SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Illinois Senate committees approved higher cigarette taxes and a cheaper version of the governor's health plan Wednesday, hoping to break the bitter impasse over a new state budget.
The state tax on a pack of cigarettes would jump by 75 cents, to a total of $1.73. It would generate about $328 million a year, which supporters hope to spend on roads, schools and other construction needs.
The slimmer health care plan represented a significant concession by Gov. Rod Blagojevich. It would cost about $1.2 billion a year instead of the roughly $3 billion price tag for his original version.
The lower cost would be achieved partly by restricting eligibility for some programs and cutting back the care offered to some poor people.
Blagojevich greeted the committee votes as "a promising development" in the budget deadlock that has dragged on for a record-breaking 56 days. But he acknowledged even his slimmed down health plan doesn't yet have enough support to pass in the Senate.
The Democratic governor hopes to round up the necessary votes for a Senate victory that would increase pressure for the House to consider his plan. Blagojevich stressed he would keep insisting on the health care plan even if it fails in the Senate.
"The only thing it changes is the timeline. It means we'll have to be here longer," Blagojevich said in an interview with The Associated Press.
"The bottom line here is, there's not going to be a budget resolution without a health care plan ... whether we have to stay here through August to get it done or through September."Day 57? Day 58? Day 59? Day 60+?
Oak Forest Land, to be sold by Cook County as per the Stroger BudgetCook County plans to divide excess land at Oak Forest Hospital among the state, county forest preserve and private developers, county officials said Tuesday.
A parcel along Cicero Avenue, south of the hospital's campus at 159th Street, likely will be sold to a commercial developer, possibly for a big-box store, said Anna Ashcraft, special assistant to Board President Todd Stroger.
"The city of Oak Forest doesn't want to buy it, but they are eager to have input, and they'd like to see that turned into commercial property," Ashcraft said.
This parcel, of about 23 acres, is the most valuable land surrounding the hospital. A county board committee Tuesday declared nearly all the land excess property -- starting a process of appraising, surveying and selling the property, which Ashcraft said likely will stretch into next year.
The county has more than 300 acres stretching between Cicero and Crawford avenues, south of 159th Street to about 164th Street.
Oak Forest Hospital takes up less than a third of the property on the western side.
The rest of the property, originally bought in 1908, served as a farm that fed and funded the county's poorhouse, which also was on the site, Ashcraft said. When poorhouses went out of style in the 1950s, the farm was closed.
Much of 100 acres in the center of the property was used as a pauper's gravesite. Former Cook County morgue official Mike Boehmer said 67,000 people were buried there between 1908 and sometime in the 1960s.
"This was not just for Cook County, but for anyone who couldn't afford a burial," Ashcraft said.
The county has surveyed the property using ground-penetrating radar, Ashcraft said, and will turn over any land that includes graves to the forest preserve district.
The county board approved a $13 million transfer from the forest preserve to the county during the February budget process in exchange for the promise of an undetermined amount of land at Oak Forest Hospital.
The 60 or 70 acres left over on the eastern third of the property also will be put up for sale. Ashcraft said the state might buy that land as a way of offering the cash-strapped county some help.
The state's department of mental health is interested in at least 8 acres to build a new mental health center to replace the one the state sold in Tinley Park, Ashcraft said.
Todd STroger wants money from the state for Cook County Health Care
Cook County Board President Todd Stroger today ruled out a property tax increase for 2008 while asking legislators to provide $100 million for the county health system in the state budget.
Stroger said the state needs to kick in cash to keep the troubled county system afloat because the whole state benefits from the county’s willingness to provide health care for the poor.
“The governor’s talking about universal health care, this is universal health care right here,” Stroger said. “We’ll see you no matter what.”
Stroger and seven Chicago aldermen from all parts of the city held a news conference at Stroger Hospital asking for the state money. Stroger has been making requests since the spring.
“It’s doable, and people in Springfield need to just suck it up … and give us the money,” said Ald. Freddrenna Lyle (6th).
Stroger warned of a second round of deep cuts to the health system, but said what the Legislature does or doesn’t include in the upcoming state budget makes no difference on whether he’ll seek a property tax increase.
“I can tell you now, there won’t be a property tax increase (for 2008),” Stroger said.
He declined to answer a question about whether he would consider other tax increases.