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JB

An investigation found $4 billion in funds to be doled out by politicians at their discretion, with Gov. J.B. Pritzker controlling half of it. The extra pork was packed into Illinois’ $45 billion infrastructure plan, including $144 million for Madigan friends – some who never asked for it.

An investigation into Illinois’ largest-ever capital projects bill found nearly $4 billion in discretionary funds set aside for politicians’ pork projects, including $2 billion for Gov. J.B. Pritzker to spend as he saw fit – including on needs he saw driving around during his campaign.

There was also $144 million for constituents with close ties to former House Speaker Michael Madigan, according to the Better Government Association analysis. Some of the recipients never asked for the money, with one who did ask getting over $29 million more than they sought.

The earmarks included $2 billion for the governor’s office, $368 million for House Democrats and $326 million for Senate Democrats. The remaining $1.2 billion was identified only as “leadership additions.”

These funds came in addition to the $600 million set aside for projects in state senators’ and representatives’ districts, dubbed “member initiatives.” Finding out which official sponsored which earmark is made intentionally difficult as sponsors’ names were not cited in the bill.

Asked how the specific projects were selected for the additions, the Pritzker administration said the governor picked his projects largely based on personal contacts, public input and general observations.

“Project ideas came from every corner of Illinois. The governor gathered ideas as he witnessed the need with his own eyes and from listening to residents as he traveled the state, even before he was elected the state’s chief executive,” Governor’s Office of Management and Budget spokeswoman Carol Knowles said.

Before his ousting last year amid a sweeping federal corruption probe centering on the ComEd bribery scandal, Madigan played a principal role in deciding which state projects received “leadership addition” funds.

Read more here.

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Drivers Services

Don’t expect to get to the Secretary of State’s office to conduct business in person until Jan. 24.

The agency said it is continuing to stay closed over concerns of COVID-19, while some services are available online.

Secretary of State Jesse White announced before the new year that Illinois driver services facilities would be closed for two weeks because of increased COVID-19 cases. Offices were set to reopen to the public on Jan. 17.

“After careful consideration and out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to extend the closures of offices and Driver Services facilities an additional week, with a reopening date set for Monday, Jan. 24,” White said Thursday. “The health and safety of employees and the public remains my top priority, and face-to-face transactions potentially increase the further spread of the virus.”

Read on here.

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Nicor

“The winter heating season is now in full swing. As temperatures drop, our level of commitment to provide superior service continues.

As a nation, our daily lives have been affected due to a global pandemic that also has increased the demand for natural gas, which affects supply and ultimately cost. As a regulated utility, Nicor Gas does not profit from the sale of natural gas; the price we pay for gas is passed on to our customers without markup.

We understand that the increasing market price for natural gas is higher than those historically, which is why we continue to offer multiple ways to support our customers now and into the future.

This year, we will remain extremely focused on customer education to ensure awareness of available resources. Energy saving tips, programs and services are just a few ways we can help.

Visit nicorgas.com/residential/ways-to-save for more information.

Thank you for being a valued customer.”

Related:Check your natural gas bill lately? Why they’re soaring this winter

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MM State House

State Rep. Martin McLaughlin (R-Barrington Hills) argues Gov. J.B. Pritzker still has much to learn when it comes to getting a handle on the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, and it starts with seeking other perspectives.

“At a time of crisis, I believe true leaders ask for more input from their Council, their commissioners and legislators and not less,” McLaughlin, who served as Barrington Hills’ village president up until assuming his seat in Springfield last year, said at a recent news conference on the issue. “We stayed open throughout the COVID crisis without incident using common-sense safety measures. As a mayor, I had a unique perspective of witnessing firsthand exactly how the viruses and the mandates were affecting local businesses.”

McLaughlin argues Pritzker’s new COVID-19 proof-of-vaccine requirements for businesses and park districts across state demonstrate his ignorance.

“I have been fervently advocating for common sense and local control since May of 2020,” he said. “As mayor in my town I was offered the same emergency, unilateral control opportunity from legal counsel, but I rejected it.”

Across Cook County, the proof-of-vaccine rule will apply to everyone age 5 and older and include such establishments as restaurants, bars, gyms and other venues like sports and entertainment arenas, NBC5 reported.

McLaughlin argues it only serves to increase suffering for many Illinois residents.

“The executive mandate from the county forced our citizens to stay within their homes, out of our schools, out of our places of worship and closed an assortment of businesses,” he said. However, big box stores were allowed to remain open with record profits while devastating our main-street businesses in our community. As we enter 2022, the mayor of Chicago, the Board President of Cook County and Gov. Pritzker continue unconstitutional use of these mandates on private citizens.”

Read more here.

Related:Citing vaccine mandate, Bob Chinn’s Crab House to pause operations for a month in Wheeling

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NicorIf you’re a natural gas consumer who hasn’t checked your latest bill, prepare for a shock: It may be considerably higher than you expect.

This month, Nicor Gas customers will pay more than twice as much as in the same month last year. People’s Gas bills will be up by 92%, while North Shore Gas customers will see a 41% hike.

In other parts of the state, bills will jump as much as 206%, according to the Citizens Utility Board.

Consumer advocates warn customers may pay hundreds of additional dollars to heat their homes this winter. Citizens Utility Board spokesman Jim Chilsen said he worries the natural gas price spike could force some families to decide between paying rent or paying utility bills.

“Based on today’s rates and assuming the current monthly gas supply costs remain the same in February and March,” a typical residential customer who uses approximately 825 therms from November through March will pay about $770, said Nicor Gas spokeswoman Jennifer Golz.

Several factors contributed to higher bills, according to Chilsen and Golz. Among them are a surge in demand that accompanied the pandemic recovery, the impact of Hurricane Ida on gas production in the Gulf Coast, and severe storms last February that froze natural gas pipelines in Texas, thereby reducing the supply.

Chilsen also blames Nicor for “unreasonably aggressive spending.”

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Darch

Barrington Village President Karen Darch is pictured here at the intersection of Main and Hough Streets in the center of downtown Barrington. Restaurants behind her, such as Egg Harbor, Shakou, Neoteca, etc., are now required to ask patrons for written proof of vaccination since they are in Cook County. In Lake County, where she is pictured standing, eateries such as Chessie’s, Ciao Baby, PL8, etc., have no such requirement.

Waukegan, North Chicago, Buffalo Grove and Barrington have no plans to join Highland Park as Lake County’s only municipality so far to require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 to dine in restaurants, while Deerfield takes a wait-and-see attitude.

The five municipalities reached their conclusions by Monday after their legislative governing bodies achieved a consensus on a course of action, either through formal or informal means, in the wake of Highland Park’s decision Wednesday to implement a mandate effective this Friday.

Highland Park acted after the city of Chicago and Cook County required restaurants, bars and fitness centers in late December to limit service to patrons who are fully vaccinated. The Chicago and Cook County mandates were effective Monday.

Waukegan Mayor Ann Taylor and North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham, Jr., talked to their cities’ aldermen before scheduled meetings Monday and received a consensus there was little or no interest in a mandate requiring diners to show proof of vaccination.

Taylor said after Waukegan’s City Council meeting Monday she talked to the city’s aldermen and heard little interest in imposing a mandate on bars and restaurants. The feeling was it would be too much of a burden on those who have been heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Barrington Village Manager Scott Anderson said in an email, throughout the pandemic the village has assumed the role of lead communicator sharing information with its residents about ways to remain safe during the pandemic and assure a continuity of services. That will not change.

“The village will not be shifting its primary objectives to the community nor will it seek additional authority to intervene in the operation of local businesses,” he said in the email.

Read more here.

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Chicago Speed Cameras

Chicago speed cameras in 2021 sent out a ticket every 11 seconds, meaning that by the time you finish reading this article there will be 21 more drivers unaware they have a rude surprise coming in the mail.

City speed cameras issued 2.3 million tickets through late October, slapping drivers with nearly as many speed camera violations in 10 months as the city issued in 2018, 2019 and 2020 combined. The spike came March 1, the start of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s new policy to ticket drivers going 6 mph over the limit.

And the spike was big. Speed cameras churned out eight times as many tickets per day: $250,000 worth.

Grand total for the first 10 months of 2021: $73.8 million in speed camera fines. So in 10 months, Chicago made about $30 million more than it had in each of the prior three years.

Vanessa Ortiz was among the drivers caught under the new policy. One time she was making what became a very expensive coffee run.

“I’ve lived in Chicago for 13 years overall, starting in 2005, and I have never been pulled over by CPD or Illinois State Police for speeding,” Ortiz said. “The last time I received a speeding ticket was 15 years ago.”

“But there was one day where I went to go get coffee and I got a ticket on the way there and on the way back. It was a $70 cup. And of course, I didn’t know that until afterward when I got the notice for the two, I already received nine speeding tickets from the city.”

“And the max ticket was allegedly 38 miles an hour.”

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JB

Illinois scores poorly in a report on the state’s tax climate.

The Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index compares state’s tax systems using several categories, including personal income tax, corporate income tax, sales and property taxes, and unemployment insurance taxes.

The authors note that while there are many ways to show how much is collected in taxes by state governments, the Index is designed to show how well states structure their tax systems and provides a road map for improvement.

Policy analyst Janelle Cammenga said Illinois ranked 36th overall in the country, and was hurt by the state’s corporate business tax.

“The state did enact new [tax break] treatment of temporary operating losses,” Cammenga said. “Now when it comes to net operating losses it does cap those at $100,000 for tax years 2021 through 2024, so that will really make a difference to businesses especially in a time right now of economic downturn where they might be seeing more losses than in other years.”

Cammenga said the only category that kept Illinois from ranking lower is the personal income tax.

“The individual income tax is what is really bringing Illinois’ score up right now because it has a flat income tax of 4.95% where as the rest of the tax code is not as competitive,” Cammenga said.

Read more here.

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Drivers Services

Illinois driver services facilities will be closed for two weeks to try to slow the spread of COVID-19 after the start of the year.

Because of increased cases, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has announced the state’s driver services facilities will be closed for the first two weeks of the new year.

“After careful consideration and out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to close all Driver Services facilities beginning Jan. 3, 2022, through Jan. 17, 2022, due to the spike in COVID-19 cases,” White said. “The health and safety of employees and the public remains paramount, and face-to-face transactions potentially increase the further spread of the virus.”

Offices were already scheduled to be closed for the New Year holiday.

The public is encouraged to visit ILSOS.gov for services that are available online. Such services remaining open and available online are renewing license plate stickers, renewing a driver’s license or ID car for qualified individuals, getting a duplicate ID, getting a driver record abstract, or filing business services documents.

Read more here.

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Barrington Village Hall

The Barrington Village Board recently approved a $39 million budget for the village’s fiscal year 2022.

Trustees voted 6-0 at the Dec. 13 board meeting to approve the spending plan, after a public hearing on it was held the same night. There were no public comments at the hearing, and Trustee Emily Young was absent.

The budget will be effective on the first day of the new year, as the village’s fiscal year runs Jan. 1 through Dec. 31.

“This budget, I believe, is fiscally responsible as well as responsive to the service needs of the community,” said Village Manager Scott Anderson. “The spending plan is well aligned with the vision set forth by the elected board and its strategic plan. While this budget is best considered a maintenance budget, commitments are made to continuing, and in some cases, improving our current service levels. At the same time, there is a significant investment in the village’s infrastructure that will occur next year.”

Anderson explained there are 10 independently budgeted funds that roll into to the spending plan, but most of the village’s operating expenses come from the general fund – including police, fire and public works. He noted an uptick in expenses for the village-owned Barrington White House, with a $544,841 appropriation that he said represents the support of programming in the historic downtown venue.

“Programming is opening up now and we’re having more in-person performances which is driving some of that expenditure,” Anderson said.

Read more here.

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