As Chicago State University fights to remain open, many other Universities are still fighting uphill battles of their own, including Western Illinois University. On Friday, WIU President Jack Thomas announced that the school will be cutting $20 million over the next two fiscal years. In order to do this, the University is planning on reducing contracts from 12 months to 11 or 10 months, as well as reducing 100 personnel across divisions. There will be an immediate hiring freeze, and many offices and units will see reductions in their working hours. Additionally, for the current fiscal year, the University will be limiting expenses to needs only, and travel will be restricted. President Thomas has often cited the fact that the University can and will not fail, and moving forward, these difficult choices will have to be made to assure that. Again, through everything, the Government's inaction is being cited, and Thomas is urging legislators and the Governor to end the budget impasse.
Through this ongoing budget impasse, we've seen many casualties; public programs have closed, funding has been lost, cutbacks are found across the board, and institutions of higher education are bleeding. Unfortunately, we've now seen the first instance of a college being unable to function without these funds. Chicago State University announced on Friday that they sent layoff notices to all of their 900 employees. It is unknown what the future holds for the roughly 4,000 students at Chicago State University, and whether or not they'll be able to finish their educational programs is unclear. The American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is citing the Governor's hypocrisy and inaction, and says that we need leaders who will invest in our future.
Marine Bank has pledged $10,000 to the Dolores Kator Switzer Women's Center at the McDonough District Hospital. Marine Bank has been recognized as Golden Apple level in the MDH Business Honor Roll giving club, and this donation brings MDH to about $3.3 Million of their $5.5 Million goal. the money will go to provide new and modernized facilities, labor/delivery/recovery rooms, and an imaging center at MDH.
A new bill has been introduced into the Illinois House of Representatives by Representative Mike Zalewski that would concretely define the role of Fantasy Sports. Back in December, Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a ruling saying that these Fantasy Sport sites, like FanDuel and DraftKings were games of chance, and that they violated the state's gambling laws. Zalewski says that his proposed legislation would remove the uncertainty, and allow people to participate in these Fantasy Sports without fear of breaking the law.
"So what's its done is create a legal limbo where we don't have an idea of what's ok and what's not ok..."
-Mike Zalewski, Illinois Representative
Many people have come out in support of this new bill, including the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, the agency behind DraftKings, FanDuel, and a number of Illinois-based fantasy sports operators. Opponents to this new measure say that what it's really about is expanding gambling even further in the state.
State lawmakers have made some progress in recent years, but could be doing a lot more to help people living in poverty in Illinois. A new report from the Center for American Progress says Illinois has the 25th-highest poverty rate in the country. The report's lead author Rachel West says one big factor is Illinois' unemployment rate of just over seven percent, one of the highest in the nation. To help with that, she suggests Illinois could join other states by enacting the Apprenticeship and Job Training Act.
"In terms of addressing unemployment and in addressing any skills gaps that exist, that could be a really important option for Illinois policymakers as well."
-Rachel West, Center for American Progress
Still, West points to recent positive moves by state lawmakers, such as a 2014 Illinois law that bans employers from asking about criminal histories on job applications. She says this change helps thousands of rehabilitated former offenders find jobs. Two years ago, Illinois lawmakers were also the first in the country to set up a mandatory statewide retirement savings program for workers. West says this is one way to help close Illinois' higher-than-average income inequality gap, while also helping private-sector workers avoid a retirement savings crisis.
"In absence of national, federal action to address that crisis, state policymakers have in Illinois sort of led the way in coming up with a creative way to help workers save for retirement."
-Rachel West, Center for American Progress
The report lists other suggestions for reducing poverty in the state, including raising wages for low-paid workers and setting up a paid family leave program.
Early yesterday evening, there was a motor vehicle accident at the intersection of IL 41 and IL 95 in McDonough County. At approximately 5:15pm, a Ford F-150 driven by Shawn Hendell of Avon was northbound on IL 41 when it collided with the driver side of a Toyota Camry, driven by Ila Robb of Industry. Robb was attempting to turn southbound onto IL 41 and failed to yield at the junction. Robb was transported to McDonough District Hospital with minor injuries and ticketed for failure to stop/yield at a stop sign. Hendell was not injured in the crash.
While overall college enrollment numbers are taking a hit, the Western Illinois University Centennial Honors College has just reported record-breaking numbers for honor students enrolled this semester. Citing various recruitment initiatives, WIU reports 800 honor students at the Macomb campus, and 45 attending the WIU-Quad Cities campus. WIU calls the Centennial Honors College "an interdisciplinary academic home for academically talented and highly motivated students." Students are eligible to join as freshman, upon transferring in, or upon reaching the eligibility standards once currently enrolled. For more information about the Centennial Honors College, call 309-298-2228
Earlier in the week, HyVee Inc. announced a voluntary recall of their HyVee-brand, 2-ounce Macadamia Nuts because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella. Salmonella can cause fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, and if the person infected has a compromised immune system, the symptoms could get far more serious. The voluntary recall was announced after a contaminated product was found during routine sampling. To date, no illnesses have been reported in connection with this product, but anyone who purchased a 2-ounce, blue bag of HyVee-brand Macadamia Nuts between July 2, 2015 and February 3, 2016 should dispose of the product or return it to their local HyVee for a full refund.
Tanner Hall, one of the Freshman Residence Halls at Western Illinois University, will once again host the annual St. Baldricks event. On March 6th, in the Tanner Circle, participants will show up and get their heads shaved to help the fight against childhood cancer. Each participant will get people to sponsor them, and donate money to the cause. Looking at last year alone, St. Baldrick's raised more than $8,000. However, this year the event is really pushing for involvement, and they've set a fundraising goal of $25,000! Around 50 heads are projected to be shaved during this year's event, and there will also be children's activities, a photo booth, and various tables led by WIU students.
For more information, or to donate to the event, visit bit.ly/1Qy9sSa
All questions can be emailed to JA-Zarate@wiu.edu
Sheriff Rick VanBrooker reports that on Tuesday, a Warrant Round-up was initiated by the McDonough County Sheriff's Office along with the West-Central Illinois Drug Taskforce, the Macomb Police Department, the Bushnell Police Department, and the Western Illinois Office of Public Safety. Joshua Lafary, Anthony Hall, Danielle Uribe-Hall, and Heather Daniels, all of Bushnell, along with Marvin Taylor of Prairie City were all arrested and charged with Unlawful Procurement of Meth Precursors. Lafary was also charged with possession of Drug Paraphernalia and Possession of Cannabis under 2.5 grams, and both Hall and Uribe-Hall were charged with Possession of a Controlled Substance for heroin found under a child's mattress at their residence in Bushnell. The Department of Children and Family Services was notified. When performing these warrant-related arrests, the Sheriffs' Office reports that two other arrests were made: Spencer Bright and Angel Daniels of Bushnell were both charged with Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. The proceeding arrests are the result of a joint, two month long investigation between the West-Central Illinois Drug Taskforce and the McDonough County Drug Unit. All suspects have been lodged in the McDonough County Jail in lieu of bond, and are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
Coming up on March 6th, support Special Olympics Illinois Athletes by jumping into the waters of Spring Lake in Macomb. The Law Enforcement Torch Run Polar Plunge will kick off next Sunday, and all of the funds raised will go towards Special Olympics athletes with intellectual disabilities in 7 counties. Anybody wishing to participate in the Polar Plunge must collect a minimum of $100 in donations. Everyone is encouraged to come out and support, whether you'll be plunging or not, and make sure to come in costume and form teams to help raise even more money! Plungers will receive an official event sweatshirt, and there are incentive prizes for raising more money, the biggest of which is a seven night trip for two to the Dominican Republic! You can find more information, and register for the event, at www.plungeillinois.com or by calling Jennifer Davis at 309-337-9326.
Advocates for Illinois' Medical Cannabis Pilot Program are currently working to distinguish the medical benefits of cannabis from the recreational legalization that many are pushing for. While the current program is underway, many involved with it are urging others to stop focusing on the potential future of legalization, as it is distracting from the success of the pilot program. A number of blogs, Facebook groups, and dispensary operators are working toward breaking down the stigma of cannabis use for medical purposes, but Jay Cook with HCI Alternatives says that it can be difficult to get people to take the subject seriously, especially with the names of many of the strains.
"They're very recreational names something like Strawberry Headband or Cheese and Chong"
-Jay Cook, HCI Alternatives
Dr. Scott Cooper, the President of the Illinois State Medical Society, says that distinction is important, and that making sure people know the purpose of the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program is paramount.
"It is for treatment, not recreation. That is what the program is for."
Dr. Scott Cooper, Illinois State Medical Society
The ISMS is neutral on the pilot program, but they have educational materials available online for doctors who have questions, or who are unsure about getting involved with cannabis patients.
New research shows that LGBT people are facing higher rates of incarceration and unfair treatment in the country's criminal justice system. The Movement Advancement Project (MAP) report says young LGBT people face more discrimination in legal proceedings, which makes them more likely to spend time in juvenile justice facilities. Nate Balis, with the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, says these youths also face stigmas in society, which can leave them homeless and more likely to have run-ins with police.
"Issues like truancy and probation violations, running away, prostitution; these are things that, while not in any way dangerous to public safety, we still see many young people being detained."
-Nate Balis, Annie E. Casey Foundation
The report lays out suggestions for how to improve the safety of young people who are locked up. Recommendations include asking Congress to change the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act to provide specific protections for homeless LGBT youth. Balis says some of the ideas are similar to those in a Casey Foundation juvenile detention practice guide.
"If it's a person who we care about in our own lives, we'd do everything we can to want to keep kids out. We should do our best to make detention as safe as possible, but also used as rarely as possible, too."
-Nate Balis, Annie E. Casey Foundation
Balis points to the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act as another important protection for LGBT youth, but argues that the MAP report confirms more work is needed to make sure laws like these are better enforced at the state level. This report comes just two weeks after Governor Bruce Rauner announced plans to close a troubled downstate youth detention center in Kewanee. Critics said that the facility didn't have enough staff to keep the younger prisoners safe or healthy.
On Monday, Chief Justice Rita B. Garman of the Illinois Supreme Court announced that Illinois has completed its four-year pilot program regarding cameras in state courtrooms, and has adopted the policy as a permanent fixture. Through the pilot program, which began back in 2012, 15 judicial circuits have been approved to utilize Extended Media Coverage, or EMC, and more than 450 media requests have been made through the policy. The Chief Justice said that due to the success of this program, and the ongoing goal to provide a more transparent justice system with greater accountability and accessibility, each circuit court will get to decide if they'd like to implement EMC within their proceedings. In rolling out this permanent program, the Illinois Supreme Court has also made a more standardized application for circuit courts to use, to make the process more uniform and straightforward.
Macomb High School After Prom will be hosting another fundraiser this Thursday (February 25th) from 5-9pm at Rocky's Bar & Grill, 1420 W.Jackson in Macomb. Donations will be accepted the night of the event and a portion of the food sales will also support the organization. Rocky's Thursday night specials include their savory BBQ Pork Ribs (1/2 rack dinner is $13.99; Full rack dinner is $18.99) and their delicious Chop Steak Dinner ($10.99). Dine-in or carry-out at Rocky's Bar & Grill this Thursday from 5-9pm and support the MHS After Prom!
Though the weather is warming up, we're still getting cooler days and cold nights, and those heaters of yours may not be done yet. The Western Illinois Regional Council - Community Action Agency has announced that funding is still available in their Low Income Energy Assistance Program to help with this. Eligible households in McDonough, Hancock, Henderson, and Warren counties can receive financial help paying for their home heating bills as we get through the tail end of winter. Individuals can call 309-837-2997 or come to the WIRC office at 223 South Randolph in Macomb to schedule an appointment.
On Friday, Governor Rauner vetoed Senate Bill 2043, which would have funded MAP Grants for the upcoming academic year. The decision to veto was expected, but even still the Governor has been meeting significant resistance on this decision. The Illinois Federation of Teachers is one of many groups that is outraged and Rauner's decision. IFT President Dan Montgomery said that the move was "hypocritical, coming just two days after he delivered a speech touting education as his top priority while failing to mention his budget proposal included a 25% cut to the universities and colleges across the state." Rauner says that his reasoning for vetoing the bill weren't because it did too much, but just the opposite. The Governor says that this bill didn't do enough. Rather, his administration is supporting legislation that would reportedly fund the MAP program as well as community colleges and state universities. The Governor says that the funding needs to be done the right way, and SB 2043 would have spent money the state doesn't have, adding $721 million to the overall state deficit. District 93 Representative Norine Hammond has echoed the Governor's words, saying that she too was against SB 2043. Instead, she directs constituents and congress people toward House Bills 4539 and 4921, the building blocks for what Governor Rauner calls the proper way to go about funding.
According to the Macomb Area Chamber of Commerce -
The Macomb Police Dept. reported that at 10 am on Saturday, three black males driving a four door black Jeep Liberty attempted to pass a counterfeit $50 bill at a drive-thru in Macomb. When the cashier noted the bill was counterfeit, the driver sped off.
The cashier reported that the driver had additional bills that are presumed counterfeit.
If you have any information, please contact the MACOMB POLICE DEPT at (309) 833-4505 as soon as possible.
A new proposal is in the works that would require Illinois citizens to be 21 years of age in order to purchase tobacco products. Advocates of the measure say that this would help curb teenage smoking, and cut healthcare costs for individuals, and for the state's Medicaid system.
"Medicaid dollars that go toward healthcare costs related to smoking are nearly $2 billion."
-John Mulroe, Illinois Senator
That's John Mulroe, the Illinois Senator who introduced the bill in question. Anthony Fisher, a writer for the Reason Foundation, concedes that Mulroe makes a fair point, but asks why he's stopping there.
"Let's make it so that nobody under 21 can purchase sugar. That will make it harder for people to develop that sugar habit and make it harder for people to develop diabetes. Let's never stop."
-Anthony Fisher, Reason Foundation
Fisher's reasoning is that 18 year olds can vote, be charged for adult crimes, and even join the military to serve, and potentially die for, our country, so they should be able to make the choice to purchase tobacco products. While the train of thought makes sense, one could also use it to question why people aren't allowed to purchase and consume alcohol until the age of 21.
Earlier in the week, after Governor Rauner's second budget address, opinions were split on whether Rauner was paving the way forward, or simply providing words and not actions. Many unions, health-care workers, and low-income advocacy groups are saying that the address was simply more of the same. As the state continues an unprecedented budget battle, social-service and higher-education programs have seen huge cuts. Activists such as Toby Chow with Fair Economy Illinois say the Governor's continual unwillingness to look at new revenue sources is hurting the state's most vulnerable residents.
"I think that the Governor has once again made it very clear that he just doesn't care about poor people in the state of Illinois. I think that he made it clear again that his interests are with the billionaire class and large corporations."
-Toby Chow, Fair Economy Illinois
One of the lingering questions is whether or not the legislature and the Governor will create a two-year budget, or deal with the current and next year's budgets separately. In the meantime, James Muhammad with SEIU Healthcare Illinois, one of the state's largest health-care workers unions, says the Governor is turning a blind eye to people with real needs.
"Workers are losing their jobs. Social agencies are closing. Colleges are threatening to close. Children are not receiving child care. The list goes on and on."
-James Muhammad, SEIU Healthcare Illinois
Chow says his group will be working with state lawmakers on bills that could bring in lots of new money to the state without raising taxes on the lowest earners.
"We want a bill closing corporate tax loopholes that could bring up to $2 billion in additional revenue. The LaSalle Street tax, which is a small tax on financial transactions, that could bring in $10 to $12 billion of additional revenue."
-Toby Chow, Fair Economy Illinois
Rauner, however, says he will not consider new revenue options until the state enacts "structural reforms to grow more jobs."
During his budget address yesterday, Governor Rauner gave lawmakers a couple of choices to fix the state's budget impasse; either go along with reforms to bring structural change to grow the economy in exchange for the GOP's support for tax increases, or give the executive branch broader authority to manage the state's limited resources. The Governor said that the option of no reforms with broader budget authority is only a short term fix.
"It's not my preferred course of action. It wouldn't solve our long-term challenges. But it would, at the very least, allow us to stop digging the hole deeper."
-Bruce Rauner, Governor of Illinois
In reaction to the Governor's Address, the leading House Democrat said that Rauner's agenda is a failed economic theory, while the leading Republican said that the real failure is raising taxes without reforms. Speaker Michael Madigan said the Governor's call for economic reforms will diminish the working class.
"Government ought to be about the business of working to raise wages; raise the standard of living."
-Michael Madigan, House Speaker of Illinois
Governor Rauner says that the choice needs to be made soon, as the people of Illinois have waited long enough.
You can read the Governor's entire address here - http://www3.illinois.gov/PressReleases/ShowPressRelease.cfm?SubjectID=2&RecNum=13498
McDonough County Sheriff Rick VanBrooker reports that earlier in the month, the McDonough County Sheriff's Office received multiple reports of items stolen out of vehicles in Prairie City and Avon. Detectives began a joint investigation with the Avon Police Department and earlier in the week arrested Seath T. Frazier, 23, and Jacob A. Bickel, 25, both of Avon. Police also seized stolen stereo equipment, knives, DVD players, tools, bicycles, and various other items. The two men were each charged with 5 counts of Burglary, 2 counts of Criminal Trespass to Vehicles, and 1 count of Theft Under $500 and lodged in the McDonough County Jail. This investigation cleared up 27 burglaries to campers and 12 burglaries to vehicles throughout Avon. Evidence was also obtained that the pair committed two vehicle burglaries in Warren County. That investigation is currently ongoing. All suspects are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
Genesis Garden's "Clean-Up Day" for their Family Shelter House will take place this Saturday. We need you to help Genesis Garden take the first step towards the creation of a Family Emergency Homeless Shelter.
On February 20, 2016, from 9-4pm we need you to come help us clean the garbage out of the house. We will provide all personal protective equipment and lunch. All we need is you to volunteer your time. Sign up for Family Shelter Clean Up on @VolunteerSpot today! Those who pre-register before Thursday (2/18/16) will be provided a free lunch.
No one under 13 will be allowed on site during the clean up. Children 13-16 will be allowed on site only with a parent or guardian. The house is located at 307 E.Carroll St. in Macomb.
The Bushnell Pink Warriors present their 3rd Annual "Cancer's A Drag" event coming to the Bushnell VFW on Saturday, February 20th, 2016. Doors open at 6pm & the show begins at 7pm. $7.00 admission gets you in to see professional "drag queens" and some of our own community members "getting dolled up" for the cause.
All proceeds to benefit Linda's Fund and Susan G Komen's Race for the Cure. Must be 18 years old or older to attend. Find the event on Facebook by searching "3rd Annual Cancer's A Drag," and find the Bushnell VFW at 181 E.Hall St. in Bushnell.
While the budget continues to be debated, college students across the state are speaking up and demanding that higher education funding be dealt with. The "Fund Our Future" coalition, represented by University students throughout the state, delivered 20,000 postcards to the Governor yesterday calling for funding for the Monetary Award Program, or MAP Grants. Without a current budget, MAP Grants were not awarded this year, and many students are saying that without this financial aid, they will not be able to continue their education. MAP Funding could be restored immediately if Governor Rauner were to sign SB 2043, a bill sent by Senate President John Cullerton yesterday, but the Governor has previously hinted that he would veto the bill. MAP Grant funding is only one part of a massive problem going on in higher education amidst the budget impasse. Western Illinois University has already faced a number of cuts and layoffs, as has Eastern Illinois University, and the two colleges are expected to face more if things continue in this fashion. Earlier this month, Chicago State University declared a financial crisis, and if a budget doesn't come soon, the school may be forced to close their doors.
As the budget battle in Illinois continues, a government watchdog group says the state's finances have been running on "autopilot." Governor Bruce Rauner is giving his second budget address today to lay out priorities for next year, but the state has been operating for about eight months without a budget for the current fiscal year. Bobby Otter with the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability helped author a new report. It shows that if lawmakers continue to do nothing, more than three-billion dollars could be slashed from core services, including higher education.
"Not one elected official, be it in the General Assembly or the Governor, has actually had to vote on that or sign that into law. They're kind of abdicating and punting their responsibilities here."
-Bobby Otter, Center for Tax and Budget Accountability
The report, titled "Illinois on Autopilot," also shows that even without an official budget on the books, state spending levels are still at about 90%. That's mostly to pay for health care and other court-ordered services. In fact, Illinois is on track to spend much more than it takes in, to the tune of about two-billion dollars. Otter is encouraging the governor and lawmakers to either raise taxes or find strategic cuts and then actually vote on them.
"One of the main jobs of our elected officials is to make those hard decisions; if we need more revenue, than to raise more revenue. Or, if we don't have enough revenue, then what services will have to be scaled back or cut."
-Bobby Otter, Center for Tax and Budget Accountability
The center, alongside trade groups such as the Illinois Manufacturer's Association, has suggested that Illinois could help close its budget gap by taxing service industries.
If you're planning on voting in the upcoming March Primary for the Presidential Election, then you need to make sure you're registered A.S.A.P. Today is the final day that you can submit your voter application and be accepted in time to vote for the Primary on March 15th. You have until 11:59pm tonight to fill out your application. Registration is not difficult, nor is it particularly time consuming. You can do everything online; simply go to vote.usa.gov, that's vote.usa.gov, and select Illinois. Through this hub, you can see the requirements for voting, check your current registration or application status, and begin your registration. You can also find your local polling place. Remember, TODAY (Tuesday, February 16th) is the FINAL day that you can register if you're planning to vote in the March 15th Primary Election.
Several students from Western Illinois University are preparing for a different kind of spring break. Instead of heading to a tropical destination, these 22 students will be continuing on with WIU's long-running Alternative Spring Break program. This is a substance-free, service-based experience, and this year students will be headed down to Nashville from March 12 to the 19th to work with the Nashville Inner City Ministry, a group dedicated to aiding development and education of at-risk area youth. In past years, the Alternative Spring Break program has brought students to places like New Orleans, where they helped rebuilding efforts after flooding, and Mobile, Alabama, where they worked alongside Habitat for Humanity. Being a volunteer activity, the success of the trip will rely on funding from the participants and their friends and family, as well as the university and area businesses. The students going on the trip will be conducting multiple fundraising events throughout the semester, and if you'd like to donate you can contact WIU's Office of Student Activities, or go to gofundme.com/wiuasb2016
Evan Stegall, a 7th grade student from Macomb, was recently announced as the winner of the Illinois Municipal League's "Hometown Proud" essay contest. Evan, who was one of 3 finalists in the state, wrote his paper on the benefits of growing up and living in Macomb. For his big win, Evan's paper will be featured in IML magazine and he will receive a $100 cash prize. Out of three finalists, Evan walked away with 62% of the total votes. Congratulations Evan!
A proposal is on the table to close a juvenile detention center in Kewanee. Both the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union are praising this idea, saying that it would benefit taxpayers, youth, families, and communities throughout the entire state. Lyndsay Miller of the ACLU says that the Kewanee facility in question was simply too remote to properly staff.
"And with the decrease in population that we've seen over the last year, these youth can better be served in other facilities that have better staffing levels."
-Lyndsay Miller, American Civil Liberties Union
Miller says the closure also addresses concerns raised in a consent decree to better provide more quality services to juveniles in state custody, though IDJJ will still be observed by court appointed monitors.
As many Illinois colleges continue to struggle with their finances during the state's budget impasse, college students are still being encouraged to fill out their financial aid forms. The stalemated in Springfield has delayed funding for the Illinois Monetary Award Program, referred to as MAP Grants, but that shouldn't stop students from applying . Lynne Baker of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission says the money is likely to come through if lawmakers can reach agreement.
"The governor and legislators from both parties have expressed interest in funding the program. So, we are very hopeful that there will be an appropriation, both for this past year and for the upcoming 2016-2017 school year."
-Lynne Baker, Illinois Student Assistance Commission
The state's MAP Grants are awarded on a first come, first serve basis. To see if they qualify, students have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. but there is a time crunch, because once the limited funding cap is reached, students who file late run the risk of being put on a waiting list.
"The suspense date has been earlier and earlier every year. Because we have so many more students who are eligible, who are filing their FAFSAs and they're filing them quickly, so the money runs out faster."
-Lynne Baker, Illinois Student Assistance Commission
With February being Financial Aid Awareness Month, Baker is urging students and families to get their aid applications filed as soon as possible. Last year's cut-off date was February 22nd, and it's expected to be around the same time this year. The Illinois Student Assistance Commission is hosting at least a dozen financial aid workshops across the state through the end of the month.
With the state in financial dire straits, legislators are leaving no stone unturned in an effort to cut costs and put Illinois back on track. A bipartisan group of lawmakers are currently pushing for a measure to create a foundation to generate private donations for the state's fairgrounds. Representative Tim Butler says the state's red ink continues to grow, and having the private sector invest in the fairgrounds is a move that makes sense.
"If we're upwards of $6 Billion in debt, as we could be this year, I think it's only responsible for us to look as to how we can partner with private groups to come in and raise money."
-Tim Butler, Illinois Representative
Butler says that there are significant deferred maintenance costs associated with these fairgrounds that taxpayers simply can't afford to cover. Representative Jerry Costello said that he is in support of the bill, but believes that private partnerships should maintain the "integrity of prevailing wage." Illinois law requires work done on state owned property to follow local prevailing wage rates, regardless if it's funded wholly or in part by public dollars.
Three local women have been chosen by the Macomb Feminist Network to receive this year's Writing Women Into History Award. Alice Henry, Alta Sargent, and Peggy Scharfenberg have all lived in McDonough County, been exceptional role models for others, and have made extraordinary contributions within the local community. The first recipient, Alice Henry, is a McDonough County Board member and Finance Committee Chair. She's been nominated for her public leadership and service to the local community. Alta Sargent owned and operated the Sargent Funeral Home, was an instrumental member of the Macomb Park District, and a founding member of the Altrusa Club in 1961. She's been nominated for her innovation and her inspiring work ethic within the community. The final recipient, Peggy Sharfenberg, was a teacher for many years, and continued to improve the area after her retirement. She began the Festival of Trees in 1993, and four years later established and organized Baby TALK (Teaching Activities for Learning and Knowledge) at the McDonough District Hospital. Scharfenberg has been nominated for her volunteer efforts and her ceaseless community involvement. A brunch reception will be held to honor the accomplishments of all three of these influential community members on Saturday, March 5th in the Western Illinois University Multicultural Center on West Murray Street. The celebration runs from 10 to 11:30am and is open and free to the public. Everyone is encouraged to come out and stand testament to the mark left on this area's history by these remarkable women.
The McDonough County V.I.B.E. committee held their check presentation ceremony for their designated recipients for the 2015 fundraising efforts yesterday at The Old Dairy. The B-PC Backpack Program- Serving all of McDonough County, and McDonough County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) each received a check for $44,762.50!!! The McDonough County VIBE committee would like to thank the community for their overwhelming support each year! Applications for this year's VIBE efforts will be available for McDonough County 501-3C non-profit organizations to fill out beginning today February 12th and be open until February 26th. For more information and to request an application please email firstname.lastname@example.org
President Obama visited the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield yesterday to speak with legislators and the governor. The President gave an hour long address and spoke his thoughts on what he thinks it will take to make politics in the state, and the country less divisive. To much applause, President Obama echoed the thoughts of many in the Illinois Congress who believe that there needs to be significant redistricting reform.
"In America, politicians should not pick their voters, voters should pick their politicians. And this needs to be done across the nation, not just in a select few states. It should be done everywhere."
-Barack Obama, President of the United States
Representative from Macomb Norine Hammond applauded the presidents talk on the issue of redistricting, saying it was historic to have a sitting president address the Illinois General Assembly, but adding that it will be even more historic if legislators take up the call to change the current process of redrawing political maps to garner votes.Governor Rauner has been pushing for redistricting reform for awhile, but the issue hasn't seen much movement so far. President Obama also told the General Assembly that a lack of compromise gets in the way of accomplishments, as can be seen by our current state of affairs. Politicians are too often rewarded by their own parties for not compromising, and the President says that's getting in the way of actual progress.
"All that does is prevent what most Americans would consider actual accomplishments like fixing roads, educating kids, passing budgets, cleaning our environment, making our streets safe..."
-Barack Obama, President of the United States
While the President didn't specifically address Illinois' budget impasse, the not-so-subtle nod to it in his speech was greeted with significant applause. Illinois is now more than seven months without a budget for higher education, community colleges, tuition assistance grants, and some social services. It also has a growing backlog of bills, unfunded pension liabilities, and deficit-spending projected to hit $5 Billion or more.
The third annual Dance Marathon at WIU will kick off this Saturday at noon in the University Union Grand Ballroom. This yearly event raises money for the St. Louis Children's Hospital and SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center, but students and faculty have been hard at work all week to raise money and awareness. There is a bowling fundraiser tonight at Digger's College City Bowl from 10-midnight in conjunction with the Dance Marathon. You can find more information and register at tinyurl.com/wiudm16
Contact Ashley Katz (AE-Katz@wiu.edu) or Nicole Katz (NB-Katz@wiu.edu) for more information.
As far as income rates go, Illinois is not doing so well. As compared to the rest of the country, the rebound of Illinoisans' income since the recession is second-to-last in the country according to Pew Charitable Trusts' latest Fiscal 50 data. Pew Research Director Barb Rosewicz gathered data from all 50 states from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and found that since the start of the recession in 2007, personal income in Illinois hasn't matched up to that of most other states.
"Compared with almost eight years ago, Illinois has had the second slowest growth. So it is in 49th place among states."
-Barb Rosewicz, Pew Charitable Trust
However, on the opposite side of the issue, taxpayers in Illinois are shelling out more money than most.
"It has the 4th highest growth in tax revenue since the recession, after we adjust for inflation."
-Barb Rosewicz, Pew Charitable Trust
Illinois' financial growth over the past eight years was only half a percentage point, beating out only Nevada's one-tenth of a point. Meanwhile, neighboring states have either doubled or tripled the growth that Illinois has seen.
As Illinois considers long-term changes to the state's criminal justice system, a civil rights watchdog says the majority of voters want reform now. The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois has released the results of a statewide poll taken before the holidays. It shows the overwhelming majority of voters believe the system is "broken." Ben Ruddell with the ACLU says that sentiment extends across party lines, with 76% of Illinois Democrats and 70% of Republicans agreeing that changes need to be made.
"People recognize that we're not spending our public safety dollars in a smart way. People understand that the current system is unsustainable, that our prisons are bursting at the seams."
-Ben Ruddell, ACLU
The poll findings come as Governor Bruce Rauner's State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform prepares to release a second round of reform suggestions next week.The Commission has already recommended that probation be used instead of prison time for nonviolent drug offenders. According to the ACLU poll, there's substantial bipartisan agreement on such changes as reclassifying some drug-possession offenses to lower-level charges. To Ruddell, this shows that voters are ahead of lawmakers on many of these issues.
"We've incarcerated people for a longer and longer period of time, and that hasn't lowered their recidivism rates; that hasn't stopped crime from happening. But it's come at great cost to the State of Illinois."
-Ben Ruddell, ACLU
The commission meets again next Thursday, February 18th, and is expected to release more details on plans to reduce the state's prison population by 25% over the next decade.
Wayne A. Rosenthal, the Director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources announced yesterday that an agreement has been reached to reopen the Illinois State Museum to the public. Rosenthal says that the IDNR has been working closely with the Governor's office to develop a new and lasting model for museum operation that will save about $1 Million a year. In order to cut costs and maintain operation, two branches will be closing, personnel and accounting functions in the IDNR will be consolidated, and the museum will also be charging an admission fee. The timeframe for reopening is currently uncertain, as the General Assembly has to act upon the amendatory veto that Governor Rauner signed in order to add the admission fee clause. Rosenthal says that if everything goes smoothly, the museum could be up and running within a matter of weeks.
The Illinois Student Assistance Commission is putting on events for "Financial Aid Awareness Month" all throughout February. While the current budget delay has caused more than a few problems in higher education, financial aid is still available to aid with college expenses if you apply for it. Students are reminded and encouraged to fill out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, as soon as possible. The form became available for the 2016-2017 school year on January 1st, and funding is limited, so the earlier you're able to submit it, the better. Additionally, although this year's MAP funding has been withheld due to the budget impasse, it is very possible the MAP Grants will be available in the coming school year. Even if a budget isn't passed by that time, the MAP program has consistently seen bi-partisan support, and though nothing has been finalized at this time, both the governor and many legislators have expressed interests in funding the financial aid program. The FAFSA, which is free to submit, goes toward more than just the MAP Grants; Pell Grants, federal funding, and even university-specific grants and scholarships can require your FAFSA to determine eligibility. For more information, and for help filling out your FAFSA, you can go to one of ISAC's free FAFSA Completion Workshops across the state. There will be one in Rushville at the Rushville-Industry High School on February 17th from 6:30-7:30pm, and also one at the Brown County High School in Mt. Sterling on March 16th from 6-7pm.
MidAmerica National Bank recently presented $10,000 to the McDonough District Hospital's Dolores Kator Switzer Women's Center. After their donation, MidAmerica is recognized as a "Partner" in the MDH Business Honor Roll giving club. The funding goes to further develop on the future Women's Center, which will provide a new nursery, modernized suites, state-of-the-art delivery facilities and an imaging center for the women in the community.
Some people are beginning to think that an economic recession is on the way for Illinois. The latest monthly report from the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability doesn't put the state on the verge of something quite so serious, but it does say that the state's economic growth has slowed dramatically. Dan Long, executive director of COGFA, says Illinois' growth is the slowest it's been in more than 70 years.
"We've had the slowest recovery from a recession...the slowest recovery since at least World War II. The economy is growing at a rather slow pace, and if we start to have a dropoff in economic activity we could slide in a recession."
-Dan Long, COGFA
In the last quarter of 2015, the state only grew seven-tenths of one percent. Long says that if that drops off anymore, a recession could be on the way, but defining when that would happen is difficult. Long credits a lack of spending as one reason for this predicament, saying that the money people are saving on lower gas prices is going towards short and long-term savings, rather than back into the economy.
Amtrak and the Illinois Department of Transportation have come to an agreement to keep existing service levels in place at a reduced cost to taxpayers, and without raising fares. The agreement, announced before the weekend, will maintain the Amtrak schedule throughout the rest of the fiscal year, ending on June 30th, while lowering the state's payment from $42 Million to $38.3 Million. Jay Commer, a Senior VP with Amtrak, said that the partnership with Illinois is one of the longest on record, and the second largest the company currently has, and both parties are happy with the continued partnership.
According to the Illinois State Police -
Justin Scott Allen, of Burlington Iowa, was killed in a car accident late last night. Allen was driving a Ford F-150 truck, and was traveling eastbound on 180th avenue in Warren County. His vehicle struck a train bridge brace on the road, hit a cement wall, and rolled across the roadway into the south ditch. The vehicle continued to roll and landed upright in a field. The truck was destroyed by a fire, and Allen was pronounced dead on the scene. Responding agencies include the Warren County Sheriff's Department, the Cameron Fire Department, and the Warren County Coroner.
A V.I.B.E. of McDonough County fundraiser will take place this Saturday (February 7th) at Diamond Dave's in Macomb. Diamond Dave's will host a "Comedy Night" on Saturday, starting at 8:30pm featuring local comedian Von Holten, a 10-year veteran of the Traveling Comedy Tour. Buy your tickets in advance at Diamond Dave's at 518 W.Jackson in Macomb or at the door this Saturday night. 100% of the ticket sales will benefit V.I.B.E.
Recently, the Human Rights Campaign released their second annual national report which assesses the status of state legislation affecting LGBT equality across America. The report, coming from the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, looks at state-to-state disparities in LGBT non-discrimination protections and ranks states by their progressive efforts on the issue. Unfortunately, the lowest ranking, High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality, is currently the largest group, with 28 states falling into it, many of which are in the south. There are three tiers above this, where a number of states are making more significant strides toward equality. Ten states are in the Building Equality grouping, six in the Solidifying Equality grouping, and six states, along with the District of Columbia, in the highest category: Working Toward Innovative Equality. Illinois is a part of this group, having a robust set of LGBT non-discrimination policies dealing with employment, housing, credit, insurance, and other fields. Though Illinois is among the most developed state's on this issue, there's always room for improvement, and the Human Rights Campaign, alongside the Equality Federation, continue to educate people and push for legislation both at the state level, and in the federal government.
Though the rollout of of Illinois' medical cannabis pilot program has been fairly steady, it has been affected by a number of setbacks, including a lack of licensed growers and slow patient registration. Arcview Market Research's new report on the program says that the decreased pace of implementation is jeopardizing the state's dispensary businesses. Just last week, the Illinois Department of Public Health denied adding 8 additional conditions to the program. The Governor backed up this decision, saying that the program is still being assessed by the state, and they need more information before deciding to expand.
"I don't want to rush this. We're making a lot of changes; we've got to walk before we run."
-Bruce Rauner, Governor of Illinois
Chris Stone, the CEO of HCI Alternatives in Springfield and Collinsville, says that the main issue is a lack of understanding, and that the state could help by educating people, especially doctors.
"Listen, doctors go through many years of education, and it's not in any textbook. It doesn't tell you anything about marijuana, or cannabis, or any of the various strains and how they affect pain management."
-Chris Stone, HCI Alternatives
Stone says that as long as these mental barriers remain in place regarding the use of medical cannabis, that progress will be slim to none.
"I think getting the education out, and having the state help us with the education, is instrumental in making this program a success."
-Chris Stone, HCI Alternatives
Illinois' continuing budget impasse means hundreds of senior home-care workers could see their paychecks cut in half as soon as Friday. The state owes about a million dollars in payments to Family Home Service in Chicago. Director Marsha Holmes says that since the impasse began in July, she's been partly relying on loans to pay employees, who make about $10 an hour. But that line of credit has run out, and now her options are limited. Holmes is asking Governor Bruce Rauner to end the budget battle with state lawmakers.
"We're looking twofold - we have employees that may be in threat of losing their jobs or having a job at all. Then, we have a threat of seniors not having essential services for their everyday existence."
-Marsha Holmes, Family Home Service
The Chicagoland area isn't the only area affected. Nearby, at least one home-care service in Peoria was forced to shut down last fall after not receiving state payments. Some state lawmakers are also urging the Governor to lighten his stance on the budget impasse. Representative Will Guzzardi says in addition to Family Home Service, the budget problems are affecting hundreds of agencies and companies who are reliant on state funding. As a possible solution, he's urging his colleagues to explore new revenue options, including a tax hike of Illinois' highest earners.
"The very wealthiest people in our state, the 'Bruce Rauner class,' and the biggest corporations in our state are paying next to nothing in taxes, and working families are getting squeezed awfully hard already."
-Will Guzzardi, State Representative
Governor Rauner, however, is sticking by his decision to not consider any new revenue until state lawmakers agree to a property tax freeze and limits on union bargaining. This comes just days after State Comptroller Leslie Munger said Illinois will spend about $6 Billion more than it takes in this coming fiscal year.
The Illinois Department of Public Health is drawing attention to some very important issues this month, as it's American Heart Month. The month is dedicated to raising awareness about heart disease and the many contributing factors like High blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and smoking among others. The IDPH says that a number of things can be done to lower your risk of heart disease like eating a healthy diet with fruits and vegetables. Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly will also lower your risk, along with limiting your alcohol use and not smoking. Make sure to talk to your doctor if you think that you may be at risk for heart disease, and wear red this Friday in honor of National Wear Red Day, and in support of American Heart Month.
The Outlet in Macomb will be hosting a "Big Game Party" on "Super Sunday" for area teens. You don't even have to like footbal! The event will take place at the First Baptist Church in Macomb at 1515 Candy Lane, Sunday February 7th from 5-9pm. Wear your favorite team's gear, even if they're not playing.
There will be FREE food, snacks and softdrinks, "Commercial Bingo" (win based on when the commercials show) and prizes for bingo winners, best fan gear deck-out, giveaways for every touchdown & touchdown dances, plus a drawing for a FREE Kindle Fire.
In an effort to really get people to grasp the importance of Illinois' missing budget, Comptroller Leslie Munger has come up with a fairly vivid metaphor for our state's financial standing: Imagine that you have $100 in your checkbook, but $7,000 in unpaid bills. Not so good, right? Well, if you multiply that predicament by one million, you'll get Illinois' current fiscal status. If taxpayers were left on the hook for this, and made to pick up the slack through income tax extensions alone, the current income tax rate would have to double, something many people would not tolerate.
"I don't know any legislator who would vote for that, and I don't many businesses that would stay in Illinois for that. And so, as a result, we must look at some reforms, some that will help our businesses be more competitive so they can absorb some increase in taxes."
-Leslie Munger, Illinois Comptroller
Munger is pushing legislators to sit down now and figure out a budget and a plan. A representative for House Speaker Michael Madigan says that lawmakers already passed a budget...in May of last year.
"The results of the growth in unpaid bills is a function of the bumbled decision to veto the budget that was passed in the General Assembly."
Steve Brown, spokesman for Michael Madigan
Governor Bruce Rauner vetoes most of that budget on the ground that it was nearly $4 Billion out of balance. The state is now more than seven months into the fiscal year with no budget in place.
Ameren Illinois has pledged $10,000 to be donated to the Dolores Kator Switzer Women's Center at McDonough District Hospital. The MDH Women's Center has been undergoing upgrades and raising funds for awhile, and will benefit thousands of women with updated equipment and state-of-the-art technology. Ameren Illinois' mission is to "Power the Quality of Life," and their donation is much appreciated by MDH and community members.
Back in 2011, the grocery store chain HyVee announced a commitment to raise the percentage of it's responsibly sourced seafood offered in store from 62% to 100% by the end of 2015. Yesterday, representatives of HyVee shared data which shows that that goal was met back in December. Responsibly sourced seafood goes beyond providing goods that are safe for consumption. When looking for food of this quality, the manner is which it is harvested and raised is also an important factor, and HyVee was striving to walk the line between providing products with long-term viability and minimizing environmental damage. To meet these goals, HyVee partnered with an environmental nonprofit called FishWise, a group dedicated to the recovery and maintenance of ocean ecosystems. In the coming year, the store chain plans to expand their Responsible Choice Seafood Program to include shelf-stable tuna, sushi, and other seafood products. When you're shopping, make sure to look for the HyVee Responsible Choice label.
The results are in from yesterday's Iowa Caucus. On the Republican side, Ted Cruz came in on top with over 27% of the total vote. Donald Trump came in second three percentage points behind, and Marco Rubio came in at a close third only a single percentage point behind Trump. On the Democratic side, with 99% of precincts reporting, Hillary Clinton has been named the apparent winner in a race marked by the Democratic Party Chair as the closest Democratic Caucus in history. With a single precinct unaccounted for, many outlets are refusing to name an official winner, as the former Secretary of State and Senator Bernie Sanders are only separated by four tenths of a percentage point, both coming in with 49% of the votes. Though a healthy number of Republican candidates remain, Governor Mike Huckabee has officially withdrawn himself from the race after yesterday's results, and 4th place finisher Ben Carson has announced that he will not be headed to the New Hampshire primary, leading many to believe that he too is suspending his campaign. For the Democrats, the choice of candidates is officially down to two as Martin O'Malley withdrew his name from the race after receiving less than 1% of total votes in the Caucus. Though the results from yesterday certainly don't predict who the nominees will be, it is widely regarded as the first major step in the election, and can be an important momentum builder for those campaigning. The candidates will now head up to the New Hampshire Primary, which will take place one week from today. Though Senator Ted Cruz was the definitive GOP winner in Iowa, he'll have to make up a few points in New Hampshire where Trump has held the lead for most of the polls so far. Conversely, the Democratic race is again predicted to be close, but Senator Bernie Sanders has consistently been leading all polls in that region over Secretary Clinton.
Members of the local communities will once again have a chance to strip down, and be "Freezin' for a Reason" during the third annual Nearly Naked Mile. This untimed, one mile run/walk goes to support the McDonough County YMCA for children's scholarships, and will be held on Saturday, February 24th on the Western Illinois University Macomb Campus. If you register by February 10th, you can do so for only $10 and you'll receive a T-shirt as well. For anybody registering after that date, the fee will be $20. Participants will be able to drop their clothes at the start of the race, and can pick them up at the finish line. The theme is "Freezin' for a Reason," and participants are encouraged to shed as many clothes as they're comfortable with, but to be respectful and, "cover anything you would not want your grandma to see." For more information on the Nearly Naked Mile, contact WIU's Campus Recreation at 309-298-1228
President Barack Obama is heading down to Springfield next week to speak to the General Assembly. A former state Senator, President Obama says that he's looking forward to adressing the state's Congress and hopes that some common ground can be found to move policies forward. Many in the General Assembly have expressed excitement for the President's visit, like Senate President John Cullerton. Cullerton said that the President's most recent State of the Union struck a chord with him, and believes that a more civil political process is just what's needed in Illinois. Governor Rauner is also looking forward to President Obama's visit, saying that despite the political differences in their parties, the two share passions for various legislative purposes like improving education, term limits, and redistricting reform. President Obama will be down in Springfield on February 10th.
A Chicago landmark will soon be headed off to a new location, to make way for an upgrade. The iconic 15-story Ferris Wheel that has long been a symbol of Chicago's Navy Pier will be moving down to Branson, Missouri to be the newest attraction at The Track Family Fun Parks later this year. The Ferris Wheel is anticipated to begin operation in the summer of this year, the same time that a new Ferris Wheel is expected to open in Navy Pier. Brian Murphy, the COO of Navy Pier and Craig Wescott, CEO of the Track Family Fun Parks in Branson, have both expressed their excitement that the Ferris Wheel will continue to attract people and remain a cherished part of Chicago's history.
A number of community activists in Chicago are pushing for the passage of a bill that could have a heavy impact on the entire state. The Cook County Responsible Business Act is legislation to would force large employers like Wal-Mart and McDonald's to pay employees a livable wage, or pay a fine. Thomas Gaulke, a Chicago pastor, said that he's throwing his support behind this bill because his church regularly provides assistance for low-wage workers.
"Their jobs don't pay enough for them to actually be able to buy food on their own, to get clothing on their own. In fact, a lot of them even qualify for the LINK card, because they don't even make enough money."
-Thomas Gaulke, Pastor in Chicago, IL
The bill is supported by a number of activist groups, like the Illinois Indiana Regional Organizing Network, who argue that taxpayers shouldn't be subsidizing the country's largest low-wage employers. Instead, the Responsible Business Act would require these companies to pay a living wage of around $14 an hour, or be fined to help pay for essential services like healthcare and affordable housing. Gaulke says with at least six Cook County Commissioners supporting the bill, the Chicagoland area could soon take the lead on the issue.
"It will set a new standard for responsible business in the county, and perhaps set a precedent for responsible business throughout the state and even throughout the nation."
-Thomas Gaulke, Pastor in Chicago, IL
Still, opponents of a wage raise, groups like the Illinois Retail Merchants, argue that the move could lead to a number of large businesses cutting jobs.