Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 08, 2011

Energy Assistance Program Scaled Back This Summer

An energy program that helps offset the cost of air conditioning bills for low-income Illinois residents is being scaled back this summer.

Because of possible federal funding cuts, the state is telling agencies that administer the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program not to expect any federal aid.

LIHEAP provides utility bill aid to households with incomes of up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level.

"Though the reduction in federal funding for LIHEAP is unfortunate, the state's decision is necessary to help heat homes across Illinois next winter, which is the program's top priority," said Mike Claffey, a spokesperson for Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Claffey said Illinois could face a 60 percent reduction in federal funding for the program for fiscal year 2012, from $246 million to $113 million.

Cameron Moore, the CEO of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, said the lack of funding means hundreds to thousands of area residents may struggle to cool their homes this summer.

"You know, it's one of those things that's going to affect a lot of people, and I certainly think some of them negatively," Moore said. "At this point, we're hoping other agencies will work together to hopefully at a minimum provide fans for folks, maybe cooling centers. There are sort of some common responses to this kind of need that you see in other communities."

If the humidity becomes dangerous, Governor Pat Quinn could declare a state of emergency, prompting federal and state agencies to provide cooling centers.

Categories: Economics, Environment, Health

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 08, 2011

UI Launches $100 Million Fund Drive for Student Scholarships

With a $2 billion fundraising project nearly complete, the University of Illinois is turning its attention toward raising money for students in need.

Leaders at the university are launching a campaign to raise $100 million over the next three years to assist students who would otherwise be eligible for state assistance. The state's Monetary Award Program has faced several years of hardship, and last year MAP turned down more than 100,000 requests for aid.

U of I Foundation spokesman Don Kojich said the new "Access Illinois: The Presidential Scholarship Initiative" may evolve into an ongoing appeal.

"We're really going to focus the next three years on the scholarship initiative and see how much of dent we can make in that unmet need, and then evaluate it as we move forward," Kojich said.

The university is unveiling the new fund drive Thursday morning before the Board of Trustees meeting in Chicago. Among the first donations will be a $100,000 gift from President Michael Hogan and his wife, Virginia.

Kojich said students in all three U of I campuses could be eligible for help from the fund. The money may supplement an existing scholarship program or could be based on any need- or merit-based criteria.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 07, 2011

LIFE ON ROUTE 150: State Parks Struggling Yet Popular

More and more people are taking advantage of their area state parks for camping, fishing and other recreation. In fact, nearly 2,000,000 people a year pass through two state parks along Route 150. Yet the agency charged with running them has seen significant budget cuts in the past decade. In this installment of our "Life on Route 150" series, Illinois Public Media's Tom Rogers visited the parks and took a snapshot of their health.

(Photo by Tom Rogers/WILL)

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 07, 2011

Top Obama Economic Adviser to Leave, Return to Chicago

Austan Goolsbee, a longtime adviser to President Barack Obama, will resign his post as the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers this summer to return to teaching at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, the White House announced Monday.

Obama called him "one of America's great economic thinkers."

Goolsbee has been the face of the White House on economic news, and is a regular every first Friday of the month explaining the administration's take on the latest jobless numbers.

He brought a mix of levity and a teacher's sensibility to the job, using the White House blog, Facebook or YouTube to illustrate tax cuts, trade, or the auto industry resurgence on a dry-erase board with a dry wit and a gravel voice. He has been at Obama's side for years. He advised Obama during his 2004 Senate race and was senior economic policy adviser during the 2008 presidential campaign and has served on the three-member economic council since the start of the administration.

"Since I first ran for the U.S. Senate, Austan has been a close friend and one of my most trusted advisers," Obama said. "Over the past several years, he has helped steer our country out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and although there is still much work ahead, his insights and counsel have helped lead us toward an economy that is growing and creating millions of jobs."

Goolsbee took over last September as council chairman, replacing Christina Romer, who left to return to a teaching position at the University of California, Berkley.

He had taught at the University of Chicago for 14 years. His university biography once described him as "insanely committed to his work," noting that Goolsbee was seen in the classroom, wearing a tuxedo, on the day of his wedding.

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 07, 2011

Business Owners, Former Elected Officials, Oppose Champaign Liquor Tax

Owners of Champaign liquor stores say it's unfair to target one type of business in order to save three positions at the city's police department.

During last night's informational meeting on the suggested 4-percent tax in package liquor sales, those who run stores like Colonial Pantry and Sun Singer say the tax will hurt business, and drive their customers elsewhere.

And Picadilly Beverage Shop owner Jack Troxell claims enacting the tax will force layoffs.

"We're not in a high-margin industry," Troxell said. "We're in a volume industry with low margins. And that's the way it works. If your business drops off, you don't need as many employees. And when that happens, they don't have the same hours, and you can't afford to pay them."

Kam's and Pia's owner Eric Meyer said the liquor tax unfairly singles out an entire sector of business for just one cause. Meyer, who's also the Vice President of the Illinois License Beverage Association, suggests a tax closer to one percent.

The city council tentatively backed the liquor tax last month in order to avoid losing jobs, and ending overnight hours at the police department's front desk. Former Mayors Jerry Schweighart and Dan McCullom criticized the quick manner in which the council proposed the liquor tax. McCullom labeled it 'seat of the pants' decision making without time for deliberating, and Schweighart said when the city council quickly gave the tax their initial support, members abandoned a budget process he'd been working on the council with for months

Mayor Don Gerard, who defeated Schweighart in April's election, said he will consider other revenue proposals, but his intent is saving jobs.

"As the agenda was lined up that night, it was both or neither (the liquor tax and police cuts)," Gerard said. "So we had no choice. Now we can table this until July if we want, and we'll continue to discuss it, but as far as the hullabaloo from the former mayors about the manner in which I do things, well, I just do it a little diffferently, I guess."

The tax is expected to bring in $700,000, well over the $200,000 necessary to restore the police positions. The funds could also go to restore overtime at fire station 4 on Champaign's west side. The liquor tax is the focus of a study session next Tuesday, while business owners suggest different revenue streams, including a hike in the overall sales tax.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 06, 2011

Federal Grants Aimed at Spotting and Evaluating “Brownfields” in Danville, Decatur

The cities of Danville and Decatur have more money to hunt down properties that may have hazardous chemicals sitting underneath them. The land may have once held gas stations, dry cleaners or manufacturers.

Danville will use a $400,000 federal grant announced Monday to investigate past records and eventually test a few of the sites that may pose the most problems to health or redevelopment. Decatur has received an identical grant.

Danville planning and zoning manager Chris Milliken says there may be as many as 300 properties that have some sort of underground contamination. So, he says the city will have to decide which so-called brownfields receive tests. "That includes sites around Danville High School and some other prominent locations," Milliken said. "The main factor engaging the importance of sites we want to pursue is going to be visibility, and then also the potential for redevelopment -- for instance, sites that are along North Vermilion or other developable corridors already."

Milliken expects it will take about a year to identify new sites and conduct testing on about 20 to 40 of them. Danville officials can use those test results to plan cleanups when money becomes available -- those cleanups could range from removing buildings to removing the soil underneath.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 06, 2011

Quinn Calls Lawmakers Back to Springfield

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)

Gov. Pat Quinn says he's calling lawmakers back to work in Springfield.

Quinn announced Monday he would be talking to legislative leaders about a date to come back because he says there's an outstanding issue with the state's capital construction program.

The Chicago Democrat says lawmakers adjourned last week without approving an appropriations bill so the state can spend money on its ongoing capital construction program.

Quinn says he wants the lawmakers back to the state Capitol promptly so work doesn't have to stop on projects around the state, including road, bridge and other construction projects.

Mahomet Republican Chapin Rose says this nearly $300 million re-appropriation bill is separate from a lawsuit pending before Illinois' Supreme Court over the Illinois Jobs Now! plan, saying the capital funds that legislators have yet to vote on are already in place.

He believes something will be worked out over a day or two in Springfield this summer, and Rose agrees there are some important projects in the measure. But he's not happy the way the bill was handled by Senate Democrats:

"We are talking about austerity, and trying to right the ship, and not spend more money on projects," said Rose. "So frankly, for the Senate Democrats to do this is highly cynical. But that's what they've chosen to do is highjack the construction part of the budget."

Champaign Democratic Senator Mike Frerichs says the construction issue may take longer than a day or two in Springfield.

"I think there's pretty much agreement on the need to pass the capital component of this," Frerichs said. "But there are some real differences of opinion on spending priorities between the House and the Senate that were also included in this bill."

The Senator says that includes new money attached to the bill in the Senate to help those with developmental disabilities and mental health issues, areas identified as priorities in the Senate Democratic caucus. Rose says the most important thing is that Illinois' operating budget passed last week, and that a vote on capital projects will have no impact on schools, universities, and everyday travel on roads and bridges. Quinn says if work stops on the projects it will throw 52,000 people out of work.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 04, 2011

C-U Public Health District Approves 5-Year Community Health Plan

A survey on the greatest health needs in Champaign County has been broken down into four general areas.

The state requires the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District to complete a local assessment of needs plan every five years. After more than 11-hundred replies last year, priorities were identified as access to care (or paying for medical, mental and dental health), accidents (including DUI crashes and those in the home), obesity, and violence (including alcohol-related abuse and domestic violence.)

CUPHD Epidemiologist Awais Vaid says the county's current Community Health Plan was narrowed from 10 categories five years ago. He says public health is given no specific guidance on how to come up with the priorities.

"It's basically the community partners, the community leaders that get together and decide one what should be included," said Vaid. "But the last time we identified 10 of them, it became too much to address each of them, because each takes time and resources."

Vaid says community coalitions are being put together to address the four areas, each of them involving members of the public health district.

"The last time we finished the process, and thought as time goes by, some group will start addressing each one of these. It didn't happen," said Vaid. "So most of them were not addressed the way we were expecting to. But this time we do have specific groups that have a vested interest."

Yearly progress on the surveyed areas will be posted on the CUPHD's website.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 03, 2011

Indiana Economic Outlook Improves Although Gaming Revenues Down

It's been a while since Indiana reported revenues exceeding projections, but that's what happened in May.

Indiana's State Budget Agency reported today that the state took in $1.2 billion, roughly $151 million more than forecasters projected.

The increase covers a nearly $90 million revenue shortfall in April.

"It is clear that individual income tax collections have improved dramatically in 2011 compared to 2010 due to strong employment and income growth," agency director Adam Horst stated in a written statement. "Payroll withholdings, the largest component of individual income tax collections, have consistently grown in excess of 6 percent throughout 2011. For April and May, individual income tax collections grew 20 percent compared to the same time period for 2010."

In this fiscal year, which ends at the end of June, Indiana's collected $128 million more in taxes that the state's forecasting committee projected.

Revenues are also up by over 9 percent this year than last.

The only down side to the forecast was gaming revenues for the state.

Horst said riverboat wagering tax collections again fell short of the monthly target, and now lag behind 2010 revenues by 3.4 percent.

"On the other hand, racino (horse racing) wagering tax collections continue to exceed monthly targets, and are running 7.4 percent ahead of 2010 revenues," Horst said. "Through May, total gaming revenues trail the revenue forecast by $13 million and are running $8 million behind collections for the same time period last year."

Northwest Indiana is home to five casino boats along Lake Michigan.

The stale gaming numbers come at a time when Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is considering signing a bill that would dramatically increase casino licenses in the state.

Under the proposed plan, a casino could be approved for a south suburban location, as well as for downtown Chicago. Either location could eat into revenues taken in by casinos in Northwest Indiana.

Categories: Business, Economics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 02, 2011

Champaign, Other Cities Gear Up to Offer School Meals Past the End of School

School lunches and breakfasts are sometimes a lifeline for children whose families face problems affording healthy food. School officials understand that and are extending school meal programs into the summer.

Starting Monday, Champaign Unit 4 food service crews will bring breakfasts and lunches to four community centers - they'll be available free to children under age 18.

Unit 4 food service director Mary Davis says the federally-funded program is there to fill the gap when school lets out and children on free or reduced-price lunches still need food.

"Especially now where jobs are hard to find and so money isn't coming into a household like it was, this is going to help all those households," Davis said. "It'll take a worry off their mind because it's both breakfast and lunch. So it does help."

Davis said people at the sites won't ask for proof of need. She said she expects the nine sites across the Champaign area will give out about a thousand breakfasts and up to two thousand school lunches every weekday through the end of July.

Six of those sites are open to anyone - the sites at the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club (201 E. Park Ave.), First Presbyterian Church (302 W. Church), Douglass Community Center (512 E. Grove) and Jericho Church (1601 W. Bloomington Rd.)open Monday. Sites at Carrie Busey and Stratton schools open June 13th.

On Friday, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is expected to visit another school meal program funded by the Department of Agriculture. Decatur's Boys and Girls Club is one of several sites in that city where the Summer Food Service Program is also taking place.


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