The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Senator John Sullivan Town Meeting - Thursday, September 3

Senator's Town Meeting Brings Lively Discussions from Citizens

by Dessa Rodeffer, Quill Publisher/Owner

Gladstone: State Senator John Sullivan (D-Rushville) gathered around thirty-five concerned citizens around Henderson County for a lively discussion last Thursday evening covering many topics including the Capital Bill and tax increases, hog confinements, energy, and health care, flood issues, the stimulus dollars and Highway 34 improvements.

The good news was that Highway 34 is top on the list for road improvements in the District, he said.

The T-Intersection improvement at West Central School at IL- 94 and US-34 is now under construction and money has been approved for 8 miles of engineering work necessary in planning 4-lanes on US 34 from Gulfport at the Carman road stop light on east. Actual construction should start in 1-1/2 years, Sullivan said, providing the money continues. Most all the money available in the budget for this year, Sullivan said, went to the 34 project.

Sullivan said highway 34 will be raised 5 feet which would not stop it from being flooded if the levee should break again, but it will avoid the need to haul the rock in and build the road up as it was done this past flood in 2008 after water receded, but remained in fields and over the road longer than was anticipated.

Sullivan also said, the original mapping of the road will remain the same as planned as land acquisitions have already been made. To change the lay of US 34 now, would cause it to go to the bottom of the list again as studies and other necessary requirements are made over again. This would put us back more then ten years. As it is now, "Highway 34 is at the top of the list."

Before taking questions, Senator Sullivan spoke of the "Capitol Bill,' explaining the proposed tax increases he, Governor Quinn and legislators have made.

"We have made some small increases, such as on a 6-pack of beer - 2 1/2 cents. We increased the tax on a bottle of wine 13 1/2 cents. We increased the tax on 1/5th of hard liquor 81 cents a bottle.

Food is taxed at a 1 cent sales tax where everything else is taxed at 6 1/4 cents, Sullivan explained.

"Food is considered a necessity, but candy and soda is a luxury," so legislators moved them out of the food category changing the tax from 1 cent to 6 1/4%.

Sullivan also said they stopped $250 million of road diversion money. When you buy gas and pay a tax, a portion of that tax goes to road fund and helps build and maintain roads. Twenty to thirty years ago, he said they had taken money out of the Transportation Fund and put it in the General Fund and used it to balance the budget. Almost every year, they would take a little more and a little more, Sullivan said

"Well, this year law, it's language that's in the Capitol Bill, we stopped $250 million of road fund diversions and we are using a portion of that to also help pay those bonds."

That was not controversial, but something that was, Sullivan said, was establishments paying out under the table the wins for Video Poker which you'll see in VFW Halls, Elks Clubs, and bars. We have now licensed and regulated those machines and a portion of that goes to the local taxing body where it is located (city or county), a portion goes to the state, and a portion goes to the owner.

"That raises a lot of money, to the tune of probably $250,000,000 and they say that we are probably conservative.

"It's gambling," Sullivan said. "And some people like it, and some people are very much opposed to it, and that's why it was controversial."

Two other items he brought up were legislation he had worked on to pass the uniformed speed limit law for vehicles which beginning January 1st 2010, will allow semi's to drive the same as other motor vehicles on Illinois Interstates and highways.

Three previous Governors vetoed the law, Sullivan said, which included Rod Blagojevich who vetoed it three times. Sullivan and his colleagues believe the split shift of semis driving 55 and all others driving 65 is more dangerous. Governor Quinn signed it into law.

The action of former Governor Rod Blagojevich not to sign the bill is explained in his November 15, 2004 press release:

"It's a matter of public safety. Ten miles per hour can be the difference between life and death for a person in a car," Gov. Blagojevich said.

"A truck traveling at 65 miles per hour will strike a car with an impact 40 percent greater than one traveling at 55 miles per hour.

"Raising the speed limit for trucks means more people will die on Illinois highways."

"The safety of families who travel on Illinois highways is more important than any arguments advanced by the trucking industry. That's why I'm urging the House to uphold my veto of SB 2374," Gov. Blagojevich said.

"Since the 65/55 speed limit was imposed in Illinois 1988 through to 2001, there was a 22 percent decrease in fatal crashes involving tractor-trailer.

"Semi crashes declined, according to the IDOT Traffic Safety Study, despite a 58 percent increase in the number of vehicle miles driven by large trucks on rural interstate highways during the 12-year span," the release said.

Senator Sullivan said the former Governor never called to ask what he thought about the bill or his opinion on it.

A Governor has 60 days to act upon a bill to either sign, veto, or do nothing at all in which case it will automatically become law.

So, Sullivan said he called Governor Quinn's phone when there was about a week left for him to make a decision and asked him what he was going to do about the bill.

The Governor said he and his staff had talked about it and hadn't made a decision but he invited Sullivan to tell him his thoughts on the bill.

He then listened to Sullivan, asked questions, and said he appreciated his input and said that he didn't know what he was going to do with it, but at least he understands where the Senator is coming from and thanked him and said he would take his thoughts into consideration.

"Three or four days later he signed the bill," Sullivan said.

"The point is, this governor is engaged in the process. Whether you agree with him or disagree with him, he is very engaged and carries on a dialogue with legislators and the public as well, and that is a very good change."

Another piece of legislation he worked on is the issue of Asian carp.

Sullivan said he was hounded by his friends who fish on the Illinois River and they took him out one morning in a boat to show him.

"We were tooling up the river at a pretty good clip and I said, "Where are they?' And he said, "Turn Around!'

"And I looked behind me and here they are jumping everywhere. And I said, "Oh my gosh!'"

They throttled it down and the carp started hitting the side of the boat, and then started jumping in the boat, Sullivan said, "ugly, dirty, greasy, bloody things .....unbelievable!"

"They are easy to catch, obviously. They'll jump in your boat. But they are boney. You can't really eat them. The processing company won't give you anything for them, 3-4-5-6 cents a pound and apparently it takes 12-13-14 cents a pound for a commercial fisherman to break even.

"So, we passed a law to try to develop through the Dept. of Resources and the Dept. of Commerce & Equal Opportunity, a market for the carp."

"In Havana there is a group of individuals who have developed a process that will turn carp into two products - fish oil" - Omega 3, and the meat and bones are ground up for feed. "There's a market for Omega 3," he said. "And that is what they are trying to do.

"You're never going to get rid of the carp completely," he learned, "But we are trying to keep the numbers down."

(more next week)