Illinois Public Media News
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's office is working on legislation to restore funds to pay the salaries of the state's regional school superintendents.
Quinn cut their funding earlier this year. But the Superintendent for Champaign and Ford Counties says she is pessimistic that anything will be settled prior to start of the legislature's fall veto session. That means Jane Quinlan and other superintendents won't get paid until November or December. Quinlan said it is a hard time of the year to be dealing without income.
"All bus drivers have to have refresher courses," Quinlan explained. "We've had a number of people in the office trying to get their authorization to substitute teach in schools, we provide the training for new administrators that they need to take before they can evaluate staff. There are a number of things that like that going on this month that are critical to getting school started."
Quinlan said there does not appear to be plan in place for superintendent's offices that are forced to close.
"If it's a case where you have savings or you have a spouse who's employed, you're able to perhaps work longer without a paycheck," she said. "Though I think most people understand that they expect to be paid when they're working."
A spokesman for the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, Ryan Keith, said the governor could be looking into using money from the State Board of Education as a short-term fix, but he said there is no specific proposal yet.
The governor's office expects to have more information about this legislation next week, but Keith questions whether the measure needs approval by lawmakers this fall anyway.
Quinlan said it is more likely that legislators override the governor's original veto of the superintendent funding when the fall veto session begins in October.
Postcards are in the mail to Illinois low-income senior citizens eligible to ride free on public transit.
The Department on Aging announced Wednesday the postcards went to seniors enrolled in the Circuit Breaker program.
Those seniors remain eligible for free rides on public buses and trains.
Free rides are ending for other seniors, although they'll still get reduced fares. Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation in February to limit the "Seniors Ride Free" program to low-income seniors.
Seniors in the Circuit Breaker program may need to contact their local public transit agency for a free ride card.
To qualify for Circuit Breaker assistance, an applicant's total income for 2010 must be less than $27,610 for a household size of one.
(Photo courtesy of erekslater/Flickr)
President Barack Obama is praising a bipartisan deal that will end the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration and get thousands of workers back on the job.
Obama says the nation "can't afford to let politics in Washington hamper our recovery.''
He says he's pleased to see leaders in Congress working together to settle the issue.
The FAA flap has become another embarrassment for the federal government.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced a deal to extend the FAA's operating authority through mid-September. Under the plan, the Senate will approve a House bill that includes a contentious provision cutting $16.5 million in subsidies for rural communities. Democrats say the administration will use authority under the deal to waive those cuts.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn continues to meet with those who have an interest in gaming legislation lawmakers approved earlier this year.
Quinn said he is listening to both critics and supporters of a plan to add 5 new casinos in the state, including one in Chicago, Danville, Rockford, Lake County and Chicago's south suburbs. The measure would also allow slot machines at Chicago airports and at horse tracks, including the State Fairgrounds in Springfield.
"Last Friday I saw the Rockford people," Quinn said. "This Friday I am seeing the horsemen and people involved in raising horses. There are others who are interested in the bill, both pro and con. I think there are some strong critics of the bill that are on our schedule. I want to make sure everyone gets their voice heard."
Quinn has been critical of the gaming expansion, saying it is "top heavy." However, he has said he is willing to consider a Chicago casino if it is done properly.
Supporters say the gaming legislation will bring a revenue windfall to the state. But opponents warn it lacks regulatory safeguards and should be rejected.
The Chicago Crime Commission has criticized the legislation, calling it "flawed" and saying it will lead to corruption. The watchdog group said Wednesday that Quinn shouldn't sign the law because it cannot be successfully implemented.
Lawmakers passed the legislation in May, but Illinois Senate President John Cullerton has a legislative "hold'' on it so lawmakers can try to work out a deal. With that hold in place, Quinn cannot act on the bill.
"The senate president continues to talk to the governor about what specific concerns he there might be, if there is a need to go back in and tighten up various language," Cullerton spokesman John Patterson said.
But sources say Cullerton will send the bill to Quinn's desk by the end of the month, regardless of a possible veto from Quinn.
If Quinn vetoes or changes the bill, the General Assembly will need to pass it again. The veto session starts the last week in October.
Bids will be opened this Friday from contractors competing for a construction project at Willard Airport near Champaign, but any actual work will have to wait until Congress agrees on temporary financing for the Federal Aviation Administration.
The FAA has been partially shut down since July 23. Congress took its August recess without resolving a dispute over the FAA, and won't be back in Washington until after Labor Day.
Willard Airport Director Steve Wanzek said he will work with the Illinois Department of Transportation's Division of Aeronautics to complete the necessary paperwork at the state and local level - in the hope that Congress will act quickly enough to allow the FAA to approve the project in September.
"We'll do all the paperwork, get all the grant application, all of that stuff through the state," Wanzek said. "You know, that takes a couple of weeks anyway. So we may lose a week or two --- assuming that if they (Congress) met on Labor Day, after Labor Day and take this on --- you know, something approved --- we would be able to be issued a grant fairly quickly."
Meanwhile, the Decatur Airport has already received federal funding for an upcoming ramp rehabilitation project, according to airport director Joe Atwood. He said FAA's partial shutdown will not prevent that project from going forward. But he said he will be watching activity in Washington when Congress returns in September
Atwood will also be keeping an eye on what Congress decides to do about the Essential Air Service program, which helps underwrite air passenger service at the Decatur Airport. Efforts in the Senate to restore FAA funding broke down Tuesday over a GOP proposal to cut money for that program.
The Essential Air Service program provides money to help airports in small cities attract and keep air service. The Decatur Airport is funded by the program, as are airports in Quincy and Marion.
Atwood said it is strange that the program is being debated now, because its funding isn't part of the federal budget.
"The money comes from the Aviation Trust Fund, and it doesn't affect the General Treasury," Atwood said. "It's not a general Treasury budget item. So even if they eliminate the program, they don't effectively eliminate the resulted expense from the treasury. They can cut the program out, they still haven't saved anything."
Atwood stresses that the debate in Congress over Essential Air Service funding is about the program as a whole, and doesn't focus on the Decatur Airport in particular.
The partial shutdown at the FAA does not affect air traffic controllers.
Both Atwood at the Decatur Airport and Wanzek at Willard Airport say their day-to-day operations will continue as usual.
Gov. Pat Quinn has signed legislation increasing penalties for convicted felons who are found carrying guns.
Under the law, signed Tuesday, felons convicted of unlawful use or possession of a weapon face two to 10 years behind bars.
Additional violations by felons caught with guns while on parole or supervised release will carry a sentence of three to 14 years in prison.
The measure was sponsored by Sen. Tony Munoz of Chicago and Rep. Michael Zalewski of Summit, both Democrats, in response to the shooting death of Chicago Police Officer Thomas Wortham. He was killed outside his home during an attempted robbery last year. Suspects in his death had previous gun charge convictions.
In signing the bill, Quinn said the law will ensure safer neighborhoods for families across Illinois.
A new law means shelters will have to try harder to reunite lost pets with their owners.
The legislation Gov. Pat Quinn signed Wednesday requires shelters to scan twice for microchips. The first scan would be within 24 hours of the animal's arrival and a second scan before it's adopted, transferred or euthanized.
Shelters also are required to reach out to the person registered with the animal's microchip by phone or email. Currently they only need to send a letter, a process that can be ineffective if the owner has moved.
Quinn says pets are part of people's families and the state wants to do everything possible to reunite lost animals with their owners.
Quinn's own dog, Bailey, recently died.
The law goes into effect Jan. 1.
President Barack Obama's re-election campaign expects to raise tens of millions of dollars less this summer than it did in the spring because negotiations over the nation's debt limit forced Obama to cancel several fundraisers.
Obama's campaign said Wednesday it canceled or postponed 10 fundraisers involving the president, Vice President Joe Biden and White House chief of staff Bill Daley in the past month because of the debt talks, scrubbing events in California, New York and elsewhere.
Only weeks after the president's campaign reported collecting a combined $86 million with the Democratic National Committee, Obama's team is trying to lower expectations about its fundraising juggernaut while signaling to its army of volunteers and activists that they need to fill the void. Obama is coming off a bruising battle with congressional Republicans over raising the government's debt ceiling and is expected to face a formidable challenge from Republicans in 2012 against the backdrop of a weakened economy.
"We're going to raise significantly less in the third quarter than we did in the second quarter," said Jim Messina, Obama's campaign manager. "We will not be able to replace all of these events just because of his busy schedule. We always knew that he had his job and we had to do this around his schedule, and the truth is we just have to deal with canceling a month's worth of events."
Obama holds a large fundraising advantage over his Republican rivals and was raising money later Wednesday in his hometown of Chicago on the eve of his 50th birthday. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney hauled in more than $18 million through the end of June, while all of his GOP primary opponents were in the single-digits.
Democrats said the slow fundraising pace during the summer was expected because many donors are on vacation and high-dollar events don't typically resume until after Labor Day. Obama, meanwhile, was taking a jobs-oriented bus tour of the Midwest in mid-August and was not scheduled to hold many donor events during the month. The fundraising quarter was expected to feature smaller gatherings headlined by Obama "surrogates," or high-profile supporters such as governors and lawmakers.
"This is not an easy time to raise money," said former Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, who led the House Democrats' fundraising arm. Frost said many donors may not feel compelled to give money yet because the campaign is still in its early stages and no clear Republican rival has emerged.
Obama has experienced a summer lag in fundraising before. During his first presidential campaign, Obama raised about $21 million in the summer of 2007, compared with about $33 million in the spring of that year.
Messina said the campaign had not yet set a revised goal for the current fundraising period ending Sept. 30 but would urge "grass-roots fundraisers" to step up their efforts in the weeks ahead. The campaign has emphasized its large donor base - more than 550,000 people gave money during the spring - and it plans to lean heavily on small donors in August and September.
"We're going to be very aggressive in trying to find ways to engage the grass roots," Messina said. "We always said ... they're the biggest piece of this and they own the campaign and we're about to give them an even tougher assignment."
Obama signed legislation on Tuesday to raise the debt limit and avoid a government default, but the negotiations kept him in the Washington area for the past month. Obama's last fundraiser was in Philadelphia on June 30.
The campaign said the debt talks required Obama to cancel two fundraisers in Southern California and events in Northern California, Seattle, New York and Washington, D.C.
Biden had to skip fundraisers in Atlanta, Nashville, Tenn., and Dallas, while Daley canceled an event in the nation's capital. Obama's fundraiser in New York at the home of film mogul Harvey Weinstein is expected to be rescheduled for this month, while Biden's events are being rescheduled for the fall.
Obama is keeping his schedule on Wednesday, attending fundraisers in Chicago to celebrate his birthday, including a concert with Chicago natives Herbie Hancock and Jennifer Hudson and the Chicago rock band OK Go. Obama turns 50 on Thursday.
Republicans have accused the president of emphasizing campaign money over governing, criticizing plans for the lavish birthday party.
"With 9.2 percent unemployment, he could work on creating jobs, but I suppose the White House is thinking he should stick to the part of his job he really likes," Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said.
As part of Obama's birthday events, Democratic officials and campaign aides are fanning out across the country for fundraisers: former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and deputy campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon will be in Boston, White House adviser David Plouffe will be in Tampa, Fla., New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will headline a New York City event and Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod will be in Los Angeles. Other events with Democratic surrogates will be held in Austin, Texas; Oakland, Calif.; and Washington, D.C.
Besides the birthday fundraisers, the campaign is planning hundreds of house parties around the country and has asked supporters to recruit 50 new supporters for the president's birthday.
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
An Illinois Appellate Court has upheld a Sangamon County judge's ruling, preventing the state from moving ahead with new health insurance contracts for state employees and retirees.
In June, a Sangamon County Circuit Judge prevented Illinois' Department of Healthcare and Family Services from dropping Urbana-based Health Alliance, leaving the health insurance policies of thousands of state workers into doubt.
Gov. Pat Quinn's administration argued the so-called 'open access' plans will save the state about $100 million a year. Health Alliance then filed suit. The 90-day extensions of current contracts granted by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability are set to expire in September.
In its ruling, the 4th District Appellate Court said the state ignored a decision by that group. Champaign Senator Mike Frerichs is part of the bipartisan legislative commission. While the court's decision does not immediately impact state workers, he said it gives more fuel to additional extensions, and hopefully a long-term solution.
"I think what employees want is to be able to continue access to their health care providers, and I'm hopeful this ruling will help us get to that point," Frerichs said.
In a statement, Health Alliance CEO Jeff Ingrum called the court's ruling encouraging, with hopes that it leads to the provider remaining an option for state workers and retirees.
"This is good news for all of those who fought so hard to keep Health Alliance," Ingrum said. "We hope it leads to Health Alliance remaining an option for state workers and retirees."
The Department of Healthcare and Family Services said the state is reviewing its legal options following the court ruling.
"We remain confident in the process of awarding and contracting with the winning vendors as well as their ability to offer quality healthcare at a price that will save the state money during these tough fiscal times," said Mike Claffey, spokesman for the Department of Healthcare and Family Services.
At a COGFA hearing scheduled for Aug. 16 in Chicago, the panel will vote on extending the current insurance contracts through June 30, 2012. Three days later, the state will argue before the Sangamon County Judge that blocked the new contracts whether COGFA has the authority to extend the current ones.
A nationwide effort to raise awareness about crime and drug prevention kicks off Tuesday night in Champaign.
The annual 'National Night Out' typically lasts for a day, but this year it is being broken up into more than a dozen events throughout the month.
"Historically it's just something that's happened in Champaign, and Urbana was doing their thing, and Savoy, and so it was just a real disjointed effort," Champaign Neighborhood Coordinator John Ruffin said. "Now it's a joint effort to really focus on making sure that Champaign remains a safe and healthy community."
For the first time, workshops led by the Champaign and Urbana Police Departments and the Champaign Fire Department will be offered. Chelsea Angelo, a safety education coordinator with the city of Urbana, said she hopes this expanded role by law enforcement officials helps bridge the gap between neighborhoods and police officers.
"We're always looking for ways to bring our officers into contact with the citizens that not involving strictly enforcement," Angelo said. "We don't want them to only see our officers when there is an emergency situation going on."
The 'National Night Out' kicks off Tuesday at 6pm at the Champaign City Hall. More information about other activities planned can be found on the city of Champaign's website.
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