WBEZ | taxes http://www.wbez.org/tags/taxes Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Ruling Throws Illinois Hospitals' Tax Exemptions into Question http://www.wbez.org/news/ruling-throws-illinois-hospitals-tax-exemptions-question-114414 <p><p>CHICAGO&nbsp;(AP) &mdash; An Illinois appeals court decision has reopened a statewide dispute over whether hospitals should be exempt from paying millions of dollars in income taxes and property taxes to local governments.</p><div><p>The Illinois 4th District Appellate Court ruled Tuesday that part of a 2012 law that allows hospitals to avoid taxes is unconstitutional.</p><p>The issue, which brewed for years before a legislative compromise defined how hospitals could qualify for tax breaks, is likely headed to the Illinois Supreme Court, as well as lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner, according to Laurence Msall of the Civic Federation, a nonpartisan government research group.</p><p>&quot;The Legislature could wait (until the Supreme Court rules), but issues will continue to mount,&quot; Msall said. &quot;The Illinois Department of Revenue needs some direction from both the Legislature and the (Rauner) administration on how to handle pending applications.&quot;</p><p>Five hospitals have applications for tax exemptions before the revenue department: Peoria-based Methodist Services Inc. (two applications), NorthShore University Health System in Lake Forest, Mercy Hospital and Medical Center in&nbsp;Chicago&nbsp;and Swedish Covenant Hospital in&nbsp;Chicago.</p><p>This week&#39;s ruling involves a case against the city of Urbana and other local taxing districts brought by Carle Foundation Hospital, which was seeking relief from taxes in 2004-2011.</p><p>A lower court sided with the hospital, but the appeals court reversed that decision, saying the Illinois Constitution allows lawmakers to exempt only property &quot;used exclusively&quot; for &quot;charitable purposes.&quot;</p><p>&quot;An unconstitutional statute is unenforceable from the moment of its enactment,&quot; the ruling states.</p><p>Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing anticipates the hospital, which had been the largest taxpayer in the city of 41,000, will try to get the case in front of the Illinois Supreme Court.</p><p>&quot;Part of the inequity in the tax system is we have these very wealthy entities that can afford all kinds of lobbying to wiggle their way out of responsibilities,&quot; Prussing said.</p><p>Since 2012, Prussing said, the city has lost 11 percent of its assessed tax value since Carle was relieved of paying $6.5 million a year in property taxes &mdash; the vast majority of which went to Urbana and its school district.</p><p>Carle spokeswoman Jennifer Hendricks-Kaufmann said the hospital is considering options, including an appeal.</p><p>The Illinois Health and Hospital Association also expressed dismay, with spokesman Danny Chun saying the law &quot;had ended a decade of uncertainty regarding the test for hospital property tax exemption.</p><p>&quot;The law is clear, fair and reasonable,&quot; he added.</p><p>The Illinois Supreme Court weighed in on the issue in 2010, when it suggested nonprofit hospitals that behave like businesses shouldn&#39;t qualify for tax exemptions. Citing that court decision, the state Department of Revenue denied tax exemptions to three hospitals in 2011 and signaled more denials for other hospitals could follow.</p><p>That led to lawmakers&#39; actions in 2012, in which hospitals won a broad definition of charity care and were required to provide free care to some patients. Investor-owned hospitals, too, were included in the tax break in a little-noticed provision that cost the state $10 million a year in lost revenue, according to an AP analysis at the time.</p><p>&quot;This could require, in the end, an amendment to the Constitution in order to affect the needed change,&quot; said Msall of the Civic Federation, which supported the 2012 legislation as &quot;a reasonable compromise&quot; that balanced the interests of hospitals and government.</p></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 07 Jan 2016 15:16:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/ruling-throws-illinois-hospitals-tax-exemptions-question-114414 Will a Fed Interest Rate Hike Slow the Housing Recovery? http://www.wbez.org/news/will-fed-interest-rate-hike-slow-housing-recovery-114177 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/img_4700_toned-36896b70b2013a7519f588cd5024ef3404c2d8c5-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><div id="res459770864" previewtitle="De Desharnais, a homebuilder and real estate agent in Nashua, N.H., stands in front of a house her company is constructing. She says her company had 32 employees at the height of the housing boom, and now only has six despite the industry's gradual recovery."><div data-crop-type=""><img alt="De Desharnais, a homebuilder and real estate agent in Nashua, N.H., stands in front of a house her company is constructing. She says her company had 32 employees at the height of the housing boom, and now only has six despite the industry's gradual recovery." src="http://media.npr.org/assets/img/2015/12/14/img_4700_toned-36896b70b2013a7519f588cd5024ef3404c2d8c5-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="De Desharnais, a homebuilder and real estate agent in Nashua, N.H., stands in front of a house her company is constructing. She says her company had 32 employees at the height of the housing boom, and now only has six despite the industry's gradual recovery. (Chris Arnold/NPR)" /></div><div><div><p>The Federal Reserve is expected to start raising interest rates later this week, and anyone who&#39;s ever bought a house &mdash; or thought about it &mdash; knows that if mortgage rates rise by much that will make it tougher to afford a home.</p></div></div></div><p>Homebuilders are watching the interest rate decision closely too. That&#39;s because this 100-year flood of a housing crash has been especially tough on them.</p><p>De Desharnais, a homebuilder in Nashua, N.H., says she&#39;s one of the lucky ones &mdash; her company survived the crash. But it didn&#39;t come without pain.</p><p>&quot;We had 32 employees on our payroll at normal times; we have 6 on our payroll right now,&quot; she says.</p><p>The housing market definitely has improved in the past few years, but Desharnais says homebuilders like her can&#39;t help but be a bit nervous about the prospect of the Fed raising interest rates.</p><p>&quot;People are out there finally buying,&quot; she says. &quot;So builders like us that have been around a long time, we have big subdivisions that we&#39;ve been carrying through that recession. I think there is a big concern if the interest rates go up, that everything&#39;s going to come to a screeching halt.&quot;</p><div id="res459719330"><div id="responsive-embed-mortgage-rates-20151211"><p data-pym-src="http://apps.npr.org/dailygraphics/graphics/mortgage-rates-20151211/child.html">&nbsp;</p><script src="http://apps.npr.org/dailygraphics/graphics/mortgage-rates-20151211/js/lib/pym.js" type="text/javascript"></script></div></div><p>But Desharnais says most homebuilders don&#39;t think that will happen. That&#39;s because the Fed has been signaling that interest rates will only start rising very slowly, and mortgage lenders already have begun baking that increase into today&#39;s mortgage rates.</p><p>Desharnais, who also is a licensed real estate agent, says she hasn&#39;t seen any rush by homebuyers to purchase before rates go up.</p><p>&quot;People aren&#39;t out there going, &#39;Jeez, we gotta go do something, because the rates are going to increase,&#39; &quot; she says. &quot;There&#39;s no sense of that within the real estate community at all.&quot;</p><p>Some economists, though, think people who want to buy a house should have a greater sense of urgency.</p><p>John Burns, who runs&nbsp;<a href="http://realestateconsulting.com/" target="_blank">a national real estate consulting firm</a>, says mortgage rates are expected to rise about 1 percentage point over the next several years. That would mean the same-priced house will cost you 12 percent more in monthly payments.</p><p>&quot;So if mortgage rates go from 4 [percent] to 5 [percent], payments are going to go up 12 percent; that will hit affordability hard,&quot; he says. &quot;And I don&#39;t think that message has really gotten out there to people &mdash; that they understand they should take advantage of where rates are today.&quot;</p><p>And Burns says it&#39;s once again become easier than many people think to qualify for a mortgage, despite caution on home loans by some of the biggest banks.</p><p>&quot;There&#39;s a lot of non-banks, like Quicken Loans and loanDepot, that are taking a lot of market share from the banks,&quot; he says. &quot;As long as you can provide the income, and you&#39;re not, say, below a 660 FICO score &mdash; which is about a bottom 30 percent of the country &mdash; they can get you a mortgage relatively affordably.&quot;</p><p>Looking ahead to next year, one big question will be whether first-time homebuyers finally will return to the market. William Wheaton, a housing economist at MIT, says millennials just aren&#39;t settling down and buying houses like past generations &mdash; partly because fewer are getting married.</p><p>He says that in recent decades, the proportion of households between the ages of 20 and 35 who never had been married was about 30 percent. In the 2010 census it was twice that &mdash; 62 percent.</p><p>&quot;That&#39;s just an enormous change,&quot; Wheaton says. &quot;These people are&nbsp;</p><p>Wheaton says it&#39;s one question that has big implications for the future of the housing market.</p><p>&mdash;<a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/12/15/459690556/battered-home-builders-remain-wary-of-interest-rate-increases?ft=nprml&amp;f=459690556" target="_blank"><em> via NPR</em></a></p></p> Wed, 16 Dec 2015 12:15:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/will-fed-interest-rate-hike-slow-housing-recovery-114177 Housing advocates warn property tax hike could speed gentrification http://www.wbez.org/news/housing-advocates-warn-property-tax-hike-could-speed-gentrification-113542 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/AffordableRent.jpg" alt="" /><p><div><p dir="ltr"><em>Updated October 30, 2015 to include new information from the city&#39;s budget office and the Community Investment Corporation.</em></p><p dir="ltr">Residents, landlords and community organizers are warning that Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s property tax hike will accelerate gentrification on Chicago&rsquo;s Northwest side.</p><p dir="ltr">The City Council overwhelmingly approved the mayor&rsquo;s budget on Wednesday, including an incremental $543 million property tax increase slated for police and fire pensions. An additional $45 million annual property tax hike was approved for school construction and modernization projections.</p><p dir="ltr">The coalition group Communities United based its analysis on Census data and a survey of seven owners of two-flat buildings in Northwest Side neighborhoods. It concludes that the higher assessments will drive low-income renters out of Albany Park, Belmont Cragin and Lincoln Square, because building owners will most likely pass the additional cost on to their tenants.</p><div>&ldquo;Renters will be pushed out of their homes, and Chicago&rsquo;s Northwest side will continue to become a place that is only accessible to those who have very deep pockets,&rdquo; said Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th).</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But during the vote on Wednesday fellow Northwest side alderman Pat O&rsquo;Connor (40), the mayor&rsquo;s floor leader, argued that the property tax was necessary to avoid cutting critical services. &ldquo;Clearly our city will decay and will denigrate and our services will be severely hampered if we do not take the appropriate steps,&rdquo; O&rsquo;Connor said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>According to the <a href="http://communitiesunited.org/sites/apncorganizing.org/files/The%20City%20That%20Works%E2%80%A6For%20Who%3F%20Final%2010.28.15.pdf">study</a>, the pinch will be felt most acutely by tenants of small, multi-unit &nbsp;buildings, which comprise roughly one-third of the city&rsquo;s rental housing stock.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;Rents in these two- to four-flats could go up as much as $50 to $100 a month,&rdquo; said Diane Limas, board chair of Communities United.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>However, the city&rsquo;s budget office disputes the numbers and directed WBEZ to a brief by the <a href="http://www.preservationcompact.org/wp-content/uploads/Property-Tax-Increase-Impact-on-Affordable-Rental-Housing-2015.pdf">Community Investment Corporation</a>, which found that property owners would likely experience a tax increase of $10-$20 per unit in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. In wealthier neighborhoods, the analysis found that landlords would be more likely to pass on the increase to their tenants, but that it would remain &ldquo;modest,&rdquo; at $15 or less per unit.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>In a written statement, city officials noted that a rental property would have to be worth roughly $520,000 if it were to see a property tax hike of $1,200 a year. &ldquo;The communities united (sic) case study suggests a property that is&hellip; nearly two and a half (sic) times more valuable than the median 2-6 apartment flat in the city,&rdquo; it said. &ldquo;Approximately half of the wards on the North/Northwest side have an average assessed value for 2-6 flat that is at or near the citywide average.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Stacie Young, Director of the Preservation Compact, which released the CIC report, said the rent increase estimate from Communities United&rsquo;s study sounded too high. &ldquo;But it depends on whether they&rsquo;re looking at an increase in the assessed valuation of the areas,&rdquo; she added, noting that property values in some parts of the Northwest Side have been increasing over the years.</div></div><div><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef" target="_blank">@oyousef </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/wbezoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 28 Oct 2015 13:36:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/housing-advocates-warn-property-tax-hike-could-speed-gentrification-113542 Health care tax rules trip up some immigrants http://www.wbez.org/news/health-care-tax-rules-trip-some-immigrants-111785 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Immigrant-Obamacare.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The deadline&rsquo;s coming to file tax returns, and aside from the usual headache, this year it&rsquo;s proving particularly thorny for undocumented immigrants. That&rsquo;s because, for the first time, there are penalties under the Affordable Care Act for those lacking health insurance.</p><p>But the law is complex, and when it comes to people living in the U.S. illegally, many are getting slapped with fines they shouldn&rsquo;t have to pay.</p><p>Adalberto Martinez, a mechanic at an auto body shop in Chicago, is one of them. Like many undocumented immigrants, Martinez pays income taxes, using an IRS-issued taxpayer identification number, called an ITIN. But this year, he noticed something different when he sat down with his tax preparer.</p><p>&ldquo;They told me that there&rsquo;s a box where you have to answer whether you have insurance or not,&rdquo; he explained in Spanish. &ldquo;So she put down that I didn&rsquo;t have insurance. She didn&rsquo;t explain to me exactly why, just that there was a box there and I didn&rsquo;t have insurance.&rdquo;</p><p>Afterwards, Martinez found he was hit with a $200 fine for not having health coverage in 2014. The official name for the penalty was the &ldquo;shared responsibility payment.&rdquo;</p><p>Most lawful U.S. residents are required to have health coverage under Obamacare, and those who don&rsquo;t will have to pay the penalty. But under the law, undocumented U.S. residents, like Martinez, are exempt from all that. But Martinez&rsquo;s story is not unique.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve heard from at least 10 to 15 organizations that have been hearing this issue in the community,&rdquo; said Luvia Quinones, health policy director at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.</p><p>Quinones said it&rsquo;s not clear how many undocumented immigrants may have improperly paid the fine, but she said thousands in Illinois could be at risk.</p><p>&ldquo;We know that in the state of Illinois, there&rsquo;s about 310,000 undocumented, uninsured individuals in addition to about 70-80 thousand DACA youth that are eligible also to get their work permit,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>DACA youth, also known as DREAMers, are immigrants that arrived in the U.S. as children and obtained temporary relief from deportation under President Obama&rsquo;s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. They have valid Social Security numbers, which could be used to file tax returns. This puts them at particular risk for mistaken penalties, because while their Social Security numbers may suggest that they are lawful U.S. residents, and therefore subject to the health care penalty, Obamacare explicitly excludes them from the health coverage requirement.</p><p>Quinones said in some cases, she believes immigrants are being entrapped in fraudulent schemes by unscrupulous tax preparers who are pocketing the penalties themselves. An advisory from the IRS indicates that the federal agency is aware and concerned about these reports as well.</p><p>But often, Quinones said, these instances are mistakes, where tax preparers are unclear about the new law.</p><p>That&rsquo;s what Graciela Guzman found when she was forced to tackle the issue. As a health care navigator at Primecare Community Health, a bilingual clinic in the city&rsquo;s Wicker Park neighborhood, she helps people enroll in health insurance plans.</p><p>Technically, Guzman&rsquo;s job has nothing to do with taxes, but recently patients whom she&rsquo;d told were ineligible for health coverage under Obamacare started showing up at her clinic. They&rsquo;d prepared their tax returns, and they were mad at her.</p><p>&ldquo;Like, &lsquo;you told me I was not going to get penalized,&rsquo;&rdquo; Guzman recalled them saying. &ldquo;Like, &lsquo;you educated us and you said we are not going to get penalized, and we got penalized. Why?&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Guzman realized lots of tax preparers were making mistakes, so she and her colleagues decided to educate them.</p><p>On a recent weekday afternoon, she canvassed Fullerton Avenue in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood on foot, carrying a bag of informational flyers.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ll hit a new corridor every two or three days,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;ll probably hit 10 to 15 income tax places per corridor, so we&rsquo;ve probably hit about 120 income tax places.&rdquo;</p><p>Guzman pops into tax preparers&rsquo; offices, as well as check cashing sites, speaking briefly in Spanish to explain her purpose, and to leave a stack of papers. The sheets detail, in English and in Spanish, how undocumented immigrants should claim an exemption from the penalty.</p><p>Guzman said the penalty can be a hardship for many people at her clinic. It&rsquo;s at least $95 per adult who&rsquo;s not insured. But in most cases it&rsquo;s a lot more, depending on the family&rsquo;s income.</p><p>&ldquo;A penalty of $300-$400, it can absorb half if not more of what they would have gotten back in refund,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>So why has it been so hard to get it right? One reason is that none of the information you provide on your tax return is an absolute indicator of your residency status. Not everyone who files taxes using an ITIN is undocumented; conversely, not everyone with a Social Security number is a lawful U.S. resident.</p><p>There are different opinions on how tax preparers should handle this.</p><p>&ldquo;If they are using services of a tax preparer, they should tell preparer directly that immigration status is that of someone not in the U.S. legally,&rdquo; said Enrique Lopez, a CPA in Chicago. In fact, Lopez said that his office will refuse to file a tax return for a client who does not disclose his or her residency status.</p><p>But others worry that this might backfire.</p><p>&ldquo;I think not only is it going to create more fear in the community, but it could also affect the likelihood of undocumented individuals or DACA youth wanting to file taxes,&rdquo; said Quinones.</p><p>Instead, Quinones recommended that tax preparers keep things general. Instead of asking whether a client is undocumented, he or she could ask if the client qualifies for any of a number of exemptions that fall under the same <a href="http://www.irs.gov/instructions/i8965/ch02.html#d0e1463">code</a>. That way, someone who&rsquo;s undocumented can indicate that they are exempt without disclosing the specific reason why.</p><p>As for Martinez, he was able to go back to his tax preparer and file a tax return amendment. He hopes he&rsquo;ll get his $200 back. In the meantime, he said he&rsquo;s doing a little outreach himself.</p><p>&ldquo;I started telling people,&rdquo; he said, through a translator. &ldquo;My cousin in Indianapolis, he came to Chicago, and he told me they charged him $300. I told him, &lsquo;Hey cousin, you need to find out what happened &lsquo;cause they shouldn&rsquo;t have charged you.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Meanwhile, immigrant advocates and others are warning the public that anyone who pays the penalty directly to a tax preparer, by cash or otherwise, may be a victim of fraud. The IRS recommends filing a <a href="http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f14157.pdf">form </a>to report the activity. Consumers may also file a complaint with the &nbsp;<a href="http://illinoisattorneygeneral.gov.">Illinois Attorney General</a>.</p><p>In cases where someone has improperly paid the penalty to the IRS, they can file a tax amendment to get the money back. Get Covered Illinois advises anyone with questions about the health care requirement or the tax penalty to call its hotline at 866-311-1199.</p><p><em>Ivan Favelevic and Aurora Aguilar assisted with language translation for this story.</em></p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&#39;s North Side bureau reporter. Follow her </em><a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef"><em>@oyousef</em></a><em> and </em><a href="https://twitter.com/wbezoutloud"><em>@WBEZoutloud</em></a><em>.</em></p></p> Mon, 30 Mar 2015 09:49:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/health-care-tax-rules-trip-some-immigrants-111785 Obama administration won't seek to end 529 college tax break http://www.wbez.org/news/obama-administration-wont-seek-end-529-college-tax-break-111466 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/flickr bradley gorden backpacks.PNG" alt="" /><p><div class="storytext storylocation linkLocation" id="storytext"><p>Reversing what had been an unpopular approach, the White House says it is dropping the idea of ending a tax break for 529 college savings plans. Critics had called the proposal a tax hike. All 50 states and the District of Columbia sponsor 529 plans.</p><p>Money in 529 accounts is meant to grow along with future college students, and then be distributed to pay for education expenses without being taxed.</p><p>As <a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/01/27/381783199/obama-takes-heat-for-proposing-to-end-college-savings-break">NPR&#39;s Tamara Keith reported</a> this morning, &quot;It&#39;s a pretty good deal, and one that&#39;s been around since 2001. But the White House says fewer than 3 percent of families use these accounts &mdash; and 70 percent of the money in them comes from families earning more than $200,000 a year.&quot;</p><p>Obama&#39;s plan had been to end the tax benefit for future contributions, replacing it with other education and tax proposals. But the idea drew bipartisan criticism, and the White House said today that it will now ask Congress to focus on &quot;a larger package of education tax relief that has bipartisan support,&quot; along with proposals the president mentioned in his State of the Union speech.</p><p>NPR&#39;s Keith confirmed the reversal Tuesday. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/28/us/politics/obama-will-drop-proposal-to-end-529-college-savings-plans.html">The New York Times</a> reported the news today, saying that the president was &quot;facing angry reprisals from parents and from lawmakers of both parties.&quot;</p><p>The move comes a day after Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., <a href="http://lynnjenkins.house.gov/press-releases/reps-jenkins-kind-introduce-legislation-to-expand-strengthen-529-college-savings-plans1/">introduced a bill</a> that would expand college savings plans instead of limiting them.</p><p>Today, Jenkins said her bill would &quot;further promote college access and eliminate barriers for middle class families to save and plan ahead. It would also modernize the program by allowing students to purchase a computer using their 529 funds.&quot;</p><p>House Speaker John Boehner, who had urged Obama to keep the 529 plans intact, says he&#39;s glad the president &quot;listened to the American people and withdrew his proposed tax hike on college savings.&quot; He added, &quot;This tax would have hurt middle-class families already struggling to get ahead.&quot;</p><p>Aides familiar with the conversations tell NPR&#39;s Keith that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged preserving the 529 provisions today, as she traveled with the president on Air Force One from India to Saudi Arabia.</p><p>You can read about 529 plans at the <a href="http://www.sec.gov/investor/pubs/intro529.htm">SEC website</a>, as well as at the <a href="http://www.irs.gov/uac/529-Plans:-Questions-and-Answers">IRS site</a>.</p><p>&mdash; <em><a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/01/27/381967958/obama-administration-won-t-seek-to-end-529-college-tax-break" target="_blank">via NPR</a></em></p></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 27 Jan 2015 18:40:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/obama-administration-wont-seek-end-529-college-tax-break-111466 Morning Shift: Carl Sandburg's Chicago, 100 years later http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-03-28/morning-shift-carl-sandburgs-chicago-100-years-later <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Cover Flickr Thundercheese.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We announce the winner of our Carl Sandburg poetry contest and dive into Sandburg&#39;s famous &quot;Chicago&quot; poem. And, we enter the world of geeks and nerds.</p><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-carl-sandburg-s-chicago/embed?header=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-carl-sandburg-s-chicago.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-carl-sandburg-s-chicago" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: Carl Sandburg's Chicago, 100 years later" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Fri, 28 Mar 2014 08:43:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-03-28/morning-shift-carl-sandburgs-chicago-100-years-later Why does Chicago still have such high gas prices? http://www.wbez.org/news/why-does-chicago-still-have-such-high-gas-prices-107356 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Chicago gas explainer.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>It&rsquo;s Memorial Day weekend, which means more people are hitting the road...and slapping their foreheads when they see the price at the pump. Especially in Chicago.</p><p>According to a <a href="http://www.lundbergsurvey.com/csp_c.aspx" target="_blank">recent Lundberg Survey</a> the price of a gallon of gasoline in the United States rose sharply in the last two weeks because of outages at Midwest and West Coast refineries</p><p>But gas prices in Chicago are often higher than the rest of the country. Higher than New York, Los Angeles &mdash; even Hawaii.</p><p>But why? Chicago isn&rsquo;t far from oil-rich Canada and there&rsquo;s a huge refinery right next door.</p><p>Even longtime Chicagoans don&rsquo;t seem to know why gas is so expensive in the city.</p><p>&quot;I don&rsquo;t know? I think people in high office do what they want and we just have to go with the flow,&rdquo; said Kuri Roundtree, who pulled into a BP gas station at Roosevelt and Wabash in the South Loop earlier this week. &ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s ridiculous. It costs me $70 dollars to fill up my SUV. I&rsquo;m sure I&rsquo;m not the only person complaining about this gas. All of my family members hate going to the gas station.&quot;</p><p>Finding the answer to Chicago&rsquo;s expensive gas mystery is actually not that obvious.</p><p>&ldquo;Chicago is unique for a few different reasons. Even prices outside our region could be going down while our prices are going up,&rdquo; said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com.</p><p>DeHaan says many factors that help set gas prices for the entire country are simply out of our control. For starters, the sky high price of crude oil on the global market.&nbsp; Thanks to demand in Asia, turmoil in the Middle East and good ol&rsquo; Mother Nature &mdash; like the flooding we experienced earlier this month.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s nothing really to fix,&rdquo; DeHaan said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s just the way the free market works with gasoline. Prices go up and down.&rdquo;</p><p>Still, if you live in Chicago, it&rsquo;s usually up.</p><p>Another reason for this is the process of refining the crude oil before it gets to the pump.</p><p>There are four refineries that generally serve the Chicago market, including BP&rsquo;s massive refinery in nearby Whiting, Indiana, right across the state border.</p><p>The Whiting refinery has been around longer than there have been automobiles. It was part of John D. Rockefeller&rsquo;s Standard Oil empire in the late 1800s. Of course, it&rsquo;s more expensive now to refine crude oil than it was back then primarily because of environmental regulations.</p><p>You&rsquo;ve probably heard about the cleaner burning &ldquo;summer blend&rdquo; that the Environmental Protection Agency requires for cities like Chicago.</p><p>&ldquo;Summer gasoline, or gasoline with a different RVP, is a different formulation. You can&rsquo;t use some of your lighter ends, such as your butanes to add to the volume of the gasoline, because it would evaporate out in the higher temperatures so it is more expensive in the summer,&rdquo; said BP Whiting senior spokesman Scott Dean.</p><p>Unfortunately for Chicago&rsquo;s gas customers, the city&rsquo;s close proximity to the BP Refinery doesn&rsquo;t help much in keeping costs down. Dean says that&rsquo;s not how wholesale pricing works.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s called the rack price,&rdquo; Dean said. &ldquo;The rack price is what the tanker truck driver who may be representing any number of companies, will go, will get the fuel, will pay whatever the rack price of what they&rsquo;ve agreed to. And, the retailer will then determine the final price that they sell on the street.&rdquo;</p><p>Customers may also have a desire to blame gas station owners for the high price of gasoline. But Beth Mosher, spokeswoman for AAA Chicago Motor Club, says it&rsquo;s not their fault.</p><p>&ldquo;Everybody wants to take it out on their local gas station owner why these prices are so high,&rdquo; Mosher said. &ldquo;But the reality is when the prices are this high the profit margins for these gas stations are so thin, they are going to make more from a bag of doritos that they are selling you than they are the gas.&rdquo;</p><p>Mosher says the final factor for high gasoline prices can be pinned on the tax man.</p><p>&ldquo;First and foremost, we have to talk about the high taxes in Chicago,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;About 70 cents on the gallon is what people pay in Chicago for gas taxes, really, really a high number, especially given the statewide average is 49 cents on the gallon.&rdquo;</p><p>Those figures can fluctuate, but that means generally 70 to 90 cents for every gallon of gas pumped in Chicago goes to taxes.</p><p>For example, if gas costs $4.67 a gallon that means 18 cents goes to the federal government; 43 cents for the state. And if you live in Chicago, tack on another 33 cents for Cook County and the city.</p><p>That includes sales and motor fuel taxes, the latter of which goes to pay for roads and bridges and some of the capital projects.</p><p>Although increasingly that money is being diverted to pay for things like pensions.</p><p>Another factor that hits wallets particularly hard is the way all levels of government in Illinois levy sales tax on gasoline purchases. The state of Illinois alone charges 6.25 percent sales tax. Twenty years ago when gas was much cheaper that meant just pennies on the dollar. But now that can be an extra 20 cents or more per gallon since the higher the gas price, the more taxes you pay.</p><p>&ldquo;Most states don&rsquo;t do that. Most states tax only based per unit, per gallon if you will. So, even if the cost goes up, the amount of tax you pay does not go up in terms of your overall cost,&rdquo; said John Tillman, Chief Executive Officer for the Illinois Policy Institute, based in downtown Chicago.</p><p>Last summer, the Institute called for the state sales tax to be changed so it&rsquo;s based on the number of gallons purchased, and not the price. The proposal fell on deaf ears in Springfield.</p><p>Still, if prices aren&rsquo;t coming down anytime soon, what are drivers supposed to do?</p><p>Well, for one thing, we can buy less gas.</p><p>&ldquo;We urge people not to wait for the government to do things but start consolidating your trips and take the L or the Metra train if that&rsquo;s a possibility to you,&rdquo; Mosher said. &ldquo;Do things on your own to start getting better gas mileage out of your car.&rdquo;</p><p>But even if you buy that fuel efficient hybrid or an electric car, drivers still might not be out of the woods when it comes to paying higher gas taxes.</p><p>Lawmakers in Springfield are talking about boosting motor fuel taxes to make up the lost revenue from fuel-efficient cars that use less gas. They may even impose fees on the fuel-efficient vehicles themselves to help fund road repairs.</p><p>One supporter of this proposal is Doug Whitley, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.</p><p>Whitely is also co-chair of the <a href="http://tficillinois.org/" target="_blank">Transportation for Illinois Coalition</a> which has been in Springfield pushing an increase to Illinois&rsquo; motor fuel tax. Although with only one week remaining in the state&rsquo;s spring schedule, he says most lawmakers are focused on issues like pensions, conceal-carry and same-sex marriage.</p><p>&ldquo;The state&rsquo;s capital program to fund construction for roads, bridges and transit falls off the cliff next year. That fiscal cliff we heard about in Washington also exists in Springfield,&rdquo; Whitely told WBEZ this week.</p><p>Whitely explained that the state&rsquo;s fiscal program that started in 2009 will expire in the next fiscal year.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s discussion of how to keep capital dollars flowing to the state and local government and the transit districts so they can continue to build, maintain and modernize and handle their construction needs,&rdquo; Whitely said.</p><p>Whitely said one proposal garnering a lot of attention is the idea of abolishing Illinois&rsquo; 19 cent motor fuel tax and establishing a new sales tax on fuels. A similar plan was just implemented in Virginia.</p><p>&ldquo;The motor fuel tax was last increased 23 years ago and there&rsquo;s no growth in that tax in large part because of the mile-advantages of today&rsquo;s more fuel efficient cars can take advantage of,&rdquo; Whitely said. &ldquo;We already have cars getting 50 miles to the gallon and electric cars, so the motor fuel tax isn&rsquo;t putting the money into the road fund to support construction.&rdquo;</p><p>Another idea is to levy new taxes or registration fees on hybrids and electric cars directly.</p><p>&ldquo;If you have an electric car, you&#39;re really getting away to use the roads but not having to pay much for them,&rdquo; Whitely said.</p><p>Whitely is sympathetic to Chicago area residents who already pay a lot of taxes on gas. &ldquo;But if you want to continue to have transportation systems that are modern, efficient, clean and safe, there&rsquo;s going to be a cost related to that,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>&ldquo;The bottom line is, there is no free lunch.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-393eb71c-d7eb-292a-bd1c-de35c9fd58e4"><em>Michael Puente is WBEZ&#39;s Northwest Indiana bureau reporter. Follow him on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/MikePuenteNews">@MikePuenteNews.</a></em></p></p> Fri, 24 May 2013 13:04:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/why-does-chicago-still-have-such-high-gas-prices-107356 Evanston prevails over new Jewish boys’ school http://www.wbez.org/sections/religion/evanston-prevails-over-new-jewish-boys%E2%80%99-school-106969 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Jewish school.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>An Orthodox Jewish school has lost <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/evanston-favors-vacant-lot-over-school-92297" target="_blank">a legal battle</a> with the City of Evanston in its bid to open a new learning facility there. In 2006, the Joan Dachs Bais Yaakov Elementary School purchased the former Shure Brothers electronics company building along Evanston&rsquo;s southwest border. They hoped to renovate the property into a new facility for early child education and for its growing boys&rsquo; school, which is currently located in Chicago&rsquo;s West Ridge neighborhood on the far North Side.</p><p><a href="http://www.cityofevanston.org/news/assets/Opinion%20and%20Order%20d%20%204-30-13.pdf" target="_blank">In a ruling this week</a>, Cook County Judge Mary Anne Mason sided with the City of Evanston, which denied the school permission to use the land for anything other than industrial purposes.</p><p>&ldquo;They made a business decision to go ahead and purchase the property, knowing that they still had a number of steps to go through afterwards to secure city approval,&rdquo; said Grant Farrar, Corporation Counsel for the City of Evanston. &ldquo;The City of Evanston was concerned about removing this property from the tax rolls.&rdquo;</p><p>Forty percent of Evanston&rsquo;s land is tax-exempt, owned by religious institutions, universities, and nonprofits. Some Evanston aldermen expressed concern that reclassifying the zoning for the school&rsquo;s property from light industrial to commercial, which would allow for use as a school, would permanently chip away at an already-diminishing property tax base. Evanston&rsquo;s industrial sector has thinned during the last several decades.</p><p>The board purchased the property for $2 million with knowledge that they would have to secure a change or exception to the zoning rule. They did not include a contingency clause in their purchase that would nullify the purchase if they failed to obtain the zoning -- a precaution that is common in similar cases. Still, representatives of the Joan Dachs Bais Yaakov Elementary School say they intend to fight further by appealing the ruling.</p><p>&ldquo;We continue to believe that that is an ideal property,&rdquo; said Moshe Davis, president of the school&rsquo;s board. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re looking at all options because we have to make sure that our children are taken care of.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is the reporter for WBEZ&#39;s North Side Bureau. Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/oyousef" target="_blank">@oyousef</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 03 May 2013 09:03:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/sections/religion/evanston-prevails-over-new-jewish-boys%E2%80%99-school-106969 Cook County Commissioner William Beavers corruption trial off to slow start http://www.wbez.org/news/cook-county-commissioner-william-beavers-corruption-trial-slow-start-106021 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/beavers and sam adam jr_130311.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Cook County Commissioner William Beavers&rsquo; corruption trial got off to a slow start Monday.</p><p>Beavers and his attorneys appeared in court to go over some last minute details of the case. Some of the discussion was about jury selection, which now is scheduled to start Tuesday. Prosecutors also said they intend to bring up the commissioner&rsquo;s 2005 tax returns in their opening statements.</p><p>Judge James Zagel says he wants the jury to be anonymous until after the verdict because of the media attention.</p><p>After the hearing, Beavers told reporters he wants to testify because prosecutors quote &ldquo;tell some tall tales&rdquo; and he wants to straighten them out.</p><p>&ldquo;The problem here is you all think the government is so smart, that they can defeat everybody,&rdquo; Beavers said. &ldquo;Their thing is if you plead guilty. They try their best to get you to plead guilty. They don&rsquo;t win that many cases. They get people to plea. I&rsquo;m not pleading.&rdquo;</p><p>Beavers <a href="http://www.wbez.org/tax-trial-outspoken-cook-county-pol-begins-monday-106007">is charged with</a> not paying taxes on campaign funds that he allegedly used for personal expenses.</p></p> Mon, 11 Mar 2013 14:04:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/cook-county-commissioner-william-beavers-corruption-trial-slow-start-106021 Pension costs projected to take up nearly a fifth of Illinois' general budget http://www.wbez.org/news/pension-costs-projected-take-nearly-fifth-illinois-general-budget-105928 <p><p>Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to announce Wednesday that the state will spend almost a fifth of its general budget on pension payments next year.</p><p>In his budget address to state lawmakers, Quinn is expected to detail how he wants the state government to spend about $35.6 billion in the 2014 fiscal year. His budget office estimated the state will spend 19 percent of its general budget, more than $6 billion, on pension benefits alone.</p><p>&ldquo;This is extremely painful presentation that we&rsquo;re making,&rdquo; said Quinn&rsquo;s budget director, Jerry Stermer.</p><p>Stermer said that because more money would be going to pay teachers, judges and other state workers&rsquo; retirement benefits, there would be less cash for other state programs, including public schools.</p><p>Lawmakers have proposed some various measures to address the state&#39;s growing pension costs and $97 billion in unfunded liabilities, but legislative leaders and the governor have not come to an agreement.</p><p>Stermer said the governor is not proposing new taxes or fees in next year&rsquo;s budget. After Quinn won election in 2011, he raised the personal income tax and corporate income tax. Those rates are scheduled to drop somewhat in 2015, although it&rsquo;s likely to be a key topic of debate during next year&rsquo;s race for governor.</p><p>Meanwhile, the state is also dealing with a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/what-state-illinoiss-fiscal-house-105924">backlog of bills in the billions</a>, often paying vendors late. The governor&rsquo;s staff wouldn&rsquo;t say how he&rsquo;s proposing to cut the money owed, but his budget office projects the total backlog will be cut from $7.5 billion to $6.8 billion next year.</p></p> Wed, 06 Mar 2013 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/pension-costs-projected-take-nearly-fifth-illinois-general-budget-105928