Illinois Public Media News
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office says it is reviewing a troubled college savings program.
Spokeswoman Natalie Bauer said Wednesday that Madigan is "looking into some issues'' at the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. She did not elaborate.
The commission runs the prepaid tuition program College Illinois. A state audit released in April questioned management of the program's invested funds and said it had a continuing deficit of more than $300 million.
Lawmakers then ordered a more thorough audit.
College Illinois lets parents and others invest money now and lock in a future tuition level. But it's not guaranteed, so investors would be out of luck if the money runs out.
A spokesman said the commission had not been contacted by the attorney general or other officials.
With a $2 billion fundraising project nearly complete, the University of Illinois is turning its attention toward raising money for students in need.
Leaders at the university are launching a campaign to raise $100 million over the next three years to assist students who would otherwise be eligible for state assistance. The state's Monetary Award Program has faced several years of hardship, and last year MAP turned down more than 100,000 requests for aid.
U of I Foundation spokesman Don Kojich said the new "Access Illinois: The Presidential Scholarship Initiative" may evolve into an ongoing appeal.
"We're really going to focus the next three years on the scholarship initiative and see how much of dent we can make in that unmet need, and then evaluate it as we move forward," Kojich said.
The university is unveiling the new fund drive Thursday morning before the Board of Trustees meeting in Chicago. Among the first donations will be a $100,000 gift from President Michael Hogan and his wife, Virginia.
Kojich said students in all three U of I campuses could be eligible for help from the fund. The money may supplement an existing scholarship program or could be based on any need- or merit-based criteria.
Prosecutors began making their final arguments to jurors Wednesday at the corruption retrial of Rod Blagojevich, after presenting a streamlined case in which they tried to portray the ousted Illinois governor as a serial liar.
Government attorney Carrie Hamilton told jurors that Blagojevich took an oath to fulfill his duties as governor.
"What you have learned in court at this trial is that time and time again, the defendant violated that oath," Hamilton said. "He used his powers as governor to get things for him."
Attorneys for Blagojevich had rested their case earlier in the day after calling defense witnesses that included a former congressman, a former state budget office employee and an FBI agent. Prosecutors then called rebuttal witnesses including two Canadian building executives and two FBI agents.
Jurors could start deliberating as soon as Thursday afternoon, depending on the length of closing arguments by both sides.
In their three-week case, prosecutors called about 15 witnesses and played FBI wiretaps of Blagojevich. They sought to prove charges including that he attempted to shake down executives for cash by threatening state decisions that would hurt their businesses, and that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat.
Blagojevich, 54, faces 20 counts, including attempted extortion and conspiracy to commit bribery.
Prosecutors told jurors that Blagojevich is heard, over and over, scheming to profit from his decisions as governor. They have argued that such talk itself is a crime, and the fact that his schemes failed doesn't change the fact they were illegal.
In the retrial, the prosecution called around half the witnesses as in the first trial last year. Prosecutors asked witnesses fewer questions and rarely strayed onto topics not directly related to the charges. Unlike the first go-around, the prosecution barely touched on Blagojevich's lavish shopping or his lax, sometimes odd working habits.
Blagojevich's first trial ended with a hung jury, with the panel agreeing on a single count - that he lied to the FBI about how involved he was in fundraising as governor. Before the initial trial, Blagojevich repeatedly insisted he would speak directly to jurors, but he never did. His lawyers rested without calling a single witness.
The impeached governor was the star witness of the three-week defense presentation this time. Under a grueling cross-examination, Blagojevich occasionally became flustered, but he repeatedly denied trying to sell or trade the Senate seat or attempting to shake down executives.
In often long-winded answers, Blagojevich argued that his talk captured on FBI wiretaps was merely brainstorming, and that he never took the schemes seriously or decided to carry them out. And though the judge barred such arguments, Blagojevich claimed he'd believed his conversations were legal and part of common political discourse.
Defense attorneys had also called Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. In several motions, they've also accused the government of thwarting them, including by repeatedly objecting to their questions during cross-examination.
(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
Danville's new minor league hockey team will take the name of an old one. The Danville Dashers will become the westernmost team in the Federal Hockey League, when it begins play this coming fall. Home games will be played at the David S. Palmer Arena. That same arena hosted the old Danville Dashers, playing in the Continental Hockey League in the 1980s.
The Palmer Arena will also host a new indoor football team, beginning in 2012. The Ultimate Indoor Football League announced Tuesday that it's launching an expansion team in Danville, with play to begin next March.The team will mark indoor football's return to Danville for the first time since the Danville Demolition played one season for the American Indoor Football Association in 2007. The UIFL is holding a contest to choose a name for the new team.
More and more people are taking advantage of their area state parks for camping, fishing and other recreation. In fact, nearly 2,000,000 people a year pass through two state parks along Route 150. Yet the agency charged with running them has seen significant budget cuts in the past decade. In this installment of our "Life on Route 150" series, Illinois Public Media's Tom Rogers visited the parks and took a snapshot of their health.
(Photo by Tom Rogers/WILL)
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn named Chicago schools chief Gery Chico as chairman of the State Board of Education on Tuesday.
Chico's "decades of experience" in education and administration will be a boon to the state's schools, Quinn said at an announcement in Chicago.
Chico became president of the Chicago school board in 1995 when the city took over the schools. He helped close a budget deficit, build new schools and repair old ones, and got credit for raising test scores.
Quinn said in Chicago Tuesday that Chico's "decades of experience'' in education and administration will be a boon to the state's schools.
"I really think it's important to have a leader of distinction, leading our mission of education," Quinn said. "I can't think of anyone better than Gery Chico."
The State Board of Education has less sway over Illinois public schools than a local school board. The state panel is a policymaking body that oversees state and federal grant money and implements education law.
Chico and Quinn said they would focus on a bipartisan reform law that the Legislature sent to the governor this spring and which deals mostly with teachers' rights and qualifications. Quinn also will make early childhood education and helping local governments to build new schools priorities. Chico said he would try to develop board partnerships with other educational organizations such as universities to bring new opportunities to the classroom.
"Teachers and education literally brought us to where we are today," Chico said. "And as the governor said, it is the heart and soul of our state."
Chico lost the Chicago mayor's race this year and finished fifth in the 2004 Democratic Senate primary that Barack Obama won.
Chico replaces Jesse Ruiz, who has served as chairman since September 2004. He was the first chairman appointed under a law signed that month by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich which the governor to name seven new members and the chairman.
The idea was to make the board more accountable to the governor, who months earlier had made an infamous budget speech in which he called the state board "a Soviet-style bureaucracy" in an effort to create an education department that answered to him.
Ruiz retained respect in the Legislature and education communities after the impeached governor's downfall and Quinn praised him Tuesday, saying he chose Chico after looking for someone with similar qualities.
Members of the Illinois State Board of Education receive no salary but are reimbursed for expenses and paid $50 a day when the board meets once a month.
(AP Photo/(M. Spencer Green)
The judge in ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's retrial says he expects the jury to begin deliberating Thursday.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel made the comment shortly after Blagojevich ended his testimony on Tuesday.
Zagel says the defense plans to call two more witnesses Wednesday, when the government could be ready to present its closing arguments.
The judge says jurors could start to deliberate Thursday after the defense finishes their closing.
The testimony stage of the retrial has lasted six weeks.
The government presented a streamlined, three-week case and called 15 witnesses.
The defense called three witnesses over three weeks. Blagojevich was on for most of that time. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. also took the stand for the defense.
Republican voters in the newly redrawn 53rd state Senate District will have a choice in next year's primary election, between Jason Barickman and Shane Cultra. Barickman, who serves in the Illinois House, announced last week he would run for the Senate seat.
Now, State Senator Cultra says he'll run for the office, too, even though he could be facing an expensive primary fight.
"I'm not over confident, but I enjoy my job," Cultra said. "And what I had to do was sit down and look at all the facts, and how my family felt about it. It's quite a commitment, a huge amount of money to raise. I wanted to make sure I had enough funds to be competitive, lined up and committed, before I made that decision."
Cultra was appointed to the state Senate just a few months ago, replacing Dan Rutherford when he became state treasurer. Barickman was chosen to take Cultra's old seat in the House. Cultra said he has more legislative experience than Barickman.
"I have a long history for people to look at," said Cultra, who served eight years in the Illinois House, prior to his appointment to the Senate. "I certainly represent well the district I'm running in. I've lived here all my life."
But Cultra and Barickman will be introducing themselves to a new group of voters in the 53rd Senate District. With its new boundaries, the 53rd District covers all of Iroquois and Ford Counties, most of Livingston County, and parts of Woodford, Vermilion and McLean Counties. It will no longer cover any of Champaign, Tazewell or LaSalle Counties.
Austan Goolsbee, a longtime adviser to President Barack Obama, will resign his post as the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers this summer to return to teaching at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, the White House announced Monday.
Obama called him "one of America's great economic thinkers."
Goolsbee has been the face of the White House on economic news, and is a regular every first Friday of the month explaining the administration's take on the latest jobless numbers.
He brought a mix of levity and a teacher's sensibility to the job, using the White House blog, Facebook or YouTube to illustrate tax cuts, trade, or the auto industry resurgence on a dry-erase board with a dry wit and a gravel voice. He has been at Obama's side for years. He advised Obama during his 2004 Senate race and was senior economic policy adviser during the 2008 presidential campaign and has served on the three-member economic council since the start of the administration.
"Since I first ran for the U.S. Senate, Austan has been a close friend and one of my most trusted advisers," Obama said. "Over the past several years, he has helped steer our country out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and although there is still much work ahead, his insights and counsel have helped lead us toward an economy that is growing and creating millions of jobs."
Goolsbee took over last September as council chairman, replacing Christina Romer, who left to return to a teaching position at the University of California, Berkley.
He had taught at the University of Chicago for 14 years. His university biography once described him as "insanely committed to his work," noting that Goolsbee was seen in the classroom, wearing a tuxedo, on the day of his wedding.
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Owners of Champaign liquor stores say it's unfair to target one type of business in order to save three positions at the city's police department.
During last night's informational meeting on the suggested 4-percent tax in package liquor sales, those who run stores like Colonial Pantry and Sun Singer say the tax will hurt business, and drive their customers elsewhere.
And Picadilly Beverage Shop owner Jack Troxell claims enacting the tax will force layoffs.
"We're not in a high-margin industry," Troxell said. "We're in a volume industry with low margins. And that's the way it works. If your business drops off, you don't need as many employees. And when that happens, they don't have the same hours, and you can't afford to pay them."
Kam's and Pia's owner Eric Meyer said the liquor tax unfairly singles out an entire sector of business for just one cause. Meyer, who's also the Vice President of the Illinois License Beverage Association, suggests a tax closer to one percent.
The city council tentatively backed the liquor tax last month in order to avoid losing jobs, and ending overnight hours at the police department's front desk. Former Mayors Jerry Schweighart and Dan McCullom criticized the quick manner in which the council proposed the liquor tax. McCullom labeled it 'seat of the pants' decision making without time for deliberating, and Schweighart said when the city council quickly gave the tax their initial support, members abandoned a budget process he'd been working on the council with for months
Mayor Don Gerard, who defeated Schweighart in April's election, said he will consider other revenue proposals, but his intent is saving jobs.
"As the agenda was lined up that night, it was both or neither (the liquor tax and police cuts)," Gerard said. "So we had no choice. Now we can table this until July if we want, and we'll continue to discuss it, but as far as the hullabaloo from the former mayors about the manner in which I do things, well, I just do it a little diffferently, I guess."
The tax is expected to bring in $700,000, well over the $200,000 necessary to restore the police positions. The funds could also go to restore overtime at fire station 4 on Champaign's west side. The liquor tax is the focus of a study session next Tuesday, while business owners suggest different revenue streams, including a hike in the overall sales tax.
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