Illinois Public Media News

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

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 05, 2011

Quinn: Ready for Court Battle Over Canceled Raises

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said Tuesday he was prepared to go to court against the unions to defend his decision to cancel pay raises for nearly 30,000 state workers and he repeatedly blamed lawmakers for leaving him no choice by not setting aside the money.

"It's very clear that the money wasn't available for the raises and therefore there's really nothing I could do to clear it up," Quinn said after a Chicago press conference where he touted a $10 million program to give teens and young people internships and jobs in state parks, park districts and nature centers.

Quinn made the surprise announcement Friday that workers wouldn't be getting the 2 percent increase they were expecting that day. The state's largest employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said it had no idea Quinn was considering such action.

The raises will save the state about $75 million as it continues to cope with a budget crisis. The state still faces a shortfall of at least $6 billion and possibly more than $9 billion despite cutting costs and raising the state income tax.

Quinn brushed off suggestions that his action came as a surprise. "Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of the budget would know this," he said.

Quinn's budget spokeswoman Kelly Kraft said the governor began thinking about cancelling the raises after lawmakers approved the budget on May 30. He did not tell workers they were losing the money until July 1.

Quinn insisted he's following the law because he can't spend money the General Assembly doesn't appropriate but AFSCME has condemned Quinn's actions.

"The General Assembly neither did nor can compel the government to violate a legally binding collective bargaining agreement," said Anders Lindall, a spokesman for AFSCME Council 31.

Lindall said the union was considering its legal options and believes it has a "very strong case in a court of law."

Quinn wasn't concerned about what could potentially be a long and costly legal battle. "If they decide to sue that's their right and we'll be happy to meet them in court," he said.

While Quinn said repeatedly that lawmakers did not set aside money in the budget to pay the raises, that's not entirely accurate.

It's true that lawmakers cut spending for salaries despite the scheduled raises. The Corrections Department, for instance, saw personnel money drop by 7 percent. But budgets don't distinguish between regular salaries and raises; they simply give the governor a certain amount of money for employees. The governor decides how to spend the money.

So, potentially, Quinn could have cut some jobs and used the limited money available to pay the full raises to remaining employees. Or he could have paid everyone the higher salaries and come back to lawmakers in October and requested more money. He also had the option of vetoing the budget and telling legislators they failed to include enough money for personnel.

House Speaker Michael Madigan's spokesman said it's up to Quinn's administration and state agencies to decide how to spend the money lawmakers appropriate.

"We don't get involved in that level of detail," Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said.

Senate President John Cullerton's spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said Quinn's decision to end the raises will be added "to the list of items in the current year's budget that need to be addressed in the coming weeks and months."

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 01, 2011

AFSCME Urges Champaign to Preserve Police Funding

With about 50 jobs eliminated in Champaign as part of a round of budget cuts over the last few years, AFSCME local 31 says some of those positions should be saved - especially as city department heads and the city manager are poised to receive a two percent pay hike.

One area impacted by recent budget cuts is the Champaign Police Department, which could lose a few positions that would keep the front desk from staying open overnight. At a time when administrator salaries are going up, AFSCME spokesperson Michael Wilmore said the city should do more to keep the front desk open 24 hours a day.

"We are trying to draw attention to the fact that they're giving themselves raises," Wilmore said. "It is really insulting to the workers and to the citizens of Champaign."

The Champaign City Council considered a liquor tax in June to restore funding for three of the department's front desk positions and one of its record services positions, but that measure failed to get enough support.

There are currently two out of three three positions at the police department's front desk that are vacant. No changes in the status of these jobs will occur until the Champaign City Council provides more direction, which means for now, the two vacated positions will not be filled and the third position will not be eliminated. The city council is expected to discuss potential new sources of revenue and the future of those jobs during its July 12th meeting.

Champaign Mayor Don Gerard said he is hopeful that the city will find a way to keep the front desk staffed all the time.

"Those positions are vital to the support of the police staff," Gerard said. "I voted against not giving the city manager a raise not because I didn't think he deserved it, but because from a leadership standpoint in these budgetary times, we need to have shared responsibility."

City Manager Steve Carter, whose salary will go up by two percent, defended the pay increases for non-union employees. Carter has not received a pay raise for the last couple of years. He noted many of the other non-union workers who are expected to make more money this year also did not get a raise last year.

"If there has been a group of employees that have scarified - if you will - recognizing the budget condition, it has been the non-union employees," Carter said. "All the union employees, including AFSCME, have received salary increases all along based on contracts, some in existence and some negotiated."

Union workers from the Fraternal Order of Police and the Plumbers and Pipefitters saw their salaries go up last year, and continue to rise this year. However, no future pay raises have been budgeted for AFSCME workers since contract negations with the city are ongoing.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 01, 2011

Cuts to Illinois’ Regional School Superintendents Leaves Questions

The Regional Superintendent of Schools for Champaign and Ford Counties says it is too early to speculate on the long-term impact of Gov. Pat Quinn's cuts to her office and others like it.

The Democratic governor signed a budget Thursday night that would cut salaries for Jane Quinlan and her assistant. The Quinn administration suggests local school districts should pick up those salaries. He has also cut out funds for professional development and training at regional superintendents' offices across the state.

But Quinlan said state lawmakers would have to decide whether to challenge those changes in the fall. For the time being, Quinlan is starting a new four-year term, and she said legislators appear to back that.

"It was put back in both the House budget and the Senate budget," Quinlan said. "The governor had vetoed it again, which would take it back to what his original proposal was. There are some comments in the newspapers that indicate that he thinks it might be paid from other sources, or from county sources. But I haven't really seen a plan for that."

Quinlan said she hopes to learn more about the governor's plan next week. Champaign Unit 4 School Board President Sue Grey said she intends to contact legislators to express her concerns about the budget cuts.

Like Quinlan, Peoria's Regional Superintendent of Schools was sworn in Friday to another term in office. Gerry Brookhart said the Illinois Association of School Superintendents will likely file an injunction to block Quinn's action.

"Myself and our staff will continue to work and the legal entanglement that this will create will probable take some time," Brookhart said. "Ultimately, it will be sorted out and the public will get what we think they really want and deserve which is good quality education delivered in a very effective and meaningful fashion."

The Executive Director of the IARS, Michael McCreery, said he is 'baffled and miffed' by the governor's decision to cut funding for regional school superintendents. Brookhart said the Peoria office brought in $16 million in revenue last year. He said Regional Offices statewide are responsible for more than $100 million in annual revenue. Brookhart said that makes it hard to understand why the governor would cut $11 million and jeopardize ten times that in revenue.

Meanwhile, Mary Fergus with Illinois Association of School Boards said her office has not had a chance to analyze the governor's plan.

There are 46 Regional Offices of Education in the state. Their duties include certifying teachers, overseeing school inspections, and running GED exams.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 01, 2011

Quinn Tries to Skip $75 Million in Raises

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

Gov. Pat Quinn wants to cancel raises for thousands of state employees to help cope with the Illinois budget crisis.

The administration notified 14 state agencies and the affected unions that the 2 percent raises won't be paid as required by contract.

Quinn's office says lawmakers did not provide enough money in the new budget to cover raises for nearly 30,000 employees. Quinn spokeswoman Mica Matsoff says 14 agencies won't have enough money to operate for the full budget year if salaries go up. Canceling the raises would save more than $75 million.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall stated:

"With his illegal and irresponsible actions today, Governor Quinn has trampled on the collective bargaining process and broken his contract with the men and women who do the real work of state government."

"These tens of thousands of Illinois state employees impacted care for disabled veterans, risk their lives in state prisons, monitor paroled convicts, protect children from abuse and neglect, rush to assist in disasters, and much more," Lindall added. "AFSCME will aggressively pursue every available legal recourse to ensure that the collective bargaining agreement is honored and employees are paid according to their contract.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 30, 2011

Quinn OKs New Ill. Budget, with Extra Cuts

Gov. Pat Quinn signed the new Illinois budget into law Thursday, after first trimming money for school buses, eliminating support for regional education offices and chopping Medicaid.

The Democrat suggested the cuts could be part of further negotiations.

"Implementing a budget is not a one-day event but rather a year-round process filled with robust debate and difficult decisions," Quinn said in a statement.

Quinn has repeatedly criticized the spending plan lawmakers sent him, saying it shortchanged many important services. But he cut further.

Money for Medicaid, a health program for the poor, is being cut by an additional $276 million. That brings the Department of Healthcare and Family Services budget to $14.3 billion, or about 4.5 percent below current levels.

Illinois will still have to pay for medical services, however, so less money means bills are simply paid more slowly. Unless something changes, about $1.5 billion in Medicaid bills will be left unpaid at the end of the year, adding to backlog that already amounts to $6 billion or more.

"The point is to get the interested parties to the table to negotiate in good faith" on controlling Medicaid costs, Vaught said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Transportation money the state provides to local schools will be cut by $89 million, which leaves nearly $206 million, a substantial increase.

Vaught said the purpose of that cut is to focus limited state resources on classrooms.

"That's a local function, getting the kids to school," Vaught said, referring to the transportation money as "excess" state funds.

Reducing state aid for transportation is likely to force schools to take money away from other educational services in order to keep buses running.

Quinn eliminated all the money the state provides for regional offices of education around the state. The cut of about $11.3 million does not eliminate the offices, but it would force local taxpayers to come up with the money or close the offices.

Lawmakers rejected both of Quinn's education cuts. They have the option of restoring the $376 million that Quinn cut Thursday. Unless they take action, however, Quinn's version of the budget is the one Illinois will follow for the next year.

His office said Quinn's cuts bring the key measure of state spending to $32.9 billion, about $2 billion below the previous budget. That's a reduction of roughly 6 percent.

Vaught said he didn't know the total size of the budget, including federal funds, fees and other special categories. For the previous year, it was $52.7 billion.

Quinn did not make any public appearance to discuss signing the budget. He does not have any appearances scheduled for Friday either.

The additional budget cuts are likely to frustrate groups that feel the version approved by lawmakers was already deeply flawed. It slashed money to institutions for the mentally handicapped, promised long delays in paying Medicaid bills, reduced education spending and cut money for state employees.

"This is a fundamentally broken budget, an unworkable plan that falls far short of the revenue needed to adequately support basic services," said Anders Lindall, spokesman for the Illinois division of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Lindall urged Quinn to spend at the levels needed to maintain services and then work with lawmakers to come up with more money later in the year.

But Vaught said Quinn must assume no more money will be available. "You implement right away and you do the cuts," he said.

A key question is what cuts Quinn can make. He reached a bargain with AFSCME last year in which the union agreed to make concessions and Quinn agreed not to cut jobs or close state facilities.

Vaught said Quinn will diclose more of his plans soon.

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 30, 2011

U of I Extension Cuts Mean Major Reorganization, Job Losses

More than 100 jobs will be cut from the University of Illinois Extension as a result of a large reorganization.

While initial budget figures called for more than $2 million in cuts, that figure increased to $7.6 million for the new fiscal year.

As it stands, the budget cuts will force the merger of several county offices, and the number of Extension units have been reduced from 70 to 27. And about 50 county extension director positions will be eliminated though layoffs and retirements.

Interim Associate Dean and Director Bob Hoeft said moving educators out of centers and into the counties should actually be a good thing. They specialize in areas like small farms, nutrition, and youth development in local 4-H programs.

Hoeft said while a number of the jobs cut were educator positions, he said no specific areas of expertise were targeted. He also noted that any counties that want to keep their extension office open could - but many will be operating only two to three days a week. He said in most cases, an office will remain open.

"The public spoke - the public said they wanted their offices," he said. "There are counties that said they don't need an office, and Douglas County is one example of that. Talking with elected officials, they've said that they had no real complaints, and it's worked real well."

Among the educator positions that were reduced, he says just six are left in agriculture, because few are needed anymore.

"We have a number of commercial ag people that come directly to campus," Hoeft said. "We also have 1,500 certified crop advisers in this state that are capable of giving sound, agronomic advice, and customers, the farmers of the state, go to them for that advice."

Hoeft said Extension will be relying more on electronic communication in the future since that is what younger generations demand.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 30, 2011

Illinois Group Gets $1.4 Million to Help Migrants

The U.S. Department of Labor is giving an Illinois group $1.4 million to provide job training and other services to migrant farmworkers.

The department said Wednesday the money will go to the Illinois Migrant Council. The money is part of $78.3 million being provided by The National Farmworker Jobs Program to 52 groups around the country to pay for job training, employment services and other needs for seasonal farmworkers and their families.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said the money is intended to help migrant farmworkers and their families lead more stable lives. Another $5.7 million will go to 16 groups across the country to provide housing assistance for migrant farmworkers.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 30, 2011

Quinn Expected to Sign Budget

Illinois' new budget takes effect Friday, the first day of the fiscal year. The state won't have enough money to pay businesses that are waiting for state payments.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to sign the state budget Thursday. He can accept the blueprint as lawmakers sent it over, or slightly amend it. State law restricts how much he can change.

Regardless, the budget won't include enough money to catch up on old bills. One person waiting to get paid is Ralph Ditchie, who runs two day care center for adults.

"I'm just a little guy from the south side of Chicago who started a business, and about five months ago, they owed us three-quarters of a million dollars," Ditchie said.

The state has caught up a little in what it owes Ditchie. But the delay he and others have gotten used to is not expected to ease up, even after Quinn signs the budget.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 29, 2011

Illinois Library Systems Prepare to Merge

Come July 1st, four library systems in Decatur, Champaign, Edwardsville and Carterville will merge to form the Illinois Heartland Library System.

The change comes in response to the state's financial problems.

One of the groups involved in the merger is Rolling Prairie Library System in Decatur. Executive Director Beverly Obert said her library system is waiting on about $350,000 from the state. She said the system's nearly 260 member libraries will notice some changes following the merger, such as a lack of continued education and consulting services

"It's a little bit of looking forward to it, and also sadness at what's being lost," Obert said. "Next few days is to get through the merger, and start serving the people."

Obert noted that there will be more of a focus on resource sharing, delivery and the "Talking Book Service" in the new library system. She said reciprocal borrowing privileges between libraries in the system should also stay the same.

Another library system involved in the merger is Champaign-based Lincoln Trail Libraries System, which serves 120 libraries. It is currently waiting on $300,000 to $400,000 from the state, according to its executive director Jan Ison. She said the people who will notice a difference in service are librarians who rely on her staff to answer questions quickly.

"Now that doesn't mean my staff won't answer questions and they won't be quickly, but hopefully we're going to do the best we can," Ison said. "It's quite likely that some staff will be telecommuting, or perhaps working out of some of the member libraries."

While some library systems involved in the merger are cutting staff - like Rolling Prairie - Ison said the only positions that will be eliminated at the Lincoln Trail Libraries System are those that are currently open. She said all existing staff who want to stay on board will be able to do so.

Illinois Heartland Library System will include 594 member libraries: 38 Academic, 231 Public, 260 School and 65 Special. In addition, five library systems in northern Illinois will merge into one consolidated system known as Reaching Across Illinois Library System (RAILS). Meanwhile, the Chicago Public Library System will remain as its own entity.

Categories: Business, Economics, Education

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