Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 02, 2011

UI Printing Department Still Open, But Smaller

The University of Illinois printing department will be downsized and reorganized, but will remain open.

The university said in May 2010 that it would close its printing services department. The school blamed a $1 million budget deficit and said the unit couldn't get enough business to cover its expenses. But The News-Gazette reports Wednesday the department will be renamed Document Services and will keep operating.

The department has taken cost-cutting steps. It has reduced its workforce from 39 to 19 and sold printing equipment. In recent years the department's annual expenses were as much as $4.5 million. School officials estimate that figure will be less than $2.5 million for the fiscal year ending in June 2012. The unit's deficit is down to about $730,000.

Categories: Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 02, 2011

SIU-C Bracing For Potential Strike on Thursday

UPDATE: Tenure and tenure-track faculty at SIUC announced a strike late Wednesday night, after contract talks broke down. Meanwhile, three other unions on the Carbondale campus have reached tentative agreements.

A top administrator of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale says she's still hopeful negotiators can reach an agreement on a contract proposal that would avert a looming strike by the school's educators.

Rita Cheng said though the threat of a walkout is real, she remains confident that only a small percentage of faculty and staff will strike, and she said university operations will go on as usual.

"A far majority of our administration, who have been faculty for years, will step into the classroom and teach," Cheng said. "Other faculty across the campus, and retired faculty in the community, have already called and volunteered to cover for classes."

Members of four different bargaining units say they've been negotiating for more than a year for a new contract, and it's time to deal or walk out.

Several issues remain outstanding, involving money, tenure, distance education and job security.

SIU President Glenn Poshard said calls to tie faculty pay to increases in the university budget are not fair to those who pay for the hikes.

"If we're going to say, well let's talk about increases because of student tuition increases, and put aside the fact that the state has cut us drastically, then I guess we put the whole financial position of the university in the hands of the students from now on," Poshard said. "That's not what we want to do, and I don't believe that the faculty want to do this, either."

Poshard said administrators have worked hard to avoid financial exigency, as well as staff cuts and layoffs.

"We've done everything under the worst financial conditions of the state and of the university to avoid doing anything like that, and we haven't," he said.

With the threat of a strike looming on Thursday, the recently formed group known as Faculty for Sensible Negotiations began a signature drive on Monday.

The group wants to determine the faculty interest in retaining or replacing the Faculty Association as their exclusive bargaining unit.

FSN leader and SIU-C Zoology associate professor Mike Eichholz said he has been fed up with how faculty contracts are negotiated since he arrived at SIU-C in 2002.

Eichholz said the signature drive is meant to gauge whether faculty want to continue with the Faculty Association, replace it as a bargaining unit or decertify and negotiate contracts individually.

"You know, we'd like to see an approach where we'd try to work hand-in-hand with the administration to make the university better, instead of an approach where it seems it's an 'us-or-them' approach," Eichholz said. "You know, some of the demands, to me, just don't seem to be appropriate."

He said the group would prefer all the cards be returned by Friday, but will accept any turned in after that date. He also said he thinks there must be an alternative to the current contract negotiation structure.

"It seems like every time there's a contract negotiation, we end up to the point where there are threats of a strike, a tremendous amount of negative publicity for the university," Eichholz said. "It seems like this time, at first the rhetoric wasn't quite as bad but over the last couple of months it's clearly gotten worse to the point where there's likely going to be a strike - which I think is extremely unfortunate."

Cheng said while it's still unclear what effect the labor strife will have, there will be repercussions for the university.

"This is not where we'd like to be at this time," she said. "We'd like to have positive press, we'd like to be moving forward with our positive messages for our prospective students, and we're getting, instead, this type of coverage on the news.

Categories: Economics, Education, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 01, 2011

Index to State Economy Takes Dip

The University of Illinois' Flash Index went up a full point in September, only to drop back down by half a point in October. But economist Fred Giertz says the new reading of 98.3 isn't all bad news --- because the index to the state economy is still higher than it has been all summer.

"Last month's increase was probably a little bit overly optimistic, but it didn't fall back down to the old level," Giertz said. "So over the two-month period, it shows a very modest gain, which is good news, compared to what many people were fearing, which was a double dip recession back a month or two ago."

A hundred is the dividing line between economic growth and contraction in the Flash Index. And it is now a full three years since the Index last showed growth in the Illinois economy. The Index hit a low point of 90.0 in Sept. 2009, and there have been fears that levels might fall again, indicating a double-dip recession. But Giertz said the overall improvement in the Flash Index, along with other indicators, make a double-dip recession more and more unlikely.

"These things are always a question of what the probabilities are," Giertz said. "But some people were talking about a one in three or one in four chance of a double-dip, maybe six weeks ago. Now that probably is down to one in ten. But that one in ten is still there. So it's always a chance that might happen, but less likely than it was before."

Giertz said modest improvements in the national economy also argue against a double-dip recession.

The Flash Index is based on analysis of Illinois tax receipts --- and Giertz said only sales tax receipts showed any real improvement last month.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 30, 2011

Section 8 Waiting List Opens Up in Champaign County

Starting Monday, Oct. 31, the Champaign County Housing authority will begin accepting applications from people who want to be included on a waiting list for its Section 8 housing voucher program.

Housing authority executive director Edward Bland said the last time people could apply to be on the list was in 2007. The agency has received about $10 million from the federal government to support existing vouchers. He said there's no time line for when the next batch of vouchers will be available.

"The purpose of opening up the waiting list is to have future applicants available, so as vouchers become available in the future we will have a pool of qualified applicants to issue those vouchers to," Bland explained. "Those vouchers could be new vouchers that we may receive or they could be existing vouchers from a family (that) no longer needs that voucher."

Bland said participants will be considered for a voucher based on a number of factors, including their income level and criminal history. He said if more than 400 people sign up to make it on the list, then participants will be selected through a lottery system. The enrollment period to apply ends Nov. 14, 2011.

Applications for the voucher program can be picked up at the following locations:

Champaign County Regional Planning Commission - 1776 E. Washington, Urbana

Housing Authority of Champaign County - 205 W. Park Avenue, Champaign

Illinois Work Net Center - 1307 N. Mattis Avenue, Champaign

Oscar Street Place - 1202 E. Harding Street, Urbana

Rantoul Community Center - 520 E. Wabash, Rantoul

Refugee Center - 302 S. Birch Street, Urbana

Restoration Urbana Ministries - 1213 Parkland Court, Champaign

Salvation Army - 2212 N. Market, Champaign

Skelton Place - 302 S. Second Street, Champaign

The Times Center - 70 E. Washington, Champaign

Washington Square - 108 W. Washington, Champaign

The opportunity to get on the Section 8 waiting list comes less than week after the release of preliminary results from a homeless survey by the group C-U at Home. The organization interviewed around 300 homeless people in Champaign, Urbana, and Rantoul, and identified about a third of them as being vulnerable to dying on the street. Each person's situation was based on the Vulnerability Index, a tool developed by researchers at Boston's Healthcare for the Homeless.

John Smith was one of about 80 volunteers who interviewed the homeless, asking questions about physical and mental health, history of substance abuse, and time living on the street.

"It was amazing that the empathy that the volunteers felt from talking with the homeless doing the surveys, and the reverse," Smith said. "We saw the homeless appreciative that somebody would listen to their story."

The study was part of a national effort to find housing for 100,000 vulnerable people across the county within the next couple of years. Melany Jackson, the project coordinator for C-U at Home, said she plans to take the information collected from the survey in Champaign County, and find housing for a half a dozen people by the end of next year.

"There aren't nearly enough beds," Jackson said. "There aren't nearly enough support services for folks who are in desperate need. Many of them are falling through the cracks. They're falling through the cracks of the system that does exist."

According to the United Way of Champaign County, homelessness is on the rise with an estimated 418 individuals in Champaign County without a stable place to live at any given time. Jackson said her organization will work with churches and other faith-based groups to connect people with a place to live.

Categories: Economics
Tags: economy

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 29, 2011

Group Holds Occupy Demonstration in Champaign

(Reported by Azra Halilovic)

The solidarity group Occupy Champaign-Urbana organized a demonstration Saturday afternoon in downtown Champaign. More than a dozen people met at the corner of Neil and Main to protest corporate policies and political inequality.

That's compared to the 300 people who attended the march and rally in West Side Park a couple weeks ago. Saturday's event was part of a series of smaller demonstrations the group is organizing in Champaign County. The demonstrators held signs and handed out fliers with details about their group and ways to get involved. The group is in solidarity with the anti-Wall Street movements that have erupted across the nation and globe.

The demonstrators included students, working class citizens, and retirees. While they have personal motives for participating in the demonstration, they are all seeking economic reform and greater political representation.

Pat Dewal of Champaign is a retired resident who became involved with the Occupy movement about three weeks ago. Dewal said she would like to see less corporate involvement in politics.

"I just have a lot of concerns about what's happening in our country and how much things have been in decline," she said. "I think it's time for citizens to speak up and do something."

Dewalt added that most people who organize and attend the events are on the political left, but that the group welcomes people of all political ideologies.

"Only a few Libertarians have been involved," she said. "It would be nice to hear more conservative voices. They would be enthusiastically welcome."

As cars stopped at streetlights, Eric Burton of Champaign approached them to hand out the group's fliers. He was there with his wife and child, and said he would like to see the government do a better a job representing families.

"I'm a working class citizen of this country," he said. "We can barely afford health insurance. I work about 70 hours a week between jobs and we just get by. And so that's my own personal impetus to be involved. I think it's more about a perception of what's right and wrong."

Other people at the demonstration expressed frustration with the role of lobbyists and the influence of money in politics. They hope to have a better and more diverse turnout at their future events. Organizers plan to hold a similar demonstration Tuesday at noon at the University of Illinois ' Urbana campus.

(Photo by Azra Halilovic)

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 28, 2011

Champaign, Ford County Regional Supt Hopeful for Funding Measure

If legislation to use local funds for the salaries of Illinois' regional school superintendents can pass it two weeks, one of those officials says it should be enough.

Jane Quinlan is the superintendent for Champaign and Ford Counties. She says it's a little hard to tell what the overall amount in personal property replacement tax will be, but Quinlan says anticipated Department of Revenue figures for Fiscal 2012 appear to be slightly better than last year, and would cover areas vetoed by Governor Pat Quinn. The bill failed Thursday by four votes, but is expected to come up for another vote in two weeks.

Quinlan says she holds out hope for this measure.

"We do have funding to pay for the staff that provides the services and programs that we have," she said. "I think the question is out there about 'how do those services (function) without the regional superintendent, who has the authority to execute those?"

If the bill doesn't pass when lawmakers return to Springfield November 8th, Quinlan says each regional superintendent and their assistant will have to take a hard look at their options, which may include retirement. She says it's unrealistic for these officials to work a few months more without pay.

Quinn eliminated the money for the superintendents and their assistants in July because he says the state can't afford the $11 million.

State Senator Shane Cultra says the bill that failed Thursday is likely the only one that will be considered on this issue when legislators return to Springfield. The Onarga Republican says he's all for restoring these salaries, but not with the personal property replacement tax. The measure needed 71 votes to pass, but failed 59-to-55 in the House.

Cultra says this issue lies in the hands of Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan, who isn't directly impacted, since Cook County has no regional superintendents.

"He's basically letting us fight over how we're going to pay them, and who we're going to take the money from" said Cultra. "Somebody's going to get hurt. Is it the superintendents, or is it going to be local units of government? So I don't like that discussion. I don't think it should be that way. But unfortunately, that's what we're stuck with."

Cultra says lawmakers should have been allowed to override Governor Pat Quinn's veto of those salaries, and take the funds out of general state revenue. The bill that failed was put on 'postponed consideration', meaning the sponsor can drum up support before bringing it up for another vote. The fall veto session continues November 8th.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 27, 2011

Ill. Commission Votes to Block Facility Closures

A bipartisan legislative commission is rejecting Gov. Pat Quinn's proposal to close three social-service facilities and a youth prison.

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability cast advisory votes Thursday against closing a juvenile detention center in Murphysboro, a developmental center in Dixon and mental health hospitals in Rockford and Chester.

Quinn announced last month he needs to close seven facilities and lay off nearly 2,000 employees because of budget shortfalls.

A spokeswoman says Quinn has no choice but to shut the facilities unless the Legislature appropriates more money.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees opposes the closures. Executive Director Henry Bayer says the votes indicate lawmakers believe the facilities are necessary. The commission has yet to vote on closing facilities in Lincoln, Jacksonville and Tinley Park.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 26, 2011

Ill. Senate Examines Quinn Gambling Ideas

The Illinois Senate is moving toward action on a gambling expansion based on Gov. Pat Quinn's recommendations.

Lawmakers passed a major expansion plan earlier this year, but Quinn says he'll veto it.

He wants a plan that creates five new casinos, including one in Chicago, but does not allow slot machines at race tracks.

A Senate committee debated the proposal today. A vote by the full Senate could come later in the day.

If the measure fails, it would help lawmakers argue that only the larger expansion can draw enough support to pass. That might build a veto-proof majority for expansion.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 25, 2011

Urbana Council Scraps CVB Funding

The city of Urbana's community development staff will work up a convention and tourism promotion campaign in conjunction with the Urbana Business Association.

A plan to fund Champaign County's Convention and Visitors Bureau at a much lower level failed to receive the necessary votes in last night's committee of the whole meeting to move forward.

The plan to give the CVB $18,800 needed six votes, but only received five. Alderwoman Heather Stevenson was absent. Opponents include Alderman Eric Jakobsson, who raised concerns with the lack of information and links on the Bureau's website. Mayor Laurel Prussing still contends the CVB still hadn't proved it was providing a return on the city's $72,000 investment.

"They're operating in a market that is completely dominated by the University of Illinois, and what they do isn't going to make one difference one way or the other," Stevenson said. "The major thing is people come here for a football game, a basketball game, for (the U of I's) Krannert Center. What CVB says on their website or doesn't say on their website isn't going to make any difference to that."

The original amount for the CVB was vetoed by the mayor, and the city council failed to override that veto in July. Community development staff is expected to prepare a report in the coming weeks.

Alderman Dennis Roberts questioned how those employees can take on such duties, and stay apprised of local events. Alderman Brandon Bowersox-Johnson argued that it only made sense to market businesses and special events on a regional basis.

"It doesn't make sense for our staff here in community development to be promoting a couple of things on our side of the line, but for us not to be able to tell people to go see Hardee's Reindeer Ranch or to go tour the (U of I's) supercomputer or to see other amazing things in Champaign County," Bowersox-Johnson said. "So ultimately if we all try to do our own little piece of this puzzle, I don't think we'll market Champaign County as well."

But since Urbana will forgo CVB funding for the time being, Bowersox said the city owes it to local businesses and shops to do a good job.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 24, 2011

Quinn Appoints Illinois Transportation Secretary

Gov. Pat Quinn has appointed a new leader for the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Quinn on Monday named Ann Schneider to be secretary of the state transportation department. Schneider has been acting secretary since July and previously was chief of operations for the department. Schneider also was chief fiscal officer for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and in the Governor's Office of Management and Budget.

The governor also named John Holton as director of the Illinois Department on Aging.

Quinn also made other appointments, including Jim Larkin as acting director of the Department of Agriculture, Andrew Stolfi as acting director of the Illinois Department of Insurance and John Kim as interim director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.


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