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    With the election of Bruce Rauner as Illinois’ next governor, competing fiscal ideologies have started rumbling down the tracks toward one another. It may be Memorial Day before the dust settles and we see how things come out.
    The temporary income tax increases of 3.75 percent to 5 percent for personal and 5.25 percent to 7 percent for corporations will expire at the end of the year leaving a $6.5 billion hole in the state’s Fiscal 2015 budget. Gov. Pat Quinn had called for making the temporary increase permanent but Rauner had run on the proposal to not just repeal the tax increase but to lower rates the rates to 3 percent and 4.8 percent respectively.
    With Quinn on his way out the door, any movement to make the temporary tax permanent is expected to come from the legislature where the Democrats hold super majorities in both houses. Dwight Kay, a Republican who represents Illinois’ 112th District, said he didn’t know what to expect.
    “The way Madigan (House Speaker Mike Madigan) runs things,” Kay said, “you really don’t know until you walk into the chamber and you find out that the tax increase that has been temporary now is going to be voted on to be permanent.”
    Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, an Illinois think tank, said that could happen during the lame duck session that occurs in January before the new legislature is sworn in, but he doubts that it will.
    “I think it’s unlikely and the main reason for that is Governor-elect Rauner ran on a platform that he would not only allow the temporary tax increases to phase down, but he would eliminate them completely and go back to the old 3 percent on the individual tax and 4.8 on the corporate income tax,” Martire said. “So, I’m sure the Democrats are going to say, ‘OK, show us how.’  I don’t see any political reason for the Democrats to extend those temporary tax increases in the House and Senate and let Governor-elect Rauner out of a difficult situation.
    “I think Speaker Madigan and (Senate) President Cullerton will be very interested to see what kind of budget proposal Governor-elect Rauner puts together,” Martire added. “I think they’re going to want to see whether or not he comes out and is willing to make a case for maintaining that revenue either on a temporary or a permanent basis.”
    The state is in the middle of the FY2015 budget. FY 2016, which will begin July 1, 2015, will be the first budget that Rauner will be able to put together and, according to Martire, there will be $5 billion less in recurring revenue available, pushing the deficit to over $11 billion unless services are slashed.
    “I sure don’t think that Gov. Rauner in his first term in office is going to suggest that we cut spending on education, health, social services, and public safety by $5 billion dollars and that is what would have to be cut,” Martire said. “That’s where 9 out of 10 dollars go. So, he’s in a bit of a pickle because of the fiscal policy platform that he laid out during his campaign, which was very much like the fiscal policy platform of the governor of Kansas and we all see how well that’s worked out.”
    Martire explained that Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas had predicted that by cutting taxes, the state would be more economically competitive; it would grow faster; and, would retain its tax revenues due to all the new economic activity.

p01 packagingA worker packages items at the Challenge Unlimited operation in Alton.     A new business is being launched in 42,000 square feet of the Alton Center Business Park with plans to expand to more than 100,000 square feet within two years.
    The business, Advanced Outsource Solutions, is the brainchild of Steve Brenegan, senior vice president of Challenge Unlimited, and Tami Anstedt, its general manager. Challenge Unlimited is a nonprofit corporation that has provided work-related opportunities to individuals with disabilities in Southwestern Illinois for 55 years. While AOS will be an independent, for-profit corporation, it is an offshoot of Challenge Unlimited, and Challenge is helping get it off the ground. Anstedt will move over to head the new company.
    “It’s the first of its kind in the USA,” Brenegan said. “There is no one else that does what this is going to do.”
    Challenge Unlimited has two developmental training centers — one in Swansea and one in Alton — in which they employ about 300 workers doing things like “pick and pack,” taking two or more items and packaging them together with shrink wrap for retail promotions. But Challenge Unlimited also provides employees to private businesses, organizations and governments in the areas of custodial services, food services, grounds maintenance, recycling and mailroom services.    
    AOS will differ from Challenge Unlimited in several ways. Because Challenge receives some state and federal funding, it is limited to hiring only people with mental handicaps. AOS will focus on a broader clientele in an effort to fill a gap in the employment fabric.
    “We are going to focus on anyone who has a barrier to employment,” Anstedt said. “We’re going to focus on the disadvantaged, disabled and disabled veterans. For example, they might have a language barrier or they might be low income people — people who haven’t had the opportunity to understand what it is to have a job and have never learned the expectations in the workplace — anyone who has a barrier to employment.”
    Another difference will be the type of work that AOS will take on. While Challenge Unlimited is limited to more low-skilled, manual labor, AOS employees will be working with automated equipment like conveyor belts, shrink wrap and blister pack machinery.
    They’ll also be paid differently. Challenge Unlimited workers are paid on a piecemeal rate. AOS employees will be hourly and will receive some benefits. While they won’t receive the counseling and social services Challenge Unlimited provides its workers, Anstedt said that they will be more understanding than the typical private employer when situations arise.

p01 officeA view from the northeast corner of the planned Columbia Professional Center, the first building in a hoped-for, four-building project.    COLUMBIA — Work may begin by year’s end on a professional and medical building that could become part of a $50 million, multi-building campus during the next several years, if the economy allows.
    The first building, worth an estimated $13 million, will rise on 21.6 acres of land on the bluff overlooking Illinois Route 3 and Interstate 255. The site is the former Hermann family property, along Sand Bank Road and across from the Luhr Brothers Inc. contracting operation.
    The site is to be called Columbia Professional Center. The first building is being developed as a 50-50 partnership between well-known local developer Joe Koppeis and a group of local medical professionals.
    The partnership name is officially called Columbia Land Management LLC.
    The medical investors are part of a doctors group that wants to expand its practice in Columbia, where it now has only a small satellite office. Doctors will be located on the first two floors of the new building.
    The medical partnership involves only the first building to be constructed, Koppeis said. That will be a five-story, 60,000-square-foot structure that is about 50 percent leased — before a single footing has been poured.
    “The first two and a half floors will all be medical-related, and we plan a restaurant and physical therapy
(office) on the lower level,” Koppeis said.
    The fourth floor is not yet leased — some 14,000 square feet. Half the third floor is still available, as is about 5,000 square feet on the fifth floor.
    “We think as the building is coming out of the ground it will get some attention,” Koppeis said. “We hope to still break ground this year. We moved in a construction trailer (in mid-November). We cleared out some trees and we’re ready to start grading.” The recent snow set back the project just a bit, he said.

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Pantries in Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco also receive holiday aid

    ALTON — Five Madison County pantries received a special delivery from Simmons Hanly Conroy employees on Friday, Nov. 21.  Each delivery was roughly 6,000 pounds of food items raised during the 8th Annual Simmons Employee Foundation Food Drive.  The firm’s Alton office raised a total of 30,060 pounds of food and surpassed its original goal of 25,000 pounds, according to Amy Fair, foundation director and the head of the Asbestos Medical Department.
simmons 01Simmons Hanly Conroy employee Nathan Baca helps load pallets of food onto the trucks at the RCS building in Wood River.simmons food2wBart Edgerton, Simmons Hanly Conroy employee, helps carry canned food into the Helping Hand’s Food Pantry, which is in the basement of the Collinsville Area Ministerial Association.    “I’m so proud to work with such a good-hearted group of people,” Fair said. “Because of their generosity, we were able to deliver several pallets, piled high with food, which will help feed hundreds of local families this holiday season.”
    Pantries who received the deliveries included the Alton Salvation Army, the Crisis Food Center in Alton, the Community Hope Center in Cottage Hills, the Collinsville Area Ministerial Association’s Helping Hands Food Pantry and the Community Care Center in Granite City.
    The food drive started Oct. 6 and lasted through Nov. 7. Firm employees were encouraged to get involved through several internal activities such as match challenges, raffle tickets, casual Fridays and even a Halloween costume contest.  
    Employees in the firm’s other locations also participated in the fun, Fair said.
    “This year our food drive went national,” she said. “Employees in our Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco offices also raised food donations for pantries in their hometown communities.”
    Employees at those locations volunteered their time or donated cash and/or dry food goods to a charity those offices selected. Charities included the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Ocean Park Community Center’s holiday food basket program in LA, and the SF Marin Food Bank in San Francisco. As part of a match challenge, once each office reached 100 percent participation in the food drive, the firm donated an additional $500 to each charity.
    “Simmons Hanly Conroy is a national law firm, having represented people who live in nearly every state,” said Chairman John Simmons. “So it made sense to extend the food drive and support our employees as they volunteered to make the holidays brighter in their hometown areas of Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.”
    About Simmons Employee Foundation:
    In late 2004, the employees of Simmons Hanly Conroy came together to create a single, streamlined way for them to give back to the communities they are so proud to call home.  As a result of their creativity and heartfelt commitment, the Simmons Employee Foundation, has provided nearly $1 million of financial support and countless volunteer hours to charitable organizations.
    Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC is one of the nation’s largest mass tort law firms and a leading voice for victims of mesothelioma and asbestos exposure. The firm’s attorneys have recovered more than $5 billion in verdicts and settlements for individuals in asbestos-related litigation, including the largest-ever U.S. verdict ($250 million) for a single plaintiff. The firm also represents plaintiffs nationwide in pharmaceutical, consumer protection, environmental and personal injury cases, as well as small and mid-size corporations, inventors and entrepreneurs in matters involving intellectual property infringement and business litigation. Offices are located in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Alton, Ill. Read more at www.simmonsfirm.com.