Politics and Government | WGLT

Politics and Government

The Illinois Department of Employment Security reports the jobless rate dropped in September in all of the metro areas the agency tracks. But the department's director says job growth remains weak.

The Bloomington Normal unemployment rate is 4.3% down from 5% in September of last year. That's the lowest rate for September since 2007 when it was 3.9% in the twin cities. The metro area rate is the lowest in the state.

The Moody's credit rating agency has downgraded $26.8 billion in Illinois' general obligation bonds, saying the move was due to the state's weakening financial position during the year. In lowering the bond rating to Baa1 from A3, Moody's Investors Service said its expectation is that the ongoing stalemate on the budget due July 1 will lead to further deterioration of the state's finances.  

The lower a state's credit rating, the tougher, and more expensive, it is to borrow money.

A minor point of philosophy turned into a change in how the McLean County Board supports the B-N Advantage economic development program. Instead of that specific program sponsored by the Economic Development Council, Board Member Paul Segobiano said it was important to change to support the "concept" of development.

The report contains items like an east side highway project and a downtown Bloomington Hotel. Kyle Ham of the EDC said the language change was unimportant.

Northeast Normal will have a vacancy on the McLean County Board. Republican Sonny O'Connor is moving to be near grandchildren. She said in her final speech to the board that after a nephew showed her around the university in his southeast Texas town, O'Connor found a project to work on.

O'Connor told the Board she has spent 52 years in Bloomington-Normal.

O'Connor served seven years on the County Board in two different stretches. The seat will be filled by appointment until next year's election.
 

DCFS Agrees To Reforms

Oct 20, 2015

Illinois' troubled child welfare agency must outline a detailed plan to make improvements at residential treatment centers and in other areas by February 2016 under a federal court agreement.  
    

Sandi Jackson Reports To Prison

Oct 20, 2015

The wife of former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. has reported to prison on a conviction related to $750,000 in spending of his campaign money on everything from fur capes to vacations. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons says 52-year-old Sandi Jackson reported to the Federal Prison Camp at Alderson in West Virginia to begin serving her one-year sentence on a tax conviction related to the illegal spending.  

Mautino Voted Auditor General

Oct 20, 2015

The Illinois House and Senate both hurried to pass one measure during their one-day session. They voted to make Democratic State Representative Frank Mautino the state's next auditor general.
   

Republican Senate Leader Christine Radogno says it makes sense to have a seasoned legislator in the job.

Mautino will take over the new role in January as Bill Holland is retiring.  He'll be in charge of scrutinizing state funds and investigating government agencies' and programs' performance.

Mautino will be only the third person to hold that post in Illinois history.

Bloomington Council Hears From Developers

Oct 19, 2015
Michael Hill / WGLT

Developers are looking at investing in downtown Bloomington, with help from the public sector. Bloomington Aldermen heard from Jeff Giebelhausen and David Bentley during a committee meeting. Each developer had a different proposal for the area. 

Finding affordable housing is a growing problem in Bloomington Normal. Laura Furlong is the CEO of MarcFirst and a member of a study panel on the issue for the League of Women Voters.

A McLean County League of Women Voters study suggests home ownership is declining and the amount of money people pay for rent is more stressful now than it was fifteen years ago. There has been an 18% increase in the share of income needed to afford a three bedroom apartment over the last fifteen years.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin says he has pronounced doubts about U.S. attempts to bolster one side or another in the Syrian conflict. Durbin spoke to reporters recently after a trip to Greece. The Illinois Democrats says only the most minimal of military aid is being contemplated, and that is not likely to produce a difference in the struggle.

Illinois's newest congressman has not decided who he will support for House Speaker. Peoria Republican Darin LaHood says he wants to interview the candidates to find out how they want to move the country forward.

LaHood took office only a month ago. He says Congress needs to pass a budget, a federal highway reauthorization, and a trade agreement that promotes agriculture job creation.

The House Speaker's job became available after John Boehner said he would step down.
 

Schools in Illinois’ neediest districts including Peoria 150 are being forced to spend federal funds to prop up the state’s Teacher Retirement System.  Public schools that serve a significant number of low-income students receive federal Title One grants, earmarked for initiatives to close the achievement gap. If a school uses those funds to hire certified teachers, the school has to pay into that teacher’s retirement account.   

Jessica Handy, government affairs director with Stand for Children Illinois, says this cost Springfield schools more than 1.7 million dollars last year.

A new survey shows more than three-quarters of Illinois human service agencies have cut programs and are serving fewer clients because of the state's budget crisis. Almost one-third say they could run out of money in one month or less.  

The United Way of Illinois has released findings of a survey of 544 agencies statewide.  They say the responses show the situation is worsening for agencies and the people who rely on them as the budget impasse stretches on. 

United Way officials were joined by business and labor leaders who called on lawmakers to find a resolution.  

State records show that the former Illinois education superintendent left the position earlier this year with nearly $207,000 in severance and unused vacation payments. A public records request shows Christopher Koch received $89,000 in severance and $118,0 for 138.5 unused vacation days. Records also show that several dozen other Illinois State Board of Education staffers who left the agency also received cash bonuses and unused vacation payments.  

Municipal Residency Requirements Not A Priority

Oct 19, 2015
Ivo Shandor / Wikimedia Commons

Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner says he can see why Springfield's mayor is saying he wants people who get a city check to live in the city. Nearly a third of capitol city employees don't.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin appears reluctant to boost American military aid to Ukraine too much. Speaking to reporters after a trip to the eastern European nation, Durbin acknowledged that the Ukrainians are crying out for American Javelin anti-tank missiles to combat Russian armor. But, Durbin says the Obama administration does not believe those would make a difference. Durbin says the U.S. does not want to give Russian President Vladimir Putin a pretext to escalate.

Governor Bruce Rauner had $58.3 million dollars in income last year. The Republican has released tax returns for 2014, showing he paid more than $18 million in federal and state taxes.

His effective Federal tax rate was about 26%. His overall effective rate was 31%

The Rauner family foundation also gave more than $3.3 million to charity.
 

Congressman Rodney Davis says he approves of President Obama's decision to slow withdrawal of U.S. Troops from Afghanistan. Speaking to reporters on a conference call, the Republican Davis said keeping 9,800 troops there until late next year is in the country's interests.

"I think the disastrous results of what we saw from his drawdown in Iraq may have prompted this and I gotta give him kudos for making a decision that philosophically he never thought he would make when he was running for that office."

If former Congressman Aaron Schock keeps spending money on lawyers at this rate, his campaign fund will be out of money by the next quarterly filing period. The most recend Federal Election Commission report shows the Peoria Republican spent $900,000 in legal fees in the third quarter and still owes $747,000. He has less than $1.2 million cash on hand. Since Schock resigned under an ethics cloud and a grand jury investigation into his personal and campaign financial dealings, Schock has spent nearly $2.7 million on lawyers.

Illinois candidates for U.S. Senate in 2016 are reporting millions of dollars in campaign money raised in the third quarter. Democrat Tammy Duckworth's campaign said Wednesday it raised $1.46 million. Aides say the congresswoman has $2.8 million in the bank. Duckworth is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge first-term Republican Sen. Mark Kirk.  

Kirk reported contributions of $1.05 million since June.  His campaign says he has $3.62 million on hand.  

Both campaigns say the expansion of their donor bases suggested wide, grassroots support.  

Illinois wants insurance companies in the small group market to submit changes to their small business policies as quickly as possible following a bipartisan adjustment to the nation's health care law. President Barack Obama signed legislation last week that gives states flexibility about whether to change the definition of ``small business'' under the law.  

In an Oct. 9 memo to insurers, the Illinois Department of Insurance says it will keep defining ``small'' as employers with 1 to 50 employees.  

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U.S. Senator Dick Durbin says the large amounts of humanitarian aid the U.S. is sending to help Syrian refugees is not enough. During a conference call with reporters, the Illinois Democrat said people he met during a trip to  the Greek island of Lesbos convinced him this country should take in 100,000 refugees from the conflict.

Durbin says in four years of the Syrian war the U.S. has so far taken about 2,000 refugees from that country even though the nation accepts 70,000 refugees a year in total.

Crowd Gathers, Dan Brady Not Present

Oct 14, 2015

Members of Illinois Public Action and others want politicians to know what they think about the Clean Power Plan, and other bills before the Illinois legislature.

Staff / WGLT

East Peoria Developer Jeff Giebelhausen will meet with the Bloomington City Council next week to present another proposal for the Front and Center building in Downtown Bloomington. Downtown property owner David Bentley will also present to the Committee of the Whole meeting regarding a proposal to turn the Pantagraph building into a boutique hotel. During Sound Ideas, Mike McCurdy talked with Mayor Tari Renner about  downtown redevelopment plans, police body cams, an uptick in city revenue, and solid waste services.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner wants to hold a public auction to sell the James R. Thompson Center, which houses state government offices in downtown Chicago.

Illinois lawmakers are increasingly trying to make it easier for residents to be involved in politics -- there'll be a hearing Tuesday in Chicago on automatic voter registration. Another proposal goes in the opposite direction. You can currently register on the day of the election. Republican Rep. Mark Batinick of Plainfield says that's expensive; judging by how many took advantage of a trial run last year.

Batinick doesn't want to do away with same-day voter registration. He proposes scaling it back to set places on election day.

182nd Airlift Wing / Wikimedia Commons

It's the 100th day Illinois has been without a budget. The state has without a budget before -- but going this long is unprecedented.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner says the standoff over a state budget "could go on for a while" but his administration is prepared to continue managing state finances without one. The Republican spoke Friday following a manufacturing expo in Effingham.  

He says he remains committed to getting Democrats to approve some of his pro-business agenda. He repeated that if Democrats don't want to work with him they can balance the budget _ by passing a tax increase _ without his support.  

Nobel Prize Winner: Iran Deal Makes Sense

Sep 30, 2015
Michael Hill / WGLT

The main focus of a visit to Bloomington/Normal by Nobel Prize Winner Mohamed ElBaradei surrounds the idea of "Preventing a Nuclear Nightmare." He won the 2005 Nobel Prize for his efforts in preventing military use of nuclear energy, and supports a potential nuclear deal between the United States and Iran.

ElBaradei says the Iran deal makes sense.

Charlie Schlenker / WGLT

If the early look at Bloomington Aldermen is a guide, outsourcing golf courses and recovering costs from the downtown police hireback program for high volume nights in the bar district will be priority items as the city cuts its budget. Whether or how to fund the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts also came up as a potential cut during an informal discussion of prioritizing budget task force recommendations. Alderman Scott Black says it's important to look at the BCPA early in process even it it makes it more likely to be cut.

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