Illinois Public Media News
Gov. Pat Quinn has appointed a new leader for the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Quinn on Monday named Ann Schneider to be secretary of the state transportation department. Schneider has been acting secretary since July and previously was chief of operations for the department. Schneider also was chief fiscal officer for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and in the Governor's Office of Management and Budget.
The governor also named John Holton as director of the Illinois Department on Aging.
Quinn also made other appointments, including Jim Larkin as acting director of the Department of Agriculture, Andrew Stolfi as acting director of the Illinois Department of Insurance and John Kim as interim director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
The Indianapolis Public Schools superintendent wants the state to investigate charter schools that he claims break federal and state laws by turning away homeless and disabled students.
IPS Superintendent Eugene White wrote Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett Monday requesting the investigation into enrollment practices at all charter schools operating within its district boundaries and at 10 schools in particular. He says six schools have threatened to expel students only to give parents the option of withdrawing students to avoid expulsion.
White says 72 students have returned to IPS since the September count date that determines state funding while 27 students have left IPS for charter schools.
Indiana Department of Education spokesman Alex Damron says the state will carefully review documents on the charter schools' enrollment practices provided by IPS.
From pension reform to pregnant prisoners, lawmakers returning to Springfield face a packed agenda. Since adjourning in the spring, state legislators have been on standby while Gov. Pat Quinn took his turn.
Quinn used his veto power to alter, cut and outright dismiss measures ranging from the state budget to college scholarships. Now the focus is back on the General Assembly, which returns to the capitol on Tuesday for the fall veto session.
Legislators say they expect to vote on a gambling expansion bill, again, after Gov. Pat Quinn rejected several pillars of the plan they sent him in May. Quinn said he can accept new casinos in Danville, Chicago, two suburban towns, and Rockford. But he is drawing the line at allowing slot machines at racetracks, airports and other locations.
"We have no interest in becoming the Las Vegas of the Midwest," Quinn said during a press conference last week. "We have to maintain our culture (and) our character."
That opposition may jeopardize the entire package. Quinn is betting there will be a lot of negotiations and variations of gambling proposals during the veto session.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said he hopes lawmakers and the governor can find common ground. Otherwise, a casino for Chicago, which the mayor wants to help ease budget constraints, could be placed on the back burner after finally getting through both chambers for the first time in more than a decade.
The day before he was sworn into office, Gov. Quinn wiped out state money that funds the salaries of regional superintendent. Quinn says regional superintendents are not the state's responsibility, but fall in the hands of local governments.
It will be up to legislators to decide if they will let Quinn's vetoes stand, or if they want to overrule the governor. Those in the offices who continue to work are responsible for things like inspecting school buildings, and certifying teachers and bus drivers, tasks that could have prevented schools from opening if they weren't done.
County regional school superintendents hope to get paid. Thomas Campbell considers himself a patient person. But after going without pay nearly four months, Campbell turned in his letter of resignation as Christian and Montgomery County's Regional Superintendent. He hasn't got a paycheck since he began the job July 1.
"We are elected just like the governor's an elected official, and to suddenly without discussion without sitting down across the table without any type of democratic approach to resolving any issues, we just got lined out of the budget and put out there in no man's land," Campbell said. "I just think it did show a great deal of disrespect. I think it has brought on a lot of disillusionment and disenchantment with what i call common sense governance."
Quinn eliminated their salaries from the budget in May, but support has emerged for a plan to pay them out of local tax dollars.
State support for school transportation was also reduced by Quinn. He also wants to delay how much hospitals get for taking care of Medicaid patients.
While some legislators want to keep overall spending down, others say it's clear the budget legislators approved in the spring doesn't provide enough funds.
Quinn wants to save money by closing a handful of state facilities, including a juvenile prison in Murphysboro, a medium security prison in Lincoln, mental health centers in Chester, Tinley Park and Rockford. Developmental centers in Jacksonville and Dixon would also be affected, and 1,900 state workers could be laid off. Unions and the communities that host those facilities are fighting the proposed shutdowns.
A legislative commission will continue holding hearings this week, and it will begin issuing advisory opinions about the future of these facilities.
Also set for a committee hearing is a bill to prohibit the Department of Corrections from shackling prisoners while they are giving birth. The bill arose after national news stories highlighted that restraints were being used on women during labor.
Look out for another controversial measure too, which pits the governor and consumer advocates against literal powerhouses ComEd and Ameren. Lawmakers narrowly passed a plan that would allow the utilities to raise monthly bills to pay for a modernized power grid. Quinn vetoed it. ComEd CEO Anne Prammagiore argues it's needed.
"A modern grid, while requiring an investment on the front end, would deliver multiple layers of economic benefits over the long run," Prammagiore said. "These benefits are real, and they've been enhanced."
But the Paul Gainer with the Attorney General's office said it's bad for electric customers' wallets.
"ComEd and Ameren have set the bar so low on the performance metrics that they know they will have absolutely no problem meeting those metrics, and getting exactly what they want - certainty, rate hikes, double digit profits," Gainer said.
It's unknown if the utilities have the clout to win over enough legislators to get their plan into law.
Also unclear is the fate of a legislative scholarship program the governor wants abolished. Many legislators want to keep their ability to hand out tuition waivers to students in their districts. But the program has been a magnet for scandal through the years, after some officials awarded the scholarships to campaign contributors' children.
Finally, public employees are on guard. They are concerned about the possible resurgence of a plan to reduce their future retirement benefits. Several bills are expected to move through committees that would eliminate a loophole in pensions for leaders of organized labor, along with revamping the pension boards that oversee systems for city of Chicago and Cook County employees. It is likely legislators will respond to stories about Chicago union leaders receiving both city and union pensions, a practice known as double dipping.
The veto session will run for six days, split over several weeks.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)
The city of Danville is exploring different opportunities to boost revenue.
On Wednesday night, the Public Safety Revenue Committee discussed a five-cent public safety tax that's expected to generate around $170,000. Committee co-chair Nancy O'Kane said that money would be used to strengthen Danville's police and fire departments.
"We're not looking to just go out there and just raise taxes to be raising taxes nor are we looking to give those police officers and those firefighter's raises," O'Kane said. "We're trying to put more officers on the street and more firefighters to protect our city."
O'Kane, who is a former Danville alderwoman, said she hopes the full council votes on the measure by December.
Meanwhile, Alderman Michael Puhr said whatever course the council takes, it will first survey the public to find out if they would support a new tax.
"You know, in these economic times we do have to watch what we do," Puhr said. "A lot of people in our community are on fixed incomes, but we still have to operate in a positive cash-flow in city government, as well."
Earlier this week, the city council narrowly voted down a measure that would have raised Danville's garbage pickup fee. Puhr said the council will likely consider a revised version of that plan. He said the Public Safety Revenue Committee is also exploring the prospect of charging extra for its public safety services in communities outside of Danville, and impounding vehicles of drivers who are caught under the influence of alcohol or in possession of marijuana.
The University of Illinois provides more than $900,000 a year in tuition waivers to cover scholarships for athletes and will continue to provide such support despite a committee's recommendation that the practice stop.
The Chicago Tribune (http://trib.in/pZkqNv ) reports that the university has provided the money from its general fund since the 1970s. A campus committee recommended that the waivers be phased out over five years as the university looks for ways to save money. They will instead be reduced.
Associate Chancellor Bill Adams was a member of the committee. He says the school's sports programs would have trouble making up the money if it was eliminated.
The waivers began in the 1970s as a way to support women's sports. Among Big Ten schools, only Wisconsin has a similar arrangement.
A central Illinois regional school superintendent has announced his resignation after going without pay for 14 weeks.
Christian and Montgomery County Regional Superintendent of Schools Tom Campbell on Wednesday told the Breeze-Courier (http://bit.ly/keaUC6) in Taylorville he can't continue. Campbell blames "political decisions made by our governor" for taking "a tremendous toll" on his ability to "stay positive and focused on remaining in office."
In July, Gov. Pat Quinn cut off pay to superintendents and their assistants. He says the state can't afford to pay the salaries. Quinn wants local governments to pay the salaries, but made no arrangements before vetoing the money.
Campbell says the decisions by state leaders show "total disrespect" for those who work in regional education offices in Illinois.
Taylorville is about 25 miles southeast of Springfield.
Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford says the state needs to come up with a budget that avoids any more debt.
Rutherford was in Champaign on Wednesday to address the local Chamber of Commerce. While Gov. Pat Quinn has supported borrowing to pay off a large backlog of bills, Rutherford said that particular proposal wouldn't improve the state's cash-flow situation. He said borrowing has saddled taxpayers with nearly $45 billion in debt.
"I understand restructuring debt," he said. "I'm open to that, but it has to be something that passes the smell test. It has to be something that a fiscally astute and responsive person will say, 'It's good, it's better, let's go.'"
Rutherford said Illinois' budget should be based on the state's actual revenue. He also said changes to worker compensation and the pension system are essential.
Rutherford added that the mass demonstrations across the country against financial greed and corruption should be a wake-up call for lawmakers.
"I think it is a signal to those that are policy making in Washington, DC and the state capitol of Springfield is they better get their act together because actions have consequences and the biggest consequence will be coming in November 2012, and that's the election," Rutherford said.
With the state having nearly five billion dollars in unpaid bills, lawmakers are expected to review the budget during the veto session that begins next week.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Ford union autoworkers have approved a new four-year contract that's expected to bring 2,000 jobs to the Chicago region.
At first, it didn't seem like a slam dunk deal. Many workers complained the new contract reinforced an unfair two-tier payment system with part time workers doing the same work as full-timers and getting paid substantially less. The new contract included profit-sharing in lieu of pay raises, and many living in expensive metropolitan areas like Chicago wanted a cost of living pay increase.
Chicago's union workers were so against the contract that 77 percent of the South Side assembly plant voted against it last week; 70 percent at the Chicago Heights stamping plant did the same.
But as big 'yes' votes came in over the weekend from major facilities in Michigan and Kansas City, the scales began to tip tellingly in favor of the contract. Workers in Louisville, Ky., approved the agreement Tuesday, according to a post on the Louisville local's Facebook page. That was the last large local to vote, and it ensures the agreement will go into effect.
A final tally was not immediately available from the UAW Wednesday morning.
Richard Hurd, Professor of Labor Studies at Cornell University, said he's not surprised at all in the variation between plants on the vote. He said typically in votes for or against a contract, a local union leader holds a lot of sway.
Regarding the case of the Chicago plants' rejection, he thought it could go deeper.
"It could be that there are tensions in the facility and the vote reflects things other than the workers particular view towards the terms of the agreement. There may be bad relations between the current plant manager and workers, or between supervisors and workers. So workers less happy with situation will be more likely to vote against a contract," Hurd said.
The UAW represents approximately 41,000 hourly and salaried workers across 27 Ford manufacturing and assembling facilities in the United States. Now that the vote is in, the new four-year contract will begin moving forward. According to a UAW press release, it includes adding 5,750 new UAW jobs.
"These new UAW jobs mean more than 12,000 new jobs in total with jobs previously announced by Ford," said UAW President Bob King.
Chicago's two area plants are expected to reap 2,000 new jobs out of the deal by 2015. The agreement also promises $16 billion Ford is investing in new and upgraded vehicles and retooling plants.
A signing bonus for workers comes in at $6,000 dollars, which according to Hurd, is a big figure in these days of a depressed economy.
Now that the contract is approved, local unions will continue work on bargaining on behalf of individual plant agreements.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he hopes to find common ground with Gov. Pat Quinn on expanding casino gambling, but Quinn says he's not looking to compromise.
Emanuel and Quinn discussed the issue at separate events Tuesday. The two Democrats publicly sniped for months over gambling expansion.
Emanuel wants a casino in Chicago, and he expressed impatience with Quinn's long deliberation over a measure passed by the legislature in May.
Qunn responded by telling Emanuel to back off. On Monday, Quinn laid out a framework for expansion that gave oversight of a Chicago casino to the state Gaming Board, rather than a city casino development committee.
On Tuesday, Quinn stuck to his guns, saying the framework is what he's willing to work with. Emanuel said he's encouraged about a deal.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
Three legislators and Danville's mayor are happy to see plans for a casino in the city remain intact after a review by Gov. Pat Quinn.
But Catlin Republican House member Chad Hays said removing slot machines at racetracks from the gaming measure will keep it from passing. He said backing of the bill for many downstate House lawmakers hinged on connections between horse racing and agriculture. Revenues from the racetrack slot machines would have gone toward conservation districts and county fairs.
Hays sad there are still options, including an override of a gubernatorial veto, but he said getting the necessary votes in the Senate is a long shot.
Hays noted that Senate President John Cullerton could introduce a 'trailer bill' to try and accommodate the governor, but he said he believes that won't get the necessary backing without the so-called 'racinos.'
"Being close enough to the process, and knowing the members on the (House) floor, where they are geographically, and what their relationship is to agriculture," Hays said. "I think you would lose a significant number of votes, probably 15 or 16 at least, if the 'racinos' would not be in the bill."
Hays said Quinn also has the option of taking no action once getting the bill over a period of 60 days, too late for any action in the veto session.
Champaign Senator Mike Frerichs said it was good to see Gov. Quinn recognize that Danville made a compelling case for a casino, and put forth some suggestions of his own. But he agrees that Quinn's removal of slot machines at racetracks, will cost a number of votes from downstate lawmakers because of the slot machines' benefit to agriculture.
Frerichs called Quinn's comments a good starting point, but he said a lot of work lies ahead in order to come to a compromise.
"I believe the sponsors acknowleged there may need to be some changes in order to scale back the extent of the expansions," Frerichs said. "I think (Gov. Quinn) has scaled it back so far that the bill will have lost several supporters in the House, downstate members who feel there's probably not a lot left in for downstate in what he's proposing."
Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said he is excited that Quinn has recognized the need for a casino in his city, but he also fears the loss of the slot machines at racetracks and changes to the Chicago casino license could kill the measure. Eisenhauer said he will keep tabs on changes to the bill as legislators prepare to return to Springfield.
"I'll talk to different legislators around the state to get a feel for what resolutions for what might be offered up to find out what discussions are in fact taking place, and is there anything that we can provide that would help in those discussions," Eisenhauer said.
Eisenhauer also said he plans to visit Springfield during the fall veto session, which starts Oct. 25.
The gambling legislation passed the General Assembly in May, but Senate President John Cullerton has been holding on to the measure until Quinn gave details on what he would support.
"We will be sure to include them in the discussions going forward at the idea of trying to come up with an appropriate compromise that can pass both the general assembly and the governor's support," said John Patterson, a spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton.
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