Friday, February 27, 2009

Gov Quinn to Appoint Rep. Hannig as Transportation Secretary

CHICAGO – February 27, 2009. Governor Pat Quinn will name Representative Gary Hannig (D-Litchfield) as Director of the Illinois Department of Transportation tomorrow. Rep. Hannig, who is also Deputy Majority Leader in the Illinois General Assembly, has represented the 98th District, located in Montgomery, Christian and Macoupin Counties, since 1979.

“Gary Hannig has the experience, expertise and integrity to lead this important department,” said Governor Quinn. “As Transportation Secretary, Rep. Hannig will be dedicated to providing safe and cost-efficient transportation throughout Illinois.”

Rep Hannig, who is a Certified Public Accountant, was appointed Deputy Majority Leader for the 94th General Assembly and is an expert on the state budget. A senior member of the House, Rep. Hannig’s legislative record includes strong support for roads, education, agriculture and rural economic development. He lives in Litchfield with his wife, Betsy.

“I am honored Governor Quinn has nominated me to lead the Department of Transportation,” said Hannig. “I look forward to working with him in behalf of the people of Illinois.”

In addition to serving as Deputy Majority Leader, Rep. Hannig is the only downstate Democrat on the House Rules Committee.

The Illinois Department of Transportation seeks to provide safe, cost-effective transportation for Illinois in ways that enhance quality of life, promote economic prosperity, and demonstrate respect for our environment

To Send Condolences to Illinois Service Members KIA

SPRINGFIELD – At the request of the families of Sgt. Scott Stream and Sgt. Schuyler Patch, please send any condolences to:

Family of SGT Scott Stream
c/o B 2/130 INF,
Effingham Armory 1206 W. Temple
Effingham, Il 62401

Family of SGT Schuyler Patch
c/o HHT/2-106 FRG PO Box 132
Kewanee, IL 61443-0132

Thursday, February 26, 2009

AG Madigan: Legislature CAN Require an Election to Fill Senate Seat Held by Burris

Legal Opinion Issued by Attorney-General Lisa Madigan Regarding Whether the Illinois Legislature Can Write a Law to Require an Election to Fill Senate Seat Now Held by Sen. Burris. Issued February 24, 2009

"It is my opinion that the legislature may pass a law allowing the people of Illinois to elect a U.S. senator to fill the seat vacated by President Barack Obama. Such a law would be consistent with the U.S. Constitution. The 17th Amendment expresses a clear preference for having the people of a state elect their U.S. senators.

In keeping with the purpose of this amendment, the legislature may constitutionally change the current law to set an earlier date for the election to this U.S. senate seat. I am providing this opinion to offer guidance to the legislature as they consider this issue.”

Two Illinois National Guardsmen Killed in Afghanistan

Sgt. Schuyler Patch

SPRINGFIELD – Sgt. Scott Stream, 39, assigned to Co. B, 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry based in Effingham, Ill., and Sgt. Schuyler Patch, 25, assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Troop , 2nd Battalion, 106th Cavalry, based in Kewanee, Ill., were killed in action Feb. 24 in Afghanistan.
Stream, a resident of Mattoon, Ill., graduated from Davis County High School in Bloomfield, Iowa, in 1987 and then continued his education at Drake University in 1989. He also attended Lake Land College in 2008. Stream enlisted in the Illinois Army National Guard July 2000.
This was his second deployment. His first deployment was in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom May 2005 to April 2006. Steam’s unit arrived in theater late August 2008. He was married with two children.

A resident of Galva, Ill., Patch, graduated from Wethersfield High School in Kewanee, Ill., in 2002. He enlisted in the Oklahoma National Guard in March 2005 and then transferred to the Illinois Army National Guard in November 2007. This was Patch’s third deployment. His first deployment was in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom January to July 2002 and his second deployment was in support of Operation Enduring Freedom June 2006 to May 2007.
Patch’s unit arrived in theater in December 2008. He was posthumously promoted from specialist to the rank of sergeant.

“These two Soldiers were outstanding individuals and will be missed by all of us in the Illinois National Guard,” said Maj. Gen. William Enyart, Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard. "We extend our deepest sympathies and support to the families of both Soldiers. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all during this difficult time."

Both Soldiers were killed by an improvised explosive device in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Two other coalition members were also killed in the accident. The accident happened while the members were on a joint patrol with Afghan National Security Forces. An Afghan civilian working with the coalition forces was also killed in the incident. Coalition personnel have secured the scene and the incident is under investigation.

The units deployed to Afghanistan as part of the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) and are providing security for Embedded Training Teams, Police Mentor Teams and Forward Operating Bases.

Company B , 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry and Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 2nd Battalion, 106th Cavalry are two of the approximate 30 units with the 33rd IBCT and two units from the 404th Chemical Brigade that deployed to Afghanistan to form Task Force Phoenix VIII. They were joined in theater by various coalition partners and forces from other U.S. service components to form the remainder of the task force.

Stream and Patch are the 22nd and 23rd casualties the Illinois National Guard has suffered since operations in Afghanistan and Iraq began. No information on funeral arrangements has been determined at this time.

Rocky Mountain News to Halt Publication Friday

from the Wall Street Journal newswire

Denver's Rocky Mountain News will publish its final edition on Friday, E.W. Scripps said, illustrating the accelerating decline of the newspaper industry. Scripps said it was unable to find a buyer to preserve the 150-year-old daily.

Earlier this week, Hearst Corp. said it may close the San Francisco Chronicle unless it can quickly slash costs. Four newspaper owners have filed for bankruptcy protection since December: Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times; the closely held Star Tribune paper in Minneapolis; the parent company of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News; and New Haven Register owner Journal Register Co.

Gov Quinn Reopens seven state parks closed by Blagojevich, and restores 12 full-time jobs to IDNR

from the Gov's press office, Feb 25, 2009

SPRINGFIELD - In another important step towards returning Illinois back to the people, Governor Pat Quinn today announced the reopening of seven state parks closed last year by the Blagojevich administration. The move is another sign pointing toward the state’s renewed focus on natural resources and recreational opportunities for its citizens especially in tough economic times.

Governor Quinn made the announcement at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) headquarters in Springfield alongside IDNR Director Marc Miller, and IDNR staff and supporters.

“This is a great day for the people of Illinois. State parks protect some of our most precious habitat and provide opportunities for families to find outdoor recreation close to home. These
are the people’s parks and the people have the right to enjoy them in good and bad economic
times,” said Governor Quinn. “The value of these open spaces is immeasurable to children, families and local communities that depend on these parks for crucial economic stability.”

Today’s announcement officially starts the process of reopening Castle Rock State Park and Lowden State Park in Oregon, Illini State Park in Marseilles, Hidden Springs State Forest in Strasburg, Moraine View State Park in Leroy, Weldon Springs State Park in Clinton, and Wolf Creek State Park in Windsor. IDNR will immediately begin the process of re-staffing the sites as quickly as possible.

“Today is another meaningful step to putting the Illinois Department of Natural Resources back on the right track. For far too long, this agency, our staff and the people we serve have been abused and broken,” said IDNR Director Marc Miller. “I want to thank Governor Quinn for acting quickly to return these great places back to the people and for recognizing the importance that outdoor recreation has in Illinois.”

Reopening these seven state sites gives back dozens of recreational opportunities including camping, fishing, and hiking to more than two million visitors each year.

IDNR sites – state parks, fish and wildlife areas, conservation areas, habitat areas, and other open spaces have a significant economic impact, especially in the state's more rural areas, bringing in non-local visitors who contribute to local economies by supporting local businesses.

An estimated 44 million people visit Illinois state parks and other state sites annually.
Those visitors spend an estimated $500 million in local economies each year.
That spending results in an estimated $790 million in overall economic impact supporting nearly 8,500 jobs through out the state.

Illinois residents report their favorite outdoor recreation activities include walking/hiking, wildlife watching, picnicking, bicycling, fishing and swimming- all opportunities available at Illinois state parks.

Castle Rock State Park is a 2,013 acre park located in the Rock Hills region of Illinois in Ogle County. The park is well known by it rock formations, ravines, and sandstone bluff for which the park is named. The annual visitation is over 150,000 and provides recreational opportunities for picnicking, camping, hiking, boating, fishing and hunting.

Lowden State Park is a 207 acre park located in Ogle County along the Rock River. It is home to a 50 foot Native American statue commonly known as Blackhawk. The park has an average annual attendance of over 250,000 visitors and provides recreational opportunities for picnicking, camping, hiking, boating and fishing.

Illini State Park is a 507 acre park located in LaSalle County along the Illinois River. In the 1930’s, the Conservation Civilian Corp built several buildings that are still used by the park today. It has an annual attendance of over 700,000 and provides recreational opportunities for riverside picnic areas, camping, boating, fishing and hiking.

Hidden Springs State Forest is a 1,120 acre forest located in Shelby County. It is named for seven known springs on the property which were used for drinking water by the early settlers. Over the years these springs have been covered over by natural siltation and vegetation (hence the name "Hidden Springs"). It has an annual attendance of over 175,000 and provides recreational opportunities for picnicking, camping, fishing, hiking, and hunting.

Moraine View State Park is a 1,687 acre facility developed for picnicking, camping, hiking, swimming, fishing, boating, horseback riding and hunting in McLean County. The trail system also provides opportunities for handicapped persons, and the trails are groomed in the winter for snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.

Weldon Springs State Park is a 550 acre park located in DeWitt County. The park is home to the historic Union School building which was moved from Logan County to the prairie at Weldon Springs, restored, furnished, and equipped for use as both a visitor center and a temporary classroom for area school groups that wish to relocate for a day. The park has an annual attendance of over 333,000 and offers recreational opportunities for picnicking, camping, fishing, hiking and hunting.

Wolf Creek State Park is located on Lake Shelbyville on lands leased from the Army Corps of Engineers in Shelby County. It has a very popular campground (430 sites) and is a popular equestrian destination. The four-lane boat launching ramp provides for any variety of water sports, and the sandy beach provides easy access for swimming. The Shelbyville Lake provides prime and productive fishing opportunities. The park has an annual attendance of over 412,000 and provides recreational opportunities for picnicking, camping, boating and hiking.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cong. Peter Roskam Backs Tax Credit for Renewable Biogas.

From Congressman Roskam's office, Feb 25, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC - Congressman Peter Roskam (R-IL) recently joined a bipartisan group of Members of Congress in introducing legislation that would create the nation’s first tax credit for the production of renewable biogas. Roskam made energy independence a cornerstone of his first term in Congress and has pledged to continue fighting for policies that reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

“While gas prices have declined since the highs of last summer, it is important this Congress and nation not lose sight of the great need to become independent of foreign sources of energy,” said Roskam. “Incentivizing biogas production is a perfect example of sustainable policies which will help diversify our sources of domestic energy while promoting a cleaner environment.”

Although renewable biogas is the most versatile form of bio-energy, current tax credits are only available for biogas that is used to produce electricity. This credit would level playing fields for investors in the renewable energy industry and generate a renewable source that can be used by residential, commercial and industrial customers throughout the United States.

Specifically, this legislation would create a tax incentive of $4.27 for each million BTU of biogas produced, making it more cost-effective to turn the gases given off by dairy farms, landfills and waste treatment centers into domestic energy.

It is estimated that the U.S. industrial sector alone can cut its annual gas emissions by 23% or more from projected levels in 2030 using existing technologies, technologies pioneered by companies like Des Plaines’ Gas Technology Institute (GTI).

“Creating incentives for the production of renewable biogas will expand the opportunities for renewables in the natural gas sector,” said Dan LeFevers, Executive Director of Gas Technology Institute Washington operations. “GTI continues to perform research on new and more cost effective ways to produce renewable gas from a variety of feedstocks, as well as developing improved means to move renewable biogas into the nation’s pipeline system so that homes, businesses and industry can have an additional renewable option. This expanded role for renewable biogas will create green jobs and spur rural and urban economic development. We commend Congressman Roskam for having the foresight to support such legislation.”


Sen. Durbin's Statement on WH Fiscal Summit

from Sen. Durbin's office

WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) issued the following statement after participating in President Obama’s Fiscal Responsibility Summit. Held today at the White House, the summit was the first of a series of bipartisan discussions on how we can address the long-term fiscal problems facing the nation.

“Today’s summit brought together a diverse and bipartisan group of individuals around a common goal – to look beyond the immediate economic crisis and put our nation on sound financial footing for the long term.”

“We focused on a strategy for reducing the federal deficit; reforming our nation’s health care system; restoring solvency to Social Security and streamlining government operations.”

“None of the solutions to these problems will be quick or easy. We must improve the long-term fiscal health of our nation, and I hope we continue to have these frank bipartisan discussions about how to get there.”


Monday, February 23, 2009

Representative Rich Brauer Receives The Champion of Free Enterprise Award

From the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce

Representative Rich Brauer received The Champion of the Free Enterprise Award from the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. The award was presented at The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce’s board meeting in February.

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce is proud to recognize legislators that have made special contributions in the defense of free enterprise, and the furtherance of economic opportunities for Illinoisans.

The Champion of the Free Enterprise Award is based on The Illinois Chamber’s rating system. The ratings are based on legislators’ votes on the key business legislation of the 95th General Assembly. The votes in the Senate and House are selected based on their impact on the business community and, to a lesser extent, the gap between opposing views on the issue. The votes are weighted accordingly. In cases where more than one roll call was taken on a bill, the most significant vote impacting the resolution of the issue has been selected.

Legislators with Illinois Chamber ratings averaging 85% or better over the previous three General Assemblies have demonstrated their commitment to legislation that frees the entrepreneurial spirit and qualify for the award.

Roskam, Kirk FDA Bill Would Save Lives, Salmonella Outbreak Avoidable

From the Office of Congressman Peter Roskam

CHICAGO, IL - Congressmen Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) recently reintroduced legislation to secure our nation’s food system and close a dangerous Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight loophole. This timely legislation comes on the heels of a salmonella outbreak surrounding the distribution of contaminated peanut butter resulting in the death of nine people, and sickening more than 600.

Currently, domestic food suppliers, importers, and private testing labs, are not required to report all testing data, leaving the FDA in the dark when a shipment fails to meet U.S. standards. This missed opportunity denies the FDA the ability to collect data for its risk-based screening system. Most importantly, it leaves open the possibility a nefarious supplier, domestic or international, could “shop around” for a lab willing to give it favorable results to gain entry into the U.S. food supply.

“The recent outbreak of salmonella underscores the deadly consequences of a lack of oversight of our food supply,” said Roskam. “Every year 76 million people become sick, 325,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 Americans die from food borne illnesses caused by contamination. Many of these deaths, including those recently caused by contaminated peanut butter, are avoidable. My legislation will close the most dangerous loophole, provide protection for whistleblowers in the industry, enhance penalties for violators and impose stricter safety standards to ensure a safe and secure food supply.”

"Parents have a right to purchase safe food for their children," Congressman Kirk said. "Contaminated foods should not end up in America’s shopping baskets. From cookies to snack mix to pet food, more than 2,500 products have been recalled in the latest incident alone. For the sake of American families, this dangerous loophole must be closed. I'm pleased to join with Congressman Roskam on this important legislation.”

As co-chair of the House US-China Working Group, Congressman Kirk led the effort to address the stream of tainted food imports from China. In August 2007, Kirk won commitments from the Chinese government to allow FDA access to manufacturing facilities around the country. In 2008, Kirk worked with the State Department to secure space in Beijing to house FDA personnel and worked with the FDA to deploy its first team to China later in the year.

Media reports show the Peanut Corporation of America, the source of the recent outbreak, actually found salmonella contamination on 12 occasions in the past two years. However, the company still sold the products after shopping around for a favorable test result. While it is illegal to ship contaminated products, suppliers and labs are not required to submit data of failed tests. This dangerous loophole caused more than 500 people in Illinois and 42 other states to become ill with salmonella and in 8 cases have been linked to death.

The legislation also gives the FDA the authority to initiate mandatory recalls of tainted food products.

Roskam and Kirk introduced similar legislation in April of 2008, nine months before the salmonella outbreak that killed eight.

Highlights of the Keeping America’s Food Safe Act

Close reporting loopholes for domestic food producers and private labs

  • Requires all test results that show a potential contamination to be reported to the FDA for evaluation under the agency’s Reportable Food Registry; currently, this data can be withheld from the FDA, which diminishes its ability to maximize its efficiency through risk-based evaluations
  • The Reportable Food Registry was established by the Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007, enabling the FDA to evaluate and respond to reports of food that could cause serious adverse health consequences

Authorize the FDA to initiate mandatory recalls of tainted food products

  • If a company does not respond to an FDA-requested recall within 24 hours, the FDA can order a recall of a product it has reviewed under the Reportable Food Registry
  • The FDA currently can request that a company initiate a recall, but the company is not obligated to comply; the FDA can seize adulterated or misbranded products
  • However, giving the FDA this authority will augment its ability to protect the food supply

Close reporting loopholes and enhance the FDA’s knowledge base of food imports

  • Requires the Secretary of HHS to certify any private lab or sampling service that will collect data on imported food, which will gives us greater knowledge about the actors we are dealing with in the import industry
  • Private labs and sampling services would have to report any data from activities related to food imports to the Secretary, closing the current loophole that allows importers and private labs and sampling services to withhold unfavorable data from the FDA

Establish significant penalties for violators of reporting requirements

  • Importers and the private labs and sampling services would be subject to a $1M fine for knowingly falsifying or submitting false results or data

Gain a fuller knowledge of the life-cycle of food imports

  • Enables the Secretary to require foreign countries and foreign companies to become certified importers.
  • The Secretary can waive the certification requirement by making a determination, documented for Congress, that the foreign entities maintain at least equivalent food safety standards with the U.S.
  • By gaining assurances that imported food is being processed according to our own domestic requirements, we will know more about the total food cycle and import safety

Establish a website to provide an information clearinghouse

  • Directs the Secretary to work with USDA to provide information for consumers, industry, and health professionals that will foster increasing public awareness of food safety issues
  • Also directs the Secretary to work with the Secretary of Education to develop content appropriate for the curricula of the schools of the United States

Provide protection for whistleblowers in the food import safety industry

  • Protects those that bring to light deficiencies and safety threats in the food import process
  • Protecting those with such information is necessary to ensure our nation is ever vigilant in addressing the unique threat food imports can pose

Ameren Illinois Utilities Report Customers to Benefit from Continued Decline in Natural Gas Costs

From the Offices of Ameren Illinois Utilities

Peoria (Feb. 23, 2009) – With one month remaining in the 2008/2009 heating season, Ameren Illinois Utilities natural gas customers will benefit from another significant drop in the cost of natural gas.

The continued decline in the cost of natural gas is a reflection of weak global demand for energy that has led to declines in the market prices of both crude oil and natural gas.

The cost of natural gas delivered to residential customers during March will be much lower than the price paid in February. Natural gas prices for March are as follows: AmerenCILCO – $0.64 per therm as compared to $0.77 in February, AmerenCIPS – $0.68 per therm as compared to $0.84 in February, and AmerenIP – $0.64 per therm as compared to $0.77 in February, reflecting decreases of 17 percent, 19 percent and 17 percent respectively. Since their peak last fall, per therm natural gas costs for the Ameren Illinois Utilities have dropped by 40 percent to 55 percent.

“The price of natural gas fluctuates from one month to the next based on supply and demand. Global economic conditions continue to weaken demand, especially in the industrial sector, resulting in lower gas prices,” said Ameren Vice President of Gas Supply and System Control Scott A. Glaeser.

“We also recognize that the extremely cold temperatures that occurred in December and January meant that our customers used more natural gas this year than a year ago, resulting in higher total bills,” Glaeser said. “We have and will continue to provide our customers with the information they need to better manage their energy usage.”

Residential customers are encouraged to enroll in the Budget Billing plan. This plan allows residential customers to pay the same amount each month. The plan allows customers to pay an average monthly bill amount based on the last 12 months of usage. The payment level is periodically reviewed and adjusted as necessary. On the 12th month, the account is reviewed to calculate the difference between the amount of energy used during the year and the amount paid under Budget Billing. If the amount paid exceeds the actual cost of providing the energy, the customer receives a credit. If the amount billed is less than the actual cost of providing the energy, the customer is billed for the difference. By enrolling now, customers can begin leveling out their monthly payments.

Customers may enroll in Budget Billing by visiting Ameren’s Web site ( or by calling the Ameren Illinois Utilities (AmerenCIPS: 1-888-789-2477, AmerenCILCO: 1- 888-672-5252, and AmerenIP: 1-800-755-5000). Customers may enroll in the program or drop out at any time. There is no cost to enroll in Budget Billing.

Customers also are encouraged to adopt energy efficiency and conservation practices, which will allow them to pay less by using less energy. Customers may also consider setting thermostats a little lower. Each degree a thermostat is lowered can reduce heating costs by 2 to 3 percent. Ceiling and other circulating fans can be used to push warm air from ceilings. Humidifiers will help keep homes comfortable at somewhat lower temperatures.

A detailed list of energy efficiency and conservation suggestions is available on the new Act On Energy™ Web site ( by selecting the “Energy Savings Tips” menu item.

The Ameren Illinois Utilities purchase natural gas from gas producers located in various U.S. natural gas production areas. The wholesale price is not regulated, but rises and falls based upon market conditions caused by supply and demand. The Ameren Illinois Utilities pass the cost of natural gas on to customers, dollar for dollar without any profit or markup in price, through the Gas Charge (also referred to as the PGA, which means “purchased gas adjustment”). About two-thirds of a typical residential customer’s bill is the actual cost of natural gas.

The Gas Charge is recomputed each month and may go up or down depending on the wholesale price of natural gas. The Gas Charge is a matter of public record and is available on the Ameren Web site ( under “Historical PGA Rates” for AmerenCIPS and AmerenCILCO and “Historical Gas Charges” for AmerenIP.

The Ameren Illinois Utilities strive to keep natural gas costs at stable and reasonable rates for their customers, while dampening the effects of market volatility and price spikes from the wholesale gas markets. The utilities utilize sophisticated financial hedging strategies and negotiate both long- and short-term natural gas supply contracts.

The Ameren Illinois Utilities utilize a number of interstate pipeline suppliers, accessing multiple production areas to bring natural gas to Illinois.

The Ameren Illinois Utilities have been providing safe, reliable energy delivery service for more than a century. The Ameren Illinois Utilities deliver energy to 1.2 million electric and more than 840,000 natural gas customers in about 1,000 communities, while helping customers spend less by using less and communities grow through economic development initiatives.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Giannoulias Calls on Burris to Resign

From the Office of State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias

When Governor Blagojevich made the Senate appointment, I stated that the process was tainted, regardless of whom he selected.

Given the revelations during the past several days, the situation has become toxic and only serves as a sideshow during a time when lawmakers should be addressing the financial crisis that is impacting families across Illinois.

Senator Burris' statements have been misleading at best and make clear he was not upfront or forthright during his testimony before Illinois House Impeachment Committee. He violated the public's trust, which sorely needed restoring following the Governor's impeachment.

Although lawmakers took a positive step by removing the Governor, we're still dealing with problems that he created. As a result, Senator Burris cannot serve as an effective leader nor restore integrity to public service. For the good of the people of Illinois, Senator Burris should resign.

It's obvious that the people of Illinois have been ill-served by kingmaker politics. We need to move forward to remove the Senate appointment power from current and future Governors and ensure Illinois residents select their representatives at the ballot box.

As the fight over last week's stimulus package shows, every Senator plays a key role in our nation's economic recovery. We need to make sure our Senators serve the public's interest, not as a distraction.

Illinois Guard Builds Trust One Villaage at a Time

From the Illinois Army & Air National Guard

ARLINGTON, Va. – As operations in Afghanistan ramp up, the Soldiers of the Illinois Army National Guard’s 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team continue to excel in their mission of training and mentoring members of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police, a senior Army official said Feb. 15.

Army Maj. Gen. Richard P. Formica, commander of the Combined Security Transition Team in Afghanistan, said in a video teleconference with Illinois family members that the BCT’s successes are part of the overall strategy in Afghanistan.

“It’s not just about clearing and fighting,” said Formica. “It’s also about developing good governance, and it’s about development—social and economic development and the rule of law.”

The 33rd IBCT, which falls under the Combined Security Transition Team, deployed to Afghanistan in December and has several Embedded Training Teams that work directly with both Afghan army and police units.

For these teams, building social and economic frameworks starts with building trust.

“The most basic element of trust is established Soldier to Soldier, unit to unit,” said Formica.

“Our Army National Guard Soldiers live out in remote (forward operating bases). They’re living with these Soldiers and policemen; they’re fighting (alongside) them. They train with them and share hardships with them, and there is a tremendous amount of trust that is built up in both directions.”

That can lead to providing a capable security force, said Formica, who added that is one of the roads to a stable infrastructure.

But that trust is also built in other ways. “When the medics from the 33rd IBCT go out with their Afghan medical partners and establish a little clinic and see local villagers and treat cuts, colds and sore fingers, that goes a whole long way to build trust one village at a time,” he said.

Additionally, the Soldiers of the brigade bring something else that can help them with building trust. “They bring two professional characteristics to this fight,” said Formica. “First, they are well-trained Soldiers. But they also bring, as citizen-Soldiers, civilian occupational skills and experience.

“Many are in the medical field or law enforcement and work in various aspects of our society back home, and those skills are pretty relevant over here.”

The ultimate success of social and economic development is dependent upon local authorities’ willingness to take the lead, said Formica.

“We push for and have encouraged the Afghan national security forces to take the lead in operations, and we are precise and deliberate in the operations we do,” said Formica. “It’s imperative that we build a true partnership with the Ministry of Defense and the Afghan National Army and the Ministry of the Interior and the Afghan National Police.”

That willingness to take the lead has already been seen during a recent Taliban attack in Kabul when Afghan army and police responded.

“I’m not just saying this as the guy who is responsible for building the Afghan national security forces, but it was clear to us that the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police responded quickly and responded effectively,” said Formica. “This incident occurred, they responded and they responded on the local level. Only two of 10 suicide bombers actually detonated.”

After the initial attack, several firefights ensued. Formica said within a few hours security was restored to the area through the efforts of Afghan army and police units.

That is an example of the challenges faced by the unit. “Our challenge is to build sustainable capacity. It’s not just to provide equipment or to train but to establish systems . . . with the end state being (a stable sustainable society),” he said.

But that may take some time, especially when it comes to things like educational systems. “It’s going to take some time to develop those programs,” said Col. Scott Thoele, commander of the 33rd IBCT, who added that many programs may require a cultural shift in perspective, such as retooling schools to allow girls to attend.

But that is only a small part. “The ability to build roads, provide clean water and electricity to the people will go a long way to developing this country,” said Thoele.

Although it may take time, Thoele said he is confident of success. “It’s slow but steady progress, but we will be successful in our mission,” he said.

Fertilizer Costs Likely to Drop

From the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences

URBANA - Expected lower fertilizer prices in 2009 may lead to an increase in corn profitability relative to soybean profitability, said a University of Illinois Extension farm financial management specialist.

"Difficulties within the financial sector became apparent last fall. The financial meltdown, along with public perceptions of economic problems, has led to concerns that a deep, world-wide recession is occurring," said Gary Schnitkey. "As a result, prices of many commodities have declined dramatically in the belief that demands for those commodities are being reduced.

"Among those commodities seeing declines are wholesale fertilizer prices."

Schnitkey's report, "Fertilizer Prices Likely to Decline in 2009," can be found online ( on U of I Extension's farmdoc website.

"As of yet, prices farmers pay for fertilizers have not decreased as much as declines in wholesale prices," Schnitkey said. "In fact, retail prices have not declined much at all in many areas of Illinois.

"Non-declining prices are attributed to large unsold fertilizer inventories held by many retailers."

Retailers will lose money on those inventories if they follow wholesale prices down, he noted.

"While retailers will suffer financial losses, there are incentives for farmers to delay purchasing fertilizers, waiting for fertilizer prices to decline," he said. "Waiting to purchase fertilizer poses some risks to farmers."

Among these, he said, is the possibility supplies become limited if suppliers curtail production. Geopolitical events may also impact prices.

"The point is not that these or other events will occur, but that there remain risks for higher fertilizer prices," he said.

"As farmers make planting decisions, up-to-date fertilizer prices should be used in calculating relative profitability."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Gov Quinn Fills 12 Key Staff Positions

CHICAGO – On Wednesday, February 18, 2009, Governor Pat Quinn named a dozen staff members to his Administration. They include:

Jack Lavin – Chief Operating Officer
Lavin will primarily focus on directing the Federal stimulus program for Illinois while assisting in the management of the Governor’s office. He has served as the Director of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity since 2003. Lavin has a Master’s degree in business with a specialization in finance as well as a Master’s degree in international relations from the University of Chicago.

Carolyn Brown Hodge – Deputy Chief of Staff
Hodge will assist the Chief of Staff in running the Office of the Governor in Springfield. She was previously the Director of Rural Affairs in the Office of the Lt. Governor. Hodge has been a leader on the Rural Health Task Force, the Rural Water Task Force and the Broadband Deployment Council.

Simone McNeil – Director of Operations
McNeil will oversee the day-to-day operations of the Governor’s Office, a position she also held for six years in the Office of the Lt. Governor. She brings a depth of management experience, including serving for four years as Human Resources Director in the Office of the State Treasurer. McNeil has a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois.

Robert Reed – Director of Communications
Reed will manage media relations, a position he also held with the Office of the Lt. Governor. He has an extensive journalism background previously working for Business Week, Chicago magazine, Bloomberg Business News, WBBM-Newsradio 780 and as editor of Crain’s Chicago Business. Reed has a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from Northern Illinois University.

Michelle Saddler – Director of Policy
Saddler will oversee a number of policy initiatives including economic development, health care, education, housing, fiscal policy and ethics. She brings strong financial management and public policy experience, serving as Director of Investments for four years in the Office of the State Treasurer and later managing one of the nation’s top performing investment pools for nearly 200 Illinois municipalities. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and a Master’s degree in Management from the Northwestern Kellogg School of Management.

LaDawn Burnett – Senior Policy Advisor
Burnett will work on a range of policy initiatives including economic development, health care, education and fiscal matters. Previously, Burnett was the Director of Policy and Issues for the Office of Lt. Governor. She has a Bachelor’s degree in English and Political Science from Valparaiso University.

Kate Tomford – Director of Sustainability
Tomford will manage and advocate for the implementation of the Governor’s green initiatives throughout the state. Well versed in environmental policy and sustainability initiatives, she was previously a Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Lt. Governor, tasked with overseeing the Green Governments Coordinating Council and other green projects. Tomford received a Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a Master’s in environmental science and policy from the University Of Chicago Harris School Of Public Policy.

Cory Foster – Director of Community Affairs
Foster will act as a liaison to diverse communities throughout Illinois, a position he also held for two years with the Office of the Lt. Governor. He has extensive background working with faith-based institutions and managing educational service programs, such as the Learn and Serve America Program with State Board of Education. Foster also has extensively worked on media and event coordination efforts. He has a Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Drury University.

Jennifer Hoelzle – Director of Scheduling & Advance
Hoelzle will manage the Governor’s schedule as well as coordinate travel and logistics. She was Director of Intergovernmental Affairs in the Office of the Lt. Governor. She holds a Master’s degree from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.

Jay Stewart – Senior Counsel
Stewart will provide legal counsel to the Governor and assist the General Counsel in a number of capacities. He was previously the Executive Director of the Better Government Association. Stewart graduated from DePaul University College of Law.

Sean Vinck – Chief Legislative Counsel
Vinck will be the Governor’s primary representative in the Illinois General Assembly. He has worked with Illinois legislators over the past two years as Legislative Counsel to the Lt. Governor. Vinck received a Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree and J.D. from the University of Notre Dame.

David Vaught – Senior Advisor to the Governor
Vaught will consult and advise the Governor on a range of policy matters, including fiscal and economic development issues. He previously served Governor Quinn as a key advisor in the Office of the State Treasurer. Vaught is a West Point graduate.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Press Release from House Speaker Michael Madigan

To read Speaker Madigan's press release regarding the Burris documents being submitted to the Sangamon County State's Attorney, click here.

Letter from Speaker Madigan to State's Attorney Schmidt

To read the February 17, 2009 letter submitted to Sangamon County State's Attorney John Schmidt by House Speaker Michael Madigan, click here.

Affidavit and Client List of Senator Roland Burris

To read the February 5, 2009 affidavit and client list submitted by Senator Roland Burris, click here.

Transcript of Senator Roland Burris' Testimony Before the House Impeachment Committee

To read the transcript of Senator Roland Burris' January 8, 2009 testimony before the House Impeachment Committee, click here.

Affidavit of Senator Roland Burris

To read the January 5, 2009 affidavit of Senator Roland Burris, click here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Shimkus Votes Against Bloated Stimulus

From the Office of Congressman John Shimkus

Washington, DC...Congressman John Shimkus (R, Illinois-19) issued the following statement after voting against (as did every Republican) the so called "stimulus" Conference Report (HR 1):

"While I fully acknowledge the pain that many families are feeling if they are currently unemployed or are facing financial difficulties, I cannot support spending over one trillion dollars of those same families and all of our money in future taxes.

"The Democrats' bill that passed creates far fewer jobs than the alternative version I supported, but we were never given an opportunity to even vote on an alternative. The legislation I support would have limited the stimulus bill to tax cuts, infrastructure projects, and help for the unemployed - items that really create jobs, not just spending money on pet programs.

"This legislation hardly meets any of our nation's infrastructure needs. It spends less nationwide on roads and bridges than the state General Assembly is considering for Illinois alone. In addition, language requiring companies to verify citizenship of employees was removed, which could allow illegal workers to benefit from taxpayer funded projects.

"I have been hearing from my constituents, and they overwhelmingly said to reject this massive spending bill. I agreed with them and voted no."

Roskam Statement on Passage of Economic Stimulus Spending Bill

From the Office of Congressman Peter Roskam

WASHINGTON, DC - Congressman Peter Roskam (R-IL) today voted against H.R. 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and released the following statement:

“In his inaugural speech, President Obama rightly observed that our economy is badly weakened because of our failure to make hard choices.

“Unfortunately, H.R. 1 fails to live up to that inaugural standard.

“By spending over $1 trillion, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that this legislation will have zero impact on our GDP by 2013, and a negative impact on GDP by 2019 – greatly weakening our economy over time.

“Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s refusal to consider bipartisan input further jeopardizes our economy and long-term prosperity.”

U.S. Senator Roland W. Burris to Embark on 5-day Illinois Listening Tour

From the Office of U.S. Senator Roland Burris

CHICAGO, IL— Beginning this Monday, February 16th, U.S. Senator Roland W. Burris will travel throughout the Land of Lincoln during an Illinois listening tour.

The five day tour will be Senator Burris’ first trip throughout the state as the junior senator of Illinois. Driving everywhere from North Chicago to Peoria, Senator Burris will use these five days as an opportunity to hear directly from constituents and community leaders about their priorities and ideas. Senator Burris plans to visit additional regions of the state in the coming months.

“As the junior senator from Illinois, my priority is to sit down and listen to my constituents and local leaders as they share with me their hopes, priorities, and concerns,” said Senator Burris. “This week I am grateful to have the opportunity to travel throughout the great state of Illinois, and hear what is on the minds of everyone from educators and elected officials, to college students and active duty personnel.”

Senator Burris’ daily activities for the Illinois listening tour are listed below. Further details of the tour will be announced as they become available.

Chicago, IL -> Peoria, IL

Chicago, IL

Chicago, IL

Peoria, IL
4900 W Farmington Rd.
Peoria, IL

Event begins: 5:30 PM

Media Coverage: The dinner is open to the press and is being hosted by the Peoria County Democrats. Please contact Billy Halstead, (309) 360-9411, at the Peoria County Democrats for information about covering the event as a member of the press.

Peoria, IL -> Bloomington, IL -> Normal, IL

Peoria, IL

Peoria, IL

Peoria, IL
Late morning

Peoria, IL

Peoria, IL
619 S Water Street
Peoria, IL

Lunch: 12:30 PM

Peoria, IL

Peoria, IL

Bloomington, IL

Normal, IL

Normal, IL
Early evening

Chicago, IL

Chicago, IL
111 W. Grand Ave.
Chicago, IL

Event begins: 11:30 AM
Senator Burris begins speaking: 12:30 PM

Media Coverage: The event is open to the press and is being hosted by the City Club of Chicago. Please contact Theresa Aguirre, (312) 283-4322, at the City Club of Chicago for more information about covering the event as a member of the press.

Chicago, IL

Chicago, IL

Chicago, IL

Rockford, IL

Rockford, IL

Rockford, IL
Late morning

Rockford, IL

Lunch: 1:00 PM

Rockford, IL

Rockford, IL

North Chicago, IL

North Chicago, IL

North Chicago, IL

North Chicago, IL
1617 14th St.
North Chicago, IL

Lunch: 12:30 PM

Senate Approves Bill to Name Springfield Post Office After Col. John H. Wilson, Jr.

From the Office of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Congressman Phil Hare (D-IL) today announced that their legislation to name the United States Post Office located at 2105 East Cook Street in Springfield, Illinois after Colonel John H. Wilson, Jr. has passed unanimously in the Senate. The legislation must now pass the House of Representatives.

“I am proud that the Senate has recognized Colonel Wilson by unanimously passing this resolution,” said Durbin. “Colonel Wilson was a distinguished man of service who served our country during World War II and served my hometown of Springfield for 57 years as an employee of the U.S. Postal Service. I hope that the House of Representatives will swiftly take up and pass this resolution so we can enact this fitting tribute to a true American hero.”

“As we celebrate Black History Month, it is fitting to bestow this honor on a hero like Col. John Wilson. Whether it was his courage in becoming the first African-American Reservist from Illinois to achieve the rank of Colonel or his longtime work as a member of the U.S. Postal Service in Springfield, Col. Wilson dedicated his entire life to the service of others. I’m glad to see that this Post Office designation is one step closer to becoming law and look forward to its passage in the House of Representatives,” said Hare.

Colonel Wilson fought bravely during World War II and was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry. He later served in the U.S. Army Reserves and became the first African American in Illinois to be promoted to the rank of Colonel. He also provided outstanding service to his community in Springfield as an employee of the U.S. Postal Service for over half a century.

Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth called him a “true American leader and hero.” Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin said naming a Post Office in Colonel Wilson’s honor will give the citizens of Springfield “the opportunity and privilege to learn about his life of service.”


From the Office of Citizens for Giannoulias

New for 2009, we've redesigned the Citizens For Giannoulias website - - to provide you with updated information about policy initiatives as well as the latest political news.

The revamped and streamlined site also allows you to view articles and videos, sign up as a volunteer and make online contributions. You can link to our Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and YouTube pages as well.

Please take a look and let us know what you think by emailing me at We appreciate your feedback.

Jesse White and ILA Unveil Temporary Special Event President Barack Obama License Plate

From the Office of Secretary of State Jesse White

Illinois Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White and the Illinois Library Association (ILA) announced today the availability of an official President Barack Obama special event Illinois license plate.

The plates, which are temporary and good for 60 days, are available for purchase at for $50 a pair. Proceeds will help support the association’s activities including iREAD, the summer reading program for Illinois youth.

The election of President Barack Obama represents a historic moment for our state. These plates will commemorate and celebrate the election of our nation’s first African-American president. The proceeds will benefit libraries, referred to by President Obama as “our windows to a larger world.”

“ILA is delighted to partner with our State Librarian in this wonderful opportunity,” said ILA President Donna Dziedzic. “Libraries are more important than ever in this period of economic instability and more and more people are using them every day. The library community is extremely grateful that Jesse White recognizes the value libraries provide to their communities every day.”

“Libraries are the cornerstones of our communities,” said Illinois Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White. “I initiated this special event plate with the ILA to help benefit Illinois libraries as well as to honor the historic inauguration of President Barack Obama. I am committed to working with libraries across the state to help them serve their patrons and communities at the highest level. The iREAD program represents an important effort to encourage our young people to read.”

In 2005, the then U.S. Senator Obama keynoted the opening general session of the American Library Association Annual Conference in Chicago. He praised librarians as guardians of truth and knowledge, and thanked them for their role as champions of privacy, literacy, independent thinking, and most of all reading.

The special event license plates, which read “Illinois Salutes President Barack Obama,” are unique commemorative plates to be displayed on Illinois vehicles for 60 days, beginning February 17 and ending April 17, 2009. After this date, the Obama license plate will be available for purchase to everyone nationwide to add to his or her Obama collections.

The plates will be sold at the Chicago Auto Show, February 13-21, 2009 at McCormick Place, 2301 South Martin Luther King Drive and are also available at for $50.

The Special Event License Plate program was established in 1980. Special event license plates are a unique promotional device available to organizations by the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office to promote various interests of Illinois citizens. Upon approval by the Secretary of State’s Office, organizations may design license plates to be displayed on vehicles for sixty days. For additional information on the Special Event License Plate program, visit the Secretary of State’s Web site at

Gov. Mario Cuomo to address Union League Club of Chicago ’s George Washington Birthday Celebration

From the Union League Club of Chicago


Mario Cuomo, former (1983-94) governor of New York, will keynote the Union League Club of Chicago’s 122nd celebration of George Washington’s birthday;

Nina Owen, president, Union League Club of Chicago;

Thomas S. Palmen, chair, Public Affairs, Union League Club of Chicago;

Three Chicago-area high school students honored with Club’s “Democracy in Action” awards for exemplary leadership in citizenship:


Friday, February 13, 2009

Union League Club of Chicago, 65 West Jackson Blvd., Chicago

4:15 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. Gov. Cuomo Media Availability

5:30 p.m. Photo opportunity with students, Gov. Cuomo, ULCC leadership

6:00 p.m. General Reception

7:00 p.m. Dinner -- Soldiers of the Illinois National Guard 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat team, commanded by Brigadier General Steven Huber, will greet the audience and lead the Pledge of Allegiance in a videotaped message from Kabul, Afghanistan

9:00 p.m. – Gov. Cuomo address

Gov. Cuomo’s address will focus on a comparison of the significant challenges of the Lincoln and Obama presidencies. Lincoln , he suggests, focused on the key issue of his political career and of the day—slavery. “If he had failed,” Gov. Cuomo asserts, “ America would have been scared, slavery extended and the Union fractured.”

Obama, as the leader of a dominant superpower in a far different world from the one in which Lincoln served, faces scores of critical issues. “If his presidency should fail,” Cuomo warns, “there could be unprecedented global damage. But his success could lead the nation and the world into a new period of enlightenment and progress.”

(Full text available: Dick Barry Union League Club Media Relations 312-607-5888)

Union League Club of Chicago Democracy in Action Awardees

Andrew Boyd, 18, of La Grange Park , a senior at Lyons Township High School earned a first place $ 2,000 award. Boyd, who organized a student voter registration drive and mock election, is cited for his “zeal, creativity, leadership and initiative in stimulating student awareness of what it means to be an active citizen.” He also facilitated a local radio station’s election night coverage. Boyd plans to pursue a communications degree either at Indiana University of Marquette University.

Ethan Barhydt, 18, a senior at Deerfield High School who resides in the same community, earned a second place $ 1,500 award. Barhydt is recognized by his teachers as being “among the most visionary, committed and empathetic young people of his generation.” He created award-winning programming for a variety of human rights causes. He is the voice for the Darfur movement in Chicago . Barhydt plans to defer college for a year to do service work in eastern Africa and then pursue studies in global issues.

Antwan Ward, 17, a senior at Orr Academy High School who resides in the Austin community in Chicago , earned third place award and a $1,000 prize. Ward was cited by his teachers for his leadership in stimulating students to become involved in grass roots issues such as reduction of school violence. He plans to study communications in college.


Illinois high school junior and senor students nominated by their teachers and advisors are recognized by the Union League Club of Chicago’s Public Affairs Committee with the “Democracy in Action” award for “dedication to democratic principles, leadership and participation in civic programs that demonstrate exemplary citizenship values.” The students earn cash prizes and awards.

Union League Club of Chicago —focused on patriotism since 1879

Established in 1879, The Union League Club of Chicago is dedicated to its motto, “commitment to community and country.” Through its membership, the Club has played a leadership role in numerous important social, civic and cultural issues. Club Leader Forum recently ranked the Union League Club as the best city club in Chicago .

Among the many contributions Club members have made to civic life are:

Significant roles in planning the World Columbian Exhibition of 1893 and establishing the Art Institute of Chicago, Orchestra Hall, the Auditorium Theatre, Field Museum and other cultural institutions;

Formation of the Chicago Crime Commission and the Armed Forces Council of Chicago;

Organization of a campaign to permit electronic voting devices in Illinois;

Mobilization of community interest in the Constitutional Convention of 1969-70 that resulted in the adoption of the current Illinois State Constitution;

Establishment of the Harold Washington Library Center , the largest public library building in the world, in downtown Chicago;

The Union League Club of Chicago began marking George Washington’s Birthday with a patriotic celebration in 1887. Initially the event was organized in response to the Haymarket Riot of 1886 in which seven Chicago policemen were killed in the line of duty allegedly by anarchists. By 1890, patriotic speeches to schoolchildren became part of the annual Washington’s Birthday celebration. The Club sponsored large public events for thousands of school children who assembled at the Auditorium Theatre and other venues to hear such prominent Americans as Theodore Roosevelt and Jane Addams.

In recent years, the annual event recalls the nation’s traditional values and ideals by honoring America ’s first president at a gala event and lauding the young Democracy in Action winners for their inspiration, leadership and accomplishments. This is Union League Club of Chicago’s 122nd celebration of George Washington’s birthday.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Senator Burzynski Reminds Veterans' Children About University of Illinois Tuition Waiver

From the Office of State Senator Brad Burzynski

ROCHELLE, Ill. – State Senator Brad Burzynski (R-Rochelle) reminded students who are the children of veterans to apply for the University of Illinois' Children of Veterans Tuition Waiver.

This tuition waiver provides a free, four-year tuition waiver to any natural or adopted child of a veteran. Up to six waivers per Illinois county are awarded each year, one for each of the following conflicts for which the Veteran served: World War II, Korean Conflict, Vietnam Conflict, Southeast Asia Conflict, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Eligibility is limited to permanent residents from any of Illinois' 102 counties. Awards are limited to one per county and per conflict. The tuition waiver is good for any University of Illinois system school or degree program.

Burzynski encouraged children of veterans to act quickly; students need to apply before March 1, 2009. For further information go to Sen. Burzynski's website: or call the University of Illinois, Office of Student Financial Aid at 1-217-333-0100.

IDHS Announces Plans for a One-Stop 24-Hour Social Service Help Line

From the Illinois Department of Human Services

CHICAGO – The Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) today announced plans to launch three pilot sites to operate a 24-hour, one-stop 211 telephone number that will connect citizens to a variety of social services. The state is contracting with three organizations to conduct a limited pilot program. Services are expected to begin immediately.

“The greatest benefit of the new 211 one-stop help line will be that callers can be connected to any number of services and programs across various state agencies,” said IDHS Secretary Carol Adams, Ph.D. “I’m excited to get this program rolling so that we can better serve the people of Illinois.”

The organizations selected for the pilots include United Way of Greater St. Louis, Personal Assistance Telephone Help, Inc. in Bloomington/Normal and United Way of the Quad Cities Area, Inc.

The 211 service will streamline access to service delivery networks for Illinoisans throughout the state. When an individual needs information or referral services for which they have little or no prior knowledge or experience, dialing 211 is a simple option. Once the individual dials 211, they will be connected to a call center where they will speak to a professional information and referral specialist who will refer or connect the caller to the correct agency based on the services needed.

“211 will help provide Illinoisans access to important services from several state agencies with just one phone call,” said State Senator Susan Garrett (D) Highwood, sponsor of the 211 legislation. “We look forward to seeing how the pilot sites work so we can then provide the 211 helpline throughout Illinois.”

In July of 2000, the Federal Communications Commission reserved the 211 dialing code for “community information and referral services”. As 911 was set up as the phone number to call in case of emergencies, 211 provides individuals with community programs, government agencies, health organizations and other services to help them address their specific needs.

Illinois is seeking to join some 20 other states in developing a statewide 211 system. 211 services will be offered in the geographic areas of the organizations chosen for the pilots. Statewide 211 services will begin after a review of the performance of the pilot sites.

The 211 project is overseen by a collaborative board comprised of representatives from the Governor’s Office, Illinois Commerce Commission, Illinois Department of Human Services, Illinois Department of Public Health, Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Illinois Department of Employment Security, Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, Illinois Department on Aging and Illinois Department of Human Rights.

Sen. Bivins Asked to Serve on Special Committee on State Government Reform

From the Office of State Senator Tim Bivins

SPRINGFIELD – State Sen. Tim Bivins (R-Dixon) has been asked to serve on a special bipartisan committee on state government reform.

Created by Senate Joint Resolution 1, the Joint Committee on Government Reform will work with the Governor and others to restore integrity to State government. The resolution was been adopted by unanimous votes of the Senate and the House of Representatives earlier this month.

“It is a real honor to be chosen for this Committee. The number of Illinois Governors and state officials who have been convicted of wrong-doing in recent years clearly shows that change is long overdue,” Bivins said. “We have a difficult task ahead, but I look forward to addressing the issues straight on and working with my fellow lawmakers to make the kinds of changes that will restore Illinoisans’ faith in their state government.”

Committee co-chairmen Senate President John Cullerton of Chicago and House Speaker Michael Madigan of Chicago have announced that the Joint Committee on Government Reform will meet at the Capitol Feb. 18 and 24, and March 3, 10, 17, 24 and 31.

Bivins is one of three Republican senators who were asked to serve. The others are Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont and State Sen. Dan Cronin of Elmhurst. Democrat Senators on the committee are Cullerton and State Senators James Clayborne of Belleville, Maggie Crotty of Oak Forest, Susan Garrett of Lake Forest and William Delgado of Chicago. House Democrat members are Madigan and State Representatives Edward Acevedo of Chicago, Barbara Flynn Currie of Chicago, Gary Hannig of Litchfield and Arthur Turner of Chicago. No House Republican members have been announced.

Senator Brady Welcomes New Legislative Chief of Staff

From the Office of State Senator Bill Brady

SPRINGFIELD – State Sen. Bill Brady (R-44th District) has hired a new Chief of Staff for his legislative office in Bloomington.

Abby Walsh of Bloomington is in charge of the Senator’s constituent services and scheduling, and will be working closely with his legislative staff in Springfield.

Walsh formerly worked as Sales and Catering Manager at the Interstate Center in Bloomington.

“Abby is a real go-getter. She grew up in east central Illinois and graduated from Illinois State University. She has worked in Bloomington for seven years and has been involved in a number of local organizations,” Brady said. “She knows the kinds of issues that are important to this region and is interested in all aspects of government. Her education, her work ethic and her outgoing personality will be a real asset to me and the citizens of the 44th District.”

With a degree in Agribusiness from Illinois State University, Walsh currently serves as Vice President for neXt professionals, serves on the Government Affairs Committee for the McLean County Chamber of Commerce, and served on the McLean County Republican Central Committee.

Walsh replaces Mike Levin, who is now working with the Illinois Soybean Association.

Sen. Brady’s district office is located at 2203 Eastland Dr., Suite 3, Bloomington, IL 61074 (309/664-4440). His other aide is Lori Lagerlof at 105A State House, Springfield, IL 62706 (217/782-6216). His legislative Web site is

Illinois Congressmen Urge Air Force to Locate Cyber Command at Scott AFB

February 11, 2009

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] -- U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Congressmen Jerry Costello (D-IL) and John Shimkus (R-IL) and 16 other members of the Illinois Congressional delegation today urged the Secretary of the Air Force to locate Cyber Command at Scott Air Force Base. It was recently announced that Scott is one of six bases being considered for Cyber Command, which will serve to coordinate activity regarding cyber threats and would bring an estimated 500 jobs.

The letter to Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley emphasized Scott’s commitment to the “Future Total Force” concept, which focuses on integrating the various services on base, and Scott’s central location in the country as of critical importance to Cyber Command. A technologically-savvy local workforce and great community environment are also important features that Scott offers.

“Scott Air Force Base is a unique global military hub that already employs personnel with the scientific and technical expertise needed to support Cyber Command operations,” said Durbin. “It plays an essential role both in our nation’s defense and in the region’s economy. Locating the Cyber Command at Scott Air Force Base – the largest employer south of Springfield – will create more good paying jobs in the Metro-East area.”

“We have worked very hard for over a decade to help make sure that Scott is prepared to take on more missions and we believe Cyber Command is a perfect fit for the base,” said Costello. “With the assets already in place at Scott, which include Transportation Command, Air Mobility Command and the Air Force Communications Agency, integrating Cyber Command can be done efficiently and the high quality of life the area offers is well regarded by military families.”

“Scott is vital to the economy in southwestern Illinois, the greater St. Louis area, and even into a large area of south central Illinois. Personally and as a Congressional delegation, we want to support every effort to increase the role of Scott in any way possible. The Air Force Cyber Command would fit in perfectly with the other commands already located on base. I fully support this effort to bring 500 new military and civilian jobs to Scott,” stated Shimkus.

Ilinois National Guardsman Killed in Afghanistan

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Jason Burkholder assigned to Headquarters Headquarters Co., 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry of Marion, Ill., was killed in action Feb. 8 in Afghanistan.

Burkholder is a current resident of Marshall, Ill. He moved from Champaign to Marshall during leave just prior to being deployed to Afghanistan. During that leave he also married Amanda Burkholder, a resident of Marshall.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Schock Calls for Public House - Senate Stimulus Negotiations

From the Office of Congressman Aaron Schock

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Aaron Schock (R-IL) issued the following statement calling for an open and public forum for House – Senate negotiations on the stimulus bill. House rules dictate that there must be an open hearing for conference committee negotiations.

“Given the billions of taxpayer dollars at stake in the stimulus, negotiations between the House and Senate must be completely open and transparent. American taxpayers deserve to know how and where the government plans to spend their money. I believe it is an open invitation to trouble to keep these negotiations closed.”

“Allowing this historically enormous spending package to be negotiated between a small handful of people behind closed doors would eliminate accountability to the American taxpayers and wholly undermine all efforts at bipartisanship.”

“I support fast action but not at the expense of getting this wrong. We need to work in an expeditious and bipartisan manner to proceed under full sunlight so taxpayers can have full faith in this process and the resulting economic stimulus bill.”

Governor Pat Quinn Orders Cost-Saving Plan

From the Office of Governor Pat Quinn

CHICAGO – Governor Pat Quinn announced a series of cost-saving measures aimed at easing Illinois’ current budget crisis. The changes go into effect immediately at state agencies and apply to the state’s Fiscal 2009 budget.

“Quick and decisive action is needed to address Illinois’ unprecedented budgetary crisis,” said Governor Quinn. “Better financial management and increased belt-tightening are necessary as we begin to deal with this serious problem.”

Governor Quinn’s cost-saving plan for Fiscal 2009 includes:

Reduce spending – Spending will be cut by an additional 1 percent. This reduction is in addition to a previous 3-percent reduction for Fiscal 2009, ending June 30, 2009, and will allow the state to address continuing revenue decline.

Cut travel expenses – Non-essential out-of-state travel for employees will be greatly limited. In addition, in-state travel will also be curtailed while use of teleconferencing will be increased.

Defer major purchases – The acquisition of equipment and other major purchases will be delayed.

Limit contract work – The number of existing contracts will be reduced and agencies will not enter into new contracts.

Restrict hiring – Vacancies for non-essential positions will not be filled.

Governor Quinn said these cost reductions are the start in a series of tough fiscal decisions his Administration will be making as it deals with the state’s estimated $9 billion deficit for the current fiscal year and Fiscal 2010.

“I want everyone in Illinois to know that we are working everyday to solve this budget crisis and restore the state’s fiscal health,” said Governor Quinn.

Giannoulias: Beware of Refund Anticipation Loans

From the Office of State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias

With income tax season upon us, State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias warned Illinois residents today about the high cost of refund anticipation loans and other “instant” filing offers and urged them to use free assistance and direct deposit alternatives.

Refund anticipation loans (RALs) are actually expensive, short-term loans based on a filer’s expected tax refund. They accelerate an income tax refund by less than a week but cost a taxpayer owed $3,000 anywhere from $62 to $110 plus fees, according to the Consumer Federation of America and National Consumer Law Center.

“Refund anticipation loans essentially force you to pay to borrow your own money,” said Giannoulias. “It’s hard enough to earn a living in this economy without squandering your money on a refund anticipation loan. This is your money, you deserve all of it.”

Research shows that rapid refunds are targeted to people with literacy and language barriers who have high school or grade school educations. They also market to people who least can afford them; the majority of RAL users earn less than $35,000 a year and qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Noting that Jan. 31 was the deadline for employers to mail W-2 forms, Giannoulias cited two organizations that offer low-income residents free tax help and a state site that all residents can use to have their refund direct deposited for free.

The Center for Economic Progress has free tax filing sites in a dozen Chicago neighborhoods, seven Chicago suburbs and several central and downstate communities. They are open to families with incomes of $45,000 or less or individuals with incomes of $20,000 or less. For more information, call (312) 252-0280 or visit

Ladder Up offers a free Tax Assistance Program (known as TAP) at 18 Chicago sites and six Chicago suburbs. They are open to families with incomes of $45,000 or less or individuals with incomes of $20,000 or less. For more information, call (312) 409-1555 or visit

As part of the IRS-sponsored Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program, the AARP Foundation also offers free tax-preparation and e-filing for eligible filers. AARP Tax-Aide is a free tax-assistance service for low- and middle-income taxpayers, with special attention to those 60 and over. Learn more at

Taxpayers who do not qualify for free tax services can get their Illinois tax refund directly deposited into their bank account in about a week if they file their tax returns electronically at The IRS has free filing for people who make less than $54,000.

“Tax time is ‘the time’ for families to get ahead. Products such as Refund Anticipation Loans (RALs) shrink that opportunity by leaching money that families desperately need, especially in these difficult times,” said David Marzahl, Executive Director of the Center for Economic Progress. “We’re proud to stand side by side with Treasurer Giannoulias in our work to protect tax time for low-income families.”

When a borrower receives a RAL, the tax preparer lends the amount of the tax refund that is expected, minus interest and fees. Then, when the government sends the actual refund check, usually in seven to 14 days, it is direct deposited into the bank that made the loan.

RALs can easily force a borrower into debt by overestimating a family’s refund. For instance, the government can deduct delinquent tax, child support or student loan payments from the refund. That means the borrower can end up owing the tax preparer the difference between the loan and refund -- plus interest.

“In these economic times, every dollar counts, and we urge Illinois residents to seek the free tax services available to them,” said Robert Burke, Founder of Ladder Up.

In general, the annual percentage interest rate (APR) for a RAL ranges from 50 percent to nearly 500 percent, the Consumer Federation of America reports. If a $40 add-on fee is charged and included in the calculation, the APRs shoot up to between 85 percent and 1,300 percent, the center reports.

The RAL industry drained the refunds of 8.67 million American taxpayers in 2007, costing them $833 million in loan fees plus over $68 million in other fees, the center reports. In addition, another 11.2 million taxpayers spent $336 million on related financial products to receive their refunds.

“RALs are expensive and risky, they take advantage of the people who can least afford them and drive them further into debt,” Giannoulias said. “With a little patience, a checking account at a reputable financial institution and direct deposit, every Illinois resident can get their entire tax refund.”

Durbin Statement on the Senate Passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

From the Office of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) issued the following statement today after the Senate passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - a bipartisan bill that will create good-paying jobs; make investments in America's future; and cut taxes for working families.

“Today, Democrats and three Republicans in the Senate did the right thing for the American people and our struggling economy by passing President Obama's economic recovery plan."

"Much will be made of the margin by which this vote succeeded. But this should not be about the number of Senate votes; it’s about the number of people this bill will help."

"This economic recovery plan will create or save millions of good-paying Americans jobs; provide tax relief for hardworking middle-class families; and make investments in our long-term economic future.”

“We cannot walk away from this crisis or this challenge. The House and Senate must come together to deal with this economic crisis. Now is the time for partnership, not partisanship.”

Durbin and Illinois Delegation Meet with Mayor Daley to Discuss Job Creation Bill

From the Office of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation held a press conference with the Mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley after their meeting to discuss the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and its impact on Chicago and Illinois. In today’s meeting they also discussed the City of Chicago’s bid to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2016.

Senate Approves $838 Billion Economic Stimulus Plan

From the Wall Street Journal

The Senate voted 61-37 in favor of the $838 billion economic stimulus bill, with three Republicans voting to pass the plan. The vote came after a prime-time appeal from President Obama Monday night to quickly approve the legislation and bolster the suffering U.S. economy. The bill must now be reconciled with the $819 billion House version of the plan.

Risinger Named to Senate Committees, Reappointed to Spokesperson Positions

From the Office of State Senator Dale Risinger

SPRINGFIELD – State Sen. Dale Risinger (R-Peoria) has been named to five Illinois Senate committees by Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) for the 96th General Assembly.

The 37th District Senator has been asked to continue his responsibilities as Republican Spokesperson for the Energy Committee, which reviews legislation that affects power and utilities issues, and for the Environment Committee, which handles legislation that addresses recycling and the environment. He will also serve as a member of the Gaming, Human Services, and Transportation committees.

“It’s going to be a difficult legislative session because our finances are in terrible shape and, as a result, we will be limited in our approaches to the challenges we face,” Risinger said. “My Senate committees will handle issues that will provide key components in getting Illinois turned around and headed back in the right direction. More than six years of neglect have left us with some tough decisions.”

The Gaming Committee considers legislation affecting riverboat casinos, horse racing and other gaming-related issues. Because the Gaming Committee is new this year, it is not yet known if state Lottery issues will be handled by this committee or will continue to be considered by the Revenue and the Executives committees.

The Human Services Committee handles legislation addressing medical, welfare, senior citizens and other related issues.

The Transportation Committee deliberates over legislation dealing with the state’s roads, rail systems, airports and waterways. Senator Risinger, a civil engineer, has a background in transportation and government.

The Senate’s 28 standing committees analyze legislation dealing with specific subject areas, such as education, agriculture and transportation. Committees screen legislation introduced by all members and usually, only those bills approved by a committee may be considered by the entire Senate.

Knox College Students Assemble "Lincoln Shrine" in Residence Hall

From Knox College

GALESBURG -- The 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birthday on February 12 is more than a passing fancy for a group of Knox College students, who have created a "Lincoln Shrine" in their residence hall this year.

On one of their living room walls, the nine seniors in the Peterson House have assembled Lincoln items, from the profound to the lighthearted. A sign on the wall proclaims "The P-House Lincoln Shrine"-- the word "Lincoln" appropriately spelled out with 64 pennies.

The project began last summer, when three residents of the house --Alexandra Clark of Bloomington, Illinois; Ashley Konicki of Oak Lawn, Illinois; and Shannon Liston of Sterling, Illinois -- worked ascounselors at Camp Abe Lincoln, a YMCA summer camp for children and young adults in Blue Grass, Iowa.

"We started with Abe pictures over the summer," Clark says. "Then we found a cologne bottle shaped like a bust of Lincoln in a thrift store, and ever since then we've been collecting things with Abe on them."

The other residents of the house are Hayle Gosnell of DeKalb, Illinois; Kate Latshaw of Downers Grove, Illinois; Whitney Mackie of Williamsfield, Illinois; Elizabeth McPhail of Issaquah, Washington; Kimberly Mullvain of Beloit, Wisconsin; and Megan Quick of West DesMoines, Iowa.

Last October, the students drew Lincoln's likeness on pumpkins and Latshaw dressed up as Lincoln for Halloween. They've made it a point to collect pictures and posters from Lincoln-related events that have happened on the Knox campus. Events have included several visits from Lincoln impersonators and a debate re-enactment last October outside Knox's Old Main, the only building that remains from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas Debates.

The students have spent a grand total of just $3.64 on the shrine -- 64 pennies for the sign, 200 pennies glued to a picture frame and $1 forthe Lincoln-bust cologne bottle.

The shrine features enlarged texts of Lincoln speeches, including the Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address.

"At Camp Abe Lincoln, we talked a lot about the core values of the YMCA-- caring, honesty, respect and responsibility -- and we admire thosesame qualities in Lincoln," Konicki said.

Founded in 1837, Knox is a national liberal arts college in Galesburg,Illinois, with students from 47 states and 48 countries. Knox's 'OldMain' is a National Historic Landmark and the only building remainingfrom the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Brady Named to Senate Committees, Reappointed to Spokesperson Position

From the Office of State Senator Bill Brady

SPRINGFIELD – State Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) has been named to five Illinois Senate committees by Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) for the 96th General Assembly.

The 44th District Senator has been asked to continue his responsibilities as Republican Spokesperson for the Insurance Committee, which examines legislation affecting the insurance industry and policy holders. He will also serve as a member of the Energy, Environment, Pensions and Investments, and Revenue committees.

“Six and a half years of ‘tax-and-spend’ government, coupled with an economic slow-down, has left our state in a mess. The state budget will be the driving force of the coming legislative session, and the issues that are debated by these committees will all have a bearing on our future challenges,” Sen. Brady said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to turn our state around.”

The Energy Committee reviews legislation that affects power and utilities issues. The Environment Committee handles legislation that addresses recycling and the environment. The Pensions and Investments Committee oversees laws affecting the five state pension systems for public employees and local government pension funds. The Revenue Committee considers legislation involving the Illinois tax code and tax-related issues.

The Senate’s 28 standing committees analyze legislation dealing with specific subject areas, such as education, agriculture and transportation. Committees screen legislation introduced by all members and usually, only those bills approved by a committee may be considered by the entire Senate.

Bivins Named to Senate Committees, Reappointed to Spokesperson Position

From the Office of State Senator Tim Bivins

SPRINGFIELD – State Sen. Tim Bivins (R-Dixon) has been named to five Illinois Senate committees by Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) for the 96th General Assembly.

The 45th District Senator has been asked to continue his responsibilities as Republican Spokesperson for the State Government and Veterans Affairs Committee, which reviews legislation dealing with state agencies and their operations, as well as issues that affect citizens who served in the military. He will also serve as a member of the Agriculture and Conservation, Appropriations I, Commerce, and Criminal Law committees.

“Senate committees guide and shape the Illinois laws and the public policy that affect our day-to-day lives,” Bivins said. “My leadership role and my membership on these committees will allow me to represent the concerns of northwestern Illinois residents when developing these issues at the committee level, during debate and when we cast our votes on the Senate floor.”

The Agriculture and Conservation Committee considers legislation that impacts farming, agriculture-related businesses, and conservation issues. The Appropriations I Committee reviews legislation concerning the state’s budget. The Commerce Committee oversees legislation impacting the state’s economy, jobs and trade. The Criminal Law Committee deals with crime prevention legislation.

The Senate’s 28 standing committees analyze legislation dealing with specific subject areas, such as education, agriculture and transportation. Committees screen legislation introduced by all members and usually, only those bills approved by a committee may be considered by the entire Senate.

Illinois Army Guard Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan

From the Office of the Illinois Army and Air National Guard

SPRINGFIELD – Staff Sgt. Jason Burkholder, 27, and 1st Lt. Jared Southworth, 26, Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers assigned to Headquarters Headquarters Co., 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry of Marion, Ill., were killed in action Feb. 8 in Afghanistan.

A resident of Champaign, Ill., Burkholder, graduated from Elida High School in Ohio in 2000. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps January 2000. He completed his obligation to the Marine Corps January 2004 and enlisted into the Ohio National Guard December 2004. In April 2008, Burkholder transferred into the Illinois Army National Guard. This was Burkholder’s second deployment. His first deployment was in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom September 2006 to September 2007. He was married.

A resident of Oakland, Ill., Southworth was a member of the Oakland Police Department. He graduated from Oakland High School in Illinois in 2000 and then continued his education at Lakeland College earning an Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in General Studies at Eastern Illinois University, Ill. in 2006. He enlisted in the Illinois Army National Guard October 2004 and was commissioned through Eastern Illinois University Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program May 2006. He was married with four children.

“The deaths of 1st Lt. Southworth and Staff Sgt. Burkholder are a loss felt by all of us in the Illinois National Guard, both overseas and here at home,” said Maj. Gen. William Enyart, Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard. "When we lose an Illinois National Guard Soldier, it's like losing a brother or sister. On behalf of the men and women of the Illinois National Guard, we offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of Lt. Southworth and Staff Sgt. Burkholder. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all."

Both Soldiers were killed by an improvised explosive device in Helmand, Afghanistan. One member of the Afghan National Civil Order Police and one local national civilian were also killed in the attack. One member of the Afghan National Civil Order Police was wounded. The incident is under investigation.

Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion of the 130th Infantry left Marion in late September and arrived in theater in December.

The unit deployed to Afghanistan as part of the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) and is providing security for Embedded Training Teams, Police Mentor Teams and Forward Operating Bases.

Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion of the 130th Infantry is one of approximately 30 units of the 33rd IBCT and two units from the 404th Chemical Brigade that deployed to Afghanistan to form Task Force Phoenix VIII. They were joined in theater by various coalition partners and forces from other U.S. service components to form the remainder of the task force.

Southworth and Burkholder are the 20th and 21st casualties the Illinois National Guard has suffered since operations in Afghanistan and Iraq began. No information on funeral arrangements has been determined at this time.

Out of respect for the Southworth and Burkholder families, please contact the Illinois National Guard Public Affairs Office at 217-761-3569 for all media requests, after duty hours please call 217-725-2265.

For high resolution photos, please contact the Public Affairs office at

Friday, February 6, 2009

Senate Republicans Review the Legislative Week

SPRINGFIELD – Lawmakers returned to Springfield for the first time following Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment trial, and began to focus on more routine legislative matters such as introducing new legislation. More than 1,000 proposals for new legislation had been filed by week’s end.

Top legislative leaders also had their first meeting with new Gov. Pat Quinn. State Sen. Dale Risinger (R-Peoria) said lawmakers are eager to work together, in a spirit of cooperation. He said that bipartisanship will be imperative to address the state’s worsening budget crisis.

According to a report released this week by Comptroller Daniel Hynes, the state could be facing an unprecedented $9 billion budget deficit—double the budget hole that Blagojevich faced when he took office in 2003. Although some questioned the accuracy of Hynes’ estimate, most officials acknowledge that Illinois faces severe financial problems.

The Comptroller said the state will have $23 billion on hand when the fiscal year begins in July, but Illinois’ obligations are approximately $32 billion. Even if the federal government provides as much as $3 billion in the form of possible stimulus funding, that could leave a $6 billion deficit that lawmakers and the governor must address.

It’s unknown how the new Governor will fill the gap, but he has requested an additional month to pull together his Fiscal Year 2010 budget proposal. Gov. Quinn now has until March 18 to deliver his first budget address. Many lawmakers are stressing the need to scale back programs and halt any expansions, while others speculate that a tax increase of some type is in the works.

Though the state is looking for ways to cut corners, a recent study shows that closing the beleaguered Pontiac Correctional Center will not result in substantial savings. The Blagojevich Administration had advanced the closure of the facility as a way to save an estimated $4 million. However, Risinger said that the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University found closing the facility may result in $16 million to $26 million in lost revenue, jobs and economic opportunity.

The project manager for the study said that he wants the new Governor to be aware of these updated numbers before Gov. Quinn makes a decision on the fate of PCC. Quinn has said he will review the closure.

Another report was released by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency this week, which shows that attendance at Illinois’ historic sites fell by almost 13 percent in 2008. Fewer than 2 million people visited historic sites last year, as opposed to nearly 2.3 million in 2007.

Twelve historic sites were closed by former Gov. Blagojevich in late 2008 in an attempt to free up the revenue to fill an estimated $2.5 billion budget hole. The closures were highly criticized, particularly closures associated with President Abraham Lincoln as the state prepares to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth.

Also this week, Gov. Quinn signed two bills into law. Senate Bill 1132 restores funding to the offices of the Attorney General, Secretary of State and Treasurer. Blagojevich had cut those budgets last fall and each of the offices was forced to lay off employees, institute hiring freezes and furlough days, and identity other ways of saving money to compensate for the lost revenue.

The measure also restores $9 million to the Department of Natural Resource’s budget for wildlife and conservation programs. It was important that this money was restored in order to guarantee a $16 million federal match.

Quinn also signed Senate Bill 2757, which exempts health-related research facilities from the smoking ban, as well as common smoking rooms in veterans’ long-term care homes and workplaces in retail tobacco stores. It also requires the Department of Public Health and law enforcement agencies to issue citations to enforce the smoking ban.