Saturday, December 9, 2017

Killing the state and local tax deduction may be unconstitutional. Here's why

Column

Article below is from:  http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-salt-deduction-20171208-story,amp.html



Killing the state and local tax deduction may be unconstitutional. Here's why

A rally participant holds a sign protesting a Republican-crafted tax cut plan outside the U.S. Capitol Building. (Reynold /EPA/Shutterstock)

Michael HiltzikContact Reporter

The debate over eliminating the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes — a linchpin of the Republican tax cut plans now working their way through Congress — has focused on the economic and political effects of the change. But that may be the wrong discussion. The question is whether eliminating the deduction is even constitutional. History suggests that it’s not.

The most cogent analysis of this issue comes to us from the grave — specifically, from the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.). Moynihan addressed the issue in a 1985 speech, later published in the political science journal Publius.

Leaders of states that rely on state and local income taxes for a large share of their revenue, including California, have threatened to bring a legal challenge to a tax bill that eliminates the deduction. They would do well to take their lead from Moynihan.

There are arenas of government that must not be invaded by other governments. — The late Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan, 1985

At the time of his speech, the state and local tax deduction was under attack by the Reagan administration, which like today’s GOP, was looking for ways to pay for a tax cut for the rich. Moynihan labeled the idea “a profound constitutional error.”

Moynihan drew his argument from the principle of federalism enshrined in the Constitution, the essence of which is that “there are arenas of government that must not be invaded by other governments.” He observed that the notion that this applied to taxation had been understood dating back to the origins of the federal income tax, enacted under Abraham Lincoln to finance the Civil War.

The Revenue Act of 1862, Moynihan noted, provided that federal tax liability was to be calculated only after state and local taxes were first deducted, “and this under the most pressing emergency conditions ever faced by our country.” The deduction was enshrined in the Revenue Act of 1913, which created the modern federal income tax.

A few contemporary commentators have noticed that eliminating the SALT deduction, as it’s known today, invades local prerogatives. Progressive pundit John Stoehr wrote recently that the change would be “a violation of the states' rights the Republicans say they alone represent.” At the other end of the ideological spectrum is Stan Veuger, a fellow of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, who called the deduction “a linchpin of the federalist system,” which “expresses our preference for local solutions to local problems.”

But that’s definitely a minority approach. Virtually the entire debate over the current tax cut bills has treated the SALT deduction as just another loophole, akin to the mortgage interest deduction, that favors the wealthy. The political component of the discussion relies on the fact that the states with the highest percentage of residents claiming the deduction — such as California, New York, New Jersey and Maryland — tend to vote Democratic. In our denatured political discourse, the idea that Republicans in Congress would turn their gun sights on Democratic states is seen as sort of adorable.

It’s also commonly argued that, insofar as the deduction is most heavily concentrated in big, urban states, it’s tantamount to a “subsidy” of blue states by their poorer red neighbors.

Moynihan, a New York Democrat, albeit one who wasn’t averse to taking a conservative stance on issues from time to time, had little regard for these arguments. He thought it inaccurate to label the deduction a “tax expenditure” — a term used to describe giveaways to favored groups through the tax code. “I do not think we should let the Treasury Department get away with calling it a federal ‘subsidy,’ ” he added. “In diplomacy, this is known as semantic infiltration: if the other fellow can get you to use his words, he wins.”

In any event, the notion that other states “subsidize” big blue states through the SALT deduction happens to be wrong. As New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli demonstrated in a 2016 study, the “subsidy” generally goes in the other direction: The states with the largest state and local tax burdens typically paid out more to the federal coffers than they received in return. The states with the biggest outflow were those on the West Coast and Northeast, and those receiving the largest inflows tended to be Southern states with low state and local taxes.

Another principle Moynihan discussed was the issue of “double taxation.” Interestingly, an aversion to “double taxation” is frequently cited by Republicans and conservatives to justify reducing or eliminating taxes on dividends — dividends already are taxed once as corporate income, so why should they be taxed again when they’re received by shareholders.

Big states with high state and local taxes tend to be net contributors to federal coffers, shown here in red. The majority (green) get more from the federal government than their residents pay. (New York State Comptroller)

But eliminating the SALT deduction would be a more far-reaching example of double taxation, Moynihan said, citing a resolution by the National League of Cities calling the deduction “a fundamental statement of the historical right of state and local governments to raise revenues and of individuals not to be double taxed.” As it happens, the Supreme Court has spoken on the issue of double-taxation: It’s wrong. In a 2015 decision written by Justice Samuel Alito, the court ruled that a Maryland provision denying its taxpayers credit for taxes paid to other states was unconstitutional. Expect the states’ challenges to the GOP tax bill to cite that ruling (Comptroller vs. Wynne) prominently.

In 1862, Moynihan noted, Rep. Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont, then chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, warned that eliminating the SALT deduction would “perplex and jostle, if … not actually crush, some of the most loyal States of the Union.” Moynihan called it a “huge and final irony” that eliminating the deduction would transfer more resources to the federal government, allowing it to grow larger — exactly the outcome that the advocates of “small government” in the Republican congressional caucus say they don’t want.

Moynihan and his colleagues managed to defeat the Reagan administration’s effort to eliminate the SALT deduction. Subsequent efforts also failed. At this moment, the GOP plan to take an ax to the SALT deduction looks like a juggernaut. But history and the Constitution may say otherwise.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Boone County officials could take months to approve solar ordinance Most Popular

Boone County officials could take months to approve solar ordinance

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By Susan Vela
Staff writer

Posted Dec 6, 2017 at 10:38 PM Updated Dec 6, 2017 at 10:40 PM

BELVIDERE — Boone County officials debated new rules meant to regulate solar farms on Wednesday, and there was no consensus after about two hours of discussion.

Land Use Planner Hilary Rottmann told members of the Planning, Zoning and Building Committee she would review their concerns about setbacks, screening, fencing and other matters for further talks next month.

Once the committee approves the ordinance, it must go before other bodies like the Zoning Board of Appeals and the County Board before Boone County has clear guidelines for solar enterprises.

The rigorous process could further delay Cypress Creek Renewables’ plan to bring Boone County its first solar farms — along Reeds Crossing Road between Genoa and Spring Center roads, and off of Illinois 173, east of Capron.

Also, TerraNavigator wants to construct a solar energy project on a closed landfill along Illinois Route 76, north of Belvidere. A formal presentation is expected this month.

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“It was a very good continuation of the discussion,” said Denny Ellingson, the committee chairman, after Wednesday’s lengthy discussion. “We got much more in depth tonight and got a lot more out in the open.”

The draft ordinance is five pages long and requires such things as structures not exceeding 30 feet in height, fencing six feet high, and noise levels that should not be detectable by the human ear at 500 feet from the property line.

Much of Wednesday’s debate was spent on how to ensure that facilities are properly removed after their useful life is up.

“I would like to know the weight, the volume, the ability to remove any of the items to either the recycling yards, the steelyards or to the landfills if that’s required,” committee member Marshall Newhouse said.

Tricia Gieseke, who lives in the 7700 block of Reeds Crossing Road, near the proposed development, said solar panels don’t belong near her home.

“There is an industrial park in Boone County where solar energy could be built,” she said, reading from a statement. “There is the vacant Kmart land that was once farm ground that could also be used instead of eliminating prime agricultural ground on Reeds Crossing.

“There are better choices for this commercial operation.”

Susan Vela: 815-987-1392; svela@rrstar.com; @susanvela

Above is from:  http://www.rrstar.com/news/20171206/boone-county-officials-could-take-months-to-approve-solar-ordinance

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Boone County’s Proposed Solar Farm Ordinance

This is the proposed ordinance which will be discussed and possibly voted on this Wednesday 12-6-2017 at the Planning, Zoning and Building Committee.

Below is taken from: 


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KEY: P = Permitted Use S = Special Use T = Temporary Use A = Accessory Use

4.19 SOLAR ENERGY DEVELOPMENT

4.19.1 Intent: The purpose of this section is to protect public health and safety through establishing reasonable standards for the construction, installation, and operation of solar energy developments in Boone County.

DESIGN STANDARDS - The design standards and bulk regulations listed for all zoning districts for setbacks, lot size, lot coverage, lot area, height, and signage shall be suspended for all solar energy development and the following regulations shall apply instead. All other design standards and bulk regulations of the respective districts shall apply.

FOUNDATIONS - A qualified engineer shall certify that the foundation and design of the solar panels is within accepted professional standards, given local soil and climate conditions.

INSTALLATION AND DESIGN- Individual arrays/solar panels shall be designed and located in order to prevent glare toward any residential dwellings on adjacent properties as well as adjacent street rights-of-way.

a) All drainage tiles shall be repaired or restored to same or better condition as to when project began.

b) Boone County Soil and Water Conservation District shall be contacted prior to beginning development to locate drainage district tiles.

c) Electrical lines shall be inspected before burial.

HEIGHT- Systems, equipment and structures shall not exceed 30 feet in height when ground mounted. Excluded from this height requirement, however, are electric transmission lines and utility poles.

SETBACKS -Ground mounted solar energy systems as part of a solar energy development shall have a setback for all equipment, excluding fences, a minimum of 75 feet on the front from right-of-way and 40 feet from all other property lines, with the exception of adjacent properties containing residential dwellings.  The setback for all equipment, excluding fences, from the property line of adjacent properties containing residential dwellings shall be 150 feet.  No setback is required for contiguous parcels that both contain a part of any one solar energy development.

SCREENING AND FENCING- Systems equipment and structures shall be fully enclosed and secured by a fence with a minimum height of 6 feet.

a) Solar Energy Developments shall have a 25 foot wide buffer of which part shall be consisting of a compact evergreen hedge or other type of evergreen foliage which shall be along the road frontage and perimeter of any adjacent single family dwelling.

b) The buffer shall be planted at a minimum of three (3) feet tall and with the expectation that this hedge shall reach the height of at least six (6) feet within five years and shall be maintained in good condition. Dead evergreen foliage shall be replaced.

c) A landscape plan in accordance with Section 5.4 of the Boone County Zoning Ordinance shall be submitted to the planning department for review. The landscape plan shall take into account the type(s) of evergreens to be planted, along with the proposed spacing of the plantings, along with an evaluation of the soils.

d) Topographical features and existing wooded areas may be accepted in lieu or in combination of the above requirements, if they conceal the use from public view and are maintained. Must be approved by Planning Department.

e) The landscape plan shall also incorporate native grasses, flowers, plants which will provide wildlife and pollinator habitat, soil erosion protection and/or aid in strengthening the soil structure. This shall not be part of the evergreen screen, but shall be for all other areas of the solar farm that will not interfere with the solar arrays.

LIGHTING- A photometric plan shall be submitted to and approved by the planning department prior to a building permit being issued. All free standing and wall mounted security light fixtures shall not exceed 30 feet in height. The lighting elements shall be shielded from view of adjacent properties and the foot candle measurement at the property line shall not exceed 0.5. If the applicant chooses to apply safety lighting to the power plant stacks, said lighting can exceed the 30-foot height limit but shall not exceed a measurement of 0.5 foot-candles at the property line. Applicant is responsible for hiring contractor to perform tests to confirm that lighting does not exceed 0.5 foot-candles at property line during construction and completion of construction. The Boone County Building Department has the right to approve firm to perform assessment.

NOISE- Noise levels when the solar energy development is in production shall not be detectable by the human ear measured at 500 feet from the property line when the solar energy development is located adjacent to an existing residence.  This noise restriction applies to permanently installed solar equipment and excludes noise from routine maintenance, repair, and construction.

SIGNAGE - an appropriate warning sign shall be provided at the entrance to the facility and along the perimeter to the solar energy development project. The sign at the entrance to the facility shall include the facility’s 911 address and a 24 hour emergency contact number.

PERMIT REQUIREMENTS

1) A site plan with existing conditions showing the following:

a) Existing property lines and property lines extending five hundred feet from the exterior boundaries, including the names of adjacent property owners and current use of those properties.

b) Exiting public and private roads, showing widths of the roads and any associated easements.

c) Location and size of any existing and abandoned wells and sewage treatments systems.

d) Existing buildings and any impervious surfaces.

e) A contour map showing topography at two (2) foot intervals. A contour map of surrounding properties may also be required.

f) Existing vegetation (list type and percent of coverage: i.e. cropland/plowed fields, grassland, wooded areas etc.)

g) Waterways, watercourses, lakes and public water wetlands

h) Any delineated wetland boundaries.

i) A copy of the current FEMA FIRM map that shows the subject property. And, the one hundred year flood elevation and any regulated flood protection elevation, if available.

j) Floodway, flood fringe and/or general flood plain district boundary, if applicable and not provided on the copy of the current FEMA FIRM map.

k) Mapped soils according to the Boone County Soil Survey.

l) Surface water drainage patterns.

m) The location of any subsurface drainage tiles.

2) Site Plan of Proposed Conditions:

a) Location, number, and spacing of solar panels.

b) Location of access roads and access points.

c) Planned location of underground or overhead electric lines connecting the solar farm to a building, substation or other electric load.

d) New electrical equipment other than at the existing building or substation that is to be the connection point for the solar farm.

e) Certified drawings of elevation of the premises accurately depicting proposed solar energy conversion system.

f) Weed/Grass control- Applicant must present an acceptable weed control plan for property inside and outside fenced area for entire property. Site must maintained to prevent fire hazards and in compliance with State and Federal environmental regulations. No soil sterilant shall be permitted to be used on the solar site.

DECOMMISSIONING PLAN

A decommission plan shall be required for solar energy development projects and to ensure that facilities are properly removed after their useful life.

a) Decommissioning of solar panels must occur in the event they are not in use for twelve (12) consecutive months. The operating company and or land owner have six months to complete the decommission plan.

b) The Boone County Board has authority by majority vote to extend the time frame to complete repairs causing inoperability upon written request outlining reasons why an extension is needed. Request for extension must be received no later than 60 days prior to the deadline.

c) The plan shall include provisions for removal of all structures (including equipment, fencing and roads), foundations, restoration of soil and vegetation.

d) Prior to the issuance of a building permit, owner/developer shall submit bond(s) to cover the cost of Decommissioning. The prorated amount of the bond(s) shall be based on an independent engineer's estimate and increased annually to reflect the building schedule as to cover the additional improvements as they are constructed, starting with the issuance of the first building permit. At the completion of construction and prior to the issuance of a certificate of occupancy, the bond(s) must total 150% of the Engineer's estimate of the total decommission costs. It shall be the responsibility of owner/developer to maintain the bonds in sufficient amounts at all times after the completion of construction. Such responsibility to maintain the bond(s) shall include, but not be limited to, any necessary renewals or the issuance of new bond(s). All bonds shall be submitted to the Boone County Building Department. Boone County has the right to approve the individual or firm that conducts the independent Engineer’s estimate for the total decommissioning bond costs.

e) An update to this decommissioning plan shall be submitted to the Boone County Building Department every three years. In addition, decommissioning plans signed by the party responsible for decommissioning and the landowner (if different) shall be submitted with the application.

f) The county reserves the right to require additional information or components to the plan as the county deems necessary to ensure that an adequate proposal is in place to decommission the facility in its entirety and that adequate funds are available.

g) Actual on site construction must commence within 2 years of application approval by the Boone County Board or permits will no longer be valid. The Boone County Board has authority by majority vote to extend the time frame. Requests for extensions must be received no later than 60 days prior to the 2nd anniversary date of the special use permit.

FEES AND COSTS

The following fees shall apply for Solar Energy Development Permits.

Fees

No solar energy development special use permit application shall be accepted until the filing fee is paid and the following:

a) Accompanied by a notarized statement of the appropriate corporate officials or official legal representative of the applicant that the applicant will pay to the county additional fees to reimburse the county for moneys expended in excess of $500.00 in preparing for, processing, reviewing and evaluating the application to its final resolution.

b) The applicant shall also agree in said notarized statement to stop all proceedings if an invoice for reimbursement to the county is not paid to the county treasurer within ten days after the invoice has been presented to the appropriate corporate officer or official legal representative of the applicant.

Remedial costs

a) Liability Insurance- The owner or operator of the solar project shall maintain a current and general liability policy covering bodily injury and property damage with limits of at least two million dollars per occurrence and twenty million dollars in the aggregate. The owner or operator of the solar project shall maintain this policy for the lifetime of the solar project and submit a copy of the same to the Boone County board at each renewal. The County of Boone and its officials shall be named as additional insured’s.

b) Severability- If any section, clause, or provision of this ordinance is declared unconstitutional or otherwise invalid by a court of competent jurisdiction, said declaration shall not affect the validity of the remainder of the ordinance as a whole or any part thereof, other than the part so declared to be unconstitutional or invalid.

c) Indemnification- The applicant, owner and/or operator of the solar project shall defend, indemnify, and hold harmless the County of Boone and its officials from and against any and all claims, demands, losses, suites, class of action, damages, injuries, costs, expenses and liabilities whatsoever, including attorney’s fees, without limitation arising out of acts of omissions of the applicant, owner and/or operator associated with the construction and/or operator associated with the construction and/or operation of the solar project.

d) Public Nuisance- Any solar project declared to be unsafe by the Boone County Board by reason of inadequate maintenance, dilapidation, obsolescence, fire hazard, damage, or abandonment is hereby declared a Public Nuisance and shall be abated by repair, rehabilitation, demolition, or removal in accordance with the procedure set forth in this ordinance.

The zoning board of appeals may grant a variance to such setback requirement if the proposed or existing buffer is sufficient to screen the project from view from adjoining property or public rights-of -way, if the owners of the adjoining properties agree to waive these setback requirements. All solar farms shall be in compliance with any applicable local, state and federal regulatory standards.

Boone County’s Primary offers few (if any) choices

Below are the filings for precinct committeemen and county elected officials for the March 2018 primary.  There are few if any choices at the county level. 

Please do remember that the county for the fourth time is running a referendum for an increase in the sales tax during the primary vote.  It is for public safety but these new funds can be use as a substitute for other revenues currently funding public safety thereby freeing funds for any use.

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No challengers.

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There are two seats available for each county board district seat—so no challengers.



Precinct Committeemen 


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It appears that Belvidere 9 has a race for Republican committeeman assuming no late withdrawal.


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No challenges.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

How much would Boone County have to pay its Administrator if he retired?

THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS

Well like so many questions you ask Boone County it leads just to more questions.  Here is a summary of what I have discovered.

First the reason for this inquiry.  Each year the county pays some individual  tens of thousands of dollars at retirement for unused annual leave and sick leave.  Board Member Cathy Ward has a list of some of the sums which together amount in the hundreds of thousands over the years. (I hope to supply your some of the numbers later).  In an attempt to understand the situation I ask Mr. Terrinoni, the County Administrator, for his accumulated leave and have attempted to calculate how much the county would owe him if he would leave.

Below is his response to my FOIA request.

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Here is my Freedom of Information Request:

During the last several years the county has paid out tens of thousands of dollars to retirees for unused sick leave, unused annual leave and unused compensated time (comp time) for unpaid overtime etc.

Under the Freedom of Information Act please provide the following information:

1. A copy of all policies or county ordinances which limit the accumulation of the various types of leave or deadline the use of such leave.

2. You as a highly paid official maybe eligible for a very large such payment at retirement.

Please provide the following information for County Administrator, Ken Terrinoni, as of November 30, 2017 or a more convenient recent pay period.

a. Accumulated annual leave

b. Accumulated sick leave

c. Any and all leave for comp time

d. Hourly rate to be used to calculate the dollar amount based upon your current salary

e. The number of hours and fractions of hours to be considered one full day for leave purposes

f. Please indicate which county office/department (other than your Admin Office) maintain the current balance for each type of your leave.

3. Accounting wise, does the county reserve/accrue for unpaid leave? If so when and under what account heading? When the retiree is granted the leave which accounting heading/account pays the unpaid leave?

4. What determines which of these leaves payments require personal withholding to Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund?

5. Thank you for your cooperation.

BILL PYSSON

The policy statement regarding leave was incomplete and not readily useable

If Mr. Terrinoni would retire/resign today the following would be owed:


Hourly rate:  $126,092/2080 hours per year= $60.62 per hour.

Annual Leave owed:  402.5 hours X $60.62 =  $24,400.

Sick Leave accumulated:  720 hours or 90 days or 18 weeks.  Based upon page -  of the Policy statement only 360 hours would be paid.


Past payments of accumulated sick leave and vacation for retiring staff

This information is from Cathy Ward’s FOIA and subsequent report to the Boone County Board.

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ward 1 001

ward 3 001


ward 2 001


THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS



Republican leaders promise they won’t let their tax bill trigger a $25 billion cut to Medicare



Updated by Tara Golshan Dec 1, 2017, 9:15pm EST


Republican leaders are giving assurances to Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) that their tax bill will not trigger an automatic $25 billion cut to Medicare, after a report from the Congressional Budget office said it could do just that.

Republicans are trying to pass a $1.5 trillion tax cut — which the CBO said could trigger automatic budget cuts across major mandatory spending programs, like Medicare, federal student loans, and agriculture subsidies, and even some funding for customs and border patrol.

It all comes down to the “pay as you go,” or PAYGO, rule, a 2010 law that says all passed legislation cannot collectively increase the estimated national debt.

If Republicans want to pass a tax cut, the law requires they pay for it with mandatory spending cuts. (Inversely, if Congress boosts funding for entitlement programs, it has to increase taxes.)

If Congress violates this law, the Office of Management and Budget, which keeps the deficit scorecard, “would be required to issue a sequestration order within 15 days of the end of the session of Congress to reduce spending in fiscal year 2018 by the resultant total of $136 billion,” the CBO said in a letter to Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD).

The way Congress can get around this is by passing a law that wipes the scorecard clean for the year.

Collins, concerned about the possible impact a sequester could have on Medicare, wrote a letter to leadership asking for assurances that the tax bill wouldn’t trigger cuts.

“Critics of tax reform are claiming the legislation would lead to massive, across-the-board spending cuts in vital programs — including a 4-percent reduction in Medicare — due to the Pay-Go law enacted in 2010,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a joint statement. “This will not happen.”

A quick primer on the PAYGO law

The CBO’s letter reiterated what we have known for a long time: Republicans are facing a major deficit problem with their tax cut bill.

The Office of Management and Budget keeps an account of every piece of legislation that impacts revenue or mandatory spending. At the end of each calendar year, OMB checks the scorecard — if it increases the estimated deficit, then OMB is required to implement an across-the-board sequestration of mandatory spending programs to offset the cost.

Medicaid, Social Security, food stamps, and all social safety net programs are exempt from this sequestration. But Medicare, the Social Services Block Grant, student loans, and mandatory spending in the Affordable Care Act (other than exchange subsidies and Medicaid expansion), among others, would all be on the chopping block.

Cuts to Medicare are capped at 4 percent, about $25 billion per year, meaning cuts to the other mandatory spending programs would have to make up the difference. Based on Republicans’ current plans to pass a $1.5 trillion tax cut, the CBO calculates that would be about $111 billion in cuts across the board, in addition to the $25 billion cut to Medicare. The OMB can’t pick and choose which programs to cut.

Because the OMB is limited in which programs it can cut from, the CBO estimates this would actually result in $85 billion to $90 billion in cuts.

But Republicans say they will stop this.

How Republicans can stop this sequester from going into effect

Since the CBO report was released in early November, Republicans have been balking at the notion of a sequester.

“No such thing is going to be triggered automatically,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who sits on the Senate Budget Committee, told reporters about the CBO’s letter Tuesday.

But the issue hasn’t been talked about much among House and Senate tax writers, according to several lawmakers close to the issue — until now.

Trump has promised again and again to protect Medicare, and it’s always been unlikely Republicans would like an across-the-board sequestration to go into effect.

Because PAYGO is a law, Congress would have to pass another law to change it. They aren’t allowed to do this through budget reconciliation — meaning Republicans would need to get at least 60 votes in the Senate to mitigate this sequestration.

That means both Republicans and Democrats would have to vote for it — putting both parties in an uncomfortable position. It would force deficit hawks in the Republican Party to vote to bypass a law meant to keep the national debt in check, in the name of deficit-busting tax cuts. And for Democrats, the pressure of impending Medicare and federal program cuts would likely be enough to get them on board — even though it’s a budgetary gimmick to make up for a Republican tax bill they don’t want passed.

And even if Congress does pass a law to stop the sequestration, it doesn’t mean this makes the tax bill’s deficit problem go away. Entitlement reform could still be down the line.

“Paul Ryan has said as soon as taxes are done, he’s going to entitlement reform, which is code [for] putting Medicare and Medicaid and the social safety net on the table,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said when the CBO released its report. “So certainly this new development with respect to PAYGO indicates that they realize they have serious long-term budget challenges.”

Republicans have shown time and time again that reforming — and cutting — Medicaid and Medicare are among its priorities.

In June, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), who sits on the House Budget Committee and is the chair of the appropriations subcommittee that manages health spending, called President Trump’s promise to leave Medicare and Social Security untouched and balance the budget a “fantasy.”

“We have been talking about Medicare and Medicaid reform all the way through,” Cole told Vox then. “I’m not asking the president to abandon his principles. He is the president of the United States. He doesn’t have to sign something. But we shouldn’t abandon ours either.”

Republicans, who are in the midst of passing what is shaping up to be a massive tax cut — in addition to increasing defense spending and non-defense spending — are having a difficult time finding ways to taper the deficit.

Either way, an entitlement overhaul is nigh.

Above is from:  https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/12/1/16726452/republican-leaders-paygo-medicare-tax

Friday, December 1, 2017

Trump’s Tax Plan Is Seriously Bad For Our Health


By Kyle Ragins On 11/29/17 at 7:50 AM


After months of unsuccessful attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Senate Republicans are at it again.

This time, they’ve added repeal of a key provision of the ACA to an already damaging tax bill.

The bill would force cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, and other programs that help everyday Americans to pay for massive tax cuts for the very wealthy and big corporations.

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As an emergency medicine doctor, I’m more interested in patients than political games.

But repealing the individual responsibility provision would have real-world consequences for the patients who come into my emergency department in Los Angeles and for millions of Americans who are at risk of losing their health care if Congressional Republicans have their way.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that repealing this provision – which requires that everyone have health insurance if they can afford it – would take healthcare away from 13 million Americans and increase premiums by about 10 percent for millions more.

GettyImages-97630359 The Trauma Unit at the John H. Stroger Jr. Cook County Hospital, November 6, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson/Getty

The individual responsibility provision is about increasing access to care by keeping premiums lower for all of us when younger and healthier people are included in the health insurance market.

Without this provision, increased premiums might put health insurance out of reach for lower-income Americans, and patients struggling to make ends meet may decide that their limited resources are better spent elsewhere – not foreseeing a health crisis that may be just around the corner. Too often I’ve seen patients delay coming in for routine care or treatment because they didn’t have healthcare coverage. Later, these same patients face much higher costs when a crisis forces them to go to the emergency room. 

Congressional Republicans may try to pass off repeal of this portion of the ACA as a cost-saving measure for working families, but it would actually increase health care costs for millions of families, and the rest of the tax bill makes it clear that they’re focused on reducing taxes for the very wealthy and corporations – not with Americans struggling to afford visits to the doctor.

Both the House and Senate versions of the tax bill would force trillions of dollars in cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, and other critical programs that help keep families healthy – all to pay for massive tax giveaways to millionaires, billionaires and corporations. The communities who need health care the most – children, seniors, and people with disabilities – will be among the hardest hit if these tax bills are passed. 

Every day in the emergency department, I see patients who have delayed care until the last possible moment because they don’t have health insurance, and they are afraid they won’t be able to afford care.

Earlier this year, I saw Joseph, a gentleman in his 50s, who came in to the emergency department because he couldn’t move his legs. Our work up revealed a metastatic cancer that had spread across his body, including his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed.

As I talked to the patient, it was clear he had been having symptoms for at least a year, but I was the first doctor he had seen. When I asked him why he had waited so long to go to a doctor, a tear ran down his face and he looked away.

“I was scared,” he said.

“Scared to learn you might have cancer?” I asked.

“No, scared I wouldn’t be able to afford the bills. I knew deep down it was something bad, but I hoped that I would die peacefully, without being a burden to my family. Now that I can’t walk, they had to bring me in, and I don’t know how we’re going to afford it.”

Joseph’s story is heartbreaking. I want a future health care system where I never see patients like this again in my emergency department, but I fear the Republican tax plan will lead to millions more.

Making it even harder for families to afford the care they need, the Republican tax plan would increase taxes on millions of poor and middle-class Americans.

One of the ways is by eliminating deductions that working families depend on, like the deductions for state and local taxes and college loans, as well as the deduction for high medical expenses, which helps millions of families.

Meanwhile, the wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers would enjoy an average tax cut of $62,000. And nearly 75 percent of tax cuts in the bill go to multi-national corporations and big pharmaceutical companies. 

For me, this issue isn’t about politics – it’s about my patients. Doctors like me are standing up against this tax bill – and against any attack on programs like Medicaid and Medicare that make healthcare more affordable for American families.

Elected officials are expected to consider the bill on the floor of the Senate as early as this week, and they should know that Americans will be watching very closely.

Kyle Ragins practices emergency medicine in Los Angeles at several emergency departments, including Olive View-UCLA Medical Center.

Above is from:  http://www.newsweek.com/trumps-tax-plan-seriously-bad-our-health-725280

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Letter: Governors tell tall tales for Rauner



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Letter: Governors tell tall tales for Rauner


Our billionaire governor, Bruce Rauner, can afford expensive commercials but he cannot afford to tell the truth. Have you seen his commercial featuring three republican governors lying about the booming economy in their respective states?

Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, has waged war on workers, failing to generate new jobs or higher household incomes. Despite his $2 million deficit, he cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires while slashing education. His lavish corporate subsidies have failed to produce any new jobs. He refuses to raise the minimum wage or pass equal pay legislation.

Under Eric Holcomb, governor of Indiana, per capita income has fallen from 33rd to 38th in the nation. Tourism is suffering because Halcomb has continued the unwelcome policies of Mike Pence regarding civil rights for gay, bisexual, and transgender people. He still defends the use of coal energy, denies climate change and strongly opposed the EPA Clean Power Plan.

Eric Greitens, governor of Missouri, stands accused of breaking the law by ousting the state's top school official. He wants to replace her and others with people who will further his agenda of implementing charter schools. This year he announced a $146.4 million budget cut due to a poor state economy. More than half the cuts are coming from the department of higher education that oversees the state colleges and universities.

He also cut $8.6 million from the transportation department of elementary and secondary education.

Betty Murphy,

Orion, Illinois

Above is from:  http://www.qconline.com/opinion/letters/letter-governors-tell-tall-tales-for-rauner/article_c957f9c4-fbee-5034-bf19-db9d6eac25fe.html

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Here Are the White House Visitor Records the Trump Administration Didn’t Want You to See

ProPublica

Here Are the White House Visitor Records the Trump Administration Didn’t Want You to See

By Derek Kravitz, Leora Smith and Al Shaw, November 21, 2017

The Trump White House tried to block public access to visitor logs of five federal offices working directly for the president even though they were subject to public disclosure through the Freedom of Information Act. Property of the People, a Washington-based transparency group, successfully sued the administration to release the data and provided the documents to ProPublica. You can search them below. Related: Koch Lobbyists and Opus Dei — Who’s Dropping in on Trump Budget Czar Mick Mulvaney? | About the data | Download the data

If you have information about these meetings, or who attended them, contact us at visitors@propublica.org or via Signal at (573) 239-7440. Here's how to leak to ProPublica.

230 Days

2,169 Redactions

8,807 Meetings

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CLICK ON THE FOLLOWING TO SEE THE FULL VISITOR LOG ON MULVANEY:https://projects.propublica.org/graphics/wh-complex



About the Data

The White House complex -- formally called the Executive Office of the President, or EOP -- is made up of more than a dozen offices and about 4,000 staffers who craft White House policy and support the president. It includes the White House itself, the National Security Council, the Office of Management and Budget, and other federal agencies.

Property of the People, a Washington-based nonprofit transparency group, successfully sued to force the administration to release the visitor logs and calendars of top agency officials from five agencies within the White House complex: the Office of Management and Budget; the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative; the Office of National Drug Control Policy; the Office of Science and Technology Policy; and the Council on Environmental Quality.

The court held that these agencies are subject to public disclosure through the Freedom of Information Act, even if the White House itself is not. The Trump administration refuses to release visitor logs for the White House, citing "grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.”

The Obama White House also initially refused to release a list of its visitors, as had previous administrations. But in 2009, facing four lawsuits from government transparency groups and increasing public scrutiny, the Obama administration began voluntarily posting records of those who came in and out of the White House itself online.

The dataset covers the period between Jan. 20, the day of Trump’s inauguration, and about Sept. 6, although the date ranges differ by agency.

The government redacted the names of some White House complex visitors, citing privacy reasons. Property of the People and the government are negotiating for the release of names currently redacted in some of the visitor logs and calendars. We plan to publish additional data, likely disclosed on a quarterly basis, as it becomes available.

The government noted in its response to Property of the People’s open-records request that it couldn’t guarantee that every visitor’s name was logged. Because the visitor logs and calendars are produced by the agencies themselves, meeting details might be mislabeled or incorrect. In some cases, where we couldn’t confirm the proper spelling of handwritten names or other text, we noted entries as “illegible.”

Additional design and development by Sisi Wei

Koch Lobbyists and Opus Dei — Who’s Dropping in on Trump Budget Czar Mick Mulvaney?

The influential OMB director’s door is open to corporate and conservative interests, according to logs that the White House fought to keep secret.

by Justin Elliott

Nov. 21, 1:56 p.m. EST

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Koch Lobbyists and Opus Dei — Who’s Dropping in on Trump Budget Czar Mick Mulvaney?

Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, attends a House Budget Committee hearing on President Donald Trump's fiscal 2018 budget proposal in Washington, D.C., on May 24. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)


One of President Donald Trump’s top cabinet officials has met with a long list of lobbyists, corporate executives and wealthy people with business interests before the government, according to calendars the Trump administration fought to keep secret.

The calendars for Mick Mulvaney, the former South Carolina congressman who now runs the White House Office of Management and Budget, offer a glimpse of who has access to the highest levels of the Trump administration.

Among those visiting Mulvaney: Trump friend and casino magnate Steve Wynn; a flurry of officials from the conservative Heritage Foundation; a string of health care and Wall Street CEOs; lobbyists for Koch Industries; a cryptocurrency evangelist; and a prominent member of the Catholic group Opus Dei.

The Trump administration fought in court to block public records requests by Property of the People, a Washington-based nonprofit transparency group, to release the calendars as well as visitor logs from several other White House offices. Lawyers for the group ultimately prevailed and provided the documents to ProPublica, which we are posting in a searchable format.

As OMB director, Mulvaney is the driving force behind the president’s budget and influences regulations and government procurement. It’s been widely reported that he will become the acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He also has the ear of the president, who is reportedly a fan of Mulvaney’s performances on the Sunday political shows. The calendars, which cover February to September, typically don’t include details on what was discussed at the meetings. In some cases, the timing of contact with Mulvaney line up with OMB business.

Mulvaney appeared on “Meet the Press” on Oct. 8. The president reportedly thinks Mulvaney does a good job on Sunday political shows. (William B. Plowman/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)

“The OMB director is a member of the cabinet and also a senior adviser to the president — because of that, the director often spends a ton of time in the West Wing,” said Kenneth Baer, who was senior adviser and associate director at the agency for several years of the Obama administration.

The quickest way to get access to Mulvaney appears to be to hire his former congressional chief of staff, Al Simpson, who joined the lobbying firm Mercury in February.

Simpson had seven meetings and a phone call with Mulvaney in a four-month period, between April and August. He appears on Mulvaney’s calendars more frequently than anyone who is not a current government official. Often, Simpson brought lobbying clients with him, including representatives from building materials giant Cemex; pharma firm AmerisourceBergen; and BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina. Those three firms paid Mercury $360,000 in the first nine months of the year, disclosure filings show.

A Mercury spokesman said: “The firm fully complies with all registration and disclosure requirements when representing clients.” The OMB press office did not respond to requests for comment.

In July, Simpson and Koch Industries lobbyists Brian Henneberry and Raymond Paul met with Mulvaney.

In other cases, billionaires themselves came in to meet with Mulvaney. They include Charles Schwab, medical entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong and Wynn, the casino magnate whose relationship with Trump goes back decades. Wynn met with Mulvaney in April. Wynn’s firm has lobbied on tax issues on Capitol Hill. Wynn himself, who has large holdings in Macau, has reportedly been involved in pressing the Trump administration on China issues. Wynn was also named finance chairman of the Republican National Committee in January. Wynn’s spokesman declined to comment.

In late February, Mulvaney had a call with Eugene Scalia, the son of the late Supreme Court justice and a prominent lawyer at Gibson Dunn. At the time, Scalia was representing business groups that wanted OMB to delay the implementation of a regulation known as the fiduciary rule. Scalia didn’t respond to a request for comment. Many of his meetings with health care executives came as Republicans in Congress tried to repeal Obamacare.

Here Are the White House Visitor Records the Trump Administration Didn’t Want You to See
The Trump White House tried to block public access to visitor logs of five federal offices working directly for the president even though they were subject to public disclosure through the Freedom of Information Act. A Washington-based transparency group successfully sued the administration to release the data and provided the documents to ProPublica.

Mulvaney’s schedule is, to a large extent, a reflection of his politics. A former member of the House’s conservative Freedom Caucus, he recently told Politico, “I don’t think anyone in this administration is more of a right-wing conservative than I am.” (The same profile quoted Simpson, Mulvaney’s former chief of staff turned lobbyist, praising him.)

Mulvaney met with few, if any, consumer groups. That’s in contrast to President Barack Obama’s first OMB director, Peter Orszag, whose visitor logs show meetings with both a long string of corporate executives as well as philanthropic and consumer representatives.

Among the more surprising visitors to Mulvaney was Jeff Bell, a former Reagan aide who is marked on the calendar as being with the Catholic group Opus Dei. Bell told ProPublica that his March meeting with Mulvaney, a Catholic, covered “religious and political matters” but declined to comment further.

Another was Valery Vavilov, CEO of Bitfury, a tech company focused on cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. When Mulvaney was still in Congress last year, he co-founded a “blockchain caucus” to promote the technology behind Bitcoin

At the May meeting, “Mulvaney expressed his desire to encourage government use of blockchain and he asked our group for suggestions of simple use cases that could be a first step for government adoption,” a Bitfury spokesman told ProPublica.

Do you have information about Mick Mulvaney or the Office of Management and Budget? Contact Justin at justin@propublica.org or via Signal at 774-826-6240.

Above is from:  https://www.propublica.org/article/whos-dropping-in-on-trump-budget-czar-mick-mulvaney

Monday, November 20, 2017

17th Circuit Selects Debra D. Shafer as New Associate Judge


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Marcia M. Meis, Director of the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts, and Joseph G. McGraw, Chief Judge of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Court, are pleased to announce that the 17th Circuit Judges voted to select local attorney Debra D. Schafer as Associate Judge of the 17th Judicial Circuit.  This associate judge vacancy was created as result of the retirement of Associate Judge Fernando L. Engelsma.  Ms. Schafer will take her oath of office on Monday, December 11, 2017.

Commenting on the selection, Chief Judge Joseph G. McGraw stated, “Ms. Schafer is a talented and respected attorney with twenty-six years of legal experience. Her extensive trial experience and professional demeanor makes her well suited for judicial office.  We look forward to her service as a judge within the Seventeenth Circuit Court.”

Ms. Schafer received her undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice from Illinois State University in 1988, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Illinois in 1991.  Ms. Schafer served as an assistant state’s attorney in the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office between 1991 and 1996. In 1996, she joined the law firm of Sreenan & Cain, P.C. where she focused her practice on state and federal criminal defense.  In May 2017, Sreenan & Cain, P.C. was reorganized as Schafer DeRango & Cain, LLP, recognizing Ms. Schafer as a partner of the firm.

The Winnebago County Bar Association, Boone County Bar Association and the Illinois State Bar Association conducted a poll of local attorneys to evaluate candidates for this associate judge position.  Ms. Schafer received the highest rating of any of the 27 applicants, with 86.66% of respondents finding that she met requirements of the office.  The poll evaluates candidates in areas including legal ability, integrity, and impartiality.

In addition to her law practice, Ms. Schafer has served as an adjunct professor at Northern Illinois University College of Law since 2008.  She currently teaches Advanced Trial Advocacy and has helped coach several teams of law students in scholastic trial competitions. Ms. Schafer has also served as a volunteer mentor in connection with the court’s Lawyer to Lawyer Mentoring Program.

Debra Schafer is a member of the Winnebago County Bar Association, Illinois State Bar Association, the Trial Bar for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Investigation: Radioactive leaks at Illinois nuclear plants

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Investigation: Radioactive leaks at Illinois nuclear plants

  • By Brett Chase and Madison Hopkins • Better Government Association
  • Nov 17, 2017

Radioactive waste continues to pour from Exelon's Illinois nuclear power plants more than a decade after the discovery of chronic leaks led to national outrage, a $1.2 million government settlement and a company vow to guard against future accidents, an investigation by a government watchdog group found.

Since 2007, there have been at least 35 reported leaks, spills or other accidental releases in Illinois of water contaminated with radioactive tritium, a byproduct of nuclear power production and a carcinogen at high levels, a Better Government Association review of federal and state records shows.

No fines were issued for the accidents, all of which were self-reported by the company.

The most recent leak of 35,000 gallons occurred over two weeks in May and June at Exelon's Braidwood plant, southwest of Chicago. The same facility was the focus of a community panic in the mid-2000s after a series of accidents stirred debate over the safety of aging nuclear plants.

A 2014 incident at Exelon's Dresden facility in Grundy County involved the release of about 500,000 gallons of highly radioactive water. Contamination was later found in the plant's sewer lines and miles away in the Morris, Ill., sewage treatment plant.

Another leak was discovered in 2007 at the Quad Cities plant in Cordova. It took eight months to plug and led to groundwater radiation readings up to 375 times of that allowed under federal safe drinking water standards.

Exelon had threatened to close the Quad Cities plant, but relented last year after Gov. Bruce Rauner signed bailout legislation authorizing big rate hikes.

Representatives of Exelon and its government overseers — the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency — say the leaks posed no public danger and did not contaminate drinking water. Exelon said to prevent leaks it has spent $100 million over the last decade on upgrades at all of its U.S. plants.

Michael Pacilio, chief operating officer of the power generating arm of Exelon, said no one in or around the plants was harmed by radioactivity from the leaks, which he described as minor compared with everyday exposures.

"We live in a radioactive world," Pacilio said.

Critics say that's little cause for relief.

"Best that we can tell, that's more luck than skill," said David Lochbaum, an analyst with the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists. "Leaks aren't supposed to happen. Workers and the public could be harmed. There is a hazard there."

Among the 61 nuclear power plants operating in the U.S., more than half have reactors that are at or near the end of their originally expected lifespans — including the Dresden and Quad Cities plants.

Industry watchdogs and government whistleblowers contend oversight is compromised by a cozy relationship between companies and the NRC.

Government regulators concede they must balance the safety needs of aging plants, which require more maintenance, versus ordering cost-prohibitive upgrades at facilities that inherently are just a slip-up away from catastrophe.

No player in the nuclear industry is bigger than Exelon, the Chicago-based energy company that last year reported $31 billion in revenue and operates 14 nuclear plants in Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Five of the six Illinois plants reported leaks over the last decade, records show. Clinton, in DeWitt County, had no leaks and Byron, in Ogle County, reported only one that contained low levels of radioactivity.


The Byron nuclear plant leaked radioactive waste into groundwater under the plant's property in 2014. Byron is one of five nuclear plants in Illinois that reported similar leaks over the past decade. Exelon's Illinois nuclear power plants more than a decade after discovery of chronic leaks led to national outrage, a $1.2 million government settlement and a company vow to guard against future accidents, according to federal and state record reviewed by Better Government Association. (Madison Hopkins/BGA via AP)

The accidents included in the BGA analysis are separate from government-approved releases into large bodies of water. The state allows Exelon to discharge controlled amounts of tritium into rivers and lakes, where radioactive material gets diluted.

Other releases of tritium, however, can be illegal and subject to fines and government lawsuits — though no accidents from the past decade resulted in either. Government officials say small amounts of tritium — a radioactive form of hydrogen and a potential marker for more dangerous nuclear contaminants — are not harmful to humans but exposure to higher levels may increase the risk of cancer.

At least seven of the 35 documented accidents since 2007 involved contamination of groundwater. Other contamination was found in sewers and other water systems where it isn't supposed to be.

The recent leaks echo the controversy in 2006 when it was revealed that leaks at Braidwood over many years spilled 6 million gallons of radioactive water, some of which found its way onto private properties and at least one private drinking well.

At the time, Exelon and state regulators assured the public radioactivity levels in the private well were far below limits deemed a danger. Neighbors of the Braidwood plant were skeptical then and remain so.

"The NRC gets all its numbers from the nuclear plant. How can NRC trust the numbers?" asked Monica Mack, who lives in Braceville near the Braidwood plant.

Radioactive waste continues to pour from Exelon's Illinois nuclear power plants more than a decade after discovery of chronic leaks led to national outrage, a $1.2 million government settlement and a company vow to guard against future accidents, according to federal and state record reviewed by Better Government Association. The recent leaks echo the controversy in 2006 when it was revealed leaks at Braidwood over many years spilled 6 million gallons of radioactive water, some of which found its way onto private properties and at least one private drinking well. Neighbors of the Braidwood plant were skeptical then and remain so.(Madison Hopkins/BGA via AP)

The BGA investigation also found:

• Of the 35 documented incidents, 27 occurred at Dresden. Following the big 2014 leak, which emanated from an aboveground storage tank, Exelon asked a state inspector whether the public would have access to the incident report under open records laws, a state report showed.

• An NRC report on the 2007 Quad Cities leak noted radiation levels went "well beyond that seen anywhere else in the industry" and that plant staff estimated the leak had been active for years before it was discovered.

• In 2010, Exelon's Marseilles generating plant in LaSalle County reported a spill from a storage tank, initially estimated at more than 150 gallons but later classified as "unknown." Groundwater tritium tests later showed levels 59 times the EPA's drinking water limit. Exelon said no tritium left the plant's boundaries, but records show plant workers continued to monitor a body of highly contaminated groundwater sitting on plant property at least five years after the accident.

• In 2009, Dresden reported another hole in a storage tank led to a leak of as much as 272,000 gallons of radioactive water. Onsite groundwater testing showed levels of tritium 160 times higher than allowed under federal standards for drinking water.

This report was provided to The Associated Press by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Better Government Association of Chicago.

Above is from:  http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/illinois/investigation-radioactive-leaks-at-illinois-nuclear-plants/article_5afd12ac-e54b-5b20-be98-b72233c1075c.html

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Boone County voters must decide on another public safety sales tax hike

By Susan Vela
Staff writer

Posted Nov 15, 2017 at 10:01 PM Updated Nov 15, 2017 at 10:01 PM

BELVIDERE — For the second time in less than a year, Boone County voters must decide whether putting money toward public safety is more important than plunking down more dollars at cash registers.

Board members voted unanimously, 12-0, Wednesday to put a question on the March 20 ballot that asks if the public safety sales tax should be increased from 0.5 percent to 1 percent.

“It’s going to take a lot of hard work by a lot of people, and hopefully we have a lot of volunteers,” Board Chairman Karl Johnson said. “The first thing we have to do is we have to get some of our business leaders involved, get them on board and understanding how important better public safety is to Boone County as a whole.”

“While nobody wants to raise taxes, this is the most fair and equitable way that we can improve our public safety.”

The increase would generate about $1.4 million a year for public safety purposes that include building repairs, hiring new deputies and purchasing squad cars and equipment.

Above is from:  http://www.rrstar.com/news/20171115/boone-county-voters-must-decide-on-another-public-safety-sales-tax-hike

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Medicare cuts under new federal tax proposal


CBO: House GOP tax plan triggers $25 billion in Medicare cuts

Ethan Wolff-Mann 19 hours ago


House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md. clarified effects of the current House GOP tax legislation with the Congressional Budget Office. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

If the House GOP tax plan passes, it is projected to cut revenue significantly, likely increasing the deficit by $1.456 trillion from 2018 to 2027, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation and Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

With a number that large, Congress’s “pay as you go” rules that prevent unchecked spending would fall into place, a move that could cut Medicare’s budget by as much as $25 billion for 2018.

In a letter to House minority whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the CBO explained that without any more money to offset the fall in revenue, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) would be required to issue a “sequestration order” to reduce spending in 2018 by $136 billion.

The effects of this sequestration order would trigger automatic cuts to various programs, including Medicare. According to the CBO, this could be as much as 4% for Medicare, which amounts to $25 billion in 2018. Furthermore, all non-exempt programs would be eliminated, which include some farming subsidies, border security, and student loan help. Others, like Social Security, would remain untouched.

At the same time, the tax plan’s changes to the estate and gift taxes would cut revenue $151 billion from 2018 to 2027, according to the JCT. Only 4,700 estates were large enough to be subject to the estate tax as the 2017, since the exemption is over $5 million.

Because of the rules exempting or limiting how much can be cut from certain programs, the CBO also estimated that the reductions would not make up for the need for money to pay for what Congress “bought.”

Touching Medicare has been traditionally considered explosive, and some have noted the “pay as you go” rules give Democrats leverage in the tax bill debates.

In a response to the CBO’s letter, Rep. Hoyer issued a statement, noting the broad impact beyond the deficit on the program cuts, adding that he actually wrote the “pay as you go” law, and called for a bipartisan lawmaking process.

According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the “pay as you go rules” were passed with bipartisan support.

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann. Confidential tip line: emann[at]oath[.com].

Above is from:  https://www.yahoo.com/finance/news/cbo-house-gop-tax-plan-triggers-25-billion-medicare-cuts-195501778.html

Shep Smith Breaks From Fox News Coverage, Tears ‘Uranium One’ Scandal To Shreds

Politics

Shep Smith Breaks From Fox News Coverage, Tears ‘Uranium One’ Scandal To Shreds

HuffPost Alana Horowitz Satlin,HuffPost 2 hours 8 minutes ago


Fox News anchor Shep Smith broke from his network’s hyperventilating coverage of the “Uranium One” pseudoscandal to debunk allegations of wrongdoings by Hillary Clinton.

Smith, never one to blindly toe the party line, took to task President Donald Trump ― and, implicitly, his cable news network of choice ― over the “inaccurate” portrayal of the sale of a Canadian mining company with major U.S. holdings to a Russian company.

“Here’s the accusation,” Smith explained Tuesday. “Nine people involved in the deal made donations to the Clinton Foundation totaling more than $140 million. In exchange, Secretary of State Clinton approved the sale to the Russians — a quid pro quo.”

It’s a claim that has dominated Fox News in recent weeks after The Hill published a deeply flawed report about a “Russian bribery plot” involving the sale. Following pressure from the president and several Republican members of Congress, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced earlier this week that the Justice Department would consider appointing a special counsel to review the deal as well as other matters involving Clinton and other Democrats.

There’s never been any evidence that Clinton acted inappropriately and, as Smith notes, “the Clinton State Department had no power to approve or veto that transaction. It could do neither.” Indeed, the State Department was just one of nine agencies that signed off on the deal and Clinton herself wasn’t even on the committee. 

“The accusation is predicated on the charge that Secretary Clinton approved the sale,” Smith said. “She did not. A committee of nine evaluated the sale, the president approved the sale, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and others had to offer permits, and none of the uranium was exported for use by the U.S. to Russia. That is Uranium One.”

Since Smith’s segment, Uranium One has been mentioned over 40 times on various Fox News shows.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Letter: Governor Rauner fortunate to live in Illinois


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Letter: Governor Rauner fortunate to live in Illinois

Posted at 8:00 PM

If Gov. Bruce Rauner were chief executive of any of Illinois’ contiguous states he would have paid at least $1.4 million to $2.7 million more on his state income tax form than he did on his Illinois 1040. The governor’s recently released form indicated he paid $3,248,605 on a net income of $91,354,858. The 2016 tax rate was 3.75 percent.

Wisconsin, one of Rauner’s paragons of governmental virtue, has a top individual rate of 7.65 percent. As best I can tell without the governor’s backup forms, his Wisconsin bill would have been nearly $6 million.

Indiana, another state the governor seems to find virtuous, has a flat state rate of 3.3 percent, but the state form also includes a county income tax of 1.77 percent applicable in the state capital for a total 2016 rate of 5.07 percent. The governor would have paid about $4.6 million in Indiana.

Missouri and Kentucky have top rates of 6 percent and Iowa’s top rate is 8.98 percent! His bill would have been millions higher in those states.

Illinois has raised its rate to 4.95 percent, but that still is lower than the rates the governor would have paid in any of Illinois’ neighbors. And I thought Illinois was supposed to be the high-tax state.

Brent Bohlen

Springfield

Above is from:  http://www.sj-r.com/opinion/20171111/letter-governor-rauner-fortunate-to-live-in-illinois

Monday, November 6, 2017

Belvidere Middle Schools Ranking

Illinois Middle School Rankings

JUST IN! Illinois PARCC test scores and updated rankings for the 2016-17 school year were posted to SchoolDigger this week!

Belvidere Schools

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Above is from:   https://www.schooldigger.com/go/IL/schoolrank.aspx?level=2

Rockford Schools

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Rockton

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Loves Park

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Thursday, November 2, 2017

FBI plants bull's-eye on GM, Ford as UAW scandal widens


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Tresa Baldas, Detroit Free Press Published 1:01 p.m. ET Nov. 2, 2017

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The intertwined lives of a UAW official and a Fiat Chrysler executive

Over a period of years, former Fiat Chrysler executive Al Iacobelli and former UAW Vice President General Holiefield helped to save Chrysler and then stole millions intended for worker training, authorities say. Wochit

FBI probe into crooked dealings between UAW and auto execs now involves FCA, GM and Ford. At issue is whether training funds tied to all three automakers were stolen

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(Photo: Associated Press/Getty Images)

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The FBI's probe into financial shenanigans by UAW and auto executives has extended to General Motors and Ford, which join FCA in a growing scandal that focuses on stolen training funds, according to a source familiar with the investigation.

At the heart of the probe is whether funds that were meant to train autoworkers at all three companies were instead secretly funneled to union officials and auto executives who were scheming together to line their own pockets.

Since the investigation surfaced four months ago, criminal charges have been filed against two FCA officials and three UAW officials, including ex-FCA Vice President Alphons Iacobelli and Monica Morgan-Holified, the widow of the late UAW Vice President General Holiefield. The pair, along with others, are accused of  siphoning millions of dollars from a UAW training center and spending it on themselves, buying everything from luxury vehicles to $35,000 Mont Blanc ink pens.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles headquarters, located inBuy Photo

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles headquarters, located in Auburn Hills, left, and UAW headquarters. (Photo: Detroit Free Press)

The Free Press has now learned that the FBI is also eyeing at least one GM official for similar conduct, and is looking into the financial records of  training centers that are funded by GM and Ford with the goal of training union autoworkers.

“We are cooperating with the inquiry,"  Kelli Felker, manufacturing & labor communications manager at Ford, said in a statement. "We are confident in the UAW-Ford National Programs Center leadership team and the policies and procedures used to govern the program operations that benefit approximately 57,000 members of our UAW-Ford hourly workforce.”

GM also is cooperating, stating:  "We have been contacted by the Eastern District of Michigan U.S. Attorney’s Office regarding an investigation into the UAW-GM Center for Human Resources. We are fully cooperating with the investigation."

The UAW declined comment on the latest development, but has emphasized that the union continues to cooperate with the investigation.

As first reported by the Detroit News, the FBI's latest targets in the probe include Joe Ashton, 69, a retired UAW vice president who was appointed to GM’s board in 2014, and Cindy Estrada, Ashton's successor who oversaw the union’s GM department.

Neither could be reached for comment this morning.

Related:

Feds: UAW and FCA execs laundered money through fake hospice center

Feds: Bargaining rivals stole millions from FCA; kept UAW officials 'fat, dumb and happy'

So far, the investigation has focused on allegations that FCA auto executives and UAW officials ran a sophisticated money laundering scheme,  The executives allegedly stole money from the training center, then funneled it to themselves through various organizations, including a children's charity called the Leave the Light On Foundation and the Hospice of Metropolitan Detroit.

As prosecutors alleged in court documents, the scam was part of a bigger goal by at  FCA execs to keep UAW officials "fat, dumb and happy." And the schemers were careful not to get caught, they said, claiming they warned one another not to leave a paper trail about what was going on.

According to court documents, the training center was funded by FCA and received between $13 million  and $31 million a year.  Prosecutors say least $4.5 million of that money was misspent.

Here is what the accused have been charged with:

The Rochester Hills home of Al Iacobelli

The Rochester Hills home of Al Iacobelli (Photo: Eric D. Lawrence)

  • Iacobelli is accused of steering $1.2 million in employee-training funds to Morgan, Holiefield and others. Iacobelli also is accused of pocketing $1 million in training funds and using it to buy a Ferrari, pay off his personal American Express and Chase credit cards, buy two Mont Blanc pens at $35,700 each, install a swimming pool, outdoor kitchen and spa at his Rochester Hills home. 
  • Morgan, whose photo business allegedly once received $70,000 from a charity that was supposed to help children struggling with hardships. The government claims the charity was really a sham, set up by Holifield and Iacobelli.
  • Virdell King, 65, of Detroit, the first African-American female to be elected president of a local union in UAW-Chrysler's history.  She is accused of buying designer shoes, clothing, jewelry and luggage using credit cards that were issued through the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center. King also is accused of making more than $40,000 in additional purchases that pampered other senior UAW officials, including a shotgun, golf equipment, luggage, concert tickets, theme park tickets and other items.
  • Jerome Durden of Rochester, a financial analyst at FCA who allegedly helped conceal the fraud. He pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme and faces up to five years in prison.

UAW and FCA officials have said that no labor contracts were  perverted by the alleged scandal. Prosecutors have said they don't know if that happened, but that laws were broken: auto executives were giving things to union officials when the law prohibits that.

Fiat Chrysler officials declined comment on the latest developments, but FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne has previously expressed “disgust” at the alleged conduct and called it the “most egregious breach of trust by the individuals involved.”

"These acts were of course neither known nor sanctioned by FCA US," Marchionne has previously stated. "In fact, upon learning of some possible malfeasance in June 2015, the company investigated and, once credible evidence of wrongdoing was discovered, the individuals involved were immediately separated from the company."

Iacobelli, who had led the company's contract talks with the UAW in 2011, abruptly resigned one month before he was set to lead negotiations on a new four-year contract with the UAW in 2015.

"This conduct had nothing whatsoever to do with the collective bargaining process," Marchionne previously said, "but rather involved two bad actors who apparently saw an opportunity to misappropriate funds entrusted to their control and who, unfortunately, co-opted other individuals to carry out or conceal their activities over a period of several years."

The U.S. Attorney's office and FBI both declined comment.

Free Press reporters Eric Lawrence and Phoebe Wall Howard contributed to this report.

Above is fromhttp://www.freep.com/story/news/2017/11/02/uaw-scandal-gm-ford/824911001/