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   SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Illinois union leaders are encouraging lawmakers to support a pension reform proposal that they recently agreed on with the state's Senate president.

   A coalition of unions announced Monday that it reached an agreement with Senate President John Cullerton on a possible solution to the state's $97 billion pension crisis.

   Michael Carrigan is the president of the Illinois AFL-CIO. He says the group is trying to ensure fairness for public employees and retirees. The union-backed measure gives workers and retirees a choice of benefit packages.

   Carrigan says the group is asking legislators to oppose a solution that House Speaker Michael Madigan backs. Madigan's plan calls for higher pension contributions from employees and limits on how much in pension benefits retirees may collect.

 
Published in Local News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - State senators are expected to consider two possible paths toward addressing the nation's worst pension crisis.

One option is legislation approved in the Illinois House last week. That bill is sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan. It would require public employees to pay 2 percent more toward their retirement benefits. It would also reduce annual cost-of-living increases for retirees and raise the retirement age for workers under 45.

Labor unions also are expected to pitch a plan. The details of that proposal have not been disclosed. But a spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton says it would offer employees a choice between health insurance or cost-of-living increases.

Lawmakers are expected to discuss the two options in a closed-door meeting on Monday before convening on the Senate floor.

 

Published in Local News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - The Illinois House has approved a comprehensive pension-reform plan for the first time after years of talks.

The House voted 62-51 Thursday to advance the measure sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan.

The Chicago Democrat's proposal is designed to close a $97 billion deficit that dogs the state's pension plans. Underfunding for decades has left the accounts short of what they need.

The legislation requires employees to contribute 2 percent more of their earnings to their pensions. They would also have to delay retirement and accept less-generous annual cost-of-living increases.

The state would guarantee it would make its required contribution every year.

The measure now goes to the Senate where President John Cullerton has his own ideas about reform.

 

Published in Local News

CHICAGO (AP) - A government study finds the suicide rate among middle-aged Illinois residents is increasing, but not by as much as the national rate for the same age group.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the report Thursday. The agency provided state numbers to The Associated Press.

Between 1999 and 2010, the suicide rate in Illinois among those ages 35 to 64 climbed nearly 19 percent. The rate rose from 11 suicides per 100,000 people to 13 suicides per 100,000.

The national suicide rate for the same age group rose by 28 percent.

Health officials say new strategies for suicide prevention should address issues middle-aged Americans are likely to face. Those issues include financial challenges, caregiver responsibilities for children and aging parents, and health problems.

Published in Local News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - A spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton says he will keep working to pass a pension reform bill he believes can survive a court challenge.

Rikeesha Phelon says Cullerton and fellow Democrat House Speaker Michael Madigan have "the same goal but different approaches" to solving Illinois' nearly $100 billion pension crisis.

Madigan filed his pension plan on Tuesday. It caps the salary on which a pension can be based at $110,000 and limits annual cost-of-living increases.

Madigan's legislation also removes language from a plan backed by Cullerton that got Senate approval last month. Cullerton's plan offers affected state-government employees and teachers a choice of benefits instead of unilaterally cutting them.

Cullerton believes the state must give retirees a choice in benefits in order for the legislation to be considered constitutional.

Published in Local News

DIXON, Ill. (AP) - The Lee County state's attorney says she decided to drop state charges against former Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell because a second trial after her conviction in federal court would not result in additional jail time or restitution.

Crundwell admitted in the federal case that she stole nearly $54 million in public money from the northern Illinois city over some two decades that she served as its bookkeeper.

The Lee County prosecutor, Anna Sacco-Miller, said Tuesday that any sentence in the state proceedings would be served concurrently with the nearly 20 years that Crundwell received in February in the federal case. As a result, she says, the expense to taxpayers of a second trial cannot be justified.

The charges can be refiled if Crundwell's appeal of her federal sentence is successful.

 

Published in Local News

   SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Illinois farmers still can't begin planting their corn crops due to muddy fields caused by the heavy rains that inundated the state in recent weeks.

   The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that as of Monday there's been no significant planting done in Illinois because many fields are simply too wet for farmers to get out in them in tractors.

   The USDA says just 1 percent of the state's corn crop has been sown. This time last year, three-quarter of the state's cornfields were planted, more than double the five-year average of 36 percent.

   Nationwide among key farming states, 4 percent of the corn crop is in the ground, down from 49 percent a year ago at this time.

 
Published in Local News

   ILLINOIS (AP) - Another governor is trying to lure away Illinois companies.

   Florida Gov. Rick Scott sent a letter to Illinois' top 100 companies this week asking them to buy a "one way" ticket to Florida. The Republican says Florida is undergoing "an incredible economic turnaround" and touts the state's credit ratings.

   Scott also scrutinizes Illinois' high taxes, including a 2011 income tax increase.

   His letter comes the same week Texas Gov. Rick Perry was in Chicago trying to poach companies. Perry says he wants to spark a competition between the states and has criticized Illinois' nearly $100 billion in pension debt.

   Governors from Indiana, Wisconsin and New Jersey have made similar attempts.

   Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has dismissed them as publicity attempts and says Illinois is a great place to do business.

 
Published in Local News

CHICAGO (AP) - An Illinois state senator has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor after being accused last year of trying to board a flight with a gun.

Donne Trotter's attorney, Thomas Durkin, says his client entered a guilty plea to reckless conduct on Wednesday as part of an agreement with prosecutors.

Durkin says the deal calls for the conviction to be stricken if Trotter successfully completes a year of non-reporting court supervision.

Durkin says a judge approved the agreement on Wednesday.

 

Published in Local News

CHICAGO (AP) - The leader of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus has signed on to co-sponsor a measure that would authorize same-sex couples to marry in the state.

Rep. Ken Dunkin announced his support for the legislation Tuesday. The Chicago Democrat says gay families living in his district are waiting for the state to treat them with the respect and dignity they deserve.

Dunkin says the legislation would provide equal protection under the law for all families.

The proposal received Senate approval in February. Supporters say they are working to secure the 60 votes needed to pass the measure in the House.

If the bill becomes law, it would make Illinois the 10th state to allow same-sex marriage. Illinois approved civil unions in 2011.

 

Published in Local News

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