Illinois Public Media News
An attempt to expand the state's early voting program to college campuses in time for November's general election is stalled.
Senator Michael Frerichs, a Champaign Democrat, wants to make it easier for students to vote before Election Day by letting them cast ballots without leaving campus. "You can go on campus and see long lines waiting to vote, and students stand there for a little while realizing, 'Eh, I don't have the time. I'm going to go off to my class'," Frerichs said. "And if we spread this out over a longer period before the election, I think that won't be as big of a problem."
He's sponsoring a measure that would begin a trial program at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Southern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, and Lewis and Clark Community College. The legislation requires county clerks to set up early voting stations at those schools. While the proposal made it through the Senate, it hasn't moved in the Illinois House. Critics, including Representative Chapin Rose of Mahomet, estimate it could cost counties about one hundred thousand dollars to set up the voting stations. Rose says communities shouldn't be left to pick up that tab when college students can already head to the polls on their campuses on Election Day.
The General Assembly is back in Springfield this week, with the House back Monday and the Senate in on Wednesday.
Legislators' main mission is to pass a new budget. The Illinois House will convene after an approximately two week long break to work on a budget with the same framework as the spending plan that has already passed the Senate. That plan relies on some cuts and granting Governor Pat Quinn extraordinary authority to make more financial decisions. It's expected the House could tweak it to protect certain programs and rein in some of Quinn's powers. An outstanding question is if the House will borrow money to make a $4 billion public pension payment, or skip the payment altogether. Democratic Representative Ken Dunkin of Chicago says either are better than taking money from social services and education.
"Some of us simply are not looking at reality," Dunkin said. "The reality is if you're in a jam, at this level, and this is a rare occasion for us to be in such significant deficit, borrowing or suspending payment to one year is not a bad option."
Also unclear if is there will be support to pass a cigarette tax hike to help fund schools. Democrats -- who control the legislature -- are aiming to finish before the end of the month. Thereafter, passing a budget will be tougher because some Republicans will need to get on board.
Furlough days for 127 employees are part of a mid-year budget cutback approved Thursday night by the Champaign County Board.
County Administrator Deb Busey says she consulted with county department heads and elected officials to find nearly a million dollars in cuts for the 2nd half of the fiscal year.
But Busey is projecting a total shortfall of $1.6 million for Champaign County --- due to continued delays in state funding and a drop in county fee revenue. She says she'll wait a couple of months before cutting any further.
"The remaining $600,000 is with the hope that those revenues will improve more than what the current projections show", says Busey. "And cutting a million dollars out of half a year's budget seemed fairly aggressive, and it's what we did at this point. "
The majority of those cuts are coming from Personnel and most of that through unpaid furlough days for county employees. For 70 employees, the furlough days are subject to negotiations with their unions --- a process Busey says is still ongoing.
The University of Illinois' Board of Trustees has approved a $620,000 salary for the school's new president, and a 9.5% increase in tuition. The board approved the measures on a voice vote Thursday afternoon. Earlier, protesters marched outside the board's meeting, demanding that new President Michael Hogan be paid only $450,000 annually. Hogan's salary is $170,000 more than that received by his predecessor, B. Joseph White.
On the tuition increase, Interim President Stanley Ikenberry says budget cuts and employee furloughs weren't enough to balance the budget. "But students also are going to need to share a portion of the load," said Ikenberry. "Asking them to share at basically an inflationary rate is, I think, a good balance policy that's fair to students and other groups within the university." For incoming students, tuition will go up $902 dollars per year to $10,386 at the Urbana campus, $792 a year to $9,134 at the Chicago campus, and $706 per year to $8,108 at the Springfield campus.
Ikenberry also said at the meeting that Hogan deserves the higher salary. Ikenberry says Hogan's salary puts him in the middle of the pay scale for Big Ten presidents. He says Hogan has "superb academic credentials.
The Carle Foundation is bringing more defendants into a lawsuit over the hospital's property tax status.
Carle has had to pay property taxes for several hospital buildings since 2002, when Champaign County and Cunningham Township officials ruled that Carle didn't provide enough charity care to be considered tax-exempt. The hospital appealed - that case is awaiting a ruling from state revenue officials. In the meantime, Carle sued the state, the county and the township claiming they improperly revoked Carle's tax exemption.
Now Carle's senior vice president for legal affairs, L.J. Fallon, says they've added the city of Urbana, the Urbana school district and the Urbana park district to the suit. He claims they should pay back their share of nearly $800,000 Carle agreed to put up in lieu of paying property taxes if Carle won its suit.
Fallon acknowledges this will put a crimp in talks over the tax exemption of several former Carle Clinic buildings - property that could also be taken off the tax rolls now that they're part of Carle Hospital under this year's merger.
"I can't imagine that the filing of this lawsuit -- although we tried to give them advance notice and prepare them -- I can't gauge whether or not they'll still want to have discussions about payment in lieu of taxes," said Fallon. "They, like us, probably want to see how this is going to resolve so that we can have some really meaningful discussions."
Earlier this year the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that another Urbana hospital, Provena Covenant Medical Center, was liable for property taxes. A Champaign County judge is set to hear Carle's latest motion Tuesday.
In a statement released late Thursday afternoon, Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said she was disappointed by Carle's decision to add defendants. Prussing contends that Carle never mentioned the concerns it outlined in the suit.
The University of Illinois' educational outreach to the state is planning for big cuts over the next year.
U of I Extension plans to realign its offices in every county, combining several of those county offices into multi-county regions with shared administration. For example, one region would be made out of Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties.
"We will have a hub office which will contain most of our people," said Bob Hoeft, the interim extension director. "In the counties that don't have the hub, they will have a satellite office. That office isn't going to be what we've had in the past -- it will probably be smaller. It will probably not be open every day of the week."
But Hoeft says the satellite offices would be able to provide clients with publications and other information without the need to make a long drive to another county. He says the target of the consolidation is to save $7 million over the next budget year, about the same amount of money U of I Extension had to cut from the current year's budget.
While minor league baseball works to develop stars of the future... it also strives to create a family atmosphere. The tickets are far cheaper than the cost of a big league game, and teams rely on various promotions, mascots, and a team of on-field enthusiasts to complete that minor league experience.
Central Illinois' newest franchise recently held a casting call to fill some of those roles. Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert talked with some of the hopefuls:
University of Illinois trustees will vote Thursday (May 20th) to confirm the schools' incoming president and to raise tuition. But first ... a trio of legislators and union members will protest.
Michael Hogan will make $620,000 a year as the U of I's president. The last Illinois president. B. Joseph White, made $450,000.
State Senator Marty Sandoval of Cicero is one of several Democrats who say Hogan should forgo the hike. He says it will start Hogan off on the wrong foot ... given that the school's set to increase tuition by 9.5%.
"Everyone has been very public about holding the line on cost", says Sandoval. "And ... it's just apparent that the board of the University of Illinois, and President Hogan just don't get it. That people are hurting."
Sandoval wants a tuition freeze. The SEIU union says when its members are asked to take furloughs and accept layoffs, the university's top administrator should set an example. University spokesman Tom Hardy defends Hogan's package as comparable with peer institutions. Hardy says the pay is what's needed to get the best person for the job.
Sharp reductions in services and staff at the Vermilion County Health Department will start next week. The cutbacks were announced as the department adjusts to the latest round of budget cuts, due to delays in state funding.
Friday, May 21st, is the last day the Vermilion County Health department will offer three state-funded maternal and child healthcare programs. In fact, it's the last Friday the department will be open at all. Administrator Steve Laker says starting next week, the department will be closed on Fridays, at least until the new county fiscal year begins December 1st.
"We're doing that to minimize expenditures during the remainder of the fiscal year, just to make sure we survive", says Laker. "Really, what we're imposing is a mandatory furlough day on all employees --- all administrative staff, all employees. So it's going to cut their compensation by 20 percent, for real close to six months."
The Vermilion County Health Department will also phase out testing for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
The cutbacks also mean that the Health Department's satellite office in Hoopeston will close. Laker says people who relied on that location will have to come to their Danville office instead. He says the Hoopeston site mainly served people living in the upper third of Vermilion County --- north of US Route 136 and Illinois Route 119.
"So we probably had about 400 clients up there", says Laker. "And they're all going to have to transfer down to (the Health Department's Danville) facility. And we're anticipating transportation difficulties for a number of them, but we don't have any choice."
The Hoopeston satellite facility is slated to close June 30th. By that date, the Vermilion County Health Department's staff will be down to around 30 --- compared to about 74 when the year began. Among those departing will be Laker himself, who's retiring as administrator. The Vermilion County Board of Health has chosen administrative services director Shirley Hicks to take his place.
The state of Indiana says the boyhood home of famed World War II journalist Ernie Pyle will no longer be a state historic site, but its supporters say the battle to reopen it hasn't ended.
The home in the Vermilion County town of Dana has been closed to visitors since January. The state Department of Natural Resources has put off a vote to de-access the property - in other words, to sell or reassign the frame house, a Quonset hut and the exhibits on the site. Spokesman Phil Bloom says the museum attracted few visitors and wasn't economically viable.
But Phil Hess, who heads the group Friends of Ernie Pyle, contends that the state didn't give the museum a fair chance when it laid off the site administrator.
"That was the first position lost, and the staff was cut periodically through the whole time to where the Ernie Pyle site was down to only 1/6 the hours of the average of the other sites in the Indiana system," said Hess. "We were kind of predestined to fail."
Now that the DNR has postponed a decision on disposing of the property until November, Hess says his group will ask the governor's office to reverse the closure decision. Hess claims museum donors were led to believe the exhibits would remain in Dana. DNR officials have proposed moving the most important Ernie Pyle memorabilia to the state museum in Indianapolis.
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