Illinois Public Media News
State budget cuts are leaving many Illinois social services agencies scrambling, especially homeless shelters.
The result is many of the state's poorest and most vulnerable are left with fewer options and more uncertainty. This comes at a time when census data show Illinois' highest poverty rate in nearly two decades and a high jobless rate.
Legislators chopped the Department of Human Services budget by hundreds of millions of dollars, including $4.7 million for homeless services.
That includes money for REST Shelter in Chicago. It was once a 24-hour homeless facility for more than 100 people, but had to lay off workers and close during the day.
Toni Irving is Gov. Pat Quinn's deputy chief of staff. She says Quinn is trying to get money reallocated, but it's a difficult situation.
The funding situation for Illinois' regional offices of education is still in a state of flux after Gov. Pat Quinn slashed about $11 million in state support for 44 superintendents and about 40 assistants earlier this summer.
However, the Will County Board isn't waiting for the state to restore funding to its Regional Office of Education.
Board members unanimously voted Thursday to provide $2,000 a month in assistance for the regional superintendent and the assistant superintendent. That temporary funding will last until the end of the year, but county officials say it would be reimbursed if state funding is restored.
Will County Board Chair Jim Moustis is urging the General Assembly to override the governor's veto of state funding of regional offices of education. Quinn has said local governments should pick up the tab for those salaries, but Moustis said that is not a feasible long-term solution.
"I mean this would be like saying, 'What if they said tomorrow we're not paying judges? And let the counties pay judges, or you pay the state's attorney.' It's the same type of principle. Wouldn't you think?" Moustis said. "Until there's a viable alternative presented, this is what we have."
The superintendents have been working without pay since July 1. They perform a list of duties-many required by the state-including certifying teachers, doing background checks and running truancy programs.
Despite a lawsuit filed by the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools demanding paychecks from the state, a circuit judge last month upheld Gov. Quinn's authority to eliminate salaries for regional school superintendents across Illinois.
Indiana's unemployment rate inched higher in August but remains below the national average.
The state Department of Workforce Development said Friday that the Indiana jobless rate increased from 8.5 percent in July to 8.7 percent, with about 274,000 people seeking work last month. Workforce Development commissioner Mark Everson says that revised numbers from July helped offset some that downturn.
The national unemployment rate is 9.1 percent.
The state agency says growth in construction and government employment last month wasn't enough to offset job losses in manufacturing, transportation and other sectors.
Indiana's jobless rate is still significantly lower than a year ago, when it stood at 10 percent. Indiana's rate is also slightly lower than rates in neighboring Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio.
Bondville Residents Worry About Losing Post Office
The U.S. Postal Service is considering shutting down several of its offices in an effort to fill a $10 billion budget deficit. The days may be numbered for one small-town post office in Champaign County.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is scheduled to depart for China on Friday to lead an delegation of Illinois business and educational leaders. The governor told reporters this week he hopes his eight day mission will help improve trade relations with the country - and boost Illinois' economy.
Quinn said an increase in exports will create more jobs in Illinois.
"I don't think any state in the union that really wants to get more jobs should miss the opportunity to interact with other countries that either want to invest in our state or want to buy our goods and services," Quinn said."That's part of the job of a governor nowadays, especially in the 21st century."
The delegation is scheduled to stop in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, where Illinois first opened a trade office in 1983.
Quinn said he plans to sign an agreement with China that would increase soybean exports. China, according to Quinn, is the third largest exporter for Illinois, behind Canada and Mexico.
According to the governor's office, Illinois exports to China have grown recently, totaling more than $3 billion last year. Key exports include machinery, electronics, chemicals and agricultural products.
During his time as mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley made several visits to China to promote business and tourism in the city. Quinn said he hopes his visit will further encourage Chinese tourism to Illinois, which grew to 97,000 visitors in 2010.
The governor also plans to visit Japan for a conference at the end of his trip to China. He is scheduled to return to Illinois on September 24. This is Quinn's second trip abroad this year -- he visited Israel in July.
The plan to merge the Illinois treasurer and comptroller's office is stuck in the state House of Representatives.
Combining the two offices that handle state finances could save Illinois an estimated $12 million, but the legislature hasn't signed off on the constitutional change.
State treasurer Dan Rutherford and comptroller Judy Baar Topinka both favor combining their offices into one. Topinka, a Republican, blames Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan for keeping it "bottled up" in that chamber.
Madigan's spokesman denies that claim, saying the Speaker does believe the two offices have dramatically different duties, and the public's funds are best safeguarded when they're kept separate.
Illinois used to have one fiscal office known as the state's auditor, but in the '50s Orville Hodge used the office to rob the state. Madigan was part of the constitutional drafters who in 1970 separated the office's duties to prevent future scandals. Topinka said she understands that history.
"But the oversight angle of splitting those offices is long gone," Topinka said. "We have other ways of doing it. So now it's time to bring them back and avoid at least 20 percent duplication. That's easy pickings. For gosh sake's what does it take to figure it out? There is honestly no downside. No downside."
The Speaker's spokesman said Madigan believes the consolidation proposal as is doesn't have enough safeguards.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is airing another concern about gambling expansion that would add a new Danville casino and four others in the state.
Quinn has repeatedly harped about insufficient regulation in the bill and on Tuesday he said he was worried it could shortchange education funding.
But Democratic Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie said Illinois would still get millions of new dollars if the expansion is approved, even with changes in the sliding scale for taxing casino revenues.
Quinn has talked down the expansion but the governor doesn't have the legislation yet to sign or veto. Lawmakers have held on to it since May to try to deal with Quinn's concerns.
Lang says Quinn has discussed items but not provided a specific list of changes to the bill.
At least two Champaign city council members believe the local convention and visitors bureau is a valuable asset.
But the level of the city's financial commitment to the Champaign County CVB will be weighed Tuesday night, two months after the city of Urbana chose to pull its $72 thousand in funding and use it instead for public safety. The Champaign County Board later provided a $15 thousand donation of its own.
City council member Tom Bruno calls the area a tourist attraction, but not a natural one that doesn't need the backing of promotions offered by the CVB. Fellow council member Marci Dodds also backs the agency, and sits on its board. But she questions if Champaign's CVB funding should benefit a community no longer supporting the agency.
"Do you want us to go out and say to the other people: 'you need to fully fund," Dodds said. "If you don't, you don't get the benefits of the CVB in quite the same way you did before. And I think that that's certainly something I'm comfortable with."
Dodds said it's a mistake long-term not to promote tourism in Champaign, since it will impact the region economically. She's also surveyed other council members, and says they also support funding the CVB at some level.
Bruno said supporting other communities, like Urbana, is unavoidable.
"It very well may be that it's difficult to attract people to the city of Champaign without having some of them choose to stay the night in Urbana," he said. "So because it's difficult to target that, it still may be in the city of Champaign's best interest to just generically attract people to this region."
Like the hiring of a new police officer, Bruno admits it's hard to track the benefits of what the Convention and Visitors Bureau funding does for the city.
The Champaign city council meets Tuesday night in a study session, beginning at 7. Bruno said he expects the council to take final action on CVB funding by October.
A search firm has nearly completed collecting its criteria for what the Champaign community wants in a new school superintendent.
A forum Monday night brought out new input from parents and others who say Unit 4 needs someone with close tabs on the community, and puts the student first, regardless of race or socioeconomic status.
Jennifer Shelby will serve on a committee that will conduct the second round of interviews. She said she is concerned about low-income students that can fall through the cracks.
"The kids that go home hungry, and the level of poverty in the school district, which I think the community likes to keep under wraps," Shelby said. "I'd like to see that brought to the forefront."
The forum at Centennial High School brought out about 50 people, and lasted just over an hour. Parent Charles Schultz said he was surprised more didn't attend, but was happy to hear calls for fiscal discipline under a new superintendent, the hiring of more minority teachers, and better communication lines overall.
"They need to work with the board," Schultz said. "Because the (Unit 4) board is responsible to the community, and if there's no chain of command between the community and the board and the superintendent, then the community is not going to be very happy, and the board may not be very happy."
Others at the forum suggested improved school safety, working on a tight budget, and improving the district's school of choice system to add to what's already been compiled from nearly 900 on-line surveys. Laura Bleill says the lack of communication between the district and parents in that school of choice process is frustrating. The co-founder of the Chambana Moms.com web site also believes that Unit 4's next leader needs to open lines of communication that extend beyond the classroom.
"Interfacing with the community is key," Bleill said. "I think this district does a lot of things behind closed doors that should be opened up to the public, and that the public should have more input into how the schools are run and how the future is for our children."
Champaign City Council member Will Kyles said the new superintendent needs to bring about a change in culture within the classroom, noting that some teachers are afraid to talk to their students.
The search firm School Exec Connect will use the forum and surveys to form a profile for a new superintendent. Edward Olds with the search firm says the turnout was typical for such a forum. The comments from the event will be combined with input at smaller meetings Tuesday that include the local NAACP chapter, Champaign County's Chamber of Commerce, and a local teachers' union. The top replies on Unit 4 surveys included finding someone who had worked in a similar size district, and encouraged positive student behavior.
The firm will choose 12-to-15 candidates from more than one-thousand applicants, then narrow it to 5-to-7 finalists that the Unit 4 school board will interview in November. The new superintendent will be hired late this year, and start next July.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has vetoed legislation to increase electric rates for consumers across the state.
The measure was part of a $3 billion, 10-year plan to give Commonwealth Edison and Ameren money for infrastructure improvements and a modern Smart Grid. The bill does not guarantee higher electricity prices, but any future hikes could take effect immediately - rather than first going through a lengthy review.
Quinn's action came as no surprise as he already pledged to veto it, saying the legislation didn't have enough consumer protections and would unfairly raise electric rates.
"It may be a dream come true for Commonwealth Edison, but it's a nightmare for consumers in Illinois," Quinn said. "I think we want to make it clear to the public that they should not be gauged with paying unfair rates for something that they don't really feel is delivering better service."
Quinn urged lawmakers Monday to let his veto stand and said everyone should go back to the bargaining table. He said the starting point should be a plan put forth by the Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates utility rate increases.
ComEd said opponents were off base about the legislation known as Senate Bill 1652 or SB1652.
"Despite the rhetoric of the legislation opponents, SB1652 does not guarantee profits, will not result in automatic rates increases and does not strip the authority of the ICC," ComEd said in a statement. "Illinois customers want more than the status quo. We look forward to working with members of the General Assembly to help make grid modernization and economic growth a reality in Illinois."
Ameren Illinois spokesman Leigh Morris said he is disappointed with the governor's decision to veto the legislation.
Morris said among the changes tied to modernizing the state's electrical distribution system would be fewer power outages, an additional 700 thousand smart meters, and improved energy efficiency.
"Because of the regulatory process that we would have to follow without this legislation, it would take at least 30 years to archive what we could do in 10 years with this legislation," he said.
Morris said Ameren is optimistic that there will be enough support in the General Assembly to override the governor's veto.
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