Illinois Public Media News
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn wants to link college funding with student performance.
On Friday, he traveled to Western Illinois University's Moline campus to sign legislation designed to allocate state money based on how well students do in the classroom. Quinn says the law will help Illinois better compete in the global economy.
"In order to have a strong economy, you must have great education, including higher education," Quinn said. "Jobs follow brain power. We want to make sure we have plenty of engineers for John Deere and Caterpillar, and for our great agricultural businesses in Illinois."
Quinn says the legislation should boost the number of Illinois adults with college degrees from 41 percent to at least 60 percent by 2025.
Mahomet Republican Chapin Rose and Chicago Democrat Edward Maloney both sponsored the measure, which takes effect January 1st.
Faculty at the University of Illinois will spend three years developing material for nuclear plants that sustain great levels of heat and run more efficiently.
The National Science Foundation is funding the project through a grant of more than $530,000. The grant will allow U of I researchers to see how resistant new materials used in reactors are to fracture and fatigue, as well as corrosion.
The principal investigator and U of I engineering professor James Stubbins said he and five other faculty members on campus will work to develop a system that is cooled with helium rather than water.
"You're not relying on making the steam," he said. "You're just relying on heating a gas to extremely high temperatures. And if you do that, you can run the helium through an engine that looks like a jet engine and extracts electricity that way, getting the efficiency of the system from the heat to the electricity from 30 or 35 percent up to maybe 60 percent."
Stubbins said nuclear reactors made by a material resembling stainless steel would make it easier to remove heat in the event of a disaster, like what occurred earlier this year at the Japan Fukushima nuclear plant.
"In these kinds of reactors, you have a much different problem in removing the heat if there's an accident than the Fukushima-type of reactor," he said. "This type of reactor is much more resistant to these kind of problems, with the inability of the potential inability to remove the heat from the reactor core itself if they have to shut down suddenly."
Stubbins said Japan is starting to develop the kind of material that is less susceptible to corrosion, but he said the US is on the verge of developing such a reactor. He said one being designed in Idaho is intended to reach these high temperatures, but there are no such projects underway in Illinois.
Illinois' Senior Senator says a Congressional 'super committee' tasked with finding $1.5 trillion dollars in federal savings over the next 10 years has their work cut out for them.
The bipartisan Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which is made up of six Republicans and six Democrats, has until Thanksgiving to come up with a plan, and then sell it to the rest of Congress.
It's unclear where possible budget cuts may happen, but Democratic US Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said food assistance programs should be preserved.
During a visit Friday morning to the Eastern Illinois Foodbank in Urbana, Durbin underlined the importance of these services, saying food banks across the state have seen a 50 percent uptick in food assistance requests during the last couple of years. Durbin also pointed out that the Eastern Illinois Foodbank has increased food distribution by 24 percent during the same period.
"My hope is that as we look for ways to cut spending, and we don't do it at the expense of feeding children and families that are struggling," Durbin said. "I hope that we can all agree - both parties can agree - on a good starting point there to preserve the safety net."
The Eastern Illinois Foodbank said last year it gave out 6.8 million pounds of food, with federal commodities making up about a quarter of that stock from The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).
"It's been a really important program for food banks during the recession," said Cheryl Precious, director of development at the Eastern Illinois Foodbank. "We're worried about it to say the least."
Precious said the Eastern Illinois Foodbank is anticipating a 50 percent reduction in federal commodities for this upcoming year.
"That's going to significantly impact us," Precious said. "We're going to have to make up that food by purchasing or increasing donations or we're just going to have to get creative about it."
Durbin also emphasized the importance of social safety net programs - like unemployment benefits, Medicare and Medicaid, and job re-training programs. He said he hopes the country's financial problems and the recent downgrade of the nation's credit rating by Standard and Poors serve as a wakeup call to the 12-lawmakers on the bipartisan deficit reduction committee.
"If they go in with a spirit of bipartisanship and compromise where both sides are willing to give, we can get this resolved," Durbin said. "If they walk into the door with preconceived notions and political positions that are non-negotiable, nothing is going to happen. It's going to fail."
Durbin wouldn't comment on specific programs that should be cut, but he said he would like to see tax breaks for the wealthiest people trimmed back.
"If there's no agreement, we go into automatic cuts in both the defense and veterans side of it, as well as the other non-defense spending," he said. "I don't believe we can rationalize cutting the safety net in America when so many working families life from pay check to paycheck, and many with a paycheck can't make ends meet."
Meanwhile, Illinois' other US senator, Republican Mark Kirk, weighed in on the Congressional committee's task ahead during a news conference Wednesday in Chicago. Kirk said he does not think there is consensus in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives for any tax hikes.
Congress is in recess until after Labor Day. Kirk said the joint commission should start meeting next Monday. He also urged President Obama to recall Congress to get to work on the nation's debt problems.
"Congress should not be in recess right now," Kirk said. "We see tremendous anxiety with the potential of the U.S. to go into recession and one of the greatest ways to restore confidence is, not to have a speech and not to lay out a set of vague principles, but to see the elected representatives of the American people working on entitlement reforms right away."
If the committee fails to meet its Thanksgiving deadline to come up with a plan, or if Congress rejects their proposal, then $1.2 trillion dollars in automatic budget cuts would go into effect. Critics are expressing doubt that the bipartisan panel will overcome its stark political differences.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
University of Illinois President Michael Hogan says he has set up a scholarship fund that is available to students who are U.S. citizens and undocumented immigrants.
Students who are not living in this country lawfully have been ineligible for scholarships in Illinois, but that changed this month after Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation known as the Illinois Dream Act. The measure opens up privately funded college scholarships to illegal immigrants.
Hogan said he gave a $100,000 contribution to the University of Illinois Foundation for the scholarship, which will be for students majoring in history. He said every student should have a chance to get into the U of I, regardless of their legal status.
"It's both need and merit based," Hogan explained. "They're in a great position now to make a long-time contribution to the well-being of our state, and sustain a great reputation of the university."
Students can apply for the U of I scholarship through financial aid.
Gov. Quinn said he plans to appoint a nine-member commission by the middle of September to oversee scholarships created as a result of the Illinois Dream Act. 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.
Illinois and several other states already provide undocumented students in-state tuition.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Illinois U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk cautioned Congress about a new committee that will fight the federal deficit.
Republicans and Democrats have selected nine of the committee's 12 members. Kirk said he is worried the committee won't be in a position to compromise.
"I worry about this joint commission that it may be too partisan," Kirk said. "One idea that I know will never have a chance would be to have the Democratic leaders to appoint the Republicans and the Republicans leaders appoint the Democrats, so that the people who played best in the sandbox would then take on the work of this joint committee."
Kirk urged President Obama to end the congressional recess so legislators can get the new debt committee ready by Monday.
Congress is not scheduled to return to work until after Labor Day.
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Governor Pat Quinn's press secretary is discounting a charge from Republican John Bambenek that the Quinn administration's appointments to many state boards and commissions violate rules setting out how many members of each party may serve on a panel.
Bambanek said many of the governor's Independent appointees are actually Democrats, according to their voting records in primary elections. Among the examples he cites are Illinois Human Rights Commissioner Terry Cosgrove -- who Bambenek said has always voted in Democratic primaries. He also cites University of Illinois trustee Lawrence Oliver, who was appointed as an Independent in 2009, and voted in a Democratic primary in 2010.
But Quinn press secretary Brooke Anderson said those appointed as Independents to boards and commissions by the governor declared themselves as independents when they first applied.
"Each candidate for an appointment goes through a thorough application interview and comprehensive vetting process," Anderson said. "The majority of the governor's appointments have gone to individuals who applied to our website. 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 records."
Anderson also questions the credibility of Bambenek's charges, because his list of examples contains errors and includes several appointees held over from previous governors. In reply, Bambenek said his list is based on information on the Quinn administration's appointments as listed on the state appointments website, as of Aug. 1. He said the website was updated after he released his allegations.
Bambenek said that by appointing Independents who are actually Democrats, the Quinn administration is allowing several boards and commissions to have more Democrats than partisan balance rules allow. He said the practice raises questions about the legal status of those bodies that may have to be resolved by a judge.
Bambanek is running for the Republican nomination for state Senate in the 52nd District, against Champaign County Board member Alan Nudo. On the Democrats' side, incumbent Senator Mike Frerichs is seeking re-election.
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.
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