Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 17, 2011

Indiana House Republican Leader Cuts Off Negotiations with Democrats

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels says it is "sad but necessary'' for the Republican leader of the Indiana House to end negotiations with boycotting Democrats.

Daniels said Thursday that Democratic representatives have forfeited their right to participation by continuing to stay in Illinois in order to block legislative action.

Daniels says Republican Speaker Brian Bosma has bent over "double backward'' to meet unreasonable demands from Democrats on education- and labor-related bills.

Democratic Rep. Win Moses of Fort Wayne said there have been good communications on those issues and that ending talks would be an arbitrary and harsh choice by Bosma.

The legislative session is scheduled to end by late April, but Daniels said he was prepared to call a special session if necessary.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 17, 2011

Indiana Lawmakers Debate Same-Sex Marriage, Civil Unions

Indiana lawmakers continue to debate a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions.

Indiana law already prohibits marriage between same sex couples, but some Hoosier lawmakers want to take the ban a step further. They want to amend the state's constitution so the ban can't be overturned by what one legislator described as "activist judges."

The Indiana House approved the amendment last month and it moved on to the Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee heard arguments on it yesterday at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. There, the committee heard from two prominent companies in Indiana; pharmaceutical maker Eli Lilly, and diesel engine manufacturer, Cummins Inc. Company representatives testified that a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage would hurt on recruiting top notch employees.

The committee delayed a vote on the matter until next week. If it's approved, it will move on the full Senate. And if it passes there, the amendment would still need to be approved by the Indiana General Assembly next year.

If the amendment makes it through next year's legislature, Hoosier voters will have the final say if it becomes part of the Indiana constitution by voting on the measure in a referendum.

The earliest such a ban could be in the constitution would be in 2013.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 17, 2011

Raw Audio: Champaign Mayoral Candidates Hold First Debate

Champaign voters had the chance on Wednesday March, 16, 2011 to hear from the two candidates running for mayor. Current mayor Jerry Schweighart and political newcomer Don Gerard debated for about an hour at the Champaign Public Library. They addressed a range of issues from the economy to reducing youth violence.

Schweighart touted his efforts during his 12 years as mayor in maintaining a balanced budget without increasing property taxes. He also defended a proposal to cut overnight service in the lobby of the Champaign Police Department. Meanwhile, Gerard criticized those cuts saying they create a public safety risk. He said he would push for a financial audit on all city departments to improve Champaign's economy.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

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Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 16, 2011

New Apartment Bldg to Serve People With Physical Disabilities

An apartment building for people with physical disabilities is planned for downtown Champaign.

Eden Supportive Living plans to build the $15 million building at the corner of State and Park, across from Westside Park. The vacant building currently on the site served as a dormitory for Parkland College students, and before that a hotel. Champaign Deputy City Manager Craig Rost said the new nine story will house about 100 adults, aged 22 to 64.

"A supportive living environment is what they're calling it," Rost said. "It's for people that need some assistance --- and they have a physical handicap that requires some level of assistance. But it doesn't have other kinds of care facilities --- it's really a residential project."

Eden Supportive Living already operates two facilities in the Chicago area, with a third Chicago facility in the works. The Champaign project would be their first one downstate. Eden is buying the site from Robeson's Inc., a real estate firm operated by the family that ran Robeson's Department Store for many years in downtown Champaign. Rost said the location is a good one for Eden Supportive Living.

"It's an exciting project," Rost said. "We don't have very many big projects going on right now. So it's garnered a lot of attention. (Champaign is) a good sit-down town, and I think it'll be good for Eden to have that site."

Robeson's Inc. Chairman Eric Robeson says talks have gone on for some time, but his group took to the idea right away.

"From the very beginning, we loved the sound of the project," said Robeson. "We loved what the vision was and what they were going to do. We thought it was going to be a great reuse for the building. Of course, everything's still potential, and nothing's been finalized, but we're very excited that this building, that our family built back in the early 1970's. It's a great reuse for the building."

Eden officials couldn't be reached for contact Wednesday, but press reports indicate the company plans to raise the building, leaving only the foundation. Robeson says he wasn't aware of those plans.

Rost said the Champaign City Council will be asked to vote this spring on a development agreement to lease out parking for the new building --- but Eden is not asking for any financial assistance from the city. The company hopes to have the project open for residents in spring of 2012.

(Design courtesy of Eden Supportive Living)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 16, 2011

Illinois lawmakers Consider Cigarette Tax Hike

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said he has a solution to fund the state's $31 billion construction plan. The project was supposed to begin as soon as the weather would allow, but it is currently tied up in the court system.

Cullerton said the state could raise funds by adding one dollar on to each pack of cigarettes sold in the state.

"This is money that is going to the capital projects, projects that the Republicans have all benefited from throughout the state. They see the unemployment rate drop. They want to continue those projects and this is how we fund it," Cullerton said.

Cullerton pitched his idea to a road builders meeting in Springfield. The group would directly benefit from more highway construction.

The original infrastructure plan relies heavily on controversial funding sources like video poker and an expansion of the state's lottery.

Some lawmakers say they won't support a cigarette tax hike because they think it would drive people to neighboring states to make purchases.

(Photo courtesy by Geierunited/Wikimedia Commons)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 16, 2011

Champaign Council Rejects Pension Bond Plan

Champaign City Council members have unanimously rejected the use of pension obligation bonds as a way to avoid service cuts during tight financial times.

Council members sided with administrators, deciding that using a low-interest loan to fund police and fire pensions carried too much uncertainty. City Finance Director Richard Schnuer said the investment risk was just too high. Council member Deb Frank Feinen said she made up her mind after reading a memo from Schnuer, and doing a quick web search on the bonds.

"When our financial adviser sits before us and talks about governments being risk averse, he's right, and there's a reason for it," Feinen said. "We're not individuals. I'm not playing with my home finances. Instead, I have a wider obligation not to take the easy way out."

Schuner also said issuing the bonds could affect Champaign's triple-A credit rating, making it harder for the city to issue debt in the future. Council member Tom Bruno said the city should only consider such an option if it wants to place today's financial burden on future generations.

"This is the year we should be feeling the pain," Bruno said. "Because this is the year that the recession has really hit the municipalities with a loss of revenues. I wish it wasn't a painful year. But if there's going to be painful years, maybe it ought to be this year, and not when my kids are my age."

Council member Mike LaDue said the city has managed its debt conservatively in the height of a recession. And he said those kinds of decisions, and not the issuing of the pension bonds, have allowed the city to take on a project like drainage improvements along John Street, where several homes have experienced flooding.

Champaign Mayoral Candidate Don Gerard said the pension obligation bonds would have been an option had Schnuer started researching the idea about 10 months earlier, when interest rates were about 2-percent.

"This will go right down the chute, but it's a shame that a year ago this wasn't looked at," Gerard said. "Because a year ago, it could have been a great opportunity. And I think the budget is something that we've been looking at for two years. These type of options should have been looked at a year ago. I'm very disappointed that they weren't."

The plan to use the bonds lost 8-0, but Mayor Jerry Schweighart said the discussion will likely go on for one more night. He and Gerard will debate one another Wednesday evening.

The debate, organized by the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana, begins at 6:30 at the Champaign Public Library.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 15, 2011

Nuclear Power Bill on Hold in Indiana

An initiative in Indiana to provide incentives for companies to invest in clean energy, including nuclear power, is stalling because of recent events in Japan.

The incentives could have lead to the building of Indiana's first nuclear power plant.

But any such plans may have to wait.

Indiana Senate President David Long (R-Fort Wayne) says his state will need additional sources of energy in the coming years.

But Long says the earthquake in Japan that caused extensive damage to a nuclear plant there is forcing more review of Senate Bill 251.

"We need to take a step back, try to understand how this happened, what the circumstances were, was it human error, was it all caused by the natural disaster? If so, what part of it, was it the tsunami, was it the earthquake," Long says. "We don't have the answers to that right now, and we need to have some answers."

Past nuclear attempts in Indiana included the building of a nuclear power plant in Porter County.

Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) proposed building the Bailly Nuclear 1 Power Plant in the 1970s and 1980s along Lake Michigan.

But opponents and the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island forced NIPSCO to scrap its plans just two years later.

Indiana continues to need additional sources of energy since a study group told state legislators that the state will likely need 30 percent more electricity by 2015.

This at a time when the Obama administration plans to clamp down on coal-fired power plants to reduce pollution.

Indiana gets most of its energy from coal.

Categories: Energy, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 15, 2011

Mitsubishi’s Normal Plant Awaits Word from Tokyo on Potential Product Delays

Officials at the Mitsubishi Motors North America plant in central Illinois say they have enough parts to keep making cars for another two weeks but they're awaiting word on whether Japan's massive earthquake and tsunami could lead to production disruptions.

Mitsubishi Motors North America spokesman Dan Irvin told The (Bloomington) Pantagraph that the production hubs of the firm's parent company, Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Motors, weren't affected by the disaster.

But Irvin says the North American subsidiary is still waiting for updates from companies that supply some parts for use at the plant in Normal.

The plant produces about 34,000 vehicles a year and employs more than 1,000 people.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 14, 2011

Indiana House Leaders Talk More, but Don’t Resolve Boycott

More talks between the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Indiana House might be inching the two sides closer to resolving the now three-week-long boycott by Democratic legislators.

The lack of any firm breakthrough, however, meant most Democratic members skipped Monday's floor session, continuing to leave the House with too few members to conduct business and the Democratic leader saying the boycott would continue Tuesday.

Republican Speaker Brian Bosma and Democratic leader Patrick Bauer said Monday they spoke by phone several times over the weekend. Bauer called them "fairly good talks," while Bosma said "perhaps" progress was made.

A Republican-backed proposal to allow state vouchers to help parents send their children to private schools has been among the sticking points of education- and labor-related bills that Democrats say they found objectionable and prompted them to leave for Illinois on Feb. 22.

Bauer told reporters Monday that he believed an agreement could be close on amending the voucher bill to further limit its scope, but he didn't provide details.

"I just haven't gotten that all nailed down yet completely," Bauer said. "I think they're amenable to cut out some of the huge fiscal hit on that."

The Republican sponsor of the bill has proposed capping the number of vouchers to 7,500 during the program's first year and 15,000 during the second year.

Bauer said Democrats still had unresolved concerns about a bill on government construction project wages, which includes provisions ending requirements that nonunion companies sign onto agreements involving union rules.

Bill sponsor Rep. Bill Davis, R-Portland, said he would support modifying the bill so that the state's prevailing construction wage law, which now applies to government projects of $150,000 or more, would start at $500,000 rather than the proposed $1 million level. He said he also would agree to delete a proposed complete exemption for public school and state university projects.

Bosma didn't seem certain that the amendments to those bills would be enough to bring back the boycotting Democrats.

"Every time we get there, there seems to be one more thing," Bosma said. "I'm just not exactly sure what they need at this point."

Rep. Terry Goodin of Austin, one of two Democrats representing his party on the House floor Monday, said he thought Bosma would have resolved the impasse by now.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 14, 2011

Quinn Vetoes Two Clean-Coal Projects

Gov. Pat Quinn dealt a major blow to plans for two coal gasification plants Monday, using his veto pen to strike down legislation that would have locked in rates for the facilities.

In a veto message, Quinn said plans to build the synthetic natural gas facilities in southwest Jefferson County and in Chicago's south suburbs would result in higher utility bills for Illinoisans.

"Our investments in clean coal must not come at the expense of consumers," Quinn noted. "As we lead the way out of this historic recession, we must always be mindful of the effect our policies will have on the people of Illinois."

Both plants were touted as potential new users of Illinois coal, as well as major job creators. The Illinois Coal Association earlier estimated the facility near Waltonville to be built by Aurora-based Power Holdings LLC could use as much as 2 million tons of coal annually and employ hundreds of people.

The company was planning to use coal mined in nearby Washington County.

"It's a shame the governor chose to do this," said Sen. John Jones, R-Mount Vernon, who co-sponsored the legislation. "Governor Quinn has proved once again he's running jobs out of the state of Illinois."

A number of southern Illinois groups supported the plant, including Southern Illinois University, local chambers of commerce, state and federal lawmakers and mayors of towns from Mount Vernon to Marion.

The legislation would have allowed the company to enter into long-term contracts to sell the gas the plant would produce. Ameren and other gas suppliers would have had to purchase the synthetic gas for the next 10 years, even if cheaper natural gas was available elsewhere.

Quinn signaled he was committed to boosting clean-coal technology, but said the two measures would allow the companies to lock in unusually high rates.

The measures, which were approved in the lame duck legislative session in January, were opposed by the Citizens Utility Board and Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office.

Categories: Energy, Government, Politics

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