Communication breakdown thwarts attempt at government transparency

By Robert Holly/CU-CitizenAccess.org — As a member of the Champaign County Local Foods Policy Council, Maya Bauer was required to file a form in 2012 disclosing her finances that might lead to a conflict of interest when she votes at council meetings. But she said she did not file the form because the county clerk’s office never notified her that she needed to. Another member of the food council, Christopher Henning, said he was also unaware he had to file the form, which is known as a statement of economic interest. He said he already filed one with the state because of his job at the University of Illinois. Alfred Anderson served on the Mass Transit District’s board of trustees and on The Housing Authority of Champaign County’s board of commissioners.

Weekly RoundUp: Government Shutdown

The United States Congress faces a tight deadline as the threat of a possible government shutdown on October 1 looms ever closer. Last week the Republican-led House of Representatives passed a bill to keep the government running if Obamacare is defunded. This week the Democratic-led Senate is vowing to remove the provision to defund Obamacare as it debates the bill. The Senate vote is expected to happen on Sunday. House Republican leaders will then vote to accept the Senate bill or precipitate a shutdown.

Weekly RoundUp: Pensions

Illinois lawmakers’ paychecks aren’t in the mail yet, but according to one report by Illinois Public Media, the legislature’s special committee on pensions may be close to reaching a compromise. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn froze the paychecks of state lawmakers in early July, saying that the legislators wouldn’t get paid until the pension reform “crisis” was resolved. A recent article on CNN said Quinn’s efforts to take on pension reform has been a major part of his administration since taking office in January of 2009. “In a statement, he called Illinois’s pension problem the “worst-in-the-nation,” the product of 70 years of mismanagement by past legislatures and governors. This year alone saw a $1 billion payment to the pension system.”

Below is a roundup of other recent articles about the state of Illinois’ pension problems.

 

Illinois taxpayer contributions to state pensions skyrocket – Illinois Policy Institute

“Detroit’s recent bankruptcy is sending cities and states a warning: taxpayers shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Weekly RoundUp: Farm Bill

The House passed a farm bill last week after dropping food stamps from the negotiating table. According to an Illinois Public Media report, “The 216-208 vote was largely on party lines, with no Democrats supporting it. Twelve Republicans also voted against it.”

A recent article in the News-Gazette reported that House democrats opposed any cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Republicans argued that the proposed 3 percent cut to the $80 billion-a-year feeding program wasn’t enough. Republicans say they plan to take up the food stamp portion of the farm bill later with hopes of making bigger cuts.

Photo of school bus on bridge

Long delays for funding plague bridge repairs

Illinois state inspectors say the bridge carrying traffic on County Highway 50 over Interstate 74 in Mahomet is in “critical condition” and “structurally deficient.”

But an average of 2,550 vehicles — including school buses — still use the bridge each day, although the bridge has been reduced to a single traffic lane since August 2011.

Weekly RoundUp: Carle tax exemption

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing is challenging an Illinois law that gives Carle Hospital tax-except status for their charity work – providing medical care and services at discounted or no cost to thousands of people. According the Prussing, the city of Urbana will bear the brunt of the loss of revenue from Carle, with residents and businesses facing a steep property tax hike. In a recent letter to Urbana city council members, Prussing wrote, “Urbana taxpayers, only 3 percent of the region’s population, will now be paying for almost $6 million of the nearly $16 million in charity care that Carle says it provides the region.”

Here is a roundup of recent news stories on this issue:

Urbana Resolution to Challenge Carle Tax-Exempt Status – Illinois Public Media

“The Urbana city council is expected to take its first vote next week on a resolution opposing Carle Foundation Hospital’s tax-exempt status. The measure seeks a legislative solution requiring the hospital to ‘pay its fair share’ in property taxes, opposing a law that passed in 2012 that gives tax-exempt status to hospitals that provide charity care. Mayor Laurel Prussing said the tax exemption for Carle Foundation Hospital hurts the city, because more than 80 percent of the hospital’s property is in Urbana.”

U.S. Capitol Building

Weekly RoundUp: The Farm Bill

Congress is marking up the Farm Bill this week. The House version (seen here) makes cuts to the food assistance program. Over 1.6 million people in Illinois were enrolled in the Food Stamp program in 2010 – up from 816,000 in 2000, according to Census Bureau estimates.  

Almost the same cost, spent differently: Comparing farm bills in House, Senate committees – The Washington Post

“The Senate and House agriculture committees approved separate versions of the farm bill this week, and the full Senate is expected to take up the bill next week. A look at some similarities and differences between the two versions of the legislation:”

 

Agriculture Committee Markup Amendment Trackers –  National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

“Follow along with Senate and House Agriculture Committee markup this week – the following amendments are key provisions that NSAC is tracking.

Weekly Roundup: The Sequester

By Staff/CU-CitizenAccess

An estimated $85 billion in automatic spending cuts to the federal budget are set to take place this week if no further action is taken by Congress. Here’s a round-up of some useful articles on the subject:

The Sequester: Absolutely everything you could possibly need to know, in one FAQ – from the Washington Post
“At the end of the month, the dreaded sequester is set to take effect. Hands up if you know what exactly that means — and be honest. Don’t worry, we’re here to set you straight. Follow along for answers to some of the most-asked questions about the impending cuts.”

Deadbeat Illinois: Joint project highlights burden of unpaid bills

By The News-Gazette/”Deadbeat Illinois: The Painful Price of Unpaid Bills” is a joint project by The Associated Press and its members across Illinois — including The News-Gazette. The goal is to highlight the state’s decision not to pay its bills on time and to examine the extent of the impact on the people, businesses and human-service groups across the state. These stories will appear in The News-Gazette in print and then online. As they are posted, we’ll link to them from here.  

Stimulus money may explain Champaign, Vermilion stability on poverty

By Julie Wurth/The News-Gazette — A new report from the U.S. Census shows Champaign and Vermilion counties holding their own economically in 2010, with overall poverty not worsening and median incomes actually rising. However, that may reflect an influx of federal stimulus money that has since dried up, according to one local official. The U.S. Census released the findings of its 2010 American Community Survey, which collects socioeconomic information about communities across the country each year, from poverty to education to demographics. The data are taken from surveys of about 3 million U.S. addresses, but given the small sample sizes in each community, margins of error vary greatly. The survey showed real median household income fell 2.2 percent nationally to $50,046 in 2010, from $51,190 in 2009, and dropped 3.6 percent in Illinois, from $54,992 to $52,972.