LEVEE-PHOTO-APphoto courtesy of The Associated Press

A barge idles in the Chain of Rocks Canal near Granite City. The Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council, which is overseeing repairs to a 74-mile stretch of the levee system is at odds with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over its refusal to require a project labor agreement for related work.
    The local agency responsible for restoring Metro East levees may take back responsibility for a major project in that effort over the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ refusal to require a project labor agreement.
    The Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council is overseeing repairs and upgrades to the 74-mile levee system that protects the American Bottom – the Mississippi River floodplain that stretches from Alton to Columbia in Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties. The area is home to 156,000 people and businesses that employ 55,000 workers.
    A quarter-cent sales tax collected in the three counties since 2009 is paying for the work, aimed at restoring the levee systems to 100-year flood protection by 2015.
    The council has established a policy of using project labor agreements for the work. A PLA is a pre-hire agreement that sets out wages, benefits and working conditions for a particular construction project.
    Les Sterman, chief supervisor for the council, said PLAs are used for nearly every big construction project in southwestern Illinois.
    “It’s generally accepted as good practice here,” he said. “It’s not a partisan issue. It’s not a ‘big labor’ issue.”
    Under a PLA, contractors, whether union or non-union, agree to its terms when they submit bids and unions agree not to strike for the duration of the job.
    “(PLAs) have resulted in great stability in the workplace,” Sterman said. “They do not increase costs. They may even stimulate competition.”

receipts-photophoto by the Illinois Business Journal

Stagnation in sales tax revenues has several officials in southwestern Illinois concerned. Numbers that had been increasing in the year or so after the recession have since slowed to the point where they haven’t even kept pace with inflation.
    Metro East officials hope a decline in sales tax revenues that began last year is only temporary.
    “We’re probably at 2010 levels,” said Les Sterman, chief supervisor for the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council. “It’s certainly an area of concern.”
    Sluggish sales tax collections are a direct indicator of lackluster retail sales and affect state, county and municipal governments and local agencies like the flood prevention district that depend partially or entirely on those revenues to pay for services they provide.
    Sales taxes provide a portion of revenues for counties, cities and villages but are the sole source of revenue for agencies like the flood prevention district and the Metro East Park and Recreation District, which receives a one-tenth-cent tax on retail sales in Madison and St. Clair counties.
    The flood prevention district is in charge of repairs to the levees that protect the Mississippi River flood plain, which stretches from Alton to Columbia. A quarter-cent sales tax is collected in Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties to fund the big repair project.
    The district began receiving the tax in January 2009, in the depths of the recent recession. The tax brought in $10.3 million in 2009 and $11.0 million in 2010, an increase of nearly 7 percent.
    “We saw a nice recovery after the recession,” Sterman said.
    In 2011, however, revenue from the tax grew just
under 2 percent and in 2012 grew by only 0.26 percent. In June 2012, monthly receipts began coming in lower than the corresponding months in 2011, a trend that continued through June of this year with the exception of but one month.

    The new health insurance COOP that was announced in the February issue of the Illinois Business Journal, is now up and running and accepting customers.
    “It’s going excellently,” said Daniel Yunker, CEO of Land of Lincoln Health. “We’ve successfully built 35 health plans available for consumer access. The plans are on the exchange and we’ve designed those health plans to hopefully fit all budgets.”
    While some insurance companies have been creating policies for the exchanges that limit in-network providers, Land of Lincoln has focused on building a network of health care providers that its policy holders want to utilize.
    “We have a broad panel of quality hospitals and doctors throughout the State of Illinois, in all 13 rating areas, and they’re available across all 35 of our plans,” said Yunker.
    But Land of Lincoln’s network is not limited to Illinois. It extends throughout the nation, Yunker said. A full list of providers can be found on the Land of Lincoln Health website.
    Land of Lincoln Health is a COOP (Consumer Oriented and Operated Plan) that was created pursuant to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. COOPs are private, member-run, nonprofit organizations that will sell health insurance coverage and will be subject to the same rules as other health insurers. COOPS differ from health insurance companies because they are member-run and required to use their revenues in excess of expenses to lower premiums, improve health benefits, improve the quality of health care, expand enrollment or otherwise contribute to the stability of coverage for members.