Race, poverty and politics: Countdown to teachers' strike; TIF revenue falls; IL partners on insurance exchange

Illinois will partner with the federal government to offer a health insurance exchange in 2014, The State Journal-Register reported Thursday. "Logistical challenges" prevented the state from creating its own exchange, which health advocates wanted. That way, a state-appointed board of directors could determine how it works. The exchange is essentially an online marketplace where consumers can shop for competitively priced insurance.

A report released Wednesday by Cook County Clerk David Orr's office states that TIF revenue has declined sharply since 2007. Between 2010 and 2011, the revenue stream shrank by 11 percent. Between 2007 and 2011, it decreased by 19 percent, Progress Illinois reported. In the clerk's report, Orr noted that too much money is spent downtown, and not enough in blighted communities, where the need is greatest. The report also called for more transparency, a campaign promise Mayor Rahm Emanuel has not totally made good on.

The state's House Select Committee on Discipline voted in favor of expelling indicted 10th District state Rep. Derrick Smith from the Illinois House of Representatives. The full House must still vote on whether to give Smith the boot. The embattled state rep. is facing a federal bribery charge based on accusations he took a $7,000 bribe.

Meanwhile, Kimberly Small, the Republican who mounted a challenge against Smith in the upcoming 10th District race, was thrown off the ballot this week for not having enough valid ballot petition signatures.

On Thursday, two analysts who work for Cook County's tax appeal board were accused of taking a $1,500 bribe in exchange for making property tax reductions.

A handful of people with ties to former 5th District state Sen. Rickey "Hollywood" Hendon were arrested Wednesday on federal bribery charges. They're accused of paying thousands of dollars in bribes to a fictitious U.S. Department of Health and Human Services official, thinking they would receive $25,000 grants.

The 30-day countdown to a strike between the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools is on after both sides rejected the findings of the arbitrator's report. The labor battle "could re-ignite the American labour movement at a time of global unrest," according to a commentary on the web site of Britain's Guardian newspaper. The report by arbiter Edwin Benn called the negotiations "toxic." The school district continues to insist that it does not have the money to pay the recommended raises of 15 to 18 percent. The teachers union, meanwhile, says that some of the most important issues--like class sizes--are not even being considered by the Board of Education.

More African American firms will get contracts to work on the Englewood flyover bridge, a project South Side Congressman Bobby Rush initially threatened to "stop in its tracks" if more work wasn't awarded to black companies. Under the new terms, agreed to this week, black companies can get 21 percent of the total construction work--$93 million--or an additional $19 million in subcontracts. Originally, only one black firm had a contract--a security firm that was to be paid $112,000.

The state employee pension imbroglio in Springfield continues as Gov. Pat Quinn hints that lawmakers may be asked to return to the Capitol in August for a special session to help overhaul the system. Quinn has argued that the state cannot afford rising pension costs, but the stalemate over what cuts to make remains divided along partisan lines. Quinn is also considering shifting some of the cost of pensions onto suburban districts, a position that remains controversial.

Chicago libraries will open for full-day service on Mondays this coming fall. The day was originally cut short by four hours due to budget concerns earlier this year. Library Commissioner Brian Bannon has said that a "flexible staffing plan" will allow 76 branches in neighborhoods around the city to offer full services without an extra cost. The city will do this by hiring more than 100 workers to replace laid-off librarians, though it is unclear whether they will be unionized - a key demand of the union that represented library workers when cuts were first on the table earlier this year.

A California county overwhelmed by the rate of foreclosures in its boundaries is looking to a drastic measure to help revitalize the housing market - buying the houses through eminent domain. The area considering the measure - San Bernardino County - is the epicentre of the hosuing crisis. Under the plan, the county would seize the troubled mortgages from investors and rewrite them so that borrowes could have significantly lower monthly payments. So far, San Bernardino and the cities of Fontana and Ontario have come together to consider the plan.

The Nation of Islam, the controversial religious organization that preaches the power of Black America, led 500 members of its Fruit of Islam army out onto the streets of Auburn Gresham Monday night in an attempt to stem the violence with feet on the ground. The men, wearing dress suits and bow ties, came out in response to the shooting death of a 7-year-old girl on the West Side last month.

--Nick Moroni contributed to this post

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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