Thursday, October 30, 2014

Early voting up this year over the last mid-term election

Early voting is up in Illinois over the last mid-tem election, and a group supporting the minimum wage increase is claiming some of the credit.
 
The latest confirmed total is 437,536 early votes, exceeding the 380,883 from the last mid-term in 2010. Jaribu Lee, a member of a group that’s part of the Raise Illinois Coalition, is excited.
 
“We have already broken the record for a mid-term election. There are still three days of early voting left, and we are confident that the tremendous number of citizens coming out to vote in large numbers will continue,” she said at a rally in Chicago today (Thursday) to celebrate the success of early voting in driving up turnout numbers.
 
The coalition has been registering voters and canvassing on behalf of the non-binding minimum wage question, focusing on voters who sat out in 2010.
 
Election experts say some of the gains, though, are people being more accustomed to the opportunity to vote early, which began in Illinois in 2006.

IDOT talks about safety on Halloween

It’s safety first when you’re behind the wheel, but if you are not on board with that this Halloween weekend, the Illinois Department of Transportation and Illinois State Police will be more than happy to arrest you.
 
IDOT spokeswoman Paris Ervin says extra enforcement will be out to make sure everybody knows to Click It or Ticket and Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.
 
Ervin says the state’s annual goal of Zero Fatalities is not going to happen in 2014:  “Illinois motor vehicle fatalities are at 763,” she says. “We want that each year to be at zero!  It’s lower by 86 compared to last year, and we just want to keep those numbers on the decline.”
 
Ervin is also promoting an online video campaign called “The Driving Dead.”  It’s aimed at people who like zombies.

State GOP's circulating video that shows possible issue with voting machines

The Illinois Republican Party is circulating a video that purports to show a voter trying to vote for a Republican candidate, and having the touch screen ring up a vote for the Democrat.
 
The video is of unknown origin, though it’s supposedly from Rock Island County, and whether it’s legitimate is impossible to tell.  State Republican Chairman Tim Schneider says he can’t personally vouch for its veracity, but he believes there is a problem.
 
“Even if you discount that entire video, we’re getting calls to the state party regularly.  In fact we’ve had dozens of calls into the state party and dozens of accounts of poor calibration or wrongful calibration of machines throughout the state of Illinois, most notably in Rock Island and in Schaumburg,” he said.
 
The state Board of Elections says sometimes touch screen machines do get out of calibration, and voters who encounter a problem should notify an election judge.  Votes aren’t counted until a voter hits “accept” at the end.
 
Schneider says the Republican Party is threatening legal action if the reports are true and the problem isn’t fixed.

Durbin and Oberweis meet in final debate

The two major candidates for U.S. Senate touched on some new topics in their final joint appearance of the campaign.
 
Among them: Whether the NFL should keep its tax-exempt status. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said there are rumblings in Congress about changing the league’s classification as a non-profit organization.
 
“Both the NFL and the National Hockey League are tax-exempt,” Durbin said.  “The National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball are not.  Why?  No one can explain why there’s a difference.”
 
The candidates also touched on space travel during their debate broadcast on public television.  State Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove), the Republican Senate nominee, says the explosion of a private company’s unmanned craft loaded with supplies for the International Space Station shouldn’t affect the growth of private space flight.
 
“Just because there was one rocket failure shouldn’t invalidate that program," Oberweis said.  “When NASA was running it, we had a much more serious failure.”
 
The candidates did agree on several issues brought up during the debate, including a federal law legalizing medical marijuana, and opposing the use of public funds to build the Obama presidential library.
 
Oberweis had originally called for seven official debates against Durbin. In the end, they met in two broadcast debates.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

This week's Illinois crop report

That harvest will be done eventually.  But the USDA’s Mark Schleusener says a delay could be a problem.
 
“I think there’s frustration; I have heard a few complaints,” says Schleusener, the state statistician for Illinois for the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.  “The longer the crops stay out in the field, the more potential that something could go wrong.  Getting it out of the field – that’s how producers get paid.  This last week was quite good; we could use three more like that.”
 
The harvest is 59 percent done for corn, 63 percent for soybeans.  The long-term averages are, respectively, 72 and 77 percent complete. Crop conditions are, respectively, 83 and 80 percent good or excellent.

AG Madigan insists early ballots will be counted after the polls close

Illinois’ attorney general is adamant that early and absentee ballots must not be counted until after the polls close.
 
The reason county clerks and election commissioners can’t push ballots through a tabulator now is because poll watchers are entitled to be present to observe the count.
 
“We want to make sure that the law is followed.  We want to make sure that there’s integrity in our elections and we want to make sure that everybody who has a right to observe the counting is allowed to do that,” Attorney General Lisa Madigan said.
 
Some ballots were counted last week in Rock Island County and in Danville, though the results were not published.  Madigan issued an official opinion advising election officials that they must wait, and now she’s reminding them.
 
Meanwhile, the Illinois Republican Party is crying “Voter Fraud Alert,” even though the missteps regarding early counting, possible malfunctioning equipment in Rock Island County and suburban Cook County, and misprinted ballots in Rockford and Winnebago County, are not the fault of voters at all.  The state Republican chairman sent out recorded phone messages to Republican voters and election judges claiming that “Democrats are trying to help Pat Quinn steal the vote.”
 
Madigan – who is on the ballot herself in this election – says it should not be a partisan issue; everyone should want to see votes counted properly. 

Rauner tries to clarify his stance on minimum wage

Election Day is a week away, and Bruce Rauner is still trying to clear up his position on the minimum wage.
 
In the past, he has favored lowering or eliminating it, and now his stance is he would raise it—but only if what he calls “pro-business” reforms are attached.  When Rauner was asked what he’d do if the General Assembly gave him a bill without those reforms, he didn’t answer.
 
“The most important thing is we grow and we need a comprehensive reform package as part of raising the minimum wage,” Rauner said.
 
Rauner claimed it’s Gov. Pat Quinn who has failed to make the issue a priority until this year, saying Quinn has been in office six years and not raised the minimum wage.  The state’s minimum wage has increased during Quinn’s tenure – in 2009, 2010 and 2011 – but it was due to legislation signed before he took office as governor.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Gibson City council notes

The Gibson City council met in a regular session on Monday, October 27th. Aldermen Pardick, Carlson, Miller and Kidd were absent.

Superintendent Stauffer reported that leaf vacuuming in town has begun. The city is working the east-west streets and then the north-south streets on alternating day.

The Downtown Revitalization Committee meeting is to be held on November 5th, according to Alderman Barb Yergler.

Tracy Epps, a member of the CDAP committee recommended the city approve a loan request for $40,000 at two-percent interest for five years to Kafer Agriculture Service LLC (Aaron and Megan Kafer of Gibson City) so they can buy the old Baillie building on south Sangamon Avenue for modifications and hiring of staff. The business will provide diesel repairs on semi-tractors and other equipment. The loan was approved and the monthly payment is set at $701.10.

Also approved was the consideration of a joint policy letter between the city and the Gibson City Rotary Club. The club is in the process of obtaining a not-for-profit designation. The lettwer would enable donations to be made directly to the city to be designated for the Rotary Club's North Park playground project. The donations would be tax-deductible and the city would be responsible for any money collected.

An ordinace was approved to authorized the execution of a first amendment to the sub-development agreement between the city and Phillips-Warner Realty. The adjustment would be raised to $410,000, up $100,000 from the original TIF 2 agreement. The total dollar amount of the TIF 2 would not
change.

Mayor Dan Dickey asked Stauffer about the condition of 9th Street. Several complaints have been received about the patch and sealing done on cracks in the pavement. Stauffer reports that grounding down the street will cause more potholes in the winter. He indicated that snow plows and regular traffic will wear the bumps down.

Stauffer reported that cooler weather and excess rainfall caused the bumps in the street. Dickey requested that the patching and sealing done on 9th Street not be used again.

State now has a quarantine rule in place for possible Ebola cases

Gov. Pat Quinn is defending the state’s new quarantine rules for potential Ebola cases.
 
Those rules require anyone who came into contact with an Ebola patient’s bodily fluids without protective gear to be quarantined in their home for 21 days, which is the longest possible incubation period for the virus. Quinn says it’s a necessary precaution.
 
“Having this mandatory period I think is the best way to go,” Quinn said. “It’s common sense. We should not have optional or voluntary situations if someone’s been directly exposed to the virus.”
 
New York and New Jersey have imposed restrictions that cover all medical workers who return to the U.S. after treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. Illinois’ rule will not apply to workers who wore protective gear.
 
Quinn says no one in Illinois has been quarantined since the policy was put into place Friday.

Polls show that taxing the rich a little more is a good idea

The question of soaking the rich – an advisory referendum on levying an extra 3 percent income tax on Illinoisans’ income over $1 million a year – polls well.
 
The University of Illinois Springfield Survey Research Office, in an effort to test some online polling methodology, reports nearly two-thirds support among 723 likely Illinois voters.  The extra money would go toward education.
 
The survey methodology is new.
 
“Our goal is to always be on the cutting edge in terms of polling methodologies,” says Ashley Kirzinger, the office’s director.  “We know that if we would have done this using telephones, it would have cost us 10 times what it cost us to do it online, so we are going to continue to adapt our methodologies so we can get the most accurate data at the cheapest possible cost.”
 
Kirzinger says younger people, women, and those who identify as Democrats are more likely to support the question.
 

SIU to install new outdoor lighting for safety

Brighter nights are ahead at Southern Illinois University.
 
The Carbondale campus will be getting improved lighting on its 40 miles of pedestrian walkways, including 400 LED fixtures, thanks to $1.5 million from the state’s capital construction program.
 
Chancellor Paul Sarvella says the vice chancellor for administration and finance has been working on this. “Over the last couple of years, Kevin Bame and his colleagues have been working to develop the infrastructure to improve the lighting, and they’ve done a good job. But we haven’t had enough money to finish the job,” he said.
 
The goal is safety; Sarvella believes the paths will look and be safer if they’re better lit. “Safety is our No. 1 concern of everybody who attends SIU and everybody who visits it,” he said.
 
Students and staff have considered some outdoor areas dark and unsafe.
 
The project includes replacement of old electrical wiring.

Steinem stumps for Quinn

Gov. Pat Quinn’s campaign is gettinga boost from a leader in the women’s liberation movement.

Women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem came to Chicago to support Quinn’s bid for re-election. She said she was troubled by Republican challenger Bruce Rauner’s past support of anti-abortion politicians and the more recent allegations that he tried to intimidate the Chicago Sun-Times.

“For any prospective elected officialat any level to stand against reproductive freedom and freedom of the press is absolutely unacceptable and he must be defeated,” Steinem said.

Quinn said Rauner’s stance on abortion is reflected in his pick for lieutenant governor, Evelyn Sanguinetti. “His first major decision as a candidate for governor was to pick one of the most anti-choice people he could find,” Quinn said.

When Quinn was asked about whether he’s focusing on a social agenda as a distraction from issues like jobs, Steinem stepped in and called it “unfair” to claim Rauner would be better for the economy. As she put it, Rauner’s “better for his own economy.”

Friday, October 24, 2014

Republicans upset about absentee ballot handling

Another election official appears to have violated the law in her handling of absentee ballots.

The Danville Election Commission Chairman Barbara Dreher says she had some absentee ballots run through a tabulator to make room in a bin for more ballots. This appears to be violation of the election law, and the attorney general recently published an opinion advising election officials not to count votes until the polls have closed.

The same situation was reported Thursday in Rock Island County. The Illinois Republican Party is upset.

 “The election code is not being followed, which unfortunately leads to questions about whether this election is being performed in a legal, open, fair and transparent manner,” spokesman Andrew Wellhouse said.

The Vermilion County Republican Party says 400 absentee ballots were opened and tabulated, though no results have been revealed.

Oberweis says Durbin isn't sincere in helping veterans

The Republican challenger in the U.S. Senate race doubts the sincerity of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) when it comes to helping veterans.

State Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove) says the problems with VA hospitals have gotten worse during Durbin’s time in Congress. He says Durbin has been disrespectful of veterans, and referenced comments Durbin made when interrogation techniques being used on suspected terrorists in 2005.

“Now he likes to talk about the veterans, but this is the same senator who talked about a comparison of our military with the Nazis and Pol Pot,” Oberweis said. Durbin’s comparison of the U.S. military to the Nazis and Pol Pot was not a general statement, but rather one directed at the military handling interrogation of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, as described by an FBI agent.

Durbin didn’t directly respond to that attack, but said Congress has taken steps to address problems in the VA. “We joined on a bipartisan basis to say if you are too far away from a VA facility, you can go to the hospital near you and bill the VA,” Durbin said.

Durbin has said the VA became overwhelmed with disability claims from Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and needs more funding to keep up.

Getting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants slow going

The secretary of state’s office is slow in issuing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, according to community groups trying to help them. They staged a demonstration Friday in front of a driver’s license facility in Chicago, saying that applicants can’t get appointments to take the vision, written and driving test, says Ashley Moy-Wooten of the organization Paso in Melrose Park.

“After two years and just 16 percent of driver’s licenses issued for (illegal) immigrants is absolutely unacceptable, and we’re calling on Jesse White now to do his job, get his office in order, and issue the full 100 percent. Create a plan so that everyone can get their driver’s license,” she said.

The problem is acute in Chicago and the suburbs; applicants from there have travelled to Springfield and Carbondale for their tests. The law allowing illegal immigrants who have lived in Illinois for at least one year to get driver’s licenses was signed in January 2013, and the system for issuing the licenses was up and running in December.

Since then, the secretary of state’s office has scheduled 100,000 applicants and issued 70,000 licenses. (Those who didn’t get licenses either lacked the proper documentation, or had legal problems with their driving record, or were no-shows at the appointments.) Initially, applications for these licenses were taken at 25 license facilities; that number is now 36.

A spokesman says the secretary of state understands the concern, but with so many first-time applicants – possibly 500,000 – this is going to take time.

An appointment takes about an hour. It involves a written test, vision test and driving test. The applicant’s documents are scanned and then examined later in Springfield.

Haunted sites of Illinois easy to find

From the “death lab” of H. H. Holmes, who famously preyed on women attending the World’s Fair in Chicago 121 years ago to the Clark Street Garage – site of the St Valentine’s Day Massacre – to the Peoria State Hospital to McKendree University, the “haunted sites” of Illinois are easy to find. It’s all just a story. Isn’t it?

“It depends on who you ask,” says Ally Ryder, curator of http://www.hauntedplaces.org/.

“We consider ourselves skeptics. We neither believe nor disbelieve.” Illinois is rich in the creepy and the spooky, she says. “You’ve had a lot of horrific history that really lends itself to haunted stories and the imagination that goes along with creating haunted events,” she says. Take all of this lightly … if you dare.

 http://www.hauntedplaces.org/

Who really wants to raise the minimum wage?

In the race for governor, both candidates say they’re for raising the minimum wage, and that the other guy is against it.

Gov. Pat Quinn likes to point out that Bruce Rauner used to tell audiences that there shouldn’t even be a minimum wage, or if there is, it should be the federal wage, which is $1 lower than in Illinois.

“My opponent is advocating the elimination of the minimum wage. A person who has all that money that he talks about all the time wants to cut the minimum wage on people doing the hardest job in our society,” Quinn said.

Rauner says now that he wants to raise the minimum wage, and says if Quinn really wanted to raise it, he already would have done so during his six years as governor. “He’s a phony on the minimum wage. He’s playing political football to make it a political issue in the campaign,” Rauner said.

In fact, the minimum wage has gone up three times since Quinn has been governor – to $7.75 in 2009, to $8 in 2010 and to $8.25 in 2011 – but under legislation passed in 2008, before he took office.

Quinn says he was active in getting that legislation passed as lieutenant governor, and that he advocated for the previous minimum wage increases, in 2004 and 2005, when he was lieutenant governor.

Quinn pushed for an increase this year, but lawmakers balked, and now we have a non-binding referendum that Quinn supports, hoping it will be the impetus for lawmakers to act.

TTIP could benefit Illinois businesses

Illinois Republicans in Congress say a proposed free trade agreement between the U.S. and the European Union could have big benefits for Illinois businesses.

The agreement is called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Wheaton) was touting the proposal to representatives from European nations in Chicago, saying it can allow Illinois companies to increase exports across the Atlantic.

“We export, we sell, we manufacture, we distribute. This has a huge impact from an agricultural point of view Downstate, so it’s an absolutely winning proposition, but we just got to persuade people,” he said.

Roskam says TTIP could generate an estimated $8 billion in economic activity for the state.

Opponents of the proposal say the trade barriers that currently exist between the U.S. and the E.U. are already minimized, and claim TTIP is designed to help large corporations get around stricter business regulations in Europe.

There are also concerns that the agreement will go beyond exchanging goods, and seek to change certain banking regulations and international copyright laws.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Gibson City Council finance committee notes

The Gibson City Council's Finance Committee met on Tuesday, October 21st and had a lot to talk about.

The owner and developer of the Villas of Hollybrook assisted living project on the north side of Gibson City, Reggie Phillips. has requested the city come up with additional TIF 2 money to help with cost overruns.

Overruns were with construction, water mains, and sewer. Originally, $310,000 in TIF 2 money was awarded. The project to date has cost over $794,000 that is more than $482,000 more than the original estimate.

Alderman Nelda Jordan asked about the bound agreement the city had with Phillips. Alderman Davis stated that Phillips is only requesting more due to the cost overruns.

Alderman Jan Hall made note that the overruns are not just a little bit here and there, but quite a bit overall. Alderman John Carlson wondered how the engineer of the project be so far off on estimated and actual costs on the project.

Alderman Dennis Pardick noted that this isn't Phillips' first project - this would be the eighth or ninth living facility he's build. Alderman Kidd wasn't sympathetic to the issue, stating that the city has the TIF 2 money and that the total amount wasn't going to change. Hall added that money for cost overruns will have to be funded by bank financing.

Mayor Dan Dickey said that Phillips will have to finance the overruns and was merely asking the council for help. Carlson thought it was odd that Phillips waited until the project was almost finished to realize he was about half a million dollars over and wondered if he was getting updates from his contractor.

After discussing the matter further, Alderman Scott Davis said he would be comfortable giving $100,000 in additional TIF 2 money to Phillips' project. Dickey said the funds would be paid back to the general fund money next year. This will be voted on at the next council meeting.
The owner of the building at the corner of 8th street and Sangamon avenue that is now next to where buildings were recently razed gave a time-line about the completed work and future work to insure the building is in good repair.

There have been problems with a portion of the building sinking. Engineers determined that the building is safe for the current tenants (Main Attraction) to stay there. The building will be jacked up in the next few weeks, and there will be some roof, insulation, siding and front work that needs to be
done as well.

Aldermen asked about obtaining several estimates for work that needs to be done. Brucker asked the finance committee what the front of the building should look like and wanted it to fit in well with the downtown area.

There is currently $10,000 leftover from the demolition of the now torn-down buildings and Brucker was asking what could be done to make his building back whole.

The finance committee will ask the building owner of the deli restaurant, Mick Bradbury, and the owners of the now empty lot, Mr. Arends, to meet with Brucker and everyone, gather figures, and have a continuance of the finance committee's issues.