Macomb Local News

The Regional Media Grand Winter Auction

The Regional Media Grand Winter Auction continues this week as we still have many items to sell! Make sure to tune in to your favorite Regional Media station weekdays from 11am until 12noon. 

 

Below are a few items we still have availible for you to place bids or buy!

 

A year membership to Cassady Martial Arts Academy up for bidding! Retail Value of $1200

 

From M&B Furniture we have a LaZBoy Recliner in a cream tweed color. Retail Value: $529

 

A Symbol Queen size mattress, box spring, and bed frame set from Modern Home Furniture Outlet  Center retailing at $499

 

A MedLift Lift Chair in a thistle color from More Medical valued at $1808

 

We have many items from A Boy and His Tiger

 

From Discount Furniture and Bedding we have a Brown leather reclining sofa valued at $999

 

Listen for many of your favorite certificates to your local resturants as well!

 

 

 

Remember to tune in weekdays from 11am until 12noon on all of your favorite Regional Media Stations to get great DEALS on many items!

 

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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. 

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.”

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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. 

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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.
 

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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.” 

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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

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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 Wirepoints.com, 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.

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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. 

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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.

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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 mcdonoughcountyvibe@hotmail.com. More information about McDonough County V.I.B.E. is available online

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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. 

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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.
 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.  

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

 

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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.

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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.” 

 

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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.

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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.  

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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. 

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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

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Senator Jil Tracy reacts to State of the State speech

Illinois State Senator Jil Tracy reacted Wednesday to Governor Bruce Rauner's State of the State speech. Tracy, the state senator of Illinois' 47th district, gave her thoughts on what Rauner had to say. You can listen to her comments here.   

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Rauner delivers State of the State speech

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner says he’s planted the seeds of growth in Illinois but not everyone sees that.
 
During his State of the State address Wednesday in front of a joint session of the General Assembly, Rauner said other Democrat dominated states like Rhode Island and California have reformed pensions, lowered workers' compensation costs, and enacted other reforms he said are necessary for Illinois.
 
“We have the power to take similar steps,” Rauner said. “The question is whether we have the will to take them.”
 
“But there is no question about this, we have planted the seeds of growth in our economy,” he said.
 
“No, we haven’t,” Wirepoints Founder Mark Glennon said in reaction to Rauner’s speech. “Our job growth has been horribly underperforming compared to other states. There are no seeds planted. We haven’t even taken that first step.”
 
Illinois has had slow jobs growth and a higher unemployment rate than the national average. One example is manufacturing jobs. President Donald Trump touted 200,000 new manufacturing jobs added across the county in all of 2017 during Tuesday State of the Union address, but Illinois only snagged 7,700 of those manufacturing jobs while neighboring states’ gains outpace Illinois’.
 
Rauner also urged lawmakers to act on several issues he said will restore trust in state government.
 
Rauner said the state has to change the way property taxes are assessed and challenged, because taxpayers are being crushed and connected interests are profiting.
 
“It is a vicious form of oppression,” Rauner said. “The system traps people within in their homes, vaporizes their equity, drives mortgages underwater and in some cases pushes people out of our state. It is time to put a stop to this corruption.”
 
Drawing off the outrage evident in the #MeToo movement, Rauner also said he’s signing an executive order to tighten up ethics reforms in executive agencies, including for employees under collective bargaining agreements. He urged lawmakers to pass similar legislation.
 
Rauner delivers his Budget Address in two weeks.

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Illinois lawmaker files bill to block vehicle miles traveled tax

An Illinois state lawmaker wants to put an end to a vehicle miles traveled, or VMT, tax before the conversation starts to rev up.
 
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, floated the idea in 2016 of putting a transponder on passenger vehicles to tax per mile as a way to find more revenue for infrastructure, but he abandoned the idea after immense public opposition. Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker recently floated the idea as a policy position.
 
State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond, said it’s not a workable solution and filed a resolution opposing a VMT. She said such a tax will be more punishing for rural drivers.
 
“A lot of us have to drive many, many miles to our workplace or to drop kids off at school or whatever the case may be,” Bourne said. “It’s very different than city life where they may not be driving many miles at all.”
 
Americans for Prosperity Director of Federal Policy Mary Kate Hopkins said a VMT tax, like other user fees, might sound like a good idea at first, but it hits the least fortunate the hardest.
 
“The problem is not a revenue problem, it’s a spending problem, and we’ve got to address out-of-control spending,” Hopkins said.
 
Others have said a VMT tax could lead to double, if not triple taxation, let alone the privacy concerns that would be raised.
 
Hopkins also said some in the federal government may be thinking of increasing the federal gas tax by 25 cents as a way to generate more revenue for the country’s infrastructure.
 
Raising the gas tax is a knee-jerk reaction, she said, and policy makers should instead ensure gas tax revenue goes toward what drivers actually use like roads and bridges, not bike trails. She also said the prevailing wage needs to be addressed for a couple of reasons.
 
“No. 1, increased costs,” Hopkins said, “and No. 2, it kind of creates these problems where you want to do a project, but you can’t afford the labor and people are willing to do the work for less but because of prevailing wage requirements, they can’t.”
 
Proponents of the VMT tax or increasing the gas tax say there’s a need because of more fuel efficient and electric cars paying little to no gas tax.

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Answers vary in gerrymandering poll of governor candidates

Not all of Illinois’ candidates for governor would like to take the political map drawing process out of the hands of politicians who have long benefitted from it.
 
Illinois’ next governor will have a say in how Illinois’ political boundaries are scattered across the state for 10 years. This process, known as redistricting, has been long-criticized for allowing the party in power to draw maps that allow them to maintain their majorities at the state and national level. It’s this reason the Illinois Redistricting Collaborative is demanding candidates answer some tough questions about their positions on the process.
 
Some candidates have yet to respond to their 18-question surveys. Of those who did, Democrat J.B. Pritzker simply answered “yes” to the majority of the questions and providing the same elaboration to multiple questions.
 
“Even if he didn’t give much in terms of details, he’s still answering yes,” said Brandon Lee, communications coordinator at Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago, a member of the Illinois Redistricting Collaborative. “We have this record as a starting point and would be interested in some additional detail.”
 
Of the five that answered, only Democrat Bob Daiber supported the current system, saying “a nonpartisan commission wouldn’t necessarily end gerrymandering.” He said Illinois’ current system could use further oversight.
 
The practice of gerrymandering districts to favor parties in power, Lee said, results in too many “safe districts” that are decided by small numbers of people.
 
“When politicians pick their voters, you’re going to get districts that are advantageous for the people who drew them,” he said. “We’re trying to make it so that voters are able to pick their politicians.”
 
Redistricting reform is popular on both sides of the political spectrum. An October poll by the Paul Simon Institute for Public Policy showed 72 percent of Illinoisans support an independent commission to draw Illinois' district lines.

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Legislators and business community address hopes for State of the State

Members of the legislature and the business community are giving their take on what they want Gov. Bruce Rauner to address in Wednesday’s State of the State speech.
 
The speech is at noon Wednesday in Springfield. Rauner has already said he’ll talk about the gains in education funding and the need to reduce the $5 billion income tax increase lawmakers imposed last summer over his veto.
 
State Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, said he hopes Rauner gets away from pushing for political reforms and focuses on shoring the more than $2 billion his administration spent above what was appropriated.
 
“If it’s just the same old, same old, ‘We’re going to turn things around,’ and ‘Gosh, if we only had term limits we’d have $2 billion less in debt,’ he’s wasted an opportunity,” Harris said.
 
State Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, said he hopes Rauner will reflect on how the rest of the country is doing, while Illinois continues to struggle and the need for economic reforms.
 
“We can take on some pro-growth policies, we can take advantage of the new Republican tax cuts and the new economic growth that is gripping the nation,” Breen said.
 
National Federation of Independent Business Illinois State Director Mark Grant said small businesses across the country have the wind at their backs, but in Illinois there are concerns.
 
Grant said small businesses want to see the governor lead on economic reforms like lowering workers’ compensation costs, decreasing the income tax, and addressing the state’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes. He also wants to hear the governor oppose any additional taxes.
 
“Everybody is saying, ‘there’s not going to be anymore taxes because they did them last year, with the income tax [increase],’” Grant said. “But I’m really concerned still about the feelings that ‘we need to start taxing services’. We don’t like that. Our businesses don’t like it. It’s bad for business.”
 
Two weeks after today’s speech will be Rauner’s budget address in Springfield.

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Mother Moon Service Scholarship applications available

The following explanation of the Mother Moon Service Scholorship comes from a McDonough County United Way press release. Please contact your school guidance counselor or the McDonough County United Way at 309-837-9180 or mcdcunitedway@gmail.com for an application.  All applications must be received in the United Way office no later than Friday, March 30, 2018.
 
"The mission of the Mother Moon Service Scholarship is to encourage and set a standard for individuals to give freely of their time and talent in service to others in their community. It is believed that values and habits are formed at an early age, and that each one of us must be a trustee of our community.  As a trustee, we are responsible for leaving the community in better condition than we found it.  The Mother Moon Scholarship Fund awards student scholarships for community service in recognition of Sadie “Mother” Moon and countless others like her who have focused their lives on serving others."  
 
"Mother Moon, as she was called by all who knew her, was born in 1880 and died in 1956.  She lived most of her life in Macomb, Illinois, but her impact on the lives of others reached far beyond the little town.  She raised 10 children of her own, in addition to many others who felt that she had been like a mother to them."  
 
"In the spring of 1991, Jane Leighty Justis approached the family of Sadie Moon with a rather unusual request – to name a scholarship in their mother’s name.  Jane’s father, H.D. “Ike” Leighty, was influenced greatly by Mother Moon when he was a boy living in her hometown of Macomb, Illinois.  He described Mother Moon as a wonderful example of one who quietly served others in need.  Mother Moon Service Scholarships have been awarded in her hometown of Macomb, Illinois, since 1994."
 
"To be eligible for the Mother Moon Service Scholarship a student must meet the following criteria:
Be enrolled as a Junior at one of the accredited McDonough County high schools
Plan to attend an accredited public or private University, College, Vocational Technical school, or other post-secondary institution upon graduation from high school
Be a good example and role model for others
Demonstrate an attitude of caring by giving freely of their time and talent in service to others in their community
Have contributed at least 100 hours of service to their community within a 12 month period"
 

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State Board: School funding delay is bureaucratic, not part of scholarship fight

Some school superintendents in Illinois say unless lawmakers quickly scuttle Gov. Bruce Rauner's tax scholarship changes, they may have to wait months to get the new money they've been promised. But the Illinois State Board of Education says the schools are going to have to wait regardless. 
 
The latest in the battle over Illinois' new school funding formula and the delay in getting money to schools is in the bureaucratic weeds.
 
A handful of superintendents turned out at the Illinois Capitol Monday to tell lawmakers that they're still waiting for word from ISBE as to how much they'll get from Illinois' new evidence-based school funding model. ISBE told the same lawmakers that it first needs enrollment figures from all schools in the state before it can answer that question.
 
This all happened as Democrats at the Capitol continued their fight against the governor's changes to a scholarship program. 
 
Bottom line, state Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Sycamore, said it'll likely be March or April before schools get anything firm about their promised money. 
 
"The point is, ISBE wanted to get the numbers right," Pritchard said. "They need to correct whatever numbers ISBE has in its database."
 
ISBE said 97 of Illinois' 850 or so school districts are tardy in returning those numbers. 
 
Robert Wolf with ISBE said it is important for schools and the board of education to get this data right. 
 
"This is foundational work," Wolf told lawmakers. "If these numbers are not accurate, if we do not get concurrence on these numbers from our school districts, or there has not been diligence from the state board and school districts, we will have a situation in the future where school funding for a district would not be accurate."
 
There is a follow-up piece of legislation pending for lawmakers. That's the proposal that Rauner changed to shoehorn in additional rules for private school scholarships. 
 
But ISBE said that legislation actually deals with two technical issues, and that is not why there is a delay in getting local districts answers about what the new school funding formula would mean for them. 
 
Democrats say the legislature needs to act on that clean-up legislation first. 
 
Republicans in Springfield say there's no rush, and would rather see ISBE do its job and start to distribute money to schools first. 

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McDonough County V.I.B.E. presents checks to 2017 recipients

McDonough County V.I.B.E. (Volunteers Interested in Benefiting Everyone) presented checks to their 2017 recipients Monday afternoon at The Old Dairy.  

 

The Macomb Police Explorers received a check (below) for $4,000 which they plan to use for uniforms and equipment.

 

McDonough County YMCA received a check (below) for $24,000 with which it plans to purchase a newer van for delivering meals on wheels and transportation for children.

 

 

Macomb SRT (Strategic Response Team) received a check (below) for $25,000 which they will put towards the purchase of a new tactical response vehicle.

 

 

VIBE President Denise Kipling said "VIBE will have open enrollment applications available in February to any McDonough County non-profit looking to apply for funds in 2018".  Applications can be requested next month at mcdonoughcountyvibe@hotmail.com

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Heating Assistance Still Available From WIRC-CAA

The Western Illinois Regional Council-Community Action Agency (WIRC-CAA) still has funding available in its Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).  Low income households that meet eligibility guidelines in Hancock, Henderson, McDonough, and Warren counties are eligible for help in paying home utility bills this winter.

 

The WIRC-CAA in Macomb administers the program in the four-county area.  Individuals can call (309) 837-2997, or come to the office at 223 South Randolph in Macomb to schedule an appointment, Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. Local outreach sites are also available for filing an application.

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Fight continues over Illinois' Medical Cannabis Pilot Program

With more judges telling the state to expand Illinois’ Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, the department running it continues to fight back.
 
A judge ruled earlier this month that Illinois Department of Public Health Director Nirav Shah must add intractable pain, or pain resistant to treatment, to the list of accepted conditions. This is different than chronic pain, which was ruled to be included in the program but then appealed by the state.
 
Michael Goldberg with the Chicago-based Goldberg Law Group said the addition should greatly expand the program’s availability, including to those commonly injured on the job.
 
“It is common in workplace accidents, which can be terrible and cause people to be dependent on opioids for the rest of their lives,” Goldberg said.
 
The department will appeal this ruling as well.
 
The process to expand the program via court challenges has been protracted by appeals from the state and subsequent findings that have reinforced Shah’s decision to exclude a condition from the pilot program.
 
Goldberg said it hasn’t come to it yet, but they could be forced to take more serious measures if the state continues to fight against court rulings.
 
“At some point, if we have to hold someone in contempt of court or take more dramatic measures, then that’s the only option we’ll have,” he said.
 
Goldberg’s firm is seeking, via lawsuits, to add eight conditions to the list accepted by the program.
 
Nearly 30,000 Illinoisans have been issued cards to participate in the pilot program as of December 31, 2017. There are 53 dispensaries across the state. It’s set to expire on July 1, 2020.

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Republican state lawmaker says idea to bond out pension debt is 'massively irresponsible'

A Republican state lawmaker is blasting a Democrat’s idea to put the state in massive bond debt to address the state’s unfunded pension debt.
 
State Rep. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, said his idea of issuing $107 billion in bonds to help pay down the state’s $130 billion unfunded pension liability could save billions in the long run.
 
“We are going to pay back that debt one way or the other,” Martwick said. “The question is at what cost.”
 
But state Rep. Grant Wehrli, R-Naperville, said that would be the largest bond issuance in world history.
 
“Think about that,” Wehrli said. “Illinois, that can’t pay its bills now, is going to put up more debt on our credit card in hopes of solving our pension crisis. I’m open to ideas, but simply bonding out $107 billion is massively irresponsible.”
 
Wehrli said instead, the state needs to look at shoring up expenses to help pay down the liability.
 
While some Democrats are pushing for a progressive income tax that would require a change to the state constitution, Wehrli urged for an amendment to allow for pension reform.
 
“How about this, why don’t we put it to the voters?” Wehrli said. “If you want to amend the constitution to allow for a progressive tax increase ... at the same time put on the ballot, ‘Do you want to amend the constitution to remove the pension clause?’ Let’s put them both on the ballot to see what Illinoisans have to say about either one of those issues.”
 
The Illinois Supreme Court ruled a previous pension reform proposal unconstitutional in 2015, citing the state constitution’s pension protection clause.
 
Illinois has the largest unfunded liability of any state in the nation. When including retiree healthcare, the costs are more than $200 billion.

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Brantley Gilbert to perform at 2018 Illinois State Fair

The Illinois State Fair announced Tuesday that Brantley Gilbert will close out the 2018 Illinois State Fair on Sunday, August 19.  
  
Gilbert is best known for songs such as, “Bottoms Up,” “Country Must be Country Wide,” “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do,” “One Hell of an Amen,” and “The Weekend.” Gilbert is currently promoting his #1 country album THE DEVIL DON’T SLEEP through his The Ones That Like Me Tour this winter.
 
“Brantley Gilbert is a well-known artist with a great fan base,” said Acting State Fair Manager Luke Sailer in a press release.  “We expect BG Nation will be treated to a fantastic, high-energy, in-your-face concert they soon won’t forget.”
 
An opening act for Brantley Gilbert will be announced at a later date. Tickets will go on sale later this spring. The Illinois State Fair will run August 9-19 in Springfield. 
 
 

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Illinois gains 7,700 manufacturing jobs in 2017, group says trends elsewhere raise alarm

The most recent Illinois jobs report showed Illinois gained thousands of manufacturing jobs, but that trails in comparison to trends in neighboring states.
 
Illinois Manufacturers’ Association Vice President Mark Denzler said it’s good news that Illinois added 7,700 manufacturing jobs in 2017.
 
“However, it’s unfortunate news for the tens of thousands of Illinoisans that should have manufacturing jobs, but those jobs have gone elsewhere,” Denzler said. “They haven’t located in the state of Illinois.”
 
Denzler said manufacturing jobs are good-paying jobs that are going to other states. While Denzler didn’t have the most recent numbers of other states’ gains, he said the trends raise an alarm.
 
“When you go back from June of 2009 to October of 2017, the neighboring states that touch Illinois have added 505,000 jobs,” Denzler said. “They’ve added half a million jobs. Illinois has added 3,600 [in that time frame].”
 
State Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego, applauded last week’s announcement that Carl Buddig & Co. is purchasing the former Butterball plant in Montgomery, but he said more can be done to attract more manufacturers, such as lowering workers' compensation costs.
 
“We are one of the most expensive states in the country and we’re miles ahead, unfortunately in the wrong direction, for work comp costs compared to our neighboring states,” Wheeler said.
To attract more manufacturers, Wheeler said Illinois also needs to lower its income tax, which increased last summer over the governor’s veto.
 
“We’ve taken the one thing ... we were kind of the leader on in the Midwest, ... income tax rates, and now we are not,” Wheeler said. “We don’t have that advantage like we had before.”
 
Lawmakers increased the state’s corporate income tax rates from 5.25 to 7 percent this summer (33 percent hike), alongside increasing the individual rate from 3.75 to 4.95 percent (32 percent).
 
Wheeler also said Illinois needs to lower its highest-in-the-nation property taxes to be more competitive with neighboring states.
 
“Property taxes are a set cost to a business, compared to an income tax where you only pay that tax if you make a profit," Wheeler said. "Property taxes you pay whether or not you make a profit. So you have to take that into account when you evaluate whether or not Illinois is a great place to make that investment.”

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Ameren to close parts of West Adams Street Tuesday for repairs

Weather permitting, Tuesday, January 30, 2018, Ameren CIPS will have W. Adams St. from Western Ave. to Wigwam Hollow Rd. closed for repairs. For more information contact the City of Macomb Public Works Department at (309) 833-2821.

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Illinois lawmaker wants to lower age children can be left home alone

An Illinois lawmaker wants to lower the age at which children can be left home alone.
Current Illinois law states any child under the age of 14 cannot go without adult supervision for “an unreasonable amount of time”. State Rep Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, says that’s a problem.
 
“I think there’s a lot of issues where people have been or could be charged for leaving what most people would find an acceptably mature student or child to be on their own for a little while,” Sosnowski said. “I think we’re really out of touch with where other states are in terms of the law.”
 
The measure, filed as House Bill 4296, would allow children 12 or older to be left home alone. It also would permit that child to babysit younger siblings. Sosnowski says this would allow single and working parents additional flexibility without risking neglect charges.
 
“We’re looking to create a little more responsibility for parents,” Sosnowski said. “Allow them to decide if their 12- or 13-year-old is mature enough. Let’s not run into areas where people could be charged if there’s a report or something happens.”
 
Sosnowski says under current law, parents can be charged with neglect and, in some cases, lose custody of their kids for leaving a minor under the age of 14 at home without supervision.
 
“There’s a lot of different situations in families with scheduling,” Sosnowski said. “It just makes sense. Let’s not create a violation of the law where common sense can dictate.”
 
Most states don’t specify a certain age when children can be left unsupervised at home. Of those that do, Illinois currently has the highest limit.
 
“I’m not expecting a lot of opposition,” Sosnowski said. “I think a lot of people are just surprised to hear that the age in Illinois is so old. A lot of people probably are saying, ‘Uh oh. I’ve been violating this law for a long time.’”
 
The Illinois House is scheduled to return to Springfield on Jan. 30. The bill could be assigned to a committee for review at that time.

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New tech could solve rural internet access problem

Illinois’ rural areas are lacking in internet coverage more so than other states.
 
1.2 million, or 9 percent, of Illinoisans don’t have access to broadband internet, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Fifty-six percent of rural Illinoisans, 770,000, don’t have broadband connectivity. This is significantly higher than the national average of 40 percent.
 
But technology that uses over-the-air signals that aren’t used for television anymore could solve that problem. Microsoft’s Airband Initiative has connected communities in places like rural southern Virginia, even the African country of Namibia, with its Rural Airband Initiative. It works by utilizing unused frequencies, or whitespace, to transfer information from a provider to the consumer.
 
“Theoretically, it will give you 15-20 Mbps on a 20 Hz channel,” said Dr. Apurva N. Mody, president of the WhiteSpace Alliance. “That much higher than the rates many are getting right now.”
 
Other technology offers broadband in rural areas but it’s often unrealistically expensive.
 
Common broadband connections in rural Illinois are direct subscriber link, or DSL, offering up to 6 Mbps, or satellite broadband offering just 2 Mbps.
 
By contrast, urban areas with cable internet connectivity can reach speeds of up to 2 Gbps, or 2,000 Mbps. 
 
“There are folks living in the Oshana District in the northern part of Namibia up against the Angola border who have greater broadband access than folks living in rural Illinois,” said Paul Garnett, senior director of Microsoft’s Airband Initiative. “That’s not acceptable.”
 
Garnett said the technology can offer up to 29 Mbps using two channels but new advancements could increase speeds.
 
The Airband Initiative, launched last July, plans to partner with businesses to offer the technology with the goal of connecting two million rural Americans to broadband by 2022.
 
Microsoft President Brad Smith said last July that the FCC would have to ensure nationwide access of three of the low-frequency channels for unlicensed use.
 
“This will help stimulate investment by hardware companies to produce the needed chips for new devices at a higher scale and lower cost,” Smith said.
 
“What we’re really asking the FCC to do is to create a nationwide market for TV white space technology so that folks in rural America can take advantage of the scale that it would create,” Garnett said.
 
Illinois lawmakers are pushing Gov. Bruce Rauner to include in his budget spending on faster internet access for rural schools. Garnett said the connections via the schools could serve as a base for broadcasting the internet signal out to rural residents.
 
Mody said last year’s government auction of some of the spectrum created uncertainty. Now that the auction is over with a significant amount of spectrum unsold, he said the technology should become more prevalent.
 
“2018 will be the year where this takes off,” he said.
 

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Illinois congressmen Davis, LaHood, pushing to release secret FISA memo

With all the fervor in Washington D.C. about the investigation into alleged Russia collusion by the Trump campaign, some inside the beltway say something more troubling is found in a memo that’s under lock and key. A couple of Illinois' congressman are pushing for the memo’s release.
 
It’s known as the Nunes Memo because it was crafted by House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes. It’s also been referred to as the FISA Memo because it deals with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
 
While no one has explicitly revealed what’s in the memo, some speculate it deals with abuse of FISA under the administration of President Barack to spy on American citizens, and possibly President Donald Trump when he was a candidate.
 
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, said he’s signed on to a letter to have the memo released. When asked if he agrees with U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that the allegations are worse than Watergate, Davis said, “I wish I could tell you what was in the memo, but I cannot do that without violating my security clearance.
 
“I signed a non-disclosure agreement,” Davis said. “I cannot discuss what was in the memo because I read it in a top secret setting.”
 
U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria, said in a letter to Nunes requesting the memo be made public that he believes the allegations of abuses of power by government agencies “are serous matters, and the public has a right to know about them.”
 
Davis said the ball is rolling to let the memo see the light of day.
 
“A lot of folks want to see that memo released, but there’s a process that has to happen to get that done and I know our leadership team is working on that process to do so," Davis said.
 
Some leading Democrats in Congress have said the memo was crafted as a distraction from the special investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia prior to the 2016 presidential election.

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Legislators propose measures to curb local officials spending tax dollars on annual conferences

Property taxes are already too high in Illinois, and that’s one reason a couple of state lawmakers want to end the use of tax dollars for lavish trips to annual conferences for local officials.
 
An Illinois News Network investigation of more than 24 school districts’ attendance at last November’s annual Illinois Association of School Boards conference in Chicago found districts spending tax dollars on travel, expensive hotels and even steak and lobster dinners.
 
State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, said that’s abuse of taxpayers who are already tapped out.
 
“Remember, school districts are about 70 to 75 percent of the property tax bill,” McSweeney said. “This is a complete, 100 percent waste of money. It should be stopped. My legislation would do that.”
 
Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, said another measure would require votes on such expenditures.
 
“Not just having a budgeted amount, but for every one of these expenses they would have a public vote on that,” Skillicorn said. “Unfortunately, the public doesn’t know this is going on.”
Some of the spending uncovered through records requests included dinners that cost $100 per person and tips in excess of $100. Many of the 26 districts investigated spent $1,000 per attendee or more, at taxpayer cost.
 
McSweeney said Illinoisans already pay among the highest property taxes in the country. That’s one reason he said there’s continued outmigration from Illinois to other states. The most recent U.S. Census data showed more than 114,000 Illinoisans left for other states between July 2016 and July 2017. During that same time period, Illinois' population declined by nearly 34,000 people. It also was the fourth consecutive year of population decline.
 
McSweeney said public officials spending on annual conferences is unjustifiable.
 
“[School officials and lobbyists] are getting together and then talking about ways to prevent property tax relief,” McSweeney said. “In the case of educators, they should be spending money in the classroom, not spending money on these types of items.”
 
Champaign Community Unit School District No. 4 sent 17 officials costing taxpayers more than $20,000. Superintendent Susan Zola said in an email the district was “invited to host a breakout session focused on our successful passing of a $183 million referendum in November of 2016. The session was a panel discussion requiring five speakers and a moderator, four of which would not have attended the conference otherwise.”
 
Illinois Association of School Boards Executive Director Roger Eddy defended the conference as having value. He said some of the presentations include ways to save money by restructuring bonds or focusing on green energy projects.
 
McSweeney said school officials should hold informational seminars in school auditoriums, not a downtown Chicago hotel that requires travel, lodging and food.
 
Skillicorn has another idea.
 
“I think the average Illinois taxpayer should join me in asking these people to pay back the money,” Skillicorn said.

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Macomb City Council Committee of the Whole Meeting canceled January 29

The Macomb City Council Committee of the Whole meeting for Monday, January 29 will be canceled. According to City Hall, the cancelation comes because of "non-time sensitive issues."

 

Discussion will be held at the City Council Meeting on Monday, February 5. Those with questions can contact the City Clerk's Office at (309) 833-2575. 

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Ipava female minor injured in Route 136 single vehicle rollover crash

For the second time this week, a single vehicle rollover crash has occured in McDonough County on US Route 136. This time, the driver was a female juvenile, age 17, of Ipava. The accident occurred at at 8:10 a.m. Thursday morning, resulting in the driver being airlifted to OSF in Peoria with non-life threatening injuries. 

 

Per the preliminary report, was traveling east on US 136 near Fulton County Highway 12, approximately one mile west of Ipava. The driver stated her vision was obscured by the sun at the time. She ran off the roadway, overcorrected, then lost control and rolled her vehicle. Her 2008 Ford Focus came to rest upright on its tires. No charges have been filed at this time. 

 

Her car was towed by Hammond's Towing out of Astoria. Assistance was provided by Ipava Fire and Rescue, Table Grove Fire and Rescue, Air Evac Team, and Fulton County Sherriff's Department. 

 

 

 

 

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MDH to offer childbirth and community CPR classes in February

McDonough District Hospital has announced free Childbirth classes along with Community CPR classes for the month of February.

 

The first free Childbirth class will be held Saturday, February 3  from 10-11 a.m. in Auditorium B on the lower level of MDH. This will be a one-hour Sibling class, designed to teach big brothers and big sisters what it will be like to have a baby in the family. Additional classes available include: Breastfeeding (February 8), Cesarean Section (February 15), Postpartum Care and Understanding Your Newborn (February 22), and the 8-hour L.A.T.E. class.

 
The 8-hour L.A.T.E. class will be held Saturday, February 24, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., in Auditoriums A and B. This class explains the stages of labor, as well as breathing and relaxation techniques. 
 
The Community CPR class will be held Tuesday, February 13, at 6 p.m. in Auditoriums A & B and Auxiliary conference room (lower level) at MDH. Pre-registration is required and the fee for the course is $40. MDH Community CPR classes are taught according to the American Heart Association guidelines.
 
For more information or to register, contact MDH Outreach Services at (309) 836-1584. To learn more about MDH Community Classes, visit MDH on Facebook or online.

 

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Flu in Illinois leveling off, not going away

The flu in Illinois isn't going away anytime soon. The Illinois Department of Public Health says its latest report for the CDC shows a dip in cases, but not a drop in activity. 
 
The state's report for the second week of the year shows flu cases are down from their peak in December and are holding steady. 
 
Melaney Arnold with the state health department said that doesn't mean that flu season is ending. 
 
"Flu is unpredictable. We could see an increase later on," Arnold said. "There are different strains of the flu. H3N2 has been the predominant strain, but there are other strains that circulate. Including H1N1 and Influenza B strains, those typically come a little bit later in the season."
 
Arnold says that's why the IDPH is still asking people to get a flu shot. 
 
Illinois' report says 175 people were checked into intensive care because of the flu in the second week of 2018, which makes 830 admissions for this flu season. One child has died.
 
Arnold said that's about all the information that the state tracks. 
 
"Illinois is similar to the CDC in what it tracks when it comes to influenza," Arnold said. "We look at influenza-related ICU hospital admissions, influenza pediatric deaths, and influenza outbreaks. And that's similar to the CDC."
 
Arnold says that's why the IDPH is still asking people to get a flu shot. She said that way, if the flu makes a comeback, you'll still be protected.
 
Doctors say this year's flu shot is about 20 percent effective. That's far less than the 50 percent to 60 percent the vaccine usually carries. 

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Labor analyst: Members-only unions would be unions answer in world without forced dues

A free-market public policy think tank says public sector unions should embrace members-only unions to allow workers freedom of choice, rather than forcing government employees into a one-size-fits all union.

 

Competitive Enterprise Institute Labor Policy Analyst Trey Kovacs expects the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in favor of Mark Janus in his case challenging forced union fees to the AFSCME union. Janus, a child support specialist for the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, says his First Amendment rights are being violated by being forced to associate with a union he doesn’t agree with. Unions contend he just wants a free ride.

 

Kovacs said in a report released Wednesday morning there’s a fix for that called members-only unions.

 

“It basically nullifies what [unions] call the free-rider or freeloader issue that they have to represent employees that don’t pay dues, so how about let them free?” Kovacs said. “Let them negotiate their own contract so you don’t have to represent them.”

 

Janus has said he’s be happy to negotiate his own contract with his employer, rather than being forced to pay an agency fee.

 

A members-only union, which would be a union of workers willingly paying union dues, would allow unions to spend that money on politics, Kovacs said.

 

“In members-only unions, they’re all full-fledged members that voluntarily pay dues. You can spend their dues how the union and the membership feel that’s where it should go,” Kovacs said, adding that unions would save money by not having to do all the accounting involved with segregated fund for politics or for providing representation to employees.

 

A 2015 report from the progressive Century Foundation said members-only unions have been able to get collective bargaining agreements on behalf of members and provide “appreciable benefits in the workplace.”

 

“[Members-only unions] provide a structure for worker solidarity and collective action; a means of accessing some of the protections of the [National Labor Relations Act]; an inroad for labor in inhospitable territory; a framework for workers to advocate and organize local political change; and a means of disseminating information,” the report said.

 

“Major unions should employ the model as both a path to majority and as a beachhead in hostile parts of the country,” the Century Foundation report said.

 

Kovacs said implementing members-only unions will be difficult because unions get lots of benefits from being exclusive representatives for all public employees, such as more ability to do union work while on the clock.

 

Oral arguments in the Janus case are next month with a ruling expected sometime this summer.

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Google's popular art selfie tech not accessible in Illinois

One of the most popular app features in the nation is not available in Illinois likely because of a decade-old law.

Google’s Arts and Culture app is currently the fourth most popular on Apple products and second most popular in terms of Android app downloads. The program allows a user to match their facial characteristics to a face in a famous painting. But the “Search with your selfie” ability is not available to anyone in Illinois or Texas.

The company hasn’t said why residents of the two states can’t use it. One thing both have in common is laws allowing lawsuits for not protecting biometric information. A key difference, however, is any Illinoisan can file a lawsuit, whereas Texas’ attorney general would have to initiate one there. Washington state has a law similar to Texas but users there reportedly are able to access the function.

Google is one of many companies facing numerous lawsuits under Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act of 2008. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, also bans Illinois purchasers of its Nest home cameras to use their facial recognition software.

Electronic Frontier Foundation senior lawyer Adam Schwartz says Google should just abide by the law.

“Companies have to respect people’s biometric privacy by getting consent before they gather and use peoples’ biometrics,” he said. “More and more technologies are coming online that make it easier and easier for people to gather biometrics from each other use them in ways that people might not want.”

Schwartz warns that biometric information in the wrong hands can be worse than a normal password since you can’t change your bodily information.

As technology becomes more advanced, Schwartz said laws protecting biometric privacy will become more important.

Moving forward, it appears companies will either comply with Illinois’ laws requiring permission to use the sensitive data or find that it’s not worth the litigious risk to offer the service in the state.

Illinoisans who want to use the application can either send an out-of-state friend a selfie or take a road trip to a neighboring state.

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WIU Tri Sigma chapter to hold cancer run/walk

The sorority Tri Sigma at Western Illinois University will hold its First Annual Cancer Run/Walk on Sunday, March 4 in Macomb. The sorority is encouraging both students and community members to come out for the cause, with proceeds from the event going to the American Cancer Society. 

 

The event will begin and end in Chandler Park that day. It costs $20 to register. Participants registered by February 10 will be guarenteed a t-shirt for the event. 

 

For more information on the event and the motivation behind it, listen to my interview with event organizer Lindy Giesler. 

 

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Illinois hunters bag more deer in 2017 seasons than year before

Illinois deer hunters had a better year in 2017, as compared to the year before.
 
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources released its final report on deer hunting for 2017 and early 2018 on Monday.
 
In all, hunters bagged 147,535 deer. That's about three thousand more deer than in 2016.
 
DNR spokesman Ed Cross said it may sound basic, but the weather helped drive those numbers higher.
 
"Animals move in weather and conditions as they are. Hunters tend to be a bit more sensitive to it," Cross explained. "When you have better weather, you have more people out. That's what we saw during the second firearm season."
 
Western Illinois saw the best numbers, with Pike, Fulton, and Adams counties as three of the state's four most productive counties for hunters. Randolph County is southern Illinois was the third busiest. 
 
Cross says the harvest numbers show just how good the hunting ground in Illinois really is. 
 
"Illinois has always been a go-to place for deer hunters," Cross said. "Here in the Midwest, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska, we all have fantastic numbers. And we produce a lot of big deer, that generates a lot of interest from deer hunters from across the country to come here."
 
Illinois has nearly a half dozen different deer hunting seasons, but Cross said that traditional firearm season in late November is the most popular. Hunters bagged 80,021 deer, or 55% of the states total, during the two weekends of firearm hunting season. 
 
Illinois' archery season is also proving popular. Hunters took 57,937 deer during the archery season that ran from October 1, 2017 to January 14, 2018.

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McDonough County single vehicle rollover crash results in driver airlifted to Peoria hospital

A single vehicle rollover crash on US route 136 in McDonough County Tuesday resulted in a driver being airlifted from the scene.

 

A 50 year old male of peoria, who’s name is currently withheld by Illinois state police, was driving a 2011 international truck tractor traveling westbound on US Route 136 near 2350E at 9:10 a.m. Tuesday. The driver lost control of the vehicle, which was carrying a fully loaded box/van trailer. He lost control of the vehicle, driving off the north side of the road. The vehicle rolled over on its side before coming to rest in a ditch across both lanes of route 136. The driver was taken by helicopter to a Peoria hospital. The crash blocked the road for several hours while recovery crews worked to remove the wreckage.

 

There is no update on the identity or health status of the driver at this time. Along with Illinois State Police, Mcdonough County Sheriffs and Adair Fire and Rescue were on the scene. 

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Police apprehend West Prairie student after school threat

The following press release comes from Illinois State Police District 114, regarding an incident at West Prairie High School Tuesday morning. We will continue to update the story as further details come to light. 
 
"Today, at approximately 11:04 a.m., McDonough County Sheriff’s Department received a 911 call requesting deputies to respond to West Prairie High School in reference to a male juvenile student, who was armed with a knife, threatening staff and students. The male juvenile fled the school. McDonough County Deputies located the subject, in a reportedly stolen truck, and engaged in a pursuit in an effort to apprehend him. The pursuit traveled from McDonough County into Henderson County and into Warren County. The subject was ultimately taken into custody in a farm field located south of Cameron, Illinois.
 
Several squad cars from multiple police agencies were damaged during the pursuit as a result of the juvenile suspect ramming or attempting to ram them.
There were no reported injuries at West Prairie High School. The school was placed on lockdown during the incident. West Central School District in Henderson County was also placed on a lockdown status as a safety precaution when the pursuit left McDonough County and entered into Henderson County.
 
Further information will be forthcoming as it becomes available."
 

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Secretary Of State: 14 buildings near Capitol tested for Legionnaires Disease

Illinois state officials are taking precautions after preliminary tests uncovered the "possible presence of Legionella" in the water system at the Capitol Complex.
 
The Secretary of State and governor's office late Monday sent a note to all Capitol Complex state employees warning of the 'possible presence' of Legionella in the water system at the statehouse and near-by office buildings.
 
Legionella is the bacteria that can cause Legionnaires’ disease, a respiratory virus that is contracted by breathing in water vapor that may contain the bacteria. Legionnaires is not transmitted by drinking contaminated water.
 
 Secretary of State spokesman Henry Haupt says the process that led to the identification of the bacteria began Jan. 10, after a pipe burst in the old Illinois State Armory. 
 
"On Jan. 10, the pipe burst," Haupt said. "On Jan. 11, the pipe was repaired. On Jan. 12, the testing phase was initiated and testing kits ordered. On Jan. 17, the testing kits arrived. On Jan. 19, the preliminary test results came back. Meetings were held over the weekend with industry experts. On Jan. 22, meetings were held with the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Capitol Development Board."
 
Haupt says the secretary of state then sent a memo to Capitol Complex workers Monday. 
 
The letter, from Mike Wojcik, drector of Physical Services at the Secretary of State's office, and Deputy Governor Trey Childress, states that there are no confirmed cases of Legionnaires disease among state employees or statehouse visitors. The letter says that preliminary tests indicate the "possible presence" of the bacteria in the Capitol's hot water system and that more testing will be conducted. It will take about 14 days to get more thorough test results back.
 
Haupt says workers and visitors should not be at risk from simply drinking the water or washing their hands. 
 
"The Illinois Department of Public Health says Legionnaires is typically contracted by inhaling mist or vapor," Haupt said. "That's typically in a shower, hot tub or Jacuzzi type setting."
 
Haupt said that the Secretary of State's office is advising against the use of the Capitol Complexes' few remaining showers, and that crews will remove all aerators from the statehouse and surrounding buildings. There are no hot tubs or Jacuzzis.
 
People are unlikely to get sick from day-to-day office work, Haupt said. 
 
Springfield state Rep. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, who represents many of the Capitol workers, said she wants to see the state be open and hones with workers and visitors who might be worried about being exposed to Legionnaires. 
 
"We need to over-communicate with the public and be very factual," Jimenez said Tuesday. "Things get out there. I hate to say it, but even as people shared the story this morning you saw a fearful face emoji, or some other indicator of worry."
 
Illinois' recent history with Legionnaires disease has been well-documented. Thirteen people died at the state's veterans home in Quincy from legionnaires outbreaks in 2015 and 2017, while dozens more were sickened. 

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Illinois lawmakers propose tax-deductible donations to government

Rather than working to lower one of the nation's highest property tax burdens, some Illinois lawmakers want to sidestep the federal tax reform bill by allowing for donations to government.
 
One bill would create the Illinois Excellence Fund. It would allow taxpayers to donate and receive a tax credit for the exact amount. This shuffling of money back and forth would allow a taxpayer to deduct that amount on their federal taxes, effectively thwarting the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions put in place by the tax reform bill passed last month. The state treasurer can then use that money as he sees fit.
 
“[The SALT deduction cap] sort of came out of nowhere,” said state Rep. Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook. “This is trying to offer a solution to give tax relief to the middle class.”
 
The bill has a populist tone, appealing to the cries of high property taxes across the state. Nearly all of the current sponsors of the bill are likely to face a challenging re-election effort this November.
 
Carroll said he expects the Internal Revenue Service would object to such a law.
 
“They’re not likely to take it lying down,” he said.
 
The IRS classifies a charitable donation as “voluntary and is made without getting, or expecting to get, anything of equal value.”
 
Being a federal tax deduction as well, the state-bound donation would actually turn into a money maker. In addition to a 100 percent credit from the state, the donor would get up to 37 percent of that donation back in a federal write off.
 
The bill would also allow a county to set up a similar charity, which could cause different issues. Local taxes are devised in reverse compared to state and federal taxes. A taxing district sets percentages based on a target revenue number and then properties are taxed at that percentage of the assessed value of their homes.
 
State Rep. Steven Reick, R-Woodstock, said in an online post that the sponsors would tell counties that "they can set up a fund to accept donations to be used for undefined charitable purposes in exchange for a reduction or elimination of your property tax bill, which will either raise taxes on everybody else or destroy the budgets of every school district and taxing body in the County."

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Despite canceled session, state reps say they are working on their issues

Pensions and balanced budgets could dominate the spring session, once lawmakers do come back to Springfield, but session this week for the House has been canceled.
 
Despite that, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle say they are working issues key to taxpayers.
 
State Rep. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, said he’s not sure why session was canceled this week. Regardless, he’s working.
 
“Even though I was supposed to meet with some people in Springfield, I’m going to meet with them instead in Chicago,” Martwick said.
 
State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, suspects House session was canceled because leaders in the House and Senate can’t get their schedules to match up. But there always are things to do in his Springfield district when not in session, Butler said. He hopes to focus on the budget and reigning in spending when they come back.
 
“I think we need to continue to look at spending reductions to try to reduce some of the programs because I do think spending is just too high for state government,” Butler said.
Balancing the budget and reducing the income tax increase are his top priorities.
 
“There comes a time when we really need to reign in spending,” Butler said. “That’s the important part of it. We can’t continue to raise people's taxes across the board to get things done.”
 
Butler said pensions and other taxpayer-funded entitlements need to be reformed.
 
Martwick said his agenda is to reform pensions, either through issuing more bond debt he said could save billions on pensions in the long run or an option for Tier I employees to take a buyout for Tier II cost-of-living increases.
 
“What keeps us from being able to offer services to people who need it, and what keeps us from being able to reduce taxes is the fact that we are being crushed by this pension debt,” Martwick said.
 
Both the House and Senate are in next week.
 

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Congressman: Politics, not policy at heart of government shutdown

One central Illinois congressman says the government shutdown is all about politics.
 
Congressman Rodney Davis said the plan to keep the government running is chock full of issues that Democrats used to support.
 
"Fund our military. Fund a six-year program for children's health insurance. These used to be what Democrats called their priorities," Davis said. "Now they've decided to hold them all hostage and shut the government down to make President [Donald] Trump and Republicans look bad."
 
But Davis said the fight on Capitol Hill, which centers on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the continued "resistance" to Trump, isn't about the issues. It's all about the politics. 
 
"It wasn't a coincidence that they did this on the year anniversary of President Trump's inauguration," Davis added. "I think they did it for political messaging, and it backfired on them. Because they're getting the blame for this."
 
Davis said Illinois' senior U.S. Senator Dick Durbin should get a lot of the blame, Davis says Durbin is the one who drove the wedge that scuttled a government funding deal. 
 
But Durbin, speaking Sunday on CBS News' "Face the Nation," blamed Republicans for the shutdown.
 
"There's been a consistent failure by the Republican leadership in Congress to deal with these critical issues," Durbin said. "We don't want to see this situation as it currently exists, but we want to see a solution that has meaning and one that will serve this nation. We're lurching from one continuing resolution to the next." 
 
Davis said Durbin overplayed his hand.  Still, an agreement was reached Monday morning to end the shutdown. That package provides funding through Feb. 8 for services that were impacted by the shut down.

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Illinois eighth least impacted state by government shutdown

With the government shutdown continuing into the work week, there is a great degree of uncertainty throughout the country at the moment. The website Wallethub provided some context to this uncertainty, ranking all of the states and the District of Columbia in terms of how they will be affected by the shutdown. These findings are favorable to Illinois, with the Land of Lincoln coming in as the eighth least affected state. 

 

The report used a variety of factors to determine where each state falls in this scenerio. Factors include: share of federal jobs, federal contract dollars per capita, small business lending per capita and percent of children under CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program).

 

Neighboring states Iowa (45), Indiana (49), Missouri (29) and Wisconsin (34) all fared relatively well in the study. The top five most affected on this list (in decending order) are District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, Alaska and Hawaii. 

 

Source: WalletHub

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Big changes in Illinois school choice for this year's National School Choice Week

It’s National School Choice Week and there are some big changes parents need to know when it comes to choosing and paying for the right school for their children.
 
National School Choice Week President Andrew Campanella said federal tax reform is significant because it allows parents to save for private K-12 schools in a 529 savings plan to get a federal tax break.
 
“All the gains that you make in that account will not be taxed at the capital gains tax rate or the personal income tax rate,” Campanella said. “You’ll get to grow that tax free and use those funds to pay for [K-12] tuition.”
 
While Illinoisans can take advantage of that benefit for their federal taxes, the benefit does not apply to Illinois’ state taxes.
 
Regardless, Campanella highlighted a positive new steps in the Land of Lincoln this year.
 
“There are scholarship programs that are taking effect this year in Illinois to help parents with the cost of private school tuition,” Campanella said.
 
The Illinois Department of Revenue said the Invest In Kids Scholarship Tax Credit Program offers a 75 percent income tax credit to individuals and businesses that contribute to qualified Scholarship Granting Organizations, or SGOs.
 
Approved SGOs must begin granting scholarships no later than Feb. 1 for the coming school year. IDOR said SGOs must allow eligible students getting a scholarship through the program to attend the school of their choosing, but that’s subject to the availability of funds.
 
Students eligible for the scholarships in Illinois are those whose household adjusted gross income does not exceed 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or $73,800 for a family of four.
 
More information can be found at the website revenue.state.il.us/investinkids/
 
Campanella said choice in education is important because every child learns differently.
 
“That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the school or anything wrong with the child,” Campanella said. “It just means that the child would be better placed and have their needs met better in a different environment.”
 
He said some of the biggest challenges to getting the best education for your child is knowing the options and making decisions soon.
 
“The days of being able to look at schools over summer break and find your best choice and get your child in there in July, those days are over,” Campanella said. “There’s a lot of interest in school choice now so you want to be at the forefront of it and start early.”
 
Find school choice events near you at SchoolChoiceWeek.com.

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