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Senate Week in Review: Chicago group calls pensions "unfixable," Quinn targets early January for pension reform, Small Business Saturday is coming up, plus more

A compiled review of Senate activities from the week.

Springfield, IL – While a Chicago-based business organization has declared that the state's public pension problem is "unfixable," Governor Quinn is targeting an early January lame-duck legislative session as a possible time to push through pension law changes, State Sen. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Sandack participated in Illinois’ First Diabetes Awareness Day in Downers Grove and as Thanksgiving approaches, so does the holiday shopping season. Advocates for small businesses and locally-based retailers are undertaking promotions such as "Small Business Saturday" to try to capture a share of the business.

On the pension question, the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago released letters to both Gov. Pat Quinn and to members of its own organization, which paint a grim future for Illinois. The organization is calling for severe steps to rein in teacher and public employee retirement costs.

In recent days Gov. Quinn has said he wants the legislature to take up pension changes in January, most likely during an extended lame-duck legislative session before new members of the General Assembly are sworn in. Legislative leaders have scheduled a 6 1/2 day lame-duck session beginning Jan. 3 and running through the weekend to mid-day Jan. 9, when a new General Assembly is to be sworn in.

However, the timing and emphasis on the lame-duck session is a cause for concern to some legislators. Sen. Sandack said two years ago, majority Democrats used the lame-duck session to impose a 67% income tax increase on Illinoisans. Some lawmakers are concerned the upcoming January session will be used to push new costs onto local school districts that could lead to massive property tax increases.

The pension cost shift has been strongly opposed by suburban and downstate legislators who argue that it would simply result in high property tax bills for homeowners without reducing pension costs, Sen. Sandack explained. Chicago Democrats have argued that city property taxpayers already pay for most of the pension costs for Chicago public school teachers. But others say that is offset by formulas that have been skewed to give Chicago more money than its schools would be entitled to under a fair distribution of school aid, including poverty and special education formulas.

In essence, the current state formulas give greater weight to poor and developmentally disabled children in Chicago than children in other school districts with the same incomes or disabilities.

The Civic Committee wants legislators to do at least four things: eliminate cost-of-living adjustments promised to retirees, cap the maximum salary that can be used to calculate pension benefits, increase the retirement age to 67 and gradually shift annual costs to local school districts.

The Civic Committee has argued that the benefit changes would not run afoul of a state Constitutional prohibition on reducing retirement benefits for current employees, but public employee unions disagree.

The business group argues that absent these steps, Illinois will be unable to meet its obligations to schools, public safety, social services and health care.

Sen. Sandack partnered with Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital on Nov. 14 to provide free diabetes assessments for the public as a part of Illinois’ first Diabetes Awareness Day.  

“As a member of the Illinois Legislative Diabetes Caucus, I wanted to help spread awareness and make these assessments available in an effort to promote early detection,” Sen. Sandack.  “The earlier a person is diagnosed with diabetes and receives the proper care, the better.”  

Diabetes events took place across the state on Nov. 14, held mostly by other members of the Illinois Legislative Diabetes Caucus.  Each site partnered with local hospitals to go to community organizations, office buildings, and other local businesses to provide the assessments or screenings and education.

“We felt that people were more likely to be assessed if the assessments were convenient, fast and free,” Sen. Sandack said.  “I’m pleased that Good Samaritan Hospital and I could work together to promote this community wellness.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 40 percent of the population has diabetes and has not yet been diagnosed. Currently, 800,000 adults in Illinois have diabetes with care costs estimated at $7.3 billion annually.

“Good Samaritan Hospital was honored to partner with Sen. Sandack and participate in Diabetes Awareness Day,” said hospital President David Fox. “As part of the largest health care system in the state, we are committed to reducing the incidence of diabetes in our communities and helping educate about diabetes risk factors and treatment options.”

Illinois Diabetes Awareness Day was established on July 17, 2012 by Public Act 97-819 in an effort to shed light on a growing epidemic of diabetes in Illinois and the United States.

For more information on Diabetes awareness, or to take the risk assessment test, visit www.ilgadiabetes.com.  You can also visit the Illinois Legislative Diabetes Caucus Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Illinois-Legislative-Diabetes-Caucus.

As Thanksgiving approaches, along with the prime holiday shopping season, advocates of small and local businesses are urging shoppers to spend part of their gift-giving budget with them.

November 24, or “Small Business Saturday,” is an initiative to encourage consumers to do a portion of their holiday shopping at smaller retailers. The promotion, first launched in 2010, is timed to follow the "Black Friday" sales promotions of national retailers.

Illinoisans are painfully aware that the state’s economy is still shaky. Small businesses make up 60 to 80 percent of the net new jobs created in Illinois. A U.S. Labor Department study in 2009 showed that if half the buying population spent $50 a month at locally-owned businesses, it would generate an additional $42.6 billion in revenue.

Another organization, called the 3/50 project, is an enterprise that is “saving the brick and mortars our nation is built on.” The group provides marketing and strategy tips to smaller companies to help them build their customer base and expand employment opportunities.

The 3/50 project has a listing of independent businesses in Illinois that are participating. To find the list visit: http://www.the350project.net/states/IL.html. Marketing materials and other promotional assistance for business are also offered through the 3/50 project website.  To see more about "Small Business Saturday," visit: www.facebook.com/smallbusinesssaturday.

Finally, Sen. Sandack reminds residents of the community that the food and clothing drive with Passages Hospice in Lisle is going on from now until the end of the month.  The center is collecting non-perishable food and winter clothing for local residents in need.  The items will be donated to the Greater Chicago Food Depository and Goodwill of Naperville.

Sen. Sandack said the most-needed food items are boxed casseroles, instant potato and rice dishes, hearty soups, and canned vegetables and fruits.  Gently used winter clothing, coats, hats and gloves are also needed.

Items can be dropped off at the Passages Hospice office located at 515 Warrenville Road in Lisle.

For more information, please call Passages Hospice at 630-824-0400 or visit Passages Hospice on the web at www.passageshospice.com.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Doremus Jessup November 17, 2012 at 02:06 PM
Commercial Club of Chicago as described in Wikipedia:"The Commercial Club of Chicago is an anti-labor club resulted from the 1907 merger of two predecessor Chicago clubs"

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