Illinois Public Media News
Declining land values have forced Urbana aldermen to increase the property tax rate for 2012.
With little discussion, the city council last night unanimously raised that rate from a $1.29 per $100 of assessed valuation to $1.32.
But Mayor Laurel Prussing's Chief of Staff, Mike Monson, says the city is levying the same amount as last year, and the move will have virtually no impact on residents' tax bills.
"It's just the sign of the times with the economy, and the real estate bubble," Monson said. "We're still feeling the effects a couple of years later. The exact same thing happened in Champaign. Their rate went up a couple of pennies, and they decided to levy the same amount as last year."
Last week, Urbana City Comptroller Ron Eldridge said the 2011 tax levy marked the first time in his time with the city that he's seen the assessed value decrease. The actual amount went down nearly 2-percent. Eldridge also noted that Champaign's tax rate will still be be slightly above Urbana's (Champaign's rate is $1.3227, Urbana's is $1.3190.)
Without an increase in the tax rate, Urbana would have been dealing with a $200-thousand deficit in the current year's budget.
Illinois sophomore center Meyers Leonard has announced he will declare for the 2012 NBA draft.
Leonard averaged 14 points, eight rebounds for the Fighting Illini. His average of two blocked shots last season led the Big Ten. The graduate of Robinson High School in southeastern Illinois earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors.
In a statement, Leonard said it was a very difficult decision, but he believes the timing is right for him to follow his dream of playing in the NBA.
Illinois hasn't had a first round NBA Draft pick since Deron Williams and Dee Brown in 2005. Williams plays for the New Jersey Nets. Brown was waived by the Dallas Mavericks in 2010.
Another longtime member of the Indiana Supreme Court is stepping down.
Justice Frank Sullivan Jr. announced Monday that he will be leaving the court after 19 years to join the faculty at Indiana University's law school in Indianapolis. Sullivan says he will remain on the court until near the start of the law school's fall semester.
Sullivan's departure follows the retirement last month of Chief Justice Randall Shepard after 25 years leading the state's top court.
Sullivan was state budget director under Democratic Gov. Evan Bayh before Bayh appointed him to the five-member court in 1993. Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels will pick Sullivan's replacement from candidates selected by the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission.
Harrisburg and other southern Illinois communities affected by a deadly tornado in February are getting up to $13 million in state and Small Business Administration aid.
Gov. Pat Quinn's office announced Monday that the help includes reimbursements to local governments for some of their disaster-related expenses and road improvements. The aid also involves grants for home repairs and low-interest loans to storm-affected businesses.
Seven people were killed by the twister that tore through Harrisburg on Feb. 29.
Since then, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has denied the state's request for help from U.S. taxpayers in the recovery effort.
Quinn says recovery from the tornado won't happen overnight but the assistance package detailed Monday will help those hurt by the storm to rebuild their lives.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture this year unveiled new nutrition standards for school meals. It's the first major nutritional overhaul of its kind in more than 15 years. As part of our series on efforts in the region to increase health and wellness, Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports on how the Champaign School District is trying to stay ahead of new federal regulations taking affect this year and beyond.
State lawmakers in Illinois are trying to make it safer for people to use online dating sites.
The Decatur Herald & Review reported Sunday that legislation aiming to do that passed the Illinois House last week.
It would require Internet dating services operating in Illinois to post disclaimers saying whether they conduct background checks on their members.
The measure is sponsored by state Rep. Michelle Mussman, a Democrat from Schaumburg.
She says she wants to help Internet users "become more savvy" and protect themselves from online predators.
Opponents say the bill overreaches. Republican Rep. Jim Durkin of LaGrange says adults should be responsible for their own safety when using such sites.
The legislation now goes to the Senate.
An indicator of Illinois' economic growth has broken the 100 mark for the first time in more than three years.
The monthly University of Illinois Flash Index came in at 101.0 for March, up from 99.2 in February. Anything over 100 indicates economic growth. Last month's results are the highest since September 2008.
But index author and U of I economist Fred Giertz said there's nothing magical about that level, noting Illinois' unemployment rate is at 9-percent, compared to 8.3 percent nationwide. he said a rating of over 100 doesn't mean the upward trend will continue next month.
"There's always a question - was that an aberration, or is that going to continue?" Giertz said. "But right now, it seems like the signs are pretty good. But there is no assurance. This is not a prediction of the future. It's a kind of measure of where we are right now. So the hope is that we'll continue, but the index doesn't tell us where it's going or how fast it will go up."
Giertz said it will likely be at least a year or two before unemployment rates in the 6-percent range are achieved.
The Flash Index is based on individual, corporate, and sales tax receipts.
The Dow Chemical Co. plans to close its plant in Charleston, Illinois --- one of four facilities being closed down in response to weak demand for the company's products in Europe.
The Charleston plant makes Styrofoam Brant building insulation. Dow spokesperson Rebecca Bentley said its closure is slated for the third quarter of this year. About 30 jobs are being eliminated.
Michigan-based Dow is also closing Styrofoam plants plants in Portugal and Hungary, and another plant in Brazil. In addition, Dow is idling a plant in the Nederlands. In all, about 900 Dow employees around the world will lose their jobs.
Dow Chemical said Monday that the positions will be cut as part of a plan to trim costs by about $250 dollars each year.
Dow Chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris said the company made the decision to adapt to a volatile economy, especially in western Europe.
Dow said it will book a first-quarter charge of $350 million for severance packages, asset impairments and other items related to its cost-cutting plan.
Bruce Weber knows that Kansas State fans may not accept him right away. That much became clear when a small rally for another coaching candidate turned into a protest of his hiring.
The former Illinois coach doesn't have a problem with that, though.
Weber is up for any challenge that's presented to him.
The former Illinois coach was hired by Kansas State on Saturday to replace Frank Martin, whose departure for South Carolina earlier in the week sent shockwaves through the program. The school moved quickly on the hiring, reaching out to Weber in the last few days and finalizing a deal late Friday.
Weber agreed to a five-year, $8.5 million contract that will pay him $1.5 million next season and an additional $100,000 each remaining year. There are also several benefits.
"It's been a whirlwind, to be honest. Just a few hours ago I was in New Orleans thinking I was going to have gumbo," said Weber, who was attending the Final Four before hopping on a plane with Kansas State athletic director John Currie and heading to Kansas on Saturday.
"We wanted a coach who recognized the tremendous opportunity that exists here at Kansas State," Currie said. "Bruce Weber's name repeatedly rose to the top of the list, whose personal values and integrity matched those of K-State."
Weber was greeted at Bramlage Coliseum by a small group of fans who had been planning to support another candidate, and who were displeased with the hiring of a coach recently fired by Illinois.
Weber was let go after compiling 210-101 record over nine seasons, which included six trips to the NCAA tournament and a national runner-up finish in 2005. The Illini went 17-15 and 6-12 in the Big Ten this season, prompting the administration let Weber go with three years left on his contract.
"I'll be honest: We had a young team, six freshmen, one returning starter," Weber said. "The disappointment of a lot of close losses took a toll. It happens." Weber takes over for Martin, who returned a once-proud program to national prominence after Bob Huggins' departure for West Virginia five years ago. Weber will be the fourth coach to lead Kansas State in the past eight seasons - and the third to cause some consternation among fans.
Huggins was hired still carrying baggage from his messy divorce with Cincinnati, while Martin was a nondescript assistant who had never been a college head coach. Weber certainly has experience running a program. It's just that not all of it has been good.
He was considered one of the rising stars of the profession after taking Southern Illinois to a pair of NCAA tournament appearances, one of which ended in the regional semifinals. He then took over a program at Illinois that had been built into a perennial contender under Bill Self - now the coach at Kansas, just down the Interstate from Manhattan, Kan., and the Wildcats' biggest rival.
The Jayhawks were scheduled to play Ohio State in the Final Four on Saturday, just hours after officials at Kansas State were to announce Weber's hiring. Weber had immediate success at Illinois with players largely recruited by Self, returning to the NCAA tournament his first four seasons. That included a 37-2 record during the 2004-05 season, which ended with a 75-70 loss to North Carolina in the national championship game.
The program began to slip soon after, though, and fans who had grown accustomed to winning began to sour. The Illini had a losing record by Weber's fifth season in charge, and despite winning 20 or more games the next three seasons, the program had faded from the national spotlight.
Weber never seemed entirely comfortable following Self at Illinois, and now he'll be matching wits with the Jayhawks' coach at least twice a year.
In fact, Weber had grown so tired of the comparisons to the uber-successful Self that he walked into the locker room before a game in 2003 dressed entirely in black. The quirky coach told the Illini that he was "going to throw a funeral. It's the end of Bill Self."
The idea was to somehow get across the message that the program had moved on.
That's exactly what Kansas State fans are being forced to do.
Martin's intense style and own quirks endeared him to many Kansas State fans. Of course, the winning helped - at least 20 wins each of the past five seasons, four of them ending in NCAA tournament berths, with a trip to the regional finals with Jacob Pullen in 2010.
The school's career scoring leader, Pullen grew up in Chicago and now plays overseas. He offered his assessment of the hiring via Twitter, even misspelling Weber's name: "Bruce Webber didn't think I was good enough to play at Illinois and I don't think he is good enough to coach at Kansas State."
Others have praised the hiring of Weber, whose strong recruiting ties to Chicago will no doubt come in handy at a school that's forced to recruit nationally. Weber is also energetic and personable, two traits that will help as he attempts to quell a fan base wary of more change.
"Give me a chance," Weber said. "It doesn't matter where you go or which coach you hired, there was always going to be a question mark. There's no doubt about that. That's part of college sports.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
The Illinois House of Representatives passed a budget outline on Thursday that calls on cutting Medicaid funding by about $2.7 billion.
State Rep. Jason Barickman (R-Champaign) was one of 16 lawmakers to vote against it. He said the proposal makes too many assumptions that he's not sure Democrats would support.
"Last year, we put forth billions of dollars in cuts to Medicaid that the opposing was against," Barickman said. "They did not past them. I don't understand why we would move forward with a budget that assume cuts are going to be made until those cuts are actually made."
Stare Rep. Adam Brown (R-Decatur) also voted against the bill, saying the suggested cuts aren't steep enough.
"I've got some bills out there actually in committee that leadership is not letting out for a vote that would cut substantially more than $2.7 billion out of the welfare budget," Brown said. "Those are what we need to take a look at for substantial and viable savings in the long-term."
Under the plan, spending on services from schools to prisons would drop by about $900 million. It also increases the state's annual contribution to government retirement systems.
Illinois faces a deep financial hole, with unpaid bills of roughly $8 billion. The House plan calls for paying about $1.3 billion of that backlog, mostly to doctors and hospitals that have provided care under Medicaid. State leaders say government must cut spending dramatically or risk a virtual collapse of key services.
"It is going to be a painful, painful year, but we have the future of these children and the future of the poorest and most vulnerable in our hearts," said Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago.
State Reps. Chad Hays (R-Catlin) and Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana) voted in favor of the measure, while State Rep. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) was absent during the vote.
Gov. Pat Quinn's office said he opposes the education cuts that would be required by the House plan. The budget blueprint now heads to the Illinois Senate.
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