Illinois Public Media News
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) says House Republicans are pushing the country to the brink of an economic disaster. But with a debt limit deadline just over a week away, the Illinois Democrat himself opposes a plan that could temporarily avert default.
Durbin Monday talked of the dire consequences to interest rates, if no debt limit deal is reached.
"It is a decision by the Republicans to push us to absolute brinkmanship here and to risk this economy and the jobs that are associated with it," Durbin said at an unrelated press conference in Chicago.
Durbin said he wants a compromise. But he flatly dismissed Republican House Speaker John Boehner's short-term bill to cut spending by about $1.2 billion and extend the debt ceiling for about six months.
"This is exactly the wrong time to do this, with economies failing all around Europe, with our own economy under attack by those giving credit reports, we should not be lurching from one political and economic crisis to another," Durbin said.
Boehner's measure could come to a vote on Wednesday. House GOP leaders have scheduled a second vote Thursday on a balanced-budget constitutional amendment long favored by rank-and-file conservatives.
Durbin said he has been in contact with Democratic leader Harry Reid, who's pushing a budget-cutting plan that would extend the debt limit through 2012 - past next year's election.
With an Aug. 2 deadline rapidly closing, Congress and the White House had limited options to avoid a potential government default that could send the already weak economy into a damaging swoon.
The cities of Champaign and Urbana are close to signing off on plans that will start construction on the 'Big Broadband' project with the University of Illinois.
The U of I has taken the lead in getting the more than $22-million federal grant and a $3.5 million state grant, but is leaving much work to the cities as work starts up.
The university's Mike Smeltzer, the principal investigator of the grant, said the agreements will explain the relationship between the two cities and U of I with regard to the project. The U of I will then agree to reallocate a portion of grant funds to the cities for the project, along with contracts dealing with construction companies. Smeltzer said these agreements, by and large, mean avoiding disagreement later.
"We're getting some things down in writing that certainly have been in some people's heads," he said. "But you know, if three people have a conversation and not everybody walks away from that conversation with the exact same memory of what was talked about, this is getting it all down in writing so there's really a not a whole lot of room for misunderstanding in terms of who's doing what, and where's the money going, and why."
Smeltzer said the construction contracts for both and Urbana and Champaign's portion of Big Broadband, or UC2B, are expected to go before their city councils by next week. He said that means construction could begin by late August or early September, and the project should be completed on time, by February of 2013.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is back from a week-long trip to Israel.
Quinn raved about the trip Monday. He says he hopes he can bring businesses from Israel to Illinois. He also wants to export some of the state's technology there in the areas of biotechnology and water conservation.
He says there is "great opportunity'' for renewed and even greater partnerships with Israel. Illinois has trade representatives there.
While he was there, Quinn signed a sister lakes agreement between Lake Michigan and Lake Kinneret, also known as the Sea of Galilee. He says there is great potential in that partnership, which could mean jobs and research.
Quinn's trip was paid for by the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago.
Gov. Mitch Daniels has asked President Barack Obama to add Vermillion and Wayne counties to 32 counties approved for a federal disaster declaration last month.
If Monday's request is approved, state and local governments and certain non-profit organizations in the two additional counties would be eligible to apply for federal aid to pay 75 percent of the approved cost of debris removal, emergency services and repairing damaged public facilities such as roads and buildings.
The disaster declaration Obama issued last month covers damage from flooding, tornados and straight-line winds between April 19 and June 6.
Wayne County is along the Ohio state line and Vermillion is along the Illinois state line.
Retired Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, the first foreign-born chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who counseled President Bill Clinton on the use of troops in Bosnia and other trouble spots, has died, the Army said in a statement. He was 75.
Shalikashvili died Saturday morning at Madigan Army Medical Center in Washington state following complications from a stroke suffered on August 2004 that paralyzed his left side.
President Barack Obama said Saturday that the United States lost a "genuine soldier-statesman," adding in a statement that Shalikashvili's "extraordinary life represented the promise of America and the limitless possibilities that are open to those who choose to serve it."
The native of Poland held the top military job at the Pentagon in the Clinton administration from 1993 to 1997, when the general retired from the Army. He spent his later years living near Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington state, and worked as a visiting professor at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation.
Clinton pointed out that "Gen. Shali" made the recommendations that sent U.S. troops into harm's way in Haiti, Rwanda, Bosnia, the Persian Gulf and a host of other world hotspots that had proliferated since the end of the Cold War.
"He never minced words, he never postured or pulled punches, he never shied away from tough issues or tough calls, and most important, he never shied away from doing what he believed was the right thing," Clinton said.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement that he relied on Shalikashvili's advice and candor when he served as Clinton's chief of staff during the foreign policy crises in Haiti, the Balkans and elsewhere.
"John was an extraordinary patriot who faithfully defended this country for four decades, rising to the very pinnacle of the military profession," Panetta said. "I will remember John as always being a stalwart advocate for the brave men and women who don the uniform and stand guard over this nation."
In a farewell interview with The Associated Press in 1997, Shalikashvili said American military and civilian authorities need to cooperate more when they decide to get involved in such trouble spots, because so much of what the military is asked to do involves humanitarian or peacekeeping operations.
For example, he said, the military might need assistance from the Justice Department to help set up police forces, or advice from the State Department on economic aid.
"We know the agencies, but who is responsible for coordinating it, bringing it all in at the right time?" he said. "Haiti, Bosnia, Rwanda, even Somalia, showed us these things go forward from the first day, and there is no coordinator."
Shalikashvili was head of the Joint Chiefs when the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military was adopted. He had argued that allowing homosexuals to serve openly would hurt troop morale and undermine the cohesion of combat units. Years later, though, he said that he had changed his mind on the issue after meeting with gay servicemen.
"These conversations showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers," Shalikashvili wrote in a January 2007 New York Times opinion piece.
Earlier in his career, under the first President George H. W. Bush, Shalikashvili served as NATO's supreme allied commander and also commander in chief of all U.S. armed forces in Europe. At the end of the first Gulf War, he was in charge of the Kurdish relief operation in northern Iraq.
In 2004, Shalikashvili also served on a senior military advisory group to the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, as did another former NATO commander, Gen. Wesley Clark.
Not long before his stroke, Shalikashvili spoke at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, saying, "I do not stand here as a political figure. Rather, I am here as an old soldier and a new Democrat."
Shalikashvili was born June 27, 1936, in Warsaw, the grandson of a czarist general and the son of an army officer from Soviet Georgia. He lived through the German occupation of Poland during World War II and immigrated with his family in 1952, settling in Peoria, Illinois.
He learned English from watching John Wayne movies, according to his official Pentagon biography, and he retained a distinctive Eastern European accent.
Shalikashvili, who studied engineering at Bradley University in Peoria, enrolled in the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps, but his eyes were not good enough to be a pilot, according to a Defense Department biography. He became a U.S. citizen in 1958 and was drafted months later. In addition to being the first foreign-born Joint Chiefs chairman, he was the first draftee to rise to the top military job at the Pentagon, the Defense Department said.
"He knows how to put combat power together, understands policy options and will also be highly regarded by the troops," retired Col. Roy Alcala, who worked with Shalikashvili in the Pentagon, said in 1993.
Shalikashvili was the 13th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The current chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, said Shalikashvili "skillfully shepherded our military through the early years of the post-Cold War era, helping to redefine both U.S. and NATO relationships with former members of the Warsaw Pact."
Shalikashvili and his wife, Joan, moved to Steilacoom, near the Army's then-called Fort Lewis south of Tacoma, Washington, in 1998.
Shortly after Shalikashvili was tabbed by Clinton, the Simon Wiesenthal Center said documents it found indicated the general's late father, Dimitri Shalikashvili, collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. The center said it found the elder Shalikashvili's unpublished writings in the archives of Stanford 's Hoover Institution.
Shalikashvili is survived by his wife Joan, their son, Brant, and other family members.
(AP Photo/Ruth Fremson)
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn won a temporary halt on paying state employee raises that were due earlier this month.
Cook County Circuit Judge Richard Billik granted Quinn's request Friday to hold off paying the 2 percent raise. An arbitrator ruled earlier this week that Quinn had to pay.
Another hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.
Quinn announced July 1 he wouldn't pay the 2 percent raise ---_worth about $75 million --- that's owed to nearly 30,000 state workers. He says lawmakers didn't give him enough money to cover them.
The arbitrator had said the contract requires paying raises to members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The union has already delayed another 2 percent raise to help in the budget crisis.
Champaign County's Convention and Visitors Bureau is getting an influx of $15,000 dollars from the county.
The Champaign County Board's 17-to-3 decision Thursday night was brought on by Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing's decision to veto funding of $72,000 dollars to the CVB. The city council this week upheld the veto. The funds from the county are a portion of the local hotel-motel tax. It was approved in the 1980's to pay off bonds for some work at Willard Airport. This year, it's expected to be about $22,000.
District 9 Democrat Brendan McGinty says a portion of the tax really wasn't backing tourism anymore.
"And previously, we had been using it for tourism-related things, but things like sheriff's overtime to support events, and to pay those bills basically," he said. "Now the sheriff charges municipalities and events for that kind of service. This money is available and it's absolutely a proper use of those funds."
But opponent and District 6 Democrat Michael Richards says there are far better uses for the $15,000.
"There are dozens of social service agencies that are being affected by state and federal and local budget cuts," he said. "Yet, suddenly, when the convention and visitors bureau are facing the prospect of budget cuts, people come running to the rescue. I don't see why the CVB should be exempt from the same ethos as everybody else,"
Richards voted the funding down, along with Pattsi Petrie and Carol Ammons, also both Democrats. The Urbana City Council does plan to take up the issue of CVB funding later, with hopes of funding the agency at a lower level. CVB President Jayne DeLuce admits the timing of the county's donation surprised her. But she says it will augment the CVB's current budget, and not replace funds it would have received from Urbana.
"I will still have to figure out in our budget what we will do based on the level of funding that Urbana provides," she said. "I don't have any idea of what they're looking at at this point, but they're planning to discuss it Monday night at their committee of the whole meeting."
Urbana Alderman Charlie Smyth said Monday he hopes to dedicate at least $20,000 in allocated funds for the Convention and Visitors Bureau. The city council meets Monday night at 7.
Illinois is getting a commission to decide when charter schools should be created and then make sure they're running properly.
The commission gives advocates a new path for approval of charter schools instead of having to go through local school boards or the State Board of Education.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed the commission into law Wednesday. He will submit a slate of potential members and then the State Board of Education decides who actually serves on the commission.
Charter schools are public schools that are exempt from some state laws so they can try new education methods or pursue particular goals. Advocates say officials have been slow to approve new charter schools.
Facing a big drop in federal money to help poor people keep their power on, the state of Illinois decided earlier this year to use the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program only in winter this year.
That's leaving potentially tens of thousands of people without extra money to keep their power on or get it reconnected during a devastating heat wave.
Spokeswoman Marcelyn Love says the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity had little choice. Otherwise it might have run out of money during a brutal Illinois winter.
That doesn't comfort people like Cynthia Littlefield of Paxton. She's unemployed and her family has a $198 electricity bill from Ameren it can't pay.
Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris says the utility won't turn off power for non-payment during heat advisories.
Top Illinois Republicans have sued to invalidate the state's new legislative district map drawn by Democrats.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court, House Republican leader Tom Cross and Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno contend the map shortchanges blacks and Latinos and dilutes the voting strength of Republicans.
Democrats were in charge of the redistricting process because they control both the Legislature and the governor's office. Gov. Pat Quinn has signed the map into law, and his office defended it Wednesday, saying it "represents our diverse state and protects the voting rights of minorities.'' Quinn is out of the country on a trip to Israel.
Democrats have defended the map, but it's gotten mixed reviews from community groups. Some praised it for adequately reflecting the state's growing Latino population, while others say it could go further and also better maximize the black voting population in some districts.
The map could be redrawn if the lawsuit is successful.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
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