Illinois Public Media News
Gov. Pat Quinn says he'll put together a panel to review the state's pension system following a newspaper's investigations.
Quinn made the announcement Monday following a series of stories by the Chicago Tribune and WGN-TV.
In a story published Sunday, the Tribune reported that dozens of employees of private groups qualify for public pensions through Illinois State University even when they don't work on campus. In October the newspaper reported that two lobbyists with no teaching experience were allowed to count past years as union employees toward state teacher pensions after substitute teaching for only one day.
The Chicago Tribune reports that Quinn says the panel will be led by a senior adviser and will suggest changes to prevent abuses of the pension system.
Champaign City Manager Steve Carter now has authority to explore the use of an outside firm to review a controversial June 5 arrest.
But a bill was amended in Tuesday night's 8 to 1 vote by the Champaign City Council, asking that Carter show them a contract first. Some council members cited the $60,000 to $100,000 cost, and whether such a plan needed passage Tuesday.
The review is being sought after Illinois State Police and the FBI found no violations of departmental policy or civil rights violations tied to a June 5 arrest in Campustown. A police video of the incident showed the young man being pepper sprayed, and the officer was seen placing his hands on the arrestee's neck.
The independent review would also look into the police department's use of force policy. A representative of the Fraternal Order of Police contends Carter, and no officers, is responsible for problems tied to the strategy. Becky Dragoo is a field supervisor for the union, based in Springfield.
"How dare you point and accuse a questioning finger at the very police officers -- your own soldiers -- you sent out with this policy to guide their actions," she told Carter. "And now you dare to try to shift the blame to them for its consequences."
Council member Tom Bruno says he hears comments in the community that the council has been "shopping around" until it gets the answer it's looking for.
"I for one just want on whose conclusion we can reasonably rely upon," said Bruno. "That we know that it's well founded and good police work went into the investigation."
Bruno says everyone involved in the June 5 arrest deserves a thorough investigation, one that includes witness interviews. Council member Michael LaDue says a review needs to be done periodically anyway to uphold what he calls "human infrastructure."
"Instead of fastening and fixating one on incident involving a couple of officers, one of whom deployed pepper spray, and the situation defined in that context is resisting, I think we need a broader analysis -- we need a larger field analysis."
Council member Paul Faraci cast last night's lone no vote, saying most people in his district are opposed to spending the money. He says a new Champaign police chief will address these concerns when that person is hired early next year.
Illinois lawmakers have approved a $330 million package of tax relief to businesses and individuals.
The state Senate approved the business measure 44-9 on Tuesday. The individual tax relief passed 48-4. Both now go to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, a supporter.
Sears and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange see the most benefit. The companies had threatened to leave Illinois without financial help from the state. The legislation offers $100 million in tax relief to them and the Chicago Board Options Exchange.
The other measure increases tax credits for the working poor and raises the personal income-tax exemption.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is congratulating lawmakers who adopted the tax-break package, saying it shows what lawmakers can accomplish when both parties work together.
"The final package I think is a balanced approach to help our employers in Illinois," he said. "We understand to have a research and development tax credit on the books in Illinois, not just for one year, but now it's for five years, so we got that established. We got relief with respect to helping smaller businesses. We've extended some of the tax credits that are on the books, and we also were focused on creating jobs and maintaining jobs. And we also were able to help major employers in Illinois."
Experts on economic development say other companies are likely to demand financial incentives of their own. Companies also may play states against each other to get better deals.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
Champaign's city council Tuesday night will look into the hiring of an outside agency to investigate a June arrest in the Campustown neighborhood.
The review is also being sought to look at the city police department's use of force policy. On the early morning hours of June 5th, a leaked police dash camera video showed a young man being pepper sprayed as he was picked up for jaywalking. The video also shows the arresting officer putting his hands on the neck of the African-American man in his early 20's.
After a request for review by Illinois State Police, the agency said the officer's actions were consistent with city policy. And the FBI said no there were no criminal civil rights violations. The hiring of a firm is expected to cost $60-thousand-to-$100-thousand. Champaign council member Marci Dodds says it's unfortunate that finances are so tight, but the move is necessary for those involved in the arrest, as well as police department morale.
"It doesn't help matters any that there's a lot of distrust by some portions of the community, specifically, African-American, of the police department," she said. "So the police department can't even get upright before somebody's kicking them. Either they're kicking themselves, one department is kicking the other, or the outside is kicking them."
City council member Tom Bruno was part of the original request for Illinois State Police. He says the agency's effort was 'worthless', without giving the city any direction. And Bruno says getting a firm's opinion is the only way the city, the officer, and man arrested can move on.
"We have a great deal of money invested in the police officer's career," he said. "We want to make sure that if he's done nothing wrong that he can be vindicated and be an effective police officer in the future. If he has done something wrong, we want to know that just as well. We have a citizen who might be aggrieved, we have a video that certainly struck a nerve in the community. So this is what you have to do."
Bruno says he and city manager Steve Carter were told it would take several weeks for an investigation into the June arrest - and was 'shocked' to see State Police had concluded their investigation a couple days later, without interviewing witnesses.
The city council begins at 7 Tuesday night in the city building,
A new report says Illinois' youth prison system is an expensive failure with more than half of young offenders returning within three years of their release.
Many of them go back to prison for trivial problems such as skipping school or staying out late. The report to Gov. Pat Quinn and lawmakers is being released publicly today by the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission. The report makes recommendations it says could save money - nearly $80,000 per imprisoned youth each year.
Commission chair Judge George Timberlake says Illinois can do better at a lower cost, while making the public safer. The report was required by state law and is based on an examination of the youth prison system, including observations of prisoner review board hearings, and an analysis of parole revocations.
The Illinois House has approved tax breaks for businesses, including some big names like Sears and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange that are threatening to leave the state.
That measure would cost the state about $150 million next year and $218 million the year after that. It also includes broader tax breaks, like a credit for research and development and a more generous method of writing off losses.
The legislation now goes to the Senate. The Senate had already approved a version of the entire package. Earlier, the House also passed tax relief aimed at poor and middle-class families. It increases the earned-income tax credit, which lowers tax bills for poor families. It also would increase the personal exemption available to all taxpayers.
Among East Central Illinois lawmakers, Democrat Naomi Jakobsson of Urbana voted for both bills, while Republican Jason Barickman of Champaign voted against both.
Republicans Dan Brady of Bloomington, Adam Brown of Decatur, Chad Hays of Catlin, Bill Mitchell of Forsyth and Chapin Rose of Mahomet voted for the bill (SB397) with the business tax breaks. But they voted against the bill (SB400) with tax breaks for families and individuals.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
(Reported by Azra Halilović)
One of the latest efforts of the Occupy Movement is to not only protest Wall Street banks, but to encourage others to close out their accounts with them.
"Move Your Money" or "Bank Transfer Day", took place in some cities in early November, but those with Occupy Champaign-Urbana started up the campaign in West Side Park on Saturday.
Despite cold temperatures, about 50 demonstrators met to protest banks they say are 'too big to fail.' They passed out harmonicas and performed a call and response as they launched the new "Move Your Money" campaign.
Groups ranging from local unions to family businesses spoke out against Wall Street banks, urging people to close their bank accounts. Demonstrators waved signs, handing out fliers outlining the campaign's mission to promote local industry by boycotting relationships with federal banks. University of Illinois student Scott Kimball spoke on behalf of Iraq Veterans Against the War. He'd like to see the government help veterans adjust to life back home.
"Veterans have an unemployment rate that's about double the national average," Kimball said. "For African-American women veterans, their unemployment rate is over 30 percent, and that's unacceptable. We have veterans that are jobless, that are homeless, that their houses are being foreclosed on. Our nation's veterans aren't getting the treatment they deserve."
Kimball says he's also excited about a change in consciousness within the group, as the Occupy movement welcomes other demographics.
"People of color have a different set of circumstances, there are veterans who have a different set of circumstances, people in the LGBTQ community have issues that they need to voice," he said. "The bigger the tent that we create, the more marginalized voices that we lift up, the better this movement becomes - the more powerful it becomes and then we can really, truly make the claim that we are the 99 percent."
The group made its way to Chase Bank, where one of the demonstrators closed her account - with plans of moving her money to a local credit union. Organizers plan to hold a similar demonstration on Monday, asking protesters to hold signs at some the area's busiest intersections.
(Photo by Azra Halilović)
Former U.S. Senator and New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine told a congressional panel Thursday that he never intended to break rules requiring failed securities firm MF Global to safeguard client funds. He also said he doesn't know what happened to an estimated $1.2 billion that went missing. Among those who questioned Corzine on Capitol Hill was Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Urbana).
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Tuesday night's absence of three Champaign City Council members has prompted a 2-month delay in the vote for a local motor fuel tax.
The 4-cent per gallon item was up for a possible vote, but council members Paul Faraci, Deb Frank Feinen, and Michael La Due weren't at the meeting. The holiday schedule, and Mayor Don Gerard's absence in January means the vote won't come until the city council's first meeting in February. The tax proposal would be used to pay for road projects.
Council member Tom Bruno says he's heard debate on both sides, but would like to hear more about the merits of the plan rather than knee-jerk reactions. Bruno says one reason infrastructure has suffered is that tax revenues are down dramatically from where they were a few years ago.
It's now up to Governor Pat Quinn to restore nearly $30-million to substance abuse treatment programs around the state.
Funds approved by the Senate this week include $450-thousand for Urbana-based Prairie Center Health Systems. CEO Bruce Suardini says the facility has been without that money since July, when it cut both the detox program and staff.
Provided the governor signs the measure, Suardini says it would take about a month after that before Prairie Center would get a revised contract. And when that money is restored, he says it will take some time to ramp up staff that was laid off when the fiscal year started.
"It's not a light switch. Just because the governor passes this, then a contract has to come to you, then it's specific as to how you can spend it," Suardini said. "Then you have to hire and train a staff to get it all back up and going, and try to expend the money before it all runs out by June. So, that's why I'm saying it's so schizophrenic is that it really puts the client in a bad situation."
The bill now before the governor would include nearly $17-million for addiction treatment services, and $7-point-6 million for related treatment for Medicaid patients. Suardini says Quinn is expected to sign the measure.
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