Illinois Public Media News
A University of Illinois economist doesn't predict a long line of businesses leaving the state because of higher income taxes, but he said Illinois remains an uncertain place for commerce and industry.
Daniel Merriman of the Illinois Institute of government and Public Affairs said neighboring states had already begun to lure away employers concerned about Illinois' uncertain deficit situation even before lawmakers passed a 67 percent hike in personal income taxes this week. Governor Pat Quinn signed the increase into law Thursday afternoon.
Merriman said the tax increase will be one more drawback, but it still won't be enough to address all the red ink in Springfield.
"A combination of tax increases, expenditure reductions and growth is necessary to eliminate it," Merriman said. "The taxes actually do help reduce the deficit. It's just that it hasn't done enough to fully eliminate it, and they're still going to have to have expenditure reductions along the way."
Merriman said lawmakers still haven't addressed structural problems either, like fixing the underfunded pension system or revamping Medicaid and workers' compensation laws. But he said employers are not as mobile as some would believe - noting that most firms are rooted in the state and serve mainly Illinois customers.
Then there is the question of the region's overall economic health. Merriman said the pressure facing manufacturers in Illinois would face them wherever they relocate.
"A lot of the concern that people have had with the kind of business loss in Illinois has been with manufacturing establishments that have been leaving the entire Midwest, and to some extent they're just leaving the country as a whole," he said. "So it's not clear that Illinois is going to be losing that much to neighboring states. It's that manufacturing just isn't as strong as it used to be.
In a new security measure, the University of Illinois said it will limit admission to its Urbana campus libraries after midnight to those with university I-D cards, also known as I-Cards. The restriction begins when the spring semester starts on Tuesday, Jan. 18.
Libraries on the U of I Urbana campus are open to the general public during the day, and early evening. But U of I Associate Librarian for Services Scott Walter said security concerns have led them to restrict library admission after midnight to those with I-Cards, which are provided to university students, faculty and employees. Student fees pay to keep the Undergraduate, Grainger Engineering and Funk ACES libraries open late. Walter said students have made it clear their priority for those hours is having a safe place to study.
"The primary concern is the provision of study space for students and for faculty users, during those late-night hours, when other safe and secure academic spaces are not necessarily available," he said.
Walter said no particular incident led to the new policy, but he said faculty, students --- and students' parents --- have all expressed concerns about library security, amid recent incidents of crimes in and near the Urbana campus. He said the policy is similar to those at other university libraries with late-night hours.
In addition to the late-night I-Card requirement, the lower level of the Undergraduate Library will now be closed after midnight, although materials from that floor can still be requested.
In the 11th hour of the 96th General Assembly, lawmakers in Springfield passed an income tax increase, which could chip away at unpaid bills to the state's universities.
But there is another measure in the Illinois House that will be introduced later this year sponsored by Rep. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) and Rep. Chad Hays (R-Daville) that seeks to improve the economic outlook for higher education without raising taxes.
"How do we work together in a way that makes sense to do a better job with limited resources?" Hays said. "This is one small step in that direction, and my hope would be that we're having many of these conversations as we go forward."
The legislation would create a moratorium on new, unfunded mandates on state universities. University of Illinois spokesman Tom Hardy said even public policy with the best intentions can lead to mandates which make it difficult for universities to operate in a cost-effective way.
"You know, unfunded mandates that gets talked about frequently are tuition waivers," Hardy said. "That's something that should be looked at to free up potentially millions of dollars in tuition waivers that public universities across the state are funding."
The University of Illinois system is waiting on $413 million in reimbursements from the state. It has explored ways to improve its budget situation through furloughs, department consolidations, and a tuition hike. The U of I's Board of Trustees is slated to vote Jan. 20 on a series of fee increases for its students.
Hays noted that another important part of the legislation includes a provision that would create a single procurement officer who would coordinate purchases for every university in the state.
He added that the legislation was influenced by the recommendations of officials at the University of Illinois and Eastern Illinois University, and he expects the measure to be introduced in the spring.
Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure went to his old school Tuesday morning, and told students at the Centennial High School gym in Champaign what his plans are for the fall.
"I'm here to announce that I will forgo my senior season at the University of Illinois, and enter the 2011 NFL draft," Leshoure announced to cheers from the assembled students.
Leshoure rushed for 17 touchdowns last fall, and set Illinois' single-season rushing record, with 1697 yards, breaking the mark set by Rashard Mendenhall three years earlier. He said he has done everything he can do at the college level, and is ready for professional football. He also said he is not deterred by the possibility that a labor dispute could lead to a player lockout that curtails his first season in the NFL.
"I definitely thought about all those things in my decision, took a long time to think about it, prayed on it," Leshoure said. "I still woke up with the same decision that I made today. So, I'm willing of the risks and I know, you know, what's at stake."
The 6-0, 230-pound Leshoure is projected to be taken anywhere from the first through fourth rounds in the April draft.
Although he is giving up his senior year in college, LeShoure said he still plans to eventually earn his degree in communications. He told the athletes in the Centennial High student assembly to study hard if they want to reach their goals and have a good life beyond the playing field.
"Sports won't be here forever," Leshoure said to students. "Regardless of how good you are and what you think, it won't be forever. You need a backup plan and it starts here at Centennial."
Leshoure's old high school coach was on hand for the announcement. Centennial High School Football Coach Mike McDonnell cited Leshoure's maturity as a high school player.
"I was always impressed with his character and his maturity, because he was always older than what he was," McDonnell said. "I think that's part of his success, because he understood the importance of working out during the off season, getting his grades."
McDonnell credited Leshoure's mother, with instilling her son with self-discipline at an early age.
Illinois football coach Ron Zook also had praise for Leshoure. An article posted on the U of I's Fighting Illini website quoted Zook: "I am extremely proud of how Mikel has matured as a young man and leader for our football team since his arrival at Illinois. He'll be remembered here as one of the greatest running backs in Illinois football history. We hope he has a long and successful NFL career."
Leshoure's announcement comes a day after Illini junior linebacker Martez Wilson said he'll also enter the NFL draft.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
The head of Champaign's Judah Christian School hasn't given up on plans to relocate in a developing area to the southwest.
Tuesday night the city council rejected the annexation agreement for 50 acres with developer Jacob's Landing, located at Kirby Avenue and Rising Road. School Administrator Tim Hayes the decision comes as a shock after hearing positive remarks in the past from city leaders.
The council voted to 4-4 with one member abstaining, but the item failed since it needed a two-thirds majority. Some council members were concerned that the non-profit school couldn't reimburse property taxes for emergency services, and that building a new school to the Southwest would set a bad precedent as Champaign's Central High School looks to rebuild in a few years.
Hayes said he is working with Judah Christian's real estate attorney to see if the school can go back before the council with an amended request for the same area.
"At this point, we're trying to decide whether it would be in our best interests to move forward," he said. "We'd like for it to be this piece of property, but I don't know what our options are, and I think we're trying to establish that before we make a decision on whether we're going to move forward or look for another piece of property."
Judah Christian is nearly at capacity with just under 600 students, and the lack of athletic facilities means the school has to rent out areas for baseball and soccer games. The school on Prospect Avenue has been trying to re-locate for the last few years, including to an area in North Urbana.
In 2008, city leaders there rejected the plan since the industrial location wasn't compatible with a school. Champaign Planning Director Bruce Knight says it's possible the school could alter its relocation plan to include a payment in lieu of taxes. Unless the city council suspended its rules, Judah Christian would have to wait six months to come back before the council.
Champaign city council members have rejected an annexation agreement that would have allowed Judah Christian School to relocate.
The plan called for the re-development of 50 acres just outside Southwest Champaign, at Kirby Avenue and Rising Road. The private school on Prospect Avenue has sought a new location due to space concerns.
Council member Marci Dodds said she has nothing against Judah Christian, but since it is a not-for-profit religious school, she said it does not provide any property taxes for the city, so it will not reimburse for emergency services. The proposed location is not served by Champaign-Urbana's Mass Transit District, and Dodds said heavy traffic will cause wear and tear on the roads. The land was originally zoned for single-family homes.
Council member Tom Bruno said he is troubled by the pressure on Champaign schools to locate in the same area when a new Central High School is built.
"Facilitating the movement of any school to the very periphery of town, out in the cornfields, where every single kid will arrive by private motor vehicle for years, decades, maybe a century to come - just bothered me." Bruno said. "We need to continue to send the message that the community ought to be more compact and contiguous, and we ought to build things in the heart of town and re-build things things in the heart of town rather than just sprawl."
The land was originally zoned for single-family homes. The council tied 4-4 with one member abstaining, but the annexation failed since a two-thirds vote was required.
The economy may still be slowly improving in Illinois, but the author of a monthly gauge of the state's economic performance says it's far from healthy.
For the seventh consecutive month, the University of Illinois Flash Index went up. In December, the index measured 94.9, up .7 from November, but 100 is the break-even point between growth and contraction, and economist Fred Giertz said the slow growth has not been very noticeable.
Giertz said unemployment remains a problem, even though the state's jobless rate is slightly under the national average -- a rare occurrence.
"It may just be an aberration, or it may be that our industries, especially agriculture, are doing fairly well," Giertz said. "Some of the exporting industries are doing alright, and we were not really devastated by the crisis with real estate or things of that sort."
Giertz is also not too concerned that Illinois or the nation will see a return of inflation in the near term. Rising commodity prices, bailout legislation and the Federal Reserve's decision to enact "quantitative easing" have prompted some to warn of an effect on overall consumer prices. But Giertz does not detect any unwillingness in financial markets to lend money at the current very-low interest rates.
"The fact that people ware willing to lend money for the long term at relatively low interest rates suggests that people don't think there's going to be a lot inflation on the horizon," Giertz said. "The Federal Reserve is very wary of the possibility (of inflation). They've made mistakes in the past and I think their intention is to start reining things in once the economy gets going again."
Giertz said there is some good news in the weak Flash Index numbers. He said revenue from sales taxes was up in December, marking a better holiday shopping season than many retailers had expected. The Index uses revenue reports from state income, sales and business taxes to calculate its measurement.
The man now assigned with overseeing Illinois' colleges and universities says the change in jobs was a perfect fit for many reasons.
Before starting last week as Executive Director of the state Board of Higher Education, George Reid had just completed a kind of post-secondary blueprint for Maryland as part of that state's Higher Education Commission. And Reid says this new job will borrow from his background as both an administrator and an educator.
Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert talked with Reid about the challenges that await him:
(Photo Courtesy of Illinois Board of Higher Education)
Mikel Leshoure ran for 184 yards and three touchdowns as Illinois earned its first bowl victory since 1999, beating Baylor 38-14 Wednesday night in the Texas Bowl.
The Illini spoiled the Bears' first bowl appearance in 16 seasons. Both teams finished at 7-6.
Leshoure had a 5-yard TD run in the second quarter, a 13-yard score in the third quarter and another 5-yard touchdown run in the fourth period. The performance gave him the school single-season rushing record with 1,697 yards.
The Illini built a 24-0 lead and Leshoure's last touchdown put the game out of reach.
Baylor's Robert Griffin III threw for 306 yards and a touchdown, but his two fumbles in the first half put the Bears behind.
Leshoure was chosen the most valuable player and wore a cowboy hat as he hoisted the trophy above his head after the game while the small but vocal group of Illinois fans cheered.
The Bears cut the lead to 24-14 when Griffin found a diving Kendall Wright on a 39-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-14 early in the fourth quarter. But Illinois continued its dominance in the rushing game after that and extended its lead to 31-14 on Leshoure's last touchdown.
Illinois finished with 291 yards rushing and 533 yards of total offense to give coach Ron Zook his first bowl win as a head coach in his fourth try.
Freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase got off to a sensational start, completing all of his 13 passes in the first half, and finished 18 of 23 for 242 yards. He scored on a 55-yard touchdown run with 41 seconds to play to make it 38-14.
Illinois opened the second half with an 87-yard drive capped by a 13-yard touchdown run by Leshoure. Leshoure also scored the 2-point conversion to extend the lead to 24-0 and set the Illinois single-season scoring record.
Baylor finally found its offensive touch on its first possession of the second half. Griffin completed five of seven passes on that drive, which ended with a 4-yard touchdown run by Jay Finley to get the Bears within 24-7 with about eight minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The Illini held Finley in check for most of the night and Baylor's 1,000-yard rusher finished with 12 carries for 63 yards.
Illinois led 9-0 before a 5-yard touchdown run by Leshoure about 10 minutes before halftime stretched the lead to 16-0. That score was set up by a 52-yard reception by Ryan Lankford a play earlier.
Baylor was driving with about 3 1/2 minutes left in the first half when a pass by Griffin was intercepted by Terry Hawthorne. But the Bears got a second chance when Corey Liuget was penalized for roughing the passer, giving Baylor the ball back.
The Bears still came away empty though when Griffin fumbled a few plays later to give Illinois the ball back on its own 32.
Baylor's problems started early with Griffin fumbling on the first possession. Travon Bellamy recovered that fumble and returned it 46 yards. The Illini couldn't get anything going on that drive and settled for a 38-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
Illinois added a second field goal on their next drive to push the lead to 6-0 and a third field goal early in the second quarter made it 9-0.
The committee has been named, and a website is up and running for the search for a new vice president/chancellor for the University of Illinois Urbana campus.
U of I spokesman Tom Hardy said the website will be providing information to two different constituencies.
"One, it's a portal for those who might be interested in the position - getting information about the search and then going deeper into the website to learn more about the campus itself and the university itself," Hardy said. "And it's also a way to keep the very many constituents of the campus as to what's going on, who the members of the committee are."
Hardy said the website will eventually feature the formal position announcement and white paper describing the job duties and the U of I Urbana campus, and he said it will also include a Facebook link, and information about upcoming town-hall style meetings --- as ways to gather input from the university community.
"(The search committee) was done in the presidential search process earlier this year, that resulted in Mike Hogan coming on as president," Hardy said. "I think that the search committee for the president and everybody involved viewed those as beneficial. And again, it's just another kind of two-way communications tool that the committee can use."
With the announcement of the Urbana Chancellor Search committee, the U of I is now looking for two new vice-president/chancellors --- one at the Urbana campus, and another at Springfield. In Urbana, Richard Herman resigned last year, and interim Vice-President/Chancellor Robert Easter plans to retire once a successor is found. In Springfield, Harry J. Berman became interim vice-president/chancellor, after Richard Ringheisen stepped down at the end of October.
Hardy said the U of I hopes to have new chancellors in place at both campuses in time for the fall 2011 semester.
The members of the Urbana Chancellor Search Committee are:
FACULTY Douglas Beck, Physics (Chair) James D. Anderson, Educational Policy Studies Nicholas Burbules, Educational Policy Studies Andreas Cangellaris, Electrical/Computer Engineering Kim Graber, Kinesiology and Community Health Anne D. Hedeman, Art and Design William Maher, University Library/ Archives Robert Warrior, American Indian Studies Matthew Wheeler, Animal Sciences
ACADEMIC PROFESSIONAL: Tim Barnes, International Programs and Studies
STAFF Debbie Kemphues, Office of the Provost and VCAA
STUDENTS: Amy Allen, Engineering Carey Hawkins, Grad. (Law/Education) David Olsen, Business
DEAN Ruth Watkins, Liberal Arts and Sciences
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