Illinois Public Media News
The Vermilion County Health Department will continue operations for at least another three months. The Vermilion County Board voted 22 to 1 Tuesday night to extend a loan to the health department, in lieu of overdue state funding.
County Board Chairman Jim McMahon says the extension will let the Vermilion County Health Department continue until May --- but with fewer services. That's because county board members also voted 22-1 to formalize more than 400-thousand dollars in budget cuts, eliminating three state grant-funded programs, and cutting 12 jobs. McMahon says a proposal to cut the remaining grant-funded programs from the budget did not come up last night. But he says if the state of Illinois hasn't paid up some of the money it owes the health department by spring, it will be harder to get the county board to continue the loan without cutting even more from the health department's budget..
"It's a very strong possibility, that if the state of Illinois doesn't start paying the bills of this fiscal year", says McMahon, that 53 employees will be let go in an Aprikl or May decision".
McMahon says that would leave about 20 employees to run basic health services --- restaurant inspections, disease control, and water safety. He says he would never allow the Vermilion County Health Department to be eliminated entirely.
McMahon says the the only solution he can see is for the state to borrow money so it can start paying out the grant money it agreed to.
"It's not fair for producers of programs from the state to have to basically borrow money to continue going", says McMahon. He says Governor Pat Quinn should borrow the money "to cover the expense that the state of Illinois has already approved.
Leaders of Illinois' public universities are making a unified appeal for the money the state government owes them.
Illinois has been trying to deal with a deep budget deficit by putting off payments to creditors - including nearly three quarters of a billion dollars to higher education.
University of Illinois interim president Stan Ikenberry says his institution is 431 million dollars in debt because of the lack of payments, and leaders owe it to the people of Illinois to find a solution. He says that solution will include painful budget cuts.
"And it's going to require revenue increases. Very unpleasant, very difficult for any public leader lawmakers to think about," Ikenberry said. "But I think both cuts in expenditure and revenue increases will be essential before any solution can be brought about. The third essential element will be some strong leadership and bipartisan cooperation."
Ikenberry says the financial crisis is not a total surprise because the state's fiscal situation has been in decline for nearly eight years, but he's surprised that's it's gotten as bad as it has.
Several other university leaders joined Ikenberry at a Chicago press conference to call for the state money to be released.
Peoria-based Caterpillar has joined the growing list of supporters of the FutureGen coal-burning power plant planned for Mattoon.
And the heavy equipment maker is the first member of the FutureGen Alliance not tied directly with energy production. The alliance now has 11 members committed to providing financial resources to get FutureGen off the ground, they include Chicago-based utility giant Exelon, and St. Louis-based coal company Peabody Energy. Monday's announcement drew praise from officials like Governor Pat Quinn and Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson. Coles Together Vice President Anthony Pleasant admits Caterpillar's backing may appear a bit unusual at the outset. "The rest are power generation companies, and clearly that's not what Cat does." says Pleasant. "But Cat's always been environmentally friendly. Just days ago, their headquarters in Peoria was LEED certified. They reduced energy by 40%, and water usage by 50%. So it's something they clearly invest in." In a release from the company, a Caterpillar official says the company has long been committed to technologies and policies that slow, stop, and reverse the growth of Greenhouse gas emissions.
Pleasant notes that Caterpillar also makes mining equipment. He says this move is a good sign that other companies not related to energy production will support FutureGen, and calm federal officials' concerns over cost. The price tag of the facility now stands at about 1-point-8 billion dollars, with the Department of Energy expected to handle just over a billion of that. Two years ago, the Bush Administration pulled the plug on the project due to cost overruns. A DOE announcement on whether FutureGen will be built could come later this month.
The Democratic nominee for Illinois lieutenant governor Scott Lee Cohen says he is dropping out of the race.
This follows reports of Cohen's troubled past, including steroid abuse and allegations of domestic violence.
Since Cohen's surprise victory last Tuesday, he's faced near constant pressure from the media and Democratic bigwigs.
On Friday he met with House Speaker Michael Madigan, and Sunday night Cohen called it quits.
His spot on the ballot will now be filled by the Democratic State Central Committee, led by Speaker Madigan.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown says the committee could meet in the middle of next month, as originally planned, or earlier. "We'll look at all the alternatives, and find the best candidate that can help Democrats win from top-to-bottom comes November," Brown said.
The speaker previously supported the candidacy of state Representative Art Turner of Chicago.
But the four other Democrats who ran for lieutenant governor - State Representative Mike Boland, union electrician Thomas Castillo, and Senators Rickey Hendon and Terry Link -- all insist they'd be the strongest candidate for the party come November.
State Sen. Bill Brady says the delay in knowing for sure whether he's won the Republican nomination for Illinois governor hurts but isn't devastating.
Brady said Friday at a news conference in Chicago that he'd rather be in "full campaign mode'' than waiting for final results in the close race. Brady says he's not calling on his opponent, state Sen. Kirk Dillard, to concede and he understands what Dillard is going through.
Brady says he'll prevail when all the absentee and provisional votes are tallied. Brady was asked whether both candidates could agree to rule out a re-count once the final vote is certified. He said he didn't know.
Dillard said earlier Friday the primary isn't over until every vote is counted and it's still too early to declare a winner.
Plans for extending Olympian Drive through Urbana to U-S Route 45 could take on more solid form this spring --- with the signing of an intergovernmental agreement.
The agreement would commit Champaign County and the cities of Champaign and Urbana to working together on the multi-year project. Plans call for extending Olympian Drive over the Canadian National tracks, and through the north end of Urbana to U-S Route 45.
Champaign County Board members heard details of the project Thursday night from County Engineer Jeff Blue. He says state funding for the project has been secured.
"A majority of that money is (for building) the overpass of the railroad", says Blue. " We have five million dollars from the Capital Bill. And no, the money can't be used to build Monticello Road or or any other road. has to be used on the Olympian Drive project."
Much of the cost would be paid for with money from the federal government ---- money which local officials are still lobbying for. But Blue said Champaign County won't have money for the project until about 2013, because its available motor fuel tax dollars are currently funding other projects.
Thursday night's county board discussion did not require any action. But board members heard plenty of opinions.
Critics of the Olympian Drive extension told the board that the project would pave over valuable farmland, encourage urban sprawl --- or may be under-utilized because it's not really needed. Champaign County Board member Stan James noted that last argument. He said past projections of urban growth in Champaign County may have been over optimistic.
"We're looking at this road, and if it was desperately needed and the growth was for certain, that's something that should be taken into account" says James. "But we are seeing buildings, factories, the scope of our industrial, auto plants and everything changing. What type of growth we're talking about, I don't know."
But Olympian Drive's supporters told the county board that extending the road would meet a growing need for an east-west artery between I-57 and U-S Route 45. County Board member Steve Beckett said the county agreed to the project years ago in its Fringe Road Agreement with Champaign and Urbana.
"Why don't we do what we gave our word that we're going to do", said Beckett. "Just because Urbana stalled, doesn't mean that we should stall. We enetered into an agreement as a body politic. We ought to continue with our agreement. We ought to fund this project, in the way that Jeff has directed us to. And we ought to move forward."
Beckett referred to the city of Urbana's decision ten years ago to back out of the Olympian Drive project , while Champaign went ahead with its portion of the road. Now Urbana is back on board, and Mayor Laurel Prussing spoke in the project's favor at Thursday night's county board meeting.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says he expects Scott Lee Cohen ultimately will have to step down as the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor over charges that he once abused his girlfriend.
Quinn called Thursday for Cohen to answer all questions about his 2005 arrest for domestic battery -- Cohen denies harming his former girlfriend. But Quinn says he thinks Cohen will end up dropping out of the race.
Illinois voters choose the nominees for governor and lieutenant governor separately. Quinn and Cohen did not campaign together, but now they make up the Democratic ticket.
Quinn says he learned of the allegations after Tuesday's primary election.
Cohen was charged with holding a knife to the woman's throat and pushing her head against a wall. Cohen says the couple did argue but that he never laid a hand on her. Charges were dropped after the girlfriend missed a court date.
The Chicago Tribune reports police records also show the girlfriend had been arrested for prostitution. Cohen says he did not know that at the time.
Cohen is a pawnbroker and owner of a cleaning-supply business with no political experience.
Groups representing Illinois hospitals and doctors are disappointed by an Illinois Supreme Court ruling involving caps on some medical malpractice lawsuit awards, but trial lawyers are hailing the decision.
A divided court ruled Thursday that limiting non-economic damages in malpractice cases violates the principle of separation of powers in the state's Constitution. The court says limits the Legislature adopted in 2005 would infringe on the judicial branch's power. In a partial dissent, Justice Lloyd Karmeier says it's the court that is violating separation of powers by second-guessing the Legislature's attempts to reduce health care costs.
Illinois State Medical Society President James Milam says he fears doctors in high-risk specialties will leave the state if their medical liability insurance rates go up as a result of the ruling.
Maryjane Wurth is president of the Illinois Hospital Association. She says the court's decision highlights the need for President Barack Obama and Congress to embrace meaningful medical liability reform as part of health care legislation.
Illinois Trial Lawyers Association President Peter Flowers applauds the decision and says it's time to focus on meaningful insurance reform.
Democrat Dan Hynes has conceded in the Illinois primary race for governor, saying he's throwing his support behind Gov. Pat Quinn despite what had often been a contentious battle between them.
Hynes says he called Quinn to congratulate him Thursday morning. Hynes urged people to support Quinn and dismissed their campaign strife as "a spirited discussion about our future.''
Quinn had already declared victory, but Hynes had refused to concede the day after Tuesday's Illinois primary.
Hynes now says all of the votes have been counted and the people have spoken. With all precincts reporting, Quinn held an 8100 vote lead.
A write-in candidate running unopposed in Tuesday's Republican primary appears to have enough votes to challenge Democratic State Senator Mike Frerichs in November.
Al Reynolds of Danville needed a thousand write-in votes to advance to the November ballot in the 52nd Illinois Senate District --- and unofficial tallies show he received 11-hundred-32 ---- 561 votes in Champaign County, 372 votes in Vermilion County and 199 votes in Danville. So, pending formal certification, the 64-year-old retired businessman will run against Mike Frerichs, who was nominated without opposition to run for a second term in the Senate.
Reynolds says the decline of manufacturing in Danville, and the resulting loss of jobs inspired him to run. He says balancing the state budget and lowering taxes is the first step in enticing employers back to Illinois.
"You can't tell people you're going to hire 'em, if there's no place for them to go", says Reynolds. "So we've got to do something to entice business to come, and you can't do that if you're taxing everything. So you're going to have to find some way to cut taxes or give some kind of incentives to businesses (to) start up and hire people."
Reynolds says he believes Republican victories in recent elections are evidence that voters have "had enough of overspending, taxation and corruption in government".
Reynolds organized the East Central Illinois Tea Party in Danville, and says the Tea Party movement was an important supporter in his primary campaign.
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