Illinois Public Media News
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
(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.
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.
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.
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