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WASHINGTON (AP) - Eleven Illinois counties will get some federal money to recover from the flooding in the state that occurred in late April and early May.

In a news release, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency announced the White House has made federal funds available to supplement state and local recovery efforts. The assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs that help businesses and home owners.

The federal aid will be shared by Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Fulton, Grundy, Kane, Kendall, Lake, LaSalle, McHenry and Will counties. And other areas might also receive assistance if the state requests it and further damage assessments reveal it is warranted.

For further information, contact http://www.DisasterAssistance.gov or call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362).

Published in Local News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Public school administrators say some local districts would have to raise property taxes if they're forced to cover the cost of teacher pensions.

   The school officials testified Thursday at a special hearing called by House Speaker Michael Madigan.

   The Chicago Democrat says suburban and downstate districts get a "free lunch" because the state pays their teacher pension costs. He says Illinois is in grave financial trouble and the districts must be part of the solution.

 

   The administrators say potential tax increases would depend on how much money districts have and how much of the burden the state shifts to districts.

 

   Public university representatives also testified Thursday. They say the change could result in a 2 percent tuition increase.

 

   Madigan has vowed to address the issue before the General Assembly adjourns.

 

Published in Local News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - A union-backed alternative for fixing the Illinois pension crisis gets a test vote Wednesday afternoon in Springfield.

A Senate committee is holding a hearing on the measure giving workers and retirees a choice of benefit packages. Senate President John Cullerton says it saves money and would survive a legal challenge.

Critics say it won't save enough money.

 

Published in Local News

CHICAGO (AP) - Gov. Pat Quinn says income tax revenue for 2013 will top forecasts by $1.3 billion. He says he'll put the money toward the billions the state owes in unpaid bills.

The governor's office said Tuesday the money was a one-time windfall resulting from businesses and individuals selling assets or taking early dividends in anticipation of higher federal tax rates.

Quinn says the money is welcome but a one-time bump in revenue will not help fix the problem in the long run.

Illinois owes billions to businesses, charities and local governments performing some of the state's most essential services. The problem adds to the state's huge financial mess, which includes a soaring public pension crisis.

Quinn said Tuesday the focus must be on "restoring Illinois to full fiscal responsibility."

 

Published in Local News

   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

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