Illinois Public Media News
Gov. Pat Quinn signed the new Illinois budget into law Thursday, after first trimming money for school buses, eliminating support for regional education offices and chopping Medicaid.
The Democrat suggested the cuts could be part of further negotiations.
"Implementing a budget is not a one-day event but rather a year-round process filled with robust debate and difficult decisions," Quinn said in a statement.
Quinn has repeatedly criticized the spending plan lawmakers sent him, saying it shortchanged many important services. But he cut further.
Money for Medicaid, a health program for the poor, is being cut by an additional $276 million. That brings the Department of Healthcare and Family Services budget to $14.3 billion, or about 4.5 percent below current levels.
Illinois will still have to pay for medical services, however, so less money means bills are simply paid more slowly. Unless something changes, about $1.5 billion in Medicaid bills will be left unpaid at the end of the year, adding to backlog that already amounts to $6 billion or more.
"The point is to get the interested parties to the table to negotiate in good faith" on controlling Medicaid costs, Vaught said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Transportation money the state provides to local schools will be cut by $89 million, which leaves nearly $206 million, a substantial increase.
Vaught said the purpose of that cut is to focus limited state resources on classrooms.
"That's a local function, getting the kids to school," Vaught said, referring to the transportation money as "excess" state funds.
Reducing state aid for transportation is likely to force schools to take money away from other educational services in order to keep buses running.
Quinn eliminated all the money the state provides for regional offices of education around the state. The cut of about $11.3 million does not eliminate the offices, but it would force local taxpayers to come up with the money or close the offices.
Lawmakers rejected both of Quinn's education cuts. They have the option of restoring the $376 million that Quinn cut Thursday. Unless they take action, however, Quinn's version of the budget is the one Illinois will follow for the next year.
His office said Quinn's cuts bring the key measure of state spending to $32.9 billion, about $2 billion below the previous budget. That's a reduction of roughly 6 percent.
Vaught said he didn't know the total size of the budget, including federal funds, fees and other special categories. For the previous year, it was $52.7 billion.
Quinn did not make any public appearance to discuss signing the budget. He does not have any appearances scheduled for Friday either.
The additional budget cuts are likely to frustrate groups that feel the version approved by lawmakers was already deeply flawed. It slashed money to institutions for the mentally handicapped, promised long delays in paying Medicaid bills, reduced education spending and cut money for state employees.
"This is a fundamentally broken budget, an unworkable plan that falls far short of the revenue needed to adequately support basic services," said Anders Lindall, spokesman for the Illinois division of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Lindall urged Quinn to spend at the levels needed to maintain services and then work with lawmakers to come up with more money later in the year.
But Vaught said Quinn must assume no more money will be available. "You implement right away and you do the cuts," he said.
A key question is what cuts Quinn can make. He reached a bargain with AFSCME last year in which the union agreed to make concessions and Quinn agreed not to cut jobs or close state facilities.
Vaught said Quinn will diclose more of his plans soon.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Bloomington physician David Gill is launching a fourth campaign for Congress.
It will also be the fourth time Gill is seeking a run against Urbana Republican Congressman Tim Johnson, but this time, the two would face one another in very different territory.
Gill said the re-drawn 13th Congressional District should work in his favor since it is a bit smaller, and will include Democratic support in cities like Springfield, and all of Decatur.
"So many times I would go to my part of Macon County, campaigning in the past, and long for the opportunity to connect with more of the voters within Decatur," Gill said. "But that was closed off to me, Decatur was divided up three ways, and now, lo and behold, all of Decatur is there and open to me."
Gill said the 13th district, which now includes an area near St. Louis, is a very winnable race for Democrat, but he expects opposition in the primary.
The Democrat said during Congressman Johnson's time in the 15th District, he has changed course on a number of issues, including the use of military force in Iraq.
"That's the type of big decision where the right decision needs to be made in the first place, before 5,000 service men are dead, and 30-to-40 thousand servicemen are grievously injured," Gill said. "Now, he walks around his old district and this new (the 13th) district and describes himself as an anti-war dub, if you will."
Gill said voters have had a short memory when it comes to Johnson's decisions. The Democrat added that voters don't grasp why Johnson would vote to end Medicare.
Gill ran unsuccessful bids against Johnson in 2004, 2006, and 2010.
More than 100 jobs will be cut from the University of Illinois Extension as a result of a large reorganization.
While initial budget figures called for more than $2 million in cuts, that figure increased to $7.6 million for the new fiscal year.
As it stands, the budget cuts will force the merger of several county offices, and the number of Extension units have been reduced from 70 to 27. And about 50 county extension director positions will be eliminated though layoffs and retirements.
Interim Associate Dean and Director Bob Hoeft said moving educators out of centers and into the counties should actually be a good thing. They specialize in areas like small farms, nutrition, and youth development in local 4-H programs.
Hoeft said while a number of the jobs cut were educator positions, he said no specific areas of expertise were targeted. He also noted that any counties that want to keep their extension office open could - but many will be operating only two to three days a week. He said in most cases, an office will remain open.
"The public spoke - the public said they wanted their offices," he said. "There are counties that said they don't need an office, and Douglas County is one example of that. Talking with elected officials, they've said that they had no real complaints, and it's worked real well."
Among the educator positions that were reduced, he says just six are left in agriculture, because few are needed anymore.
"We have a number of commercial ag people that come directly to campus," Hoeft said. "We also have 1,500 certified crop advisers in this state that are capable of giving sound, agronomic advice, and customers, the farmers of the state, go to them for that advice."
Hoeft said Extension will be relying more on electronic communication in the future since that is what younger generations demand.
The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District gives passengers about 10 million rides each year. But as Dan Petrella of CU-CitizenAccess reports, for Champaign County's rural residents, getting where they need to go isn't as easy as walking to the nearest bus stop.
(Photo by Dan Petrella)
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Starting Friday, Illinois' ban on capital punishment will take effect, but advocates on both sides of the death penalty debate say their work is not done.
State lawmakers voted in January to abandon capital punishment, and Gov. Pat Quinn signed the legislation in March. That happened more than a decade after the state imposed a moratorium on executions out of concern that innocent people could be put to death by a justice system that had wrongly condemned 13 men.
Gov. Quinn also commuted the sentences of all 15 inmates remaining on death row who are now serving life sentences in prison with no hope of parole.
Fifteen other states have also abolished the death penalty.
With the law in place, it would seem that The Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty could declare "mission accomplished." But the group's director, Jeremy Schroeder, said that is not the case.
"I wish I could tell you we're all retiring," Schroeder said. "But unfortunately there will always be some need for the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty."
Schroeder admits his group is downsizing, and has considered changing its name to "the Coalition Against the Death Penalty." Schroeder said the key task going forward is to make sure the ban remains.
However, critics like State Representative Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst) are working to overturn it.
"I still believe, as studies do show, that the death penalty is a deterrent to these most heinous of crimes," Reboletti said.
Reboletti's legislation stalled in the House this past session, but he said he believes there is enough support for it to pass.
The Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty says it's poised to fight back legislation to overturn the ban.
Illinois has executed 12 men since 1977, when the death penalty was reinstated. The last execution was Andrew Kokoraleis on March 17, 1999. At the time, the average length of stay on death row was 13 years.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)
The U.S. Department of Labor is giving an Illinois group $1.4 million to provide job training and other services to migrant farmworkers.
The department said Wednesday the money will go to the Illinois Migrant Council. The money is part of $78.3 million being provided by The National Farmworker Jobs Program to 52 groups around the country to pay for job training, employment services and other needs for seasonal farmworkers and their families.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said the money is intended to help migrant farmworkers and their families lead more stable lives. Another $5.7 million will go to 16 groups across the country to provide housing assistance for migrant farmworkers.
Illinois' new budget takes effect Friday, the first day of the fiscal year. The state won't have enough money to pay businesses that are waiting for state payments.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to sign the state budget Thursday. He can accept the blueprint as lawmakers sent it over, or slightly amend it. State law restricts how much he can change.
Regardless, the budget won't include enough money to catch up on old bills. One person waiting to get paid is Ralph Ditchie, who runs two day care center for adults.
"I'm just a little guy from the south side of Chicago who started a business, and about five months ago, they owed us three-quarters of a million dollars," Ditchie said.
The state has caught up a little in what it owes Ditchie. But the delay he and others have gotten used to is not expected to ease up, even after Quinn signs the budget.
Hundreds of city workers could face layoffs if they don't agree to make concessions that would save the city $20 million, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday.
Emanuel said that he will not have to lay off workers if he and the unions reach an agreement by a Thursday night deadline, but added: "If they don't agree to it, then 625 people and their families will lose that job. And that's not necessary."
The mayor would not say whether layoff notices would go out immediately.
Emanuel said he still hopes unions can be his "partner" in helping close a multimillion dollar budget gap left to him by former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. In order to balance the 2011 budget, the Daley administration struck an agreement with labor to make workers take several unpaid days off, for an annual savings of $30 million. But that agreement expires Thursday at midnight, leaving it up to the Emanuel administration to negotiate with labor on concessions for the second half of the year.
Emanuel has said he is against imposing more furlough days on city workers. But he declined to offer specifics on the $20 million in savings he proposed to Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez when they met on Tuesday, other than to say that they comprise several "work rule and workplace reforms and efficiencies" that he said are common practice among private sector unions.
The 625 workers who could be laid off have been identified as a "precautionary" measure, Emanuel said. But he declined to say which workers might face layoffs, or what city services they could affect.
A statement Wednesday afternoon from union leaders claims there have been no negotiations between them and the city. Jorge Ramirez from the Chicago Federation of Labor and Tom Villanova of the Chicago & Cook County Building Trades Council said union workers have already sacrificed a lot, and should not be blamed for the city's budget problems.
The corruption re-trial is over, and now former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich awaits his sentencing.
Blagojevich was found guilty Monday of 17 of the 20 counts charged against him. With all the counts added up, Blagojevich could face as much as 300 years in prison.
Attorney Joel Bertocchi is a former federal prosecutor. He said it is highly unlikely Blagojevich would face that severe of a sentence, but he said the fact that the ex-governor did not accept responsibility for the charges won't help either.
"Mr. Blagojevich, I think, may present an unusual case," Bertocchi said. "Not only did he go to trial, but he made an awful lot of public noise about not accepting responsibility for the charges that the government leveled against him."
Bertocchi said six to 11 years could be closer to what the judge may be considering. It is uncertain when Blagojevich will be sentenced.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)
Legislation to authorize five new casinos in the state is waiting for Gov. Pat Quinn's signature, but the governor cannot sign the measure just yet.
The bill seeks to add casinos in Danville, Chicago, Rockford, Lake County and southern Cook County. Quinn has criticized the plan, calling it "top heavy." Though, he has said he could envision a casino in Chicago if it is properly done.
To buy some more negotiating time, Senate President John Cullerton is using a parliamentary procedure to hold the bill. Gambling supporters hope adjustments can be made to the legislation so that Quinn will sign it in the fall.
"He's obviously expressed concerns publicly on some of the provisions in the bill," Cullerton said on Monday. "So we're taking the time to go over the bill with the governor to make sure if there's any changes that he wants, that he can make those through a trailer bill."
During a visit to Champaign Tuesday afternoon, Quinn said lawmakers should just send him the gambling measure.
"I have 60 days to review the bill," Quinn said. "In this case they're holding it. I don't know what that's all about. I find it kind of a maneuver. I don't think that's necessarily the best way to go, but they can do what they want to. We're still going to analyze the bill from top to bottom."
The measure also seeks to add slot machines at horse racing tracks, Chicago's airports and the state fairgrounds. Supporters of the legislation say increasing the state's gambling industry would bring in $1.6 billion dollars in upfront fees and $500 million dollars or more annually.
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