Gov’t Watch: Champaign County voters prepare to head to the polls

By Sari Lesk/For CU-CitizenAccess.org — Voters in Champaign County are about to decide who should hold power over their tax dollars. They will have their first of two opportunities in 2014 to cast votes and select county leadership by participating in the March 18 primary election, when they can make choices for Champaign County Board members. The general election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 4. When voters cast their ballots this year, they will be electing officials to govern the unincorporated areas within the county and hold responsibility for the county’s public facilities, as well as who will maintain certain local highways.

Unclaimed money heads to Champaign County treasurer’s office on November 30th

By Pamela G. Dempsey/CU-CitizenAccess — Dozens of Champaign County residents – past and present – are set to lose more than $12,000 total by the end of November. Known as “Abandoned Bonds,” the cash is from unclaimed money by those who posted bonds on court cases that have since been resolved. At the close of a case, bond payments are returned to a resident by check via mail to the person’s address on file, said Katie Blakeman, Champaign County Circuit Clerk. Most often for those on the list, the checks are sent back to the circuit clerk’s office because the recipient has moved. “This happens a lot with students,” Blakeman said.

Signs explaining the closed USDA offices in west Champaign, Ill. on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013.

Farmers not yet hit by shutdown

Robert Holly/Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

The U.S. Department of Agriculture was forced to send home tens of thousands of employees because of Tuesday’s government shutdown. As a result, the agriculture department and its nearly two dozen agencies are operating at limited capacity – or not at all. But even though important agencies such as the Farm Service Agency and the Risk Management Agency will be shut down almost entirely, agriculture officials said that Midwest farmers and producers won’t be affected that much. “If it goes a week or so, the impact is minimal,” said Mark Gebhards, executive director of governmental affairs and commodities for the Illinois Farm Bureau. “The big question is how long the shutdown lasts.”

Gebhards and other officials said that the biggest impact from the shutdown will be further delays to a farm bill resolution, which expired at the end of September.

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.