Kudos to the Town of Normal for receiving another award for its Uptown Circle.
On December 1, it was announced that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized the roundabout with a National Smart Growth Achievement Award (civic places category).
In October, the Uptown Circle was also named the number one public space by Planetizen and the Project for Public Spaces. The project’s design also won an American Society of Landscape Architects Illinois Presidential Award (urban design category) in 2010.
FUNDING SHIFT AVERTS CLOSURE OF LOGAN, OTHER FACILITIES
Threatened closures of seven state facilities – including Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln – were averted when lawmakers returned to Springfield November 29 and approved a compromise plan that rearranges the state budget but does not increase total spending for the cash-strapped state.
Governor Pat Quinn announced intentions to shutter Logan and six other state facilities in September, a proposal that drew an outcry from employees, community leaders and the public. Closing the targeted mental health facilities, centers for people with developmental disabilities, and correctional facilities would have put approximately 1,900 employees out of work.
The budget plan approved by lawmakers November 29 reallocates state revenues from other areas of state government, and redirects the money to finance operations at the facilities through the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2012.
NO AGREEMENT ON BUSINESS INCENTIVES
At the Capitol, Senate and House lawmakers were not able to reach an agreement on a business incentive package for major corporations that have threatened to leave Illinois unless the state offers financial relief.
CME Group Inc., CBOE Holding Corp. and Sears Holding Corp. have threatened to leave Illinois unless lawmakers provide tax incentives to offset what the companies contend are burdensome state tax obligations. The CME Group and CBOE Holding Corp. were hard hit by the state’s 67% tax increase that passed in January with only Democrat votes. At the time, Republican lawmakers warned that the huge tax hike would have a negative effect on employers and jobs in Illinois – a prediction that has proved accurate as numerous companies have sought incentives and other offsets to remain in Illinois.
Legislation was proposed in both the Senate and House, with both proposals giving approximately $100 million in tax relief annually to CME, CBOE and Sears; however, lawmakers could not come to an agreement on the amount of relief for other groups. As a result, House Bill 1883 was passed by the Senate but did not advance in the House.
Negotiations on a tax-break plan are anticipated to continue. The package is expected to provide relief for high-profile companies and low-income workers, and other businesses as well. The measure approved by the Senate included a research-and-development credit, and other tax breaks to help smaller companies.
PENSION RFORMS TARGET ABUSE
In other action during the week, lawmakers passed pension reforms to end abuses by some union officials.
House Bill 3813 was introduced after reports by the Chicago Tribune highlighted loopholes in state law that allowed union employees to collect lucrative pension benefits. The bill now heads to Governor Quinn for approval.
Previously, some union staffers were allowed to apply their union work to their public pension credit. House Bill 3813 halts this practice for newly hired union staffers collecting from most state and Chicago funds. The measure also targets “double-dipping,” by prohibiting Chicago union workers from collecting a City of Chicago pension and a union pension for the same period of service. Additionally, the legislation seeks to eliminate pension benefits for two Illinois Federation of Teachers lobbyists who spent just one day working as a substitute teacher, and who now qualify for teacher pension pay-outs.
EXTENDING MEDICAID REFORMS
Also during the week, the General Assembly approved legislation extending the state’s ongoing Medicaid reform efforts. Senate Bill 1762 allows the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) to hire 20 employees with specific knowledge in the areas of healthcare administration, healthcare finance, healthcare data analytics or information technology. This could include personnel with a background in medicine, dental and pharmaceutical services, to those with experience in data analytics or highly complicated Internet technology and computer systems.
HFS Director Julie Hamos noted that the state needs to find qualified people, since it a specialized skill set is required to manage the state’s $15 billion Medicaid budget. Senate Bill 1762 allows HFS to forego entering into costly outside contracts, and instead hire full-time employees at less expense to the state.
Once signed into law, the measure will help HFS cut down on Medicaid fraud, reduce costs through better analysis and improve patient care. Expending resources upfront to hire qualified personnel will help the state lower program costs and attract private sector experience to state business. At this time, Medicaid is the state’s largest expenditure, at $15 billion annually.
WORK-RULE CHANGES FOR MCCORMICK PLACE
Also on November 29, lawmakers approved a series of critical work-rule changes at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center and exhibition facility.
Senate Bill 1992/PA 97-0629 addresses labor union concerns associated with a 2010 law that sought to ease stringent labor rules at McCormick Place, after high labor costs forced several conventions to leave Illinois for more cost-effective locations. Labor unions protested the initial reforms, arguing the law interfered with the negotiating rights of private-sector employees.
State and local leaders worked with labor unions to negotiate a compromise settlement to address the legal concerns surrounding the work rules. By codifying the compromise agreement into law, Senate Bill 1992 ensures McCormick Place remains a leading national and global convention facility destination. The bill was signed into law November 30.