Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sierra Club and others thanks govenor for environmental leadership

Models of wind turbines flanked the Lincoln statue in front of the state Capitol Tuesday as part of a ceremony to thank the governor for his leadership on environmental concerns.
 
The Sierra Club and Faith in Place headed a list of environmentally-minded groups delivering petition signatures.
 
A woman who said her son is a chronic asthmatic also took part. “We didn’t see inhalers in the schools,” said Robin Garlish, a Peoria mom active in the Central Illinois Healthy Community Alliance, “and now it’s very common. It’s way too common. I myself just spent part of a day in the hospital having my first breathing treatment due to bronchial asthma.” Garlish says a power plant four miles from her home “spews out toxic carbon daily.”
 
Another participant is trying to get homes, businesses and farms to install equipment to harness nature’s energy.
 
“Here in Springfield, we are blessed, because we have two rebate opportunities. The local utility provides a solar rebate, and the state just opened their rebate program, so, in most cases, I am seeing paybacks on systems in Springfield of about three to five years,” said Michelle Knox, owner of WindSolarUSA, based in Owaneco, Ill., near Taylorville in Christian County.

Manar pushes overhaul of school funding and wants ideas

The state senator who’s pushing an overhaul of school funding says all are welcome to contribute ideas.
 
State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) got his bill – S.B. 16 – through the Illinois Senate in May. It awaits action in the House, where it might get a hearing during the Veto Session.
 
His goal is to make school funding more equitable and more based on need, with poorer districts, in terms of their property tax base, getting more and richer districts getting less. He says there will be criticism, but he says to those who will criticize, come up with a plan of your own that’s better.
 
“There is nobody that needs my permission to introduce a bill to put their ideas on the table. Nobody needs my permission or the permission of the speaker of the House or the president of the Senate or the governor to articulate how they would fix what is a broken system,” he had at a news conference at the Capitol.
 
Manar says hundreds of stakeholders contributed testimony at hearings in Carbondale and Evanston, but new good ideas are still welcome. But for anyone who is interested in trying to kill the restructuring effort, he said the following:
 
“I’m willing to work with anyone who agrees to the principle of fundamental fairness. Those who don’t agree with that principle should stop pretending that they do.”

Howard held without bond on air traffic control fire charges

A Naperville man has been ordered held without bond on charges he set fires at an air traffic control center in Aurora, causing damage that brought flights to a halt at Chicago’s two airports, Midway and O’Hare and delays and cancellations nationwide.
 
Thirty-six-year-old Brian Howard appeared before a federal judge in Chicago Monday afternoon.
 
After the hearing, Howard’s attorney, former federal prosecutor, Ron Safer told reporters Howard made a "tragic mistake" and he "deeply regrets" the trouble he caused air travelers on Friday.  Safer asked the public for compassion and forgiveness.
 
More than 2,000 flights were canceled at O'Hare and Midway airports, which disrupted air travel across the nation. 
 
After starting the fires at the FAA regional control center, Federal prosecutors say Howard tried to commit suicide by cutting his throat. Howard appeared in court with a large white bandage on his neck.

This week's Illinois crop report

The 2014 crop year might be best remembered as a year of great yields and short prices.
 
“It’s looking good,” says Tim Seifert, a third-generation farmer near Springfield.  “It’ll probably be the best crop I've ever raised.  It's probably going to be the cheapest crop I've ever raised, because of the quantity that we have.  I've made more money in a drought year than I'm probably going to make this year, but it's our turn, I guess.”
 
The USDA’s weekly crop progress report shows the soybean harvest has begun – 7 percent statewide – and the corn harvest advancing to 14 percent.  Both are below average.
 
It has been sunny and dry – with topsoil moisture in Illinois reported at 80 percent adequate and 10 percent surplus.

Rauner talks about tax increase extension

Republican governor candidate Bruce Rauner says he hopes an extension of the income tax increase isn’t approved at the 11th hour.
 
He’s concerned about the so-called Lame Duck Session in January, when it takes a simple majority to pass legislation, but it’s still the old General Assembly, with lawmakers who may be retiring or who lost their elections.
 
“I’m calling on Mike Madigan, John Cullerton, and Leader Radogno and Leader Durkin (the House speaker, Senate president, and Senate and House minority leaders) not to call any tax legislation at all after No. 4 until the new members, the new General Assembly, is seated,” he said.
 
The income tax rate, which has been 5 percent since 2011, is due to drop to 3.75 percent on Jan. 1 if lawmakers do nothing.  Rauner wants to let that happen, and he wants to bring the rate down to 3 percent over four years.  He says the money can be recovered through closing corporate tax loopholes and economic growth.
 
Gov. Pat Quinn, who wants to extend the tax increase, says the state has to pay its bills.
 
What is unclear is why Rauner thinks Democratic lawmakers would vote for a tax increase during the Lame Duck session if Rauner wins the election; they’re more likely to make the budget Rauner’s problem.  But Rauner’s stated concern seems to be about Quinn winning the election and getting the increase extended with lawmakers who are on their way out the door.
 
Rauner was asked whether it’s possible he would sign legislation extending the tax increase.  He said it’s possible.

Monday, September 29, 2014

International tourists here on reverse trade mission

Illinois attracts international tourists. They are easy to spot along Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Downstate farm fields, not so much – except for this week.
 
Thirty-three buyers from around the world have descended upon Illinois for a “reverse trade mission,” bringing the buyers to the product. They saw corn and soybean crops and enjoyed a barbecue lunch near Auburn Monday.
 
“Sometimes, seeing is believing,” says Jim Mackey, a trade representative for the Illinois Department of Agriculture. “They can go on the Internet, just like everybody else. But if you maybe come from a different culture, where maybe the government has different motivations, maybe you don’t know what you can trust and what you can’t trust.”
 
“Here in Illinois, you use a lot of technology,” marvels Mexican grain buyer Ismael Garcia. “In Mexico, we don't have that technology, (and) the cost of production is high.”
 
Farms, processors, and the Chicago Board of Trade and Chicago Mercantile Exchange are on the itinerary for the annual tour.

Friday had lotsof disrupted air travel

Air travel nationwide was disrupted Friday – and is still recovering Monday – because of an alleged act of employee sabotage.   36 year old Brian Howard of Naperville allegedly set fires in the basement of the telecommunications room of the control center in Aurora and then tried to commit suicide.  He is recovering from self-inflicted knife wounds.
 
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin wants an investigation.  He says he’ll ask inspectors general at the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration to investigate whether there was a security breach when the worker entered the building early Friday carrying a suitcase.
 
At the height of the flight disruptions on Friday, more than 2,000 flights in and out of Chicago’s two airports – O’Hare and Midway – were cancelled.
 
In the aftermath of the sabotage, Daniel Baker, CEO of the flight-tracking company FlightAware.com is stressing the positives:  That lives were not lost because of the sabotage because other flight control centers took over after the Aurora control center went down.
 
Baker also says the FAA and the airline industry will look closely at the technological and safety aspects of the control centers.  He says the airline industry is working on ways to make the regional computer control centers less dependent on having so many people access the system and that there has to be a better way to fix flight problems when they occur.
 
He also predicts the incident at the Aurora flight control center will continue to cause flight delays for a while longer.
 
The FlightAware company, based in Houston,  offers live tracking maps, flight status info for both private and general aviation flights.

Olmsted lock-and-dam project might be a problem

Illinois congressmen are criticizing the long-delayed Olmsted lock-and-dam project.
 
This is an Ohio River project at Olmsted, Ill., about 15 miles up-river from Cairo.  It has been under construction for 19 years and is billions over budget.
 
“This is one thing you can’t blame on Congress,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Western Springs).  He blames the delay on a new construction technique: Building the project in the water instead of diverting the river to build it in dry conditions.
 
The price tag is now $3.1 billion – up from the original $775 million – with half the money coming from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, draining that fund for other projects, says U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Channahon).
 
“I don’t know the estimated date of completion, but when that’s done it’s gonna free up some resources for the rest of us that rely on that,” he said.
 
The latest expected completion date is 2024.
 
The project, conceived in 1987, will replace two 1920s-era dams.  When this is completed, passage through Olmsted on the Ohio River should be reduced from five hours to less than one.

Rauner thinks lawmakers shouldn't hold outside jobs

Republican governor candidate Bruce Rauner doesn’t want state legislative leaders to hold outside jobs. So what do the Republican leaders think about that?
 
Illinois Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) isn’t sold on that part of Rauner’s ethics reform proposal.  “Personally, I don’t have outside employment,” Radogno said.  “So, as a personal matter, it doesn’t bother me.  I think we need to be careful to think about the implications of that.”
 
Legislative leaders do earn more—Radogno’s 2013 salary was $90,930, while the base salary for the rest of the Illinois Senate was $67,836.
 
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) does have an outside job, but is still open to discussing Rauner’s idea.  “Everything’s on the table,” Durkin said.  “I do have outside employment, but I’m gonna work with Bruce Rauner to make the state of Illinois better.”
 
Durkin believes it’s worth consideration because of voters’ concerns about corruption in state government.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Homeless problem improves a little bit

The homeless problem is not going away, but it’s getting better, according to a longtime Salvation Army professional.
 
“We still have homeless individuals, but I see a different face,” said Maj. Steven Woodard, commander of the Salvation Army in Springfield. “There are some people that I have not ever seen again – I serve them one time, and then I don’t see them again – so that’s a success story, one individual at a time.”
 
Woodard, who has more than two decades of experience with the Salvation Army, accepted more than $2 million in city and state funds to help renovate a former Springfield office building into a shelter.  The building will eventually have 78 beds, Woodard said, and keep homeless families intact rather than separate men and women.
 
The city funds are from tax increment financing.  The state funds are from the capital construction program.

Video gambling business grows jobs in-state

In two years, Illinois’ video gambling business has grown from zero to 18,118 positions.
 
The industry came into being two years ago, and expanded rapidly with terminals turning up in bars, restaurants, truck stops and veterans’ halls.  The next wave of growth, if there is to be one, will require cities that ban video gambling to un-ban it, says Michael Gelatka, president of the Illinois Gaming Machine Operators Association.
 
“As these towns come back online and opt in for the benefit of their local businesses, I think that you’re gonna see a huge amount of expansion that is possible, at least, with the number of licenses that are available in those towns,” he said.
 
Cities can prevent video gambling by opting out under the Video Gaming Act, or by having an ordinance in place that bans gambling and does not make an exception for video gambling. (http://www.igb.illinois.gov/VideoProhibit.aspx)
 
Last month, players pumped $734 million into those machines.  Gelatka says it’s about 85 percent video slot machines, 15 percent video poker.
 
A question that arises, though, is whether video gambling is taking customers and action away from Illinois’ 10 casinos (or out-of-state casinos frequented by Illinois residents).  Casino admissions in Illinois are down 13 percent from two years ago, and gross receipts are down 1 percent.  However, Gelatka says those numbers are down in other states too, so it’s hard to pin the decline on the creation of video gambling.

Controversy from both candidate's camps

Gov. Pat Quinn had little to say Wednesday afternoon when asked about a delay in firing 58 “staff assistants” at the Illinois Department of Transportation who were hired as patronage workers and given jobs that are subject to anti-patronage rules.
 
“The secretary of transportation made a decision on reorganizing the department. There’s litigation,” said the governor. “We're willing to wait for this court decision. But she’s committed to making this reorganization, and I think that will prevail. If there’s an opportunity for people to have their voice heard in court, so be it.”
 
The Quinn administration agreed to a delay until those affected could have their day in court. Quinn's election opponent, Bruce Rauner, is trying to hang the patronage hiring albatross onto Quinn and accusing him of dragging his feet on getting rid of those hired.
 
As for Rauner, nursing homes once owned by his investment firm, GTCR, are at the center of a bankruptcy court trial in Florida. “There's a scheme that was put together to try to remove the liability of their nursing home chain and give it to some helpless man who was told that he was going to be sold a company that had all these billion-dollar liabilities,” Quinn said. “We haven't heard one truthful statement from Mr. Rauner on that matter.”
 
Rauner, who is not charged personally, has said he was not close to the decisions which, it's alleged, led to residents’ deaths.

Rauner bashes Quinn on crime, doesn't tell about his plan about it

Bruce Rauner is bashing his opponent’s record on crime, but keeping his own policies on the subject vague.
 
Other than opposing a ban on assault weapons in the state, Rauner hasn’t discussed his policies to combat crime in detail. He believes the economic growth he’s promising to bring to Illinois if elected will help the state’s crime problems.
 
“Here’s the real issue on crime: we need a booming economy where every young person has a job available so they have a career and they see a future. We need world class schools that also include vocational training,” Rauner said.
 
Rauner isn’t taking a position on the possibility of a statewide decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, only saying he’s “open to discussing it.”

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ishmiel named Gibson Area Hospital employee of the month for September

Kristin Ishmiel, of Gilman, has received the Gibson Area Hospital & Health Services (GAHHS) Employee of the Month Award for September. 
 
Kristin, a LPN in the GAH Long-Term Care Annex, joined the GAHHS family just over a year ago, bring with her 24 years of experience she gained from working at the Gilman Healthcare Center.
 
“I love working at GAHHS,” said Kristin.  “I really enjoy spending time with the residents and working with our wonderful staff.”
 
Kristin and her husband, Chris, enjoy camping and boating with her family which includes, their daughter, Samantha, their son, Joel and their grandson, Jude. She is a Bears fan and loves to watch NASCAR races in her spare time.

Rauner talks about wrondoing at his former investment firm

Bruce Rauner says he wasn’t involved with any alleged wrongdoing at a nursing home company once owned by his investment firm.
 
That company, Trans Health Care, is the subject of a federal bankruptcy court trial because of claims associates of Rauner’s firm tried to avoid wrongful death lawsuits from families of residents of those homes by setting up shell corporations, moving liabilities to separate companies. Rauner says he helped the company only in its first year or so of existence.
 
“I personally believe the courts will find no wrongdoing by anyone, and these…these are a distraction,” Rauner said.
 
A newly released document says Rauner actually served on the company’s board for four years. Paul Vallas, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant candidate governor, says he’s seeing a pattern in Rauner’s business dealings.
 
“The drive to make profit at the expense of services (and) the drive to make profit at the expense of individuals,” Vallas said.
 
While Rauner’s former firm is named as a defendant in the court case, Rauner himself is not.

Christie says Illinois' govenor race the most important one in the country

The leader of the Republican Governors’ Association considers the governor’s race in Illinois the most important in the country.
 
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made his fourth trip to the state on behalf of Bruce Rauner Tuesday, joining Rauner to speak to a group of pastors in Chicago. Christie is promising it won’t be his last trip here.
 
“I’ll be back at least twice more in the next six weeks, and probably three or four times more in the next six weeks,” Christie said. “I’ve said this before: there is no more important challenger race to me personally in America than Bruce Rauner’s challenge to Pat Quinn and the things he’s offering to the people in Illinois.”
 
Christie said part of his interest in the race is Illinois being what he calls “a fiscal train wreck.” He said if the right governor can fix the state’s problems, the Republican Party can repeat that success in other states.

Amtrak route tracks between St. Louis and Chicago are replaced

The train tracks on the Amtrak route between St. Louis and Chicago now have all been replaced.
 
This is part of the project to bring the trains’ top speed to 110 mph – up from 79 – and it’ll be a smoother ride, Amtrak board member Tom Carper said at a ceremony in Granite City.
 
“Between here and St. Louis, some of our passengers ride on rail that … wobbles and it wiggles a little bit, but this is going to change that. Sometimes they’d hear the clickety-clack that you hear in the opening of some Broadway musicals or some movies. Well, that’s going to go away also, with this welded rail,” said Carper, the former mayor of Macomb.
 
The new rail project involved replacing 500 miles of tracks, replacing 646,000 wooden railroad ties with concrete ties, and replacing 1.3 million tons of ballast.
 
The high-speed rail project still requires grade-crossing and signal improvements and the construction of sidings. By the end of next year, two-thirds of the route should be running at 110 mph. At this time, trains are running at that speed only between Pontiac and Dwight, about 15 miles.
 
The trip between St. Louis and Chicago now runs 5½ hours; it should he a half hour shorter by the end of 2015, and another half hour shorter by the end of 2017. The project’s price: $1.7 billion. New rail cars, manufactured in Rochelle, will start to debut in mid-2016.

Gibson City Council notes

The Gibson City Council met in regular session on Monday, September 22nd. Aldermen Kidd and Davis were absent.

All of the Gibson City Bucks from the "Buy Gibson" program must be used by Tuesday, September 30th of this, according to Alderman Yergler.

The Council approved:
  • the contract between the City and Ridgeview Recycling at the same rate as the previous year. The City pays 57.5% of the total fee with the rest coming from recycling passes.
  • the holiday lighted parade will be on Saturday, November 22nd
  • the cooperative advertising program for the holiday parade and season with WCIA Channel 3 out of Champaign not to exceed $5000
  • the Gibson City Courier and WGCY each received $1000 to assist area businesses buy advertising for the holiday season. This money comes from the marketing budget
  • the hanging of holiday nights. The Chamber of Commerce would provide the lights and maintenance. Also discussed was the moving of the city Christmas tree from the downtown area to the city sign at the intersection at Sangamon Avenue and Illinois Routes 9, 47, and 54. Parking issues were brought up that were tabled for the next meeting
  • to assist in start up cost for $1500 from the marketing budget for the 2015 Harvest Festival
  • to ratify the mayoral approval of garbage hauler permits for Central Illinois Disposal and Recycling and Area Disposal, Inc.
The mayor announced that former junior alderman Nathan Dickey is going to be a pilot in the United States Air Force.

This week's Illinois crop report

The home stretch is coming for Illinois farmers.  Corn and soybeans are making progress and looking good.
 
“Last week was a little cooler than normal,” says Mark Schleusener, state statistician for the USDA.  “We were four degrees below normal for the week.  The average rainfall was a little bit below average for the week. It's been a while since we've had one of those; just over one-half of an inch, and it was two-tenths of an inch below normal.”
 
Eighty-three percent of corn and 76 percent of soybeans are in good or excellent condition.  The corn harvest advanced to 6 percent, still behind the average, but soybeans are 45 percent dropping leaves, about even with the long-term average.