Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - February 01, 2011

UI Officials Seek An Additional $700K for Wind Turbine

Plans for a wind turbine on the University of Illinois' Urbana campus could be in jeopardy if a funding plan isn't in place by Monday.

U of I Sustainability Coordinator Morgan Johnston said it needs to be set by then to place the item on the March agenda for the university's Board of Trustees. She said without that notice, bids for the project will expire, and a $2-million grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation could also be lost. The U of I is seeking an additional $700,000 for the project, a cost Johnston said the U of I's Student Sustainability can handle. The proposed $4-point-5 million project now exceeds $5-million.

"They do have funds available right now that they're allocating for which projects to spend that money on this year," Johnston said. "What we're asking is that they would, rather than support new projects and additional projects, commit that $700,000 to this project to make it to be able to move forward."

Johnston said the U of I will provide more detail later this week on why it's seeking the additional funding.

Urbana City Council member Eric Jakobsson has been an advocate of the wind turbine project, but says he can't support the additional cost.

"It's all, in a certain sense, public money," Jakobsson said. "So the heart of my question was, how do you justify spending public money in a manner that is cost ineffective, especially when everybody is being either to pay more taxes or to tighten their belts?"

The Student Sustainability Committee is already putting half a million dollars into the project. Amy Allen, President of Students for Environmental Concerns, said that should be the limit.

"They've met their commitment to this project," she said. "We want to work with the University to get this done, but it's their responsibility to find that money."

Members with the student committee are requesting a meeting with the U of I's President and Urbana Chancellor about the turbine cost, including items that they don't think should be included in the project.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 31, 2011

Ill. Gov. Quinn Signs Historic Civil Unions Legislation

Civil unions for gay and lesbian couples are now the law of the land in Illinois.

About a thousand people crowded into the Chicago Cultural Center on Monday afternoon to watch Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn sign the historic law. The state's General Assembly approved the legislation 61-52 in the House and 32-24 in the Senate.

"We believe in civil rights and we believe in civil unions," Quinn said before signing the bill.

"Illinois is taking an historic step forward in embracing fairness and extending basic dignity to all couples in our state," John Knight, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Project of the ACLU of Illinois, said in a written statement issued hours before the bill-signing.

The law, which takes effect June 1, gives gay and lesbian couples official recognition from the state and many of the rights that accompany traditional marriage, including the power to decide medical treatment for an ailing partner and the right to inherit a partner's property.

Five states already allow civil unions or their equivalent, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Five other states and Washington, D.C., let gay couples marry outright, as do some countries, including Canada, South Africa and the Netherlands.

Illinois law will continue to limit marriage to one man and one woman, and civil unions still are not recognized by the federal government.

Opponents argue the law could increase the cost of doing business in Illinois, while Quinn has said it will make the state more hospitable to businesses and convention planners.

The legislation, sent to Quinn in December, passed 61-52 in the Illinois House and 32-24 in the Senate.

Some hope civil unions are a step toward full marriage for gay and lesbian couples, although sponsors of the civil union bill have said they don't plan to push for legalizing same-sex marriages, which have limited support in the Legislature.

Curt McKay served from 1998-2008 as the first full-time director of the University of Illinois' Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Resource Center. McKay said the legislation is a huge victory, but he added that there is still more that can be done to provide equal opportunities for LGBT groups.

"A number of the opponents of civil unions in Illinois use as their reason for being opposed that the next thing we'll ask for is same sex marriage," McKay said. "I think providing for LGBT people full inclusion under the laws of the state of Illinois in terms of being equal in every way a straight person is accepted is the final goal."

Some conservative groups said the new law is a stepping stone toward legalized same-sex marriage.

"Marriage was not created by man or governments," David E. Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, said Monday. "It is an institution created by God. Governments merely recognize its nature and importance

Cardinal Francis George and other Catholic leaders also vigorously fought passage of the law. The measure doesn't require churches to recognize civil unions or perform any kind of ceremony, but critics fear it will lead to other requirements, such as including same-sex couples in adoption programs run by religious groups or granting benefits to employees' partners.

(With additional reporting from the Associated Press)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 31, 2011

Quinn Expected to Sign Civil Unions Into Law

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn today is expected to sign a bill that legalizes civil unions. About 1,000 people are expected to be on hand for the ceremony at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Illinois legislators approved civil unions late last year. The bill would allow same sex couples hospital visitation rights and the ability to share insurance policies. State Rep. Greg Harris was instrumental in getting the bill passed.

"This is a huge moment for people in Illinois and people feel that they have a lot of their future invested in this," Harris said.

But David Kelly, with the Illinois Family Institute, said he opposes the legislation. He said civil unions could lead to the state allowing gay marriage.

"Marriage always will be the union of one man and one woman," Kelly said.

Gov. Pat Quinn calls the legislation a civil rights issue. Once signed, the measure will go into effect June 1st.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 28, 2011

IGPA Director Emeritus Samuel K. Gove Dies at 87

The director emeritus of the University of Illinois' Institute for Government and Public Affairs is being remembered as a soft-spoken individual with a passion for government and public service.

Samuel Gove passed away died in Urbana Friday after a short illness. He was 87. Gove was with IGPA from 1950 until 1985, but was also active in government, serving on transition teams for Governors Dan Walker and Jim Edgar.

Former legislator and comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch served with Gove on the board of Illinois Issues magazine, which he founded. She said civic education for young people was really important to Gove.

"He was very determined and very insistent on that - and never forgot it, always kept coming back to it," Netsch said. "So that was another part of his character. He had not only a strong sense of what government should be, but a strong sense of how young people should be bred into it, if you will."

Netsch said Gove expressed his opinion in a quiet way.

"He was not a bombastic, flamboyant, in-your-face kind of a personality," she said. "But he had strong views on some things, and he certainly had very strong ways of expressing those."

Gove also conducted 17 statewide assemblies, one of them, in 1962, set issues for the 1970 Constitutional Convention. Robert Rich, the current director of IGPA, said Gove was "Mr. Illinois.'

No visitation or funeral services are planned. A celebration of Gove's life will be planned for a later date.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 28, 2011

Volunteers Count Homeless Population in Champaign County

Every two years during the last week of January, communities across the country try to answer a difficult question: How many people are living without permanent shelter? This point in time survey is the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development's effort to determine the number of homeless people nationwide and understand more about their characteristics. CU-CitizenAccess reporter Dan Petrella went along on this year's count in Champaign-Urbana.

(Photo by Acton Gorton/CU-CitizenAccess)

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 27, 2011

Ill. High Court: Emanuel Can Run for Chicago Mayor

Rahm Emanuel will stay on the ballot. That's the word from the Illinois Supreme Court. In a stinging rebuke, the Court overturned an appellate court ruling that found Emanuel failed to meet a one-year residency requirement to run for Chicago mayor. The Supreme Court majority opinion said the "novel standard adopted by the appellate court majority is without any foundation in Illinois law. "

The justices unanimously found that the appellate court was wrong in overruling decisions by the Chicago Election Board and a Cook County Circuit Court judge that Emanuel had fulfilled residency requirements.

"Only when abandonment is proven is residency lost," according to the majority ruling. "Again, because it is uncontested that the candidate was a Chicago resident at least until January 2, 2009, when he resigned his office as Representative from the Fifth Congressional District of Illinois, the Board correctly determined that the relevant question was not whether the candidate had established residency in Chicago, but rather whether the objectors had proved by a preponderance of the evidence that thecandidate had abandoned that residency at any time during the one year period before the February 22, 2011, election."

In explaining its decision further, the Supreme Court majority wrote:

"So there will be no mistake, let us be entirely clear. This court's decision is based on the following and only on the following: (1) what it means to be a resident for election purposes was clearly established long ago, and Illinois law has been consistent on the matter since at least the 19th Century; (2) the novel standard adopted by the appellate court majority is without any foundation in Illinois law; (3) the Board's factual findings were not against the manifest weight of the evidence; and (4) the Board's decision was not clearly erroneous."

The decision likely ends the months-long debate over whether Emanuel's time living in Washington, D.C. while working as President Obama's chief of staff meant that he had given up his Chicago residency. A former congressman from the city's North Side, Emanuel has insisted he always intended to return to Chicago after completing his White House service.

This fall, more than two dozen objections were filed with the Chicago Board of Elections seeking to have Emanuel removed from the ballot. The hearings that followed included a nearly 12-hour testimony from Emanuel himself. A hearing officer eventually ruled in favor of the candidate, a recommendation confirmed by the three commissioners on the election board.

On judicial review, the decision was upheld by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Mark Ballard, but reversed by a state appellate court panel this past Monday. In a 2-to-1 ruling, the appeals court found that Emanuel was indeed eligible to vote in the February 22nd election, but was not eligible to be a candidate.

Less than a day later, Emanuel's team appealed the decision, and within hours the Supreme Court agreed to consider the case on an expedited basis. At roughly the same time, the court ordered the election board to include Emanuel's name on all ballots it was printing while the appeal was still under consideration.

The state Supreme Court's decision to keep Emanuel on the ballot likely ends the ballot challenge. Earlier this month, lawyers for both sides acknowledged there was no U.S. Constitutional issue that could land the case in the federal courts.

Emanuel returned to Chicago in October of 2010. This followed the announcement by longtime Mayor Richard Daley that he would not seek re-election to the office.

In a recent Chicago Tribune poll taken before the appeals court ruling, Emanuel held a wide lead over the five other candidates in the race. Emanuel was garnering 44 percent, with former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun winning 21 percent. Gery Chico, a former school board head appointed by Daley, had 16 percent, with City Clerk Miguel del Valle at 7 percent.

Former non-profit director Patricia Van Pelt Watkins and community activist and frequent candidate Bill "Dock" Walls are also on the ballot.

(Photo by Sam Hudzik/IPR)

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - January 27, 2011

Letter: No Presidential Run for Ind. US Rep. Pence

U.S. Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana says he will not seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012.

The Indianapolis Star reports Pence told supporters in a letter Thursday that he will bypass a White House bid. There is no word yet on whether he'll run for Indiana governor.

The congressman's future has been the subject of speculation since he resigned the No. 3 GOP House leadership slot after winning sixth term in November.

The 51-year-old Pence is a darling of social conservatives and had made multiple trips to states that host early presidential primary contests. He lacked name recognition in what's likely to be a crowded field for the 2012 nomination for president.

State law bars Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels from seeking a third term.

(Photo courtesy of Mike Pence)

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 26, 2011

C-U MTD Votes to Take Legal Dispute to Ill. Supreme Court

A legal dispute between the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (C-U MTD) and the Champaign Southwest Mass Transit District (CSWMTD) is a step closer to heading to the Illinois Supreme Court.

The C-U MTD board voted unanimously Wednesday to appeal a ruling by the Fourth District Appellate Court stating that the two transit districts can share boundaries.

The CSWMTD was approved by voters in 2006 as a response to the C-U MTD annexing property in Southwest Champaign. Voters wanted to prevent C-U MTD service from coming into certain neighborhoods. Some people who live where the two transit districts overlap pay property taxes for both services, even though the CSWMTD provides no transit service.

"We don't think that Illinois law permits double taxation for identical services," C-U MTD attorney Marc Ansel said. "There have been cases in Illinois involving identical local governments seeking to tax and service the same territory, and the supreme court of Illinois we believe has said that can't be done in the state of Illinois."

Ansel said he hopes the Illinois Supreme Court will decide to hear the case within a couple of months. He said if that happens, oral arguments could begin later this year.

Meanwhile, the CSWMTD board voted to appeal the appellate court's ruling earlier this month also stating that residents should not have to pay higher taxes for two transit services. If there is a final court decision, CSWMTD Chairman Ed Vaughan acknowledges that his group may have to come to a decision about whether to actually provide bus service.

"We've been recognizing that we've got that coming for quite some time, and every one of us pondering exactly what we think we ought to do," Vaughan said. "And we will have that discussion.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 26, 2011

Champaign Mayoral Candidate Introduces Budget Plan

At a time when Champaign's city council is considering cuts to the police and fire departments, a candidate for mayor suggests cutting in other areas of city staff.

Don Gerard unveiled his own proposed budget at last night's city council meeting. He suggests $380,000 could come from reducing positions in the finance and the city manager's office.

"They are working for us," Gerard said. "I propose cuts in legal, I propose cuts in information technology, I think those are completely reasonable. If we're going to cut firemen, why we can't cut another lawyer, and we did our homework on these types of things.

Gerard also wants 13 of the highest paid employees to take a 10-percent salary cut, exempting the police and fire departments. He said those include the city manager, finance director, city attorney, and the director of the Champaign Public Library. His plan also suggests that the city refinance its more than $40-million pension debt, paying it off at a lower interest rate in 20 years instead of 10.

Gerard contends the pension plan will produce savings of about $11-million in three years. He is running against longtime mayor Jerry Schweighart in April.

(Photo courtesy of Don Gerard)

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - January 26, 2011

Ill. Court Throws Out Liquor Taxes, Video Gambling

An Illinois appellate court ruled Wednesday that lawmakers have to start over if they want to raise taxes and legalize video gambling to pay for a $31 billion statewide construction plan.

A unanimous 1st District appellate court tossed out higher taxes on liquor, candy, and items such as toothpaste, along with video-machine gambling in taverns. They said the law making the changes violated the state Constitution's prohibition on bills that deal with more than one subject.

Gov. Pat Quinn, who vowed an immediate appeal to the state Supreme Court, signed the law in July 2009. It increased revenue to fund a long-awaited plan for building highways, bridges, schools and making other infrastructure improvements. Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz, who also heads one of the state's largest liquor distributorships, sued Quinn and other state officials over the law just before it took effect in September 2009.

"This lawsuit was always about how the legislature passed this bill and the discriminatory tax on wine and spirits," Julia Sznewajs, a spokeperson for Wirtz Beverage Illinois, wrote in a statement. "The decision affirms that and we are gratified by it."

The items taxed at higher rates by the law won't immediately drop in price while all players wait to see how an appeal proceeds.

The legislation legalized video gambling and raised liquor excise taxes and taxes on candy, some beverages, and grooming products. It also allowed for private management of the Illinois Lottery, required financial reports on capital projects from the governor's office, and even commissioned a University of Illinois study on the effect of lottery ticket purchases on families.

Not all of them had to do with state revenue, the court said.

"The wide range of topics in (the law) cannot be considered to possess a 'natural and logical connection,'" the court opinion read.

It also invalidated several companion pieces of legislation, including the mechanism for funding capital construction projects.

Quinn said he would seek a stay of the decision from the Supreme Court, putting the appellate court's decree on hold until the high court could decide the issue.

"Capital bill projects are putting thousands of people to work in every corner of the state, while supporting local business, improving our infrastructure and increasing energy efficiency," the Democratic governor said in a prepared statement.

Both Democratic Senate President John Cullerton of Chicago and House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, issued statements reiterating their commitment to job growth through state-sponsored construction.

Two East Central Illinois lawmakers predict the legislature will still find a way to bail out the capital plan, should Illinois' Supreme Court knock it down or refuse to hear the case.

Democratic Senator Mike Frerichs said given the importance of what's at stake, he is confident that a bipartisan group of lawmakers, with the necessary legal help will make the changes to see it through.

"We had attorneys involved the first time, but I think we'll probably look a little closer, take the opinions of the appellate court justices in mind or the Supreme Court justices in how they rule," Frerichs said. "We should be able to fix it this year."

Frerichs said it is vital that the state do what it can to improve roads and other infrastructure, and building work at the University of Illinois and other college campuses around the state.

Catlin Republican House member Chad Hays said a number of projects are pending in his district that rely on these funds, including more than $800,000 for upgrades to the David S. Palmer Arena, and funds for an education center at Kennekuk County Park. Hays said some of those dollars have already come through.

"Just last week some funding for some energy efficiency upgrades at the Danville YMCA for example were released," Hays said. "So prior to this ruling by the appellate court, some of that money was actually beginning to flow."

Hays said he has staff reviewing the appellate court's opinion, and agrees quick action on a new plan could be needed to protect projects in his district.

Illinois legislators will be back in Springfield next week.

If the Supreme Court upholds the ruling, lawmakers would have to begin anew to adopt video gambling and the tax increases necessary to pay for construction - presumably breaking legislation up into smaller pieces.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Robyn Zeigler, said in an email that the state will ask the Illinois Supreme Court for an immediate stay of the decision. That will be filed Thursday, Zeigler said.

(Additional reporting from the Associated Press and Illinois Public Radio)

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

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