Illinois Public Media News
Illinois Comptroller Judy Barr Topinka is showing her love for animals by helping shelters seek out homes for them, and cut down a little on Illinois' deficit.
Her trek around the state to promote the 'Comptroller's Critters' program included a stop Wednesday at the Champaign County Humane Society. Pictures of dogs, cats, and other animals from 70 shelters are now part of Topinka's web site. She calls the program one-stop shop for potential pet owners without spending more money.
"That web site already exists," Topinka said. "We don't buy any new programs. We don't hire any new people. We don't get any computers. There's no extra cost to the taxpayers that's already not out there."
Between housing the animals, and euthanizing them if they aren't found a home, it costs $250 to $300. Topinka said it is not close to Illinois' multi-billion dollar debt, but it's a start.
"But billions of dollars and trillions of dollars don't just start clean out of the box," she said. "They start at hundreds. They start at tens. They start low, and work their way up. And if all these taxing bodies in the state of Illinois get hit up, of which we have close to 80, it's still the same pair of pants, different pocket."
The Humane Society of Central Illinois, based in Normal, also is participating in Comptroller's Critters. As of Tuesday, more than 60 dogs, cats, and other pets have been adopted through the comptroller's new program.
Gov. Pat Quinn flexed his veto power Wednesday by rewriting legislation in a way that would end the long practice of letting Illinois legislators hand out scholarships to state universities.
Quinn's amendatory veto now compels lawmakers to make a choice about whether to give up the perk as federal prosecutors investigate scholarships awarded by one of their former colleagues.
Because the scholarships are technically tuition waivers, state universities wind up eating the cost of educating the people who receive them. The waivers sometimes have gone to the children of legislators' friends and political allies.
"You can't put perfume on a skunk. This system has had too many problems for too many years and it's time to abolish the legislative scholarship program," Quinn said at a press conference in Chicago.
Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed records regarding scholarships that former state legislator Robert Molaro granted to a supporter's children, according to copies of two subpoenas obtained by The Associated Press. He awarded them to the children of a campaign donor, although it's not clear that they lived in his district, one of the requirements for receiving the scholarships.
Molaro did not return a call for comment Wednesday.
Quinn insisted Wednesday that taxpayer-funded scholarships should be based on financial need and merit.
"Education should not be a political thing where if you know some politician and you're a family member of a donor or something like that," Quinn said.
Under the program, General Assembly members have been allowed to give constituents free tuition each year that equals two, four-year scholarships at a state-funded university. A 2009 Associated Press analysis of the scholarships and state political contribution records found that between 2004 and 2009, at least 41 scholarships went to relatives of someone who gave money to the lawmaker awarding the waiver and at least 42 more went to relatives of other politically connected people, such as donors to other politicians, lobbyists, party officials and others.
Lawmakers have placed restrictions on legislative scholarships over the years, but have rejected Quinn's previous calls for ending the program.
Quinn's amendatory veto doesn't force lawmakers to take action, but it does create a high-profile decision for them to make. They can do nothing and let the bill die, they can override Quinn's changes and keep the scholarships or they can accept the veto and end the scholarship program.
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan's spokesman Steve Brown said Madigan has previously voted to abolish the program. Illinois Senate President John Cullerton's spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said they would evaluate Quinn's veto action "to make sure that it is compliant."
Republican Senate leader Christine Radogno of Lemont praised Quinn's action.
"I have long championed ending the legislative scholarship program which has become rife with abuse and a financial drain on our higher education system. ... Perhaps with the governor's intervention, the legislature will finally realize it is time for this program to end," she said in a statement. Radogno's office said she has opted out of the scholarship program, instead recommending other higher education assistance programs to families.
Quinn said in his veto message that lawmakers should voluntarily stop awarding scholarships until they are barred by law. He also noted that the state's Monetary Award Program scholarship lacks money to cover everyone who qualifies.
"Because of my firm belief in the power of education to uplift and expand opportunity, I believe we must offer the opportunities that scholarships create to those that are the most deserving," he said.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)
Champaign County Board member Alan Nudo, 63, is running for the Illinois legislature in the 52nd Senate District against Democratic incumbent Mike Frerichs.
Nudo is entering his fifth year with the Champaign County Board. He made the campaign announcement Wednesday morning in Rantoul. Before he can square off against Frerichs, Nudo has to defeat political activist John Bambenek in a Republican primary. However, Nudo said his attention is focused on beating Frerichs in the general election.
"I'm not running against John (Bambenek)," Nudo said. "I want to distance myself against Mr. Frerichs. John's got his own position and he's going to do what he has to do. My job is to provide jobs for the state of Illinois and this district."
Nudo said he would have voted down the 67 percent income tax hike that passed the General Assembly earlier this year with Senator Frerichs' support.
Nudo is president of the development firm, Robeson's Inc., and he said his pro-business attitude will be valuable in his effort to spur job growth in the 52nd Senate District.
"You get a better business environment; a rising tide lifts all boats," he said. "What union member, what trades person, what non-union member wouldn't want to have more jobs created? Why shouldn't they vote for me?"
The newly redrawn district includes Champaign-Urbana and Danville.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
State Senate candidate John Bambenek claims that many independents appointed to boards and commissions by Gov. Pat Quinn are actually Democrats.
The Champaign Republican said many of Quinn's appointees listed as Independent are actually Democrats as defined by state election law --- because they voted in recent Democratic primaries. One example Bamanek considers to be the most blatant is Illinois Human Rights Commissioner Terry Cosgrove, whose political action committee, Personal PAC, supported Quinn's campaign last year.
"It's no secret that Terry Cosgrove is a Democrat," Bambenek said. "He's voted Democrat his entire life. He's known by Pat Quinn personally; he's known by many of the senators personally. For him to show up suddenly as an Independent when he's up for a state job on a committee that has a partisan balance requirement, it defies credulity that that was not an intentional choice on the part of Pat Quinn."
Other Independents with Democratic voting records listed by Bambenek include Illinois State Board of Education member David Fields (a former Danville school superintendent), and University of Illinois Trustee Lawrence Oliver. Citing that example, Quinn's press secretary, Brooke Anderson, said Oliver had not voted in a primary, and declared himself as an Independent when he was interviewed.
Anderson said many appointees are taken at their word, and some who have been appointed did the same thing as Oliver.
"Each candidate for an appointment goes through a thorough application, interview, and comprehensive vetting process," she said. "The majority of the governor's appointments have got to individuals who have applied to our web site. Political affiliation is evaluated at the time of the appointment based on the self-declaration of the candidate, and an additional review of the candidate's voting record,"
Bambenek said that by listing Democrats as Independents, Quinn is violating partisan balance rules on eleven state boards and commissions, and effectively allowing those panels to have more Democrats than the law allows. He says the practice raises questions about the legal status of those bodies that may have to be resolved by a judge.
"It could be that the last man out gets his appointment nullified," Bambenek speculated. "Somebody could turn around and say all the action of that board since this condition was true is null and void. You can stop elements of state government, because of this kind of egregious end-run around the law."
But Anderson said Bambenek's charge against the governor is not credible. She said Bambenek's summary of board and commission members includes errors, and fails to note that many of the members in question were appointed by previous governors. For instance, Independent Capital Development Board member Mark Ladd --- who Bambenek said voted in the 2010 Democratic primary --- was actually appointed in 2002, during the administration of then-Gov. George Ryan. Bambenek also lists Democrat Stephen Toth as a member of the Capital Development Board. But Anderson said Toth, whose term officially expired in 2008, has left the board.
John Bambenek is a Champaign resident who's seeking the Republican nomination for State Senate in the 52nd District. The newly redrawn district includes Champaign-Urbana and Danville. Champaign County Board Member Alan Nudo is also seeking the GOP nomination in that race. Democrat incumbent Mike Frerichs is running for re-election in the district.
Former state Treasurer and failed U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias has a new post.
Gov. Pat Quinn has picked the 35-year-old Democrat to serve as chairman of the Illinois Community College Board. The part-time position is unpaid.
Giannoulias tells the Chicago Sun-Times that he's "incredibly excited" to help reform Illinois' community colleges. He says a well-educated work force is crucial to putting Americans back to work.
Giannoulias lost the U.S. Senate race to Republican Mark Kirk last year.
The next chancellor of the University of Illinois' Urbana campus says she is ready to get to work.
Dr. Phyllis Wise spoke to members of the university community Tuesday about her upcoming role at the U of I. Wise is currently the provost and executive vice president at the University of Washington. But she is expected to start her new job at the U of I in a couple of months.
Wise said she knows a lot about the financial challenges facing universities. She said UW has dealt with deep funding cuts in recent years from its state legislature.
"In Washington, they provide relatively little amount of money toward our overall budget," Wise said. "It's been pretty grim, but the state legislature really realized that they could not do it themselves, and they gave us tuition delegating authority."
Wise said UW administrators raised tuition by 20 percent, after increasing it 14 percent during each of the two previous years. She also said financial aid was increased at UW to expand the pool of students eligible for assistance.
Last spring, tuition at the U of I went up by 6.9 percent for the next school year. Wise said she suspects she will have a big role working with the Illinois General Assembly to convince lawmakers to raise state support for higher education.
Chris Kennedy, who chairs the U of I's Board of Trustees, said he is confident Wise's experience as a researcher and administrator will help the university boost support from the state and individual research grants.
"I think the fact that we were able to recruit her sends a strong message all over the United States that the University of Illinois is a place for great researchers and academic achievers," Kennedy said. "We want to increase our research grants and contracts because those are the grants and contracts that attract the great researchers. Those great researchers attract the great graduate students, who attract the great students. You have this tremendous snowball effect."
Kennedy said he expects the Board of Trustees will unanimously approve Wise's appointment, so that she can start Oct. 1st. If approved, all three U of I chancellors will be women for the first time.
Wise was chosen about three weeks ago after a nearly nine-month search, but her appointment wasn't made public until last week, according to UI Physics Professor Doug Beck, who led the search committee.
U of I President Michael Hogan has confirmed that Wise will earn $500,000 a year and $100,000 per year deferred if she stays in the position for five years.
Wise would replace interim Chancellor Robert Easter, who took the job after the 2009 resignation of Richard Herman following an admissions scandal.
"We are at a pivotal time in higher education," Easter said. "What's the future of a major research university like this? I think we're perfectly poised to discover that future. My advice (to her) would not be bashful to thinking about the faculty and leadership about how we move ahead aggressively in areas that will create our future."
Easter said following his two-year stint as interim chancellor, he hopes to gain emeritus status. He also said he plans to occasionally come back to the U of I to teach in the Department of Animal Sciences.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Commonwealth Edison says smart grid technology could save customers more than $2.8 billion over the next 20 years.
ComEd released an analysis Monday from Black & Veatch that puts the cost of installing smart grid as less than or equal to the savings.
Mike McMahan, vice president of Smart Grid and Technology for ComEd, said a rate hike of $3 per customer would cover the cost of the technology, and it would be made up soon after the smart grid was installed.
"We estimate at least $2 of that would be returned to the customer on their bills at the end of the deployment period and there would be an additional $1 in savings associated with fewer outages," he said. "So benefit to the consumer that doesn't pass through the utility."
McMahan said the savings identified in the analysis would come from three major changes. First, the smart grid technology would eliminate manual meter reading, and thus meter reading jobs, because the smart meters would send information directly to ComEd. This would also mean, according to ComEd, more accurate bills and fewer service visits. Secondly, McMahan said smart meters would detect electricity theft and therefore cut down on energy losses. Lastly, McMahan said the new technology would bring enhanced disconnection and reconnection of services, minimizing collection costs during storms, power outages or even when a renter is ending their ComEd service.
Yet all of this rests on the signature of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. Earlier this year, legislators in Springfield passed the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act that would authorize rate hikes for both ComEd and Ameren customers to foot the smart grid bill. Quinn has said he would not sign the measure, as he wants power companies, rather than consumers, to pay for smart grid.
The bill doesn't sit well with members of the Citizens Utility Board. Executive Director David Kolata said he supports installing smart grid, but he does not think this bill is the way to do it.
"I think this analysis is further evidence that smart grid would be good investment for consumers -- we do think it's something that will save consumers money in medium and long term," Kolata said. "It's the other parts, though, that are problematic. You have to make sure you get those right. It's serving as Trojan horse for significant regulatory changes that apply to all ComEd's costs -- if it was just smart grid, it would have passed already."
The bill is currently on Gov. Quinn's desk.
Illinois state employees injured while committing crimes no longer will be able to get workers' compensation under a new law signed by Gov. Pat Quinn.
The law stems from a 2007 wreck involving former Illinois State Police Trooper Matt Mitchell. Mitchell was driving more than 100 mph and using his cell phone on Interstate 64 in southwestern Illinois when his cruiser crossed the median and slammed into a car. The two Collinsville sisters in that car were killed.
Mitchell later pleaded guilty to reckless homicide and was sentenced to 30 months of probation. His claim for workers' compensation for his injuries was denied.
Quinn says Illinois' workers' compensation system is meant to protect workers injured on the job, not those who commit crimes.
The new law takes immediate effect.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
A former aide to General David Petraeus has been nominated to be director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.
Gov. Pat Quinn said Friday that Erica Borggren will be taking over the position vacated by Iraq War Veteran Dan Grant, who is leaving the position to attend Harvard's Masters of Business program.
Quinn said he expects "unanimous approval" of Borggren by the state Senate.
"David Petraeus is a pretty good reference, don't you think Erica?" Quinn said. "I could read for a long time what he has said about Erica. 'Matchless ability to research and analyze the most complex issues.' 'Exemplary in every respect.'"
Borggren is an Army Veteran and served as a senior staffer and speechwriter for General Petraeus.
"As a daughter of Illinois, and as a veteran myself, I can think of no more exciting or worthwhile endeavor than this one," she said.
Borggren also praised Illinois and Gov. Quinn, saying the state is "at the forefront of the veteran community."
Previous Veterans' Affair director Tammy Duckworth also supports the nomination. Duckworth recently announced her run for Congress in the 8th District of Illinois.
Meanwhile, Quinn signed legislation Friday to make it an annual goal for the state to set aside a certain percentage of its contracts for businesses owned by vets.
According to Quinn's office, the new law would make the goal three percent of every state contract be reserved for businesses owned by veterans and service-disabled veterans. The governor said it's a way to recognize their service.
Eligible businesses must be based in Illinois, 51 percent owned by veterans and have annual gross sales of $75 million or less. Larger veteran-owned businesses are able to apply for exemptions.
Gov. Pat Quinn says that by the middle of September he hopes to name a nine-member commission that will establish private scholarships for immigrant children in Illinois both illegally and legally.
Quinn says he wants to make sure people who want to serve on the commission created by the Illinois Dream Act he signed this week have time to submit their names for consideration.
The Chicago Democrat will name the commission that has to raise private money to fund the scholarships because no taxpayer dollars will be used.
Immigrant children can qualify if they attend an Illinois high school for at least three years and have at least one parent who immigrated to the United States.
Quinn has already pledged $1,000 to the fund.
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