Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 28, 2011

Ill. Teacher’s Retirement System Director Calls Fund Sustainable

The executive director of the Illinois Teachers Retirement System says the fund is underfunded by $44 billion, but it will provide benefits for the foreseeable future.

Director Dick Ingram said the legislature took notice during the last session and gave precedence to payments to pensions.

"We became a priority and I think as long as that continues and the statutory plan that's in effect now is followed we will, in fact, be strong for the long term," Ingram said.

Ingram said the fund's total liability is $81 billion. He said the legislature's plan would put the fund at 90 percent of full funding by 2045.

Ingram also noted that while investment returns can vary last year the fund's return was about 24 percent.

Ingram added a senate bill would offer a third option for teachers to invest their retirement funds. State senate bill 512 would create a third tier for a defined-contribution plan that would resemble of 401-(K) plan. The benefits would depend on the amount invested and the return on investment.

He said the bill would also change the contributions for current teachers. Those in Tier I would see their contributions increase from 9.4% to 13.77% of their pay. Those in Tier II would see their contributions drop from 9.4 percent to 6 percent of their pay.

Ingram held an informational meeting for teachers in Macomb.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 28, 2011

Ill. AG Sues Companies Running Mortgage Scams

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed lawsuits Tuesday against companies she says are running fraudulent mortgage rescue schemes.

Some Chicago area companies and licensed attorneys allegedly charged consumers as much as $375,000 to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. But Madigan said the companies took the money and never helped the consumers.

She said the 2006 Mortgage Rescue Fraud Act prevents companies from charging upfront fees, but lawyers are able to accept advance payment.

"The new twist on this scam is that these predators are really using lawyers as a front so that they can conceivably get around the law and collect the upfront money," Madigan said.

The Attorney General's office has filed suit against four companies accused of using this scam. The filing asks the court to shut down the businesses and get restitution for at least 76 consumers.

Madigan said homeowners should not have to pay to get help with their mortgage, and that HUD certified counselors are available for free. Homeowners can contact the Attorney General's Homeowner Helpline at (866) 544-7151.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 27, 2011

Challenges Accessing Broadband Service Highlight of Congressional Hearing

People living in a city may take broadband Internet service for granted. But in many rural areas, broadband service is hard or even impossible to obtain. The problem was a topic of a recent congressional field hearing in Springfield, Ill. Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows reports.

(AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 20, 2011

Typhoon Delays Indiana Trade Mission to Japan

A trade mission by Indiana government and business leaders to Japan is being delayed because of a typhoon expected to hit the island nation.

The group led by Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman was set to fly from Indianapolis on Tuesday and arrive in Tokyo Wednesday evening. The typhoon is forecast to make landfall Wednesday afternoon.

Skillman's office says travel agents are working to find later flights for the trade group.

The group plans to visit Ohta City, Nagoya and Tochigi Prefecture, Indiana's sister state.

Representatives from the Indiana Economic Development Corp., Duke Energy and regional economic development groups are part of the delegation. Japanese companies employ more than 38,000 people in Indiana.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 16, 2011

Springfield Firm Receives Federal Employer Award

A Springfield engineering and architecture firm is one of 15 recipients of the U.S. Defense Department's highest employer award.

The Pentagon announced Thursday that Hanson Professional Services Inc. is a recipient of the 2011 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. The award is given for "exceptional support'' of employees serving in the National Guard and Reserve.

Freedom award honorees will meet privately with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in conjunction with a Sept. 22 ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Also attending are the workers who nominated their employers for the award.

Officials say since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, more than 1.1 million Guard and Reserve service members have been deployed. They have made up almost half of the U.S. military strength.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 15, 2011

Champaign and Urbana Libraries Prepare for New Catalog System

The Champaign Public Library and Urbana Free Library are joining a new catalog system at the end of the year.

The catalog will include features that aren't currently available to patrons through the current catalog system that's shared by libraries that make up the Illinois Heartland Library System. Among the features in the new catalog are e-mail updates alerting patrons whenever an items that matches a saved search arrives, and a mobile application that allows users to make reservations and renewals.

It is still being decided which features will go to which library. The mobile app, for example, will be available at the Champaign library, but won't be immediately available at the Urbana Free Library, according to Debra Lissak, the director of the Urbana Free Library.

Lissak said both the Champaign and Urbana libraries will continue to share items with the more than 590 libraries in the Illinois Heartland Library System.

"We are not leaving Illinois Heartland Library System," Lissak said. "We will still do borrowing between people of other libraries. The other thing I've heard is that Champaign and Urbana libraries are merging. We're not merging our libraries. We're just sharing an online catalog."

Champaign Public Library director Marsha Grove said the new catalog system will be less expensive, and give both libraries more options of how to use its features.

"We're a large library, and Urbana is a fairly large library," Grove said. "We wante to make the catalog more useful for the people in our community."

The new catalog system is expected to be available by the end of the year. People who visit other libraries in the state will still be able to see what items are available in Champaign and Urbana by visiting the website worldcat.org

Categories: Business, Education, Technology

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 14, 2011

Champaign Council Endorses New Policy For CVB

The Champaign City Council is affirming its support for the agency set up to promote tourism for the area. But Mayor Don Gerard says he expects more accountability from the Champaign County Convention and Visitors Bureau from now on.

Council members endorsed a new set of goals, principles and expectations for the CVB at Tuesday night's study session. Among other things, it calls for more proactive marketing from the bureau, and accountability that demonstrates a return on investment.

Mayor Don Gerard said he wants know what the Convention and Visitors Bureau is doing to promote Champaign right now, not just what it's done in the past.

"I want to take a fresh look at things as we're going, as per their day-to-day operations," Gerard said. "I want to know what is it are they doing there, 8 to 5 everyday? What sort of things are they doing? What sort of things are they going after? What sort of things did we used to have that they're either trying to bring back or replace? I just want to hold them to a very high standard."

Champaign is providing $223,000 to the Convention and Visitors Bureau this year --- at a time when Urbana has eliminated its funding. Several Champaign council members used Tuesday night's study session to praise the CVB, while pointing out Urbana's lack of support. The Urbana City Council is expected to revisit the topic at an upcoming meeting.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 14, 2011

Lawsuit Accuses State Farm of Lying About Candidate Donations

Lawyers accuse State Farm Insurance of lying about and trying to cover up the amount of company support in a massively expensive race for State Supreme Court back in 2004. A filing alleges fraud against the State Supreme Court.

The case involves a class action lawsuit involving State Farm's policies on use of after-market auto parts in repairs. In 2005, the State Supreme Court overturned a billion dollar judgment against the Bloomington insurance giant with the key vote of newly elected Justice Lloyd Karmeier.

The plaintiffs now want the high court to at least reconsider the case without Karmeier. And they'd prefer the original billion dollar verdict in their favor.

Court papers allege at the time, State Farm characterized its donations to Karmeier as...a limited number of officers and employees making quite modest contributions. In fact, the filing indicates an investigation by a retired FBI agent shows State Farm lobbyist Bill Shepherd helped recruit Karmeier for the race, and funneled loads of money through the Illinois Civil Justice League to Karmeier.

Bill Shepherd also was a member of the Civil Justice League's Executive Committee. State Farm then denied that Ed Murnane, the head of the Civil Justice League, ran Karmeier's campaign, something now confirmed by e-mails. The filing says Karmeier knew State Farm was bankrolling him to the tune of two and a half to four million dollar, or up to 56-percent of all his funding and still failed to recuse himself from the case.

The filing notes the billion dollar ruling in State Farm's favor is either a coincidence or an impressive rate of return on State Farm's investment. In either case, the argument goes, other justices should have disqualified Karmeier from hearing the issue because of a serious risk of actual bias.

The plaintiffs quote a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a different case that....just as no man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause no man should be able to choose a judge in his own cause. The filing says State Farm's immense efforts created a constitutionally intolerable probability of bias and possibly denied them their due process rights.

State Farm responds to the new allegations by saying only that the case was decided years ago and the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was rejected.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 13, 2011

Quinn Adds New Wrinkle to Gambling Expansion

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is airing another concern about gambling expansion that would add a new Danville casino and four others in the state.

Quinn has repeatedly harped about insufficient regulation in the bill and on Tuesday he said he was worried it could shortchange education funding.

But Democratic Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie said Illinois would still get millions of new dollars if the expansion is approved, even with changes in the sliding scale for taxing casino revenues.

Quinn has talked down the expansion but the governor doesn't have the legislation yet to sign or veto. Lawmakers have held on to it since May to try to deal with Quinn's concerns.

Lang says Quinn has discussed items but not provided a specific list of changes to the bill.


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