassment or discrimination the choice to take their employer to court rather than submitting to a mandatory arbitration process.
Allowing victims of sexual harassment to have the choice to use the court system isn’t just common sense, it’s also the right thing to do.
And, because it's so obviously the moral choice, our idea has gained tremendous momentum since we introduced it. 
Just days after our news conference, Microsoft became the first major company in America to publicly support our bill. They also went one step further by refusing to wait for Washington and instead leading by example. In their announcement, Microsoft committed to ignore the forced arbitration clauses in the contracts of all 125,000 of their employees around the world in cases of sexual harassment or discrimination.
Two weeks ago, Florida’s Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi and North Carolina’s Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein sent you a letter, which was signed by every one of the Attorneys General in the nation urging you to bring our legislation to the floor for a vote. This is the first time in nearly a decade there has been a letter signed by every Democratic and Republican Attorney General. 
Mr. Speaker, sexual harassment simply cannot exist without a veil of secrecy. Allowing serial sexual harassers to continue hiding in the shadows does nothing but silence survivors, put millions of women in the workplace at continued risk and enable abusers to continue climbing their career ladder with no repercussions.
Change isn’t easy, and there will be some who simply don’t want to take this step to protect women in the workplace because they’re afraid of how this could affect their bottom line. However, on this issue, there is a very clear right side and a wrong side of history.
You alone have the power to bring our bill to the floor for a vote.
I urge you to join us on the right side of history by taking real action right now.
Kind Personal Regards,
Rep. Cheri Bustos


Macomb residents sound off on school board following sexual assault lawsuit

Macomb residents gathered Monday night at Macomb High School to take advantage of an opportunity to publicly speak to the Macomb District 185 School Board of Education. The meeting came in response to news breaking last week of a civil lawsuit against the district, and both its high school principal and assistant principal. 
The federal lawsuit comes from two former female students at Macomb High School that are asking for a jury to award them $10 million. 
In the suit, the students claim they were sexually assaulted and harassed by a fellow student. The incidents in question repeatedly happened on school grounds, despite the female students reporting the incidents to Principal John Rumley and Assistant Principal Ed Fulkerson. 
At Monday's forum, residents were given the opportunity to speak directly to the school board. Residents were not permitted to speak specifically about anyone involved in the lawsuit. The board was not allowed to respond to the residents at the event. 
Macomb resident, and parent of two District 185 students, Heather McMeekan, displayed frustration at the lack of a comment on the situation from the Macomb School Board. 
“I am shocked there has been no public response from you since this court case broke in the media,” McMeekan said. "At least something indicating how our children are being cared for, and made safe. The silence has been appalling”
McMeekan went on to add that if a sexual assault had occurred at Western Illinois University, parents would’ve been notified.
“If this had happened on the campus of Western, all of us would’ve been notified that a sexual assault had occurred,” McMeekan said. Instead we had to find out after the fact that multiple incidents had been going on.”
The lawsuit cites Title IX and civil rights law violations in how the female students were sexually discriminated against. The suit states that the girls were told by Principal Rumley that “Guys are going to do what guys are going to do.”
One female student said Monday that she “felt betrayed,” when first hearing about the lawsuit.
“The administration that claimed to care for me has indifferently chosen not to care about sexual assault, excusing it with 'guys are going to do what guys are going to do,’ therefore violating the law. Title IX,” the student said. 
Another Macomb resident, Anne Burton, made it clear to point out where the blame lies with this case. 
“The litigants are not to blame,” Burton said. "If federal and state laws were followed there would be no lawsuit.” 
Judge Sara Darrow, a Rock Island judge, will hear the case. The federal civil lawsuit was initially filed in U.S. District Court in Peoria. It was then transferred to Rock Island February 21. 


Half of Illinois Board of Higher Education's $3.4 billion funding request is meant for pensions

While Illinois has seen a loss of it’s public university students over several years, the taxpayer cost per student is, in some cases, nearly double in Illinois what it is in other states, and one driving factor is the high taxpayer cost of higher education pensions.
During a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing last week, Illinois Board of Higher Education Executive Director Al Bowman said over time Illinois has lost thousands of college enrollees.
“In 1991 we had 202,000 students enrolled in public universities,” Bowman said. “In 2014 we had 193,000. So we dropped 8,600.”
State Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, said higher education is costing taxpayers per student in Illinois more than schools cost taxpayers in other states.
“We were, back in 2015, paying over $10,000 in state support per student [in Illinois],” McConchie said. “And I’m looking at Ohio, $5,100 per student, Wisconsin $5,200 per student.”
IBHE is asking for for $3.4 billion for public universities in the coming fiscal year that begins July 1, $1.7 billion of that would go to the university retirement system.
State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said that high pension cost is diverting dollars from other resources meant to attract students to Illinois schools.
“The money is being shunted,” Rose said. “It’s being shunted away from base operations, which frankly, are things like recruitment dollars to bring students to our institutions, quality of faculty, retention of faculty, it’s all being shunted into a different direction."
IBHE’s request also includes $20 million for capital construction projects to address immediate health and safety needs. But that’s only a portion of the overall capital needs Bowman said are looming.
Rose said the buildout universities underwent from years ago trying to be all things to all students is another cost for taxpayers to bear, something he said also makes tuition too expensive for Illinoisans.
Rose said, as the experts, IBHE needs to find solutions.


Not so fast, recent rains change 2018 spring flood outlook

All of Illinois' recent rain is apparently enough to have forecasters rethinking the state's 2018 Spring Flood Outlook. 
The National Weather Service's report on spring flooding had said that this shouldn't be a severe flood season. 
Then it rained for the better part of a week.
"Sometimes you get these situations, where you put out the Outlook and then a a week later, or in this case four or five days later, the weather conditions change quickly," NWS Meteorologist Jessica Brooks said. "Then some of that information becomes outdated."
The report said that large parts of western, central and southern Illinois were still looking at drought conditions. 
And Brooks said, there hasn't been too much rain or snow this winter, so there's not a lot of water waiting to come down the Mississippi River.
"Regarding the Mississippi, there is snow up north. But they have had a below normal season in terms of snow fall," Brooks said. "If we were to get all of that snow to melt tomorrow, and come down the Mississippi River, we can expect the river to rise. The river would rise based on just the snow that is up there. But, again, that's normal."
Brooks said the bigger picture in the report – that this shouldn't be a bad flood – season is still relevant.
The National Weather Service will update the report later this week. 


Proposed state law would let airports in Bloomington, Rockford, Quad Cities tax more people

Three more of Illinois' regional airports are asking Illinois lawmakers for the power to tax more people.
A proposed state law would expand the taxing powers for the airports in Bloomington-Normal, Rockford and the Quad Cities to cover their entire primary county. The idea is to let them tax everyone in their home counties, not just in the population centers. 
"Here in McLean County, approximately 75 percent of the population lives in the Metro area of Bloomington-Normal. And 25 percent of the population is rural," Central Illinois Regional Airport manager Carl Olson explained. "Right now 75 percent of McLean County residents pay a property tax to the airport, while 25 percent do not."
It's a similar situation in the Quad Cities and Rockford. 
All three airports have said that they need the new tax power to keep up with growing demand. 
But the request comes at tough time. 
Bloomington and the Quad Cities have steadily lost passengers over the past several years. 
The Quad Cities International Airport's reports show a consistent drop in fliers from 792,549 fliers in 2012 to 665,691 flyers in 2017. 
The Central Illinois Regional Airport's reports don't include any specific numbers, but the airport says its passenger count is down 12 percent from 2016 to 2017.
Olson said all regional airports in the state are in an increasingly tight spot. 
"It's terribly difficult to compete for a couple of reasons," Olson said. "The industry has changed dramatically. There used to be a dozen, dozen-and-a-half airlines in this country. Now, 86 percent of domestic traffic is carried by just four airlines."
Olson said smaller airports are also dealing with the rising cost of fuel and a changing travel landscape. 
Then there's Illinois' problems with paychecks and perks. Olson said his airport's pension needs are met, but Quad Cities airport managers have said they need a million dollars a year to improve their finances. 
"This is about reducing volatility and bringing more local control to a stable revenue stream," Olson said. "This will allow these airports to be more competitive."
Quad Cities airport managers have said they need at least a million dollars a year to improve their finances. 
There is some good news for the airports in Bloomington and Rockford: cargo. 
Olson said his airport's cargo side is busier than ever before thanks to a new FedEx hub. 
Rockford's airport managers are predicting a 50 percent jump in cargo business. The Chicago Rockford International Airport is now a top-25 cargo hub in the U.S., with almost 1.5 billion pounds of cargo moving through their airport last year. 
The legislation to expand the airports' taxing authority, HB5816, has not yet been moved at the Capitol. 
Airport authorities such as these contribute to Illinois’ highest-in-the-nation levels of local government, of which Illinois has nearly 7,000. 


Illinois State Police to investigate McDonough County Sheriff's Office following leaked 911 call

Following the leaked 911 call that sent shockwaves around McDonough County earlier this month, the Illinois State Police will investigate the McDonough County Sheriff's Office. The investigation comes at the request of McDonough County State's Attorney Matt Kwacala. News of the investigation was first reported Saturday by KHQA and Tri-States Public Radio. 


The 911 call comes from an incident on April 4, 2017 in which a report of a reckless driver who may have been intoxicated was called in by a concerned citizen. McDonough County Sheriff Rick VanBrooker has since denied that he was intoxicated, rather claiming he was experiencing a case of vertigo


The Illinois Attorney General's Office is not investigating at this time.


Red Ox to close Wednesday

The Red Ox Restaurant and Lounge, a Macomb staple since 1978, will close its doors permanently after business hours Wednesday, February 28. This announcement comes via a Facebook post from owner Mark Meng. 



The restaurant that's best known for its 'ugly steak,' appeared to have closed earlier this winter. However, Meng renogiated his lease of the location at 1302 W Jackson St., and was able to reopen. 


The final business hours Tuesday and Wednesday will be 11:00 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Customers with gift cards will need to redeem them by close on Wednesday. Those with questions can contact the restaurant at or (309) 833-4200. 


Macomb Area Chamber of Commerce honors committee members at Annual Partners Awards Breakfast

The Macomb Area Chamber of Commerce, together with Macomb Area Economic Development, Macomb Downtown Development, Macomb Area Conven on and Visitors Bureau, and Macomb Park District, held their Annual Partners Awards Breakfast on Tuesday, February 20. The Chamber awarded committee members a wide variety of awards based on their accomplishments in 2017. 


The following awards were presented:


Ambassador of the Year Award: Jen Rouse- Marine Bank

Business Leader of the Year Award: Cathy Early- State Farm

Business of the Year Award: Woodrum Ford Lincoln Toyota

Chairman's Award: Kristin Terry- Macomb Downtown Development

Service Recognition: Jeremy Benson-Terrill Title Co., Inc., and Matt Glaser- American Family Insurnace


(Top: Kristin Terry being presented the Chairman's Award by Chamber Board Chairman Chuck Laird)

(Bottom: The Woodrum Family with their Business of the Year award)



Will Illinois' PARCC changes fix test's problems?

Illinois is changing the standardized test offered to kids in elementary school and junior high, but some school leaders are wondering if the changes will fix the test's biggest problem.
Illinois State Superintendent of Schools Tony Smith earlier this month said that the plan is to keep at least "an anchor set of PARCC items" when they get a new test provider. Hopefully sometime next year.
"Illinois will continue to use and build on the core features of PARCC that make it the highest quality accountability assessment available in the United States," Smith said. "In particular, the complex writing tasks."
 The PARCC test is the only assessment test in the nation to “fully meet” all federal accountability requirements.
But the test has been unpopular from the start. 
PARCC is supposed to measure what students know and how they are learning. Instead, school leaders say the test takes a snapshot of student performance that can't be used to help that student or change what is being taught in the classroom at that time. 
Superintendents like LeRoy's Gary Tipsord said even though he is required to offer the PARCC test, he can't rely on it. 
"If I, as an educator, know that the test that you're going to sit and take today, I'm not going to get those results back till September or October. How much am I really investing in that? How relevant is that?" Tipsord said. "And if it isn't, then why am I going to waste instructional time."
The Illinois State Board of Education this week said it won't know how quickly schools could expect the new test results until a new test provider is chosen. 
But it's not just a new PARCC provider that Illinois is looking for. 
The State Board is also starting a conversation with schools about other ways to test or measure student performance. LeRoy schools are one of the districts in Illinois having that conversation. 
Tipsord said his district already uses a different standardized test that he said gives better information on how students are doing. 
He hopes that all schools in Illinois could, eventually, be able to do the same.
"Could we consider that the state of Illinois gets out of the business of testing, and the millions of dollars that those test cost. Give us a list of permissible assessment platforms, allow us to have the autonomy to [test]," Tipsord said. "And allow us to test in a way that makes sense to our kids. Where it informs instruction in a way that we can actually make a difference."
Illinois' new evidence-based school funding model includes $25 for each student to pay for local standardized testing. But Tipsord said that money is a long away away from being awarded to schools, so any local testing freedom is likely a long way away as well. 


McDonough County Sheriff's search for missing McDonough County Woman

The McDonough County Sheriff's Office is looking for a missing/endangered woman, who was last seen Thursday afternoon in her rural McDonough County residence.


Sheriff Rick VanBrooker stated Friday morning that 56-year-old Patricia L. Semick., was last seen Thursday at approximately 3 p.m. at 660 Flint Road in rural McDonough County. 


Per VanBrooker, she is believed to be on foot, but it is possible that someone could've given her a ride. Semick is 5'4" with brown hair and brown eyes. She was last seen wearing a black coat and blue pants. 


Anyone with information on the potential whereabouts of Semick is asked to contact the McDonough County Sheriff's Office at (309) 833-2323.



Lawmaker hopes Madigan scandal brings attention to bill barring legislators from serving as political party chairman

A state lawmaker is hopeful the ongoing harassment scandal in Speaker Michael Madigan’s political operations will bring fresh attention to a bill to prohibit state legislators from also serving as chairman of a statewide political party.
Illinois Campaign for Political Reform Executive Director Sarah Brune said in the nonpartisan organization's review of other states, Illinois was the only legislature that has someone holding a legislative leadership position who also is the head of a statewide party.
“It blurs the lines between political and public or legislative interests when one person holds these two very important and powerful positions,” Brune said.
Brune said the issue isn’t about any particular person, it’s about the concentration of power.
“When we looked at other states we saw that when people took on the position of party chair they often would step down from other commitments or when they took on the position of legislative leader they would step down from other commitments,” Brune said.
Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has been House speaker for decades and the chair of the Democratic Party since 1998. His political organization ejected two operatives within a week this month following allegations of wrongdoing from the 2016 election cycle.
State Rep. Margo McDermed, R-Mokena, said her bill barring such dual roles would address the problems caused by that concentration of power.
“This is what’s happening, people,” McDermed said. “When you have such a large concentration of power, what did you think was going to happen? You’re going to have harassment. You’re going to have bullying.”
McDermed’s proposal, House Bill 4097, would amend the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act to not only prohibit a legislative leader, like the House speaker or Senate president, from also being a chairman of a statewide political party, it would prohibit any legislator from being a party chair.
McDermed said the status quo in Illinois is not healthy. She said her bill “would make things better for taxpayers because the interest of the party are not always the same as the interest of the people, the citizens of the state.”
“When only the interest of the party, in other words maintaining control into the next election, when that’s the only objective, the people, the citizens, are lost,” McDermed said.
“A legislator’s No. 1 job is to represent their constituents,” Brune said, “They do have to get re-elected. That's just a reality of our political system, but in a legislature the focus should be on legislating and not on politics."
McDermed said Madigan runs the House only for the benefit of the Democratic party.
“The only thing we’re doing in that House is creating mailers for Democratic reps in the next elections,” McDermed said. “It’s completely warped.”
McDermed also said lawmakers operate out of fear – afraid that if they step out of line with their political and legislative leader, they'll be sidelined.
“Fear that their money is going to get cut off, fear that their bills won’t be brought forward, fear that they're not gonna be assigned to the committees they want, fear that they’re not going to vote the right way and be penalized somehow,” McDermed said. “People need to step beyond the fear.
Brune echoed those comments.
“When one person has such a concentration of power, it can create issues and create a culture of fear,” Brune said.
McDermed’s bill is stuck in a committee controlled by Democratic leaders.
Messages seeking comment from Madigan’s spokesman were not immediately returned Thursday.


WIU holds 45th International Bazaar

The 45th International Bazaar will be held at Western Illinois University on Saturday March 3. The event runs from 5-10:00 p.m. at the Grand Ballroom in the University Union. Doors open at 4:30. 


The event features authentic international dishes, that will be sold at prices ranging from $1.00-$2.50 (cash only). There will also be a Kids Craft Corner and International Marketplace running from 5:00-8:00 p.m.


Admission for students with a WIU ID is $2.00 while non-students are $5.00. Children 5-12 are $2.00 with children 4 and under getting free admission. 


You can hear more about the event in my interview with Dana Sistko (WIU Center for International Studies) and William Turkington (President of International Friendship Club). 


Voting now open for Illinois' Top 200

Illinois' bicentennial organizers are looking to come up with a list of the very best of Illinois, just in time for the state's 200th birthday. 
The folks in charge of the state's bicentennial are looking to rank the state's best people, places, and things. And perhaps start a few friendly arguments along the way. 
Chris Wills with the state's Department of Historic Preservation said the idea is to let the people of Illinois rank the best the state has to offer. 
"We will have 20 different categories throughout the year. Everything from books and movies, to authors and inventors, to favorite museums and scenic spots," Wills said. "And the public will choose the Top 10 in each of those categories."
Wills says the debate over Illinois' best athletes could be the toughest.
"How you do compare an early football player like Red Grange to a modern basketball player like Michael Jordan to an Olympic athlete like Bonnie Blair?" Wills said. "Everybody has their own interest in sports and the sports are so different. It's going to be tough."
There won't be a best food vote, Wills said. 
You can vote on Illinois' best movies right now, at


McDonough County United Way hosts upcoming Reading Day

McDonough County United Way will host a “Reading Day for United Way” event on Saturday, February 24, from 1-3 p.m. in Macomb. This free event, which is designed to promote childhood literacy, will take place at both the Macomb Public Library and Prairieview Community Center. This is the first time United Way has held the free event.   


Both locations will feature celebrity readers, snacks, and fun reading activities. Celebrity readers include Macomb Mayor Mike Inman, MPD’s Patrolman Carolina Carrillo, and Belle from Beauty and the Beast. 


Those that cannot make it to the event can participate from home. Families are encouraged to read together from home, snap a picture, and post it with the hashtag #readingdayforunitedway to join Reading Day virtually.  


Reading Day is sponsored by Pella Macomb. Pella Macomb and The Pella Rolscreen Foundation have long been focused on education and community betterment. 


State senator calls into question Madigan's dual role as speaker and Democratic party chair

A couple of measures filed in the Illinois House are meant to address the lack of policies in place for allegations of harassment within political organizations to get heard. And a state senator is raising issue with the two hats the one man at the center of the most recent controversy wears.
In the wake of alleged wrongdoing by at least two political operatives in Speaker Michael Madigan’s political organization, state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, is calling into question Madigan’s dual role as Democratic Party chairman and speaker of the Illinois House.
With the exception of a few years in the 1990s, Madigan has been speaker since 1983. He’s been the chairman of the state Democratic party since 1998. Steans said it’s best practice to separate the two roles.
“I think [Madigan is] going to have to make his own decision about whether he steps down or not,” Steans said. “I certainly think best practices are that you shouldn’t wear both of those hats.”
Steans said someone like Madigan holding both positions could cause conflicts of interest, noting that no other Senate president or House speaker in the U.S. is also their state's party chairman.
“You want somebody as party chair who’s looking out for the entire state, all races, not necessarily mixing it in with the policy of what you’re trying to accomplish in one chamber,” Steans said. “I just think there’s some inherent conflict that can come about because of that.”
Other Democrats in the state Senate, like Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, and Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, have called on Madigan to step down as party chair. State Rep. Scott Drury, D-Highwood, has called for Madigan to resign as speaker.
Biss is running in the Democratic gubernatorial race. Drury and Raoul are running in the Democratic attorney general race. Madigan’s daughter Lisa Madigan is not seeking re-election to attorney general.
Meanwhile, the harassment scandal in Madigan’s operations has exposed some loopholes in how such allegations get reported.
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, said it’s alarming that Alaina Hampton had nowhere to go. Hampton last week publicly accused a Madigan political operative of sexual harassment.
“This woman was in a situation having to go to someone’s brother,” Cassidy said.
Hampton went to Kevin Quinn’s Chicago alderman brother Marty to report the harassment in 2017. Hampton said she sent Madigan a letter about the ordeal in November 2017. Kevin Quinn wasn’t let go from Madigan’s operation until last week, after Hampton decided to tell her story to Chicago media.
“That’s kind of crazy,” Steans said.
State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, filed two bills to address the loopholes. House Bill 5498 would extend the statute of limitations for civil rights violations from 180 days to 300 days. House Bill 5499 would provide an employee advocate for all employees to report complaints to.
State Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, said the two bills could help, if they’re passed.
“So people aren’t out on their own trying to wade through a bureaucratic challenge,” Williams said. “I think we learned how woefully inadequate our systems were and are and require dramatic change to get them where they need to be.”
Both of Feigenholtz’s bills have been assigned to the House Executive Committee. No hearing date has been set.


Pension committee becomes argument over how much taxes Illinoisans pay

A conversation about Illinois’ pension debt became an argument over how much government burden taxpayers carry.
Lawmakers gathered in Chicago Tuesday to discuss a plan to borrow billions of dollars to restructure the state’s $130 billion public pension retirement accounts. The conversation quickly turned to whether or not Illinoisans are some of the most highly taxed people in the nation.
Ralph Martire, executive director with the public union-backed Center for Tax and Budget Accountability said Illinois is actually not a high-tax state.
“Our total tax burden as a percentage of income ranks ... about 27th in the country,” he said. 
State Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, took issue with Martire’s math, citing a report released earlier that morning from 24/7 Wall Street, showing Illinois is tied for fourth in the nation for largest state tax load as a percentage of income.
“Only California, New Jersey, Connecticut and New York [have higher taxes] when we’re talking percent of income,” he said.
The conversation comes as Illinois’ Democratic candidates for governor are advocating changing Illinois’ income tax structure from flat to progressive to raise more money and solve problems. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are “open” to the thought of taxing retirement income and expanding the sales tax.
Other tax burden rankings consistently put Illinois among the highest in the nation.
Lawmakers in July passed a budget that raised income taxes as well as corporate tax rates.


Measure to speed up government consolidation efforts passes out of committee

An Illinois state Senator wants to speed up the process that allows consolidation to reduce units of local governments and in a bid to reduce the state’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes.
State Sen. Tom Cullerton’s bill, Senate Bill 2544, would allow a county board to authorize the dissolution of a governmental unit within 60 days, rather than 150 days, following a court appointing a trustee-in-dissolution.
Cullerton, D-Villa Park, said speeding up the process will help achieve his goal of reducing Illinois’ nearly 7,000 units of local government.
“Then in three or four years go from 7,000 down to 6,000,” Cullerton said. “Another three to four years, go down to 5,000. I think we’d show the people we’re being efficient and actually working in their benefit.”
Illinois has the highest number of local governmental units in the country.
Cullerton hopes consolidation will lead to lower taxes.
“The long term goal is to also reduce property taxes,” Cullerton said. “Everyone keeps talking [a property tax] freeze, I want to reduce that.”
Illinois is next to New Jersey for having the highest property taxes in the nation.
Cullerton’s bill passed out of the Senate Government Reform committee Wednesday.
More work is expected for another consolidation bill that would require a study to determine possible cost savings in consolidating road districts.
Lawmakers debated Senate Bill 2593 that requires an independent cost study to determine the cost efficiencies in abolishing a road district.
Opponents of the measure, like state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, said the requirement for the study would cost townships too much.
“Twenty thousand dollars, or whatever it’s gonna cost, that’s not fair,” Morrison said. “That’s not fair for a town board to have to always be anticipating that they are going to have to have a study.”
State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said the study shouldn't cost that much nor would it be required annually. Without the numbers in black and white, Rose fears any efforts to consolidate would be thwarted.
“Without this type of a study you’ll have more referendums fail than pass based upon whisper campaigns because nobody knows,” Rose said.
Rose held his bill in committee to hash out some amendments following Wednesday’s hearing.


Fourth case of Legionnaires' disease in last two weeks confirmed at Quincy Veterans' Home

Another case of Legionnaires' disease at the Illinois Veterans' Home in Quincy (IVHQ) was tested and confirmed Tuesday by the The Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). The infected resident is in stable condition.


This comes after three cases of the bacterial disease were confirmed last week at IVHQ. Representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) returned to the home in Quincy last week, at the request of IDPH.


Per a news release from the IDVA and IDPH: "in addition to infectious disease control and testing protocols, the teams will continue working to trace potential sources of Legionella bacteria and conduct additional environmental health testing."






Calls for investigations, new leadership, rock Democratic Party of Illinois following harassment scandal

Calls from the Democratic Party of Illinois to address the party chairman’s handling of harassment complaints within the political power structure are mounting following another announced shakeup because of inappropriate behavior.
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, called Tuesday for an independent investigation, perhaps from outside the state. 
Two political managers within one week have been let go from Speaker Michael Madigan’s Democratic political operations following allegations of inappropriate behavior. 
The latest was a volunteer being let go. Madigan said Monday the volunteer, which other media have identified as Shaw Decremer, behaved inappropriately with a candidate and staff in 2016.
“I quickly made sure the individual had no participation in any activities my committees are involved in,” Madigan said in a statement.
“I reaffirm my commitment to change the culture,” Madigan said. “I do not tolerate inappropriate behavior or abuse of any kind and remain committed to ensuring all individuals can do their work without fear of harassment, abuse, or retaliation."
Last Monday, Madigan announced the dismissal of another campaign supervisor, Kevin Quinn. Political consultant Alaina Hampton alleged Quinn made numerous unwanted advances toward her. She said there was a cover up, something Madigan denied. Hampton also said she knew of other cases. Madigan’s attorney confirmed that but wouldn’t provide any other details.
All of this has led to several statehouse Democrats calling for Madigan to either resign as speaker or step down from his party’s leadership position.
“Is it time for new leadership in the party,” state Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, said Tuesday. “Yeah, I believe in passing the baton independent of scandal, right. I think it’s healthy for us to push a refresh button and bring new leadership.”
Raoul is also running for the state’s Attorney General position being vacated by Madigan’s daughter, Lisa Madigan.
Raoul announced he is donating a contribution he received from Decremer to the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund. State records show Decremer gave Raoul $250.
Last week, Illinois News Network reported calls by state Rep. Carol Ammons and Comptroller Susana Mendoza for the Democratic state central committee to investigate harassment within the party. Within days, Madigan tapped the two and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos to lead a panel on the issue.
“We agreed to serve on this panel because it is clear that institutionalized systems have perpetuated sexism, sexual harassment, and inequality in our state’s political system,” a joint statement from Bustos, Mendoza and Ammons said.
“The only significant and sustaining solution will be to change the dynamics and composition of leadership in politics,” the joint statement said.
The panel expects to outline its scope and goals “in the coming days”.
Raoul said it’s important to be thorough and not just react with task forces.
“We have to look at it comprehensively and over time and not just reflexively in a manner in which we’re trying to pull a cover over things,” Raoul said.
The Bustos, Mendoza, Ammons panel said it hopes to present “legitimate findings and effective solutions" but made no mention of Speaker Madigan or the Democratic Party of Illinois’ handling of two cases within one week.
Cassidy's Tuesday statement called for “an independent investigation into this culture that appears to pervade the organizations led by ... Madigan.”
“The slow and steady drip of accusations and dismissals has turned into an endless cycle of lather, rinse, repeat, highlighting the culture of harassment in the legislature and political campaigns,” Cassidy said.
“Because of the unique interconnectedness of his Capitol and political operations, the investigation must not be hampered by organizational boundaries,” Cassidy said. She said the investigators should not be party elected officials or anyone with ties to Madigan and “should have demonstrated experience with investigation of this nature.”
In response, Speaker Madigan said he would cooperate.
"I s[poke with Kelly Cassidy today. I told her I will cooperate fully and I will ask independent counsel Kelly Smith-Haley to assist," he said in an emailed statement.
Last fall, it was revealed that more than two dozen ethics complaints against state lawmakers and their staffs went unanswered because the office of the Legislative Inspector General was vacant for nearly three years. The most recent scandal deals with political campaigns, not legislative activity, which has provided a new wrinkle and no clarity on how to deal with the problems.


March Calendar of Events at McDonough District Hospital

Here is a look at the list of upcoming events at McDonough District Hospital in March. You can see all of these events, as well as other upcoming area events, on our Macomb News Now Events Calendar


Seniors’ Day at Citizens Bank
Thursday, March 1
8:30-10:30 a.m., Citizens Bank, Downtown Macomb
Topic: Colorectal Cancer Awareness and Anticoagulation
For more information, call MDH Outreach Services at (309) 836-1584.
Divorcing Parents Education Program
Friday, March 2
1-5 p.m., Health Services Building 1 Auditorium, lower level
Fee: $60 payable at session.
Registration is required. For more information or to pre-register, call MDH Behavioral Health Services at (309) 836-1582.
Chronic Pain Management Support Group
1-2 p.m., Health Services Building 1, Auditorium, lower level, Macomb
Sessions run through an 8-week course. For a free screening or more information, call MDH Behavioral Health Services at (309) 836-1582.
Suicide Support Group
Monday, March 5
7-8 p.m., Health Services Building 1, Auditorium, lower level, Macomb
This open discussion support group is for anyone who has been affected by suicide. The group meets the first Monday of each month. For more information, call the MDH Behavioral Health Services at (309) 836-1582.
MDH Breast Cancer Support Group
Monday, March 5
5:30 p.m., McDonough District Hospital, Auditorium B, lower level, Macomb
For more information contact MDH Outreach Services at (309) 836-1584.
Anger Management
3:30-5 p.m., Health Services Building 1, Auditorium, lower level, Macomb
Registration is required. Insurance and financial assistance may cover costs depending on coverage.
For more information or to register, call MDH Behavioral Health Services at (309) 836-1582.
Community First Aid Class
Tuesday, March 6
6 p.m., McDonough District Hospital, Auditorium A, lower level, Macomb
Fee: $40. Registration is required. For more information or to register, contact MDH Outreach Services at (309) 836-1584.
Childbirth and Infant Care: 4-Week "L.A.T.E." Childbirth Instruction Class
Thursdays, March 8, 15, 22 & 29
6-8:15 p.m., McDonough District Hospital, Auditorium B, lower level, Macomb
This FREE class will meet one night a week for four weeks. Registration is required.
For more information or to register, call MDH Obstetrics Department at (309) 836-1570.
Community CPR Class
Tuesday, March 20
6 p.m., McDonough District Hospital, Auditoriums A & B, lower level, Macomb
Fee: $40.
Registration is required. For more information or to register, contact MDH Outreach Services at (309) 836-1584.
Colorectal Cancer Program
Wednesday, March 28
6 p.m. (doors open at 5:30 p.m.), McDonough District Hospital, Auditoriums A & B, Lower Level, Macomb
Topic: Colon Health is Whole Health
Speakers: Drs. Tim Biagini and James Gonzales
Learn more about Colorectal health as it relates to the rest of your body, as well as about Colorectal Cancer diagnosis and treatment. Plus take a tour of the MDH Endoscopy Suite. See the rooms where procedures and surgeries are done and view the equipment they use. Information on preparing for a Colonoscopy will also be discussed. Healthy hors d’oeuvres will be served and free Hemoccult-ICT test kits will be available. For more information or to pre-register contact Outreach Services at (309) 836-1584.


Congressman LaHood: Illinois Can Decide Carp Strategy On Its Own

Once again leaders from other Great Lakes states are trying to move Illinois toward their preferred plan to deal with Asian carp in the Illinois River. 
But Congressman Darin LaHood says that Illinois has a handle on Asian carp, and doesn't need to be pushed, pulled, or told what direction to go.
 A group of congressmen last month considered sending a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, and ordering them to finish a report about the Illinois River carp defenses by the end of the year. 
 LaHood has most of the river in his district. He says Illinois is doing a great job keeping carp far enough away from the lakes. 
"We need to make out own decisions," LaHood, R-Peoria, said. "We are a sovereign state. We have a lot of smart, bright people working here for our Department of Natural Resources. I think we have done a pretty good job of maintaining and managing the issue here in Illinois."
LaHood says he welcomes outside opinions, just not orders. 
"I'm all for listening to what other states are doing," LaHood added. "But frankly, we will make our own decisions. We will make them with our own legislature, we will make them with our own government officials. We shouldn't have the federal government or other states telling us what to do."
The problem is money. Other Great Lakes states want Illinois to wall off the Illinois River, and spend tens of millions of dollars to fight Asian carp. 
But Illinois doesn't have the money, and state leaders have repeatedly said that they won't wall off the river. 


Former IG criticizes secrecy surrounding Illinois Legislative Ethics Commission

Lawmakers and their former ethics watchdog who has previously clashed with House Speaker Michael Madigan weighed in Friday on the harassment scandal that occurred under the speaker’s watch.
The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform held court at a luncheon Friday with state lawmakers who headed the House and Senate Sexual harassment Task Forces as well as former Legislative Inspector General Thomas Homer.
As LIG, Homer authored a report detailing Madigan’s efforts to use Metra as a political patronage hiring organization. The report was reviewed by the Legislative Ethics Commission but they voted against making it public. It wasn’t until Homer resigned that the report was leaked. Madigan’s spokesman said they requested the investigation to prove no laws were broken. Homer agreed but took the speaker’s actions to task for being unethical.
Now, a political captain of Madigan’s has been accused of harassment.
Alaina Hampton is accusing her former supervisor, Kevin Quinn, who has worked with Madigan's political committees and state government office for two decades, of harassing her throughout the 2016 election cycle. She also says the party retaliated against her after she went to his supervisor and brother, 13th Ward Chicago Alderman Marty Quinn.
Homer said harassment in political campaigns is common.
“In this area of harassment, it’s been prevalent for many years with nothing at all done about it,” he said.
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, was sympathetic to Hampton but defended Madigan, saying the issue has been settled.
“The issue was handled by the speaker's office appropriately and in a timely manner. I don’t know where else it could go,” Currie said. “Even if she could, she’s past the timeline.”
The panel also zeroed in on the laws that protect the General Assembly from recourse in ethics violations.
Homer sharply criticized the secrecy created by the Legislative Ethics Commission. The eight-member bipartisan panel of lawmakers gives the legislative inspector general permission to investigate allegations she believes are “founded.” Once she brings the commission her findings, commissioners will vote again as to whether the report will be made public. A four-four partisan split means Porter’s work never sees the light of day.
“Right now, the Illinois statute is cloaked in secrecy,” Homer said, “As long as things are done behind closed doors, the public cannot in any way be confident that any action is being taken.”
The commission has been criticized by lawmakers and others outside the dome as a blatant conflict of interest.
“We can’t police ourselves,” said Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, a member of the LEC.
“The other [inspectors general] don’t have to ask for permission from anybody,” Castro said Friday. “It’s a transparency issue when you keep hearing that we can’t police ourselves.”
Castro has introduced legislation that would remove much of the ability for the LEC to stifle an investigation.


S&P eyeing Illinois for junk status if no progress on Rauner budget

A major ratings agency says Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget is a fiscal high-wire balancing act that relies on lawmakers to enact changes in a contentious political year.
In a report titled “Illinois Embarks On A Fiscal High-Wire Act In New Budget Proposal,” S&P Global Ratings provides a top level view of Rauner’s budget.
“State spending from all funds would total $75 billion, with $37.6 billion from the general funds under the governor's fiscal 2019 plan,” the report says. “The governor also put forward a supplemental fiscal 2018 budget request for $1.1 billion that would allow agencies to submit to the comptroller vouchers for already incurred Medicaid expenses and other costs that lack appropriation authority.”
“According to the Governor's Office of Management and Budget (GOMB), Illinois' general funds will run a $590 million deficit in fiscal 2018 but would turn a modest $351 million surplus in fiscal 2019,” the report said.
S&P Managing Director of Public Finance Gabe Petek said Rauner’s proposed budget does not have a lot of room for error, especially given the state’s large unpaid bill backlog and enormous long term retiree pension and healthcare liabilities.
As in previous budget proposals, Rauner’s plan for the coming fiscal year relies on several different reforms the legislature must enact.
Those reforms include proposed $490 million in savings from a pension cost shift to school districts and universities, something critics have already said will likely increase Illinois’ highest-in-the-nation property taxes.
The budget proposal also relies on state employee group health insurance savings by decreasing taxpayer costs and increasing employee contributions, and shifts health costs back to universities and ends subsidies for retired teachers and community college employees healthcare.
“Together, these initiatives would reduce general funds' spending by $1.3 billion within these programs in fiscal 2019 relative to the current trajectory,” the S&P report said.
Then there’s the proposed income tax reduction from 4.95 percent to 4.7 percent for individuals, but that’s contingent on the legislature enacting a plan to give state employees an option of different benefit choices in an attempt to lower the state’s highest-in-the-nation pension liabilities.
“We believe it's likely that any such change to the pension benefits would attract legal challenge,” the report said.
Petek said the reforms are a big ask from the state legislature.
“That just opens up a lot of uncertainty in our mind in the ability for the plan to get enacted as proposed, at least,” Petek said.
And don’t forget, this year is also an election year.
“Usually, election years do not make difficult budget negotiations easier,” Petek said. “So it just might be one more challenge that state policy makers will have to overcome.”
Not much budget action is expected until after the March 20 primary, which puts the state that much closer to the July 1 start of the next fiscal year.
Petek said if the legislature doesn't want to go along with Rauner, “they need to hammer out some other kind of an arrangement and other policy adjustments that would bring the state into some kind of balanced position.”
Petek said ratings agencies will be watching closely.
“We’ve been pretty clear that we would be taking a close look at the rating if there’s not progress made,” he said.
Fitch Ratings also released a report on the proposed budget, saying in its current form it’s “unlikely to garner legislative support,” and a continued “political stalemate over time could trigger a rating downgrade.” 
Illinois’ credit rating is already the worst in the country, at one notch above junk status. That didn’t change even after the current budget and tax increase was imposed by lawmakers last summer.


Political groups excluded from new sex harassment reforms crafted by Madigan

In crafting a response to explosive allegations of sexual harassment, the state of Illinois enacted sweeping ethics reforms. The new rules applied to nearly anyone the state dealt with but for one big exclusion.
When Senate Bill 402 became the law of the land last November, it meant state workers, lawmakers, even companies from other states that sent lobbyists to Springfield, had to change their employee handbooks to adhere to the new harassment requirements. That's everyone except political parties and political action committees, or PACs. This comes as House Speaker Michael Madigan’s Democratic party and campaign organization is facing harassment allegations, with possibly more to come.
Former campaign worker Alaina Hampton said last week that she was seeking to sue Madigan’s campaign committee and the Democratic Party of Illinois. She was supervised by Kevin Quinn, who Hampton accused of harassing her throughout the 2016 election cycle.
Hampton’s spokesperson, Lorna Brett, says it’s convenient that political groups would be excluded from the new law crafted by Madigan and his staff.
“It’s very conspicuously missing covering the Democratic committees and parties involved,” she said.
State Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, said Friday that the state should look into laws like California’s, which requires harassment training for any employer that has more than 50 workers.
“That’s certainly something we need to talk about,” she said. “If that happened in my campaign, that person would no longer be there.”
Brett said Madigan could simply pass legislation that required political entities to adhere to the harassment laws.
“We’ll see if he’s committed to stopping sexual harassment in this state,” she said. “He’s the speaker. He could amend this law at any moment.”


Expert: Illinois public sector health insurance costs need near fiscal catastrophe to change

The amount of a state employee's health care that is paid for by taxpayers is notably higher in Illinois than the national average, and one health insurance expert warns it may take the state practically going bankrupt before there’s real change to bring taxpayers' cost down.
Gov. Bruce Rauner said last week during his budget address the state has to change how it manages group health expenses for state employees. If not, he said the state’s finances will continue to deteriorate.
“Today, we pay almost 90 percent of the premiums for government employee health insurance policies that are way more expensive than plans in the private sector,” Rauner said. “Taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for government health insurance policies that are richer than the ones they can afford for themselves. That’s not fair.”
Rauner wants to bring that down to a 60/40 split, something he said could save taxpayers $470 million.
Northbrook-based Castle Group Health President Mark Gurda doesn’t expect that to happen. He said Rauner’s proposal could just be a bargaining chip.
“While I’m all for the state getting their budget in order, I’m not sure that this isn’t a negotiating position to get to 70 or 75 [percent],” Gurda said.
The Kaiser Family Foundation put the national average health insurance split at about 70/30 in 2017.
Rauner’s plan would not just try to address the taxpayer cost of state employee healthcare to find $470 million in savings, he also wants to shift the cost of university employees health insurance to the schools for savings of $105 million. He also wants to end health subsidies provided to retired teachers and community college employees for $129 million in taxpayer savings.
Gurda doesn’t expect Rauner to get what he wants. He doesn’t expect the status quo to change at all until a near fiscal catastrophe.
“Then and only then, when there are consequences of no action, will there be something proactive,” Gurda said.
As of the end of the 2017 calendar year, there was a backlog of the taxpayers’ portion of state employee health insurance of more than $1.4 billion, according to the Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. The late interest penalties on that are nearly $430 million.
The backlog is down from $5.1 billion in September of last year, but only because the state went more than $6 billion in debt with bonds to pay down backlogged bills. Nearly $4 billion of that was for the backlogged health bills.
COGFA says the state has a chronic problem of not properly funding state employees', retired teachers', community college employees' or local government officials' health plans.
COGFA pinned the underfunding on a combination of medical cost inflation, insufficient appropriations, and rising interest payments. The two avenues for solutions, COGFA said, are reducing spending and/or increasing revenues, which includes increasing contributions from public sector employees or finding extra money elsewhere in the budget.


Lawmakers look to fill Illinois' substitute teacher shortage

It is no secret that Illinois has a teacher shortage. 
A recent report from the Illinois Association of Superintendents of Schools says more than 90 percent of schools had trouble last year finding a teacher or a substitute teacher. 
There are a handful of plans at the statehouse this spring that'd fill the need. One would allow college students who are studying to be a teacher, and who have at least three years on campus, to get a substitute teaching license.
Ben Schwarm with the Illinois Association of School Boards said that could help.
"These are students who are in the education college, they've already passed their test," Schwarm said. "They have enough hours to start student teaching. So I think there is a certain amount here that makes sense."
But Schwarm said Illinois is going to have to solve a bigger problem. 
"When the state changed the teacher licensing process, when the state changed some of the requirements to even get into a college of education, you have to take a test and pay money before you're even accepted," Schwarm said. "There are some things on the front end that we think might be barriers."
Schwarm said while almost every school needs teachers, the needs are worse the further away from the Chicago suburbs that you get. 


CASA of McDonough County seeking volunteers

CASA of McDonough County is now seeking volunteers. CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) consists of volunteers who work on behalf of abused or neglected children. CASA is operated by the Advocacy Network for Children and it works within the juvenile court system to make sure that abused and neglected children are properly cared for.


The organization will hold training sessions in March, and is looking for volunteers. The training sessions consist of over thirty hours of training. This comes with April being National Child Abuse Prevention Month. 


Vicki Duba, the Volunteer Coordinator for the Advocacy Network for Children, came in studio on the K100 Morning Show to discuss CASA and the services it provides to children in McDonough County. Duba also brought in Dan Colvin, who has been a volunteer for CASA since 2014. 


You can listen to today's interview with Duba and Colvin here


Those interested in volunteering with CASA should contact (309) 544-0003. More information about the Advocacy Network for Children can be found online.




Poll: 90 percent of voters support work-for-welfare

A government accountability group says Congress should look into work requirements for able-bodied people on food stamps.
In a paper released Thursday, the nonprofit Foundation for Government Accountability says Washington needs to put serious consideration into requiring parents receiving food stamps to either work, train or volunteer on a part-time basis. Currently, 52 percent of able-bodied parents who receive food stamps don’t work. That’s according to the Department of Agriculture.
The public agrees. In a January poll conducted for FGA, 90 percent of voters polled think the able-bodied should have some sort of work requirement.
“We’re encouraged to see the public so supportive of these requirements,” said Jonathan Ingram, FGA vice president of research. “Republicans, Democrats, Independents across all demographics support able-bodied adults from welfare to work.”
The poll showed 83 percent of voters supported a work requirement for food stamps.
Illinois’ food stamp enrollment would fall by 317,800 people if the state was to place a work requirement on able-bodied parents to receive food stamps, the report said. It would see an estimated decline of 272,500 if the state excluded parents of infants in that requirement, still saving taxpayers more than $459 million annually.
Via the Illinois Department of Human Services, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office acquired a waiver for non-working adults to receive food stamps, saying there were places in Illinois without enough jobs to support the work requirement. According to DHS, 174,000 Illinoisans will remain eligible for the benefit for 2018 that otherwise wouldn’t have.


Competitive Enterprise Institute: States like Illinois must be more accountable for infrastructure maintenance

Any federal infrastructure funding plan needs to hold states like Illinois more accountable for maintenance, something that hasn’t happened in the past, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Earlier this week, President Donald Trump laid out his plan to invest $1.5 trillion over several years, 20 percent more than previous plans.
The plan would free up $200 billion of federal tax dollars to be matched with state tax dollars for a total investment of $1.5 trillion. In an overview of the plan, the White House says “regulatory barriers that needlessly get in the way of infrastructure projects will be removed” and “permitting for infrastructure projects will be streamlined and shortened.”
CEI Senior Fellow Marc Scribner said the program would offer streamlined permit approvals and allow for more private activity bonds, but Scribner said the federal government too often incentivizes bad behavior from states and local governments.
“The federal government’s main sin is that they incentivize bad behavior on the part of the states,” Scribner said. “They incentivize states and locals to gold plate infrastructure projects without coming up with ways to actually maintain them.”
State Rep. Tim Butler, who serves on an infrastructure committee, said Illinois has to plan ahead with a capital budget and a capital plan.
“We’ve got to come up with a long plan, a sustainable plan, that puts infrastructure on par with other states and actually gets us from not just this year but years to come that we have the funding in place for it,” said Butler, R-Springfield.
The Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability recently published a 2018 Capital Plan report saying the 2009 Illinois Jobs Now capital program “has run its course,” and “there are funding deficiencies in key areas of the current program.”
Butler said it will be difficult for fiscally strapped Illinois to match federal funds for infrastructure projects in Trump’s $1.5 trillion federal proposal, but a recent constitutional amendment in Illinois locking in infrastructure funds will help.
“So now that money that you pay into the road fund goes straight into infrastructure and it’s not going to get swept for something else,” Butler said. “I think that’s good for the taxpayers to know.”
Butler said there are a lot of bridges, roadways, rail and other crucial infrastructure that are being neglected throughout the state.
But Scribner said the media has overblown infrastructure problems.
“But where [problems] do exist, they are almost entirely the result of the failure to do routine maintenance,” Scribner said, “and that is entirely a state and local decision.”
One thing that could help make state and local tax dollars go further, Scribner said, is addressing things like prevailing wage and sourcing requirements.
“There are all sorts of federal requirements that needlessly increase state costs,” Scribner said, “and that’s something that really, the labor and buy America certainly, weren’t addressed in a positive way in [Trump’s] plan.”


Third case of Legionnaires' disease this week confirmed at Illinois Veterans' Home

Another case of Legionnaires' Disease has been confirmed at the Illinois Veterans' Home in Quincy. This comes via a news release from the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs and Illinois Department of Public Health sent out Thursday afternoon. The resident infected is in stable condition. Two other cases were confirmed at the Veterans' Home Monday. 


According to the release, the IDVA is boosting disinfection levels in its water to further reduce any potential exposure to residents or staff. Additionally, the release mentions that the IDVA is implementing modified water restrictions across the IVHQ campus.


These modifications inclue installing Laminar flow devices on all sinks. The filter reduces the aeration of the water as it flows from the faucet. Additionally, the IVHQ is limiting bathing to showers only, which are protected with legionella blocking Pall filters. The IVHQ is also instituting temperature checks every two hours while residents are awake, and full vitals every four hours.


The release stated that representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have returned to the home in Quincy, at the request of IDPH on Tuesday, February 13th, to review testing protocols for individuals with respiratory illness.


In Governor Bruce Rauner's budget address Wednesday, he allotted $50 million of the proposed $37 billion Illinois budget towards addressing the Legionnaires' outbreak at the IVHQ campus. 


New sophisticated phone scam targets Illinois residents

A new round of sophisticated phone scams in Illinois threaten to turn potential victims over to law enforcement.
The Cook County Sheriff's Office is warning residents about automated calls from someone claiming to be with the Internal Revenue Service. The call threatens to send law enforcement out to arrest the victim for owing money to the government and that they must call a seemingly local number to resolve it. The fake agent can then give a phony badge number or even give the caller the last four digits of their Social Security number to convince the caller that they’re authentic.
“One of the easiest ways to spot a scam call is when the first thing they say is, ‘we’re going to arrest you,’” IRS Spokesman Michael Devine said. “That’s not how the IRS works.”
The IRS doesn’t work with local law enforcement in that manner.
It also doesn’t take Amazon gift cards.
“They want the money either by prepaid gift card or by wire transfer,” Devine said, adding that the IRS will make first contact by mail.
The sheriff’s office and IRS offer the following tips to avoid becoming a phone scam victim:
Never give personal information, such as Social Security or bank account numbers, over the phone.
Legitimate IRS agents and law enforcement agencies do not ask that payments be made via pre-paid debit cards.
In some cases, the phone numbers may appear to be from legitimate agencies due to phone number spoofing applications. If this is the case, call that agency to determine if there is a legitimate reason to contact you. Do not use the phone number the caller gives you.
Devine said the calls will often move from one area code to the next so that the callback number looks to be coming from nearby. His advice: just hang up.


Hallmark returns to Downtown Macomb

Nostalgia on the Square announced Wednesday that it will launch a Hallmark Gold Crown Store. Nostalgia (129 North Randolph Street), will expand it's store to utilize the upstairs portion of its building for the Hallmark Gold Crown Store addition. Products at the new store include: a complete range of greeting cards, Hallmark baby, seasonal holiday gift items, wrapping paper, and collectible ornaments.


Store owner Lara Dively anticipates launching the Hallmark Gold Crown Store in April 2018. According to a Macomb Downtown Development press release, "Nostalgia will not be losing any of it’s current lines or space as they will be utilizing the upstairs to allow them to expand."


“I am so excited to collaborate with Hallmark Gold Crown. They have always had a presence in Macomb, until recently. Our community really misses them. We’re happy to bring them back,” said Lara Dively, owner of Nostalgia on the Square. 


Downtown Development Director, Kristin Terry, added “This is a great addition to Downtown Macomb and we thank Lara & Jon Dively for their continued investment in the Downtown.” 


Hammond, Tracy give thoughts on Rauner Budget

Following Governor Bruce Rauner's Wednesday budget address, politicans across the state gave their thoughts on the proposal. Rauner's plan includes "a record $8.3 billion on preK-12 education," as well as $50 million to address to Legionnaires' disease problems that continue to plague the Quincy Veteran's Home. 


Representative Norine Hammond (R-Macomb), of Illinois' 93rd District and State Senator Jil Tracy (R-Quincy), of Illinois' 47th District gave their comments on the budget address. Both politicians were complementary and optimistic about Governor Rauner's budget proposal. You can listen to both of their statements below. 


Representative Norine Hammond


State Senator Jil Tracy


Rauner Budget: Spend more on schools, roads, universities but only with cost shift

Gov. Bruce Rauner renewed his call for economic and structural reforms Wednesday in the final budget address of his first term while also proposing that pension and health care costs be shifted to local governments.
In the midst of an expensive and contentious primary election season, Rauner said Illinois' only chance at righting its fiscal ship is to enact the types of reforms he's been pushing for since before he took office.
Speaking before a joint session of the General Assembly, Rauner said those reforms are reflected in what he called his balanced budget proposal for fiscal 2019.
"We must abandon Illinois’ fiscal status quo, and take steps to make tax-spenders more accountable to taxpayers," Rauner said. "We must enact structural reforms that allow us to be as competitive as we need to be, so we can be as compassionate as we want to be."
Rauner said the economies of the state's Midwest neighbors are much stronger than Illinois' because of poor policy decisions in the past, and that they are outpacing Illinois in jobs growth.
"Make no mistake, we are in a competition," the governor said. "And the states around us are winning at our expense. They have out-legislated us, and now, they outgrow us."
Rauner also called for reforms in the state's pension systems and Medicaid program and new investments in education.
"Our reforms must begin with pensions and employee group health expenses," Rauner said. "They now consume 25 cents of every dollar the state spends, and they grow faster than you can raise taxes and we can grow the economy."
On pensions, Rauner is proposing a shift of the state's costs to local governments over four years.
"Our budget proposal shifts costs closer to home, so people can question expenses and deal with them more directly," he said. "Now, they have no incentive to manage costs because the state picks them up no matter what they are. When they are responsible for paying the bill, there will be plenty of incentive to lower costs. We will ask school districts to begin sharing the cost of their own pensions."
Critics have said a cost shift would lead to more property tax increases in some areas. But Ted Dabrowski, president of the fiscal watchdog site, said there might be room for compromise their with House Speaker Mike Madigan.
"Mike Madigan has supported a cost shift. This could be situation where Mike Madigan and Bruce Rauner are on the same side of a proposal," Dabrowski said. "It's the right thing to do. Gov. Rauner has it right when he says that the state has no business paying the costs of units of government that should own those costs They should be forced to pay those costs."
But Dabrowski said there needs to be some more analysis to make sure the cost shift isn't just a shell game that has the state spending more on those same units of government.
Part of Rauner's plan also reverses the allocation last year's additional dollars to Chicago Public Schoolswhen the General Assembly approved a new education funding reform formula. He said higher education institutions also will pick up their pension and health care costs under his plan.
And the governor said the state's expensive health care plans will be right-sized to better reflect the kinds of plans workers in the private sector receive.
"State government needs to do what every employer in Illinois has done over the last 10 years: Get its health care costs under control," he said. "Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for government health insurance policies that are richer than ones they can afford for themselves."
Rauner proposes a 4 percent cut to Medicaid expenses and said the state must move forward with selling the Thompson Center in Chicago. 
Ultimately, meaningful reforms are needed for Illinois to balance its budget and improve its fiscal outlook, Rauner stressed.
"We need reforms, and we need to shift accountability so that we can put more resources into education, human services, public safety and infrastructure," he said. "That’s where our FY19 budget is focused. That’s the outcome we want to produce."
By enacting spending and structural reforms, Rauner said, the state "will be able to spend a record $8.3 billion on preK-12 education."
After the speech, Democrats expressed concerns about some of Rauner's proposed cuts and cost shifts.
"I appreciate the fact that it's much closer to a truly balanced budget than we've seen from the governor in the past," State Sen Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said. "I do worry about some of the cuts that are being proposed in there, to human services, to Medicaid."
Steans also said Rauner didn't present a plan to address the state's backlog of unpaid bills, which stands at more than $8 billion.
"I thought we'd see a plan to bring that down to a more manageable level and I don't think we heard that," Steans said.
Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, sits on the Senate's Education Committee. He said he was "stunned" to learn of Rauner's pension cost-shift plan.
"I was quite stunned that we're going to solve our problems just by shifting all our problems off to the local governments," he said. "That's not realistic."
Wirepoints' Dabrowski said if anything, Rauner sounded less like a reformer and more like a compromiser.
“You have a less confrontational budget. You have a Rauner who sounds like he’s conforming with the status quo," Dabrowski said. "If you’re looking for that shakeup … it’s not there.”
For example, Dabrowski pointed to Rauner's statement calling for a $1 billion tax cut a year after lawmakers enacted $5 billion in income tax increases.
"That sounds like he's willing to accept most of the tax hikes," Dabrowski said.
Illinoisans paid the highest combined local and state taxes before last summer's hike, according to a national study.
State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said in a statement following the address that Rauner delivered a good plan. 
"Our road-map in 2018 for a balanced budget first and foremost, must include cuts," Righter said. "Tax increases are not on the table. Funding only our priorities and respecting taxpayer dollars being sent to Springfield is what the people of Illinois rightfully demand."
As lawmakers begin work on crafting a fiscal 2019 budget, Rauner faces a primary challenge from conservative Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton.
Billionaire J.B Pritzker, liberal state Sen. Daniel Biss and Chris Kennedy lead a crowded field hoping to win the Democratic nomination.


Illinois lawmakers inch closer to new hospital tax despite worries

As Illinois looks to change how the state taxes hospitals to pay for Medicaid, lawmakers have two major worries: Will Illinois' smallest and poorest hospitals survive? And will the Trump administration be OK with Illinois' plans?
Illinois' hospital assessment, the tax hospitals pay to get Medicaid dollars, needs to be adjusted in order to keep up with federal changes and to modernize how Medicaid works.  Illinois is still working with 2005 numbers, and a payment system that sends fixed payments to hospitals. Illinois Hospital Association Chief A.J. Wilhelmi said Tuesday that the new plan would change that. 
"We will start down this path of having some of the funding follow the patient," Wilhelmi said. "Eighteen percent of the overall assessment fund will go into live rates or claims-based payments for the first time."
Illinois uses its hospital assessment to bring back $3.5 billion in Medicaid funding each year. 
But many Democrats in the Illinois House worry the new plan will short change some of the state's smaller, safety-net hospitals that don't have as many patients. 
State Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood, said his fear is that attaching even some of the money to patients will reward bigger hospitals that have the ability to loudly advocate for their share of it. 
"When I am looking at this in totality, I am wondering what the ultimate future of these smaller safety hospitals is," Davis said. "Safety-net hospitals don't have the big lobbyists or the big staffs to deal with this, like the big hospitals do. A lot of their ability to operate is dependent upon claims that are approved versus claims that are denied. 
But Republicans, like state Rep. Ryan Spain, say Illinois must pay for the care that's actually being provided. 
"We need to allocate [these dollars] and pay for services based on where patients are going to get care today," Spain, R-Peoria, said at Tuesday statehouse hearing. "Not based on what happened in 2005."
Wilhelmi said most of Illinois' hospitals either support the new assessment structure or are "OK with it." 
But it could take a while before anything changes. Lawmakers in Illinois say it'll be months before they're on the same page and ready to vote on a new assessment, then federal Medicaid managers must review and approve the new program in the state. 
No one in Springfield is guessing when that will happen. 


Madigan says he won't resign in wake of staffer sexual harassment scandal

Speaker Michael Madigan says he has no plans to resign in the wake of allegations his political operation slow-walked an investigation of a staffer alleging sexual harassment by a supervisor.
Madigan says he became aware of Alaina Hampton’s allegations against Kevin Quinn, whom Madigan fired Monday, when he got a letter at his home from Hampton in November of last year. He turned the letter over to his political attorney.
“And within days, [Heather Wier Vaught] opened an investigation at my request and met with Ms. Hampton and proceeded with her investigation,” Madigan said.
Hampton said she felt there was a cover up because of how long it took for there to be a response. She also said she felt retaliated against for speaking up by having a political oversight job given to someone else.
State Rep. Scott Drury, D-Highwood, who’s also running for attorney general, said Madigan should resign.
“The fact is that he rules this house with an iron fist,” Drury said. “And there’s no way this harassment was going on in this capitol, in his ward organization, without him knowing about it.”
Drury was the lone Democrat not to vote for Madigan to be House speaker in 2017. 
“It’s not OK for us to just turn our heads and say, ‘Oh, maybe we need an investigations, maybe we should look further into it,’” Drury said. “We know the facts, and if he really cared about the Democratic Party, if he really cared about Illinois, he’d step down.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Kennedy said Madigan should step down as party chair.
Madigan dismissed the criticism, saying he’s staying put. The speaker said Drury and Kennedy are doing the bidding of Gov. Bruce Rauner.
As the #MeToo movement did last fall, sexual harassment allegations in Springfield have sparked new conversations about possible changes to the state’s harassment policies. This time, there are eyes on including more guidance not just for government, but for political organizations.
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, is concerned about how long Hampton had to wait to get answers to her accusations.
“The question of when she came forward and how long it took to process this, this is why women are afraid to come forward,” Cassidy said. “This culture is that toxic, and most folks don’t know who to talk to. She said she didn't know who to go to, and I validate that completely.”
Cassidy said more updates are needed to the state’s harassment policies across public, private and political sectors.


McDonough County V.I.B.E. 2018 applications now open

McDonough County V.I.B.E. is taking applications through Thursday, March 1 for not for profit organizations in McDonough County to partner with. VIBE, which stands for Volunteers Interested in Benefitting Everyone, annually picks a new organization to work with.


The organization has raised  over $725,000 in funds in the past 7 years for 31 local recipient organizations. Applications are open to not-for-profit 501(c)3 organizations in McDonough County looking for extra funding.


To apply by that March 1 deadline, email More information about McDonough County V.I.B.E. is available online


Not a lot of Illinois support for recommendations in safe driving law report

The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety's 2018 report on safe driving laws suggests the usual things: Mandatory helmet laws, a new booster seat law, and a number of changes to the state's graduated drivers license program. 
The Advocates' Director of State Programs Tara Gill said the idea is to push states toward "optimal" laws. 
"We recommend the laws that we do, and the version of the law ... because they are shown to do the best job," Gill said.
But a lot of folks in Illinois think the laws currently on the books are just fine. 
Henry Haupt with the Secretary of State's office said that Illinois' graduated license program, which eases teenaged drivers into their first year behind the wheel, is more than fine.
"The most recent statistic that we received from the Illinois Department of Transportation showed that teen driving deaths are down 51 percent," Haupt said. "The program is working. The proof is in the pudding."
The Advocates recommend four changes to the state's graduated drivers license program, including more limits on nighttime driving, more limits on passengers for young drivers, a longer wait to get a permit, and not giving young drivers a full license until they're 18 years old.
Haupt says some the Advocate's recommendations are a bit broad and don't take into acccount what lawmakers want. 
Then there are the worries about what drivers want. 
The Advocates are, once again, asking for a mandatory motorcycle helmet law. 
Josh Witkowski, the legislative director for the motorcycle advocate group ABATE, said they have been pushing back on one-size-fits-all laws for three decades. 
Witkowski said they're seeing more success by focusing on educating drivers and riders to be aware when they are on the streets. 
"There are some traffic safety professionals that are starting to look at the impact of education and technology," Witkowski said. "And those innovations are more important than having the same tired conversation that we have had now for 31 years this year."
The Advocates' report grades states as well, Illinois is in the middle of the pack, which is better than some of our neighbors. 


WIRC-Community Action Agency to offer five college scholarships to local residents

The WIRC-CAA is offering five $2,000 scholarships for individuals seeking to further their educational training through an Illinois community college, vocational school, college or university. Applicants must be residents of Hancock, Henderson, McDonough or Warren counties. Scholarship recipients may apply the $2,000 towards tuition and fees, textbooks and supplies, or campus room and board.


Applicants will be evaluated on the basis of financial eligibility, scholarship potential, and commitment to civic affairs, career goals and personal interviews.


Applications will be available beginning February 20, 2018 from high school guidance counselors, college financial aid offices, the WIRC website and the WIRC-CAA office (223 South Randolph St., Macomb). You can contact the office at (309) 837-2997.
Completed applications are due by 4:00 PM on March 26, 2018.


Illinois still among worst in nation for home value growth

Despite increases in value, Illinois is still among the worst states in the nation for number of underwater homes.
A total of 367,217 homeowners in Illinois were mortgaged for 25 percent more than what they could sell their homes for as of December 2017. ATTOM Data Solutions calls that “seriously underwater” and their latest statistics show Illinois has more underwater homeowners than any other state but Florida. The Sunshine state had 414,970 underwater homes, but that also accounts for a much lower percentage, considering a population difference of more than 8 million people between the two states.
“In a completely normal housing market, we expect to see about 5 percent of homes underwater [nationwide],” ATTOM senior vice president Daren Blomquist said. “In Illinois, we’re seeing three times that number.”
Overall, Illinois’ high property taxes, Blomquist said, push values below what people owe on their homes.
“That’s going to lower your willingness to buy a certain home at a certain price point,” he said.
The majority of the underwater homeowners live in the Chicago area, where it’s not uncommon for a homeowner to have 10 different taxing bodies contributing to the overall property tax bill. The Chicago area had a far higher percentage of seriously underwater homes than any other metropolitan area in the nation.
Blame for the state’s high property taxes is commonly split between growing school and local spending and Illinois’ nation-highest 7,000 units of government. The state’s local school districts rely on property taxes for the lion’s share of their funding, often accounting for much of a homeowner’s property tax bill.
The situation has been getting worse for years. Illinoisans’ property tax bills have grown by 51 percent in the last 10 years, according to the nonprofit Civic Federation.
Per the report, only Iowa, Mississippi, Kansas and Louisiana have higher percentages of underwater homes.


Illinois lawmaker proposes spending cap for state budget

In the days before Gov. Bruce Rauner's budget address, a new proposal would limit the state of Illinois’ spending to the growth of its economy.
Illinois taxpayers pay the highest combined local and state taxes in the country. They have seen two personal income tax hikes in less than a decade. And some Democratic candidates for governor are hinting that they could see another if they’re elected.
Meanwhile, state government spending per capita outpaced income growth by 25 percent between 2005 and 2015.
The nonpartisan Illinois Policy Institute has introduced a plan that would tie spending limits to the state’s economy, meaning the General Assembly couldn't authorize additional spending unless the state's economy grows at an equivalent pace.
“Households across the state are expected to balance their budgets and live within their means,” IPI chief economist Orphe Divounguy said. “Illinois lawmakers have been on a spending spree.”
A perfect example, Divounguy said, is last July’s tax increase and subsequent budget shortfall.
“While we keep generating more revenue by raising taxes on people, government spending is out of control,” he said.
As part of the institute's larger “Budget Solutions 2019” proposal, the cap would limit the annual increase in state spending to the preceding 10-year average of the state’s economic gross domestic product, or GDP.
Divounguy said the state would pay off its backlogged bills and have a budget surplus by 2025 if it only adopted the institute’s proposed cap of 2.89 percent annual growth. The proposal would save the state an estimated $275 million in the fiscal year beginning in July alone.
“This would avert future tax hikes and out-of-control borrowing,” he said. “We’re not trying to enact sweeping cuts, we just want to cap the growth of spending.”
The Illinois Constitution requires lawmakers pass a balanced budget. They’ve typically gotten around the requirement by overestimating a positive revenue figure or savings from a reduction.
Thirteen states – Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas – have constitutional limits on either appropriations or spending as of 2015.
State Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-Crystal Lake, introduced the constitutional amendment last week.
“This is a tool to limit the size and scope of state government,” he said. “Programs have expanded without being funded. It has to stop.”
Skillcorn hopes to add a Democratic sponsor to the legislation soon.
The proposal would allow for spending beyond the limits should there be a General Assembly vote addressing and naming an emergency.
The amendment would need a three-fifths majority vote in the state House and Senate, both of which are controlled by Democrats.


Illinois public health boss: Illinois needs Narcan shots

Illinois is getting 4,000 doses of the opioid overdose medication Narcan. And the state's public health director says Illinois needs every single one of them.
Most of the doses of Narcan that are being donated by Adapt Pharma are going to state troopers and parole officers in Illinois. 
In the field, that's where Illinois Department of Public Health Director Nirav Shah said they'll do the most good. 
While 4,000 doses may sound like a lot, Shah said that'll just keep up with the need. 
"In 2016, nearly 2,000 people across the state of Illinois died of opioid overdoses," Shah said. "And very preliminary numbers show that roughly the same number will have died in 2017."
That's almost twice as many people as those who died in car wrecks in Illinois. 
And Shah said new synthetic opioids are making the fight tougher. 
"Law enforcement officers, first responders, and others are finding now that they need to use multiple doses of Narcan when trying to bring someone back to life," Shahs said. 
Adapt Pharma is also donating Narcan doses to a few local governments. McHenry County's Substance Abuse Coalition will get 1,000 doses. Chicago's Recovery Alliance is in line to get 600 doses. 


Spoon River College offers marketing basics courses

Spoon River College Outreach is offering a class called Marketing Basics on Tuesday, February 13th and Thursday February 15th from 8-9:30 a.m. each day.
If you are a business owner or business professional who would like to brush up on basic marketing skills, this class is for you! In this class you will learn some design basics for how to prepare files for print or web use. You will also learn how to utilize various social media platforms to market your services as well as some basic website design tips and tricks. Class is instructed by Tim Rice of TJR Designs in Macomb.
There is a fee to attend and pre-registration is required.  Classes will be held at the Spoon River College Outreach Center located at 2500 East Jackson Street Macomb.  For more information or to register, call Spoon River College at 309-833-6031.  


Are you earthquake ready? IEMA spreading awareness of quakes in February

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency this month is spreading awareness of earthquakes and dangers the state could face.
Patti Thompson, communications manager for the agency, said there are two seismic zones that could affect Illinois.
“One (is) on the southeastern side of the state, which is the Wabash Valley Seismic Zone; and one (is) on the southwest side of the state, which is the New Madrid Seismic Zone,” Thompson said.
Thompson said the southern counties would have the most damage from an earthquake along those lines. 
“Because of the way earthquakes are in the Central U.S., it would be felt throughout the state and there would be some type of impact throughout the entire state,” Thompson said.
Thompson said if an earthquake occurred similar to one on the New Madrid line more than 200 years ago, there would be catastrophic damage, injuries and death.
If an earthquake strikes, Thompson said the best thing to do is to get under heavy furniture.
“Drop down to the ground, take cover under a heavy piece of furniture and then hold onto that piece of furniture, because the shaking could cause it to move and you want that cover from anything that could be falling from the ceiling or the wall,” Thompson said.
Thompson said whether Illinois residents live in an earthquake danger area or not, they should make sure they have a home preparedness kit and are self-sustaining for a few days.
“You need to be able to take care of yourself for up to three days,” Thompson said. “And so you need water; you need food; you need a first aid kit; you need supplies.”
Thompson said the EMA has a series of approximately 70 to 80 short videos available on its website where residents can see tips on how to make their homes more prepared for earthquakes, including strapping the hot water heater and keeping heavy furniture from toppling.


I-DOT rail plan open for comments this month

This is the final month for people to weigh in on Illinois' future railroad plan. 
Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kelsea Gurski says Illinois must plan 20 and 30 years into the future because railroads are central to the state's economy. 
"Most people don't realize just how large the rail system is in Illinois," Gurski said. "We actually have the second largest rail system in the country. Chicago is a huge rail hub, and Illinois is the only state in which all seven Class One railroads operate."
Class One railroads are the largest in the country. That is part of the reason why the rail plan is getting so much attention, and it's why Gurski said they need the public's input. 
People and business across the state can review IDOT's rail plan online, then submit their thoughts. 
"The plan provides an overview of our existing passenger and freight infrastructure and operations," Gurski said. "It lists potential improvements that we have for our rail system. And we also list out some of the anticipated trends and needs or issues that we think will impact rail service over the next two to three decades."
Gurski said the long-term goal for IDOT is to have a rail system that is safe, energy efficient, and environmentally friendly. 
Comments will be taken until Feb. 23. 


Taxpayers wrongly blamed for state pension crisis, report says

Illinois has a massive pension problem. A new report maintains that the biggest contributor to the shortage isn’t that state taxpayers have underpaid public retirements, but politicians overpromised.
In the last three decades, the five state-offered public pension systems’ benefits have increased by 1,000 percent. That’s eight times more than the income growth of the Illinoisans who are expected to pay for it. The report was released Tuesday by financial watchdog Wirepoints.
President Ted Dabrowski said politicians are wrongly placing the blame on taxpayers for not paying enough.
“Every time you hear the word ‘underfunding,’ there's always the implication that taxpayers didn’t do their part and that’s the problem,” Dabrowski said.
Taxpayers, the report said, have paid $24 billion more than was required by the “Edgar ramp” pension restructuring plan passed in 1996 by then Gov. Jim Edgar.
If pension benefits were kept to even double the rate of inflation over the past 30 years, state pensions would now be fully funded instead of at least $130 billion short, the Wirepoints report said.
“We would not have the crisis we’re in,” Dabrowski said. “Because we’ve handed out benefits at a far faster rate, like three to four times the rate of inflation, that’s why we have the problem we have today.”
The report, authored by Dabrowski along with analyst John Klingner, profiled some of the benefits received in the negotiations with lawmakers since 1987:
Added compounding to a retiree’s 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment. That doubles a retiree’s annual pension benefits after 25 years.
Significantly increased the pension benefit formulas for the Teachers’ Retirement System, or TRS, and the State Employees’ Retirement System, or SERS.
Provided lucrative early retirement options.
Allowed workers to boost their service credit by up to two years using accumulated unpaid sick leave.
Granted automatic salary bumps to workers who earn masters and other graduate degrees.
Allowed spiking of end-of-career salaries.
Some have insisted that Illinois isn’t taxing enough to generate the revenue to fully fund pensions.
“Simply put, the Illinois tax system consistently fails to generate enough revenue to maintain the same level of public services from year to year, after adjusting solely for inflation,” said Ralph Martire, Director of the union-backed Center for Tax and Budget Accountability in an op-ed about pension reform from 2013. Martire also has advocated to abolish Illinois’ flat tax and replace it with a progressive tax in which rates increase with income levels, saying it would generate the tax money needed to pay for Illinois’ pensions.
Illinois temporarily raised, dropped and then re-raised its income and corporate tax rates to 4.95 and 7 percent respectively. Yet, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office announced this week that the state would be requesting $1.1 billion more from the General Assembly to cover a budget shortfall.
Pension payments account for a quarter of budget spending.
Ninety cents out of every additional dollar earned from the 2011 income tax hikes went to pay down pension obligations.
Illinois’ pension funds also took a hit worth billions of dollars during the Great Recession, but have since recovered much of that lost value.
The state must reach a better deal for taxpayers with public unions, Dabrowski warned. If not, bankruptcy must be considered, an option that would first have to be approved by U.S. Congress.


Retailers: Tobacco 21 proposal is aimed at stores, not young smokers

Advocates for Illinois' shop owners are worried that a proposal to hike the state's smoking age is more about discouraging cigarette sales than discouraging teenage smoking. 
Tobacco 21 supporters say by raising the state's smoking age from 18 to 21, teen smokers will have a harder time getting cigarettes.
To drive that point home, the proposed legislation includes a $200 fine for anyone who sells cigarettes to anyone under 21. 
But Tanya Triche-Dawood, vice president at the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said the legislation eliminates Illinois' current $25 fine for underage smokers caught with cigarettes.
"On one hand, the advocates are saying, we want to make sure minors don't get access to these products," Triche-Dawood said. "On the other hand, they are saying, if they do get access to the products, there won't be any penalties for them." 
And that's not just smokers between 18 and 21. Triche-Dawood said the Tobacco 21 legislation ends underage smoking penalties for all teens. 
Retailers also are worried about competitors across state lines. Triche-Dawood said cigarettes already are cheaper in all of Illinois' neighboring states. The average price per pack in Illinois is more than $11. And raising the smoking age could give people one more reason to shop elsewhere.
"Illinois is actually not an island," Triche-Dawood said. "A lot of people like to think it is, but it's not. Illinois is actually surrounded on all sides by other states. And those states compete for the spending dollars in Illinois."
People leaving Illinois to buy cigarettes is not just bad for shop owners. It could be terrible for the state. 
Illinois' nearly $2-per-pack cigarette tax is earmarked for Medicaid, as are some of the local cigarette taxes in and around Chicago.
As fewer people buy cigarettes in Illinois, that tax haul drops. The state's tax receipts fell from $825 million in 2015 to $743 million in 2017.
Tobacco 21 supporters say making it tougher to get cigarettes will lead to fewer smokers and lower health care costs as a result. 


Rauner to ask lawmakers for $1.1 billion supplemental to pay unappropriated FY17 spending

Gov. Bruce Rauner will ask lawmakers for a $1.1 billion supplemental allocation to address unappropriated spending from fiscal 2017.
The big ask of taxpayers is expected to be part of the governor’s budget address next week. Governor’s Office of Budget and Management Director Hans Zigmund said the $1.1 billion is from the previous fiscal year when there wasn’t a budget. The bulk of that, 85 percent, is for overspending from the Department of Corrections and Medicaid.
“We want to be able to send those vouchers over to the comptroller,” Zigmund said. “We have to get that stuff vouchered so that she can effectively pay those bills”
State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, wants to wait and see what else is in the request.
“The danger in any supplemental is alway mission creep, right, because other people are always trying to jump in,” Rose said. “And then the question is ... does it still balance at the end of the day to the funds you have?”
Zigmund wouldn’t elaborate on any other elements of the governor's budget address, which will be delivered in front of lawmakers in Springfield Wednesday.
While Democrats put the blame of the current unbalanced budget on Rauner, Republicans said Democrats knew the budget they passed over his veto last year was unbalanced, despite a $5 billion tax increase that also was approved over the governor's veto.
Zigmund said that, through various methods and cuts within operations, the administration was able to get the current year deficit down from more than $1 billion to $600 million.
State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, said she didn’t want to play the blame game. But, she said, there would have been a better outcome if the governor was more involved with leaders meetings.
“I don't think they’ve met since December of 2016, if I recall that,” Steans said. “So that’s not leadership. That’s not getting down and actually coming down with a solution.”
Rose said that’s nonsense.
“It’s sort of a cynical attempt here to somehow lay this at the door of the governor’s office when they passed a budget, it wasn’t balanced,” Rose said. "They raised everyone’s taxes, and they still couldn't get it to balance."
The current fiscal year budget was passed over the governor’s veto, as was a 32 percent increase in the individual income tax rate and a 33 percent increase in the corporate income tax rate.


Pritzker under fire for new FBI wiretapped Blagojevich talks

(Photo via JB Pritzker Twitter account)
The latest release of FBI wiretaps obtained by the Chicago Tribune have created a firestorm of criticism for the Democratic front-runner for Illinois governor.
Billionaire and heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune J.B. Pritzker was taped in November of 2008 speaking to then Gov. Rod Blagojevich about who should be appointed to then President-elect Barack Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat.
Pritzker is heard dealing with the now-imprisoned governor on the pressure to appoint an African American to Obama’s Senate seat but criticized the president’s mentor, former state Senate president Emil Jones.
Pritzker: “I’ve got a great idea for you though.”
Blagojevich: “OK.”
Pritzker: “I’m sure you’ve thought of this one but, Jesse White. Even though I know you guys aren’t bosom buddies or anything. It covers you on the African American thing. He’s totally he’s totally, you know. He’s senate material in a way that Emil Jones isn’t, if I may say.”
Blagojevich: “OK.”
Pritzker: “I mean, you know. He’s just. I don’t know how to say it exactly but Emil’s a little more crass.”
Blagojevich: “Right.”
According to Webster’s Dictionary, “crass” is also described as “stupid,” “dull,” or “dense.”
Pritzker later jokes with Blagojevich about appointing firebrand pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright to the seat, repeating “God-damned America” back to the governor. Wright, former President Barack Obama's former pastor, used the phrase in a sermon that went viral. Blagojevich eventually appointed Roland Burris, who also is black, to fill the seat.
The former Senate president and mentor to Obama, Jones said Pritzker should withdraw from the race, even after a public apology. Jones has endorsed Chris Kennedy in the primary instead of Pritzker before the tape was released.  
The inflammatory remarks haven’t stopped other prominent black leaders, including Secretary of State Jesse White, from supporting Pritzker. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle endorsed him Wednesday.
The question now is how much will this affect Pritzker’s waning lead in the coming primary election.
“This feeds into Gov. Bruce Rauner’s narrative that Pritzker is part of the corrupt political establishment,” said University of Illinois-Springfield professor emeritus and long-time statehouse observer Kent Redfield.
“There could be long-lasting damage that could either result in not winning the primary or not having all of your base behind you when you get to the general [election].”
Pritzker is leading in a recent poll but state Sen. Daniel Biss and Chicago businessman Chris Kennedy have gained ground. In the last week of January, a We Ask America poll showed that Pritzker led the pack of six candidates for the Democratic ticket with just under 30 percent of the 800 likely Democratic voters saying they would vote for him if the election were held then. Notably, 38 percent were undecided.


Illinois Bicentennial update: Pride, hashtags, and new flags

Illinois' big 200th birthday celebration is less than a year away. And planners say they're busy getting people across the state in the mood to celebrate. 
Illinois started its bicentennial celebration back in December. There will be an even bigger party December this year. 
Until then, Stewart Lane, the state's bicentennial director, said his staff is busy getting people in the birthday mood with flags, an ad campaign, and by pushing Illinois' 200th on social media.
Lane said there is a growing buzz. 
"It's evident that people are proud to live in Illinois. Proud that their ancestors are from here. Proud to have gone to school here. And proud to have built businesses here," Lane said. "And so that's really become our mission. To remind people why they are proud of Illinois. To inspire them to be Illinois proud."
State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said that may be a bit easier said than done in 2018. 
"For our 50th Anniversary, 150 years ago, crews started construction on the Capitol Building. One hundred years ago, crews started construction on the Centennial Building. That's now the Howlett Building. So we left some lasting memorials in previous celebrations," Butler said. "I would say that where we are at politically and in our budget times in Illinois, we're not going to build a new Capitol or anything like that."
There will, however, be a big party with the state's own bicentennial craft beer. The festivities are set for December 3. 


Senator concerned ISBE school funding formula questions will delay new dollars going out

The Illinois State Board of Education says new money from the revamped funding formula will be going out to schools by March or April. Lawmakers questions about the law and a state Senator is worried they're playing politics.
State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, said he's hearing confusion from schools and taxpayers in his district as to if schools will get new funding from the new evidence-based school funding formula passed last year. He was critical of state Schools Superintendent Tony Smith.
“He outlined a twofold role. One which is advocacy and another which is implementing the law,” Barickman said. “We need him to implement the law.”
Barickman said taxpayers and school districts deserve certainty.
Smith said he's certain the new funding will go out after verification of 3-year enrollment data, but they have questions.
ISBE has 20 different issues they want lawmakers to address on what Smith says are factual questions about the law, but he doesn’t think that process will hold up new school funding.
That $350 million extra will be spread amongst schools, with more going to needier schools, and that will be the base level for future years.
Last month ISBE said Illinois public schools would need an additional $7 billion on top of what they’re already getting. That would bring the total for school to nearly $14 billion in one year.
Smith said ISBE’s proposal for nearly double what schools got this year is a matter of fully funding education in Illinois.
“What would it take for every district to provide at least 90 percent adequacy?” Smith said. “So that’s what drove the math. That’s what drove the number.”
The adequacy target per pupil is $6,100. Smith said some schools are at under 50 percent of that number while others are at more than 200 percent.
Barickman said the $7 billion number “is making some heads to explode because here we are in the financial condition that exists in this state and you’ve got the state board advocating for a number, which is completely impossible under the economic conditions that exist in our state.”
Others called the request unrealistic or even bold. More discussions are expected on ISBE proposed 7 billion extra in upcoming appropriation hearings.


Report: "Perfect storm" on horizon for Illinois housing market

A combination of high property taxes, a sluggish local jobs market and people leaving the state could spell trouble for your home’s value.
A new report by the nonprofit Illinois Policy Institute warns that the state’s homeowners could see their home values take a turn for the worse in the coming years, saying high property taxes are keeping potential buyers from buying homes without a lower-than-market price. The report showed homeowners’ property tax bills grew six times faster than household incomes in the last decade.
This, coupled with record numbers of people leaving the state and a lagging economy, could depress home values in the coming years.
“We don’t expect the rise [in home values] to continue,” Institute chief economist Orphe Divounguy said. “We expect prices to start falling.”  
Illinois households, on average, pay nearly 15 percent of a combined effective state and local tax rate, according to a recent WalletHub study. That’s higher than any other state.
The problem, he said, could worsen over the years as potential homebuyers continue to leave Illinois and further depress housing costs. More than 275,000 families left Illinois from 2006 to 2016, according to the IRS.
Studies have also shown that homeowners tighten their belts when their home values are lowered.
“When housing prices fall, homeowners begin to tighten up their budgets,” Divounguy said. “And when they stop spending, the economy slows down even more.”
The Illinois Association of Realtors said the average home sale in the state last year was $235,000, up slightly from 2016.
When asked what to do about the issue last weekend, Democratic gubernatorial front-runner J.B. Pritzker said he wants to lessen property taxes by shifting local school costs to the state and then making high-earners pay for it with a progressive income tax.
“We will lower the property tax burden on people and make it less regressive and make the entire system more attractive for people to stay in Illinois,” the billionaire Hyatt heir said.  
Divounguy warned that election-cycle political promises should be looked at with a skeptical eye, adding, “It’s very difficult to raise the kind of revenues that are needed right now with a progressive income tax.”
Pritzker has said that he would propose tax hike rates if voters allow a progressive income tax, but not before. Illinois' constitution currently bans a progressive tax, so voters would have to amend the constitution to allow it.
Divounguy said that fellow Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bob Daiber’s proposed rates (6 percent for income above $1 million scaling down to 1 percent for less than $25,000) would require tax hikes on nearly every household in Illinois to balance the state’s budget.


VanBrooker, Petitgout respond to misconduct allegations

Following Monday's allegations of misconduct by McDonough County Sheriff Rick VanBrooker and Chief Deputy Nick Petitgout, both parties have responded. 


After getting back from a Sheriff's training event in Peoria, VanBrooker released the following statement to the media Tuesday, via email. 


"On April 4 th 2017 I was driving into Macomb when I experienced the onset of what felt like Vertigo. I had been to my doctor about the problem prior to this incident. I pulled off Jackson Street onto a lane and then into a drive way hoping to let the feeling pass. I did speak with a man who was concerned and I did mention getting comfortable and I also told him that I just needed a minute. I did not explain what was going on since I did not want him calling an ambulance. The feeling passed and I left. I went straight home and I would have been home or very close to home when the call went out. The deputies did what they should have done by searching the area where the call came from before locating me at my house. I had been at my house for a period of time prior to the deputy’s arrival. What was covered up? Nothing."  
"I have been your Sheriff for over a decade and in that time a lot of good things have happened here at the Sheriff’s Office. During that time I have also made enemies that will seize upon this opportunity make baseless allegations. I will continue to do the job you hired me to do to the best of my ability until I retire later this year," VanBrooker said. 
Nick Petitgout, the Chief Deputy who is running for the soon-to-be open Sheriff position with the impending retirement of VanBrooker, also released a statement to local media addressing the situation.  
Unfortunately the race for sheriff has taken an ugly turn with unsupported accusations and name calling based on political motives. I will not respond in kind, but will stick to the facts. Those facts will be presented in two parts: 1. The motivation behind the accusations, and 2. The facts of the case.
These are facts you need to know, which deal with motivations:
1. The former state’s attorney is related to one of the candidates.
2. That candidate’s wife used to work for the former state’s attorney.
3. The state’s attorney not only supports that candidate, but actually passed petitions for him.
4. It is no secret that the former state’s attorney had an ongoing feud with the sheriff, including telling him he would no longer represent him in any legal action. It is his job to represent the county and its elected officials and not let personal animosity affect his decisions.
5. It is also well-documented that the former state’s attorney issued an online character attack against another elected official possibly slanderous, with no proof. The attack was eventually removed from Facebook. I am disappointed, but not surprised that he once again resorts to this type of attack.
6. The incident in question occurred April 4, 2017. In February, less than 45 days before the election, he finds this “new evidence.” This had been public record since April 2017.
It is disappointing, but unfortunately not surprising, that the former state’s attorney would resort to this type of campaigning. It seems to me that it is certainly O.K. to support the candidate of your choice and you should present their credentials to the voters, not resort to negative campaigning.
The facts of the incident are as follows:
1. On April 4, 2017, a citizen called in to the 911 dispatch unit alleging a citizen driving “recklessly” and possibly under the influence giving the plate number of the car.
2. The dispatch center identified the plate as belonging to a Richard VanBrooker and the call went out.
3. Hearing the call and being on duty, I called the dispatch center and said, “What was that?” She responded, “What?” I asked, “The call you just put out.” She responded, “Mmm yeah?” (My reaction was simply one of surprise). The conversation ended there. I want to make it clear that the dispatcher did nothing wrong.
4. From that small encounter, the former state’s attorney and a few others read into that brief conversation that there was somehow a cover-up.
5. Once that conversation was over, we followed the call to where the incident began and discovered no physical damage.
6. The next stop was to the home of the party involved where he was discovered at his home.
7. There was no damage to the vehicle with the plate number that had been called in. There was no evidence to support a reckless driving claim.
8. Most reputable law enforcement officers will tell you that the incident ends there! In order to charge someone or make an arrest, the suspect must be driving the vehicle or have it under their control. Thus the incident was closed, just like it would be with any other citizen.
9. At no time was the dispatcher asked to change the report.
10. At no time was the 911 call changed or altered.
11. At no time was the supervisor asked to alter or bury the report.
You now have all the facts of what happened that night. I am not a professional politician, but simply a law enforcement professional running for sheriff. I will continue to present my credentials to the voting public and not resort to false accusations."
Nick Petitgout
Petitgout faces Justin Lundgren and Bryan Baca in the March 20 primary for McDonough County Sheriff. 



State rep wants to mirror federal K-12 savings benefits in Illinois

A state representative says his idea of mirroring Illinois law to the recent federal tax reform to allow for tax free investments for K-12 education will help keep investments in Illinois’ accounts and not diverted to other states.
State Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, said his proposal would be a simple change to state law, but it would be a big benefit for Illinois families.
“This is really a parent protection measure, a taxpayer protection measure,” Breen said.
Expanding the use of these tax-free funds will be help hard-working Illinois families save for their kids’ education, he said.
Americans for Prosperity Illinois State Director Andrew Nelms said the proposal is a wonderful idea that gives parents more control over educational opportunities.
“To give them an alternative, to give that family hope, to give that child hope, I think is an incredible thing,” Nelms said.
Illinois has 529 savings plans set up to allow parents to set aside pre-tax dollars to use on their kids' higher education expenses.
For example, parents starting a family are able to set a portion of their salaries each aside in pretax 529 accounts to help pay later for their college education. No federal or state taxes are taken out of the money that goes into the 529 account.
Federal tax reform now allows the parents to use those pretax dollars to help pay for private elementary, middle and high schools, in addition to college.
But Treasurer Michael Frerichs warned Illinois taxpayers last month that if they tried to use their 529 savings plans for K-12, like federal law now allows, they could face state tax penalties.
Breen said he has legislation that will allow K-12 expenses to be drawn from Illinois 529 plans.
“I don’t want to see Illinois parents taking their money out of their own Illinois 529 plans in our state and moving them out of state just so they can use them for their K-12 education,” Breen said.
Frerichs’ office says he’s reviewing the proposal but has yet to take a position.


Allegations with matching 911 audio triggers misconduct allegations towards VanBrooker, Petitgout

(VanBrooker headshot via McDonough County Sheriff website)


Allegations surfaced Monday that McDonough County Sheriff Rick VanBrooker and Chief Deputy Nick Petitgout engaged in misconduct in April 2017. The incident in question involves a call about a suspicious driver, which allegedly was VanBrooker, and possible interference in the handling of that situation from Petitgout. 


The initial allegations came from an annonymous letter penned to the McDonough County Board. In this letter, it stated that "your Sheriff and Chief Deputy and possibly other top Sheriff Officers were involved in a major cover up."


The letter goes on to mention an alleged incident where a 911 call came into a local dispatcher. The caller "reported a dangerous driver and reported Mr. VanBrooker as driving drunk."


The annonymous tipster goes on to say that Petitgout "called the dispatchers and demanded that they not follow policy and stop transmitting van broker’s information and vehicle to officers to send help." 


This letter prompted former McDonough County Chief Prosecutor James Hoyle to post more details about the allegations on his personal Facebook account. 


Following the post by Hoyle, alleged audio of the 911 call was released on Soundcloud. The audio appears to back up the claims made in the letter, and further detailed by Hoyle. 


VanBrooker did not respond Monday, as he could not review the audio since he was at a Sheriff's conference in Peoria. Petitgout also chose not to respond, awaiting VanBrooker's response. 


Petitgout told Tri-States Public Radio, “I can’t comment on it until he [VanBrooker] does. That’s part of our policy.” 



Illinois gun rights group has other gun free zones in sights to be shot down

More gun free zones are in the sites of gun rights activists after the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously shot down one around public parks.
Last week’s ruling from the state's highest court centered around Julio Chairez, who was charged criminally for having a concealed weapon within 1,000 feet of Virgil Gilman Trail in Aurora.
Illinois State Rifle Association Executive Director Richard Pearson praised the 7-0 ruling against the 1,000 foot barrier around public parks in state law. He agreed with the court that it was too burdensome for law-abiding citizens to navigate where they could or could not carry a firearm for protection, especially in Chicago, where there are 600 parks.
“There’s actually no place you can go in parts of Chicago that you can be a gun owner and even drive through the place,” Person said.
The ruling written by Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier said “the most troubling aspect [of the 1,000 feet ban] is the lack of any notification where the 1,000-foot restriction zone starts and where it would end,” the ruling said. “Innocent behavior could swiftly be transformed into culpable conduct if an individual unknowingly crosses into a firearm restriction zone.”
Karmeir’s opinion said the state “conceded that an individual who lives within 1,000 feet of a public park would violate [the law] every time that individual possessed a firearm for self-defense and walked to his or her vehicle parked on a public street.
“To remain in compliance with the law, the State said that the individual would need to disassemble his or her firearm and place it in a case before entering the restricted zone,” the ruling said. “This requirement, however, renders the ability to defend oneself inoperable and is in direct contradiction” with other cases.
There are 23 different areas in Illinois you can’t carry a firearm in Illinois by law, even if you have a concealed carry permit, Pearson said.
“Like schools, like libraries, other 1,000 foot zones,” he said. “And I imagine that those are all going to be declared unconstitutional in a certain amount of time.”
But, Pearson said, there’s just one problem. Someone will have to be charged with violating the law to challenge it.
“We just have to wait for the right case to show up and see what happens,” Pearson said. “Nobody wants to be the guinea pig on purpose.”
The state’s argument in favor of the ban was it was for public health. The unanimous decision said that argument lacked any valid explanation of how the law would achieve that goal and doesn’t survive the heightened scrutiny that applies to burdening Second Amendment rights.


Ives' 'Thank You Bruce Rauner' TV ad receives backlash

(Photo: Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune via AP)


Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeanne Ives has received criticism for a television ad attacking Governor Bruce Rauner. The ad, entitled "Thank You, Bruce Rauner," calls-out Rauner for supporting policies that do not align with his conservative base. 


In the ad, actors portrayed a transgender woman thanking the governor for signing a law expanding trans rights, a young woman thanking Rauner for making Illinois families “pay for my abortions,” and hoodie-wearing man thanking Rauner for making Illinois “a sanctuary state for illegal immigrant criminals.”


Tim Schneider, the Illinois Republican Party Chairman and supporter of Rauner, voiced his displeasure with the ad in a statement.


"There is no place in the Illinois Republican Party for rhetoric that attacks our fellow Illinoisans based on their race, gender or humanity. Rep. Ives' campaign ad does not reflect who we are as the Party of Lincoln and as proud residents of our great and diverse state," said Schneider.


Ives' campaign put out a statement when releasing the ad, and defended the nature of it. 


The statement in part said, “The ad represents Gov. Rauner's chosen constituents based on the policy choices he made.”


Ives' campaign further defended this commercial, saying that it's a “fair and accurate representation of the implications” of Rauner’s policy choices."


The ad, which can be viewed below, is a play on the "Thank You, Mike Madigan," spot that Rauner and governors from neighboring states put out in prior months. That spot was an attack on Madigan and the Illinois democratic leadership for its part in the financial success of other bordering states. 

ACLU Executive Director Colleen Connell also put out a statement about the television spot, deeming it divisive. 


“It is sad that a candidate for the office of governor of Illinois would seek to divide voters by attacking our neighbors, friends and colleagues who are newcomers and refugees, those of a different race, those who are transgender and poor women in need of health care,” Connell said.


The candidates continue to trade blows leading up to the March 20 primary.  






Illinois' congressional delegations split on significance of FISA abuse memo

Illinois’ congressional delegation is split along party lines on whether the controversial memo released Friday exposes inherent bias in the FBI against the Trump administration or if it’s meant to undermine law enforcement investigating the Trump campaign's ties to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The Republican-crafted memo was released Friday after it got the green light to be declassified from the White House. It alleges leadership at the FBI and the Department of Justice under the Obama administration signed off on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant applications to spy on the Trump campaign without disclosing that the underlying evidence was unsubstantiated opposition research funded by Democrats.
A “Key Points” document released alongside the memo says, “Neither the initial application in October 2016, nor any of the renewals, disclose or reference the role of the [Democratic National Committee], Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding [Christopher] Steele’s efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior DOJ and FBI officials.”
Steele is a former British intelligence officer who was hired by Hillary Clinton's campaign and the DNC to investigate Trump's ties to Russia.
The "Key Points" documents also says “Former FBI Deputy Director [Andrew] McCabe confirmed that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) without the Steele dossier information.”
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, said the release of the Republican memo was egregious, toxic, and an attack on special investigator Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged wrongdoing by Trump.
The memo was written by staffers of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence with access to tens of thousands of pages of classified intelligence.
Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, told WMAY Springfield he hopes the GOP memo release is just the beginning.
“I would love for the underlying intelligence to come out,” Davis said. “I would love for it to be scrubbed for top secret material. I frankly hope that the Democrat memo gets put out there because I think the American people need to see it all.”
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last week was unanimous in supporting release of the Democrats’ memo for review by the entire House. But Republicans wanted time to digest the 10-page memo that U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said has up to 36 footnotes, “and some of the details there could be described as harming national interests.”
“I think we need time to absorb their 10-page memo before we release it to the full public,” Conaway said in transcripts of the committee meeting released alongside the Republican memo.
Following a campaign stop for Illinois gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker in Springfield Saturday, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, said the Republican memo is flimsy and he’s worried about it’s motive.
“No one, including the president, is above the law and this idea that they’re going to undermine the FBI and that basic principle is really worrisome,” Durbin said.
As someone who was caught on FBI wiretaps with imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Pritzker said he didn’t have anything to add to the national conversation, other than it was a crafted distraction from alleged Trump wrongdoing. He said Gov. Bruce Rauner is doing the same thing running ads with Pritzker on the wire taps with Blagojevich.


Joshua Griffith Macomb News Now interview

With the 2018 primary election coming up on March 20, Joshua Griffith, Republican candidate for Representative of the 93rd District of Illinois, stopped by. The Abingdon native discussed his background, what made him want to get into politics, issues that are important to him, and more. Listen to the full interview with Griffith here.


USDA: All Mexican states can now ship pork to USA

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has agreed that Mexico is free from a disease known as classical swine fever, which means all states in Mexico can now export pork products to the United States.
Until that decision was reached, only nine Mexican states were able to export pork to the U.S., Mike Doherty, senior economist and policy analyst at the Illinois Farm Bureau, said.
“The U.S. agency Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in charge of these kinds of things went down to Mexico and actually inspected down there," Doherty said. "They came back and decided that it is true -- Mexico is free of this disease."
Doherty said the U.S. already exports a large amount of pork to Mexico.
“The United States is a large exporter of pork and for Illinois farmers, pork going to Mexico represents bushels of corn going to Mexico,” Doherty said.
Doherty said as part of free-trade agreements with Mexico, it was important to keep the country happy.
“We want to keep them happy; and to keep them happy, we do also have to buy their product and we have to recognize when there is no reason to not buy their product,” Doherty said.
Additionally, Doherty said the worldwide demand for protein should not hurt the price of pork for producers in the U.S. and Illinois.
“Given that worldwide demand for protein, and the slight increase from some additional states in Mexico hoping to increase their exports to the United States, I do not see it having a major price impact,” Doherty said.
In terms of food safety, Doherty said Americans would be surprised how much more sophisticated countries like Mexico now are in terms of their food processing. Doherty said he toured Mexico and was very impressed by the standards there.


Janus responds to Conference of Bishops siding with forced dues

The plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court case Janus vs. AFSCME is responding to critics, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who call him and others who don’t want to be forced to pay fees to a union “free riders.”
The bishops filed an amicus, or friend of the court, brief last month siding with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees over a worker who doesn’t want to be forced to pay fees to a union he doesn’t agree with. It cites a Catholic Church social doctrine from 1891 that called for workers associations to defend worker rights.
Liberty Justice Center Director of Litigation Jacob Huebert, who represents plaintiff Mark Janus in the case, didn’t understand why the bishops would file such a brief.
“I don’t know why,” Huebert said. “I don’t know why they would be against freedom of association when that, of course, works to their benefit and everybody else's when they chose to advocate the things that they advocate.”
Janus, an Illinois state government employee, objects to being forced to pay an agency fee, which he said amounts to about $50 a month, to the AFSCME union because he doesn’t agree with the union’s politics. He said even collective bargaining for higher wages is a political issue because those wages are paid by tax dollars.
The bishops brief siding with the union said they’ve long supported the right of workers to collectively bargain and the right is weakened by right-to-work laws.
A "misguided effort to protect one individual from government coercion would leave only individuals to stand against government (or economic) coercion,” the bishops’ filing said. It also said ruling in favor of Janus would create a free rider problem that would weaken unions.
Janus took exception to being labeled someone who wants a free ride and that his lawsuit is only about himself.
“Who’s the real free rider here,” Janus said. “[AFSCME is] taking my money, and thousands of other government workers. So who’s getting the free money here? They’re taking it out of my wallet and putting it in theirs without my asking and without my permission. That’s what I consider wrong. That I consider coercion.”
The case is set to be heard Feb. 26. A ruling is expected sometime this summer.


Republican State lawmaker urges Rauner to resign

A Republican state House member is calling on Gov. Bruce Rauner to step down.
State Rep. John Cabello, R-Machesney Park, says the governor lacks the credibility to be an effective leader after breaking a promise to veto House Bill 40.
“I believe yes, he should [resign],” Cabello said. “I don’t know how anybody can expect to sit across the table from him and negotiate anything when you can’t trust what he says. You can’t lie about something and then expect everybody to believe what you’re saying in the next sentence.” 
House Bill 40 was signed into law by Rauner last September. The legislation allows taxpayer funds to be used for elective abortions through Medicaid and state employees' health insurance. Cabello says Rauner broke a promise made to fellow Republicans to veto the legislation.
“He met with a bunch of Republican House members and told them he would not sign House Bill 40 and, obviously, ended up signing it,” Cabello said. “These legislators came back and told us the governor has given them a guarantee he won’t sign the bill.”
Cabello says the Rauner’s reversal could have an impact on job creation and business expansion in the state.
“Who in the private sector is going to come to the state and … believe him from this point on when you know this is out there?” Cabello said. “The Cardinal from Chicago even said he lied to him. It’s not a good thing and it’s kind of disgraceful.”
Cabello says this is another prime example of why people across Illinois are fed up with politicians.
“We should be held to a higher standard. [Politicians] say one thing and they do the exact opposite,” Cabello said. “I’m tired of it. I think it’s time we demand better. For crying out loud, he’s the governor!”
Rauner is facing a primary challenge from state Rep. Jeanne Ives. Cabello says even if the governor doesn’t heed his call to resign, he’ll be backing his opponent on the ballot.
“When I brought this up, they asked if there’s anyone else I would endorse,” Cabello said. “I said, ‘Yes, I’m going to be endorsing Jeanne Ives because she’s the only Republican in the race.’”
Cabello says he didn’t share his opinion with fellow lawmakers before going public and doesn’t know if anyone else in Springfield shares his thoughts. But he’s unafraid of any potential blowback.
“I have the right to have my opinion,” Cabello said. “I have the right to say what I believe is right. If anybody wants to try to have any retribution, bring it.”


Illinois expected to file for REAL ID compliance

Officials in Illinois said the state is expected to apply to join the federal government’s REAL ID law later this year. 
The federal REAL ID Act was enacted in 2005 after the 9/11 Commission recommended creating minimum security standards for state identification cards. The license allows access into federal buildings and commercial flights.
Illinois currently has an extension in place, so residents still can board domestic flights with their current forms of ID.
Nathan Maddox, senior legal adviser at the Illinois Secretary of State’s office, said the state has been working toward implementation of REAL ID for several years.
After the state joins the REAL ID program, Illinois residents will have a grace period to obtain a new license. There will be no increase in the license fee, Maddox said.  
“You can either apply for a standard driver’s license, renew your current driver’s license and get that, or you can apply for a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license,” Maddox said.
Maddox said the state will apply for the program in October.
“Once we become fully compliant, we expect to start issuing REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses and identification cards in January of 2019,” Maddox said.
Maddox said if residents do not want a REAL ID license, they still can opt to obtain a traditional identification card and driver’s license.  
“If you do not travel in the air, you do not go to federal facilities, or you have a passport and do not want to bother getting a REAL ID, you can certainly get by with just a standard driver’s license or identification card,” Maddox said.
Maddox said it is important for residents to remember they will need to bring in proof of identity, proof of Social Security number and proof of address in order to receive the new license.
“You will have to bring in certain documents again to get the license, but as long as you have those documents, there should not be any more effort involved than a normal renewal,” Maddox said.


Illinois incarceration rates decline, but state may be able to do more

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics recently released information about incarceration rates across the country, and even though incarceration rates have gone down in Illinois, there are other issues that still require solutions, according to an independent corrections monitor. 
Illinois has the 22nd lowest incarceration rate in the country, the bureau report said, and the number of people incarcerated in Illinois dropped from 46,240 to 43,657 from Dec. 31, 2015, to the end of 2016.
But Jennifer Vollen-Katz, executive director of the John Howard Association, said even though incarceration rates have gone down, Illinois prisons are still overcrowded.
“Originally, Illinois’ system was designed to hold just over 28,000 inmates. We’ve always seen the number of 32,000,” Vollen-Katz said. “Either number you use, that still points to a prison system that is way overpopulated.”
Packed prisons come at a cost for the state.
“We spend a lot of money to house, clothe, feed and treat prison inmates,” Vollen-Katz said. “We spend about $22,000 per inmate, per year.”
When factoring in all the marginal costs to care for inmates, the number goes up to about $36,000 per inmate, per year, she said. 
Vollen-Katz said the Illinois Department of Corrections has a program called the Kewanee Life Skills Re-entry Center that could help decrease recidivism.
“They get job training, they get interviewing skills and resume building skills and things they will need to be successful when they leave,” Vollen-Katz said.
Vollen-Katz said there are many things the State of Illinois should do differently when it comes to keeping recidivism low.
She said more programs and funding are needed to help inmates become productive members of society when they get out of jail.
Evaluating the needs of the prisoners is one way to improve incarceration rates in the state,” Vollen-Katz  said. 
“Whether it’s job training or further education, or mental health treatment, whatever their needs are, identifying them as early on as possible is going to be helpful in figuring out how we can help that person,” she said. 


Hammond pleased with State of the State speech

Representative Norine Hammond (R-Macomb) gave her thoughts on Governor Bruce Rauner's State of the State speech Wednesday. The Representative of the 93rd District relayed the fact that she is "optimistic," about Rauner's focus on the economy. You can listen to what Hammond had to say here