Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Gov. Quinn Announces Recovery Funding for Food Stamps & Food Banks

From the Office of Governor Pat Quinn

Springfield – March 31, 2009. Governor Pat Quinn today announced that Illinois will receive $890 million in federal recovery dollars to increase food stamp benefits for over 600,000 families. In addition, Illinois also expects to receive $11.5 million for the Emergency Food Assistance Program from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Illinois has already ordered 3.5 million pounds of food for food banks.

“During the national recession, Illinois families are struggling to put food on the table,” said Governor Quinn. “Increased food benefits and additional funding for food banks will help parents keep their families fed and will help grow our Illinois economy.”

Starting April 1, 2009, Illinois citizens enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will see an increase in their monthly benefits of up to 13.6 percent for five years.

Anyone who would like to apply for the SNAP Program can file an application on-line at or at their local DHS Family Community Resource Center.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program provides federal funds to food banks across Illinois to distribute USDA commodities and privately donated food to over 750 pantries, homeless shelters, and soup kitchens throughout the state. IDHS partners with eight food banks in Illinois to operate the program.

In addition to the $11.5 million for food banks from the federal recovery program, the Governor announced that his Fiscal Year 2010 budget dedicates $1 million for food banks to help serve struggling families in these poor economic times.

Durbin, Specter, Larson, Others will Introduce Bills to Reform Financing of Congressional Elections

From the Office of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), and House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-CT) discussed bipartisan legislation to reform the way Congressional elections are financed at a press conference today.

Their bill, The Fair Elections Now Act, will allow qualified, legitimate candidates to receive grants and matching funds to run competitive campaigns instead of relying on contributions from lobbyists and other special interests. The legislation would create a voluntary system that gives congressional candidates the option to stop raising huge sums of money, giving them more time to work on the people’s business. Candidates who participate in the Fair Elections process would agree to limit their campaign spending to the amounts raised from small dollar donors plus matching contributions from the Fair Elections Fund.

IGPA Compiles Ideas on Government Reform for Commission, Legislature

From the Institute of Government & Public Affairs at the University of Illinois

URBANA – Government reform and ethics are key issues currently on the agenda in Illinois. Governor Quinn has appointed the Illinois Reform Commission, and President Cullerton and Speaker Madigan have formed a joint-committee in the General Assembly to examine these issues.

To assist in these discussions, researchers from the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs have developed a “white paper” that examines five components of reform: campaign financing, redistricting, term limits, direct democracy (referendum, initiative and recall), and political culture. These articles examine the success of reform efforts in other states and potential options for Illinois policy makers to consider.

The paper, titled “Challenges and Opportunities on the Road to Reform in Illinois,” was presented to the Illinois Reform Commission at its hearing in Peoria on Monday and is being delivered to the General Assembly today, said Robert F. Rich, director of IGPA. (Download the paper here [PDF].)

“The issues examined in this report are central to any discussion about reforming government,” Rich said. “The role of money in politics, the role of politics in decisions about political boundaries, and the input of the public must be thoroughly considered before decisions are made.

“We hope that this white paper can help inform the current discussions,” he said.

IGPA Senior Fellow James Nowlan examines the redistricting process in Illinois and compares it to other states; former state Senator Richard J. Winkel Jr., now director of IGPA’s Office of Public Leadership, looks at the political culture in the state and how Illinois has dealt with its scandals; political scientist Kent Redfield examines campaign financing in Illinois and looks at how the state might fare with more regulation; and political scientist Christopher Mooney explores whether term limits for constitutional officers or the legislature might work in Illinois, as well as whether citizen-sponsored referenda, initiatives, and recall have achieved any traction or, in the case of recall, whether it might be effective in the state.

Former Gov. Jim Edgar, a distinguished fellow at IGPA since 1999, adds some personal observations about Illinois government in an Epilogue. He challenges the political parties in the state to take responsibility for the qualifications and character of candidates they put forth, and he challenges Illinois voters to take responsibility to be educated about candidates and issues.

The white paper is available to download at the IGPA website, www.igpa.uillinois.edu.

Durbin Announces $99 Million in Recovery Act Funding for Argonne National Lab

From the Office of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) today announced on a conference call with the Director of Argonne National Laboratory, Eric Isaacs that the lab will receive $99 million in funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to accelerate environmental cleanup work and create jobs. The Director of Fermilab, Pier Oddone, was also on today’s call.

“Last week, Congressman Foster and I announced forty-eight million dollars in Recovery Act funding for Argonne and Fermilab,” said Durbin. “Today, the directors of both labs and I discussed more great news for Illinois. Ninety-nine million dollars will be used by Argonne to create jobs at the lab and reduce environmental risks associated with nuclear waste – two main goals of the Recovery Act.”

On March 23, Durbin and Congressman Bill Foster (D-IL) announced that the Department of Energy (DOE)’s Office of Science has awarded a total of $48 million in funding to Fermilab and Argonne National Laboratory to protect jobs and support critical research. The funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was part of the $1.2 billion in funding announced by the Office of Science last week.

Today’s funding is part of a Department of Energy (DOE) announcement of $6 billion in new funding under the Recovery Act to accelerate environmental cleanup work and create thousands of jobs across 12 states. Projects identified for funding are focused on accelerating cleanup of soil and groundwater, transportation and disposal of waste and cleaning and demolishing former weapons complex facilities. These projects and the new funding are managed by the DOE’s Office of Environmental Management, which is responsible for the risk reduction and cleanup of the environmental legacy from the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Text of President Obama's Address on the Auto Industry

Remarks of President Barack Obama—As prepared for delivery
Announcement on the Auto Industry
March 30, 2009
Washington, DC

One of the challenges we have confronted from the beginning of this administration is what to do about the state of our struggling auto industry. In recent months, my Auto Task Force has been reviewing requests by General Motors and Chrysler for additional government assistance as well as plans developed by each of these companies to restructure, modernize, and make themselves more competitive. Our evaluation is now complete. But before I lay out what needs to be done going forward, I want to say a few words about where we are, and what led us to this point.

It will come as a surprise to no one that some of the Americans who have suffered most during this recession have been those in the auto industry and those working for companies that support it. Over the past year, our auto industry has shed over 400,000 jobs, not only at the plants that produce cars but at the businesses that produce the parts that go into them, and the dealers that sell and repair them. More than one in ten Michigan residents is out of work – the most of any state. And towns and cities across the great Midwest have watched unemployment climb higher than it’s been in decades.

The pain being felt in places that rely on our auto industry is not the fault of our workers, who labor tirelessly and desperately want to see their companies succeed. And it is not the fault of all the families and communities that supported manufacturing plants throughout the generations. Rather, it is a failure of leadership – from Washington to Detroit – that led our auto companies to this point.

Year after year, decade after decade, we have seen problems papered-over and tough choices kicked down the road, even as foreign competitors outpaced us. Well, we have reached the end of that road. And we, as a nation, cannot afford to shirk responsibility any longer. Now is the time to confront our problems head-on and do what’s necessary to solve them.

We cannot, we must not, and we will not let our auto industry simply vanish. This industry is, like no other, an emblem of the American spirit; a once and future symbol of America’s success. It is what helped build the middle class and sustained it throughout the 20th century. It is a source of deep pride for the generations of American workers whose hard work and imagination led to some of the finest cars the world has ever known. It is a pillar of our economy that has held up the dreams of millions of our people. But we also cannot continue to excuse poor decisions. And we cannot make the survival of our auto industry dependent on an unending flow of tax dollars. These companies – and this industry – must ultimately stand on their own, not as wards of the state.

That is why the federal government provided General Motors and Chrysler with emergency loans to prevent their sudden collapse at the end of last year – only on the condition that they would develop plans to restructure. In keeping with that agreement, each company has submitted a plan to restructure. But after careful analysis, we have determined that neither goes far enough to warrant the substantial new investments that these companies are requesting. And so today, I am announcing that my administration will offer GM and Chrysler a limited period of time to work with creditors, unions, and other stakeholders to fundamentally restructure in a way that would justify an investment of additional tax dollars; a period during which they must produce plans that would give the American people confidence in their long-term prospects for success.

What we are asking is difficult. It will require hard choices by companies. It will require unions and workers who have already made painful concessions to make even more. It will require creditors to recognize that they cannot hold out for the prospect of endless government bailouts. Only then can we ask American taxpayers who have already put up so much of their hard-earned money to once more invest in a revitalized auto industry. But I am confident that if we are each willing to do our part, then this restructuring, as painful as it will be in the short-term, will mark not an end, but a new beginning for a great American industry; an auto industry that is once more out-competing the world; a 21st century auto industry that is creating new jobs, unleashing new prosperity, and manufacturing the fuel-efficient cars and trucks that will carry us toward an energy independent future. I am absolutely committed to working with Congress and the auto companies to meet one goal: the United States of America will lead the world in building the next generation of clean cars.

No one can deny that our auto industry has made meaningful progress in recent years. Some of the cars made by American workers are now outperforming the best cars made abroad. In 2008, the North American Car of the Year was a GM. This year, Buick tied for first place as the most reliable car in the world. And our companies are investing in breakthrough technologies that hold the promise of new vehicles that will help America end its addiction to foreign oil.

But our auto industry is not moving in the right direction fast enough to succeed. So let me discuss what measures need to be taken by each of the auto companies requesting taxpayer assistance, starting with General Motors. While GM has made a good faith effort to restructure over the past several months, the plan they have put forward is, in its current form, not strong enough. However, after broad consultations with a range of industry experts and financial advisors, I’m confident that GM can rise again, provided that it undergoes a fundamental restructuring. As an initial step, GM is announcing today that Rick Wagoner is stepping aside as Chairman and CEO. This is not meant as a condemnation of Mr. Wagoner, who has devoted his life to this company; rather, it’s a recognition that it will take a new vision and new direction to create the GM of the future.

In this context, my administration will offer General Motors adequate working capital over the next 60 days. During this time, my team will be working closely with GM to produce a better business plan. They must ask themselves: have they consolidated enough unprofitable brands? Have they cleaned up their balance sheets or are they still saddled with so much debt that they can’t make future investments? And above all, have they created a credible model for how to not only survive, but succeed in this competitive global market? Let me be clear: the United States government has no interest or intention of running GM. What we are interested in is giving GM an opportunity to finally make those much-needed changes that will let them emerge from this crisis a stronger and more competitive company.

The situation at Chrysler is more challenging. It is with deep reluctance but also a clear-eyed recognition of the facts that we have determined, after a careful review, that Chrysler needs a partner to remain viable. Recently, Chrysler reached out and found what could be a potential partner – the international car company Fiat, where the current management team has executed an impressive turnaround. Fiat is prepared to transfer its cutting-edge technology to Chrysler and, after working closely with my team, has committed to building new fuel-efficient cars and engines here in America. We have also secured an agreement that will ensure that Chrysler repays taxpayers for any new investments that are made before Fiat is allowed to take a majority ownership stake in Chrysler.

Still, such a deal would require an additional investment of tax dollars, and there are a number of hurdles that must be overcome to make it work. I am committed to doing all I can to see if a deal can be struck in a way that upholds the interests of American taxpayers. That is why we will give Chrysler and Fiat 30 days to overcome these hurdles and reach a final agreement – and we will provide Chrysler with adequate capital to continue operating during that time. If they are able to come to a sound agreement that protects American taxpayers, we will consider lending up to $6 billion to help their plan succeed. But if they and their stakeholders are unable to reach such an agreement, and in the absence of any other viable partnership, we will not be able to justify investing additional tax dollar to keep Chrysler in business.

While Chrysler and GM are very different companies with very different paths forward, both need a fresh start to implement the restructuring plans they develop. That may mean using our bankruptcy code as a mechanism to help them restructure quickly and emerge stronger. Now, I know that when people even hear the word “bankruptcy” it can be a bit unsettling, so let me explain what I mean. What I am talking about is using our existing legal structure as a tool that, with the backing of the U.S. government, can make it easier for General Motors and Chrysler to quickly clear away old debts that are weighing them down so they can get back on their feet and onto a path to success; a tool that we can use, even as workers are staying on the job building cars that are being sold. What I am not talking about is a process where a company is broken up, sold off, and no longer exists. And what I am not talking about is having a company stuck in court for years, unable to get out.

It is my hope that the steps I am announcing today will go a long way toward answering many of the questions people may have about the future of GM and Chrysler. But just in case there are still nagging doubts, let me say it as plainly as I can – if you buy a car from Chrysler or General Motors, you will be able to get your car serviced and repaired, just like always. Your warrantee will be safe. In fact, it will be safer than it’s ever been. Because starting today, the United States government will stand behind your warrantee.

But we must also recognize that the difficulties facing this industry are due in no small part to the weakness in our economy. Therefore, to support demand for auto sales during this period, I’m directing my team to take several steps. First, we will ensure that Recovery Act funds to purchase government cars go out as quickly as possible and work through the budget process to accelerate other federal fleet purchases as well. Second, we will accelerate our efforts through the Treasury Department’s Consumer and Business Lending Initiative. And we are working intensively with the auto finance companies to increase the flow of credit to both consumers and dealers. Third, the IRS is today launching a campaign to alert consumers of a new tax benefit for auto purchases made between February 16th and the end of this year – if you buy a car anytime this year, you may be able to deduct the cost of any sales and excise taxes. This provision could save families hundreds of dollars and lead to as many as 100,000 new car sales.

Finally, several members of Congress have proposed an even more ambitious incentive program to increase car sales while modernizing our auto fleet. Such fleet modernization programs, which provide a generous credit to consumers who turn in old, less fuel efficient cars and purchase cleaner cars have been successful in boosting auto sales in a number of European countries. I want to work with Congress to identify parts of the Recovery Act that could be trimmed to fund such a program, and make it retroactive starting today.

Let there be no doubt, it will take an unprecedented effort on all our parts – from the halls of Congress to the boardroom, from the union hall to the factory floor – to see the auto industry through these difficult times. But I want every American to know that the path I am laying out today is our best chance to make sure the cars of the future are built where they’ve always been built – in Detroit and across the Midwest; to make America’s auto industry in the 21st century what it was in the 20th century – unsurpassed around the world. This path has been chosen after consulting with other governments that are facing this crisis. We have worked closely with the Government of Canada on GM and Chrysler, as both companies have extensive operations there. The Canadian Government has indicated its support for our approach and will be announcing their specific commitments later today.

While the steps I am talking about will have an impact on all Americans, some of our fellow citizens will be affected more than any others. And so I’d like to speak directly to all those men and women who work in the auto industry or live in the countless communities that depend on it. Many of you have been going through tough times for longer than you’d care to remember. And I will not pretend the tough times are over. I cannot promise you there isn’t more pain to come. But what I can promise you is this – I will fight for you. You are the reason I am here today. I got my start fighting for working families in the shadows of a shuttered steel plant and I wake up every single day asking myself what I can do to give you and working people all across this country a fair shot at the American dream.

When a community is struck by a natural disaster, the nation responds to put it back on its feet. While the storm that’s hit our auto towns is not a tornado or a hurricane, the damage is clear, and we must respond. That is why today, I am designating a new Director of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers to cut through red tape and ensure that the full resources of our federal government are leveraged to assist the workers, communities, and regions that rely on our auto industry. Edward Montgomery, a former Deputy Labor Secretary, has agreed to serve in this role. Together with Labor Secretary Solis and my Auto Task Force, Ed will help provide support to auto workers and their families, and open up opportunity in manufacturing communities. Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and every other state that relies on the auto industry will have a strong advocate in Ed. He will direct a comprehensive effort that will help lift up the hardest hit areas by using the unprecedented levels of funding available in our Recovery Act and throughout our government to create new manufacturing jobs and new businesses where they are needed most – in your communities. And he will also lead an effort to identify new initiatives we may need to help support your communities going forward.

These efforts, as essential as they are, will not make everything better overnight. There are jobs that cannot be saved. There are plants that will not reopen. And there is little I can say that can subdue the anger or ease the frustration of all whose livelihoods hang in the balance because of failures that weren’t theirs.

But there is something I want everyone to remember. Remember that it is precisely in times like these – in moments of trial, and moments of hardship – that Americans rediscover the ingenuity and resilience that makes us who we are. That made the auto industry what it once was. That sent those first mass-produced cars rolling off assembly lines. That built an arsenal of democracy that propelled America to victory in the Second World War. And that powered our economic prowess in the first American century.

Because I know that if we can tap into that same ingenuity and resilience right now; if we can carry one another through this difficult time and do what must be done; then we will look back and say that this was the moment when America’s auto industry shed its old ways, marched into the future, and remade itself, once more, into an engine of opportunity and prosperity, not only in Detroit, and not only in our Midwest, but all across America.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Illinois House Members Clash Over Bill Requiring Elections of GOP Leaders

From the State Journal-Register

House Republicans and Democrats are battling over an effort by Democrats to require Republicans to elect some of their top party leaders.

Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, today successfully pushed through the House Executive Committee a measure that would require elections for state GOP central committeemen. Those members are now appointed by local party officials.

“I’m trying to give the Republican Party what it has insisted for the last six or eight weeks it wants: open and transparent elections to elect everyone in the state of Illinois that holds a rank of some elected office,” said Lang, a Skokie Democrat.

The requirement approved 7-3 is now attached to House Bill 825 pushed by Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, that seeks open primaries by no longer forcing voters to declare their party preference when they vote in primary elections.

Republicans hotly disputed Lang’s move, saying it’s wrong for Democrats to try to force how they elect their central committee members onto Republicans.

Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, questioned why Lang was choosing the open primaries legislation to attach his amendment.

“If it is one representative's bill for open and transparent primaries, why we are attaching this to the legislation to, quite frankly, muddy up the water,” said Brady, a Bloomington Republican.
Lang said he has yet to talk with Black about the amendment.

A spokesman for the Illinois Republican Party accused Democrats of trying to get revenge after Republicans have repeatedly hammered Democrats over creating a special election for U.S. Senate appointments.

“I understand our effort to confront Blagojevich Democrats who lead the legislature is inconvenient but wasting taxpayer's dollars while people are facing tax increases is nothing short of an abuse of power,” GOP spokesman Lance Trover said.

Read more in tomorrow’s State Journal-Register.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

GOP Targeting Burris' Senate Seat

From the Greg Hinz Blog at Crain's Chicago Business

The man in charge of electing more Republicans to the United States Senate says the party "absolutely" will make winning the seat now held by Sen. Roland Burris a top tier priority next year -- if it can get the right candidate to run.

In an interview during a quick stop over in Chicago Monday evening, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, suggested he is willing to open up the committee's wallet and send money to an increasingly blue state that national Republicans effectively abandoned more than a decade ago.

Mr. Burris is vulnerable because, like new senators in New York, Delaware and Colorado, he was appointed rather than elected by the voters, Mr. Cornyn said, and because corruption scandals, which have felled former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and others, continue in the Illinois.

"There's a real opportunity for people who want a break from the past and, here, the corruption," Mr. Cornyn said. "If we get the right candidate, I think we have a real opportunity."

Mr. Cornyn left no doubt that "the right candidate" would include either of two Illinois congressmen who now are pondering the race: Mark Kirk of Highland Park and Peter Roskam of Bloomingdale. Of the two, insiders consider Mr. Kirk, a moderate who repeatedly has won in a mostly Democratic district, the more likely to to run.

If Springfield Democrats had relented and allowed Mr. Kirk to compete in a special election for President Barack Obama's old Senate seat, "I'm pretty sure what the outcome would have been," Mr. Cornyn said.

Asked directly if a decision by either Mr. Kirk or Mr. Roskam would guarantee Illinois tier-one national support, Mr. Cornyn replied, "Absolutely." If that happens -- and November, 2010 is a long time away -- an Illinois Senate race could draw tens of millions of dollars of spending.

Look for both Mr. Kirk and Mr. Roskam to make up their minds by Memorial Day, and perhaps earlier.

*** Meanwhile, another member of Illinois' congressional delegation is drawing attention for having a different kind of political hots.

An eye-catching shot of 27-year-old Downstate congressman Aaron Schock of Peoria has hit the Web, catching him sprawled by the pool with a female friend close behind him. The pic is the latest sign that Mr. Schock has supplanted ex-congressman and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in the hottest-local-congressmen derby...for those who care about such things.

"No comment" from Mr. Schock's office.

Report Shows Small Businesses Lack Choices in Health Insurance Market

From the Office of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin

[WASHINGTON D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senators Olympia J. Snowe, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.) and Blanche L. Lincoln (D-Ark.) today announced the release of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that highlighted a lack of competition in the small group health insurance market, leaving American small businesses with few choices when it comes to securing meaningful, affordable health care coverage options for their employees. The lawmakers requested the report from GAO, which confirmed the consolidation of the small group health insurance marketplace has increased markedly. Specifically, the report found that the five largest carriers in the small group market, when combined, represented at least three-quarters of the market in 34 of the 39 states responding to the survey, and they represent 90 percent or more in 23 of these states.

“Competition is crucial to making health insurance more affordable for small businesses,” said Senator Durbin. “But in my home state of Illinois, competition is scarce – the five largest insurance companies own eighty-two percent of the market. Nationwide, this problem is growing and health insurance is becoming increasingly unaffordable for small business owners. I plan to join with Senators Snowe and Lincoln to reintroduce legislation – The Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Act – that will increase competition and bring down the cost of health insurance for small businesses. As uncertainty about our economic future remains, I hope Congress will make this legislation a priority during the health care reform debate.”

“Access to affordable health insurance remains a top concern for small businesses in Maine and across the country, and this GAO report provides stark data highlighting the challenges we still face in confronting this crisis,” said Senator Snowe. “The sad truth remains that small group insurance markets continue to lack real competition among insurers. No competition means higher costs, and higher costs translate to no health insurance. That’s why I am working with Senators Durbin, Lincoln, and others to re-introduce the Small Business Health Options Program Act, or SHOP Act. This legislation would inject much-needed competition into dysfunctional insurance markets, and provide a range of affordable new coverage options for small businesses and the self-employed.”

“It’s Economics 101, less competition in health insurance will mean fewer choices and higher costs,” said Senator Bond. “Congress should act now to make it easier for our small businesses to provide workers and their families with health insurance.”

“The majority of uninsured Americans are self-employed individuals and employees of small businesses,” Senator Lincoln said. “I’ve heard from several small business owners in Arkansas who desperately want to offer health insurance to their employees because they know it helps with recruitment, retention, employee performance, and the overall success of the business, but they have found it increasingly unaffordable. Our bipartisan SHOP bill will allow us to begin to address the needs of the millions of working uninsured Americans whose top priority is access to quality and affordable health care for their families.”

The GAO report found that:
  • The median market share of the largest small group carrier has increased to about 47 percent in 2008 from the 43 percent reported in 2005 and the 33 percent reported in 2002. Twenty-four of the 29 states providing information in both 2002 and 2008 saw increases in the market share of the top carrier that ranged from about 2 to 39 percentage points.
  • The number of states with a combined market share of the five largest carriers of 75 percent or more has also increased since our 2002 survey. The combined market share of the five largest small group carriers represented three-quarters or more of the market in 34 of 39 states, compared to 26 of 34 states reported in 2005 and 19 of 34 states reported in 2002.
  • Finally, the median market share of all the Blue Cross and Blue Shield carriers in 38 states reporting this information in 2008 was about 51 percent, compared to the 44 percent reported in 2005 and the 34 percent reported in 2002 for the 34 states supplying information in each of these years.

To view a complete copy of the report visit: www.gao.gov.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Schock Joins Congressional Fire Services Caucus

From the Office of Congressman Aaron Schock

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Aaron Schock (R-IL) announced today he has joined the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, which is dedicated to increasing awareness on Capitol Hill about the challenges and needs of our nation’s firefighters and rescue personnel.

“Firefighters put their lives on the line everyday to protect the health and safety of our communities,” said Schock. “I am grateful for the opportunity to join this caucus so I can strongly advocate for the needs of these vital first responders.”

The Congressional Fire Services Caucus was founded in 1987. The Caucus has played a major role in enacting legislation benefiting our nation’s first responders, most notably the FIRE Act, SAFER and legislation reallocating broadcast spectrum for public safety use.

Schock has long supported firefighters and was a founding member of the Illinois State House of Representatives Fire Caucus.

“From volunteer firefighters in our small communities to the professional firefighters of our larger cities, I intend to be a strong voice for policies and funding that are vital for their ability to do their job in the greatest degree of safety possible,” Schock continued.

“One of my most important jobs in Congress is to ensure our nation’s firefighters have the equipment, tools and training they need to keep our communities safe,” Schock concluded. “I look forward to supporting the needs of firefighters as part of the Fire Services Caucus for years to come.”

Ameren Illinois Utilities Customers to Get Relief from Another Sharp Drop in Natural Gas Costs

From the Office of Ameren Illinois Utilities

Peoria (March 23, 2009) – As the 2008/2009 heating season draws to a close, Ameren Illinois Utilities natural gas customers will benefit from another sharp 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 April will be much lower than the price paid in March. Natural gas prices for April are as follows: AmerenCILCO – $0.55 per therm as compared to $0.64 in March, AmerenCIPS – $0.58 per therm as compared to $0.68 in March, and AmerenIP – $0.57 per therm as compared to $0.64 in March, reflecting decreases of 14 percent, 15 percent and 11 percent respectively. Since their peak last fall, per therm natural gas costs for the Ameren Illinois Utilities have dropped by 50 percent to 60 percent.

“Natural gas prices continue to decline in the U.S. due to deteriorating industrial and power generation demand for the fuel. However, weak natural gas prices have driven gas producers to cut exploration budgets and reduce drilling operations which will impact supply availability,” said Ameren Vice President of Gas Supply and System Control Scott A. Glaeser.

Though the heating season is coming to a close, many Ameren Illinois Utilities customers have natural gas stoves and water heaters. Because a water heater accounts for about 13-17 percent of a residential customer’s total utility expenditures, the decline in natural gas costs will benefit those customers. In addition, the Ameren Illinois Utilities inject a significant amount of natural gas into underground storage during the summer period which may benefit customers next winter.

Though the cost of natural gas has fallen, the total amount of natural gas used by customers determines the size of customer bills. Customers are encouraged to learn more about using less energy to spend less at ActOnEnergy.com and to adopt proven energy conservation practices that will help reduce bills without sacrificing personal comfort.
  • There is no substitute for insulation. Add insulation if attic floor joists are visible.
  • Use of weather-stripping and caulking prevents outside air infiltration. This step keeps homes warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
  • Make certain exterior doors have a tight fit.
  • Reduce the cost of water heating by using cold or warm water in the washing machine, a step that will also extend the life of clothing. Get more life out of the water heater and reduce energy costs by periodically draining the tank to eliminate the buildup of sediment.
  • Look for the Energy Star qualified label when buying appliances, lights, heating and cooling equipment, home electronic products, office equipment and more. Energy Star consumers save money. In 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates the Energy Star program saved consumers about $19 billion on their utility bills, avoiding greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from 29 million cars. For information, call 1-888-STAR-YES or visit: www.energystar.gov.
  • The Ameren Illinois utilities recommend customers enroll in the Budget Billing plan. This free service allows customers to pay the same amount each month of the year. Customers may enroll on the Ameren Web site (www.ameren.com) or by calling toll-free 888-789-2477.
  • Plant trees around the house. Trees substantially reduce energy use by shading roofs and walls from the summer sun and serving as a barrier against winter winds. For a free copy of “Planting Trees,” send an e-mail request to jmucho@ameren.com.

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 (www.ameren.com) 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, March 20, 2009

Illinois Products Farmers' Market Gears Up for 2009 Season

From the Illinois Department of Agriculture

SPRINGFIELD, IL – After the success of last year’s inaugural season for the Illinois Products Farmers’ Market, (IPFM) the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) is anxious to get this year’s market underway. The IPFM is a market held during evening hours on the Illinois State Fairgrounds. It offers consumers locally grown fresh produce as well as other Illinois agribusiness products.

“We expanded upon the traditional farmers market rules, by allowing not only producers, but also companies that solely produce or process their goods in Illinois the opportunity to sell their products,” said Illinois Agriculture Director, Tom Jennings. “As a result, we saw over 60 vendors on the fairgrounds selling everything from meat, eggs and organic produce, to baked goods, candles and wine. It was a great showcase of Illinois Agriculture for our local consumers.”

“The vendors we surveyed from last year were pleased with the success of the market,” said Market Manager Kristi Kenney. “We look forward to building on that success for the 2009 season.”

IPFM organizers have scheduled a meeting for vendors interested in learning more about the 2009 season. The meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 31st at 6:30pm at the Illinois Department of Agriculture Building. Organizers will be on hand to answer questions as well as give perspective on the upcoming season. For more information about the market, you can log on to www.illinoisproductmarket.com or call (217)782-0777.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture building is located at the corner of Sangamon and 8th Street on the Illinois State Fairgrounds inside Gate 11.

Manzullo Introduces $5,000 Vehicle Voucher Bill to Bolster Auto Sales, Put Americans Back to Work

From the Office of Congressman Don Manzullo

On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo introduced legislation to give Americans a $5,000 voucher to purchase a new vehicle, stimulating our struggling automobile manufacturing industry and putting millions of Americans back to work.

The New Automobile Voucher Act of 2009 (HR 1606) would provide a one-time, $5,000 electronic voucher from the U.S. Treasury at the point of sale of a new vehicle. After 6 months, the voucher would drop to $2,500 and would expire on Jan. 1, 2011, or until the $75 billion authorized funding is exhausted. The voucher could only be used on vehicles valued at under $50,000 and could be combined with existing tax incentives for new vehicle purchases.

The automobile industry and its suppliers account for 13 million American jobs, 20 percent of all U.S. retail sales, and billions of dollars in state and local sales taxes. The drop in U.S. vehicle sales from 16 million in 2007 to 13 million in 2008 to a projected 8 million in 2009 has been one of the leading causes of America’s economic downturn and huge job losses.

“We will not have a lasting economic recovery unless we revive our struggling motor vehicle industry, which employs 13 million Americans and is the largest manufacturing sector in the United States,” Manzullo said. “This legislation will give Americans the incentives and the confidence they need to start buying vehicles again, which will bolster automobile manufacturing and sales, put millions of Americans back to work, and restore the tax revenues our state and local government need to continue providing services to the people.”

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Shimkus Votes to Get AIG Bonus Money Back

From the Office of Congressman John Shimkus

Washington, DC...Congressman John Shimkus (R, Illinois-19) voted to impose a 90 percent tax on employee bonuses if the company they work for received assistance from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which was the Wall Street bailout program.

It has recently become known that Senator Dodd removed language from the stimulus bill that would have prohibited the bonuses AIG employees received. He is quoted as saying that Obama Administration officials asked that the language be removed.

"I would like for the taxpayers to get 100 percent of these funds back, and will continue to fight till every penny is returned," Shimkus said. "This incident shows the lack of control on these TARP funds and the lack of government oversight about how the money is spent.

"While I share concerns that the courts may rule against this legislation, the Democratic majority allowed these bonuses to be distributed. I voted for this legislation to send a signal to Wall Street and those companies abusing taxpayer dollars that Congress and the American people are not going to stand by and let them waste our money.

"As a reminder, I have consistently voted against all the bailouts - Wall Street, AIG, the banks and auto companies. We are throwing money around to all the big shots and forgetting about the people," Shimkus added.

Schock Votes to Reclaim Taxpayer Dollars from AIG Executives

From the Office of Congressman Aaron Schock

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Aaron Schock (R-IL) voted today for H.R. 1586, a bill to allow the government to reclaim the vast majority of the bonuses awarded by American International Group (AIG), when it passed the House today by a vote of 328 to 93. This legislation would impose a 90 percent tax on individuals awarded big bonuses, who already earn more than $250,000 annually, at companies taking $5 billion or more in government aid.

“I share the outrage of the American people that AIG would use taxpayer dollars to award executive bonuses during this economic crisis,” said Schock. “The fact that these bonuses were protected is the fault of both administrations and is a reflection of the dereliction of duty by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.”

Schock has also joined his House Republican colleagues to introduce H.R. 1577, legislation that directs the U.S. Treasury Department to recoup the payment of American International Group Inc. (AIG) bonuses within two weeks. Specifically this bill:

• Direct Treasury to implement a plan to recoup within the next two weeks the payment of AIG bonuses.
• Require any future bonus payments, of any kind, to Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) recipients, to be approved in advance by Treasury.
• Any future contractual obligations entered into by TARP fund recipients to make bonus payments of any kind must be approved in advance by Treasury.

Schock is also a cosponsor of a resolution of inquiry that seeks to get all records from the Treasury Department pertaining to any negotiations or government communications with AIG, so taxpayers can better understand how language protecting the bonuses was inserted into the stimulus package.

During consideration of H.R. 384, the TARP Reform and Accountability Act, Schock won passage of an amendment that would have established a website to track these bailout funds. Unfortunately, the Senate has thus far failed to consider this legislation.

“It’s fair to say that if this website to track all of the bailout funds was established, taxpayers would have discovered these outrageous bonuses long before they were paid out,” Schock continued.

Durbin Announces Nearly $10 Million in Recovery Act Funding for Illinois Airports

From the Office of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) today announced that the Department of Transportation has awarded $9,731,580 in grants to airports in Rockford, Decatur and the Quad Cities. Today’s funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will create jobs in Illinois and strengthen the region’s infrastructure to serve passengers safely and efficiently.

Greater Rockford Airport Authority: $1,052,632 in funding to expand a terminal building at the Chicago / Rockford International Airport;

Greater Rockford Airport Authority: $4,210,526 in funding to rehabilitate a taxiway at the Chicago / Rockford International Airport;

Metropolitan Airport Authority of Rock Island County: $3,684,211 in funding to rehabilitate an existing runway at the Quad City International Airport. This funding will be used as part of a $28 million multi-phase runway rehabilitation project;

Decatur Park District: $784,211 in funding to rehabilitate the primary runway at the Decatur Municipal Airport.

Durbin Announces $1.5 Million FEMA Grant for Lake County

From the Office of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) today announced that Lake County will receive $1,577,922 in funding from the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for flood control efforts.

“This funding will support important flood control efforts in Lake County,” said Durbin. “This federal funding will help reduce costs to local governments for emergency rescue, infrastructure repair, debris removal and emergency shelters. During a time when local communities are facing major budget shortfalls, this federal investment will make an important difference.”

The Lake County Stormwater Management Commission (SMC) – which coordinates the stormwater activities of over ninety local jurisdictions – will use today’s funding for the purchase and removal of eleven flood-prone properties located in five different repetitive flood problem areas. This project is a continuation of previous flood prone property acquisition work implemented by the SMC in 2003.

Buying flood-prone property is one of many approaches to mitigating natural flood hazards. Unlike other hazard mitigation techniques, however, such as elevating homes (e.g., on pilings) above flood levels or building a dike, voluntary purchase projects permanently reduce a community’s vulnerability to flooding by moving people out of harm’s way. Property purchased through this program is often used to create public open space such as parks, wildlife refuges, ball fields, etc.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Statement from Illinois GOP Chairman Andy McKenna on Gov. Quinn's Budget Address

From the Illinois Republican Party

“The efforts by Blagojevich Democrats to enact massive, job-killing tax hikes in the midst of an economic crisis, while the people of Illinois are already struggling to find good-paying jobs, are wrong.

“It is outrageous that the Party of Blagojevich, currently led by his running-mate Pat Quinn, has put Illinois eleven billion dollars in debt and now expects the hardworking men and women of this state to bail them out with job-killing tax hikes.

“Governor Quinn’s job-killing tax hikes will reach directly into the pockets of middle class families who are already struggling to make ends meet.

“Six years ago, Blagojevich Democrats promised to change the way Illinois does business but gave us the most corrupt governor in our history, out-of-control spending, lost jobs, and now want to give us our largest income tax increase in forty years.

“The people of Illinois are hungry for change and the massive tax increases proposed by Blagojevich Democrats are further proof that the current leadership is taking our state in the wrong direction.”

Illinoisans Say Proposed Tax Hike Will Hurt

From the Illinois Republican Party

CHICAGO (AP) -- Illinois taxpayers are reacting to Gov. Pat Quinn's proposed budget with a bit of anger, resignation and, in some cases, downright fear.

In downtown Chicago, several Illinoisans said the proposed income tax hike is certainly no surprise given news of the state's $11.5 billion budget deficit.

But some say they still don't understand why they have to be the ones who pay and why the state can't do more to cut some services or address wasteful government spending.

And some echoed Janet Redmond, a 56-year old suburban Chicago school secretary. She says that because of things like unpaid furloughs she's been forced to take, the $441 income tax hike Quinn is proposing for her tax bracket will make it impossible to pay her bills.

Durbin Announces More than $12 Million in Recovery Act Funding for Chicago O'Hare Airport

From the Office of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) announced today that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has awarded $12,294,387 in funding to the city of Chicago for O’Hare International Airport. Today’s funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be used to rehabilitate an already existing runway at the airport in order to comply with the Federal Aviation Administration’s annual runway inspections.

“Rehabilitation of this runway at will put Illinoisans to work immediately on a project that will contribute to the long term ability of the O’Hare airport to serve travelers safely and efficiently,” said Durbin. “We will continue to see the benefits of projects like this, funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, for years to come.”

Burzynski: New Budget Tax Increases Out of Touch, Medicaid Reforms Needed

From the Office of State Senator Brad Burzynski

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The largest tax increase in Illinois history and a fund raid on the state’s pension systems is not the solution to the state’s budget woes said State Senator Brad Burzynski (R-Rochelle) after the Governor’s budget address.

“It’s a Blagojevich budget on steroids,” Sen. Burzynski said. “Once again we’re watching the Democrats that enabled Blagojevich pushing for a pension raid, penalizing the business community and not reigning in the massive expansion of state spending through new programs. This isn’t the budget Illinois taxpayers wanted to see in a time when our state faces a massive financial crisis.”

Adding a 50 percent tax income tax increase for both individuals and businesses only would harm the state’s economy further, Sen. Burzynski said, and with the state’s unemployment rate at 7.9 percent, a tax increase on businesses would force many companies to lay off more employees..

“We need to encourage job growth, not throttle it,” Sen. Burzynski said. “And we need to help out the hard-working men and women in Illinois who already are struggling in this economic downturn, not take more of their paycheck.”

Sen. Burzynski also said the Governor should take a close look at reforming the state’s Medicaid program, which comprises $9 billion of the $53 billion budget. Medicaid reforms could include moving the program to a managed care system and requiring that patients meet residency and income qualifications – something that’s not currently done and could save tax dollars.

“Part of the impeachment charges against Blagojevich involved his rapid and unchecked expansion of Medicaid,” Sen. Burzynski said. “It’s time to get serious about scaling the program back and admit that an unreformed Medicaid is taking money away from education funding and road construction.”

Sen. Burzynski also disagreed with the Governor’s proposal to raid the pension system and sell off its investments at extremely low prices at a time when the markets are at historic lows.

“Illinois already has the worst-funded pension systems in the nation,” Sen. Burzynski said. “This is just a retread of Blagojevich policies from 2005.”

“Fundamentally, I believe tax increases should be the option of last resort and all possible cuts should be made first,” Sen. Burzynski said. “Instead, the Governor and his fellow Democrats hold the belief that plucking dollars from paychecks is the first step. It’s out of touch with what the people of Illinois expect from their leaders.”

TRS Opposes Cuts to State Pension Funding

From the Teachers' Retirement System of the State of Illinois

SPRINGFIELD, IL-A plan to balance the state’s budget by slashing the already underfunded Illinois pension funds will create even more red ink for generations to come. Governor Pat Quinn has proposed a $2.5 billion reduction in state funding to the five state pension systems for the fiscal year that begins July 1, including a $1.3 billion cut to the Teachers’ Retirement System of the State of Illinois (TRS).

Further, this budget blueprint calls for the state to suspend its payments to the pension systems as of March 31, 2009, eliminating $362 million due to TRS in the current fiscal year. The proposed cuts would exacerbate the state’s $73 billion pension debt, of which $41 billion is the Teachers’ Retirement System’s share. The plan perpetuates the broken funding promises that occurred in most recently in fiscal years 2006 and 2007 when the state deviated from its statutory funding obligation and cut $2.3 billion in funding to the retirement systems.

“These amounts must be repaid to the retirement systems with interest. If $1.3 billion is cut from TRS during fiscal year 2010, it will cost the state $11.1 billion over the 35 years remaining in the statutory funding plan,” said Jon Bauman, executive director of the Teachers’ Retirement System.

The state’s pension debt is mainly a product of insufficient state funding over a period of three decades and not due to overly generous benefits. The average retirement benefit paid by TRS totals $41,500 a year. Public school teachers in Illinois do not receive Social Security, often making their TRS benefit their only source of retirement income.

“The funding reductions hit particularly hard because of the systems’ recent investment losses caused by extreme volatility in the global financial markets,” Bauman said.

The Governor’s budget plan also calls for current active members of TRS to pay an additional two percent of their pay toward retirement, a provision that is considered an impairment of benefits and prohibited under the Illinois and U.S. Constitutions. TRS members currently contribute 9.4 percent of their income, which is already among the highest contribution rates in the nation among teacher pension plans.

TRS is urging the Illinois General Assembly to comply with current state law requiring actuarial funding amounts designed to pay off most of the state’s pension debt by fiscal year 2045.

TRS provides retirement, disability and survivor benefits to 355,584 teachers, administrators and Illinois public school personnel employed outside the city of Chicago. The market value of the System’s assets stood at $29 billion as of December 31, 2008.

Text of Gov. Quinn's Budget Address

A copy of the text of Governor Quinn's Budget Address can be found here.

Gov. Pat Quinn Makes Tough Choices to Boldly Address Fiscal Crisis

From the Office of Governor Pat Quinn

SPRINGFIELD – March 18, 2009. Governor Pat Quinn on Wednesday presented a $53 billion budget plan for fiscal year 2010 that will end an era of fiscal irresponsibility and mismanagement, and help struggling families during the worst financial crisis in Illinois’ history.

“Illinois is staggering to pay an $11.5 billion deficit and has a mountain of unpaid bills,” Governor Quinn said in his speech to the 96th General Assembly. “Illinois’ economy is falling. Unemployment is rising, and our people are hurting. To be direct and honest – our state is facing the greatest crisis of modern times.”

The plan closes the budget gap of $4.3 billion for fiscal year 2009 and $7.3 billion for fiscal year 2010. The current recession, which is even deeper than economists predicted, has driven down revenues to unprecedented low levels, while demand on state services such as health care is increasing during such difficult times.

Governor Quinn’s budget plan contains $1.3 billion in cuts and uses a combination of fiscal tools to create the best possible way to solve the state’s short-term deficits without sacrificing long-term priorities. It calls for making tough choices, while maintaining a commitment to protect families.

Without action, state revenues would drop to fiscal year 2004 levels, leaving the state without proper funding for its core services such as health care, education and public safety.

The budget is framed around three core principles: Reform, Responsibility and Recovery. Among the highlights:


Sales tax holiday – For 10 days in August, the state will have a back-to-school sales tax holiday that will make life easier for families with children. Qualifying items would include clothing and footwear for $100 or less, per item, as well as school supplies.

Sales taxes are regressive, requiring low- and middle-class families to pay a larger share of their income in tax than the wealthiest families. Lost revenue, estimated at $40 million, would be recouped by lowering the retailer’s discount rate on sales tax to .75 percent.

Pension uniformity – The state currently has five public employee retirement systems operating with no uniformity. They each have different contribution levels, provisions for early retirement, different retirement age requirements, and offering differing death and disability requirements. Governor Quinn’s budget proposes a uniform state retirement system for all new hires in which the pension system. This system would make new provisions to the benefit formula, employee contribution rates, and link the retirement age to Social Security.

Tax equity – By increasing the individual income tax personal exemption from $2,000 to $6,000 and the income tax rate by 1.5 percentage points to 4.5 percent for individuals, Governor Quinn’s proposal would help families who are struggling to make ends meet and are substantially burdened by the state income tax. This means a family of four making $24,000 annually would pay no income tax in Illinois. Currently, that same family pays $480 in state taxes. In total, five million Illinoisans will pay the same or less than before.

The plan also calls for increasing the income tax rate by 2.4 percentage points for corporations.

It is estimated that these increases will generate an additional $2.8 billion in individual income tax receipts in fiscal year 2010, and $350 million in corporate income tax receipts.

If the General Assembly passes the income tax changes, total net individual income tax deposited into the general fund is forecast at $11.8 billion and $350 million in general fund corporate income tax receipts.

Cost cutting – The governor’s budget includes various cuts, reductions, and belt-tightening measures to help close the budget gap by $1.3 billion. Examples include: across-the-board two percent reductions in grant programs, excluding health care and education programs ($80 million); consolidating leases ($6 million); consolidating Historic Preservation Agency into Department of Natural Resources, and two labor boards ($2.3 million); and increasing health care contributions from state employees and retirees ($200 million). The budget also requires state employees to take four unpaid furlough days, excluding workers who provide direct patient care of public safety ($36 million).

Taxpayer Action Board – This newly created panel will identify and make recommendations to cut waste, improve efficiency and bring new approaches to difficult fiscal issues.


While the Governor plans to close the budget gap, he remains committed to education, reducing the Medicaid cycle, and increasing health care services for veterans. Governor Quinn’s budget:

  • Fully opens the 80-bed expansion at LaSalle Veterans’ Home, and funds a $50 million ($17 million), 200-bed Chicago veterans’ home;
  • Provides $1 million to food pantries across Illinois, ensuring that struggling families have access to nutritious food;
  • Utilizes federal recovery funds to ensure health care providers are paid on time. For years, the state has delayed health care payments to balance the budget on the backs of providers. The federal American Recovery & Reinvestment Act gives Illinois $2.9 billion over three years to pay down the payment cycle from over 90 days to 30 days, ensuring that providers are paid on time;
  • Funds an increase of $174 million for K-12 education and $40 million for higher education in fiscal year 2010; and
  • Holds the line on the gas tax.


Governor Quinn proposes to put people to work through Illinois Jobs Now!, a $26 billion jobs plan that will support 340,000 thousand jobs, while fixing the state’s aging roads and bridges, builds new schools, improving mass transit, creating “green” jobs, and maximizing the federal recovery money Illinois receives from the federal American Relief & Recovery Act of 2009.

Illinois Jobs Now! roads and bridges projects will be funded through by modest increases in the motor vehicle registration fee, driver’s license fees, and, in part, money from the Road Fund. Mass transit improvement will be funded by an increase in vehicle transfer fees.

The long overdue jobs plan – the first in over a decade – will invest:

  • $14 billion in roads and bridges
  • $5 billion for public transit
  • $4 billion for schools, including higher education
  • $2 billion environmental/energy/technology
  • $1 billion for economic development

Governor Quinn’s plan strikes a critical balance between meeting short and long-term needs – it is a courageous plan that mitigates the recession’s impact now while also helping the economy recover for the long-term.

To view the fiscal year 2010 budget, visit www.budget.illinois.gov.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Three Illinois Soldiers killed in action March 15 in Afghanistan

SPRINGFIELD – Sgt. Christopher Abeyta, 23; Spc. Robert Weinger, 24 and Spc. Norman Cain III, 22, all assigned to Company D, 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry based in Woodstock, Ill., were killed in action March 15 in Afghanistan.

Abeyta, a resident of Midlothian, Ill., graduated from Bremen High School in Midlothian in 2003. He enlisted in the Illinois Army National Guard May in 2002. This was his second deployment. His first deployment was in support of Operation Enduring Freedom October 2003 to February 2005.

Weinger, a resident of Round Lake Beach, Ill., graduated from Round Lake High School in Round Lake, Ill., in 2002. He enlisted in the Illinois Army National Guard in January 2006. This was his second deployment. His first deployment was in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom September 2006 to October 2007. The Weinger family has requested no media contact.

Cain, a resident of Mount Morris, Ill., graduated from Freeport High School in Freeport, Ill., in 2006. He enlisted in the Illinois Army National Guard in July 2007. This was Cain’s first deployment. He was married with one daughter.

“Facing the loss of three more Illinois National Guard Soldiers is devastating,” said Maj. Gen. William Enyart, Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard. “Sgt. Abeyta, Spc. Weinger and Spc. Cain were remarkable, devoted Soldiers who will always be our heroes. While this is a sad day for the Illinois National Guard, we will remember these Soldiers by their bravery and the sacrifice they made for us all. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families at this difficult time.”

The three Soldiers were killed when their vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device in Kot, Afghanistan. An active-duty Airman from Tucson, Ariz., was also killed in the incident.

The unit deployed to Afghanistan as part of the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) and is providing security for Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which are helping the Afghan government build roads, hospitals, government buildings and other infrastructure. The unit arrived in theater late October 2008.

Company D, 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry is one of the approximate 30 units with the 33rd IBCT and two units from the 404th Chemical Brigade that deployed to Afghanistan.

Abeyta, Weinger and Cain are the 9th, 10th and 11th casualties from the Illinois Army National Guard’s 33rd IBCT since their deployment to Afghanistan. No information on funeral arrangements has been determined at this time.

These are the 25th, 26th and 27th casualties the Illinois National Guard has suffered since operations in Afghanistan and Iraq began.

Massive Government Stimulus Has Not Helped Caterpillar as Promised

From the Office of Congressman Aaron Schock

Washington D.C. - A little more than a month after passage of the President’s economic stimulus bill, it has become reality that the hype and promises Caterpillar would not proceed with planned layoffs and rehire laid off workers if Congress passed the stimulus bill was inaccurate.

Congress did pass the stimulus bill and the President got everything he wanted from Congress. Yet, today Caterpillar announced even more layoffs. These additional layoffs confirm CAT workers were misused by the Administration as justification for the stimulus bill.

“These additional layoffs are a result of the on-going recession,” said Schock. “Sadly, the false hopes that passage of the stimulus bill would enable them to keep their jobs are now a horrible letdown. I opposed the stimulus bill because only 6 percent of this massive bill was for infrastructure. I supported legislation that would have created twice the jobs at half the price, and included more funding for infrastructure that would have increased the demand for Caterpillar machinery.”

“In my speech against passage of the flawed stimulus bill, I said ‘this bill is too big to get it wrong,’ but these layoffs are another sign that they did get this bill wrong,” continued Schock. “As a result, we have little increased infrastructure construction, more layoffs, dashed hopes, massive wasteful spending and vastly increased debt.”

“I will join the President and colleagues in Congress if they are willing to embark on a sensible agenda that would lead to economic growth,” Schock concluded. “The challenges we face are too important not to.”

Durbin Holds First Senate Meeting on Mexican Drug Cartels

From the Office of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) chaired a hearing today on the ongoing and bloody violence involving Mexican drug cartels. The violence, which took more than 6,000 lives last year, is partly the result of the alarming flow of drugs, guns and bulk cash across the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Violence across our border in Mexico has claimed more than 6,000 lives last year and 1,000 lives since January, but it is not simply a Mexican problem,” Durbin said. “America’s drug addiction, and the dollars and guns that travel across our border, keep the drug cartels in business. Until we take cooperative steps to defeat the cartels, this violence will continue to escalate.”

According to a recent Justice Department report, Mexico-based drug trafficking organizations represent “the greatest organized crime threat to the United States.” Mexico-based drug trafficking organizations are notoriously violent and well armed. These criminal organizations control drug distribution and trafficking in many U.S. cities and have had a severe impact in border states and other parts of the country.

In Illinois, the Justice Department found that three Mexican drug cartels – Federation, Gulf Coast and Juárez – are active in Chicago, East St. Louis and Joliet. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Mexican drug cartels supply the vast majority of the cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana distributed in the Chicago area and downstate. Law enforcement officials estimate that $10 to $24 million in drug proceeds are sent from Chicago to America’s Southwest border each month.

A significant obstacle to containing and prosecuting drug cartels and their agents is Mexico’s lack of a fair and effective criminal justice system. Corruption plays a considerable role in law enforcement’s inability to control the violence. The situation has deteriorated to the extent that Mexican President Felipe Calderon was recently forced to deploy the country’s military into areas of the country where law enforcement was no longer able to maintain order.

The problem, however, is not restricted to the Mexican side of the border. Cartels are active in at least 230 U.S. cities – up from roughly 50 in 2006. In Phoenix last year, 366 kidnappings for ransom were reported – far more than any other American city – and nearly all were connected to the Mexican drug trade.

This is partly the result of the America’s insatiable demand for illegal drugs. It is estimated that nearly $10 billion in drug money is shipped from the U..S. back to Mexico each year. These funds enable traffickers to expand operations, bribe law enforcement and purchase weapons.

Weapons are often purchased at U.S. gun shows from unlicensed sellers who are not required to conduct background checks as part of the sale. Cartels also use “straw buyers” – individuals with clean criminal records – to buy weapons for them. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, more than 90% of guns seized in Mexico can be traced to the United States.

Testifying at the hearing were: William Hoover, Assistant Director for Field Operations, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Anthony P. Placido, Assistant Administrator and Chief of Intelligence, Drug Enforcement Administration; Kumar Kibble, Deputy Director, Office of Investigations, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security; Terry Goddard, Arizona Attorney General; Denise Eugenia Dresser Guerra, Professor at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México and contributing writer to the Los Angeles Times; and Jorge Luis Aguirre, a journalist who fled Ciudad Juárez after receiving death threats and who is in hiding in El Paso, Texas.

Durbin became Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Crime and Drugs Subcommittee last month. Besides the issues surrounding Mexican drug cartels, Durbin plans to focus the Subcommittee’s efforts on issues including federal support for state and local law enforcement, gang violence, racial disparities in the criminal justice system, sentencing reform, and prison reform.

The hearing was held jointly before the Senate Judiciary Crime and Drugs Subcommittee and the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control. Senator Dianne Feinstein co-chaired the hearing.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Durbin to Chair First Senate Hearing on Mexican Drug War

From the Office of U.S. Senator Dick Durbin

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) will chair a hearing on the Mexican drug war tomorrow, TUESDAY, March 17th, 2009 at 10:30am. The hearing will be held in room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington.

The hearing, Law Enforcement Responses to Mexican Drug Cartels, is the first Senate hearing on the issue and will examine all sides of the ongoing and bloody drug war on America’s southern border including the alarming flow of drugs, guns and bulk cash across the U.S.-Mexico border. The hearing will also discuss initiatives to stem that flow.

According to a recent Justice Department report, Mexico-based drug trafficking organizations represent “the greatest organized crime threat to the United States.” Mexico-based drug trafficking organizations are notoriously violent and well armed; over 6,000 people died in drug-related violence in Mexico last year. These criminal organizations control drug distribution and trafficking in many U.S. cities and have had a severe impact in border states and other parts of the country.

Testifying at the hearing will be: William Hoover, Assistant Director for Field Operations, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Anthony P. Placido, Assistant Administrator and Chief of Intelligence, Drug Enforcement Administration; Kumar Kibble, Deputy Director, Office of Investigations, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security; Terry Goddard, Arizona Attorney General; Denise Eugenia Dresser Guerra, Professor at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México and contributing writer to the Los Angeles Time; and Jorge Luis Aguirre, Journalist who fled Ciudad Juárez after receiving death threats and is in hiding in El Paso, Texas.

The hearing will be held jointly before the Senate Judiciary Crime and Drugs Subcommittee and the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control. Senator Dianne Feinstein will co-chair the hearing.

Ameren Illinois Utilities Reach Out to Customers with Special Payment Plans, Assistance Programs

From the Office of Ameren Illinois Utilities

Peoria (March 16, 2009) – The Ameren Illinois Utilities are reaching out to residential customers with past due account balances to help them take advantage of Ameren Illinois Utility payment plans as well as the Illinois utility rate relief programs.

“The economic downturn has placed an additional burden on many of our customers,” said Stan Ogden, vice president for Customer Service and Public Relations for the Ameren Illinois Utilities. “We want to make certain our customers know about the options that can provide them with the financial help they need in paying their electric and natural gas bills.

“To make certain our customers with past due balances know about these assistance programs, we are reaching out to them by phone and by mail. We are offering to assist local community action agencies by sending customer service representatives to their offices to support this customer outreach initiative,” Ogden said.

Ameren Illinois Utilities customers may establish a payment plan now through March 31 by paying just 10 percent of the past due balance, with the remainder to be paid along with current bills in monthly installments. Beginning April 1, customers will be required to pay 25 percent of the past due balance before establishing a payment plan. To establish a payment plan, customers may call their Ameren Illinois Utility – AmerenCIPS: 1-888-789-2477; AmerenCILCO: 1- 888-672-5252, and AmerenIP: 1-800-755-5000

Ameren Illinois Utility customers can still benefit from two Illinois rate relief programs that are part of the $1-billion state rate relief package enacted into law in August 2007.

The Bill Payment Assistance Program now provides energy assistance grants of up to $300 to low-income electric customers with household incomes of 0 percent to 200 percent of the energy assistance federal poverty level. These grants are provided through the local community action agencies that administer the Low income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

The second program is the Hardship Assistance for Residential Customers. The local community action agencies distribute these program funds based on the hardship experienced by customers with household incomes of up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level. The agencies may award grants of up to $600 per household.

Customers may call 1-800-252-8643 to obtain the name and address of their local community action agency.

Some customers also may be eligible for assistance through LIHEAP, which is administered by the local community action agencies. LIHEAP provides energy services payment assistance to eligible low-income households, elderly persons and people with disabilities. Grants are based on the number of people in a household, total income and the type of energy used.

Also, the Ameren Illinois Utilities are partnering with the Illinois Department of Health & Family Services in the development of a Percentage-of-Income Payment Program (PIPP) pilot. The pilot targets Ameren Illinois Utilities low-income electric space heat customers to determine if paying a percentage of income will make energy more affordable and develop regular bill-paying habits.

The Dollar More and Warm Neighbors programs may help eligible Ameren Illinois Utilities residential customers with utility bills. Customers should call their Ameren Illinois Utility for information. Ameren Illinois Utilities customers may make contributions to these programs to help their neighbors.

Customers with past-due balances are encouraged to contact their Ameren Illinois Utility to establish a bill payment plan. Eligible customers will be required to make a down payment in order to begin a payment plan that allows customers to pay past-due amounts over an extended period of time while paying current bill amounts. AmerenCILCO and AmerenCIPS customers should call 1-877-263-7363 and AmerenIP customers should call 1-800-750-7026.

Residential customers who have past due balances and have failed to establish a payment plan or are not honoring a payment plan agreement will be subject to service disconnection beginning in April.

A service disconnection will only occur after the Ameren Illinois Utilities have attempted to contact the customer and a final service disconnection notice has been issued.

“Our goal is to avoid service disconnections,” Ogden said. “We will only disconnect service when every reasonable effort to establish a payment plan or otherwise receive payment of past-due balance has failed.”

A customer with a certified medical condition or special need who receives a disconnection notice should immediately contact their Ameren Illinois Utility.

Many customers find they can better manage their energy bills by enrolling in the Budget Billing plan. This plan allows eligible residential customers to pay the same amount each month. By enrolling now, eligible customers can begin leveling out their monthly payments. 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.

Customers may enroll in Budget Billing by visiting Ameren’s Web site (www.ameren..com) or by calling their Ameren Illinois Utility company (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 can learn how to spend less by using less energy when they visit ActOnEnergy.com.

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 energy and communities grow through economic development initiatives.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Gov Quinn Reverses Blagojevich Again, and Decides to Keep IDOT Traffic Safety in Springfield

SPRINGFIELD – March 13, 2009. Governor Pat Quinn announced that he will keep the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Division of Traffic Safety in Springfield.

“I am pleased to announce the employees of the Division of Traffic Safety will not have their lives disrupted and that these jobs will stay here in the capital city,” said Governor Quinn. “Relocating the Division of Traffic Safety would have had a detrimental impact on central Illinois’ economy and the operations of the division.”

Last May, then-Governor Rod Blagojevich announced he was going to move the IDOT Division of Traffic Safety from Springfield to southern Illinois. Blagojevich’s proposal would have forced about 140 employees to relocate to Harrisburg or give-up their positions with the Division of Traffic Safety.

Following the guidelines set forth in the State Facilities Closure Act, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) held a public hearing in July and heard six hours worth of testimony from those for and against the transfer of the division. COGFA voted unanimously (12-0) in August 2008 to reject the recommendation to relocate the Division of Traffic Safety to Harrisburg.

The Division of Traffic Safety is currently housed at 3215 Executive Park Drive in Springfield.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to Deliver Knox College Commencement Address

From Knox College

GALESBURG -- Knox College will again have a Commencement speaker pulled straight from the headlines. Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, will deliver the Commencement address on Saturday, June 6, 2009.

"United States Attorney Fitzgerald's leadership in combating crime is exemplary,” explains Roger Taylor, Knox College president. “Once again, Knox students have chosen a national figure to address their class at Commencement,” Taylor said.

The Class of 2009 knows Fitzgerald for his role in nationally significant investigations into terrorism financing, public corruption, corporate fraud, and violent crime. His most recent work includes fighting corruption in the Illinois governor’s office. In December, 2008, Fitzgerald announced the arrest of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich for allegedly plotting to sell an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama. He also supervised the public corruption investigation that resulted in sending former Illinois governor George Ryan to prison.

Fitzgerald may be best known for his role as Special Counsel in the investigation of the leaked identity of Valerie Plame as a CIA operative, and the subsequent prosecution of Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby. He also played a key role in the prosecution of conspirators in the 1998 bombings of the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the prosecution of twelve defendants involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and the prosecution of members of the Gambino crime family.

Fitzgerald was nominated to the U.S. Attorney’s position by former Illinois Senator Peter Fitzgerald (no relation) and confirmed by the Senate in October 2001. He has been honored for his service to the country with the Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Service, the Stimson Medal from the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, and the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service.

2009 will mark the fifth year in a row that a Commencement speaker from recent headlines has accepted Knox's invitation to deliver the address to graduating seniors. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright spoke in 2008; former President Bill Clinton spoke in 2007; Stephen Colbert, star of The Colbert Report, spoke in 2006; and Barack Obama, then a United States Senator from Illinois, spoke in 2005.

As is tradition, Knox College also will award Fitzgerald an honorary degree.

Founded in 1837, Knox is a national liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, with 1,400 students from 47 states and 48 nations. Knox's "Old Main" is a National Historic Landmark and the only building remaining from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Governor Pat Quinn to Keep Pontiac Correctional Center Open

From the Office of Governor Pat Quinn

SPRINGFIELD – March 12, 2009. Governor Quinn announced that he will keep Pontiac Correctional Center open. The decision is another step in Governor Quinn’s efforts to ensure greater fiscal responsibility in state government – the prison provides nearly 600 jobs and generates an approximate $54.4 million in revenue for the region.

“Especially in these tough economic times, we must be more fiscally responsible,” said Governor Quinn. “Keeping Pontiac Correctional Center open will ensure nearly 600 people in the region keep their jobs, prevent hundreds of families from being uprooted, and allow Pontiac to maintain one of its largest sources of revenue.”

On May 2, 2008, then Governor Rod R. Blagojevich announced Pontiac Correctional Center would close by the end of 2008. Under that plan, the nearly 600 employees, more than 1,600 inmates, and the facility’s operating budget were to be transferred to the Thomson Correctional Center, located in Carroll County in northwest Illinois.

However, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA), which studies and provides recommendations on local and regional economic and fiscal policies, released a memorandum on September 23, 2008 citing its unanimous vote (9-0) against the closure of the Pontiac Correctional Center.

Central Illinois lawmakers, elected officials, and community action groups have been vocal supporters of keeping Pontiac open, citing security of the employees and inmates as an additional reason to maintain the Pontiac facility.

The Center is the state’s only facility that provides single cells for most maximum-security inmates. Housing two maximum-security inmates in a single cell significantly increases the risk of violence.

IDOT, Illinois State Police and Local Law Enforcement Say Luck Will Not Get You Home this St. Patrick’s Day

From the Illinois Department of Transportation

SPRINGFIELD – There is no doubt numerous Illinoisans will celebrate with family and friends this St. Patrick’s Day. Unfortunately, those celebrations frequently turn deadly because of impaired drivers. That’s why the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the Illinois State Police (ISP) are partnering with numerous law enforcement agencies around the state this weekend and throughout St. Patrick’s Day to remind everyone to act responsibly by designating a sober driver if they plan on consuming alcohol this St. Patrick’s Day.

The message is very simple. Keep the streets safe this St. Patrick’s Day by drinking responsibly and designating a sober driver before heading to the local parade or pub or risk arrest for driving under the influence.

Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that over the past five years, 851 people lost their lives in motor vehicles crashes during the St. Patrick’s Day holiday. Out of that number, 327 were killed in crashes that involved a drunk driver (blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher). Over the past five years in Illinois, 26 people lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes, 3 of those fatalities involved a driver that had been drinking alcohol.

“There is no excuse for impaired driving. It is irresponsible, and it is deadly,” said IDOT Traffic Safety Director Mike Stout. “St. Patrick’s Day is supposed to be a time to celebrate Irish heritage and gather with friends, but it can quickly end in tragedy due to impaired driving. If you plan on drinking, do not rely on luck to keep you safe or to keep you out of trouble. Be responsible and designate a sober driver.”

Unfortunately, impaired drivers are frequently present on Illinois roads, risking their lives and the lives of those with whom they share the road. During holiday weekends such as St. Patrick’s Day, the risk can increase because of an even greater impaired driving threat. To combat impaired driving, IDOT, ISP, county and municipal police agencies are partnering to step-up impaired driving enforcement, with IDOT funding overtime hours that place more officers on the street.

"The Illinois State Police and local law enforcement will remain vigilant in their enforcement efforts over the St. Patrick's Day weekend," said ISP Director Larry G. Trent. "Individuals who drive while impaired will be arrested. If you are going to include alcohol in your celebration plans, designate a sober driver. Motorists are also reminded to buckle-up and to obey the move-over law (Scott's Law) to ensure a safe holiday weekend."

Beginning today and continuing around St. Patrick’s Day, IDOT is making available over $500,000 in federal highway safety dollars to fund additional roadside safety checks, saturation patrols and other impaired driving countermeasures. This stepped-up effort will be accompanied by strong local educational efforts, encouraging the use of designated drivers, but also reminding motorists of the risk of arrest if they drive impaired.

There is no luck involved. Just follow these simple steps so you can enjoy a safe St. Patrick’s Day without jeopardizing your life and the lives of others on the road.

If you are hosting a party:

  • Remember, you can be held liable and prosecuted if someone you served ends up in an impaired driving crash;
  • Make sure all of your guests designate their sober drivers in advance, or help arrange ride-sharing with other sober drivers;
  • Serve lots of food and include plenty of non-alcoholic beverages at the party;
  • Keep the numbers for local cab companies handy, and take the keys away from anyone who is thinking of driving impaired.

If you are attending a party:

  • Designate your sober driver BEFORE the party begins and give that person your car keys;
  • If you do not have a designated driver, ask a sober friend for a ride home; call a cab, sober friend or family member to pick you up; or just stay where you are and sleep it off until you are sober;
  • Never let a friend leave your sight if you think they are about to drive while impaired.
  • Always buckle up - it is still your best defense against an impaired driver.

Luck will not get you home safely this St. Patrick’s Day. Designate your sober driver before the party begins.

For more information about the Division of Traffic Safety’s impaired driving and safety campaigns, please visit www.DriveSoberIllinois.org

Sears Tower to be Renamed for New Tenant

From Crain's Chicago Business

(Crain’s) — Sears Tower will become Willis Tower.

The insurance broker announced Thursday morning that it will move to the Sears Tower and that the building will be renamed Willis Tower.

London-based Willis Group Holdings said it will consolidate five local offices into more than 140,000 square feet in the 110-story building at 233 S. Wacker Drive. Almost 500 employees will move into the building, Willis said.

Willis said the space is costing the company $14.50 a square foot and that it is not paying extra for the naming rights.

Three years ago, when Sears Tower’s ownership group was looking to refinance the building, a representative compared the value of the naming rights to the building and its observation deck to stadium naming-rights deal, citing examples ranging with fees from $5.8 million to $10 million a year.

Related story: Willis could get Sears Tower naming rights

Willis is the largest new tenant to move into Sears Tower since the 2001 terrorist attacks. In recent years, the building has suffered several big tenant losses, including its largest tenant, by rental revenue, Ernst & Young U.S. LLP, which is moving in 2012 to an almost-complete skyscraper at 155 N. Wacker Drive.

“Having our name associated with Chicago’s most iconic structure underscores our commitment to this great city, and recognizes Chicago’s importance as a major financial hub and international business center,” Joseph J. Plumeri, chairman and CEO of Willis Group Holdings, said in a release. “We are delighted to be making this bold move and firmly establishing our leading presence in one of the nation’s biggest insurance markets, and it will be wonderful for all our associates to work under one roof.”

Willis currently has about 91,000 square feet in three downtown locations, according to real estate research firm CoStar Group Inc. The largest amount is about 42,000 square feet at 10 S. LaSalle St.

Offices in west suburban Oak Brook and Lombard also will be consolidated into the Sears Tower, Willis said. Willis expects to complete the move by late summer.

Willis is the world’s third-largest insurance brokerage, with brokerage revenue of $2.46 billion in 2007, according to Crain’s sister publication Business Insurance. Chicago-based Aon Corp. ranked second on BI’s 2008 list, with 2007 brokerage revenue of about $7.1 billion; Hilb ranked eighth, with brokerage revenue of about $780 million.

Willis renamed its North American business Willis HRH after its acquisition of Hilb for $2.1 billion, including assumed debt. The transaction increased Willis’s presence in the U.S. market but also increased its debt load at a time when insurance prices are softening, analysts say.

Willis was represented by real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield Inc.

Making News in Mr. Lincoln's Hometown: A Media Directory and Guidebook is Now Available

From the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce

The twelfth edition of Making News in Mr. Lincoln's Hometown, a comprehensive media directory and guidebook, is now available for purchase. The publication is a project of the Springfield Chapter of Association for Women in Communications and co-sponsored by the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.

Making News in Mr. Lincoln’s Hometown is a 50-page publication that lists information on more than 100 media outlets in Sangamon and surrounding counties as well as national media outlets in Chicago. Newspapers, radio stations, publications and television stations are listed with multiple contacts as well as advertising rate information.

The guidebook portion of the publication covers a wide spectrum of "nuts and bolts" topics in a simple and easy-to-read format. Highlights include a time line for creating effective publicity campaigns, media relations, promotion and advertising tips, and evaluation methods. Sample news releases, copywriting tips and a glossary of commonly used terms are included. The reference section has been newly updated and lists more than fifty current resources.

The cost is $15 per copy for members of Association for Women in Communications and Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce and $25 for non-members. Copies can be purchased at the Chamber office, 3 South Old State Capitol Plaza. To request a copy call the Chamber at 217.525.1173.