Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 14, 2011

U of Trustees Will Vote to Close Aviation Next Week

University of Illinois Interim Chancellor Robert Easter confirms the university's Board of Trustees will vote next week during a meeting in Chicago to close its Institute of Aviation.

A panel of administrators and faculty made the recommendation in February as part of a series of cost-cutting measures known as "Stewarding Excellence." But members of the Institute's Alumni Advisory Board say the trustees are ignoring a vote by the U of I's Faculty Senate to keep the facility open. Even though the proposal to close the Institute failed by three votes, Easter calls that tally 'essentially a tie".

"We have other bodies, the Stewarding Excellence process, the Faculty Committee on courses and curriculum, they have supported the decision," he said. "We had to arrive at some decision, so we decided to move it forward."

Easter notes that the Institute's degree program was only established in the late 90's, while the U of I has been teaching people to fly since the 1940's. Easter said the U of I still wants to find a way to offer pilot training, and it is working with a local community college to provide those courses. He would not say whether that school is Parkland College. Easter also said the closure date for Aviation would be 'several years' away.

"We have a very real obligation and commitment to continue to operate the educational program until the students have had a reasonable opportunity to complete their degrees." he said.

Karen Koenig with the Institute's alumni panel said there has been an effort to merge the Institute with another unnamed college. But Easter said any progress at a meeting between the two parties scheduled for Wednesday will likely be too late to change the outcome of the Board of Trustees vote next week.

Koenig said the powers that be are ignoring the actions of others, and not giving Aviation enough time to respond, since the Institute's alumni panel only learned of administrators' plans on Tuesday.

"The original proposal made by (Easter) to close the institute is the one being sent to the trustees, and that totally circumnavigates the votes that were made by the University Senate, the Student Senate, the Faculty-Student Senate, and the Educational Policy Committee," Koenig said. "Those are not being considered."

Dana Dann-Messier is President of Koening's advisory group. He says the university's efforts to shut down aviation started in 2005, when instructor and director positions started becoming vacant and weren't refilled. Dann-Messier says those actions are hurting the business.

"It's apocolyptic," he said. "Those are the words the industry is using for the pilot shortage on the horizon. And for the administration to be engaging in these kinds of games when the future of air transportation is at stake, and we can be a leader in that future, it's mind boggling. That's all I can say."

Staff and alumni from the Institute of Aviation plan to rally Thursday morning before the Board of Trustees meeting.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 12, 2011

Vermilion County Board Approves Wind Turbine Ordinance

The Vermilion County Board overwhelmingly approved a measure Tuesday night by a vote of 22-1 to issue a land permit to an energy company that wants to construct a large wind farm in Vermilion and Champaign Counties.

The lone dissenting vote came from board member Terry Stal.

Chicago-based Invenergy is looking to build 104 wind turbines in Vermilion County starting northeast of Kickapoo State Park. The company is willing to pay the county up to $90,000 a year in property taxes and an additional $150,000 in building permit fees.

Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon supports the plan, touting its economic advantages for the community.

"Land owners get anywhere between $4,000 and $8,000 a year for leasing a piece of their land for the wind turbine," McMahon said. "So, you get the economic boost of people getting money because of the wind."

Darrell Cambron of rural Rankin has opposed the project from the start. Cambron said that the Vermilon County wind ordinance, which allows the wind turbines within 1,000 feet of a home is simply too close. He is urging county officials to give the plan a second look.

"It seems like they keep getting bigger all the time," Cambron said. "I've talked to other people who have had them around their homes, and they have problems with them."

Each wind turbine would be 492 feet tall, and have the capacity of producing 1.6 megawatts. Cambron said he is concerned that the large wind turbines would create too much noise and shadow flicker. However, McMahon said those concerns could only be addressed if Vermilion County had a zoning ordinance, but he said county simply does not have one on the books.

"I have no jurisdiction to look at those issues when it's a building permit," McMahon explained. "If you were going to build a building, and you needed a permit for that building, you have to produce that that building is a sound building, and it's not going to fall over or somebody get hurt."

The wind farm would stretch to Champaign County, where there would be 30 additional turbines north of Royal and just south of Gifford.

Champaign County Board member Alan Kurtz, a Democrat, said the county's wind farm ordinance, which took three years to develop, will allow the county to reap the benefits, including hundreds of jobs.

"I was able to put together a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, and we passed a wind farm ordinance by a supermajority of 25 out of the 27 votes on the county board," Kurtz explained. "It's obvious that there was a consensus for wind farms here in Champaign County and the revenues that it will bring to us."

The Champaign County Planning and Zoning Department received its application this week to build the wind farm. A set of public hearings on the project is scheduled Aug. 25, and Sept. 1, 8 and 29 at the Champaign County Zoning Board of Appeals.

"I don't know if the county board is going to want to do a study session," county zoning director John Hall said. "They are all pretty familiar with the wind farm requirements since it was such a relatively recent amendment, so I never presumed that they would want a study session...there are no plans for a study session at this time."

The Champaign County Board could vote on the application as early as Oct. 20.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 12, 2011

Union Workers Protest Pay Raise Freezes

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn said he had no choice but to cancel pay raises for some 30,000 employees of 14 state agencies.

Union workers were expecting a 2 percent pay raise, but were blindsided earlier this month when the governor scrapped the raises to save the state approximately $75 million.

Members of the labor group AFSCME picketed across the state Tuesday to protest the governor's decision. About a dozen of them showed up along Mattis Avenue in Champaign. Wayne Matthews, a 33-year employee with the Illinois Department of Public Health, was at the rally. He said union members have made plenty of sacrifices over the last few years, and he said they deserve their salary increases.

"Two percent is still better than no percent, which is what we've had for a long time," Matthews said. "We've actually - in this contract - pushed back our raises, and volunteered furlough days and other things to save the state money. This is how we're rewarded."

Tara McCauley, a staff representative for AFSCME local 31, was also in Champaign during the picket. McCauley said the governor's decision to cancel the raises was unprecedented.

"We've negotiated contracts with Illinois governors for decades," McCauley said. "We've never had a governor try to go back on a raise that he's negotiated. You know, we've got a signed contract, so we feel that this isn't Wisconsin, this isn't Ohio. We're not going to allow our governor to take away people's legal rights to collectively bargain. So, it is about a bigger issue for us as well."

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Governor Quinn defended his actions.

"The General Assembly did not provide any money for pay raises for the AFSCME state workers," Quinn said. "That is the long and the short of it. I cannot give them money that the General Assembly hasn't appropriated in terms of a raise."

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

The union filed suit in federal court in Springfield last week to block the pay freeze. The group contends the pay raise rejection was illegal, and it is bringing in an arbitrator to settle the dispute.

The Illinois Federation of Teachers has also joined in AFSCME's lawsuit.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 12, 2011

Urbana City Council Takes Initial Step to Approve Union Pay Raises

The Urbana city council has given preliminary approval for two tax increases to help boost the salaries of union employees.

The 1 percent sales tax on package liquor, and hiking the city's hotel-motel tax from 5-to 6-percent are both on next Monday's agenda. They would pay for raises through AFSCME and the Fraternal Order of Police, as well as an additional officer.

Alderman Dennis Roberts cast the only no vote in Monday night's committee of the whole meeting, but only because he felt residents needed time to weigh in on the measure.

"We're not in a crushing situation," Roberts said. "The need to jump ahead a month to acquire one month's revenue doesn't seem to serve the city, citizens as well as I would like to see it."

The council will also vote next week on Mayor Laurel Prussing's plan to veto Urbana's $72,000 for the Champaign County Convention and Visitors' Bureau. Prussing wants to use the funds for two police positions.

The CVB's Jayne DeLuce spoke out against the plan Monday night, as did Raymond Ceresa of Eastland Suites, who credits the bureau for $70,000 in room revenue in the past year.

Alderman Charlie Smyth said he is looking for new revenue sources if Prussing's plan is approved.

One possible source - the city has received $19,000 for a year's worth of property tax money from Provena Covenant Medical Center.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 11, 2011

State Panel Addresses Hunger in Rural Communities

A member of a panel looking at issues related to hunger says while state funding remains a concern, some are not aware of federally-funded programs literally in their own backyard.

Kate Maehr co-chairs the Illinois Commission to End Hunger. She was among those taking testimony Sunday from migrant farm workers in Rantoul at the first of eight meetings statewide to discuss access to food in rural areas. Maeher said the key now is connecting people to the federally-funded SNAP program, or summer meal programs in schools. She cited what she calls 'poignant' testimony from one of the migrant workers, who discussed visiting a local food pantry.

"He said you (operators of pantries) should ask questions," Maeher said. "When people come in for a bag of food, ask them if they're getting a paycheck. Ask them if they have other things they need. I think that's a really important reminder for all of us. Sometimes we get caught in our silos, whether it's to get a bag of food or some other service, it's really incumbent upon us to extend ourselves to find out if there are other things that individual may need."

Maehr said only 15-percent of those eligible for the school-based summer meal programs are taking advantage of them.

Donna Camp with the Wesley Evening Food Pantry in Urbana said her facility often tries to deliver bags of food to migrant farm workers, since they'll be working after the pantry closes at 7:30. Camp said the testimony from the event in Rantoul didn't surprise her, but she did not know how much state funding had been cut to the Illinois Migrant Council, which does outreach for the SNAP program. Camp said many resources exist within communities if they learn to share with one another.

"How can the employers work with community organizations, government or non-profit, to have food ready when workers arrive in town?" she said. "How can school districts get involved? The children of these workers are being educated. This year, the Urbana school district has the contract to do that in our area."

Camp said while SNAP benefits are important, there are a number of undocumented workers who are not eligible for the program. She said her food pantry will keep tabs on the state commission and its recommendations, with hopes it responds better to the needs of migrant workers.

(Photo courtesy of Darrell Hoemann)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 11, 2011

UI Positions Itself to Continue Pay Raises Next Year

A week after the University of Illinois announced plans to push for a 3 percent pay raise for its employees, the U of I is budgeting for the salary increases to continue next year.

On Monday, university officials released a preliminary operating budget for fiscal year 2013 during a meeting of the U of I's budget and audit committee. In it, about $33 million would support the merit-based salary hikes across all three campus.

Despite a $312 million backlog in payments from the state, U of I President Michael Hogan said he is confident in the university's ability to move forward with the raises.

"I think we're in very good, very reasonable position on our debt - short and long-term both actually," Hogan said. "Our biggest worry of course remains whether or not we're going to get that overdue funding from the state, 46 percent of our budget."

The raises are slated to start in August, but the University of Illinois' Board of Trustees still has to approve the payments.

The board meets again July 20-21 in Chicago.

Categories: Economics, Education

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

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