Government
11:08 am
Mon June 4, 2012

Around Illinois – June 4

  • Does more truck traffic mean economy improvemnent?
  • Pension-reform session is a must: Quinn
  • Will the governor approve Rockford’s casino?
  • Chicago schools reach agreement with a union

Interstate reports more truck traffic in first quarter

Truck traffic on the Illinois tollway increased 6.3 percent during the first quarter of 2012, and logistics experts say it’s likely a sign of a strengthening economy.

The U.S. Bureau of Transportation says there is a close link between growth in freight transportation and the economy. When demand for manufactured goods increases, so does demand for freight transportation services.

“No question,” said Joseph P. Schwieterman, transportation professor at DePaul University told the Rockford Register Star. “We’re seeing consumer spending move up consistently, and railroad and truck traffic has been robust.”

A report at the tollway’s May meeting said 21.5 million trucks passed through toll booths between January 1 and March 30, compared with about 20.1 million in 2011. Nationally, truck traffic was also strong in the first quarter.

The tollway’s 6.3 percent increase in truck traffic during the quarter was nearly three times the increase tollway officials projected for all of 2012: 2.2 percent.

“We’re not making any forecasts about what these numbers mean in terms of the economy, though we certainly hope that these better-than-expected traffic and revenue data indicate that the economy may be improving,” Tollway spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said.

Passenger traffic fell 2.2 percent with tolls collected from 165.2 million vehicles — a drop nowhere near as dramatic as the 5.9 percent decline the Toll Highway Authority projected for 2012 based on the Jan. 1 increase in tolls for passenger vehicles.

Special pension session is a must: Quinn

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says lawmakers will have no choice but to return to Springfield soon to hammer out a pension reform plan.

Quinn says credit rating agencies could downgrade the state’s credit if it doesn’t handle its $83 billion pension obligation.

The stickler is whether local school districts, community colleges and universities will have to pay pension costs for employees instead of the state.

“I believe in the principal of accountability,” Quinn said, “that every unit of government that negotiates a contract should have a stake in that contract, should have skin in the game. It’s a continuous issue.  And I want to work with all the legislators and I think we have the elements, we’re very close, but we’re not there yet.”

Quinn said doesn’t know when he intends to call legislators back for a special session.

Quinn won’t disclose his gambling bill plans

Gov. Pat Quinn won't say whether he'll sign or veto legislation to expand gambling in Illinois. But he has given a few hints.

Last year, Quinn made his opposition to the legislature’s gambling expansion proposal well known ... so well known that the legislature used a parliamentary maneuver to keep him from having the chance to veto a gambling proposal.

Another year, and another gambling expansion plan has passed the House and Senate that

would allow new casinos in Rockford, Chicago, the south suburbs, Lake County and Danville, and permit slot machines at horse racetracks.

This time, the governor is playing his cards closer to his vest. He wouldn't talk specifically about the new proposal.

"I can tell you what my position on the whole issue of gambling is: I believe in a strong ethical framework of oversight and integrity,” he said. “No campaign money from gambling interests. Those are things that I've said over and over again, and I'll keep saying them."

State Sen. Terry Link, D-Lincolnshire,offered to ban campaign contributions from casino owners and allow the state to oversee any casino in Chicago.

House sponsor Lou Lang, D-Skokie,says thousands in the horseracing industry are depending on passage of the bill to save jobs.

Asked whether the lack of those things in the new proposal were "deal-breakers" that would prompt a veto, Quinn said, “That's how I feel; I think that's how the people of Illinois feel."

Chicago schools reach a deal with second-largest union

The Chicago Public Schools system has reached a tentative contract deal with the Service Employees International, its second largest union representing 5,500 custodians, school bus aides, security aides and others.

The proposed three-year contract includes a “reasonable wage increase” and assurance that no more union jobs would be outsourced, said SEIU Local 73 Vice President Taalib-Din Ziyad.

The deal also “keeps health care costs down and maintains fair discipline language,” he said.

Nothing specifically makes up for scheduled wage hikes that were frozen by CPS in the last year for all its unions. SEIU is recommending that its membership ratify the proposed deal.

But CPS and remains far apart from its biggest union -- the teachers -- at the negotiating table. Teachers have scheduled a strike authorization vote Wednesday.