Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 11, 2011

Ill. Union to Picket Over Quinn Canceling Raises

State workers plan to picket at government buildings across Illinois to protest Gov. Pat Quinn's attempt to cancel their raises.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees says it will hold informational pickets at more than 75 places Tuesday.

Quinn said recently that he's canceling raises for nearly 30,000 employees, even though they're required by contract. He says lawmakers didn't give him enough money to increase pay and still keep state agencies running.

The union is suing and taking the issue to an arbitrator.

The union accuses Quinn of breaking his word. Workers struck a deal with him last year to delay raises but not cancel them.

Categories: Economics, Politics
Tags: economy, labor

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 11, 2011

Eisenhower High School Awarded Grant to Boost Student Achievement

The Decatur Public School District is getting nearly $3.5 million over the next three years to beef up student achievement at one of its high schools.

Eisenhower High School is one of 13 low-performing high schools in the state to receive money through the Student Improvement Grant (SIG), which was awarded by the Illinois State Board of Education.

Bobbi Williams is the director of special programs with the Decatur Public Schools. She said the requirements to keep the grant are similar to the federally-funded "Race to the Top" program. She said Eisenhower needs to show a decline in disciplinary referrals, an increase in attendance, and improved test scores.

"So, it's just a closely knit, lots of layers to this grant where when they're all working together, there should be proof in the pudding with our data," she said.

With the grant, Williams said the school district will purchase software for online courses, update classroom technology, and hire professional development coordinators to work with students and teachers.

"What we know about improving student achievement is it starts with the teacher, and it begins with the leadership," Williams said. "Those are really the two key focuses of this grant because that's based on research, and that's also based on the experiences of successful turnaround schools."

High Schools in Chicago, Springfield, and Peoria also received the grant.

Categories: Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 11, 2011

New EPA Standards Could Hit Illinoisans’ Wallets

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has set new standards for power plants that could affect Illinois residents' wallets. The new Cross-State Air Pollution Rule is an attempt by the EPA to improve air quality by requiring plants to install or upgrade pollution control equipment.

Phil Gonet, president of the Illinois Coal Association, said the new rules will come with a cost.

"Well, it's gonna have a negative impact on consumers, I mean this pollution control equipment is not cheap -- and I don't think EPA recognizes that when they impose these rules," Gonet said. "I mean, consumers are gonna pay higher costs of electricity."

But Dave Kolata, who heads the Citizens Utility Board, disagrees. He said Illinois residents will not see a rate hike in the short term. If anything, he said residents might see an increase further down the road, but only if other energy saving policies aren't put into place.

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule is a replacement of the 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered EPA to revise the CAIR in 2008. The EPA estimates the new standards will cost $800 million annually after 2014, in addition to the $1.6 billion per year in capital investments from CAIR.

The new standards will be implemented in 28 states by 2012. The EPA estimates that these changes will reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent and nitrogen dioxide emissions by 54 percent from 2005 levels.

Categories: Economics, Environment

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 11, 2011

Court Rules Ill. Public Works Plan is Legal

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)

Illinois' Supreme Court has ruled that a statewide construction program is constitutional. This reverses an appellate court ruling that threw the $31 billion plan into doubt.

The case involves a plan lawmakers approved in 2009. They decided to pay for the construction by raising taxes on liquor and candy, as well as legalizing video gambling at bars and truck stops.

The projects have created construction jobs across Illinois.

In the much anticipated final ruling on the legislation, all seven justices sided with Gov. Pat Quinn and the bipartisan leadership in the legislature, which endorsed the plan.

Justice Anne Burke wrote that "capital projects" - including those for roads, schools and bridges - is a "legitimate single subject." Burke added that the rest of the bill - including new taxes and expanded video gambling to pay for the projects - have a "natural and logical connection to that subject."

Governor Pat Quinn expressed his gratitude for the ruling.

"It was enacted by the legislature, signed by the Governor - the executive branch, upheld by the judicial branch," Quinn said. "Now we have a law now that's a model for building in our state, and in every other state."

Union officials, like AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan, say Illinois workers should welcome a court ruling.

Carrigan said the court's decision protects a program that puts Illinois "solidly at the forefront'' in job creation by keeping construction workers, manufacturers, and suppliers doing the kind of work that moves a community forward.

"When you sit down with the various communities, the regions, their economic development arm, practically every one of those councils as part of what they need for their community to go forward is some kind of infrastructure improvement," Carrigan said. "Whether it's widening two lanes to four lanes, whether it's a bypass, a bridge."

James Sweeney of the International Union of Operating Engineers said the ruling removes "a black cloud'' hanging over jobs that support hundreds of thousands of people.

The lawsuit was brought by Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz, who also owns a liquor distributorship. He argued the law was unconstitutional that it increased the tax on liquor by more than $4 a gallon while the new tax on beer went up less than five cents. Wirtz's attorneys also alleged the package violated a requirement that laws stick to a single subject.

The Illinois Supreme Court's decision may have an impact on how legislators draft future bills, according to University of Illinois political science professor Jim Nowlan.

The court unanimously decided that the package of different tax increases and gambling expansion to pay for the program did not violate a rule that bills only cover one subject, but Nowlan said the argument over just what constitutes a single subject is not over.

"The revenue increases, which were of various types, were all necessary and pertinent to support the capital construction," Nowlan said. "I think the single subject requirement of the constitution will be revisited in the future as suggested by this trail of litigation."

Nowlan said the courts are still refining the definition of a "single subject," and legislators may try again to wrap future topics together under one overarching objective like capital construction.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 09, 2011

Employee Union Files Lawsuit Over Cancelled Raises

(With additional reporting by Illinois Public Media)

A major state employee union has filed a federal lawsuit over Illinois Governor Pat Quinn's decision to cancel raises for thousands of workers.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees filed the suit Friday in Springfield, arguing that the Governor's action is a violation of provisions against the impairment of contracts found in the U.S. and Illinois Constitutions. The union says by violating the union's collective bargaining agreement, it amounts to a breach of contract under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act.

AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Henry Bayer says its members "deserve to know that their employer, the governor, will keep his word and honor his commitments under the law."

The union's suit asks a federal judge to rescind a pay freeze recently announced by Quinn.

On Thursday, the union announced it had sought an arbitrator's ruling on Quinn's decision last week to ditch $75 million in raises for 30,000 workers to help deal with the state's budget crisis.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 08, 2011

Ill. Regional Ed Offices to Operate Despite Cut

The head of a group representing Illinois regional superintendents says the state's regional education offices will remain open despite Gov. Pat Quinn's veto of funding for salaries.

Bob Daiber is president of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools. He said Friday regional superintendents will fulfill their duties, which include inspecting schools and checking employee backgrounds.

He says the group met with Quinn's staff about how to pay superintendents and their assistants. He says there will be future meetings to work out details.

Quinn used his veto power to eliminate $11.3 million for the superintendents before he signed the budget last week.

The state's budget director has said the 44 superintendents may go without pay for several months until a deal can be worked out with lawmakers.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 07, 2011

Union Asks Arbitrator to Rule on Cancelled Raises

The state's largest public employees union is asking an arbitrator to decide if Governor Pat Quinn can cancel members' promised pay raises.

About 30,00 AFSCME members may not get their two percent raise this year. Quinn has cancelled some state workers' scheduled pay increases, but not if AFSCME has its way. The group has called on the same arbitrator who mediated the last time Quinn and AFSCME fought, after the governor's 2010 attempt to layoff employees. That agreement ended with Quinn promising no layoffs in exchange for AFSCME members taking voluntary furloughs and deferring their raises.

Now AFSCME wants that arbitrator to decide if by rescinding those raises, Quinn is violating the union's contract. AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said the union could still also take the governor to state or federal court.

"We're reviewing all of our, all of our options," Lindall said. "We've always said that we'll pursue every avenue."

Each side has to have briefs filed by July 16th. The union is also going to picket on Tuesday.

Quinn said it is not a breach of contract because state expenditures are subject to appropriations. The budget legislators crafted and he signed does not have the necessary $75 million to pay for the wage hikes.

AFSCME had supported Quinn, a Democrat, in November's election. Just prior to that endorsement, the union agreed to defer raises while Quinn guaranteed two years without layoffs.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 06, 2011

Legislation to Expand Illinois Jury Pools Started Up in Champaign

Legislation that was initiated in Champaign County is expected to expand and diversify Illinois' jury pools.

University of Illinois Law Professor Steve Beckett has tracked the makeup of jury pools for the past seven years. He says county officials have made some effort to increase participation in juries by shortening the jury term from two weeks to one week.

Courts have been relying on lists of registered voters and those with their driver's license to make up jury pools. But Beckett says the National Center for State Courts recommended to a Champaign County Committee that unemployment lists be tapped as well.

"Arguably, you would you miss someone who was not registered to vote, doesn't have a driver's license, but could be receiving unemployment benefits," he said. "And so that's the idea, I think, is that the broader the pool, the greater we enhance the chances of diversity in our juries."

Jennifer Putman with Champaign County's Citizens Advisory Committee on Jury Service says the Secretary of State's office often has dated contact information.

"The courts spend a lot of money mailing out jury qualification questionnaires and summonses to addresses where the respondent has moved," she said. "And because the Illinois Department of Employment Security has up-to-date information, we're expecting more accurate results when we mail to that group of individuals."

The bill was signed by Governor Pat Quinn last week. House Democrat and sponsor Naomi Jakobsson of Urbana says it makes sense to include another block of people with solid contact information. Putman's committee plans to analyze jury pool numbers by this time next year, to ensure the legislation is working. The panel is also working to increase the daily 10-dollar stipend that jurors receive, but Putman says that's a pipe dream right now, given Illinois' financial state.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 06, 2011

Hogan: UI Budget Will Allow for Average 3% Salary Hikes

Most University of Illinois employees should soon get their first standard raises in three years.

U of I president Michael Hogan emailed faculty and staff Tuesday, saying the current budget allows for a 3% increase in the salary pool. Most employees had gone without raises since 2008 - and many effectively lost pay through furloughs last year.

In March, Hogan told a Senate committee that employee pay was a top concern:

"We have not had a general salary program since August of 2008, and of course we had furlough days last year," Hogan said. "And so addressing this problem and retaining our very best faculty has got to be one of my top priorities in the coming year."

Giving raises could help to alleviate the number of faculty leaving the U of I system for other, better-paying jobs.

University spokesman Jan Dennis said state lawmakers were more sympathetic to higher education this year, approving only a one-percent overall reduction in this year's budget.

"We also have implemented cost containment measures on our own that have saved more than $14 million in the first year," Dennis said. "That combination, along with fundraising and other initiatives on campus, enabled us to come up with the pot of money to provide raises for employees this year."

Dennis said the U of I will also honor union contracts that call for changes in their negotiated pay-raise schedules based on university-wide wage programs.

He said the average hike should be about 3%, but individual units will be able to adjust the raises based on merit.

Read Michael Hogan's E-Mail About the Raises:

Dear Colleagues,

We've faced many challenges in recent years and I deeply appreciate how hard you've all been working throughout these difficult times. I've stated all year that one of my top priorities has been to avoid furlough days and strive to find enough cost savings to restore merit-based compensation programs.

I'm pleased to announce that our cost-savings measures and careful planning on all our campuses has helped us in this regard. We've been able to identify funding to enable the first campus salary program for our faculty and academic professionals in nearly three years. This program authorizes the chancellors on each campus to use 3.0% of the salary pool for merit-based compensation adjustments. The same program will be implemented for the University Administration. This modest allocation is well-deserved for our hardworking employees who have faced salary freezes for consecutive years, as well as effective compensation losses in FY 2010 as a result of furlough days.

Many of our collective bargaining units have contractual language that provides for pay adjustments based on the campus wage program, if the campus wage program is greater than previously negotiated pay adjustments for the same period. I will, of course, honor those agreements. For any negotiated groups that do not have such considerations in their contracts, the University will be willing to explore similar arrangements for this time period.

I couldn't be more proud of our great University, which is made possible by our outstanding faculty and staff, who have worked hard to continue to make this university the best it can be. We still have challenges ahead, but I know that by working together, continuing to streamline our administration and cut costs, we will continue to become stronger than ever.

Once more, I thank you for your commitment to the University and your ongoing support for our efforts to streamline operations and save costs, while also improving our programs.

Sincerely,

Mike

Michael J. Hogan President University of Illinois


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 05, 2011

Provena Health and Chicago-Based Hospital System Agree on Merger

The organization overseeing Provena's hospitals in Urbana and Danville has agreed to a merger to create the state's largest Catholic hospital system.

Exploratory talks with Chicago-based Resurrection Health Care have gone on since February. The union with Mokena-based Provena Health still requires the approval of the state, which could happen this fall. Provena spokeswoman Lisa Lagger said as the merger was explored, areas provided by one hospital system seemed to better serve in where the other wasn't as strong, including behavioral health and home care agencies.

"So you can see a very comprehensive array of services and offerings. and it's all very complimentary in its nature in that we don't compete with other Resurrection hospitals, for example in our markets," Lagger said. "And it's from a complimentary geographical base."

Outside of Urbana and Danville, Provena primarily serves Illinois' so-called collar counties, which includes cities like Joliet and Aurora, while Resurrection primarily operates in Chicago. Resurrection spokesman Brian Crawford said one focus of building a patient- family center care environment is to better care for someone long after their hospital stay.

"We really the ability here to build, I think, what could be a very unique system that treats people in the hospital when they need to be in the hospital, but then also does follow-up care through our non-acute facilities," he said. "It keeps track of patients to make sure they don't end up back in the hospital, which is also very costly to the patient themselves."

Crawford said there should also be cost savings incurred by closing down information systems and a corporate office for one of the hospital systems. The combined system would provide more than 100 sites, including 12 hospitals, 28 long-term care and senior residential centers, and more than 50 clinics.

Lagger said the Illinois Health Facilities Services Review Board could approve the merger by October.

Categories: Economics, Health

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