Macomb Local News Archives for 2017-12

Hy-Vee's Round Up for the Homefront effort raises more than $290,000

Hy-Vee customers joined the company’s annual Hy-Vee Round Up for the Homefront initiative during the month of November and raised $290,068.85 to support our country’s active-duty military members and veterans.
 
Last month, customers joined Hy-Vee in supporting veterans and military members at the company’s 246 grocery stores across eight Midwestern states. Starting Nov. 1 and running through Nov. 30, the Round Up program provided customers the opportunity to round up their total purchase to the next dollar — or a desired dollar amount — at the checkout. Hy-Vee matched customer donations up to $100,000, bringing the total donation to $290,068.85.
 
“Hy-Vee customers continue to be grateful for the service our veterans and active military members provide this country, and they showed it through their generosity at the checkout,” said Brad Waller, assistant vice president of community relations at Hy-Vee. “By partnering with our customers, we’ve raised more than $1.4 million over the past five years through the Round Up for the Homefront program.”
 
All proceeds from Hy-Vee’s Round Up program benefit four organizations that support veterans and their families: Hope for the Warriors, Operation First Response, the American Red Cross and the Puppy Jake Foundation.
 
Hope for the Warriors is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for post-9/11 service members, their families and the families of the fallen who have sustained physical and psychological wounds in the line of duty. Operation First Response helps meet the immediate personal and financial needs of wounded military members and their families. The American Red Cross helps military members, their families and veterans respond to the challenges of military service, and the Puppy Jake Foundation raises, trains and provides service dogs to veterans.
 
In addition to the Round Up effort, the Hy-Vee Homefront initiative comprises several company efforts, including complimentary Veterans Day breakfasts at all Hy-Vee stores, Honor Flights and veteran and military member employee recruitment. 
 
Hy-Vee commemorated Veterans Day on Nov. 11 by offering a free breakfast to veterans and active-duty military members. Hy-Vee served approximately 93,500 veterans and service members at its 246 stores.
 
Every year, Hy-Vee also increases its efforts to recruit and provide employment to veterans and active-duty military members. Currently, Hy-Vee has nearly 2,300 employees who are veterans; more than 225 of those employees were hired over the past year.
 
“Veterans and military service members continue to help Hy-Vee align our work with our core values of loyalty, honor and commitment. Our efforts to actively recruit employees with military experience benefit our veterans, our customers and our company,” said Sheila Laing, executive vice president, chief administrative officer.
 
For more information about the Hy-Vee Homefront initiative, the organizations that benefit, and how you can get involved, visit www.hy-vee.com/homefront.
 

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Bald Eagles flocking to Illinois for winter

Bald eagles are flocking to Illinois this winter season, making the state a favorite for bird watchers while also providing an economic boost to local small border towns. 
 
According to Ed Cross, director of communications at the Department of Natural Resources, Illinois sees a large influx of bald during the season because the state is prime habitat for the birds. 
 
“We have thousands of bald eagles that are in the state: they migrate from northern states and Canada,” he said. “Illinois’ location, habitat and topography is attractive to bald eagles.”
 
The bald eagle, the very symbol of this nation, was once declared an endangered species in the U.S. According to Cross, there could be as many as 3,000 bald eagles across the state this winter -- a threefold population increase from recent decades.
 
Consequently, the state is now second only to Alaska in the U.S. for winter bald eagle population. 
 
The combination of frigid temperatures and a larger population of eagles throughout North America makes Illinois a favorite gathering place for eagle watchers
 
“We have hundreds of thousands of wildlife watchers that enjoy watching these animals in their natural habitat,” Cross said. “Seeing them up close is a pretty majestic thing.”
 
The influx of tourists and local bird watchers also brings an added economic benefit.
 
“In some of these small border towns, like Shelbyville, these events actually become fairly important to the economy with the large influx people,” Cross said. “They shop, they buy food, and they spend money on lodging.”
 
According to Cross, although Illinois’ budget woes have impacted conservation effects, they have not diminished the department's mission.
 
“The department continues to work well with the resources we have,” he said. “We have seen a reduction of staff compared to prior administrations. When it comes to protecting and maintaining things, we are certainly working at a level that is still sustainable and we are still getting the job done.”
 
Eagle-watching season in Illinois generally starts in December and lasts until the birds migrate back north in March.
 
The Illinois Audubon Society near Starved Rock is hosting an eagle watch weekend Jan. 27-28.
 

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New law for 2018 affirms right to Yelp in Illinois

One of Illinois' new laws for the new year reaffirms that people can tell the truth on the internet, even if that means talking about a bad sandwich or an unclean hotel room. 
 
Think of it as the right to Yelp. 
 
Rockford Democrat Steve Stadelman said a lot of people look to websites like TripAdvisor or Yelp for advice on where to eat, where to stay, what to do on vacation, or just a night on the town. The honesty of those peer review sites are what makes them valuable. 
 
But Stadelman said some hotels and restaurants try to punish or even fine people who leave bad reviews. His new law for 2018 makes that kind of retaliation illegal. 
 
"It's important for e-commerce and it's important for business that these reviews continue," Stadelman said. "People shouldn't be threatened, or told that they can't write certain reviews for certain businesses. I think it's a central tenet of our society."
 
The law acctually prohibits companies from inserting "gag" clauses into the fine print of contracts or payment agreements. 
 
Stadelman said the law still allows businesses to sue for defamation if a review is untrue. 
 
Besides, Stadelman added, good business owners should want honest reviews, even if they are bad. 
 
"I think this is a pro-small business law," Stadelman said. "It protects the good businesses against unfair competition, those who want to suppress the truth about themselves. It protects good businesses against those that are not doing things right."
 
Stadelman points to the recent case in Indiana where an inn charged a couple $350 for a review that said their room was dirty. The Indiana Attorney General is now handling that case. 

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Abortion opponents will appeal dismissal of challenge to taxpayer funded abortions

Taxpayer funded abortions will be the law of the land in Illinois beginning Monday, but there are several options opponents of taxpayer funded abortions are exploring after a circuit court judge dismissed a taxpayer lawsuit to block state funding of elective abortions.
 
Pro-life groups wanted to block the Jan. 1 implementation of taxpayer funded abortions for those on Medicaid or state employee health insurance. But Sangamon County Associate Judge Jennifer Ascher sided with the Illinois Attorney General’s office to dismiss the case Thursday in Springfield.
 
Ascher ruled the budget issue "is a political question for which I lack jurisdiction," and said if she granted an emergency injunction it "would result in a violation of the separation of powers. ... Legislative disputes must be resolved in the legislative arena. It is inherently a political question and I cannot mandate the process on the estimate of revenues or the appropriation of those revenues."
 
She also dismissed the the argument that plaintiffs, represented by pro-life groups and some Republican state lawmakers, made that the legislative process was abused by Democrats holding the bill from the governor for four months.
 
Representing the plaintiffs, state Rep. Peter Breen said he’s disappointed and he will appeal.
“I’m very much hopeful that we will get some relief from the appellate court,” Breen, R-Lombard, said following the hearing. “And if we don’t get relief from the appellate court, we’ll go to the [state] Supreme Court.”
 
But there’s also the legislature.
 
“The No Taxpayer Funding For Abortions Act has been filed,” Breen said. “That is something I think is going to be re-filed every year until House Bill 40 is repealed.”
 
The Thomas More Society and other opponents of taxpayer-funded abortions filed two claims in their lawsuit. First, the plaintiffs said the state does not having the funds to pay for what they estimate is $15 million to $30 million of additional costs annually. They said the legislature never passed an official revenue estimate.
 
“The constitution does not say what form this revenue estimate must take,” Harpreet K. Khera, deputy chief of special litigation at the Illinois Attorney General’s office, countered in court Thursday. “The constitution does not say that this estimate needs to be formally adopted by resolution or adopted in any other way.”
 
Breen said the Senate passed a joint revenue estimate resolution for Fiscal Year 2018 but the House never adopted it.
 
“It’s in the title, joint,” Breen said. “That was never enacted by the House. It’s a resolution that’s still pending. It’s an incomplete action.”
 
The state constitution mandates that, “Proposed expenditures shall not exceed funds estimated to be available for the fiscal year as shown in the budget.”
 
Breen also cited the COGFA Act “by which the General Assembly enacted, referencing the specific provision of the constitution, saying, ‘Here’s how you know, here’s how you’re going to adopt the revenue estimate’.”
 
Illinois has gone without a revenue estimate approved by both chambers the past couple of budget cycles.
 
The second count alleges the legislative process was abused when the bill was held using a procedural maneuver called a motion to reconsider.
 
The AG’s office argued the legislation cleared both chambers before the May 31 deadline for simple majorities.
 
Breen said a procedural hold withheld the bill from the governor. The hold was placed on the bill by Senate Pro Tempore Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, in May. Harmon lifted the hold in September, sending it to the governor, who signed it into law. The constitution requires legislation that passes both chambers to be sent to the governor within 30 days.
 
Regardless, Breen said Thursday’s circuit court ruling means taxpayer-funded elected abortions can begin after the first of the year, but may not be paid until April, if at all.
 
“[Healthcare and Family Services] will start to receive reimbursement requests,” Breen said. “It takes them a month to turn those around it will then take the comptroller a couple of months to actually issue checks. So you’re looking at April before money flows for abortions, but you’re going to have abortion procedures starting Jan. 1 where folks will be expecting to get reimbursements and they may not actually be getting state reimbursement.”
 
Breen also said the added cost will be entirely paid for by the state’s taxpayers. No federal funds are available for elective abortions.
 
“It’s full state dollars,” Breen said. “There is no federal reimbursement for elective abortions coverage, which we’ve identified as everything but the rape, incest, life of the mother abortions, everything besides that gets covered, so any abortion, anytime for any reason.”
 
Breen expects to file an appeal by Jan 2.

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IRS delivers warning to Illinoisans regarding property tax deductions

Illinoisans scrambling to prepay their property tax bills this week may be doing it for nothing, according to the IRS.
 
In an opinion released Wednesday, the Internal Revenue Service is warning property taxpayers that they may not be able to get the full deduction of their local tax on their federal returns by prepaying before the new year.
 
The biggest caveat to whether the new $10,000 cap will be applied to an early property tax payment is whether the local assessor has given their valuation of the property in question. If the assessment doesn’t happen until 2018, the IRS says they’re going to cap the deduction at $10,000.
 
In a release, the IRS says “a prepayment of anticipated real property taxes that have not been assessed prior to 2018 are not deductible in 2017.”
 
Some township assessors will not send out assessments for months, which would make the prepaid property tax bills over $10,000 only partially deductible.
 
This could cost Illinoisans, as they have some of the highest property taxes in the nation. It’s not uncommon for suburban Chicago homeowners’ property tax to be the largest portion of their monthly mortgage payment.
 
In Will and DuPage counties, people have crowded into their respective treasurer’s offices in an effort to skirt the new law. Counties differ on how much they allow in prepayment. Cook County allows only 55 percent of next year's bill to be paid early. Will County allows for up to two years of prepayment. DuPage allows 105 percent of the previous year’s assessment.
 
For more information, go to irs.gov or contact a tax professional.  

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Illinois schools will get new focus on spending in 2018

School leaders across Illinois are going to get very serious about their spending in 2018 due to a a pair of new requirements.
 
First, the state's new evidence based school funding formula will have schools figure out their adequacy target and their extra needs, and then ask the state to fill in the gap. 
 
Secondly, the new Every Student Succeeds Act for the first time requires individual schools, not just school districts a whole, let parents know how much they are spending on kids, administrators, and teacher salaries. 
 
LeRoy Superintendent Gary Tipsord said there are unanswered questions about both, and about how they work hand in hand. 
 
"Starting in 2018 you're going to see a conversation about what the evidence-based funding model is, and what it informs us about our schools," Tipsord explained. "And then you're going to see a conversation about ESSA. What does that look like? How are we going to measure? How are we going to report?"
 
Tipsord said ESSA and the new evidence-based model go hand-in-hand, and are worth - potentially - a lot of money to local schools. 
 
"If we're going to get resources, if the state of Illinois is going to invest in public education, are we going to spend that on research-based best practices that will actually move the needle in the interest of student achievement?" Tipsord said. "Because that's where the dollars should be spent. They should be spent in the interest of kids."
 
There are 27 different things that schools have to track just to get their adequacy target under the evidence-based funding formula. Schools will measure everything from what they spend on after school activities, to computers, to school nurses and administrators. 
 
ESSA will require reports for more than a dozen other expenses, and for the first time in 2018, schools will have to report how much each school building is spending. That information will end up on the Illinois school report card. 
 
The Illinois State Board of Education said earlier this month ESSA and the Illinois' new funding formula are two different things. But they both work toward the same goals of adequacy and equity in Illinois schools. 

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Opioids killed more people in Illinois than car crashes in 2016

Opioid overdoses in Illinois killed nearly twice as many people as car crashes last year, but public health officials and addiction specialists say most people either don't know or don't care. 
 
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Nirav Shah said that families of addicts and law enforcement are starting to wake up to the crisis. But they say there are still too many people in Illinois who think drug addictions is only the users' problem.
 
"Fully 80 percent of individuals who find themselves dealing with a heroin addiction got their start on a legitimate prescription from a doctor," Shah said. "So we have to think about the stigma attached to this crisis. And we have to wonder if that's part of the reason why, up until very recently, people wanted to sweep it under the rug."
 
The Illinois Department of Transportation's data show that 1,078 people died in car wrecks in Illinois in 2016. Shah said IDPH's numbers show that 1,946 died from opioid overdoses.
 
Natalie Thukkaram with the Soft Landings treatment center in Naperville said that people perceive the two causes of death differently. 
 
"There is a stigma that surrounds addiction," Thukkaram said. "Many people don't understand addiction. They see it as a moral choice, as a poor choice that someone is making. So there is a stigma around substance abuse and substance dependence in general."
 
In other words, people feel bad for accident victims. They don't feel bad for drug users. 
 
Shah said education is the key, and not just educating people about the danger of opioids, but also teaching people to see addiction as a disease that's no different than diabetes or cancer. 
 
"Addiction is not about weakness or moral failure, or any of those things," Shah said. "Addiction is really about someone grappling with a brain disease."
 
The health department said it should have the opioid death numbers for 2017 sometime after the New Year. 

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McDonough County United Way to host Reading Day, promoting child literacy

The following is a press release from McDonough County United Way, emphasizing its Weekend Summer Lunch and Learning Program. For more information on both of these programs, visit www.mcdonoughcountyunitedway.com or the McDonough County United Way Facebook page.
 
McDonough County United Way is working to aid child literacy within the county, especially for low-income students who may not have access to books in their homes. United Way will provide books to McDonough County children enrolled in United Way’s Weekend Summer Lunch and Learning Program throughout Summer 2018.  New and gently-loved books will be collected at various locations throughout the county from January 16, 2018, through February 16, 2018. Financial donations will also be accepted to purchase new books. All books will be distributed this summer.
 
To help kick off the effort, McDonough County United Way will host its first ever “Reading Day for United Way” event on Saturday, February 24, from 1-3pm at both the Macomb Public Library and Prairieview Community Center in Macomb.  This free, family-friendly afternoon is focused entirely on reading.  Both locations will feature celebrity readers, snacks, and fun reading activities.  Can’t make it to the library or community center?  Read from home as a family, snap a picture, and post it with the hashtag #readingdayforunitedway to join Reading Day “virtually”.  Reading Day is sponsored by Pella Macomb. Many thanks to Pella Macomb and The Pella Rolscreen Foundation which have long been focused on education and community betterment. 
 

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Lawmakers want answers about Quincy vets home, Legionnaires disease

Illinois lawmakers will start 2018 by asking questions about the Legionnaires disease outbreak from three years ago.
 
Legislators are set to meet in the second week of January to talk about the Quincy veterans home, specifically about a Legionnaires outbreak that killed 12 people and sickened 50 others back in in 2015, and another outbreak in October of this year that killed one and sickened two.
 
State Rep. LaShawn Ford, who is on the House veterans committee, says he wants answers from the state’s VA and the Department of Public Health.
 
“We have to find out [how] we can connect the Department of Public Health to find out what type of services should have been provided,” Ford, D-Chicago, said.
 
Ford says he wants to know if there are problems with Legionnaires disease in Illinois, if there are problems at the Quincy home, or if there are problems with both.
 
“We really have to find out how our veterans can be better taken care of,” Ford said. “It’s really disappointing that veterans in Illinois would be subject to these kind of recurring outbreaks.”
 
The hearing is set for Jan. 9 in Chicago.

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Lawsuit attempting to block taxpayer funded elective abortions in Illinois to be heard this week

Illinois will have taxpayer-funded elective abortions after the first of the year, but an expedited lawsuit in Sangamon County circuit court Thursday seeks to block implementation.
 
Federal Medicaid dollars can cover abortions for rape, incest or if the mother’s life is in jeopardy, but Gov. Bruce Rauner signed House Bill 40 this summer ,which allows state tax dollars for elective abortions, and shocked his Republican base in the process.
 
State Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, said Rauner promised Republicans he would veto or amend the measure.
 
“That’s something that he obviously didn’t do,” McConchie said. “He went ahead and signed the bill as is. ... He is the first governor and this is the first state to legislatively take action to make taxpayer funding of abortion, puts the taxpayers on the hook for that. That’s something that pro-life and pro-choice groups ... alike oppose in poll after poll and across the state.”
 
Following Rauner’s signing of the bill this summer, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, said she was glad the governor kept his promise to pro-choice groups.
 
“And the women of Illinois should be [happy],” Cassidy said.
 
Cassidy was also appreciative of “the words [Rauner] used when he talked about [having] great respect for those and support for those who are on the opposite side of the issue,” she said. “[Rauner] has always said he believes that this is a decision that should be made by a woman and her family and their faith leaders and their doctors and all of the people that people chose to engage in hard decisions with.”
 
McConchie is one of 12 state lawmakers and a dozen pro-life groups suing the state to block the law, arguing that the state doesn’t have the money and claiming the legislative process was abused.
 
Pro-life group The Thomas More Society estimates the law could mean 20,000 to 30,000 taxpayer-funded abortions next year if the law goes into effect, costing taxpayers up to $30 million. Rauner’s office has already said the state’s budget imposed by lawmakers is about $1.7 billion out of balance.
 
A hearing Thursday afternoon in Sangamon County Circuit Court will take up an emergency injunction and temporary restraining order sought by The Thomas More Society and other pro-life groups. The Illinois Attorney General’s office is seeking the lawsuit to be dismissed.

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Illinois schools getting ready for new cursive requirement in 2018

One of Illinois' new laws for the new year requires schools across the state to teach cursive once again. 
 
It'll be August before Illinois schools have to start teaching it, but the mandate is much to the chagrin of a number of lawmakers and local school officials. 
 
Cursive supporters cited a combination of nostalgia – "It was good enough for us" – and patriotism – "How else will young people read the Constitution" – to pass the mandate. 
 
LeRoy schools superintendent Gary Tipsord said he would rather see lawmakers look forward when they want to change the curriculum, not back. 
 
"Contemplate the idea of what if we considered coding a foreign language," Tipsord said about helpful changes he'd like to see from Springfield. "Coding is truly the modern language. The modern language isn't the spoken word. It's the code that we write."
 
The new law requires schools in Illinois to teach cursive before the fifth grade. 
 
State Sen. Dave Syverson said the new cursive requirement is laughable, particularly since two-thirds of kids in Illinois currently can't read or write at grade level. 
 
"It's just unbelievable that the same legislators who stand up and say, 'We don't want to push all of these mandates on local government,' then they turn around and do something like this," Syverson said. "It's just ridiculous."
 
The new cursive law requires that schools teach cursive, but doesn't provide any money or flexibility to help teachers actually teach the lessons.
 
Tipsord said his schools will find a way to work cursive lessons into their day, somehow. 

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Technology becoming important component for snow removal process in Illinois

Illinois roads are some the most travelled in the nation and now the state is looking to employ the latest technology to monitor and maintain the roads for drivers during the winter season. 
 
Kelsea Gurski, bureau chief of communication services at the Illinois Department of Transportation, says that the state is looking to utilize GPS tech to provide real-time monitoring of road conditions.
 
“IDOT is exploring the use of VDL GPS technology in our fleet to better monitor road conditions and manage our response,” Gurski said. “Right now during weather events we update and manage a website called Getting AroundIllinois.com and that includes information on road conditions throughout the state that is based on information provided by from our crews on the road.”
 
The city of Springfield has already looked at something similar: implementing automatic vehicle location (AVL) on all its snow plows and trucks, in an effort to push information from the city’s snow trucks to dispatch and then onto citizens.
 
The system tracks where the trucks are and then indicates if and when an area has been plowed.  
 
GPS is used by the vehicle locators to determine the location of trucks and track past locations. AVLs can be used to transmit all sorts of data back to municipalities including road salt usage, road conditions and specifics about use of plows.
 
According to Springfield Public Works Director Mark Mahoney, the city is moving to an inspection system that allows snow inspectors to assess needs and conditions of roadway in a weather event.
 
The system will allow the city to better allocate resources based on the road conditions -- as opposed to just monitoring if a road been plowed or not.
 
According to Gurski, her department is moving aggressively to implement technology as part of its overall plan to provide the best service possible.
 
“IDOT has made a tremendous pledge to introduce and embrace new technologies that have improved efficiencies on our roads and provide overall better value for taxpayers,” she said. “We want to be one of the most innovative departments of transportation in the nation and were looking at every available opportunity to reach that goal by leveraging the available technology.”

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Monmouth man charged with First Degree Murder

Drew M. Pearman, of Monmouth, was charged with first degree murder on Tuesday, December 26. The charges stem from the December 24 shooting that resulted in the death of Zackery D. Talley. 

 

On Decemver 24, Pearman was arrested following an investigation conducted by the Monmouth Police Department. Bail was denied at the ensuing detention hearing. First appearance with counsel is scheduled in Warren County Court on January 2, 2018 at 10:00 a.m.

 

The charge of first degree murder is a class X felony, with sentencing ranging from twenty to ssixty years, with a firearm enhancement of twenty-five years to life in the Illinois Department of Corrections. 

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With population declines, Illinois poised to lose 2 congressional seats

With a fourth consecutive year of population decline, Illinoisans are left to wonder how many congressional voices they will lose in the 2020 Census.
 
In 2002, Illinois lost one U.S. representative. Reapportionment cost another in 2012. The accelerating population decline over the last four years has some Illinoisans worried that the state will be down to 16 members of the U.S. House from the current 18.
 
“The chances are increasing that the bar will be set at such a place that we will now lose two,” Southern Illinois University at Carbondale professor emeritus John Jackson said. “Especially if these trends continue.”
 
Jackson said the state’s population losses have been more pronounced in rural areas and small towns, whereas suburban Chicago has seen growth.
 
In losing population, Illinois also will likely lose a number of electoral votes, lessening the state’s presidential pull.
 
Northern Illinois University professor Scot Schraufnagel worries about Illinois’ youth leaving, leading to an economic tailspin.
 
“Illinois has passed up New Jersey for the nation’s top exporter of college students,” he said. “A decline in population leads to poorer economic conditions which, in turn, feeds the exodus.”
 
Site selection experts often state that population loss is a key economic indicator in choosing to locate or expand a business.
 
Illinois has lost nine congressmen since 1910. Only New York and Pennsylvania lost more over that time. Pennsylvania overtook Illinois as the nation’s fifth most-populous state in the Census data released Wednesday.
 
Real Clear Politics predicted in 2016 that Illinois was close to losing two seats in the 2022 reapportionment.

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Late trains sap enthusiasm about high speed rail

Illinois' high speed rail project is almost done.
 
Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn said that high speed rail is 95 percent complete. The five percent remaining is mostly work in Springfield.
 
Lincoln is one of the stops along the railroad between Chicago and St. Louis that got a new station to go along with Illinois' high speed rail project. Those waiting for the train in Lincoln say they didn't notice that high speed rail made much of a difference because a few miles per hour faster doesn't fix what's wrong with train service in Illinois. 
 
"We're two and a half hours behind right now," one rider told Illinois News Network on Thursday. "We were supposed to leave at 10:25 this morning. Now they're telling us 12:43. With this being high speed rail, we're two hours behind already."
 
Amtrak was late about 30 percent of the time in Illinois last year. Blankenhorn says high speed rail should cut that to being late just 15 percent of the time. 
 
The main reason passenger trains are often delayed is because they share the rail lines with freight trains, which are given top priority.
 
Blankenhorn has said high speed rail will cut down on the wait for freight. 
 
Illinois has spent about $300 million on high speed rail between Chicago and St. Louis. The federal government has spent nearly $2 billion. 

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Lawmaker: More than 200 new laws adopted, none tackle Illinois' major issues

More than 200 new laws will go into effect in Illinois in the new year, but do any of them deal with the major fiscal problems the state’s been struggling with for years?
 
For most of 2017, state Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, didn’t vote for legislation that wasn’t going to solve some of the major issues facing the state.
 
“We passed bills that talk about things like how we label fish on a menu,” Batinick said. “I think we named two expressways after former President [Barack] Obama. We debated whether or not you need to paint a school bus after you sell it on the used market. But we didn’t address pensions. We didn’t do anything good for work comp. We didn’t do anything good for property taxes.”
 
Illinois has more than $200 billion in unfunded pension and retiree healthcare liability. The state also has some of the highest property taxes in the country and he highest workers’ compensation rates in the Midwest.
 
Batinick also noted Illinois’ regulatory climate is horrible and used hydraulic fracturing permitting as an example.
 
“We finally gave away our first permit, and the regulatory climate was still so bad that the company just walked away from it,” Batinick said.
 
Batinick doesn’t expect the legislature to tackle any of this until after the November elections.
 
“We already blew three years of [the Rauner] administration,” Batinick said. “And you can say we blew years before that, so every day that passes makes it harder for us to dig out of a deeper pile of debt.”
 
The suburban lawmaker hopes that, after the election, both sides can come together to tackle the state’s major issues.
 
The General Assembly is back in session in late January.

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Macomb Public Works provides snow removal information

With winter officially upon us, Macomb Public Works has provided useful information on how the snow removal program works in the city. Useful links include this snow removal program explanation, and this snow removal program Q and A. 

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LaHood: U.S. tax reform 'shot across the bow' for high Illinois taxes

One of the pieces of the new federal tax reform plan is going to put pressure on state and local leaders to deal with high taxes in Illinois. 
 
The new federal tax reform package caps the amount of state and local taxes that people can deduct from their IRS bill at $10,000.
 
That's not really a problem for most people downstate, central Illinois Congressman Darin LaHood said. 
 
But the change could mean a much heavier tax burden for many in and around Chicago because they won't be able to deduct the full weight of their tax bills, including sky-high property taxes. 
 
"It's going to effect a lot of people," LaHood said. "Particularly if you live in or around Chicago, where Rahm Emanuel continues to raise taxes at the city level. And in [Cook] County where taxes continue to go up and up and up."
 
LaHood said leaders in Chicago and the collar counties have for years used the federal deduction as a crutch to lessen the impact of their tax increases. 
 
Downstate, LaHood said the impact of the deduction change won't be as large. 
 
"Most middle class folks who live in central and west central Illinois don't pay more than $10,000, so they'll still get the deduction," LaHood said. "But it should be a shot across the bow and a warning to state legislators and leaders at the county and local level that you can't keep raising taxes. There are going to be consequences."
 
LaHood said he expects state lawmakers and local leaders  to feel the pressure to hold the line on taxes because taxpayers will feel more of the weight of what they're paying. 

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Latest census drops Illinois to sixth largest state

Welcome to Illinois, the newly-titled sixth-largest U.S. state.
 
With Pennsylvania gaining more than 18,000 people and Illinois shedding record numbers, the Keystone State has officially overcome Illinois as the fifth-largest state in terms of population.
 
According to Census data released Wednesday, Illinois lost 33,703 in total population. That’s a greater population decline than any other state in America.
 
Domestically, Illinois saw more people head for the door than any time in the last decade. More than 114,000 net people left for other states.
 
“The population loss that Illinois is experiencing is accelerating,” said Pete Borsella, demographer at U.S. Census. “In the period between 2016 and 2017, they have seen the largest net out-migration of the decade.”
 
This is the fourth consecutive year of population losses for Illinois. Only West Virginia has seen a longer trend of population decline.
 
In the argument of why Illinois is bleeding people, many point to the weather pushing people south. While that is consistent with part of the migration data provided by the IRS, Illinois is also pouring residents into its neighboring states as well. Indiana welcomed more than 8,000 Illinois residents between 2015 and 2016, for example.
 
In the Census data released Wednesday, all of Illinois’ neighboring states gained population.
 
A recent poll of Illinoisans by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University found that high taxes are the biggest reason for leaving the state.
 
North Carolina-based realtor Angela Kirsch has used this sentiment to create a niche. The former suburban Chicago resident markets her services at getoutofillinois.com. She and her husband lure Illinoisans to more tax-friendly climates using social media. According to her, business is booming.
 
“I’ve had a lot of people contacting me about how to get out of Illinois,” she said. “The calls have picked up since the tax hike this summer.”
 
She’s referring to Illinois lawmakers overriding Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of a state budget that raises an additional $5 billion in personal and corporate income taxes.

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Major Otto of McDonough County Salvation Army encourages donations

This morning on the K100 Morning Show, Major Allen Otto of the McDonough County Salvation Army stopped by to discuss the organization's work in the area.

 

While he is pleased that the local chapter has received $76,000 during the holiday season, he encourages community members to keep giving. You can find kettles ringing throughout the area through Saturday, December 23 (the Salvation Army does not ring kettles on Sundays). You can also stop by the organization's location at 505 N Randolph St, Macomb. 

 

He mentioned that the organization has seen a decline in checks this year, which may be attributed to people already donating to the numerous natural disasters that took place nationwide. He also discussed the importance of just volunteering time to ring a kettle, even if only for a half hour. 

 

My full interview with Major Otto can be heard here

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Warren County three vehicle crash leaves one injured

Illinois State Police has released information about a three vehicle crash in Warren County that left one with non-life threatening injuries. The crash took place Tuesday, December 19 at 6:45 a.m. 

 

Katie Torrance, age 26, from Burlington, IA, was traveling westbound on US 34 approximately 0.5 miles east of 20th street in Warren County. She was driving a 2006 Red Jeep Grand Cherokee. She passed/overtook a westbound truck tractor semi trailer, driven by Craig Zoellner, age 48, from VanBuren IN. Torrance failed to return to the westbound lane before striking Christopher Wetzel, age 46, from Alexis, IL, who was operating an oncoming eastbound truck tractor-semi trailer. After striking Wetzel's vehicle, Torrance's Jeep overturned and came to rest in the north side ditch of US 34. Zoellner's vehicle sustained damage from flying debris.

 

Torrance was transported to OSF hospital in Monmouth for non-life threatening injuries. She was charged with Improper Lane Usage. Central Warren Fire Department, Kirkwood Fire Department, Galesburg Hospital Ambulance Service, IDOT and Warren County Sheriff’s Department were the assisting agencies. 

 

 

 

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Railroad officials assure Illinois lawmakers they're investing in rail safety technology

Railroad companies are assuring Illinois lawmakers they’re investing their own capital in rail upgrades to make the system the safest it can be.
 
With Monday’s commuter train derailment in Washington state that killed three and injured dozens more, many are wondering how such a tragedy could be averted.
 
Transportation officials investigating the derailment said the train was going 80 mph in a 30 mph zone. The stretch of freight track the commuter train was on reportedly did not have in place positive train control systems that use technology to control the speed of trains.
 
Congress mandated such systems be installed by 2015 but delayed the deadline because of the multibillion dollar price tag.
 
Joseph Ciaccio with the Illinois Railroad Association told an Illinois House committee in Chicago Tuesday that railroads are investing billions of dollars across the country and in Illinois on positive train control systems.
 
“That’s the next generation of safety,” Ciaccio said. “These are the kinds of things with signals and satellites we’ll be able to control the speeds of trains in the event of operator error.”
 
Union Pacific Railroad’s Adrian Guerrero said the industry also is using other technology, such as drones, to inspect tracks regularly.
 
“We cannot operate our business without it being 100 percent safe,” Guerrero said.
 
Almost all commuter trains run on freight lines maintained by private railroad companies.
 
Other special interest groups told the House committee that Illinois’ transportation infrastructure – roads, bridges and waterways – needs billions of new tax dollars. 
 
“IDOT’s identified need of an additional billion per year is a good start, but it falls short of what we should be doing to hopefully grow Illinois as an economic leader in the nation,” Transportation for Illinois Coalition’s John Lowder said.
 
IDOT Secretary Randy Blankenhorn said the state’s recent capital plans based on bonds haven’t been helpful because the state didn’t have funds to pay down the debt service.
 
“It’s not about raising revenue,” Blankenhorn said. “It’s about what that revenue provides and what we do with the revenue that the public gives us. How do we talk about the needs that we have in this state and make sure that the public gets [that] this is money well spent?”
 
Blankenhorn said IDOT is investigating more public-private partnerships and hopes to streamline the state’s procurement process, but that would require further reforming the state’s procurement code.

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Illinois' congressional delegation split on federal tax cut bill

The House will vote again today after the approved tax reform bill in DC tripped on a procedure and Illinois’ congressional delegation is split on whether the nation’s tax code should be reformed.
 
The measure initially passed the House Tuesday afternoon mostly along party lines, 227-203. As the Senate began debating the measure, the Senate parliamentarian reported to the House to remove two provisions, the K-12 education savings benefit and a small college endowment credit, that didn’t comply with Senate rules. The House is in again Wednesday to vote on the corrected measure.
 
U.S. Rep Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, said during Tuesday debate that the GOP-crafted measure is a scam.
 
“Sure, this bill will create jobs,” Bustos said. “It will create them over in China and in Mexico and Malaysia.”
 
U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Wheaton, said the opposite is true.
 
“It offers tax relief that my constituents are longing for, and it offers a business environment in the milieu that makes things happen and happen for the good,” he said.
 
The measure would reduce the federal corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent and reduce rates for individuals across seven brackets.
 
The individual tax reductions expire after eight years. U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, said he’s filing legislation to make the cuts permanent.
 
The plan would also double the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000 and double the standard deduction to $24,000 for a couple filing jointly.
 
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the tax cuts theft. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said tax cuts mean people keep more of their own money.
 
Both of Illinois’ Democratic senators voted against the measure late Tuesday.
 
What does it mean to you in Illinois?
 
Oakbrook, Illinois, tax professional Michael Leonard of Leonard and Associates said there are some good things for Illinoisans, especially for businesses, big and small.
 
“It should make the small businesses be able to hire more and just keep more money in their pocket,” Leonard said. “It’s a very, very good thing because small business is what keeps the economy going.”
 
But he said the $10,000 cap on deductions for state and local taxes will hurt many Illinois taxpayers who pay some of the highest property taxes in the country. Leonard expects that to put pressure on state lawmakers to address the issue.
 
“They’ll have to do something,” Leonard said. “You can’t have all these high taxes and not have a break somewhere.”
 
Leonard said he worries doubling the standard deduction could mean fewer people give to charitable causes as a way to lower their tax liability.

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Many Illinoisans scramble to beat tax deduction cap, but experts say it might not work

Federal tax reform has Illinoisans trying to get next year’s property tax bills paid in an effort to get around the possible cap on local deductions.
 
The tax reform bill caps federal deductions of state and local taxes, including property taxes, at $10,000. In high-tax states like Illinois, this means the sting of local property taxes isn’t soothed by a big federal write-off.  
 
You are able to pre-pay your property taxes in some counties like Champaign and Sangamon, but not in McLean. Champaign County Treasurer Dan Welch said they’re welcoming the early birds.
 
“We’re seeing much more traffic this month,” he said. “For us, we’re happy to collect it since it's less that we’ll have to collect later in the summer.”
 
In 2016, Welch said his office saw 283 people pay $3.1 million in early property tax payments. He’s sure it will be much more this year.
 
But Laurie P. Barry, wealth advisor with UBS Wealth Management, warns that the tax reform bill might not allow for early filing of taxes to get around that $10,000 cap.
 
“There is some language that suggests that prepayment of some of these taxes will not be eligible to deduct in 2017 if they’re for 2018,” she said.
 
Barry suggests that joint-filing taxpayers who have historically itemized deductions make sure they wouldn’t benefit from the new $24,000 standard deduction.
 
There are 1,256 homes that would have a property tax bill over $10,000 in all of Champaign County, according to Welch.
 
Champaign County has a minimum and maximum that their taxpayers can pay ahead, and it’s only available for the month of December before the tax year.
 
Illinoisans pay more in property taxes than nearly any other state. Experts say it actually depresses home values since a potential buyer will factor in the cost of the monthly tax bill into their payments and find market prices unaffordable, depressing final sale prices.

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Be Prepared: Register Today for January 2nd Invest in Kids Launch

Taxpayers wishing to participate in Illinois’ income tax credit scholarship program, Invest in Kids, on January 2nd are strongly encouraged to register for a free MyTax Illinois account today. 
 
The Invest in Kids (IIK) application process for taxpayers seeking to make a qualified contribution is only available online through MyTax Illinois.  Completion of MyTax Illinois registration requires security authentication via mail, so applicants should allow 7-10 days to complete setup of their MyTax Illinois account. 
 
“We cannot stress it enough, if you do not have a MyTax Illinois account and want to participate in Invest in Kids on its opening day, don’t delay in setting one up,” said Connie Beard, Illinois Department of Revenue Director.  “It’s the only way to ensure you will be on the ground floor when this new program opens.”
 
Beginning January 2, 2018, MyTax Illinois will begin accepting applications from individuals and businesses who wish to obtain an income tax credit equal to 75% of their approved contribution.   To apply, individuals and businesses must report their intention to make an authorized contribution to an approved Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO).  The SGOs, in turn, provide scholarships for eligible Illinois students to attend qualified non-public schools in Illinois.  The application process ensures equal access to the $75 million in IIK tax credits available each year.  
 
For more information on the IIK income tax credits, including bulletins, FAQs, and a list of approved SGO’s, please visit Investinkids.illinois.gov.  A YouTube video is available on the website to assist taxpayers with MyTax Illinois registration. Questions may be emailed to: REV.PRD@illinois.gov.

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State lawmaker sound off on other states wanting Illinois River closed to keep Asian carp out of Great Lakes

A state senator from an Illinois river community has some problems with leaders from other states who want to close the Illinois River to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. 
 
Morris Republican Sue Rezin has fought floods her entire time in the legislature. She said the attorneys general in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota must not understand much about floods. Those AG's want to wall off the Illinois River near Joliet to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. 
 
"You always need to be cognizent of what's happening upstream from you," Rezin said Monday. "Also, if you dam up the river, what will it do to the ecosystem in the river?"
 
Rezin answered her own question. She said it would spill the river south, into communities up and down the banks. Illinois has spent a lot of time and money on flood mitigation along the Illinois River. She said a dam would erase all of that work. 
 
And, Rezin added, there are hundreds of millions of dollars in grain and other products that rely on the river. 
 
"You'll notice all of these industries that have popped up along the river. They use the river as a mode of transportation, it's by far the cheapest and most inexpensive mode of transportation," Rezin said. "If you simply build a wall near Joliet, all of that river commerce would be forced to cease."
 
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a plan to protect the lakes. The Corps wants to install an electronic barrier near Joliet, but it's expensive. The total cost would be nearly $300 millio and Illinois would have to pay almost a third of it. 
 
But Rezin thinks that expense may not be necessary. She said that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has done an effective job over the past few years in controlling the carp population in the upper Illinois River. 

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Wildlife researcher gives tips on how to avoid urban coyote in Illinois

Stories of coyotes snatching dogs or encroaching on people’s backyards are growing across Illinois for a number of reasons.
 
Cook County Forest Preserve District Senior Wildlife Biologist Chris Anchor said wildlife researchers are going into 18 years of studying so-called urban coyotes and there’s one thing they’ve found around the state.
 
“You are in the territory of some coyote family group,” Anchor said. “The vast majority of coyotes are living amongst us and you don’t even know they’re there. It’s very rare that we have a coyote that actually gets in trouble.”
 
But there are reports around the state of coyotes causing problems in urban settings.
Anchor attributes the increased activity this time of year to it being breeding season.
 
“Coyotes become much more active during the day,” Anchor said, “and they’re actively defending their territory from other coyotes, but in the process they come in contact with more domestic dogs and people’s cats and things.”
 
A security camera got footage of a coyote attacking a small dog in Northfield. In Springfield, aldermen said they’ve heard similar reports from constituents. They asked Springfield Police Chief Kenny Winslow what can be done about it. Winslow said he’s been asked the same thing by city residents.
 
“‘What if I’m walking down the street and it’s attacking me and it’s coming right at me’,” Winslow recalled a conversation with a resident.
 
“‘I got my concealed carry, what can I do?’ I’m not your attorney,” Winslow said. “I’m not your legal advisor. You make your decision and we’ll deal with whatever happens when it comes out.”
Winslow said it’s illegal to hunt in the city or even fire off your gun in the city.
 
Anchor said residents could carry pepper spray.
 
“If an animal gets close enough that you feel threatened, generally it’s close enough to pepper spray,” Anchor said. “In those cases where people have pepper sprayed coyotes, the problem disappears very quickly.”
 
While there aren’t any reports of people getting attacked by coyotes in Illinois, Anchor said it’s an issue elsewhere.
 
“The attacks that have been documented have been documented typically on children 6 and under in North America and, with rare exception, every single one of them was preceded by people actively feeding coyotes,” Anchor said.
 
The best things residents can do, Anchor said, is to not feed coyotes, teach kids to not approach or feed any wild animal, keep track of family pets, leash them when on trails, and make sure trash cans with food waste are secure.
 
More information about the Urban Coyote Project can be found at UrbanCoyoteResearch.com.

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A massive study of state lawmakers shows a number of conflicts of interest and little in terms of oversight into policing them.

A massive study of state lawmakers across the U.S. shows a number of conflicts of interest and little in terms of oversight into policing them.
 
The Center for Public Integrity dove into the backgrounds of the nearly 7,000 state lawmakers nationwide to see just how much their private lives benefitted from their public votes. They found that three-quarters of state lawmakers had separate jobs beyond politician.
 
Project manager Kytja Weir with the Center for Public Integrity said this is generally seen as a good thing, since voters should want lawmakers with real-world experience. But the report found that lawmaker votes are often enriching their private bank accounts.
 
“Those income sources are often directly affected by the actions of the legislatures,” Weir said.
 
In Illinois and many other states, Weir’s team found lawmakers with business interests that would otherwise be seen as unethical didn’t break the rules often set by lawmakers themselves.
 
“There are things happening on the state level that are very common but do not constitute a conflict of interest,” she said. “It’s likely because they’re often creating the rules that regulate themselves.”  
 
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has long been the target of those claiming a conflict of interest, including Gov. Bruce Rauner, who said as recently as this fall that Madigan uses property tax policy in Illinois to “create his own personal-wealth system.” But despite years of accusations and investigations, Madigan’s position as House Speaker and partner at property tax appeals powerhouse Madigan and Getzendanner has yet to have been found as an unlawful conflict of interest.
 
Still, critics point to the unethical nature of presiding over a state legislature that has shifted the lion’s share of school funding responsibilities to local property taxes, all the while specializing in the appeals process that reduces the valuation of properties.
 
Steve Brown, Madigan’s spokesman, said the speaker will recuse himself from votes that involve his work as a property tax attorney.
 
“The speaker not only adheres to all state laws and ethics regulations regarding his practice but also has a personal code of ethics” that Brown said keeps him from promoting bills that would benefit either his practice or clients.
 
Illinois state law requires lawmakers to fill out a form stating any potential conflicts of interest they may have. The forms have been given the pejorative nickname “none sheets,” referring to the answer most often given by lawmakers. You can see your local lawmaker’s forms here.

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Henderson and Warren County 4-H Join the Fight Against Hunger

Saturday, December 9 Henderson and Warren County 4-H members and their families packaged 10,000 meals that were delivered to nine food banks and pantries in the Henderson and Warren County area. 4-H Federation members spearheaded the event in an effort to help families in their community who face food insecurity.
 
“Hunger is closer to home than many people realize, said Bill Million, University of Illinois Extension 4-H youth development specialist. “According to a 2011 report published by Feeding America, Illinois ranks 26th in the nation when it comes to the number of children facing food insecurity. “One in five children faces hunger and food security on a recurring basis,” Million said, accounting for 23 percent of all Illinois youth under the age of 18.
 
The food packaging event was held in conjunction with Illinois 4-H Feeding and Growing Our Communities, a subsidiary of Illini Feeding Hunger. It took members and families approximately two hours to assemble the rice-based meals. The packaging event even included a milestone, which included packaging the 900,000 meal for 4-H since 2014.
 

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Taxpayers cover costs of bad pension fund investment return predictions

As municipalities across the state determine how to spend taxpayers' money for the next year, they’re looking at what to expect for pension fund investment returns. Bad predictions can mean big costs to taxpayers and, when estimated returns on city pension fund investments are too generous, taxpayers have to pay up.
 
The city of Springfield’s estimated returns were off enough to require an additional $600,000 the city didn’t budget for. That’s expected to impact other areas of the city’s already tight budget.
Sterling recently voted to increase its property taxes and is increasing pension fund contributions by more than $105,000.
 
Highland could see a property tax increase to help cover its pensions.
 
Doug Offerman with Fitch Ratings Agency said pension obligations have been rising everywhere the past decade and fund managers and budgeteers need to set the right course in a way that the years of good and bad investment returns balance out.
 
“Pension systems have not always been good at setting that course,” Offerman said.
 
The state has mandated that pension funds get to 90 percent funded by 2040. Springfield Alderman Joe McMenamin said Springfield’s pensions were 90 percent funded 20 years ago, but now it’s less than half funded. He’s been pushing for less aggressive investment return predictions to better budget the taxpayers’ money.
 
S&P’s Managing Director Gabe Petek said sometimes the numbers crunchers’ estimated investment returns for various pension funds aren’t accurate.
 
“This implies that going forward the contribution schedule will escalate upward, year after year,” Petek said.
 
Offerman said returns on pension assets have been lower than expectations in recent years.
 
“And pensions are gradually correcting that, but that’s going to result on more pressure on pension contributions and on budgets over time,” Offerman said.
 
Lowering the assumed rate of returns means more tax dollars will be needed to fund pensions. One estimate, for example, is for every .25 percent reduction in the city of Springfield’s assumed rate of return equals an additional $2.5 million from taxpayers.
 
Springfield’s budget director already expects its share of property taxes to be eaten up entirely by its pension obligations.
 
Eric Harper, associate director of ratings agency S&P, said overly aggressive assumptions that don’t pan out mean the money it takes to make up that difference crowds out other important spending, such as for infrastructure or public safety.
 
“You can get to a situation where a fairly sizable amount of the budget is fixed and that can create some flexibility issues in providing services,” Harper said.

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Illinois' Republican congressional delegation ready to push tax reform past finish line

Illinois' congressional Republicans are locked and loaded to vote on a compromise between separate versions of tax reform this week. If the votes are there, the president could sign it before Christmas.
 
Among the changes announced Friday: the corporate tax rate will be reduced from 35 percent to 21 percent instead of 20 percent; the child tax credit will be increased to $2,000 from $1,000; and it would allow deductions up to $10,000 state and local taxes.
 
U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, chairman of the House Ways & Means Tax Policy committee, helped craft the massive rewrite of the federal tax code.
 
“On balance, it’s a good trajectory. It’s a good bill and it’s really an opportunity to say, 'let’s go out and let’s get a tax code that’s more reflective of the opportunities we think are inherent in the American economy,' " Roskam, R-Wheaton, said. "We’ve got a lot going for us, but we’ve got a tax code that’s just pernicious and out of date."
 
Democrats have opposed all versions of the tax reform legislation, claiming they're nothing more than massive tax breaks for corporations and wealthy Americans and will add $1.5 trillion to the country's debt over the next decade.
 
Republicans have countered that the average U.S. household will realize about a $1,200 reduction annually.
 
Illinois U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, said the GOP tax reform bill also will help small businesses, which in turn will lead to job growth in communities around the state.
 
“Our small main street businesses don’t pay the corporate rate, they pay the individual rate," Davis, R-Taylorville, told WMAY in Springfield.
 
"Our focus has been on making sure the individual rates for these pass-through companies, these are the ones that are your stores around the town squares,” Davis said. “Those are the ones that pay under the individual rate still and they were paying higher than the current corporate rate. They were paying upwards of 40 percent of their income.”
 
The measure strikes the fee imposed for not having health insurance, the individual mandate from the Affordable Care Act, and includes primary and secondary education investment accounts for public, private or religious schools. It also denies deducting the costs related to settling sexual harassment settlements, including lawyers' fees, from a filer's tax liability. It gives employers a tax credit for offering paid medical leave and cuts the excise tax in half on domestically produced beer.
 
Roskam and U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, were on the conference committee that created the final bill up for a vote this week.

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Macomb Area Chamber of Commerce holds ribbon cutting for Diamond D's

On Friday, December 15, the Ambassador Committee of the Macomb Area Chamber of Commerce welcomed in Diamond D's Western Store and Home Decor (1625 W. Jackson St., Macomb) with a ribbon cutting ceremony. Diamond D's has been a Chamber member and gift certificate program participant since March 2017. The retail shop offers a full array of home décor, apparel, jewelry, accessories, boots and more. For more information, call (309) 836-3744; visit https://www.diamonddswestern.com/ or find them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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Macomb Park District and Hy-Vee team up for Cookie Wars

As the Macomb Park District continues its Push 4 Parks campaign, to help raise the necessary funding to install stadium lights at the newly developed youth baseball diamonds at Veterans Park, Hy-Vee is coming in from the bullpen to help. 

 

On Sunday, December 17 at the Macomb Hy-Vee, Cookie Wars will be held. The event, which runs from 1-6 p.m., will pin youth baseball and youth softball against each other to see who can sell the most cookies. Throughout the remainder of the month, for every box of dozen Hy-Vee cookies sold at the East Jackson location, fifty cents will go to the Push 4 Parks campaign. The group that sells the most on Sunday will receive a party at Ball Fore this summer, to add a little extra incentive. 

 

For more information about the event, you can listen to my interview with Macomb Park District Executive Director Rachel Lenz here

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The Back Road Music Festival Announces First Artist

Just Announced: Josh Turner, is set to headline the 5th annual Back Road Music Festival on Saturday, August 11, 2018! 

 

Image result for josh turner

 

Josh Turner is a multi-platinum artist. He has sold upwards of 12,500,000 units. Mr. Turner is also among the younger members of the Grand Ole Opry. He has many ACM, CMA, and Grammy nominations, as well as various hits from Deep South, to Your Man, and also Long Black Train.

 

The Back Road Music Festival is held at the Galva Park District in Galva, Illinois. Make sure to mark August, 11, 2018 in your calendars! Tickets for the festival are on sale now at www.TheBackRoadMusicFesival.com at holiday prices! Be sure to look out for more artist announcements coming soon!

 

 

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93rd District candidate Joshua Griffith speaks with Colchester business owners and pastors

On Thursday, December 14, Joshua Griffith spoke with a group of business owners and pastors in Colchester to pitch his case as a candidate for State Representative of Illinois' 93rd District. The conservative republican and retired military veteran from Abingdon provided the following statement after the event, as to why he should be the republican nominee in the race instead of incumbent Norine Hammond. 

 

"One of the things that I am striving to do if I am elected is make Illinois a destination state once again. This is contrary to the newest statistics that have been released by the IRS, in which Illinois saw over 85,000 people leave the state in the 2015 tax year. Our elected leaders, including current representative Norine Hammond, have failed us as a state and people are now leaving for better opportunities in neighboring states. We know that just this July, representative Hammond joined with Mike Madigan and the Chicago Democrats passing a 32% income tax hike. This tax hike is only going to add to the current number of residents fleeing the state. Taxes have been cited as the number one source for the exodus Illinois will continue to see this trend of people fleeing with the current leadership we have in place. We already know that Hammond and Madigan like to raise taxes and in return break up families that have to leave extended family behind for better opportunities."
 
"Having knocked on over 1,500 doors in the past three months, it is evident that people think that the taxes are too high. The only answer that they have is to continue to raise our taxes to pay for their mismanagement. The people want their voices to be heard! This is why we need a change in leadership in Springfield and in the 93rd District. If we continue with the status quo, we will get the same results. People will continue to leave the state, the tax base will get smaller, and those stuck here will have to fit the bill. As a father with 5 children at home, I want a future for them here in Illinois just as many other families want. I am going to Springfield to represent the people and to make sure your voices are heard. I want to make Illinois a destination state once again, friendlier for businesses and for the taxpayers. It is time for a change in leadership."
 
Griffith is a retired Sergeant First Class in the Army, and former youth minister. He is running for state representative for the IL 93rd House District, which includes Mt. Sterling, Rushville, Galesburg, and Macomb. He and his wife have five children and live in Abingdon. 
 

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New Illinois divorce law would give pet custody to better parent

A new Illinois divorce law will let a judge decide who is the best parent for the family pet.
 
Previously, companion animals were treated like furniture in a divorce. They were divvied up between the splitting couple as part of the value of the estate. But on Jan. 1, a judge will now be able to consider who walks the dog more or who cleans out the fish tank and award the pet accordingly.
 
The law, sponsored by state Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Aurora, is meant to treat pets less like property and more like family.
 
“It has feelings and emotions,” Holmes said. “They’re looking at what would be in the best interest of the animal.”
 
Holmes, who served as Brookfield Zoo docent and volunteers with the Naperville Humane Society, said both sides would make their its as to why they would be the best to keep the pet. The judge would, in theory, be able to grant joint custody of the pup. 
 
The law would not apply to service animals.
 
Divorce attorney and animal rights advocate Erika Wyatt, partner at Schiller DuCanto & Fleck, said it will now matter who does the dirty work of caring for a pet.
 
“Who does the day-to-day stuff? Who buys the pet food? Who stays on top of vaccinations?” she said. “Anything that happens in the normal care for the pet is going to become relevant now.”
 
Animal custody was becoming more common in a courtroom battle up until the last couple years. A study by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers showed that a third of their lawyers said couples divorced in the last three years were more likely to settle pet custody disputes outside of the courtroom. Dogs, they said, remain the top animal causing these disputes with 96 percent of the respondents. Cats and horses come in a distant second with 1 percent each.
 
Alaska was the first to change its divorce laws to give pets a higher status in divorce proceedings.

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State senator warns day of reckoning is near as Illinois' pension liability leads nation

Illinois has the highest unfunded pension liability of any state, and a state senator says it’s because policy makers are making the wrong decisions.
 
Fitch Ratings agency put out their 2017 State Pension Update this week. It shows that Illinois’ pension crisis is the worst in the nation at more than $151 billion. That’s $60 billion more than second worst New Jersey’s liability.
 
“Six states have long-term liability burdens that Fitch considers elevated [in excess of 20 percent of personal income],” the report said, “with Illinois carrying the highest liability burden at 28.5 percent of personal income.”
 
Fitch Senior Director Doug Offerman said taxpayers should care because the burden takes up more than 28 percent of all personal income in Illinois, “which is essentially a proxy for the wealth level, the resource base of a given government.”
 
Some Illinois lawmakers have been warning for years that the pension liability is going to take up a quarter of every tax dollar the state brings in.
 
Fitch Ratings Senior Director Karen Krop said Illinois’ problem has gotten worse over the years with delayed payments, pension holidays, and even statutory ramps from the era of former Gov. Jim Edgar.
 
The recent income tax increase on individuals and corporations, bringing in an estimated $5 billion more a year to the state’s coffers, doesn’t seem to help the state’s massive liabilities, especially with other necessary spending, she said.
 
Lawmakers "did not over solve the budget in terms of bringing spending below the projected revenues,” Krop said. 
 
This summer, over the governor’s veto, lawmakers imposed a $36 billion budget that spends every bit of the estimated $5 billion tax increase. Rauner’s office said the budget is already $1.7 billion out of balance.
 
“Pensions have been a rising demand on budgets but in most states, pensions are a much lower demand on budgets than other rising areas of demand, such as Medicaid and education in some places,” Offerman said. 
 
Illinois also has to battle growing Medicaid costs along with the massive pension debt.
 
“For the last several years the [pension] increases did grow faster, and I would say do crowd out other spending that might have otherwise taken up organic revenue growth,” Krop said.
State Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, said people are already fleeing Illinois because of its high tax burden.
 
“Whether it’s through their property taxes or because of the recent income tax increase, they just can’t afford to [stay here],” McConchie said. “This day of reckoning is fast approaching us. I don’t think we want to wait until the absolute last minute to try and do everything we can to really right the ship.”
 
Recent IRS data indicates that Illinois lost more than 40,000 wage earners on net in the 2015 tax year, following a trend of net losses year after year.
 
McConchie said the health of the state’s pension funds relies on policy makers who have a history of kicking the can down the road making pensioners nervous.
 
“And this is why certainly we need to have a safety net, but at the same time we definitely need to have the ability for people to control their own future and to control their own retirement,” McConchie said.
 
The solution is to move employees from politician-controlled defined benefits to to employee-controlled 401k style plans, he added.
 
Earlier this week, Moody's Investor Services announced it is considering weighing pension debt more heavily when it evaluates a state's credit worthiness. Such a move could make Illinois the first state whose bonds fall to junk status.
 

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More accidents at malls during holiday season

It is the season of giving and that means people are out shopping at their local malls. The parking lots at the malls are busy due to the high traffic of people shopping. According to the National Safety Council, there are 50 thousand crashes and 500 deaths around the country each year.
 
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Vice President of Communications, Russ Rader says, that the new technology in vehicles are making driving safe. For example, vehicles are equipped with the technology of having a backup camera when a car is in reverse. This safety feature can prevent accidents when people are reversing out of their parking spaces. People driving and walking in the parking lots should be aware of their surroundings at all times to avoid these dangerous accidents.  Make sure to stay safe and alert this holiday season. 
 

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ARAMARK to participate in annual Stuffed Toy Christmas Giveaway

A group of retired ARAMARK employees and Mayor Mike Inman are helping children in Macomb schools to get ready for the Holiday Spirit. They will be passing out different selections of stuffed animals and toys to all of the children at McArthur School. This is the season of giving. The Stuffed Toy Christmas Giveaway will be this Monday, December 18 at 9:15 a.m. 

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Meth arrest in Hancock County

Robert H. Treadwell, 55, of Hamilton, was arrested Wednesday afternoon for  Possession of Methamphetamine with intent to deliver over 15 grams.

 

Wednesday at about 4:27pm, Hancock County Multi-Agency Response Team (MRT) executed a search warrant at 10 N. 12th St in Hamilton. As a result of the search, Methamphetamine, scales, money and weapons were all recovered.  Treadwell remains in Hancock County Jail in lieu of a bond hearing.

 
Hancock County Multi-Agency response team is comprised of Hancock County Law Enforcement officers from Hamilton Police Department, Warsaw Police Department, and Hancock County Sheriff's Office.
 
Treadwell shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

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Man arrested at Monmouth Municipal Airport on felony cannabis charges

A man was arrested at the Monmouth Municipal Airport Tuesday on Class 1 Felony Unlawful Possession of Cannabis (over 5,000 grams) charges. 

 

Sean B. Billingsley of Jacksonville, Oregon was arrested Tuesday after the Illinois State Police, assisted by Monmouth PD, Warren County Sherriff's Office and West Central Illinois Task Force (WCITF), responded to a call of suspicious activity at the airport. Officers came upon Billingsley unloading cargo from a small personal aircraft. Approximately 200 pounds of cannabis, $2,830 and a pistol were recovered from the aircraft. 

 

Mr. Billingsley was subsequently taken into custody and has been charged with the Class 1 Felony. His bond has been set at $250,000. He is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. 

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In the decade since the financial crash, Illinois' property taxes failed to drop with home values and household income.

In the decade since the recession, Illinoisans have seen their property taxes grow while their wages and home values have been stagnant. This results in an increase in the monthly fiscal burden on homeowners.
 
Since the economic downturn in the winter of 2007, most homes in the state have yet to regain their value. But Illinois’ almost 7,000 units of local government have continued to charge homeowners some of the highest rates in the nation.
 
Real estate listing service Trulia found this summer that homeowners in Lake County in northern Illinois would need to add 20 percent to their homes’ values just to break even. Yet they pay an average of $7,300 in property taxes, per 2015 IRS statistics.  
 
Andrew Nelms, executive director of Americans for Prosperity Illinois, said property taxes have risen by as much as 12 percent in the decade ending in 2015.
 
“Even after adjusting for inflation, property taxes still rose by double digits,” he said. “And at the same time, homeowners are losing a fifth of their home’s value.”
 
[[Taxpayers Federation of Illinois President Carol Portman said homeowners are understandably frustrated seeing their home values decrease but their tax bill go up.
 
“When you adjust for inflation, it was around a 1 percent increase per year but that’s still 10 percent over the decade,” she said. “And it’s an increase when your property value was dropping.”]]
 
Areas like Northwestern Indiana have seen population booms because of the low taxes and proximity to Chicago, according to Trulia chief economist Ralph McLaughlin.
 
“Households there can take advantage of the jobs and amenities that Chicago has but not have to pay the high property tax,” he said.
 
Many local governments have announced planned property tax increases for 2018. Several blame their growing pension debt.

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Illinois is, once again, at the bottom of another list that ranks well run and poorly run states.

Illinois is, once again, near the bottom of another list that ranks well run and poorly run states, coming in at 43 in a report from 24/7 Wall Street.
 
By now, Illinois residents are used to these kind of headlines. 
 
The 24/7 Wall Street report focuses on Illinois' credit rating, which it says is the worst in the country for good reason. 
 
"Decades of budgetary mismanagement left the state unable to pay for many services and pension obligations," the report states. "Due to the state’s ongoing budget woes, Moody’s is threatening to further downgrade Illinois' rating. Such a move would make Illinois the first and only state with a junk credit rating."
 
State Rep. Dave McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, said taxpayers should blame the people in Springfield currently, and the ones who came before them, for the state's fiscal woes.
 
"The good news is that we have the best people, the best natural resources, and the best potential as a state," McSweeney said. "The bad news is that we have terrible politicians who create terrible policy."
 
The 24/7 Wall Street report ranks all of Illinois' neighbors higher. Michigan is the 16th best run state. The report grades states on jobs, credit rating, pension debt, and poverty levels.
 
McSweeney said those measurements ignore Illinois' other glaring weakness. 
 
"Taxes are the big problem here in Illinois," McSweeney said. "Not just the income tax increase. But property taxes and sales taxes. We have one of the highest tax burdens in the country when you combine everything together."
 
Illinois' property taxes have been ranking amongst the highest in the nation, something that could put Illinois lower than 43rd, were it considered in the report.
 
Only states with crushing poverty, and New Jersey because of its worst in the nation pension system, are ranked lower than Illinois in the new report. 

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Mayor Inman announces Christmas Lighting Competition winners

Macomb Mayor Mike Inman has announced the winners of this year's Christmas Lighting Contest. The City of Macomb awarded a total of $225 in Chamber of Commerce Gift Certificates for 1st, 2nd & 3rd place prizes as follows:

 

1st Place – Curtis & Christine Farr at 625 Compton Parkway
2nd Place – Scott & Christine Edwards at 912 E. Oak
3rd Place – George & Ruth Ann Hartmann at 1915 W. Adams
 
The family of Marilyn Joyce Lock collaborated with the City of Macomb for the third straight year in sponsoring this contest. In memory of Marilyn, who passed away in 2015, the Locke family awarded a Grand Prize of $250 in Chamber of Commerce Gift Certificates to Tom and Donna Quick of 1342 Carolbeth Avenue.
 
Monte & Gina Colley of 269 Jana Road received Honorable Mention for their electronic Christmas lighting display. Honorable Mention in the business category went to Grand Prairie Assisted Living.

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AG says Illinois taxpayers to begin paying for elective abortions Jan. 1

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office says it will argue that the state will begin implementing a new law after the first of the year that allows the use of tax dollars to pay for elective abortions for those on state employee health insurance and eligible Medicaid recipients.
 
The state arguing the effective date of House Bill 40 is Jan. 1 means plaintiffs in a lawsuit to block the measure will have to file expedited briefs leading up to a scheduled Dec. 28 hearing in Springfield.
 
Thomas More Society Special Counsel and state Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, said last week “if we’re going to have an immediate enforcement, you will also see proceedings for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction coming from our side.”
 
The Attorney General’s Office indicated last week it will file a motion to dismiss the case.
 
One of the arguments that plaintiffs are making is that the legislative process was abused.
 
HB40 passed before the May 31 deadline for simple majorities, but was held from Gov. Bruce Rauner for more than four months. Democratic statehouse leaders also held Senate Bill 1, the school funding reform measure, from the governor for more than two months after it passed both chambers.
 
Rauner vetoed the school funding measure but lawmakers came together to pass a separate measure with bipartisan support.
 
Bucking his Republican base and going back on his earlier promises to veto the taxpayer-funded abortion legislation, Rauner signed HB40 this summer.
 
In response to questions about SB1’s delayed transmission, the attorney general earlier this year issued an opinion saying final legislative action is when the votes are taken, not when the bill is sent to the governor.
 
Breen said this is different.
 
“SB1 was going to need a supermajority of the legislature to go into effect, to override the governor's veto,” Breen said. “Here you’ve got bare majorities, and in the state Constitution a supermajority of the legislature can give a short effective date even after May 31st. So, from a technical perspective, we’re in a slightly different procedural posture.”
 
Regardless, Breen said there’s no money for taxpayer-funded abortions anyway.
 
“We’re $1.7 billion out of balance with the budget even as it passed and that’s before the extra money that would be added by HB40,” he said.
 
Breen estimates the taxpayer costs will be $15 million to $30 million dollars a year.
 
Both sides are scheduled to argue the case Dec. 28 in Springfield.

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Illinois jobs' outlook good in 2018, but worse than all its Midwest neighbors

Illinois’ employers are looking to hire more next spring, just less than any other state in the Midwest.
 
Staffing agency Manpower interviews thousands of employers about their intentions to hire, fire or stand pat with their current workforce. In the first quarter of 2018, Illinois has an employment outlook of 13 percent, which Manpower calls promising. It is, compared to last year’s first quarter. But, all of Illinois’ neighbors have better outlooks.
 
Manpower finds their net employment outlook by taking the percentage of employers anticipating an increase in hiring activity and subtracting the percentage of employers expecting a decrease in hiring activity.
 
“Illinois is not growing at the same rate, especially for entry-level positions,” Manpower regional vice president Anne Edmunds said.
 
The vast majority of new jobs in Illinois are along the I-55 corridor in the Southwest Chicago suburbs, Edmunds said. In fact, Manpower is having trouble getting the skilled workers to go to them.
 
“In that area, we don’t have enough people to fill these jobs,” Edmunds said. “The shame of it all is that these professions pay between $70,000 and $100,000 a year for a good skilled trade.”
 
Illinois’ unemployment rate is still higher than the national average.
 
While the Chicago area is where much of the employment growth is in Illinois, Edmunds said it should be outperforming smaller cities with similar sectors.
 
“We should be comparable to Charlotte, North Carolina, because the banking and service industries are very similar,” she said. “Charlotte is growing faster.”
 
Manpower has a number of programs and partnerships for their customers to get the skills Edmonds says employers like those in the Chicago suburbs want.

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Open Enrollment ends Friday, December 15th

The Illinois Department of Insurance (DOI) is reminding consumers that the 2018 Open Enrollment Period ends Friday, December 15, 2017. All Illinoisans needing health insurance coverage for 2018 must enroll by 11pm on Friday, December 15, 2017.
 
In past years, consumers had time to change plans in January after receiving their first premium bill.  With a shortened Enrollment Period ending December 15th, this is no longer an option, making it important to select the right plan the first time.
 
“We do not recommend passively re-enrolling because prices and plans change every year. Cost should not be the only factor in choosing a plan. For example, consumers should be sure to look at a plan’s provider network and coverage,” Hammer said.
 
This year, DOI partnered with GoHealth to improve the shopping experience for Illinoisans looking to purchase a 2018 health insurance coverage. Consumers who visit GetCovered.Illinois.Gov are now able to view individual plans offered both on and off the Exchange. Using the Connector tool on the website, consumers can arrange appointments with navigators and certified application counselors.
 
Consumers who have questions, or who are looking to sign up for a plan over the phone, may request to speak to a licensed insurance agent by calling 866-311-1119 Monday through Friday, from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
 
Director Hammer implemented a statewide consumer outreach initiative, with at least one event in each of Illinois’ 102 counties, where consumers can meet one-on-one with a member of the Get Covered staff to ask questions and receive assistance.
 
“Illinois is a large state and our goal was to reach all parts of it. We wanted to sit down with people faceto-face in a place that is convenient for them,” Director Hammer said.
 
DOI has also been promoting the importance of the shortened Enrollment Period through social media, radio, and a campaign on Chicago’s transit system.
 
“It is our job at the Department of Insurance to protect consumers. Accidents and illnesses can happen at any time, and we are helping consumers protect themselves with health insurance before it’s too late,” said Director Hammer.

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Closure of Du-Pont Good Hope Hi-Bred Facility coming second quarter of 2018

Per a McDonough County Voice report, Dupont Pioneer will “close and relocate some of the capabilities,” at its Good Hope Hi-Bred International facility in the second quarter of 2018. 

 

The following statement was released to The Voice by Gregg Schmidt with DuPont Corporate Communications: “Creating a strong independent agriculture company requires that we integrate our operations and establish a streamlined, efficient organization aligned with our strategic objectives. As part of this, we must establish an integrated, industry leading production organization with combined assets and capabilities optimized to deliver the innovative solutions our customers need.”

 

Schmidt added: “This includes addressing duplicative sites and facilities and relocating certain capabilities. It has been determined that we will close and relocate some of the capabilities at the Good Hope site. Through the integration process, our goal is to establish the strongest foundation possible for the intended agriculture company to drive sustainable growth over the long term.“

 

Schmidt did not provide information as to specifically when in the second quarter of 2018 the closure is expected to take place, nor did he provide details on the number of positions that will be impacted by this move. He mentioned that employees at the site are eligible to apply for open positions across the company.

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With mid-year tax hike, Illinoisans will pay an average 4.35 percent in state taxes on 2017 income

Even though Illinois lawmakers passed a tax hike in July that raised the state income tax to just under five percent, that’s not what residents will see charged to them on their tax returns.
 
Since Illinois lawmakers overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto in July, the tax rate has been 4.95 percent for individuals, trusts and estates and seven percent for corporations. But the six months that Illinoisans worked before the hike should see more of that income go into their pockets.
 
The Illinois Department of Revenue fixed this by averaging it out.
 
“The blended rate is based on the number of days under the former rate and the number of days under the new rate,” spokesman Terry Horstman said.
 
That means taxpayers are effectively paying 4.35 percent of their 2017 income to state coffers. Horstman says businesses that file using a different fiscal year have to either split the number of days in each tax bracket and pay accordingly or go through the long process of itemizing their income. Horstman suggests blending.
 
“It’s the more simple of the two methods and doesn’t require taxpayers to attach any additional schedules to their return,” he said.
 
Taxpayers are expected to send more than $5 billion in additional money to Springfield in 2017 income due to the tax hikes.
 
For more on the change, visit tax.illinois.gov.
 

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Spoon River College Surpasses Goal, Reaches $19,000 on #GivingSpoonDay

Spoon River College raised over $19,000 in a 24 hour period on what was deemed #GivingSpoonDay. This was the most amount of money raised by the college in the three years of the campaign. The college received over 265 seperate gifts on November 28, as the event was part of the larger Giving Tuesday movement to create a worldwide day of giving. 

 

“We really challenged our friends and our volunteers with this year’s goal,” said Colin Davis, SRC Foundation Director. “To surpass what we knew was a lofty goal is a wonderful testament not only to SRC, but to the communities in which our institution operates.  Time after time, we ask our friends to step up to the plate, and time after time, they deliver.”
 
The primary usage of these donations will be toward scholorships and financial aid for students. Through scholarships, community programs, student activities and facilities support, the SRC Foundation provides nearly $250,000 each year to SRC and its students.
 
Spoon River College began the #GivingSpoonDay campaign in 2015, raising $8,200 that year. In 2016, that figure increased to $15,000. 
 
With the annual growth of this event, Davis hopes this exposes more people to Spoon River College. 
 
“In addition to helping our students in any way possible, the idea of #GivingSPOONday is to reach as many people as possible and spread the mission of the SRC Foundation and help introduce, or re-introduce, people to Spoon River College,” said Davis.  “As #GivingSPOONday is primarily conducted through email, social media, friend-to-friend and other online marketing, it’s likely that over 25,000 people learned something about SRC and the SRC Foundation, and that’s a huge win, too.”
 
To learn more about the SRC Foundation, visit http://www.src.edu/foundation or call (309) 649-6260.
 
 

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Illinois is not escaping the flu outbreak that has swept across parts of the country

Illinois is not escaping the flu outbreak that has swept across parts of the country. 
 
The Illinois Department of Public Health does not track flu cases, just the number of people who are hospitalized. 
 
So it's up to local public health departments to paint the picture of Illinois' early flu season, and the picture isn't pretty. 
 
Litchfield schools, in Montgomery County, canceled classes last week because so many students and teachers were out sick. 
 
Montgomery County Public Health Administrator Hugh Satterlee said that Litchfield's flu outbreak was the worst in the county and one of the worst in the state. 
 
"They had triple digits of kids out sick and being sent home from school," Satterlee said. "Things were even more difficult because they had staff that was out."
 
Hillsboro and a handful of other south-central Illinois schools have also seen high numbers of absences due to the flu. 
 
Satterlee said he's seen a slight uptick in the number of people looking for flu shots. For some people, it's a good thing. They kick-in after two weeks, according to Satterlee, but won't help you much if you're sick already.
 
The CDC last week said that flu season across the country looks to be early and severe. 

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Illinois sustainable technology center looks statewide for businesses in wood heating study

Throughout the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) at the University of Illinois businesses have the opportunity to apply for a free engineering study regarding the potential cost savings of using low-value wood residues as heat. 
 
The ISTC has already helped six greenhouse operations gain insight into the costs of converting to wood heat. Now that study is being expanded to all businesses statewide. 
 
Illinois businesses have until December 31, 2017 to sign up for this offer. The ISTC is concluding a two-year wood fuel study, which is made possible through a $249,328 matching grant from the U.S. Forest Service.
 
Businesses selected will receive assistance with project scoping, engineering and financial analysis. You can read the full press release about this offer here
 
Interested businesses should contact Sriraam Chandrasekaran, lead research engineer of the ISTC, at (217) 300-1477 or schandr@illinois.edu.

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Illinois lawmaker has low expectations for law tracking food deserts

One Illinois lawmaker has low expectations for a new law tracking so-called “food deserts” in the state.
Under the legislation, the Illinois Department of Public Health now must file an annual report to the General Assembly on the location of communities that supposedly lack access to fresh food, along with information on any health issues associated with “food deserts”.
 
State Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, questions the need for the new report to lawmakers, as the information already is available elsewhere.
 
“It’s just another layer of feel-good legislation that’s going to do a report that I can already find on the internet,” Batinick said. “The federal government already tracks this. There’s a website, you can go all the way down to the census tract, and you can see what areas are considered a food desert.”
Batinick also takes issue with how a “food desert” is defined.
 
“The way the federal government defines a food desert is if more than 500 people in a census tract are more than one mile from a major grocery store, then it’s a food desert,” Batinick said. “So most of my life I supposedly lived in a food desert, and I can tell you I never had trouble finding a banana.”
 
Supporters hope the information will raise awareness and potentially lead to increased access to healthy food across the state. However, multiple studies have shown access to major grocery stores and healthier eating are not necessarily correlated. That includes a 2011 study that used 15 years’ worth of data from more than 5,000 people in five cities.
 
Batinick also argues this law will result in extra work for someone in state government, with no guarantee anything ever will come of it.
 
“Seems like a lot in Springfield is done for the headline, but not for the follow through,” Batinick said. “I’m on the audit commission and I can tell you, it seems like we ask for a lot of reports and then we have a committee meeting about it where half the people don’t show up, we don’t really talk about it, and nothing ever comes of it. If we’re going to do these reports … it just seems to me we should always be following through and doing something with the data we collect.”
 
A spokesperson for Illinois Department of Public Health says no additional staff will be needed to compile the annual report, as they’ll simply use the federal data already found online.

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As release of 2017 numbers approaches, will Illinois continue to lead the nation in population decline?

Twelve thousand more people left Illinois than arrived in 2014. That net loss of population doubled to 28,000 in 2015. Last year, the state shrunk by the equivalent of the residents of Pekin, at about 37,000. 
 
That's a bad sign, particularly for a state in such a fiscal quagmire as Illinois is.
 
“When you’re staring at a lot of fixed costs like Illinois has, and you’re starting to shrink in terms of the tax base, that’s not a positive thing,” said Aaron Renn, senior fellow at the nonprofit Manhattan Institute.
 
Illinois has more than $200 billion in unfunded pension and health care liabilities for current and future state retirees. The loss of population not only puts more of a burden on the taxpayers that have decided to stay, Renn said, but it is a major red flag for businesses looking to expand – no workers, no output.
 
“The most important thing in any corporate location decision is labor force,” he said.
 
While some Illinoisans leave the state for better weather or often chasing employment, a poll by the Paul Simon Institute at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale showed the primary reason for residents wanting an out-of-state zip code is high taxes here.
 
The coming Census release will be the first population count since the state’s budget impasse ended and the latest income tax hike took place in July. Lawmakers overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto to pass a budget containing personal income tax increase to nearly five percent. While the new data will reflect population figures from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017, before the tax increase went into effect, further population erosion doesn't bode well for those still in Illinois.
 
Renn said the most troubling aspect is that so many working-age people are leaving Illinois, “which means that a lot of the problems that the state has will be difficult to overcome through growth.”
 
IRS data released earlier this month showed 86,000 income taxpayers left the state in 2015 to other states.
 
While Illinois is leading the nation in population decline, Renn said many Rust Belt states have seen outmigration issues and trouble attracting new industries.
 
In many cases, he said, governments are forced to restructure their fixed costs to better reflect the realities of their smaller tax base.
 
“One of the things that we have seen in other places is debt restructuring or a form of bankruptcy,” he said. “Detroit still has a lot of problems but things seem to be looking up there.”
 
The Census data will be made public on Dec. 20.

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Macomb Public Library District and Eagle View Community Health Systems to receive state funds

State Sen. Jil Tracy (R-Quincy) of the 47th district, announced that Gov. Bruce Rauner has ordered the release of grant funds for two local capital programs. Eagle View Community Health Systems located in Stronghurst and Oquawka, and the Macomb Public Library District, will receive state funds for the first time since the 15 fiscal year.
 
Per Senate Republican Staff Press Secretary Mae Fitzpatrick Tracy said, “Both of these organizations are pillars of the community that are open to the public and important to the entire region, but they also play a particularly important role for low-income residents and some of our most vulnerable citizens.” 
 
Tracy also added, “Eagle View provides services to all individuals regardless of their ability to pay and offers a safe space for those who need health care. The Macomb Public Library District has brought the community together since 1882, providing free educational and recreational services to everyone. I’m thankful Governor Rauner has signed off on these grants so they can resume building and we can keep these essential organizations thriving in our district.”
 
Eagle View Community Health Systems, located in Stronghurst and Oquawka, has a grant total of $52,345, and its paid-to-date amount was $10,469. With funding focused on Eagle View resuming its construction and improving operations, the organization will receive the remaining $41,876 from the Illinois Capital Development Board (ICDB). The Macomb Public Library District is currently owed $238,207.50 in grant funds for its construction and development from ICDB, which is also due to be paid immediately.
 
“By providing financial resources to the Macomb Public Library District, we can help inspire the next generation of readers. Through investment in Eagle View Community Health Systems, we can increase access to health care in an underserved area. The people of Western Illinois will really benefit from these capital projects,” said Governor Bruce Rauner.
 
“The release of this much-needed funding is great news for local families and communities,” said State Rep. Randy Frese (R-Paloma). “The services provided by Eagle View Community Health Systems and the Macomb Public Libraries are essential to our well-being and our quality of life in West-Central Illinois.”
 
The ICDB has currently been approved to fund over 20 capital projects for Fiscal Year 18.  

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State Rep.: Bitcoin and blockchain here to stay as Illinois leads the way

With the soaring price of digital currency Bitcoin, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group set to launch futures beginning Dec. 17, one state representative says the technology is here to stay.
 
Bitcoin broke $16,000 per coin Thursday. That’s more than triple what it was just three months ago. Back in 2010, Bitcoin prices were around $30.
 
CME Group said on its website the value “of a bitcoin has increased exponentially this year ... as investors clamor to join the cryptocurrency stampede.”
 
“CME Group plans to launch Bitcoin futures on Dec 18, offering investors a secure and regulated platform to trade the virtual currency,” the derivatives marketplace said.
 
There will never be more than 21 million Bitcoins, unlike paper money and central banks that can print more dollars or add assets on spreadsheets. Blockchain.info puts the current amount of Bitcoin in circulation at more than 16.7 million as of Dec. 5.
 
Erik Norland, executive director and senior economist of CME Group, wrote in a blog post to the group’s website, “[t]his feature makes supply almost perfectly inelastic.”
 
“Bitcoin’s limited and highly inelastic supply is also a major factor driving its price,” Norland wrote.” But he said rising transaction costs could cause a crash.
 
Illinois state Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, is part of the Illinois Legislative Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Task Force. The blockchain is the decentralized, secure yet transparent digital ledger behind the digital currency Bitcoin. He said while some think the decentralized currency is a gimmick, it’s here to stay.
 
“I’m skeptical there’s a bubble and I’m skeptical it’s going to burst,” Zalewski said. “Anything’s possible. Just based on the testimony we’ve received, the agency input, I’m very skeptical this is going to go away anytime soon.”
 
Zalewski said Bitcoin and the blockchain is transforming monetary policy at the federal and state level.
 
“It’s just another piece of the evolution of Bitcoin and the blockchain into the mainstream of our markets, our economic activity and our commerce,” he said.
 
Zalewski said Illinois is embracing the technology, unlike other states.
 
“New York took a very harsh regulatory stand on Bitcoin and blockchain and it opened opportunity for Illinois to step into a vacuum,” Zalewski said, “and we’re taking advantage of that right now, and I hope it will continue.”
 
Zalewski said the blockchain isn’t just for digital currencies like Bitcoin. It can also be used for consumers to have better control over things like medical or other vital records without having to rely on centralized databases.
 
“Imagine having your health records on the blockchain,” Zalewski said. “You control who gets them. You control to what level they’re disposed to other providers and on a real anecdotal level you don’t have to go to the office to get your transcripts delivered from one doctor to another, you just give them a thumb drive [with an encrypted key] and say ‘here it is.’”
 
Zalewski expects a legislative report from the blockchain task force in the next month or two.

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Political reformer: Interesting only Democrats want campaign contribution clarification

One of Illinois' leading political reformers says it's interesting that only Democrats in the state are asking for a clarification about rules surrounding campaign contributions and quid pro quo concerns.
 
The laundry list of Illinois politicos and former politicos who are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to clarify the rules as to when a request for a campaign contribution becomes essentially a request for a payoff are all Democrats.
 
They filed a request with the high court to clarify the quid-pro-quo ruling that has former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich sitting in federal prison.
 
Sarah Brune, executive director at the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, wondered out loud Wednesday if it is because of the link between Democrats in Illinois and the public sector unions who contribute to them.
 
"Certainly, unions have constituted a large part of the funding stream for Illinois Democrats," Brune said. "[For] Democrats running federal races, unions constitute a less significant part of their funding than Democrats running in state races. But that's a minor point."
 
Brune said there is danger for both parties in getting too close to donors and a quid pro quo allegation. 
 
"It's definitely the case that Democrats take money from a union source, and then it can be seen as quid pro quo for certain legislation that is favorable to that union source," Brune said. "But the same thing can happen on the Republican side. If there are business donors, or wealthy donors and the Republicans are seen as sending state contracts there way."
 
In 2014, the last governor's race in Illinois, eight of the top 10 donors to former Gov. Pat Quinn were unions. That same year, all but one of the top 10 donors to Gov. Bruce Rauner were wealthy individuals.
 
The Democrats who are asking the court for clarification say they're not taking a position on the former governor, they just want guidance going forward. 
 

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IDOT Annual Traveler Opinion Survey Available

How satisfied are you with our states public transportation Services? The Illinois Department of Transportation wants your feedback through its Annual Illinois Traveler Opinion Survey. The survey will help the department make proper improvements for a better transportation experience. IDOT wants to extend community feedback, so for the first time ever, they decided to make the survey available online. The survey starts today through Dec. 31. To take the survey visit www.idot.illinois.gov.

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Macomb Armed Robbery Under Investigation

The Macomb Police Department is investigating an alleged armed robbery of a pizza delivery driver.

 

Macomb Police Depertment Lieutenant Lindsey May told KHQA this morning that the alleged robbery took place Tuesday night in the 500 block of West Orchard Street. Lt. May says the driver was met by two men, one of which was carrying a pistol, when he returned to his car after making a delivery. 

 

The driver described the alleged robbers as two African-American men, which were 6'2 and 5'5 respectively. The driver could not provide a description of their clothing, as it was too dark to see. The men left with an undisclosed amount of money.

 

If you have any information regarding the alleged crime, contact the Macomb Area Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS or online

 

 

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Illinois EPA Announces Annual Environmental Education Competition for Fifth & Sixth Grade Students

Fifth and sixth grade writers and artists from around Illinois are invited to compete in this year’s Poster, Poetry and Prose Contest sponsored by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA). This year’s contest theme is Illinois is Celebrating 200 Years! How Can You Be an Environmental Pioneer? focusing on helping to preserve and protect our air, land and water for the next 200 years in honor of Illinois’s bicentennial. Educators are asked to introduce historic environmental problems and how Illinois laws and citizen actions have helped make a healthier environment. Students are challenged to answer the question, “What would a modern environmental pioneer do to ensure Illinois has a sustainable future?”.
 
Each school can enter up to eight works, four posters and four written. Entries must be postmarked and sent in to the Illinois EPA by February 1, 2018. An in house panel from the Illinois EPA will judge all entries to select the finalists, whose entries are then judged by an outside panel of authorities to determine the top twelve winners. The top winning entries will be on exhibit in the atrium of the Illinois EPA’s headquarters building in Springfield from April 23 through May 21, and the top winners will be featured on the Illinois EPA’s homepage.
 
All finalists, together with their families and teachers, are invited to an awards ceremony and reception that will be held on April 21, 2018 at the Old State Capitol Historic Site in Springfield. After the awards ceremony, participants are invited to attend the City of Springfield’s Earth Awareness Fair on the Old State Capitol’s lawn.
 

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Next date scheduled in lawsuit attempting to block taxpayer funded abortions

The next date has been set for Dec. 28 in the case pro life groups have brought against the state of Illinois, but it all depends on when the state plans to implement taxpayer-funding for elective abortions next year.
 
Gov. Bruce Rauner signed House Bill 40 in September saying no women should be denied the operation based of their ability to pay. The measure would pay for abortions for those on state employee health insurance and eligible Medicaid recipients.
 
The Thomas More Society and others, including the Catholic Archdiocese of Springfield, sued the state in Sangamon County Circuit Court to try and block a law from going into effect at the beginning of the year. Several statehouse Republicans also joined the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, objecting to taxpayer funding of abortions.
 
State Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, who is also special counsel for the Thomas More Society, said following Wednesday’s scheduling hearing  that the next step depends on if the state plans to implement the law beginning Jan. 1.
 
“If the director of [Healthcare and Family Services] wants to be the grinch that ruins Christmas, then we will come in on [Dec.] 28th and we will argue because we’ve got to get in before Jan. 1, as we see it, to try and prevent public monies from being spent,” Breen said.
 
The state said it plans a motion to dismiss but was given 10 days to answer whether it plans to implement the law by Jan. 1.
 
Breen said one of their arguments is the legislative process was abused in passing the bill.
“We’re supposed to get our work done by May 31,” Breen said. “Work was not done on HB40 until September.”
 
Democrats passed the bill out of both chambers with simple majorities by May 10, but a motion to reconsider held the bill from being passed to the governor until Sept. 25. Rauner signed the bill Sept. 28.
 
Breen also said there’s no money for it anyway.
 
“Do you want to defund your universities to pay for elective abortions?” Breen asked. “Are we going to take money out of the mouths of poor children in order to pay for elective abortions? That’s the issue here. There’s no money for these procedures.”
 
Breen said the taxpayer cost could be between $15 million to $30 million, something he said the state can’t afford with a projected deficit of more than $1.5 billion if not more.
 
The next hearing date in the case is scheduled Dec. 28 at 1:30 in Springfield.

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Governor, safety leaders launch safe-driving campaign

Gov. Bruce Rauner is teaming up with Illinois safety leaders to drive home the importance of the state’s Move Over law.
 
To launch the new “Give Them Distance” campaign, the governor gathered today with leaders from the Illinois Tollway, the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Illinois State Police, AAA, the Mid-West Truckers Association and Secretary of State Jesse White’s office. The campaign launch took place at the O’Hare Oasis in Schiller Park.
 
“Awareness of this common-sense law is so important to our first-responders — and to anyone who has to pull off the side of the road to fix a flat or deal with engine trouble,” Rauner said. “Too many lives are being lost on our roadways. We want to make sure drivers know to slow down and move over for vehicles with flashing lights.”
 
The state’s Move Over Law, also known as Scott’s Law, was first enacted in 2002 after Lt. Scott Gillen of the Chicago Fire Department was struck and killed by an intoxicated driver on the Dan Ryan Expressway while assisting at a crash scene in December 2000. It requires motorists approaching stopped emergency vehicles with lights flashing to slow down and move over, changing lanes if possible to make extra room.
 
While most Illinois motorists are aware of the law as it pertains to emergency vehicles, many might not know that it was expanded in January 2017 to include any vehicle with hazard lights flashing.
 
Drivers who fail to comply face serious penalties, including a fine of up to $10,000, two-year suspension of driving privileges and possible jail time.
 
“Making the roads of Illinois the safest ever is one of my top priorities, and the Move Over law helps us to do that,” said Secretary of State Jesse White. “Every day, emergency personnel are working to serve and protect us. We need to do our part to help keep them safe by yielding the right-of-way to all emergency vehicles and taking precautionary measures for disabled vehicles.
 
“We don’t want drivers to be involved in crashes because they weren’t paying attention to emergency responders.”
 
"Within the last five years, two Illinois State Police troopers were killed in the line of duty and several others injured when motorists failed to move over for emergency vehicles,” said ISP Director Leo Schmitz. “These tragedies and countless others across the nation could have been prevented if drivers remained alert and simply followed the laws designed to keep them and other motorists safe."
 
“The Move Over law reinforces basic, common-sense rules you should always practice when encountering any vehicle on the side of the road anywhere,” agreed Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn. “Slow down, proceed with caution and change lanes if you can.”
 
Illinois Tollway Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom said he hopes motorists take heed.
 
“We’re calling on other leaders, communities and drivers throughout Illinois to join us and spread the word,” he said.
 
Illinois was home to 1,073 traffic fatalities in 2016, the first time the state topped 1,000 since 2008, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. The number of fatalities stood at 1,015 through Tuesday, Dec. 5, of this year, according to provisional IDOT data.
 
Drivers are encouraged to visit www.GiveThemDistance.com for more information on this safe-driving initiative.

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Macomb Area Chamber of Commerce celebrates Amtrak Station renovations with ribbon cutting

The Ambassador Committee of the Macomb Area Chamber of Commerce, the City of Macomb and Amtrak officials celebrated the recent renovations at the Macomb Amtrak Depot (120 E. Calhoun St.) with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Tuesday, December 5. 

 

The renovations included ADA accessibility. The upgrades consisted of a new exterior ramp, interior and exterior door modifications, and a remodeling of the bathrooms and seating area inside the station. The project was completed by local firms McClure Engineering and Laverdiere Construction. 

 

Macomb was chosen as the pilot program for many federally-funded Amtrak renovation projects to be done across the United States.

 

“We were happy to be chosen by Amtrak to be part of this pilot project,” said Mayor Mike Inman. “We believe the local approach taken with this project, saved tax payer dollars,” Inman added. 

 

For more information, visit the City of Macomb website.

 

(Center: Mayor Mike Inman cuts the ribbon, ushering in the completion of the Macomb Amtrak renovations)

 

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Questions arise over how tax reform will affect home values

The housing industry is warning that federal tax reform legislation will mean big home value losses across the country, but others say the tax cuts and growing economy will make up for it.
 
The National Association of Realtors is pushing Congress to reconsider some of the changes in its tax reform packages that recently passed. They say removing the mortgage interest deduction as well as other subsidies for homeowners will result in the average house losing $22,000 to $34,000 in home value.
 
The proposed GOP tax overhaul would remove the mortgage interest deductions for any home worth more than $500,000, as well as cap the property tax deduction at $10,000, meaning residents of states with high property taxes like Illinois would pay more to the federal government on April 15 because many wouldn't be able to deduct all of their local tax bill.
 
Of the 6.1 million Illinois tax returns filed with the IRS in 2015, 1.4 million deducted mortgage interest and 1.7 million deducted property taxes. The NAR estimates that the average Illinois homeowner deducts $7,700 in mortgage interest and $6,750 in property taxes, well under the proposed $10,000 cap.
 
U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Belleville, said last week that 78 percent of his southern Illinois district uses the standard deduction, thus having no need for itemized exemptions.
 
The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that $39 billion in property taxes will be written off of federal returns in 2017.
 
Chris Edwards, editor of downsizinggovernment.org, said the extra money in Illinoisans’ wallets from a higher standard deduction and economic growth will give that lost home value back over time.
 
“Middle and upper-middle income households are going to get tax cuts out of this bill,” he said. “That’s the most important aspect.”
 
Edward Pinto, co-director of the American Enterprise Institute’s International Center on Housing Risk, said removing the subsidies for expensive homes will put more affordable homes on the market and even more money in Illinoisans’ wallets since they're more inclined to buy lower-priced homes.
 
But Pinto said the bigger pinch will be felt on the state and local governments like Illinois that have been reliant on these tax carve-outs to subsidize their high cost of government.
 
“Illinois has been able to benefit from a large number of federal tax deductions, three of which are being constricted,” he said. “This should be a wake-up call for Illinois.”
 
Both Pinto and Edwards point out that the percentage of homeownership is nearly the same as it was decades ago, leading one to believe that the tax deductions haven’t had the effect that realtors say.

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Bloomington Republican State Senator: Illinois should legalize marijuana

Add a Republican senator from central Illinois to the growing list of Illinois lawmakers who say the state should legalize recreational marijuana. 
 
State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, says he is ready to support legal, recreational marijuana if the law is written correctly. 
 
"I think fiscal conservatives need to be in this debate," Barickman said Tuesday. "It is inevitable that this is going to happen. Our opportunity is either to sit on the sidelines and watch how it happens, and not influence the outcome or put ourselves at the negotiating table."
 
Barickman says that way he can try and shape how a legal, recreational marijuana program will work. And he can shape how the hundreds of millions of dollars that Illinois could see in new taxes is spent. 
 
"I would like to see these revenues pay down our backlog of bills, our debt, our pension liabilities," Barickman said. "I'd like to see us move our income tax rates."
 
Industry experts say legal, recreational marijuana in Illinois could be worth as much as $700 million a year. 
 
Barickman said he's ready to vote yes for legal marijuana, but not to co-sponsor the plan.  He expects other Republicans to also endorse marijuana, and he hopes Gov. Bruce Rauner changes his mind. 
 
Barickman said marijuana supporters are modifying the existing legalization legislation. He hopes to see a new plan in February of 2018. 
 
Lawmakers could vote next year, but many speculate that a vote won't occur until after the November 2018 gubernatorial election. 

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Governor Rauner launches 24/7 helpline to combat opioid epidemic

Americas’s opioid crises reaches an all time high. Governor Bruce Rauner, announced today that there will now be a statewide helpline service that will be available to all suffering addicts. The helpline will be available 24 hours a day, every day of the week. Their goal is to provide a confidential outlet where users, and others affected by the crisis can talk out problems and seek help finding local treatment facilities.

 

This program is funded by federal grant dollars from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. If you or someone you know is experiencing opioid use disorder, call 1-833-2FINDHELP.

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Illinois lawmaker proposes undergrads can fill state-wide substitute teaching vacancies

With much of Illinois facing a substitute teacher shortage, a state lawmaker wants to give college students a chance to get into classrooms sooner.
 
According to the state Board of Education, one in four teachers in Illinois missed more than 10 days of class last year. With the pool of substitute teachers to fill their spots continually getting thinner, a bill filed by state Rep. Lindsay Parkhurst, R-Kankakee, would allow education undergraduates to fill that position.
 
“They’re already in the field so it’s not like we would be decreasing the standard for substitute teachers,” Parkhurst said.
 
Students would need to have accumulated 90 college credit hours before they could step foot into the classroom. Currently, Illinois requires a substitute to have at least a bachelor's degree. The change would not only help the districts scrambling for substitutes, but it would give these undergraduates the opportunity to be paid for further in-classroom experience, and even make inroads with a desired district.
 
Parkhurst said the state’s regulations are making the shortage worse.
 
“There’s a lot of regulations for testing and certification,” she said. “It’s affecting schools, teachers and students.”
 
The legislation is modeled after Michigan’s recent changes to its standards for substitute teachers.
 
Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill into law this year that would lighten the burden of potential substitute teachers in Illinois. The law reduced the licensing fee by $50, removes an additional written skills test, and allows teachers that have received their licenses elsewhere to be further considered.

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Opioid Overdose Awareness, Education and Prevention Course comes to Macomb

The City of Macomb, McDonough County Health Department and Human Services Center are holding an Opioiod Overdose Awareness, Education and Prevention Course on Thursday December 14. The event will run from 6:30-8:00 p.m. inside Macomb City Hall. The course is free and includes Naloxone (Narcan) training. 

 

 

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Illinois Bicentennial Exhibition to Open February at Peoria Riverfront Museum

Peoria Riverfront Museum announces the opening of a major exhibition on the Illinois Bicentennial next February 3. The exhibition, “Celebrate Illinois: 200 Years in the Land of Lincoln,” Feb. 3 through June 3,  will feature more than 100 Illinois artifacts, such as the cufflink that President Abraham Lincoln wore the night he was assassinated and other statewide and Central Illinois items.
 
For the past few months museum curators have been gathering Illinois objects and their stories, working closely with the National Park Service and Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, which loaned the cufflink, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Illinois State Museum, and Knox College archives and Galesburg Colony Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
 
The museum recently became an official partner with the Illinois Bicentennial Commission, “Illinois 200,” and is the first museum to be an affiliate, as well as to host a major bicentennial exhibition.
 
"The Peoria Riverfront Museum is proud to be the first in Illinois to comprehensively celebrate the bicentennial with a spotlight on amazing Illinois personalities and objects that tell stories,” said John D. Morris, “our history curator, Lottie Phillips, has diligently worked for many months to gather the incredible array of objects that offer inspiration for the people of Illinois today."
 
Earlier this fall, the museum installed the 31-ft. bronze Lincoln sculpture, “Return Visit,” facing the Illinois River, with the assistance of local businesses and individuals, to usher in the Illinois Bicentennial. The sculpture is on loan from the Seward Johnson Foundation through October.

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In the decade since the U.S. plunged into a recession, Illinoisans are making little more than they did back then

In the decade since the U.S. plunged into a recession, Illinoisans are making little more now than they did then.
 
In ten years since December 2007, Illinois and Nevada have seen the lowest wage growth in the nation, based on data through June of this year. Illinoisans’ wage growth was 0.6 percent in the second quarter of this year, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. But since June, Nevada has seen major growth, likely putting it just ahead of Illinois since the recession began.
 
State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, says the stagnant wages are a symptom of low business investment in the state. Businesses that are seeking to expand, he said, are often doing so in other states.
 
“These job creators want to expand, hire more and buy more equipment. That’s why they’re in business,” he said. “They don’t want to expand elsewhere, but they have no choice.”
 
He says Illinois households have seen their monthly bills rise steadily over the past decade – higher income taxes and healthcare costs associated with the Affordable Care Act, especially.
 
“Premiums have skyrocketed in cost,” he said. “That’s made worse by the fact that we raised state and local taxes.”
 
Syverson warned that, if the state doesn’t take steps to make Illinois more competitive for business, Illinoisans’ paychecks will continue to be stagnant.
 
According to the bureau, the Consumer Price Index, a measure of inflation, has risen by about 2 percent annually.

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Manufacturers: Fed tax cut will be great, but Illinois must change to compete with neighbors

A central Illinois congressman says residents hit with high property taxes and a recent state income tax hike will benefit from the tax reform making its way through Congress.
 
The House and Senate versions that Republicans passed are different, and they must be reconciled before being sent to the president.
 
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, said even with the various changes reconciled, the measure will mean small businesses in Illinois will get a lower federal tax burden.
 
“Those who believe in their local communities, those who’ve invested their time, their talent and their savings in our communities to provide that service, they’re going to get more money in their pocket,” Davis said. “I think that’s a good thing. That’s not a bad thing when you take money out of Washington and put it back home.”
 
But critics say tax cuts will create big deficits to the tune of more than $1 trillion.
 
“You’re going to see any deficit swallowed up by economic growth,” Davis said. He noted the economy under President Barack Obama was stagnant at 1 percent growth but the most recent economic indicators under President Donald Trump have growth at more than 3 percent.
 
The stock market surged in early trading Monday following the news of tax reform passing the Senate over the weekend.
 
But will any potential growth be felt in Illinois?
 
The state’s leading manufacturing group said federal tax cuts will help manufacturers but there still needs to be big changes in Illinois for the state to be able to compete.
 
Illinois Manufacturers’ Association Vice President Mark Denzler said dropping the federal corporate income tax by 15 percent will benefit Illinois manufacturers.
 
“The federal tax reform is great,” Denzler said. “It’s going to help every manufacturer across the country. We’re excited about the opportunity for the first tax reform in decades. However, we now need to move and we need to get many of these changes made in Illinois so we can start competing with our neighboring states.”
 
Denzler has joined others from the business community for years calling on Illinois lawmakers to help lower the state's workers’ compensation costs and high property taxes.
 
All Illinois’ neighboring states, Denzler said, are adding tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs, but Illinois is “stuck in neutral.”
 
Congressional Republicans hope to get the bill to Trump before the Christmas break.

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Illinois Student Assistance Commission Announces 2018-19 Illinois State Scholars

The Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) announced its annual Illinois State Scholars list. More than 20,000 students state-wide have been honored for their academic achievements. 

 

Per a ISAC press release, "the 2018-19 Illinois State Scholars rank in approximately the top ten percent of high school seniors from 737 high schools across the state. Honorees are chosen based on a combination of exemplary ACT or SAT test scores and sixth semester class rank."

 

While the recognition does not come with any monetary award, it is designed to help pave the way for students to have the ability to attend college. 

 

“On behalf of ISAC, I congratulate all of this year’s State Scholars for their exceptional work and wish them much success in their future endeavors,” said Eric Zarnikow, ISAC executive director in the press release. “Thank you also to the teachers, parents, coaches and other mentors who support our students, inspire them, and help them navigate a path to college. You make a tremendous difference not only in our students’ lives, but in improving economic prosperity and building a bright future for our state.”

 

Below is a list of students who earned this recognizition in Adams, Cass, Fulton, Hancock, Henderson, Knox, McDonough, Schuyler and Warren counties. 

 

Adams County

 

Central High School
Aden, Isaiah
Ennis, Brooke
Rankin, Zachary
White, Lauren
 
Liberty High School
Spilker, Avery
 
Payson-Seymour High School
Helton, Allison
Hull, Lissa
Maiers, Megan
Tedrow, Melina
Walker, Rebecca
Zanger, Aidan
 
Quincy Notre Dame High School
Brecht, Holly
Broemmer, James
Brown, John
Cloninger, William
Eversman, Elizabeth
Kovachevich, Cy
Marcolla, Sophia
Martin, Kristin
McCulla, Alaina
McPherson, Madison
Peters, Hannah
Schlepphorst, Emma
Sturhahn, Autumn
 
Quincy Senior High School II
Amos, Benjamin
Ary, Jacob
Askew, Carlie
Beck, Hannah
Bordewick, Breanna
Brown, Anna
Crickard, Grace
Crossan, Reece
Cullo, Raven
Davidson, Emma
Degitz, Taylor
Disseler, Jenna
Erke, Sierra
Fuglaar, Hannah
Gorman, Anne
Gorman, Katherine
Kanauss, Lorral
Katenin, Haley
Kim, Molly
Knight, Connor
Marks, Kendall
Mast, Kayla
McIntyre, Sarah
Mero, Bryce
Meyer, Rachel
Molidor, Margot
Osborne, Devin
Reichert, Trevor
Seaman, Adelle
Shoot, Aaron
Sly, Claire
Sonethongkham, Justin
Spohr, Alexandra
Spooner, Zachary
Stephens, Sophia
Stevenson, Alec
Tenhouse, Collin
Vogler, Kathryn
Wilson, Rachel
Wollaston, Chaney
Unity High School
Graham, Georgia
Schrader, Amanda
Shupe, Amber
Tallcott, Cordin

 

Cass County
 
A-C Central High School
Kesselring, Cheyenne
Smith, Baylor
 
Beardstown High School
Blake, Whitnee
Hobrock, Autumn
Perez, Xenia
Perry, Lyndel
Riddle, Isaac
Seaman, Natalie
Trujillo, Karina
Warden, Elisabeth
 
Virginia High School
Anderson, Cole
 
Fulton County
 
Canton High School
Crumley, Dalton
Dailey, Nicholas
Foose, Alana
Hayes, Emma
Johnson, Riley
Mathews, Elyse
Mathews, Kaitlyn
Noonan, Caylin
Strob, Ashlyn
Weyers, Joshua
Wheeler, Evan
White, Julia
 
Cuba Jr Sr High School
Kington, Connor
Luthy, Lake
 
Lewistown High School
Embree, Tayler
Endsley, Kassidy
Palmer, Emilie
Walmsley, Amy
Welker, Josie
 
Spoon River Valley High School
Eathington, Katelyn
Hanlin, Alexis
Hisey, Megan
Semande, Elizabeth
 
V I T Cons High School
Boggs, John
 
Hancock County
 
Hamilton High School
Koblas, Andrew
McIlmoil, John
Munson, Electa
Pfeiferling, Kailee
 
Illini West High School
Artman, Connor
Bryan, Jacob
Duffy, Hannah
Junk, Zachary
Smith, Sophie
 
Southeastern High School
Glick, Lauren
 
Warsaw High School
Cluff, Emily
Lucie, Emily
Roskamp, Justin
Stevenson, Cicely
 
Henderson County
 
West Central High School
Armstrong, Kenna
 
Knox County
 
Abingdon Avon High School
Ginther, Taylor
Landers, John
Mason, Johnathon
Powell, Andrew
 
Galesburg Senior High School
Armon, Grace
Brown, Makailee
Carl, Jacob
Contreras, Rafael
Cypert, Samantha
Foster, Rebecca
Gebru, Sophia
Hawkins, Clark
Hostens, Taylor
Leahy, Christopher
Lingafelter, Megan
Oeth, Brenden
Oldfield, Sophia
Palmer, Lauren
Rush, Nicholas
Wallenfelsz, Sarah
Wenstrom, Grace
Williams, William
 
Knoxville High School
Brewster, Hannah
Krug, Kelley
Lenz, Emily
Nixon, Ryan
Ponder, Shelby
Soper, Marissa
 
Rowva High School
Peters, Nathan

 

McDonough County 

 

Bushnell Prairie City High School
Batson, Abigail
Ferguson, Nathaniel
Garzee, Mariah
Hiel, John
Larson, Taylor
Sargeant, Paige
Spangler, Hannah
Statler, Alyx
Teel, Trenten
 
Macomb High School
Duncan, Alexander
Hall, William
Howard, Hannah
John, Lawson
Jorgensen, Leah
Knowles, Scarlett
Laprad, Ethan
Lester, Nicole
Li, Theodore
Litchfield, Kathleen
Mahmoud, Fatima
Mann, Kelsi
Sperry, Isabel
Torrance, Nicholas
Wang, Mengzhu
Williams, Benjamin
 
West Prairie High School
Blackledge, Samuel
Butterfield, Courtney
Herman, Karlee
Zellmann, Pema
 
Schuyler County
*There are no 2018-19 State Scholars for Schuyler County
 
Warren County 
 
Monmouth-Roseville High School
Bricker, Jessie
Cook, Melissa
Dulin, Riley
Fisher, Kaitlyn
Frieden, Lane
Hnin, Siang
Hofmann, Arika
Neal, Cora
Plate, Madelyn
 
United CUSD #304
Bishop, Olivia
Frieden, Zachary
Gregory, Claire
Gregory, Vada
King, Janelle
Simonson, Sara

 

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John Curtis discusses race for representative of 93rd district in Macomb News Now interview

Following his announcement that he has filed to enter in the race for Representative of the 93rd district of Illinois, John Curtis sat down in our Macomb News Now studios for an interview. Curtis, who is running as a Democrat, discussed his background, his experience running in the 2016 race, and the changes he'd like to see at the state level. You can listen to my full conversation with Curtis here

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WIU announces monthly First Wednesday Art Program

The Western Illinois University Department of Art will host its monthly First Wednesday program from 7–9 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 6 in Garwood Hall, the Heating Plant Annex (HPA) and the WIU Art Gallery.
 
The event is open free to anyone who wants to experience art. This month's schedule includes:
 
Garwood Hall Activities
 
Printmaking – Professors Jan Clough, Bill Howard, Garwood 13 
 
Glitter Screenprinted Holiday Cards – Professor Susan Czechowski, Garwood Hall 11
 
Art Project for Children – Associate Professor Ta-teh Ku, Garwood 24
 
Life-Sized Portrait Drawings – Professor Bruce Walters, Garwood 22 
 
Holiday Themed Vintage Photos - Professor Jenny Knavel, Garwood 37
Painting Workshop – Senior art major Roberto Mata Torres, of Macomb, Garwood 30
 
HPA Activities 
 
Sculpture – Associate Professor Duke Oursler, HPA 105
 
Ornament Making - Professors Kat Myers and Julie Mahoney, HPA 107
 
The WIU Art Gallery will also be open during the First Wednesday event.
 
For more information on the monthly program, contact WIU Professor of Art Tim Waldrop at TD-Waldrop@wiu.edu or the WIU Department of Art at (309) 298- 1549.

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Curtis kicks off campaign run

The press release posted below comes from John Curtis' campaign team. Curtis officially filed his paperwork to run as a Democrat in the race for State Representative in Illinois' 93rd District. In the 2016 race, Curtis fell to Republican incumbent Norine Hammond. Curtis was edged out by nearly three thousand votes, as Hammond gained 54.6% of the vote to Curtis' 45.4%. 

 

We will have John Curtis in studio later this morning to discuss his campaign and the platform he is running on. 

 

For Immediate Release: Dec. 4, 2017

 

John Curtis officially kicked off his campaign for State Representative of the 93rd District of Illinois by filing papers to run as a Democrat.

 
Curtis is a farmer, teacher, and business owner who lives in Macomb, Illinois. 
 
“I’m running because I believe in the American Dream, if people work hard they should be able to get ahead,” says Curtis.  “We can provide those opportunities by making sure the economy works for everyone, by investing in our kids’ future, and by cleaning up Illinois government.”
 
 
Curtis believes he is the best candidate to bring people together and change how things are done in Illinois.   “As a farmer, I know what a hard day’s work is.  As a teacher and business owner, I am deeply invested in my community.  Illinois government is a mess.  People are ready for new faces, new ideas, and new ways of doing things in Illinois.”

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Quincy officials spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on Chicago hotels and food

Quincy taxpayers took it on the chin more than once in 2017 – a 32 percent income tax increase at the state level and a city property tax increase with another one possibly on the horizon in 2018.
 
That didn’t stop Quincy officials from spending thousands of dollars on Chicago hotels and food while attending a conference in September.
 
The Illinois News Network sent Freedom of Information requests to two dozen municipalities across the state to find out how much their officials spent at the Illinois Municipal League’s annual conference in September. Of all towns examined, Quincy spent more than any other.
 
Their total of $17,823.76 includes more than $11,000 for lodging at the Hilton Chicago, where the conference was held.
 
Quincy also sent more people than any other municipality examined by INN. A total of 12 city staffers, elected officials and aldermen accompanied Mayor Kyle Moore to the three-day conference. Moore’s office would not respond to requests for comment.
 
Other cities that spent less either sent fewer people or didn’t allow taxpayers to pick up the tab for expenses like dinners and hotel stays.
 
LaSalle, for instance, sent four city officials for a total expense of $1,296. LaSalle spending policies do not allow city officials to bill taxpayers for hotel rooms for drives that can be made to and from in the same day, and allow attendees to expense just one lunch during the three-day conference.
 
“This is exactly, exactly why people are so upset,” said Adam Andrzejewski, chief executive officer at Openthebooks.com. “What’s the public purpose to send 13 officials basically to a big party at a fancy hotel to drink and eat on the taxpayer dime? It’s taxpayer abuse, plain and simple.”
 
On Monday (Nov. 27), the Quincy City Council adopted a “Truth in Taxation” resolution, signaling another possible tax increase measure in the coming month.
 
The conference costs $310 in registration fees per attendee. Quincy paid a total of $4,680 to the IML. Officials have complimented the conference as a source of information on local government best practices that would be difficult to get elsewhere.
 
This year's three-day conference included presentations on municipal finance issues, grant writing, maximizing tax revenue, budgeting, police issues and dozens of other topics. All three municipalities are members of IML.

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State kicks off year-long bicentennial celebration on Illinois' 199th birthday

A year-long celebration has begun to ring in Illinois’ 200th anniversary of becoming a U.S. state, and it was kicked off with events, projects and even a new beer to help make that happen.
 
From Chicago to Springfield Sunday, signature events recognized the state’s 199th birthday, all leading up to Illinois’ 200th birthday Dec. 3, 2018.
 
“This is an opportunity to celebrate all that has been great in our first 200 years and lay the foundation for 200 more years of growth and prosperity,” Gov. Bruce Rauner said during an event at Navy Pier in Chicago Sunday.
 
One hundred winners of the state’s 100-Day Countdown video contest watched the cast of Hamilton performing in Chicago raise the curtain on the year-long celebrations.
 
A couple of signature projects are right in middle of the capital city of Springfield.
The Executive Mansion in Springfield, also known as the governor’s house, is a signature project. That’s undergoing $15 million in renovations funded by private donations.
 
Another project just east of the mansion is the Illinois Bicentennial Plaza slated for downtown Springfield.
 
“This will link the Lincoln’s home area with the mansion and with the capitol and the Old State Capitol,” Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder said. “So we’ll hopefully have some commonality with regards to landscape design”
 
The $2 million plaza project will be funded half from the state realtors association and half from a Springfield tax increment finance district.
 
Langfelder said the project is expected to be completed in August 2018.
 
It’s uncertain what will happen with the now vacant, grass-covered, city-owned block just north of the Executive Mansion that used to house a now-demolished YMCA building.
 
“I put a self-imposed deadline for the end of year,” Langfelder said of when he’ll move forward with what could go on that block.
 
Whatever project is approved for that block, only the sewer updates will be completed by summer 2018 in time for the bicentennial. The rest of the project, which is not a signature event, will wait until after the bicentennial, Langfelder said.
 
Another signature project is a K-12 education curriculum featuring a wallboard display for all public schools being put out by the Illinois State Board of Education.
 
In Springfield Sunday at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, the bicentennial beer was officially unveiled. Hand of Fate Brewing’s Illinois Farmhouse Ale was initially selected during the state fair. Founder and head brewer Mike Allison said it means his young Petersburg business will get a statewide reach.
 
“It will be limited for just a little while, but you’ll see it start to expand throughout the state throughout the year,” Allison said.“We wanted to make it as much about Illinois as possible, so we use grains that are pretty commonly grown in Illinois, corn, wheat, oats, also barely.”
 
Also announced was an exhibit at the ALPLM featuring artifacts from former Presidents Obama, Reagan, Grant and Lincoln.
 
“Partners and event and project managers planning activities between [Sunday] Dec. 3, 2018, can apply for endorsement to become an official part of Illinois Bicentennial,” a news release from Rauner’s office said. That can be done by visiting the website Illinois200.com.
 
Events continue Monday at noon with cities across the state raising a bicentennial flag.

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Lawmaker: State fee for local tax payments 'slipped by' during budget process

An Illinois lawmaker who wants to roll back the fee that the state charges local governments to collect taxes says it slipped by during the summer. 
 
State Rep. Anthony DeLuca said that he knew the state was going to keep some tax dollars that used to go to local governments.  But, despite being in charge of a local government committee, he didn't know the new Illinois budget would include a two-percent fee to process tax collections. 
 
"Somehow this fee, this Administrative Fund Fee, kind of went by unnoticed and without any opportunity for debate," DeLuca said, who voted for the budget that created this fee. 
 
And that's part of the problem with how Illinois crafts budgets, he said.
 
"I knew about some of the reductions to the Local Government Distributive fund," DeLuca said. "But this issue never came up. It was never brought to my attention."
 
DeLuca wants to roll back the two percent fee to just one percent. That would save cities and towns across the state about $30 million a year. 
 
Cities and counties across the state say their losses due to the fee will further hurt them fiscally. 

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IEMA Points Out Important Holiday Safety Tips

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency is suggesting different tips to stay safe during the holiday season. Some tips include keeping a flashlight with extra batteries and making sure to keep a first aid kit, vehicle preparedness kit, and a smoke alarm detector around the house. You can find these safety kits at either a hardware store or a department store. Never leave candles unattended around the house and make sure to test your holiday lights and other electrical decorations for safety conditions. For more safety tips visit www.Ready.Illinois.gov

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U of I Dean Kidwell to Visit Macomb

The Dean of the University of Illinois' College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Science (ACES) from the Champaign-Urbana campus, Kimberlee Kidwell, is scheduled to make a special appearance in Macomb. She will be meeting with the University of Illinois' extension staff and tour the Discovery Gardens around 3 p.m on December 4th. She also plans to visit Henderson, Knox and Warren counties as well. 

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10th Annual St. Paul Cookie Walk Set for Saturday

  The kickoff for the holiday season begins with the 10th Annual Cookie Walk at Dickens on the Square. This event is a fundraiser for the Women's Guild. There will be cookies and candies sold by the pound and other items will be available for purchase. The Cookie Walk will be held this Saturday from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Taylor Hall located at 125 South Randolph Street. If you have any questions, please contact Sally Adams at 773-299-0003.

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Abingdon Conservative Griffith Challenges Hammond in Representative Race

Joshua Griffith, a conservative republican from Abigdon, filed his petitions to run for Illinois State Representative of the 93rd District. The following is a statement from Griffith, as he looks to defeat incumbent Norine Hammond in the March primary. 

 

"Yesterday (11/27/17) I filed my petitions to run for state representative of the 93rd district. The recent 32% tax increase, which was supported by the current representative Norine Hammond, was a major factor in my decision to run for office. Over the past six weeks, we have traveled the district and met hundreds of voters while circulating petitions. As we visited on their door steps, I listened to their frustration with our current representative. They feel like their voices aren't being heard by Ms. Hammond. I am going to Springfield to represent the great people of this district and ensure that government does not continue to take our families' hard-earned money without any reforms. I am looking forward to the opportunity to meet many more great families and individuals of this district in the coming months." -Joshua L. Griffith Conservative Republican for IL 93rd State Representative You can reach Josh at 309-299-4055.

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First State Bank of Illinois Becomes Fortress Bank

The following is a press release from the First State Bank of Illinois. The Western Illinois bank is changing its name to Fortress Bank.
 
LaHarpe, IL, December 1, 2017 ? In 2014, First State Bank of Illinois expanded the bank footprint with the opening of a loan production office in the Quad Cities. Late last year a building was purchased at East 53rd Street and Interstate 74 in Davenport. A new full service banking center will open for business in that location in January, 2018.
Now that the bank has expanded beyond Illinois, the time has come to develop a brand that is not tied to a certain geographic area. On December 1st, First State Bank of Illinois will become Fortress Bank. A new logo (at right) will be introduced along with the new name, symbolizing the trust, innovation, and strength of a dynamic financial institution.
 
“Our customers should rest assured that we are not changing ownership,” said Andy Bastert, President - Western Illinois Region. “Fortress Bank will continue to serve our communities with the same focus on agriculture, business, and mortgage banking, and our staff will not be impacted in any way. We are also committed to our ties with the communities in which we live and work. Community support has been an integral part of our bank’s history and will continue.”
 
The foundation of Fortress Bank was built on providing best in class banking products and services to the agriculture based communities served by the bank. Over the years Fortress Bank has evolved into a full service commercial bank with expertise in business banking as well as mortgage lending. Fortress Bank is approaching $400 million in assets, a new record for the bank. This level of assets does not include our sizeable residential mortgage servicing portfolio.  
 
Bank History
 
First State Bank began business in 1904 in the west-central Illinois town of Burnside. The bank is a privately held organization that serves customers in western and central Illinois, eastern Iowa, and throughout the Midwest.
 
The bank currently operates ten banking centers located in LaHarpe, Carthage, Hamilton, Macomb, Monmouth, Peoria, Pekin, Blandinsville and Colusa, Illinois and Bettendorf, Iowa.  
The bank’s impressive growth is attributed to these three unique advantages: (1) Direct access to the bank’s decision makers who are some of the best ag, business and mortgage bankers and advisers in the industry; (2) commitment to providing our customers with the latest technology in banking; and (3) Innovative and responsible financial solutions to enable our clients access to the funding they need to make their dreams become reality.
 

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The Republican Tax Reform Bill Could Change the Way Illinois Parents Save for Education

The Republican tax reform bill now being considered in Congress could change the way Illinois parents save for education.
 
Part of the proposal would expand eligible expenses for 529 college savings plans to include elementary and high school costs. Lindsey Burke, director of the Center for Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation, says it would be good policy.
“We already tax preference higher education savings in this way,” Burke said. “It only makes sense that we treat K-12 education the same way.”
 
Families with 529 plans can put post-tax earnings into an account. Any interest or growth is free from federal taxes when withdrawn, if used for eligible education expenses.
The expanded 529 plans, with essentially unlimited contribution limits, would replace existing Coverdell education savings accounts. Those accounts can be used for K-12 expenses, but are limited to just $2,000 in contributions annually. Current Coverdell holders would be eligible to rollover the funds to a 529 plan.
 
“This is their own post-tax dollars,” Burke said. “And, of course, the more you put in on the front-end, the more interest can accrue into your account as long as you’re putting it toward K-12 and higher education expenses.”
 
Another advantage to 529s is that anyone can contribute to the account, not just parents.
 
“You can have friends or extended family contributing into your account,” Burke said. “You’ll get five years from birth until kindergarten to put your own money in and have that interest accrue, but it’s also five years that other folks can contribute to the account as well.”
 
Thirty-five states, including Illinois, also offer credits or deductions for contributions to 529 accounts.
As of 2011, there were more than $135 billion in total investments in 529 plans. Burke says it’s clear that not just the wealthy benefit from this kind of program.
 
“This would help families across the board, but it’s overwhelming middle-income Americans who benefit from these accounts,” Burke said.
 
Families also could use 529 savings to pay for expenses associated with apprenticeship programs.

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Illinois' GOP Congressman call Durbin, Duckworth hypocrites over tax comments

Illinois’ U.S. Senators are warning their House GOP counterparts that voting for the tax reform bill will hurt the state’s working class. Republicans are wondering where this concern was when state Democrats were raising taxes this summer.
 
In a letter, Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth told Illinois’ GOP Congressmen that voting in favor of the coming tax reform bill will hurt the state’s working-class families and bail out corporations.
 
On the Senate floor Tuesday, Durbin said the tax overhaul will ultimately hurt most Illinoisans.
 
“It’s no secret that this plan would bankroll massive tax cuts for the wealthiest people in America and the largest corporations, and it would raise taxes on middle-income families,” Durbin said. "If that seems like contrary thinking to what most Americans were looking for, it is.”
 
The GOP delegation responded. Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Plano, wondered where Durbin and Duckworth were when their local party members were increasing income taxes on the working class families that they’re now so interested in.
 
“It was completely done by Democrat leadership down in Springfield and yet our senators said nothing to speak up for middle-class families,” he said, calling them “hypocritical.”
 
State-level Democrats, aided by a handful of defecting Republicans, overrode the veto of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner this summer to institute a permanent 33 percent income tax increase, costing the average Illinois household about $1,000 annually.
 
“The state legislature, led by Democrats, passed the largest [permanent] tax increase that Illinois has ever seen,” Rep. Mike Bost, R-Belleville, said. “What we’re trying to do is give them the largest tax reduction that they’ve ever had.”
 
The Republican congressmen also dispute Durbin's and Duckworth's claims about the tax reform plan being a tax hike.
 
Specifically, the Democratic senators warned GOP representatives that eliminating or scaling back the ability to deduct state and local taxes (SALT) would result in underfunded schools and other local services. The House GOP plan would reduce the deduction to $10,000.
 
“As the state with the fifth highest number of taxpayers who claim this deduction, Republican efforts to eliminate or gut SALT would hit Illinois especially hard,” the letter said.
 
The reason Illinoisans would feel the pain of a state and local tax deduction rollback is because they pay more to their local governments in taxes than all but a few states. Critics say the SALT deductions essentially amount to the federal government subsidizing high-tax taxes, which it ought not to do.
 
Bost said 78 percent of his district doesn’t even benefit from the deduction since most claim the standard deduction, which would increase under the GOP plan.
 
The tax reform bill could come up for a vote in the Senate as soon as Friday.

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