WBEZ | Economy http://www.wbez.org/news/economy Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Preckwinkle may reevaluate sales tax plan if Springfield acts on pensions http://www.wbez.org/news/preckwinkle-may-reevaluate-sales-tax-plan-if-springfield-acts-pensions-112291 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/preckwinkle_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle says she may reevaluate her plan to increase the county&rsquo;s sales tax if Springfield passes pension reform by the end of this summer.</p><p dir="ltr">Preckwinkle is pitching a 1 percentage point sales tax increase, a complete 180 from her <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skkFEuCLUTo">campaign pledge in 2010</a> to roll back the so-called Stroger sales tax, named after her predecessor. That would mean a 10.25 percent sales tax in Chicago.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I would argue there&rsquo;s no person in Cook County more hesitant to increase the sales tax than me. But here&rsquo;s the truth: I&rsquo;m here to do what&rsquo;s right for Cook County, what might be personally or politically awkward for me is irrelevant,&rdquo; Preckwinkle said in a speech Tuesday morning at the City Club.</p><p dir="ltr">Preckwinkle said state lawmakers put the county in a tough spot financially by not acting on her pension reform plan.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The reason we&rsquo;re raising the tax the entire 1 percent is so that we can meet our obligations and kinda catch up, given the fact that we&rsquo;ve waited a year for Springfield to act and it&rsquo;s cost us to be $360 million dollars further down&rdquo; she said.</p><p dir="ltr">But Preckwinkle promised that if the state legislature passes her pension reform bill, the county would reevaluate the sales tax hike, so long as it all happens before the department of revenue&rsquo;s October 1st deadline.</p><p dir="ltr">County finance officials estimate the sales tax hike would raise around $308 million in 2016, which Preckwinkle said would be used mostly for pensions, with a little going to the county&rsquo;s legacy debt service and some road and bridge infrastructure projects.</p><p dir="ltr">The proposal needs the support of nine of the 17 commissioners in order to pass, and a few <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/preckwinkle-defends-plan-boost-sales-tax-blames-pension-crisis-112236">members said they&rsquo;re still on the fence.</a></p><p dir="ltr">Commissioner Robert Steele said he was already meeting with businesses in his district to hear any concerns they might have about the increase.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We know this is gonna be a hard sell, it&rsquo;s not gonna be an easy sell for me to go out and say this is something we&rsquo;re gonna bring back to you after we just got rid of it a couple years ago,&rdquo; Steele said.</p><p dir="ltr">Preckwinkle said she would officially introduce the proposal at the full county board meeting Wednesday, with a hearing set for July 8. &nbsp;</p><p><em>Lauren Chooljian is WBEZ&rsquo;s city politics reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian">@laurenchooljian</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 30 Jun 2015 18:40:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/preckwinkle-may-reevaluate-sales-tax-plan-if-springfield-acts-pensions-112291 At eleventh hour, CPS makes huge pension payment http://www.wbez.org/news/eleventh-hour-cps-makes-huge-pension-payment-112290 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/madigan_1_0.JPG" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-8f7b37b5-46c0-8279-17ad-1b39333078ba"><em>UPDATED July 1, 7:53 a.m.&nbsp;</em></p><p dir="ltr">The head of the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund says Chicago Public Schools deposited the full $634 million into the pension fund Tuesday evening.</p><p>&ldquo;The need for long-term solutions is not erased with this payment,&rdquo; CTPF&rsquo;s executive director Charles Burbridge said in a statement.</p><p dir="ltr">But with that payment, according to CPS officials, comes more borrowing and 1,400 layoffs of school district employees.</p><p>Illinois&rsquo; powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan said Tuesday the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools would pay the hundreds of millions of dollars that it owes to teacher pensions by the end of the day.</p><p dir="ltr">The surprise announcement came after CPS had been asking state lawmakers for a short-term reprieve from the massive $634 million payment. Last week, the House of Representatives voted down the district&rsquo;s proposal, even though it had a minority Republican support. At the time, Madigan denied he singularly defeated the proposal, even though he wields influence over many lawmakers.</p><p>On Tuesday, he said that debate was moot, as he&rsquo;d been told by &ldquo;reliable sources&rdquo; that Chicago Public Schools would make the payment, in full.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve been advised by reliable sources they have cash on hand and they&rsquo;ll be in a position to make a payment by the end of the business day today,&rdquo; Madigan told reporters.</p><p>As for how the district can make this payment to its pension system and still afford bills in the near-term, Madigan said he doesn&rsquo;t know how that math will work.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;There are open questions going forward in terms of paying the bills at the Chicago Board of Education,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>In a statement, interim schools CEO Jesse Ruiz criticized Springfield for failing &ldquo;to address Chicago Public Schools&rsquo; financial crisis.&rdquo; Ruiz said CPS was able to make its 2015 pension payment by borrowing money, but they&rsquo;ll also have to make an additional $200 million in cuts. CPS officials said 1,400 jobs - not just teachers - would be impacted Wednesday.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;As we have said, CPS could not make the payment and keep cuts away from the classroom, so while school will start on time, our classrooms will be impacted,&rdquo; Ruiz said.</p><p>City Hall sources said late Tuesday night that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Jesse Ruiz would be presenting a &ldquo;comprehensive plan that includes long-term solutions to the district&rsquo;s pension and funding inequities&rdquo; on Wednesday.</p><p dir="ltr">Earlier in the day, Mayor Rahm Emanuel gave no indications to reporters in Chicago that CPS was in fact planning to pay the bill in full by the end of the day. However, he did address the impact of the pension payment on the school system&rsquo;s budget.</p><p>&ldquo;School will start, but our ability to hold the impact of finances away from the classroom, that&rsquo;s gonna change,&rdquo; Emanuel said.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, Springfield lawmakers are set to hear Wednesday about a <a href="http://ilga.gov/legislation/fulltext.asp?DocName=09900SB0316sam001&amp;GA=99&amp;SessionId=88&amp;DocTypeId=SB&amp;LegID=84277&amp;DocNum=316&amp;GAID=13&amp;Session=">new</a> proposal that could funnel hundreds of millions of state funds toward CPS pensions.</p><p dir="ltr"><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics. Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/tonyjarnold">@tonyjarnold</a>. Lauren Chooljian covers Chicago politics. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian">@laurenchooljian</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 30 Jun 2015 17:46:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/eleventh-hour-cps-makes-huge-pension-payment-112290 Closing time for Chicago's trading pits http://www.wbez.org/news/closing-time-chicagos-trading-pits-112280 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/zapp.jpg" alt="" /><p></p> Tue, 30 Jun 2015 08:03:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/closing-time-chicagos-trading-pits-112280 Chicago moves closer to borrowing $1.1 billion http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-moves-closer-borrowing-11-billion-112195 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/rahmfile.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">The cash-strapped city of Chicago is one step closer to borrowing $1.1 billion in general obligation bonds, in an attempt to shore up the city&rsquo;s finances. The complex borrowing package, backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, passed through the city&rsquo;s Finance Committee Monday.</p><p dir="ltr">Pitched as a way to &ldquo;clean up&rdquo; the city&rsquo;s balance sheet and move away from unsustainable financial practices of the past, the bonds would convert some of the city&rsquo;s short-term debt into longer-term, fixed-rate debt, pay down city settlements, and refinance old terminated interest rate &ldquo;swaps,&rdquo; &nbsp;among other things.</p><p dir="ltr">The city&rsquo;s new Chief Financial Officer&nbsp;<a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/mayor/press_room/press_releases/2015/may/mayor-rahm-emanuel-names-carole-l--brown-as-city-of-chicago-chie.html">Carole Brown</a> told aldermen Monday that it would be &ldquo;irresponsible&rdquo; for the city not to sign off on this borrowing plan.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;This is not kicking the can, this is not shuffling the deck chairs, this is a real step toward doing what I think all of you are committed to doing, and that you want to see us do, which is return to a state of more fiscal stability,&rdquo; Brown said. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">According to Brown, the borrowing package is both part of the financial plan Emanuel pitched last spring, and a reaction to the recent credit rating downgrade by Moody&rsquo;s. Brown said the city is &ldquo;technically in default&rdquo; and &ldquo;there would be the potential that we would have to come up with close to $900 million to pay back the banks if we did not execute this transaction.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">The city&rsquo;s plan for the $1.1 billion includes:</p><ul><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">$170 million for the first two years of interest</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">$151 million will be used to convert variable rate general obligation bonds into fixed rate bonds</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">$192 million will be spent to end &ldquo;swaps&rdquo;</p></li><li dir="ltr"><p dir="ltr">$35 million will be used for the 2015 loan payment for the old Michael Reese hospital site</p></li></ul><p dir="ltr">Many aldermen were skeptical of the plan. Some voiced concern that there weren&rsquo;t enough diverse banks or firms involved in the deal. Others, like Ald. John Arena (45) were concerned that the city hasn&rsquo;t put forth any new revenue ideas.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We get fines here and fees here, we know it&rsquo;s not enough. Everybody knows it&rsquo;s not enough but ignores this issue. And when we have 1.1 billion dollars put in front of us, and say &lsquo;approve this&rsquo; without at least a look at a plan for revenue at this point...this is irresponsible,&rdquo; Arena said.</p><p dir="ltr">The lone no vote was cast by progressive Ald. Scott Waguespack. The full City Council is scheduled to vote on the package Wednesday.</p><p><em>Lauren Chooljian is WBEZ&rsquo;s city politics reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian">@laurenchooljian</a></em></p></p> Tue, 16 Jun 2015 00:06:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-moves-closer-borrowing-11-billion-112195 Advocates for South Side trauma center gain momentum http://www.wbez.org/news/advocates-south-side-trauma-center-gain-momentum-112194 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 4.50.13 PM_0.png" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">For years, activists have protested the University of Chicago hospital for closing its adult trauma center. And for years, the university has argued a facility would cost too much money. But growing public support for the idea may be turning the tide.</p><p dir="ltr">Veronica Morris-Moore is part of the coalition pushing the school.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I am connected to this issue because I am a member of Fearless Leading by the Youth. I got started two weeks after Damian Turner, who used to be a cofounder of FLY, got shot in his back on 61st and Cottage Grove,&rdquo; Morris-Moore said.</p><blockquote><p dir="ltr"><strong>Related:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/content/trauma-patients-southeast-side-take-more-time-reach-trauma-centers">Patients on Southeast Side take more time to reach trauma centers</a></strong></p></blockquote><p dir="ltr">The shooting of youth activist Damian Turner happened just around the corner from U of C. The hospital didn&rsquo;t provide adult trauma care so Turner had to be driven nine miles north to Northwestern&rsquo;s hospital &mdash; he died less than 90 minutes later.</p><p dir="ltr">Morris-Moore joined a campaign to pressure the university to reopen its Level 1 adult trauma center, which take care of people injured by penetrating wounds...car crashes, stabbings, gunshots.</p><p dir="ltr">After a few initial protests Moore&rsquo;s group met with University of Chicago officials.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;And that was the meeting just to, I guess, say officially &lsquo;no,&rsquo;&rdquo; she said.</p><p dir="ltr">Chicago is served by six trauma centers sprinkled around the city and nearby suburbs &mdash; none on the city&rsquo;s South Side where some areas suffer high rates of violence.</p><p dir="ltr">The University of Chicago closed its adult trauma center in 1988 after two years. Officials say the hospital lost $2 million annually serving patients without health insurance.</p><p dir="ltr">The effort to reopen U of C&rsquo;s trauma center gained additional attention last fall when the school bid for the Obama Presidential Library. Then this March there was a big protest near the Ritz-Carlton hotel where the university held a $4.5 billion fundraiser.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;That money could fund a trauma center for years and years. I wouldn&rsquo;t say we&rsquo;re in a very desperate moment right now but I think we&rsquo;re at a very important moment,&rdquo; Morris-Moore said.</p><p dir="ltr">That moment features a growing coalition of increasingly powerful voices, from pastors to politicians. U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) has proposed that the federal government grant states money for trauma services.</p><p>Despite multiple requests the University of Chicago declined to be interviewed.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, the need for adult trauma care on the South Side hasn&rsquo;t gone away.</p><p dir="ltr">Marie Crandall, a surgeon at Northwestern University hospital, put out a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/report-links-chicagoans-distance-trauma-centers-higher-mortality-rates-106732">study</a> that confirmed <a href="http://www.wbez.org/content/trauma-patients-southeast-side-take-more-time-reach-trauma-centers">an earlier WBEZ analysis</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;What we found was that for similarly injured individuals, if you were shot more than five miles from a trauma center in Chicago that your likelihood of dying was 21 percent greater,&rdquo; Crandall said.</p><p dir="ltr">Earlier this year the Illinois Department of Public Health put out <a href="http://dph.illinois.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Trauma_Center_Feasibility_Study.pdf">a trauma center feasibility study</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">The University of Chicago scores the highest but three other South Side hospitals could be Level 2 adult trauma centers: Jackson Park, Roseland and Advocate Trinity. The difference between a Level 1 and Level 2 is the medical teaching aspect.</p><p dir="ltr">But for cash-strapped hospitals real feasibility still comes down to money.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t know what a perfect solution is and I don&rsquo;t know that adding a trauma center will make as much a difference as most people hope it does,&rdquo; Crandall said. &ldquo;It has to be studied because if we put a tremendous amount of resources in something that ultimately demonstrated no difference in outcomes or even worse a poorly functioning hospital, we would need to reevaluate.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Running a trauma center can exceed $20 million annually. That&rsquo;s why the conversation always turns back to the well-funded University of Chicago.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The conversation moves slowly but I feel it&rsquo;s in a better place than 5 years ago,&rdquo; Crandall added.</p><p>In fact, officials are working with the state to raise the age of its pediatric trauma center to include 16 and 17 year olds. And in another twist, the university confirms that it is currently working on a study to analyze whether it can open an adult trauma center.</p><p>That&rsquo;s quite a change from the &ldquo;no&rdquo; officials once said.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/nmoore-0" rel="author">Natalie Moore</a> is WBEZ&rsquo;s South Side Bureau reporter. <a href="mailto:nmoore@wbez.org">nmoore@wbez.org</a>&nbsp;Follow Natalie on <a href="https://plus.google.com//104033432051539426343" rel="me">Google+</a>, &nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/natalieymoore">Twitter</a></em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 16 Jun 2015 00:04:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/advocates-south-side-trauma-center-gain-momentum-112194 Emanuel pushes Springfield for changes to police, fire pensions http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-pushes-springfield-changes-police-fire-pensions-112112 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Rahm.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Mayor Rahm Emanuel has long said a property tax increase for Chicago residents is the &ldquo;last resort&rdquo; to cover a scheduled increase in payments owed to the city&rsquo;s cash-strapped police and fire pensions.</p><p>To avoid a hike, he&rsquo;s asking Illinois state legislators to approve changes to the funding schedule for those two retirement funds - in addition to adding future payments to the pensions from a new source of revenue created by a potential new, city-owned casino.</p><p>Emanuel&rsquo;s administration says that a 5-year-old state law forces the city to pay an extra $600 million this year toward its cash-strapped retirement funds for police officers and firefighters.</p><p>Those pensions are severely under-funded, so Emanuel wants lawmakers to pass a bill that would put off those payments for a few years - in exchange for later adding larger payments and putting the pensions on a better funding schedule over the next 40 years, rather than the current 25-year plan.</p><p>Under the extended schedule, the pensions would be funded at 90 percent in 2055, rather than the current rates of around 25 percent funded. If the bill is not passed, said Steve Koch, Emanuel&rsquo;s deputy mayor, then property taxes could skyrocket.</p><p>&ldquo;I think this is always a matter of, in this sort of situation, of trying to reach a medium,&rdquo; Koch explained, &ldquo;where you protect the funds, which has been an objective of ours and an objective of the mayor since he took office, and equally protect taxpayers.&rdquo;</p><p>But Republicans criticized Emanuel&rsquo;s plan, saying the mayor&rsquo;s office is in a &ldquo;fantasyland,&rdquo; -- because the bill says it would take money from a Chicago casino, or casinos, to pay for pensions. Casinos that, as of yet, have not been approved by state lawmakers.</p><p>&ldquo;You&rsquo;re essentially in a fantasyland here, assuming that you&rsquo;re going to get a casino and all the revenue associated with that casino, with us not even seeing a bill that relates to that,&rdquo; said State Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton).</p><p>Lawmakers have been negotiating a gambling expansion bill behind closed doors, which could include a city-run casino; but so far a compromise has not been introduced to lawmakers. Koch said that if a casino is not approved, then the city would rely on cuts to city services or increases in fees or revenues to pay for the administration&rsquo;s proposed pension bill.</p><p>Meantime, the union representing Chicago firefighters, support the administration&rsquo;s pension plan, unlike other labor unions raising recent court challenges over previous efforts to change other city and state funds</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve been pretty conservative with our benefits over the years, so we don&rsquo;t pull no shenanigans in our fund,&rdquo; said Dan Fabrizio, with the Chicago Firefighters Union.</p><p>The measure was approved by the House and Senate with mostly Democratic support. Gov. Bruce Rauner&#39;s office has not commented on his position on the bill.</p><p>Tony Arnold is WBEZ&rsquo;s Illinois state politics reporter. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/tonyjarnold">@tonyjarnold</a>.&nbsp;</p></p> Sat, 30 May 2015 11:03:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-pushes-springfield-changes-police-fire-pensions-112112 South Siders lobby for promises in writing as Obama library takes shape http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/south-siders-lobby-promises-writing-obama-library-takes-shape-112090 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/nm community benefits.PNG" alt="" /><p><p>The Obama Foundation has yet to choose which South Side park will host the president&rsquo;s library.</p><p>But whether it&rsquo;s Washington Park or Jackson Park, nearby residents are already dreaming big about the potential ripple effects. They want jobs and housing &mdash; and they want it in writing.</p><p>&ldquo;Think about it,&rdquo; chuckled Sandra Bivins of the 51st Street Business Association. &ldquo;You learn over the years that you need contractual agreements with folks or else they&rsquo;re not going to keep their word.&rdquo;</p><p>Bivins speaks from experience.</p><p>Chicago was one of a handful of cities that received $100 million in neighborhood empowerment zone funding under the Clinton Administration.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;What we didn&rsquo;t do at that time or what we didn&rsquo;t understand at that time is that once you lay out the groundwork and they say &lsquo;okay cool, this is cool,&rsquo; how do you get them to follow the agreement that they made with you?&rdquo;</p><p>Years after the city doled out those federal funds, researchers found the money didn&rsquo;t help some of the most impoverished neighborhoods. Politically connected groups reaped most of the rewards. Residents learned they can&rsquo;t always trust city hall to make sure the community gets its fair share.</p><p>Bivins is part of a South Side coalition pushing for a formal community benefits agreement, or CBA.</p><p>University of Illinois at Chicago professor Rachel Weber studies CBAs, which started in California.</p><p>&ldquo;These were attempts to have community organizations often in a coalition negotiate a separate and legally binding agreement with the developer over some large-scale redevelopment project,&rdquo; Weber said.</p><p>In exchange for certain provisions, community groups agree to get behind the project.</p><p>The first successful CBAs were negotiated in Los Angeles. In 1998 there was the Hollywood and Highland Center, home to the Oscars. Then a CBA attached to the Staples Center, home of the Lakers, ensured jobs for affected residents and affordable housing.</p><p>Despite talk of one during the failed 2016 Olympics bid, Chicago has never had a successful CBA.</p><p>But more than 10 miles south of downtown, another group is trying to change that.</p><p>A newly paved path on 87th and Lake Shore Drive used to be steel mills. When the industry shut down decades ago, this part of the city experienced major decline.</p><p>Now, the brownfield is slowly turning green with a postcard-worthy view in a new park that&rsquo;s a tribute to the former steel workers. Grassy knolls overlooking Lake Michigan are perfect for a summer picnic.</p><p>&ldquo;This is prime real estate,&rdquo; said resident Arnold Bradford. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re right on the lakefront. This is probably one of the best development sites right now in the city of Chicago. You can look downtown, you can see the skyline you can look to Indiana.&rdquo;</p><p>The colossal development he&rsquo;s referring to is called <a href="http://chicagolakesidedevelopment.com/the-site" target="_blank">Lakeside</a>, stretching between the 7th and 10th wards. The mix of retail, residential and commercial space will be bigger than the Loop and take decades to build.</p><p>Longtime residents like Yvette Moyo want a say in the process.</p><p>&ldquo;My father worked here, my brother worked here. I&rsquo;m sort of representing the families of union workers or U.S. steelworkers who feel that we have our DNA right here in this soil,&rdquo; Moyo said.</p><p>Bradford and Moyo are members of the <a href="https://asechicago.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/draft-cba-language.pdf">Coalition for a Lakeside Community Benefits Agreement</a>.</p><p>Amalia NietoGomez is the group&rsquo;s coordinator and said the coalition doesn&rsquo;t oppose the development as long as they&rsquo;re included.</p><p>&ldquo;All the skyscrapers that are downtown were built by steel mills that were on the Southeast Side and right now this area has 17 percent unemployment; it has 30 percent poverty levels. We want to return the Southeast Side back to its glory days when local people were employed, and families built generations in the houses that were here,&rdquo; NietoGomez said.</p><p>It&rsquo;s unclear whether residents will be able to negotiate CBAs over Lakeside and the Obama library. Representatives for both projects declined to comment.</p><p>UIC&rsquo;s Weber said one reason Chicago hasn&rsquo;t had a successful CBA is because the city thinks tax increment financing, or TIF, plans do the job.</p><p>&ldquo;In these 100-page documents that are signed whenever there&rsquo;s some sort of allocation of TIF funding, you&rsquo;ll see a whole section in a redevelopment agreement that lists these community benefits,&rdquo; Weber said.</p><p>But that&rsquo;s not going far enough for these South Siders.</p><p>They want to be the ones driving negotiations for community benefits.&nbsp;</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/nmoore-0" rel="author">Natalie Moore</a> is WBEZ&rsquo;s South Side Bureau reporter. <a href="mailto:nmoore@wbez.org">nmoore@wbez.org</a>&nbsp;Follow Natalie on <a href="https://plus.google.com//104033432051539426343" rel="me">Google+</a>, &nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/natalieymoore">Twitter</a></em></p></p> Tue, 26 May 2015 18:24:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/south-siders-lobby-promises-writing-obama-library-takes-shape-112090 Avian flu outbreak takes poultry producers into uncharted territory http://www.wbez.org/news/avian-flu-outbreak-takes-poultry-producers-uncharted-territory-112067 <p><p>An avian flu outbreak is sweeping across the Midwest at a frightening pace, ravaging chicken and turkey farms and leaving officials stumped about the virus&#39;s seemingly unstoppable spread.</p><p>Now reaching to 15 states, the outbreak has been detected at 174 farms, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Because there&#39;s no vaccine, infected and even healthy birds must be killed to try to stop the virus, forcing the killing of 38.9 million birds and counting, the USDA&nbsp;<a href="http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wps/portal/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/sa_animal_disease_information/sa_avian_health/ct_avian_influenza_disease/!ut/p/a1/lVJNU4MwEP0tHnqkSYEC9db6VdS2akdbuDBLCJAREiaEMvrrDVgdnbFVc9vd93b3vQ0K0RaFHHYsA8UEh6KLQye6Xs3N0Qyb_tV6coH95dPlwrt1rdXc1oBAA_CBN8Xf-asb3-n4D3g2Px_htYU2KEQh4apSOQqgylkdEcEV5SoqWCxBvgxwDZFoZJQK0tR9BJyVUEQ5hULlXzMJqynUNGI8FbLsRbyXdwz4J56ofULDiobyV_ggdstUhCUoiM1Jih2TGpY3AsMmsWXAGMaGOU7SJCHEtSx3L_6Iul_M68VryNnVdG67t9ow2zOxf67p7mSBse_sAUf8DfQO7sEhExut_ynq-g8nN-XibJHptqByozMbbY8e4b385Qhoe-QImxkKnZZt_PtumawQcf8TgymPLU9PlTSlksphI3U6V6o6HeABbtt2yEQLkElGmkI1kg4zsRvgfsznlCHU1U_NclErtD3QBFXlY-lZL8ZzulwaYXB3V268enpy8gaLBRxS/?1dmy&amp;urile=wcm%3apath%3a%2Faphis_content_library%2Fsa_our_focus%2Fsa_animal_health%2Fsa_animal_disease_information%2Fsa_avian_health%2Fsa_detections_by_states%2Fct_ai_pacific_flyway">says</a>.</p><p>The particular strain of avian flu, highly pathogenic H5N2,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nwhc.usgs.gov/publications/wildlife_health_bulletins/WHB_2014-05_H5N8.pdf">was first confirmed</a>&nbsp;in a backyard flock in Washington state. While chickens and turkeys are highly susceptible to it, it is considered a&nbsp;<a href="http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/h5/index.htm">low risk</a>&nbsp;for transmission to humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p><blockquote><p><strong><a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/05/20/408293053/midwest-farmers-rush-to-dispose-of-chickens-killed-to-contain-avian-flu">Midwest Farmers Rush To Dispose Of Chickens Killed To Contain Avian Flu</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>Now officials are scrambling, trying to figure out how to dispose of millions of dead birds. Most of them are in Iowa, the largest egg producer in the U.S. and the one hardest hit by the outbreak. At one farm alone, Rembrandt Enterprises, some 5.5 million birds had to be destroyed.</p><p>&quot;I&#39;ve been in the landfill business probably 26 years, and I&#39;ve never ever seen this kind of volume,&quot; said Randy Oldenkamp, director of the Northwest Iowa Area Solid Waste Agency. &quot;And I hope I never do again.&quot;</p><p>Oldenkamp is accepting 100 loads of the birds for disposal at 15 tons a load. But other landfill managers are turning away the birds, fearing contamination and neighbors&#39; complaints.</p><p>&quot;It is a catastrophe,&quot; said Billy Duplechein, who works with Clean Harbors, the contractor hired by the federal government to do the cleanup. &quot;Nobody wants to see this kind of stuff, but something has to be done.&quot;</p><p>The USDA believes the virus was brought to the Midwest by migratory water fowl via the Mississippi Flyway. But Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has admitted that the ongoing and quick spread could be &quot;laterally spread&quot; by people.</p><p>&quot;We&#39;ve had circumstances recently where folks have been using pond water, for example, to feed and to water their birds. Well, that&#39;s a problem because the pond water could be contaminated,&quot; Vilsack said. &quot;We&#39;ve had situations where folks are supposed to shower before they go into the facility, but the shower doesn&#39;t work, so they go in anyway.&quot;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img 17.="" a="" alt="" are="" at="" been="" bio="" by="" class="image-original_image" daybreak="" designated="" eagle="" edge="" farm="" field="" foods="" getty="" has="" may="" near="" no="" of="" olson="" on="" operated="" posted="" scott="" security="" signs="" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/avianflu2.jpg" style="height: 412px; width: 620px;" the="" title="" which="" /></div><p><a href="http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/about-us/cidrap-staff/michael-t-osterholm-phd-mph">Michael Osterholm</a>, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said the poultry industry is in uncharted territory. The virus is &quot;doing things we&#39;ve never seen it do before,&quot; so scientists&#39; understanding is very limited, he says.</p><p>&quot;Influenza viruses have thought in the past to be transmitted by birds to birds in close contact and that it was only through that kind of transmission that we need to be concerned,&quot; Osterholm says. &quot;Now we surely have a very dynamic situation in the Midwest. It&#39;s also a situation where we no longer can assume it&#39;s just migratory birds.&quot;</p><p>Other theories on the virus&#39;s rapid transmission include small rodents infiltrating facilities, contaminated feed and water or that the virus could even be airborne.</p><p>Vilsack and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad took to the media this week, begging landfills to take the birds before any more can be exposed. Farms are also buying the birds, composting them with wood chips and corn stover and burning them in five large mobile incinerators brought in by Clean Harbors. Officials are also considering taking mobile incinerators from farm to farm.</p><p>Northwest Iowa is hardest hit, thanks to its large egg-laying operations, and workers in white and yellow Tyvek suits, protective gear with a respirator, could be seen discarding the birds from barns.</p><p>Neighbors in the remote rural communities say they have noticed more trucks at the farms. And they&#39;ve certainly noticed the putrid smell.</p><p>Dawn Cronk lives just a mile and a half south of Sunrise Farms, near Harris, Iowa, and drives home at midnight from her job working the late shift at a nursing home.</p><p>&quot;I have the window down and all of a sudden there&#39;s just that distinct dead animal smell,&quot; she says. &quot;And it&#39;s not just one dead animal, it&#39;s like you walked into a ... a decomposing lot. It&#39;s just that strong.&quot;</p><p>A huge incinerator is being set up at the Cherokee County landfill, and officials there plan to fire it up this week and have it burning for 24 hours a day. Although some hold out hope that the outbreak will die down this summer, when its harder for the virus to live in hot temperatures, others guess that states could be cleaning up for months or even years to come.</p><p>&quot;That&#39;s the million-dollar question,&quot; Duplechein says. &quot;We really don&#39;t know.&quot;</p><p><em>This</em>&nbsp;story&nbsp;<em>comes to us via Harvest Public Media.</em></p><p><em>&mdash; via <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/05/21/408306843/avian-flu-outbreak-takes-poultry-producers-into-uncharted-territory">NPR News</a></em></p></p> Thu, 21 May 2015 08:22:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/avian-flu-outbreak-takes-poultry-producers-uncharted-territory-112067 Illinois lawmakers skeptical about pension deal this spring http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-lawmakers-skeptical-about-pension-deal-spring-112026 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Randy von Liski statehouse.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>SPRINGFIELD, Ill. &mdash; Illinois lawmakers expressed skepticism Wednesday that they&#39;ll be able to pass a new pension fix this spring, despite pressure from Gov. Bruce Rauner and major credit rating agencies to quickly replace a 2013 overhaul the state Supreme Court struck down.</p><p>The court last week ruled the plan to address Illinois&#39; worst-in-the-nation public-pension shortfall by reducing benefits was unconstitutional, sending lawmakers back to square one on an issue that has dogged them for years.</p><p>On Wednesday, House lawmakers held their first hearing on the Republican governor&#39;s proposed solution, and Rauner and Senate President John Cullerton met to discuss a separate plan Cullerton is floating.</p><p>But Rep. Elaine Nekritz, the Democratic chairwoman of the House pension committee, called the odds of a deal before the session ends May 31 &quot;slim.&quot;</p><p>&quot;You don&#39;t just slap these things together,&quot; said Nekritz, noting that the 2013 deal took years to negotiate.</p><p>Illinois&#39; five public-pension systems are short more than $100 billion of what&#39;s needed to pay out benefits as promised, largely because lawmakers for years didn&#39;t make the state&#39;s contributions. The payments now are taking up roughly one-fifth of the state&#39;s general revenue fund, with next year&#39;s payment reaching about $7 billion.</p><p>Major credit rating agencies already have given Illinois the worst rating of any state in the nation. Moody&#39;s Investors Service this week downgraded to junk bond status the credit rating for the city of Chicago and its public school district, citing the court&#39;s ruling and the city&#39;s own deep pension debt. The agencies also have warned that the ruling puts additional pressure on the state to find a solution.</p><p>Rauner has said approving another overhaul is &quot;essential&quot; and that he believes it can be done before the end of the month.</p><p>He wants to allow state workers and retirees to keep the benefits they&#39;ve already earned but move them to a less-generous plan going forward that he says would save the state $2.2 billion next year. He also wants to put a constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot that would allow future pension benefits to be cut, in hopes of heading off any future lawsuits from labor unions or retirees.</p><p>Cullerton is reviving a plan he floated in 2013, but with some adjustments. His proposal could offer state workers a choice between keeping annual cost-of-living increases in retirement and counting future pay raises when calculating their retirement benefits. His office estimates the plan would save about $1 billion in the first year.</p><p>Both Cullerton and Rauner believe their proposals would be found constitutional, though others have expressed doubt that anything short of raising taxes to keep current benefit levels in place would pass the court&#39;s muster.</p><p>Labor unions, which sued along with retirees and other groups to get the 2013 law thrown out, supported Cullerton&#39;s plan when he first proposed it. But armed with the court&#39;s unanimous decision, they&#39;re no longer saying they back it.</p><p>Even so, Cullerton said he believes his proposal has the best chance of getting the Legislature&#39;s approval because it&#39;s been considered before and the Senate passed it in 2013. He said he&#39;s willing to push the legislation through in the next few weeks, but he needs the governor&#39;s support before calling it for a vote.</p><p>Rauner&#39;s office said the governor is willing to consider other options, but didn&#39;t comment specifically about Cullerton&#39;s plan.</p><p>Democratic Rep. Art Turner of Chicago, who was a member of the special bipartisan committee that helped craft the 2013 law, also said he believes it will take a while to get consensus on a solution.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s going to be an uphill battle,&quot; he said.</p></p> Wed, 13 May 2015 17:57:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-lawmakers-skeptical-about-pension-deal-spring-112026 Moody's downgrades Chicago credit rating to junk bond status http://www.wbez.org/news/moodys-downgrades-chicago-credit-rating-junk-bond-status-112020 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/moodys.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Moody&#39;s Investors Service downgraded the debt of both the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Park District on Wednesday, a day after it downgraded the city&#39;s bond rating to junk status.</p><p>Moody&#39;s has given a Ba3 rating to the school district&#39;s debt, down from a Baa3 rating, saying the district faces &quot;increased strain on its precarious financial position&quot; due to last week&#39;s Illinois Supreme Court decision overturning state pension reform. It reduced the Chicago Park District&#39;s rating to from Baa1 to Ba1, one notch below investment grade.</p><p>The rating service&#39;s moves affect the school district&#39;s $6.2 billion in general obligation debt and the park district&#39;s $616 million in general obligation debt.</p><p>Jesse Ruiz, interim CEO of Chicago Public Schools, said the court&#39;s decision shouldn&#39;t have impacted the school district&#39;s credit rating, noting the rating agency did not downgrade the state when the court ruled the Legislature&#39;s restructuring of Illinois&#39; pension obligations violated the state constitution. However, Ruiz said Moody&#39;s action reaffirms why lawmakers must make changes to help the school district address its financial crisis.</p><p>&quot;Despite cutting more than $740 million from the central office and operations, we are projecting a deficit of $1.1 billion, driven by $700 million in pension costs,&quot; Ruiz said.</p><p>Moody&#39;s acknowledges school officials are working to find ways to cover increased pension payments but said &quot;solutions remain uncertain.&quot;</p><p>A park district spokesman did not immediately return telephone calls for comment.</p><p>The bond rating determines how much governmental agencies must pay to borrow money, with a lower rating increasing the cost of borrowing.</p><p>When Moody&#39;s lowered the city&#39;s bond rating on Tuesday, it noted Chicago&#39;s tax base is &quot;highly leveraged by the debt and unfunded pension obligations&quot; of the city and overlapping governments.</p></p> Wed, 13 May 2015 08:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/moodys-downgrades-chicago-credit-rating-junk-bond-status-112020