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Harkin Unveils New Website Documenting Legislative Legacy PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Sen. Tom Harkin   
Thursday, 09 October 2014 14:58

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today unveiled a new website documenting his record of legislative achievements and work on behalf of Iowans over a 40-year Congressional career. Since the day he entered Congress in 1975, Harkin has worked tirelessly to create a ladder of opportunity for Iowans, Americans, and millions more around the world.

Harkin has led the passage of some of the landmark laws of the past quarter-century. He has transformed the landscape for people with disabilities and created farm and renewable energy policy to ensure Iowa has one of the most vibrant economies and highest quality of life in the country. With the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, Harkin’s leadership has made, for the first time, keeping Americans healthy and preventing illness a key part of the health care system.

The new website also looks at Harkin’s 27 years of outstanding bipartisan leadership as Chairman of three Senate committees. As chair of the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, Harkin has overseen the spending priorities for half of all non-security discretionary spending. His leadership has advanced issues from innovative scientific and medical research, to job training and early childhood education. As Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, he led two farm bills to enactment – each with overwhelming bipartisan votes. Similarly, the website documents the Harkin record as chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, passing 18 bills into law in the current Congress. Harkin’s HELP Committee has been the most productive Senate committee during the least productive Congress in 60 years.

Harkin’s many priorities over his career are united by the common goal of helping to make our country, and the world, more fair and just, and to ensure that every American has the chance to reach his or her potential. His work has ranged from distinctive achievements in the realm of international human rights, to the creation of new economic opportunities for Iowans. Harkin’s leadership ensures that Iowa's workforce is healthy and well-educated, that quality infrastructure promotes a high quality of life, and that businesses and farmers have the infrastructure necessary to move their products quickly, safely, and affordably to markets.

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Treasurer Fitzgerald Auctioning Off Spooktacular Items in eBay PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Karen Austin   
Tuesday, 07 October 2014 15:33

DES MOINES, IA (10/07/2014)(readMedia)-- State Treasurer Michael L. Fitzgerald's upcoming eBay auction just might have that unique item to complete your Halloween costume. Fitzgerald will host his next unclaimed property eBay auction beginning on October 13. "We will have an assortment of items up for bid, perfect accessories for Halloween," Fitzgerald stated. "The auction will be filled with one-of-a-kind items and unique collectibles that were turned over in unclaimed safe deposit boxes." Interested bidders may visit the state treasurer's eBay auction at http://myworld.ebay.com/ia.unclaimed.property.

The auction will begin on Monday, October 13 and will close on October 20. Some of the treasures in this online auction include a jade bangle bracelet and costume jewelry for the Cleopatra costume, a handheld collapsible fan perfect for the princess, and bolo ties and a longhorn steer belt buckle for the cowboys. Items included in the auction are reported to the state treasurer as unclaimed property by financial institutions across the state. Photos, letters and other personal memorabilia will not be included in the auction. The auction proceeds are held for the rightful owners until they come forward.

Search GreatIowaTreasureHunt.com to see if the state treasurer has property belonging to you. Be sure to like the Great Iowa Treasure Hunt on Facebook and follow the program on Twitter @GreatIATreasure for information about future auctions.

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Flexible Spending Accounts, Commuter Benefits Cut Your Taxes PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Steve Burke   
Tuesday, 07 October 2014 09:18

By Jason Alderman

For millions of Americans, 2015 open enrollment for employer-provided benefits is right around the corner. While it may be tempting to simply opt for the same coverage you have this year, doing so could cost you hundreds – or thousands – of dollars in tax savings.

Have I captured your attention?

Find out if your employer offers flexible spending accounts (FSAs). They let you pay for eligible out-of-pocket healthcare and/or dependent care expenses on a pre-tax basis – that is, before federal, state, local and Social Security taxes have been deducted from your paycheck.

Also look for a commuter benefit plan, where you can pay for certain workplace mass transit and parking expenses with pretax dollars. By contributing to an FSA or commuter plan to cover expenses you would have paid for anyway, you reduce your taxable income by that amount, which in turn lowers your tax bill.

Here's how it can add up: Say you're married, jointly earn $90,000 a year and contribute 5 percent to a 401(k). If you contribute $2,000 to a healthcare FSA and $4,000 for dependent care, your resulting net income, after taxes, would be roughly $1,700 more than if you had paid for those expenses on an after-tax basis. Use the FSA calculator at www.dinkytown.net to evaluate your own situation.

And, with a commuter plan, you can use pretax dollars to pay for up to $130 a month in transit expenses (bus, train, vanpool, etc.) and $250 a month in qualified parking expenses and reap the same kind of tax benefit.

You can use a healthcare FSA to pay for any IRS-allowed medical expenses not covered by your medical, dental or vision plans. This includes deductibles, copayments, orthodontia, glasses, prescription drugs, chiropractic, smoking cessation programs and many more. Note: Over-the-counter medications, except for insulin, require a doctor's prescription to be eligible. (See IRS Publication 502.)

Dependent care FSAs let you use pre-tax dollars to pay for eligible expenses related to care for your child, spouse, parent or other dependent incapable of self-care. Eligible expenses include:

  • Fees for licensed daycare and adult care facilities.
  • Amounts paid for services provided in or outside your home so that you and your spouse can work, look for work, or attend school full-time.
  • Before- and after-school programs for dependents under age 13.
  • Babysitting by relatives over age 19 who aren't your dependent.

For some lower-income families, the federal income tax dependent care tax credit is more advantageous than an FSA so crunch the numbers or ask a tax expert which alternative is best. Note: You cannot claim the same expenses under both tax breaks.

Keep in mind these FSA restrictions:

  • The IRS limits employee contributions to healthcare FSAs to $2,500 a year.
  • The dependent care FSA contribution limit is $5,000 if you're single or married filing jointly.
  • Healthcare and dependent care account contributions are not interchangeable.
  • Outside of open enrollment, you can only make mid-year FSA changes after a major life or family status change.
  • You must re-enroll in FSAs each year.

You'll also need to estimate planned healthcare FSA expenses carefully or risk having to forfeit your unused account balance. Employers may choose to either: offer a grace period of up to 2 ½ months after the plan year's end to incur expenses; or allow you to carry over up to $500 to use in the following year.

With commuter plans you can change contribution amounts throughout the year whenever your needs change; you can also carry over unused funds from month to month.


Jason Alderman directs Visa's financial education programs. To Follow Jason Alderman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney.

 
Governor Quinn Statement on the Occasion of Eid al-Adha PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Dave Blanchette   
Tuesday, 07 October 2014 09:11
CHICAGO – Governor Pat Quinn today issued the following statement on the occasion of Eid al-Adha:

“Eid al-Adha – the ‘Festival of Sacrifice’ – is a holiday during which we share with those who are hungry, sick or in need.

“During this special time, we are reminded that sacrifice and compassion are two qualities necessary to make the world a better place and assure no one is left behind.

“In the spirit of humility and warmth, I wish Illinois’ 500,000 Muslim residents and Muslims around the world a blessed Eid.”

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Governor Quinn Announces Major Investments in Conservation and Illinois State Parks PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Katie Hickey   
Tuesday, 07 October 2014 08:45

Announces Expansion at Starved Rock State Park, Land Acquisitions and $6.5 Million in State Park Capital Projects

OGLESBY – Governor Pat Quinn today announced the acquisition of a 51-acre parcel of land adjacent to Starved Rock State Park that will provide additional wildlife space and serve as a buffer to protect the park. The Governor also announced wildlife habitat land acquisition in Edgar, Woodford and Jackson Counties and improvement projects at state parks operated by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). Today’s announcement is part of Governor Quinn’s agenda to protect our natural areas and expand outdoor activities for the people of Illinois.

“Starved Rock State Park is one of our most beautiful natural areas, and this property acquisition will protect the land we have while increasing the space available for state park users to enjoy,” Governor Quinn said. “In addition, the investments in central, eastern and southern Illinois will greatly expand wildlife habitat in these regions and ensure that generations to come will be able to enjoy Illinois’ great outdoors.”

The recently acquired property at Starved Rock State Park is 51.47 acres with steep bluffs and ravines located adjacent to a dedicated nature preserve. The property formerly included a campground area, but most of the campsite facilities were removed prior to acquisition. The property was purchased from a private estate for the appraised value of $900,000 using Open Land Trust funds. In addition to providing additional recreational activities at Starved Rock, this site will provide protection against incompatible future development.

Governor Quinn also announced today that IDNR has acquired 121 acres from Pheasants Forever to expand public hunting opportunities in Edgar County. The new parcel is contiguous to the northern boundary of the 87-acre Willow Creek State Habitat Area near Paris. The acquisition more than doubles the hunting acreage available at the site. The property will be managed for pheasant hunting, other wildlife species and additional recreational activities. IDNR purchased the land using $300,000 from Open Land Trust Funds and $22,000 from the State Pheasant Fund.

“Strong partnerships, like the one we enjoy with Pheasants Forever, allow the IDNR to better carry out its mission of improving outdoor recreational opportunities,” IDNR Director Marc Miller said. “Groups like Pheasants Forever can move quickly when land becomes available. By doing so, they play a key role in efforts to expand habitat and hunting opportunities to meet a growing need.”

IDNR is acquiring Jenkins Marsh, a 242 acre parcel of land adjacent to the Woodford County State Conservation Area in Woodford County. IDNR currently owns 5,425 acres at this location in Woodford, Tazewell and Peoria counties. The new acquisition will expand the Woodford State Fish and Wildlife Area and provide additional space for hunting and recreational opportunities. IDNR will work with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Ducks Unlimited to develop a wetland restoration and management plan. IDNR will close on the land by the end of the year, using $885,000 from the Open Land Trust Funds.

Governor Quinn also noted that IDNR and CONSOL Mining Company LLC, a subsidiary of CONSOL Energy, Inc., have announced a contract to purchase 4,400 acres of contiguous wildlife habitat. The property, known as Burning Star Mine #5, is located seven miles north of Carbondale. The parcel is bordered by U.S. 51 on the west and Illinois 149 on the south. Completion of this transaction is subject to a number of customary conditions, and accordingly, a closing date for the sale has not yet been set.

“Large blocks of wildlife habitat are increasingly rare in Illinois, and that is why it is so important for the Department of Natural Resources to pursue the purchase of this property,” Director Miller said. “The Burning Star #5 property also is a premiere example of mine reclamation, and now has the potential to provide recreational opportunities for years to come.”

The property contains floodplain forest along the Little Muddy River, deep-water lakes and ponds, and leased farm ground that could eventually be restored to grassland habitat. The site should produce outstanding hunting opportunities for waterfowl, deer, turkey and upland game, plus trapping, fishing, hiking, limited camping and wildlife observation.

During its peak years of production, the Burning Star #5 Mine employed 337 people and produced 2.8 million tons of coal annually. The mine closed in 1992 and reclamation began.  CONSOL Energy met all state and federal standards for mine reclamation and was released from final reclamation obligations in 2004.

"Governor Quinn's commitment to acquiring land for public recreation and environmental conservation will have a positive impact on Illinois and its citizens for generations to come," Jennifer Walling, Executive Director of the Illinois Environmental Council said.

In addition to these land acquisitions, Governor Quinn announced $6,527,000 in improvement projects at state parks throughout Illinois to maintain their infrastructure and make them easier for visitors to use. The funding comes from the Governor’s Illinois Jobs Now! capital construction program. The projects include:

Cook County, Chicago

  • William W. Powers, playground replacement, $53,000

DeKalb County, Shabbona

  • Shabbona, campground electric, $501,000

Grundy County, Morris

  • I&M Canal, trail segment rehabilitation phase 1, $289,000

Jersey County

  • Grafton: Pere Marquette, bike trail rehabilitation, $1,258,000
  • Grafton:  Pere Marquette, lodge renovations, $1,479,000

Kankakee County

  • Kankakee River, playground replacement, $179,000

LaSalle County

  • Oglesby: Starved Rock, Trail rehabilitation phase 5, $1,405,000
  • Oglesby: Starved Rock, campground electrics, $591,000
  • Oglesby: Starved Rock, playground safety replacement, $105,000

Winnebago County

  • Rock cut, campground water, sewer, and electric rehabilitation, $667,000
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