Illinois Public Media News
Union groups plan to continue rallying at the Indiana Statehouse to protest several bills supported by Republicans.
The Indiana AFL-CIO says it expects thousands to attend a "We Are Indiana" rally Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the west side of the Statehouse. Tuesday, unions are planned to mourn the "death of the middle class" with a New Orleans-style funeral procession.
Members of the AFL-CIO and other unions have been gathering at the Statehouse to protest what they consider anti-union legislation backed by Republicans who control the House and Senate. House Democrats are boycotting that chamber in an effort to derail some of the proposals.
Democrats say they won't come back until Republicans negotiate, but Republican House leaders refuse, saying they won't be bullied into dropping bills.
About 80 Champaign employees, most of them in public works, are being asked to begin scheduling furlough days to reduce the impact of salary increases that went into effect last July.
City human resources director Chris Bezruki said the AFSCME union workers are being asked to take six furlough days between now and the end of August. He said the salaries of non-union city employees were frozen this fiscal year, but AFSCME received a 3-and a quarter percent raises. The union has responded to the furlough mandate by filing an unfair labor practice charge against the city of Champaign, alleging leaders negotiated in bad faith. Their complaint will go before the Illinois Labor Relations Board.
City negotiations with AFSCME Council 31 started in December. Bezruki said the two sides started to discuss the impact of furlough days.
"How many we need to take, and how we're going to do that?" Bezruki said. "How we're going to schedule it? What employee input should there be? Should they schedule a furlough day next to a holiday if they want, or things like that? They refused to make a counterproposal at all, and so we had declare an impasse just last month. And so now we're proceeding with implementing this process."
Michael Wilmore, a Staff Representative with the AFSCME union, said the city chose to ignore a number of other cost saving options, including a pay freeze, removing the cap on overtime pay to comp time, and starting a four 10-hour day schedule for public works. He contends the moves could have saved more than $200,000 additional dollars.
Bezruki said the complaint filed by AFSCME means the Labor Relations Board will request information on negotiations between the two sides, the proposals that were exchanged, and whether a hearing will take place. He said that process can be drawn out as long as six months.
Students, instructors, and graduates of the University of Illinois' Institute of Aviation say administrators want to close a valuable program at a time when it's needed most.
About 80 of them Thursday discussed an industry that stands to lose about 37,000 pilots in the U.S. alone over the next 10 years. U of I Graduate Nathan Butcher is now a Delta pilot. He said there's a decline in training overall, and many pilots are nearing their mandatory retirement age. Butcher said administrators have a very narrow view of the Institute, which is turning out more than pilots.
"The Institute of Aviation is a long standing center for excellence in the field of professional pilot training, aviation research, and aviation safety advancements," he said. "Unfortunately, the university's administration defines the Institute of Aviation's role as being very technical and only worth of trade school status. Nothing could be further from the truth."
Willard Airport Tower Air Traffic Controller Kevin Gnagey said two thirds of his workforce is nearing retirement age, and that the Institute generates 85% of the traffic they direct at Willard. Gnagey contends the U of I is also throwing away the chance for future research on airport grounds.
"I would also be so bold as to assert that losing the Institute of Aviation could pose a large loss to the University of Illinois," he said. "This loss may not be immediately evident, but as the FAA is investing billions of dollars into research and development in new technology for the next generation of the national airspace system, opportunities would be lost."
Instructor and U of I graduate Joseph McElwee said while no decision has been made, he says administrators are trying to make closing the institute easier by moving remaining faculty to other academic units, and denying Fall 2011 admission to new applicants.
"They say that no decision has been made, so we don't have to bargain with your VAP's (Vistiing Academic Professionals)," McElwee said. "But at the same time, if you think about this, it's just an academic institution. And so the backbone of this is the students. And if we don't have students, there's no one to teach."
U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the recommendation to close the facility came after evaluating competing interests of students, faculty, and the public, and determining that closing the Institute and discontinuing degree programs were in the best interests of the Urbana campus. She also cites declining enrollment at the Institute in the past decade, noting it had 176 applicants in 2002, admitting 119, and 65 freshman enrolled. In 2010, the Institute had 112 applicants, admitting 65 and 34 enrolled.
A hearing on the Institute's future will be held Tuesday before Urbana campus Senate. The plan must also go before the U of I's Board of Trustees and the State Board of Higher Education.
Republicans in the U.S, House of Representatives say if the federal government shuts down over a budget impasse, it won't be their fault.
15th district congressman Tim Johnson returned to Champaign-Urbana Thursday with an additional two weeks remaining until the federal government would have to shut down without a spending plan in place for the rest of the fiscal year.
But Johnson said Democrats in the Senate and White House need to make the next move.
"We've done our job," Johnson told reporters at Willard Airport. "We'll see what they come back with. But I don't want to have this mantra that we faced from 1995 where (Democrats said) 'It's the Republicans who are shutting down government.' It's not the Republicans shutting down government. We have acted. They didn't act. They controlled the whole process for upwards of half the fiscal year and did nothing."
On Thursday the Obama administration proposed another $6.5 billion in cuts, but Johnson said that pales in comparison to the $100 billion cut the GOP has promised, and he doesn't see the spirit of compromise in the President's offer.
Johnson also defended a provision in the Republicans' plan that zeroes out funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Johnson - who has been a member of the House Public Broadcasting Caucus - said the budget had to be passed, even with the severe cut.
"You can't fail to act on the budget simply because there are certain items within the budget that you'd rather see reenacted," he said. "Certainly that's of concern; there are a number of areas of concern to me. But the overwhelming concern is that we're in debt, we're broke and we have to do something about it.
The stalemate between Democratic and Republican state lawmakers in Indiana nears the end of its second week.
Indiana House Democrats are still held up at the Comfort Suites in Urbana.
They fled their state capitol to avoid a quorum and possible arrest by Indiana State Police.
House Minority Speaker Pat Bauer actually returned to Indianapolis for a little while Wednesday morning to meet with GOP leadership including Majority Speaker Brian Bosma.
Bauer said they refuse to drop bills aimed at diminishing the impact of organized labor, gutting collective bargaining for teachers and providing taxpayer money as vouchers to allow parents to send their children to private schools.
"This is a process where we are trying to deradicalize the majority who are trying to cut the wages of thousands of workers in Indiana," Bauer said. "When they agree that they are not going to do that or help minimize the impact of that in some way, we'll come back."
Bauer returned to Urbana, about two hours west of Indianapolis, where he continued to caucus with about 30 Democrats staying at the Comfort Inn in Urbana.
Several Northwest Indiana state Representatives are among the group, including Dan Stevenson of Highland, Vernon Smith of Gary, Mara Candelaria Reardon of Munster and Linda Lawton of Hammond.
House Republicans will try again this morning the restart the legislative session in Indianapolis where protestors continue to show up.
(Photo by Michael Puente/IPR)
Public universities in Illinois are letting state lawmakers know how government funding cuts have impacted them.
The schools are hoping to avoid further cuts in the next state budget. University of Illinois President Michael Hogan said he put in a request for more money from the state. Now he said he is just hoping his funding level stays the same without getting docked by legislators.
"The governor has come in asking for less," he said.
Hogan said keeping high-profile faculty at the university is hard when he can't offer competitive salaries. He said the school remains under a hiring freeze. Meanwhile, Southern Illinois University's president Glenn Poshard said he's having the same problems. He said the money issues at his school have been exacerbated by late payments from the state.
"If this the state's not going to help us," Poshard exclaimed. "I mean had we not had the income fund monies that we have from the tuition increases, we couldn't make payroll."
But lawmakers say universities, just like every other state benefactor, must tighten their belts to survive the state's current budget crisis.
University of Illinois President Michael Hogan's $620,000 annual salary continues to vex state legislators.
During a Senate hearing, Hogan told Illinois lawmakers that a continued erosion of state support and the resulting lack of raises for the schools' employees have caused top faculty to leave. Hogan said making the U of I's salaries more competitive is a top goal. Republican Senator Chris Lauzen of Aurora questioned how Hogan can talk with school staff about raises given his salary.
"How will you possibly speak credibly about shared sacrifice with that background?" Lauzen asked.
Other Senators have also called Hogan's paycheck excessive, but Hogan said he will not apologize for it.
"This is the price of doing business at a major, top ten public university, and to stay competitive," Hogan said. "The arrangements I have are virtually no different than any other Big Ten president."
Hogan said he did not take a pay hike when he stepped down as University of Connecticut's President to sign on with the U of I last summer.
(With additional reporting from Indiana Public Broadcasting's Brandon Smith and The Associated Press)
House Minority Leader Pat Bauer returned to Indianapolis Wednesday and met with House Speaker Brian Bosma for nearly an hour, but their talks ended with no agreement on ending the week-long Statehouse standoff.
Bauer had two other House Democrats with him in the meeting, which also was attended by four other majority Republicans. While no resolution was reached at the meeting, Bauer said the Democrats are a step or two closer to returning.
"We're going to continue to try to see if they'll remove some of the anti-worker bills and really this voucher bill," Bauer said.
Most House Democrats have been staying in Urbana, Ill., since last Tuesday, when they began boycotting the House to derail labor and education bills they're against by denying the House the quorum needed to conduct business. The boycott already killed a "right-to-work'' bill that unions opposed. Bosma said he didn't really hear anything in the meeting he didn't already know. Discussions on the voucher bill included talk of compromise on capping the number of students in the program and lowering the income level to be eligible.
"Their list of issues hasn't really changed, and our response hasn't really changed," Bosma said. "Although some middle ground on a couple of the issues was at least explored."
Meanwhile, a member of the Indiana Senate says he's optimistic despite the rhetoric from the House Minority Leader following his meeting with Bosma.
Democrat State Senator Greg Taylor of Indianapolis said it is always positive when people talk face to face, but he said there will need to further room for compromise.
"I think there's going to have to be some give and take on both sides," Taylor said. "People people don't recognize these bills just because they pass the house. They still have to come over to the senate. I'm sure we'll be watching what's going on in the house as well as what we're going to do in the senate. There's still a long way to go."
Taylor was in Urbana Wednesday to check on the progress of caucus meetings among House Democrats. He said House Speaker Bosma has put himself into a position where he'll have to prove to his caucus that he's willing to talk.
But House Democrat Craig Fry of Mishawaka wasn't as optimistic, saying Bosma cannot be trusted.
"Even if he makes a deal, even if it's signed in blood, it doesn't mean anything," Fry said. "He's reneged on almost every deal he's ever made."
Fry maintains that the 30 plus Democrats will remain in Urbana as long as they need to be. He said it is necessary, given the Republican's radical agenda. The Democratic Party is paying for hotel rooms, but food and other expenses are out of their own pocket.
The leader of the boycotting Indiana House Democrats and the Republican House Speaker are talking in a meeting that may signal improving relations surrounding a weeklong Statehouse standoff.
House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer drove from Illinois to Indianapolis to meet with House Speaker Brian Bosma in Bosma's Statehouse office Wednesday. Most House Democrats have been staying in Urbana, Ill., since last Tuesday when they began boycotting the House to derail labor and education bills they oppose by denying the House the quorum it needs to conduct business.
The meeting is a step toward a possible resolution. But it's unclear exactly what might end the impasse. Bauer says he wants to negotiate, but Bosma says he won't cut a back room deal or take GOP proposals off the table.
Bauer has repeatedly said he wants to negotiate on GOP-proposals that Democrats consider an assault on the middle class. And Bosma has repeatedly said he'll talk to Bauer, but won't negotiate a back room deal or agree to take GOP proposals off the table.
Republicans are already planning changes to a private school voucher bill that Democrats oppose. The bill would use taxpayer money to help parents send their children to private schools. Bosma said the bill needs to be changed to get enough support from his own caucus to pass, and Republicans will introduce an amendment limiting the number of students who can participate in the program and adding more restrictive income level requirements. Bauer said Tuesday that those changes were a good step forward.
The Democrats' boycott has already killed a "right-to-work" bill that would have prohibited union membership from being a condition of employment. Republicans say they won't try to resurrect that proposal this year. Bosma says he will not allow the boycott to kill other bills and plans to extend legislative deadlines to keep the other proposals on the House calendar alive as long as necessary.
Illinois is pushing ahead with implementing the nation's new health care law with support from its Democratic governor.
Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday started reviewing a plan to roll out the law from a council he appointed. The plan proposes new reins on health insurance companies and an online marketplace where people could shop for insurance.
Quinn calls the health care law "a vital part of economic recovery'' rather than a distraction from the urgent need for jobs. The governor's remarks came in written testimony to a congressional committee Tuesday.
Republican governors, in contrast, are worried about added costs to state budgets.
The law was enacted last March and has been lucrative for Illinois, bringing in nearly $290 million to state agencies, non-profits, nursing schools and hospitals.
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