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Southwest Illinois News is a weekly news publication spotlighting attractions, events, entertainment, tourism, jobs and business developments in Southwestern Illinois
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Governor Rauner Urges Swift Action on State-City Pension Deal
SPRINGFIELD, IL (SWI-News.com), March 26, 2017 - Following the announcement that House Republicans are prepared to put the requisite number of votes on an historic state-city pension reform deal, Governor Bruce Rauner once again called on the General Assembly to swiftly pass the legislation that would save taxpayers around the state billions of dollars, address an urgent request from the City of Chicago and help move Illinois forward.

The legislation, sponsored by House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) and 25 other House Republicans, is a companion to legislation filed last week in the Senate by Senator Michael Connelly (R-Naperville) and Senator Jil Tracy (R-Quincy). The Senate legislation has already won support from Republican senators who previously opposed pension reform as part of a larger and controversial unbalanced budget package, suggesting the legislation could easily pass both chambers and come to the governor's desk for signature.

"Taxpayers around the state will save billions by making structural changes to our state pension system, and we can afford to help students and teachers in Chicago Public Schools who are facing an immediate budget crisis," Governor Rauner said. "The people of Illinois want compromise. This proposal is a win-win for everyone. It's time to get something done."

The proposed state-city pension reform legislation would satisfy an agreement made by legislative leaders last June that if the General Assembly passed statewide pension reform, the state would pay the teacher pension costs of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) for one year. That agreement fell through late last year when the Senate President broke the deal and the governor vetoed Chicago's one-year assistance (SB 2822). This proposal links the same CPS one-year pension pick-up to statewide pension reform filed by the Senate President earlier this month (SB 16).


Pay for Nearly 600 Employees and Human Service Agencies in Jeopardy
SPRINGFIELD, IL (SWI-News.com), March 5, 2017 - The Rauner Administration, including the Department of Central Management Services (CMS), Department of Public Health (DPH) and Department of Human Services (DHS), on Friday called on Comptroller Susana Mendoza to comply with court orders, avoid creating a human service crisis and pay nearly 600 state employees from the General Revenue Fund.

In a release, Deputy Governor Leslie Munger said "Comptroller Mendoza's decision to stop paying employees out of the General Revenue Fund directly impacts the state's ability to pay for human services. By taking this action, she is depleting accounts that human service agencies rely on and creating an unnecessary crisis. It is particularly stunning given her repeated promises to make human services a top priority."

CMS submitted payroll to the Comptroller's Office on Thursday for 578 employees just as it always has. But for the first time since coming into office, Comptroller Mendoza is demanding CMS resubmit the payroll to pay employees from two funds that support critical government operations. Paying employees with money from these funds will drain those accounts and jeopardize the state's ability to maintain government operations.

"Comptroller Mendoza is creating a crisis at CMS that will have a ripple effect at other state agencies," CMS Acting Director Mike Hoffman said. "By refusing to process payroll as submitted, she is putting families and critical government services at risk. We urge Comptroller Mendoza to comply with the court order directing her to process payroll without interruption and stop using employees as pawns in her quest to force a government shutdown."

The comptroller is demanding CMS pay employees from funds that support day-to-day operations at state government agencies. That action would deplete funds that are used for emergency repairs to state facilities, rent and utilities at state offices, and vehicle maintenance and fuel for state vehicles. For example, CMS recently used money from one of the funds to make emergency repairs to the sprinkler system at the James R. Thompson Center.

Without a budget in place, state employees have been paid through a court order. Until now, the comptroller has processed payroll for these employees from the General Revenue Fund, as did the previous Administration at the Comptroller's Office.

The comptroller has more than $119 million cash on hand as of Friday to pay these employees.

"Comptroller Mendoza recently paid state legislators, and herself, the same way CMS is requesting to pay these 578 employees," Acting Director Hoffman said. "There is no reason CMS should be forced to drain our government shutdown prevention funds to make payroll when she has money available to pay these employees."


Drury Inn & Suites Completes Renovation of Hotel in O'Fallon, Illinois
O'FALLON, IL (SWI-News.com), March 5, 2017 - The Drury Inn & Suites St. Louis O'Fallon, Illinois, has completed a full renovation to the property's 180 guest rooms and suites, public areas and more than 2,800 square feet of meeting and event space.

Renovations to the hotel's guest rooms include new mattresses and headboards, carpet, paint, window treatments, lighting and artwork. All of the guest bathrooms also received new showerheads, hair dryers and soft goods. The public and meeting areas of the hotel received upgraded lighting, new furniture complete with USB plug and play charging ports and artwork inspired and reflective of the St. Louis landscape.

"This is a great, fresh look for our property," said Ashley Timmons, general manager, Drury Inn & Suites St. Louis O'Fallon, Illinois. "Our upgrades were influenced by guest feedback and were made with their satisfaction in mind. We're excited for our guests to experience our new look and feel."

The hotel is 20 minutes east of downtown St. Louis off I-64. Conveniently located near Scott Air Force Base, the hotel is also near a wide variety of local attractions. Because of its central location and numerous amenities, Drury Inn & Suites St. Louis O'Fallon, Illinois, is an ideal location for business and leisure travelers.


State of Illinois, U of I System Launch 'Smart State' Partnership
SPRINGFIELD, IL (SWI-News.com), February 5, 2017 - The State of Illinois and University of Illinois System announced a new partnership today which advances Illinois as the nation's premier 'Smart State', integrating next-generation technology to improve quality of life, grow the state's economy and retain and attract residents.

"Illinois is nationally recognized as the first U.S. state to have a vision and roadmap for becoming a smarter state," said Hardik Bhatt, Secretary Designate and state CIO of the Department of Innovation and Technology. "The goal is to use technology, Internet of Things, mobile, analytics and cybersecurity to improve operational efficiency and find new and more cost-effective ways to serve our customers."

Illinois launched Smart State initiatives, under the leadership of Governor Bruce Rauner, with the release of a white paper titled, "Introducing the Smart State: Illinois Leads the Way" in early 2016. This was followed by two smart state workshops in April and December, that connected leaders from both the public and private sector, to explore how becoming a smart state will improve government efficiency and access to services, and create a climate that promotes the growth of business and industry.

U of I President Tim Killeen commented, "This partnership will capitalize on the U of I System's world-class faculty and its state-of-the-art research facilities to serve our citizens, lift our state's economy and make Illinois a place where the world turns for the pioneering innovation that fosters success in the 21st century."

The first phase of the new agreement between the state and the U of I System will partner the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where world-renowned staff and leading-edge computing systems will help tackle large-scale data analytics and cybersecurity issues to accelerate innovation and safeguard citizens.


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