Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 01, 2011

Treasurer: Illinois Investment Funds Remain Safe

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

As lawmakers in Washington scramble to vote on a debt ceiling compromise, Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford says he is keeping a close eye on the state's finances.

Rutherford said rising interest rates are helping the state earn more than expected in investments.

President Barack Obama and Congress reached a tentative deal Sunday. The Senate and House still need to vote on a plan by August 2nd, or risk defaulting on its loan obligations.

Rutherford said Monday the state earned $22,000 in interest more than typical for such a trading day. The Republican noted that interest rates have been increasing since early last week amid concerns about the debt-ceiling debate in Washington.

Rutherford said the state will have about $7 billion to invest over the next month.

"The worst case scenario is we would move that $7 billion into zero interest, meaning we gain no interest, but it would be FDIC secured," he said.

Rutherford said if if the debt ceiling isn't raised in time, he is ready to move the state's investment portfolio to 'no interest' accounts. Doing so he said could ensure that the General Assembly has the funds it needs for certain programs.

"The General Assembly has appropriated moneys, and whatever cash they have is what they use to pay the bills," Rutherford said. "Where we come in at is making sure it's secure and that if we can draw additional interest. We have benefit to try to add more into the treasury because of those interests."

Rutherford's staff had about $3 billion that was liquid and available for investment Monday, including $1 billion from the state's portfolio. He joined his investment staff for trading Monday morning.

Rutherford said Illinois is getting about a 50 percent reduction in federal dollars compared to last year. He wouldn't comment on whether he supports the deficit-cutting plan unveiled Sunday, but he said he is anxious to see the debt ceiling raised so that billions of federal dollars continue flowing to the state.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 01, 2011

Judge Sets Blagojevich Sentencing Date

A federal judge has set an Oct. 6 sentencing date for ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Judge James Zagel set the date during a status hearing Monday. Blagojevich didn't attend the hearing.

Legal observers say Zagel is likely to sentence Blagojevich to about 10 years for a lone conviction at his first trial and convictions on 17 corruption counts at his retrial. The retrial convictions in June included trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.

Blagojevich was last in court in July to sign papers putting up his home and another property as collateral for a $450,000 bond that lets him remain free while awaiting sentencing. The 54-year-old did appear last month to sign papers putting up his home and another property as collateral for a $450,000 bond that lets him remain free while awaiting sentencing.

(AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 30, 2011

Kirk, Durbin Question Airline Fare Increases

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk are questioning airline fare increases after a ticket tax holiday was created by the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration.

The two Illinois senators have sent a letter to the head of the Air Transport Association asking why most carriers aren't passing the savings along to customers.

Other senators also are putting pressure on the carriers about the fare increases, and so is U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The FAA shutdown eliminated the airlines' authority to collect ticket taxes, which funds the FAA and airport construction. But nearly all carriers raised fares equal to the taxes.

Kirk, a Republican, and Durbin, a Democrat, say they worry the recent price increase is "a collective effort to take advantage of federal inaction.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 29, 2011

Johnson, Walsh Vote Against Boehner Debt Bill

Rep. Tim Johnson of Urbana was one of only 22 Republicans to vote against a debt-reduction measure backed by GOP leadership.

In a release late Friday after the House floor vote, Johnson said the deal calls for spending cuts years into the future, but there are no promises they'd actually be made.

"This plan offers no concrete plan to reform entitlements, and perhaps most importantly, continues to protect our bloated defense spending, including funding of an illegal incursion into Libya," Johnson said in the release.

The Republican has also frequently voiced his opposition to continued US military involvement in Afghanistan.

Despite Johnson's no vote, Republicans muscled legislation to extend the government's borrowing authority and cutting spending through the House over solid Democratic opposition.

The 218-210 vote sets up a confrontation with the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Barack Obama, who say the GOP-written measure will die in the Senate. They say the bill would wreak economic havoc because it would force lawmakers to vote on another extension of the debt ceiling early next year, in the heat of presidential and congressional campaigns.

Administration officials say Congress must find a compromise to raise the debt ceiling by Tuesday or the government will run out of cash to pay its bills. That could prompt an unprecedented federal default, which could rattle the economy with shocks such as higher interest rates.

Johnson joined fellow Illinois Republican Rep. Joe Walsh in opposition -- Walsh has been vocally opposed to raising the debt ceiling, at one point accusing President Obama of lying about the severity of the consequences of missing the August 2 deadline.

(with help from The Associated Press)

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 29, 2011

Illinois Mayors Call for Debt Ceiling Compromise

More than three dozen Illinois mayors signed a letter Friday urging President Obama and members of Congress to take action on the nation's debt ceiling crisis, or risk another recession.

They say if lawmakers don't reach an agreement on a debt-limit solution before the Aug. 2 deadline, basic city services that rely on federal funding may not get supported. At that time, the Treasury Department will be forced to prioritize its spending commitments.

St. Joseph Mayor B.J. Hackler said he is concerned about highway construction projects that could be put on hold in his town if the debt ceiling is not raised.

"So, if people can't get to your town, they're sure as hell ain't going to build anything," Hackler said. "It got to be resolved. They got to unite together in some fashion to solve this problem."

Hackler also expressed concern about funding for water and sewer projects in St. Joseph.

Meanwhile, Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said he is concerned about the impact on Social Security and Medicare payments. He said he is also worried federal funding for Danville's Mass Transit District could be jeopardized.

"Right now we are experiencing 50,000 riders a month," Eisenhauer explained. "If in fact that program were to be reduced or halted in any way, how will those individuals get to places where they need to be?"

Champaign Mayor Don Gerard said not raising the debt ceiling could put a damper on job growth and economic development in his city.

"You know, trying to get our job growth back up and our economic development, I think that's just one of the key factors," Gerard said. "It's hard to move forward with recruiting new business if we're not sure we can keep our roads and our infrastructure in shape."

Others mayors to sign the letter included Rahm Emanuel of Chicago and Laurel Prussing of Urbana.

In a statement, the Treasury Department did not provide details on the bills it would pay should the government default on its debt obligations. President Barack Obama on Friday urged Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to come together on a plan that can pass the House and that he can sign into law.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 29, 2011

Quinn to Sign Ill. Dream Act for Scholarship Money

A spokesman says Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn will sign a bill to allow the children of immigrants, both legal and illegal, to get private college scholarships and enroll in state college savings programs.

Quinn spokesman Grant Klinzman says the governor will sign the bill Monday.

Called the Illinois Dream Act, the measure creates a panel to raise private money for college scholarships. Supporters say this will help illegal immigrants who graduate from Illinois high schools go on to college because they may otherwise not be able to afford it.

Students must have at least one immigrant parent and must have attended school in Illinois for at least three years to qualify for scholarship money.

Opponents say the legislation wrongly helps people who violate immigration laws.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 28, 2011

Gov. Quinn to Sign Bill Dealing with Student Athlete Concussions

Concussions experts are working to raise awareness about brain injury symptoms ahead of new Illinois legislation aimed at preventing affected student athletes from resuming play too soon.

About 100 coaches, trainers and athletic directors from around Illinois gathered at an awareness-raising symposium Wednesday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Doctors there urged them to spread the word about concussion symptoms to parents and players involved in contact sports.

Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to sign legislation Thursday requiring student athletes with concussions to get medical approval before resuming play.

Hall of Famer Dan Hampton told the forum that times have changed from his football days, when in his words, "the more barbaric it was, the better.'' He says he embraces the law, and that young athletes should, too.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics, Sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 27, 2011

Cook County Commissioner Pulls Bill to Free Inmates Wanted by ICE

Legislation that would have required Cook County to free some jail inmates wanted by immigration authorities is dead for now.

Commissioner Jesús García (D-Chicago) withdrew his bill at Wednesday's County Board meeting.

"We want to rethink it," García said afterwards.

The measure would have made the county the nation's largest jurisdiction to end blanket compliance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers. Those are requests by the federal agency for local jails to keep some inmates 48 hours beyond what their criminal cases require.

García's bill would have also ended the county's compliance unless the inmate had been convicted of a felony or two misdemeanors and unless the county got reimbursed.

Board President Toni Preckwinkle said she would back releasing some inmates wanted by ICE, but she said she wants to hear from State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.

"We hope to have a written opinion from the state's attorney that will allow us to proceed," Preckwinkle said after the board meeting.

A letter from Alvarez to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart's office back in 2009 said the jail "must comply with any ICE detainers."

But ICE officials in recent months have said there is no legal requirement for jails to comply. Dart told Illinois Public Radio station, WBEZ, this month he planned to ask Alvarez for an updated opinion.

Alvarez's office hasn't answered WBEZ's questions about whether she will revisit that opinion.

(Photo by Bill Healy/IPR)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 27, 2011

Illinois Gets $1 Million for Veteran Homelessness

Two Illinois agencies will get more than $1.1 million in federal grant money to prevent homelessness among military veterans.

The grants from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will serve about 340 vets and their families who are homeless or don't have a permanent home.

An agency called Thresholds in Chicago will get $439,722 and Chicago-based Volunteers of America in Illinois will get $719,400.

The money is among nearly $60 million the department will award to 85 nonprofit agencies in 40 states and Washington, D.C.

The Supportive Services for Veteran Families programs provides money to community agencies to help with such services as getting Veterans Administration benefits, and paying rent, utilities or moving costs.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 27, 2011

GOP Sues Over New Congressional Map; Rep. Johnson Stays Out

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media and Illinois Public Radio)

Prominent Republicans say they are filing a federal lawsuit to block Illinois' new Democrat-drawn congressional map.

The lawsuit they are filing on Wednesday claims the new map is "outrageous partisan gerrymander" designed to eliminate five Republicans in next year's election.

The lawsuit also makes the case that Latino voting power is being diluted. The map, it claims, packs "an excessive super-majority of Latino voters" into Congressman Luis Gutierrez's district.

Filing the lawsuit is the Committee for a Fair and Balanced Map, which includes such prominent Republicans such as former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Also named as plaintiffs are Illinois' five freshman Republicans who voters sent to Washington in the 2010 election.

In fact, 10 of Illinois' 11 Republican U.S. House members released a statement, saying "an impartial review of the facts in court will expose the serious deficits in this map and reverse the naked partisan power-grab contemplated by Democrats."

Urbana 15th District Republican Congressman Tim Johnson chose to stay out of the lawsuit. His spokesman, Phil Bloomer, said it is not because the Congressman doesn't support it.

"Congressman Johnson certainly believes that the redistricting process leading up to this map was unfair and a distortion of the people's issues," he said. "He's been in office and public service one way or another for over 40 years, and none of these challenges have ever succeeded. So he's decided to devote his energy and resources to his re-election campaign in the 13th District."

Johnson's new territory includes all or part of 33 counties in Southeast Illinois.

The lawsuit claims the map aims to erase Republican gains and dilute Latino voters. Democrats drew the map because they control the Illinois Legislature and the governor's office. Gov. Pat Quinn signed it into law last month. The new map gave Illinois 18 instead of 19 congressional districts because of the state's slowing population growth.

If the lawsuit fails, some members of the group may face each other on the ballot next year. One Republican who finds himself in a complicated political position is freshman Congressman Joe Walsh from the Northwest suburbs.

I know I'm running somewhere," Walsh said. "I don't know where. I live in what would be the new 14th. My district office is in what would be the new 10th. A big chunk of my district is in what would be the new 6th."

If Walsh does choose to run where he lives - the 14th - it's likely to set up a primary challenge with another freshman congressman, Randy Hultgren.

Yesterday, the heavy-weight conservative group Club for Growth announced that if the redistricting lawsuit fails, it will endorse Walsh in that race, saying he is distinguished himself as a "pro growth leader" during his short time in Congress.

Hultgren's staff didn't return requests for comment.

Last week the GOP's leaders in the Illinois legislature, state Rep. Tom Cross and state Sen. Christine Radogno, sued the state over the boundaries included in the map for state legislative districts.

Both lawsuits name as defendants the Illinois State Board of Elections, which will be represented in court by the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Regarding both cases, Madigan spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler emailed, "We plan to vigorously defend the state.

Categories: Government, Politics

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