Illinois Public Media News
The days could be numbered for more than 30 postal service facilities in Champaign County.
The U.S. Postal Service has been holding a series of public forums about post offices and stations that may shut down in an effort to close a $10 billion budget deficit.
About 40 people attended a meeting Tuesday night on the University of Illinois campus to defend two of them - one station located at 302 East Green Street in Champaign, and another in the U of I's Altgeld Hall.
Retired U of I employee Margrith Mistry showed up to the meeting, urging the postal service to keep these facilities open. Because of their proximity to campus, Mistry said these stations are a valuable resource to international students who attend the university.
"I think with all the international students in there sending very expensive packages home to Korea, China, or somewhere," Mistry said. "It must be a gold mind. So, I just can't understand how they could think of closing that."
Scott Fraundorf, a graduate student at the U of I, said he has been using both stations at different times over the last five years. He said without them, it wouldn't be possible for him to visit a post office because of his busy schedule.
"I often work late either on my research or helping out the students that I'm teaching," Fraundorf said. "I don't have time to go home, and then drive off to the post office. It's really unfortunate that at a time when everyone is trying to save fuel, we'd now be faced with a situation where he would have to drive out somewhere to get to a post office."
Moderating the discussion was Mike Pfundstein, who manages nearly 130 post offices in east central Illinois. In total, he said the U.S. postal service is considering closing 3,700 of its facilities across the country.
"We've never had a proposal to close that many post offices," he said. "Usually, they are considered individually based upon local factors. This is the first time we've looked at closing post offices based on wide spread criteria."
Pfundstein said as the postal service decides which facilities to close; it will look at the amount of business each one gets and whether there are other mail distribution alternatives located nearby. He said post offices could begin closing early next year.
If the service stations in Champaign-Urbana end up shutting down, both cities would still have a downtown post office.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
Chanting protesters from two different groups have filled portions of downtown Chicago. The groups eventually joined forces Saturday afternoon.
Occupy Chicago is a spinoff of anti-wall Street protests in New York. They held signs and chanted slogans including "This is what democracy looks like'' before joining the Midwest Anti-War Mobilization rally.
That group gathered on the 10th anniversary of the start of the Afghanistan War to call for an end to U.S. military action there. Protesters planned to march past President Barack Obama's re-election headquarters and a military recruiting station.
Chicago police reported no arrests. A similar anti-war event was held at the University of Illinois' Urbana campus on Friday.
Meanwhile, downtown Champaign was the site of a noon-hour rally on Saturday, held by Central Illinois Jobs with Justice, along with members of the Illinois Education Association, the Channing-Murray Foundation, and the Service Employees International Union.
SEIU field organizer Ricky Baldwin says the march is meant to send a strong message to lawmakers that large corporate layoffs are not acceptable, especially after the federal bailout.
"We want action to create jobs, not to destroy them," said Baldwin. "The bailout recipients - if they're not going to use the money - to help with the economic problems that regular people are having, then they should pay the money back.
Governor Pat Quinn says the state could be re-structuring some of its debt in light of a report showing improved revenues from Illinois' income tax hike.
The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability says that growth is exceeding the rate of the hike, bringing in $1-point-4 billion last month. COGFA also showed a steady growth in income tax and sales tax revenues during the summer months.
With the legislature's fall veto session approaching, Quinn says the state is at a spending limit of just over $32-billion. But he says spending could be re-allocated within that limit, and help some of those anxiously waiting state funds.
"We can use that to pay bills that we owe, and we'd like to use some of the revenue to restructure debt we have so that those who are owed money, like the University of Illinois, get paid right away," said Quinn. "And I think that's something that needs to be addressed."
Governor Quinn was at the U of I Friday morning for the groundbreaking of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering's new facility.
The latest reading of the University of Illinois Flash Index shows some improvement in the Illinois economy. The Flash Index was at 98.8 for September, up one point from where it had been for the past three months. That number still shows the state's economy to be contracting --- the Index needs to break 100 to show economic growth. But 98.8 is the highest Flash reading since December of 2008.
Economist Fred Giertz of the U of I's Institute of Government and Public Affairs says the September improvement suggests that fears of a double-dip recession in Illinois may be overblown. But he cautions that results for a single month may be due to "transitory factors".
The Flash Index is based on income, corporate and sales tax receipts in Illinois. Giertz says revenue from all three taxes were up in September compared to a year ago --- after being adjusted for recent increases in tax rates.
Approval for new funding for the Champaign County Convention & Visitors Bureau has been put on hold.
The Urbana City Council Monday night was expected to vote on giving the bureau about $19,000, but instead, the council sent that issue to the Committee of the Whole with a few provisions.
Alderman Brandon Bowersox-Johnson introduced a motion calling for a contractual agreement to identify which services would be funded, and how those services impact the community. The motion also looks at whether 40 North Arts funding should be handled through the CVB or the city.
Bowersox-Johnson said this should resolve some of the concerns about funding the bureau.
"Simply writing a check is not all of the puzzle," he said. "There are other pieces that I think it's up to us to solve, and to put into place so that we know if the city of Urbana invests in the CVB what benefit we can expect it to bring to the community."
Even without the motion being introduced, it was clear the funding measure wouldn't pass on Monday night. It wouldn't have had enough votes with two members of the city council absent.
CVB Director Jayne DeLuce was at the meeting. She said she is ready to work with Urbana officials on the issues outlined in the motion, but she admits the council's decision not to vote on the funding is a setback.
"We want to grow," DeLuce said. "This area is growing. Champaign County has so much to offer, and when you're strapped with a minimal level of funding, and you're about the fourth lowest funded CVB at least in the state of Illinois, it's hard to keep moving forward with very little resources."
DeLuce said the bureau has to match more than $320,000 it receives in state tourism grants, and she said so far, her department been able to meet about 80 percent of that funding.
Back in July, Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said the agency has not been effective, and that the nearly $72,000 in the budget for the CVB could be used to help fill two police vacancies instead.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels was in Chicago this week, promoting his new book "Keeping the Republic: Saving America by Trusting Americans." Gov. Daniels writes about the nation's growing debt problem, especially as it relates to Social Security and Medicare, and he explains how his own policies have helped turn his state's debts into surpluses. Speaking with Illinois Public Radio's Michael Puente, Daniels started off by talking about the potential damage of national debt.
(AP Photo/Mel Evans)
An arbitrator has ordered Gov. Pat Quinn to cancel his plan to lay off state employees and close several prisons and mental facilities.
Arbitrator Edwin Benn ruled Monday that Quinn's plan would violate his agreement with a major union. The Democratic governor signed a deal last year that promised no layoffs or closures if the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees agreed to various cost-cutting measures.
Quinn says that lawmakers haven't given him enough money to run state government and he is now forced to make cuts.
But the arbitrator says that doesn't make any difference. Benn says the state's agreement isn't canceled because it now claims financial problems.
Quinn is likely to appeal. He is already fighting a similar ruling over canceling union raises.
Whether a federal court sides with Democrats or Republicans on their versions of a Congressional map, Illinois' 15th District would still include parts of Champaign County.
Congressman John Shimkus (R-Collinsville), 53, would end up in that district, and he and most other GOP lawmakers are challenging the Democrats' map as part of a lawsuit. The suit contends that the map is unfair to minorities and Republicans.
Shimkus, who hasn't declared his candidacy, visited members of the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce Friday morning. He said he's hopeful the Democratic map won't stand up in court.
"I mean the Democrats thought we were over," he said. "They got more than they bargained for, and in our system of government, how are conflicts solved? Through the courts."
One difference between the maps is that the GOP's version would place less of Champaign and Vermilion Counties in the 15th district. Under either map, that district would contain all of Edgar, Coles, and Douglas Counties, but not the cities of Champaign or Urbana. Those areas would fall under a redrawn district inherited by U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Urbana), who plans on running for re-election.
During his meeting with chamber members, Shimkus was asked about the economy. He said the debate over raising the debt ceiling created more uncertainty about the state of the economy. He said his constituents want Congress to just stop spending.
"We know the economy, we know the job issue is difficult, but they really want to get control of this fiscal position," he said. "I think we did that by having that fight (with the debt ceiling debate), and now we just have to move forward."
As a Congressional Super Committee looks at ways to save more than a trillion dollars over the next decade, Shimkus said entitlement programs, like Medicare and Medicaid, should be considered for possible cuts.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
The Illinois Department of Corrections says the planned closure of a central Illinois prison could mean 1,500 inmates would be housed in prison gyms.
The (Springfield) State Journal-Register (http://bit.ly/nPzzfO) reports the department detailed the scenario involving the medium-security Logan Correctional Center near Lincoln in a required report to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. The closure also could mean crowding-related lawsuits.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has called the closure unavoidable given budget cuts by lawmakers. The union representing many of the affected prison workers says the move could endanger corrections workers and inmates.
Meanwhile, the Belleville News-Democrat (http://bit.ly/q62Vqk ) reports plans to close a maximum-security state mental-health center in Chester could require hundreds of thousands of dollars in upgrades at sites elsewhere to accommodate patients.
The executive director of the Illinois Teachers Retirement System says the fund is underfunded by $44 billion, but it will provide benefits for the foreseeable future.
Director Dick Ingram said the legislature took notice during the last session and gave precedence to payments to pensions.
"We became a priority and I think as long as that continues and the statutory plan that's in effect now is followed we will, in fact, be strong for the long term," Ingram said.
Ingram said the fund's total liability is $81 billion. He said the legislature's plan would put the fund at 90 percent of full funding by 2045.
Ingram also noted that while investment returns can vary last year the fund's return was about 24 percent.
Ingram added a senate bill would offer a third option for teachers to invest their retirement funds. State senate bill 512 would create a third tier for a defined-contribution plan that would resemble of 401-(K) plan. The benefits would depend on the amount invested and the return on investment.
He said the bill would also change the contributions for current teachers. Those in Tier I would see their contributions increase from 9.4% to 13.77% of their pay. Those in Tier II would see their contributions drop from 9.4 percent to 6 percent of their pay.
Ingram held an informational meeting for teachers in Macomb.
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