Illinois Public Media News
The tax cut deal worked out by President Obama and Senate Republicans includes a one-year extension of tax credits for ethanol --- although at 36 cents a gallon, which is down nine cents from the existing 45-cent tax credit set to run out Dec. 31st.
A spokesman for Illinois Congressman Tim Johnson, Phil Bloomer, said the one-year extension is shorter than what the Urbana Republican would prefer. Instead, Johnson said he wants a permanent extension of the tax credits.
"If you take these away, as it seems to indicate at this point," Bloomer said. "I think that would have severe consequences for farm states, for central Illinois and the entire Midwest."
But even a one-year extension of the the ethanol tax credit, even at a lower rate, would be good news to Illinois Corn Growers Association Board President Jim Reed. Reed said the tax credit has been key to making ethanol available to consumers, but he said it is time to look for a different way to encourage ethanol production, and an extension would give the industry time to do that.
"By it being extended a year," Reed said. "That really gives us the opportunity to stand back and think about what we can do to increase access to ethanol and make it more available to the consumer, and really do what we can help us limit that importation of the foreign oil."
But Clark Bullard with the Prairie Rivers Network said he does not care for the proposed extension of ethanol tax credits. The U of I Engineering professor said so much of the corn crop goes to making ethanol that corn prices are up, leading to higher food prices and environmental abuses.
"It has given farmers tremendous incentives to clear the last little strip of wildlife habitat, and ... bring highly erodible land into production, just to get more acres of corn at this higher price," Bullard said.
Bullard said even if the ethanol tax credit was dropped, federal mandates for ethanol use would still keep production up to a certain level. He supports further research into ethanol made from ethanol made from grasses or wood chips as an alternative to corn.
The search for a site in Champaign to house a new high school continued Tuesday night in the second public forum with members of the Champaign school board.
The Unit 4 School District is considering seven spots in the city to build the new school to accommodate a growing student population and expand educational resources. The potential sites includes four plots of land near the north end of Prospect Avenue. Two are west of First Street and south of Windsor Avenue, and one is west of I-57 in Northwest Champaign.
The project, which aims to replace Central High School, would be funded with more than three million dollars in facilities sales tax money coupled with a tax referendum of at least $50 million dollars that would have to be approved by voters.
Jamar Brown's 9-year-old son is poised to one day attend Central High. Brown said with an influx of students filling up the school's classrooms, he is worried about the quality of education.
"Yes, the classes should be mixed, but just when you have 30 students, it's very hard for the teacher to effectively teach all of them," Brown said.
Brown said he is considering sending his son to a private high school unless a larger public school is built in the district. School Board President Dave Tomlinson said the district does not intend to eliminate any of the seven prospective sites from its list just yet. He also said that if plans for a new school go forward, Central High will not be torn down.
"There's never even been a discussion about we're going to get rid of that as a Unit 4 building," Tomlinson said. "We're going to build a new high school, and we're going to re-use the Central High School facility as something else for the district."
Questions about the project can be e-mailed to CentralComments@ChampaignSchools.org.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
Eric Jakobsson was sworn in Monday night as alderman of Urbana's second ward.
Jakobsson, who is married to State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana), replaces former council member David Gehrig. Gehrig resigned from the seat in November citing the work overload. Mayor Laurel Prussing said she appointed Jakobsson, a former University of Illinois biology professor, because of his honesty and ability to make sound decisions.
"Well, I've known him for many years," Prussing said. "I think he's an individual with very high integrity, and what I was looking for with a council member is someone who would have very balanced approach to things, not jump to conclusions, but be willing to listen to people and ask good questions."
Jakobsson said he is ready to get to work on issues like historic preservation and the prospects of setting up a wind farm located outside the city on the University of Illinois campus in South Farms.
"One of the things that I welcome about it is the opportunity to be more fully engaged with the community," Jakobsson said.
At his first council meeting as an elected official Monday night, Jakobsson heard a spirited debate about the proposal for setting up the wind farm. While the project would not be based within Urbana, it would be close enough where city officials can enforce a zoning ordinance. The project has an estimated budget of about $4.5 million dollars, but supporters of the plan raised doubts over whether it would be economically feasible to construct three wind turbines as originally proposed.
Groups touting the plan, including the U of I's Students for Environmental Concerns, shared their voice of support for the project's environmental benefits while property owners raised concerns about the proximity of the wind turbines to their land.
A $2 million grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation would help set up the wind turbines, but that grant is slated to expire in May, leaving less time to make last minute changes to the project. Jakobsson said the city wants to see this project become a reality, but he said officials need to explore its impact on the entire community, including residential areas where noise pollution could become a big problem as a result of the wind turbines.
"When the city is given responsibility over an area, the city can't neglect that and the city won't, I'm sure," he said.
Jakobsson plans to stay on the council on a more permanent basis, which is why he is running in next year's city council race against Brian Dolinar of the Independent Media Center. Since both candidates are Democrats, a Feb. 22 primary will determine whose name appears on the ballot.
Democrat Pius Weibel will head the Champaign County Board for another two years.
He and Democrat Tom Betz were re-elected as chair and vice chair on party-line votes of 14 to 12 Monday night, besting Republican nominees Alan Nudo and Jonathan Schroeder. One member, Democrat Geraldo Rosales, was absent. Weibel said the keeping the budget tight as possible remains the top priority, and he said the mere size of the board, 27 members, gives off the impression that things are not being accomplished.
"We've gotten many things done," Weibel said. "We've built new buildings, we've changed some old buildings into new things. We've changed structure. We've done a lot of things. I think the problem is because we have so many people, people think with wll these voices, that's why we're dysfunctional - like a big family vs. a small family."
Weibel said he expects the county board to begin discussion a week from Tuesday on reducing the board from 27 to 22 members, while boosting the number of districts from 9 to 11. On November 2nd, voters overwhelmingly approved an advisory referendum supporting the change. The changes would take effect with redistricting, for the 2012 election.
At least two new County Board members are ready to consider the change. However, Stephanie Holderfield said the effectiveness of reducing the size will rely largely on communication. The District 1 Republican from Mahomet said now that constituents have spoken, it is up to her and other board members outside of Champaign and Urbana to have a voice.
"I think it's going to depend on how the county board representative communicates with the township supervisors, and the community is one and a half miles outside the town limits," Holderfield said. "That's what my job is. My job is to be a good communicator and good facilitator of the constituents one and a half miles outside an incorporated area."
Holderfield is the one new Republican on the board. New District 9 Democrat Christopher Alix says he is ready to advance the proposal as well, saying it will work as well as what's currently in place. He and Democrat James Quisenberry were also sworn in Monday night, along with Democrat Pattsi Petrie in District 6.
Former Indiana Republican State Senator Joe Harrison is being remembered as an icon and a mentor for many now serving in the legislature.
The 40-year Senator who served as majority leader for 25 years died Thursday in Chicago after suffering a heart attack while visiting his daughters. He was 79.
Senator and Majority Floor Leader Connie Lawson succeeded Harrison as Senate Majority Leader. In her first legislative session in 1997, she said no one was more enthusiastic to see legislators back at the capitol. Lawson said Harrison was eager to explain complicated issues to new lawmakers, having served on his pension and labor committee for her first two years.
"That's not an easy committee to serve on and the bills are not easy to read," Lawson said. "He was always eager to teach each and every one of us what those bills meant. I just remember the way he ran his committee was in a professional and efficient way."
Harrison shared some of the same legislative area as Lafayette Republican Senator Ron Alting when he first campaigned. Alting said Harrison was always a statesman, and never a politician - who acted in the best interests of his constituents, even when his decisions were not the most popular. Alting said Harrison would fight controversial topics head-on, adding that his efficiency helped taxpayers.
"He told you if you testified to get to the point," Alting recalled. "He focused right to what the subject matter was and say your piece and sit down."
Funeral services for Harrison will be Thursday in Attica.
Dozens of people who don't want former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to be Chicago's next mayor are moving ahead with efforts to keep him off the February ballot. However, the man who moved into Emanuel's house and later decided to challenge him says he won't mount a mayoral campaign himself.
Chicago election officials began handling petition challenges Monday in the mayor's race including more than 30 objections to Emanuel's candidacy.
The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners has assigned hearing officers to his case and others wanting to run for mayor, alderman or other citywide office.
Opponents say Emanuel doesn't meet the residency requirement to run for mayor because he lived in Washington for nearly two years while working for President Barack Obama. One challenger is Rob Halpin, who had moved into Emanuel's Chicago home when Emanuel went to Washington.
Halpin said in a Monday statement that the challenges of running for office - starting with the cost - led to his decision to drop out. Halpin didn't mention Emanuel's name, but says he has no plans to endorse or work against another candidate.
Halpin made headlines a few months ago when he said he wasn't moving out of Emanuel's house, despite being asked to. Emanuel moved back to Chicago, but is living elsewhere.
Emanuel, a former Chicago congressman, moved back in October to run for mayor after Richard Daley announced he wouldn't seek a seventh term.
Sidewalk snow and ice removal requirements for downtown and Campustown in Champaign were put into effect at noon on Sunday (December 5th).
Public Works Director Dennis Schmidt announced that due to the snow accumulated during the weekend snowfall, property owners in the downtown and Campustown areas had until noon on Tuesday, December 7th to clear snow and ice from sidewalks. The deadline is based on the 48 hours warning period established by City Ordinance. Schmidt said through a news release that sidewalks that were not in compliance could be cleared by the City at the property owner's expense.
The downtown Champaign area subject to the Sidewalk Snow Removal Ordinance is bordered by State Street on the west, 2nd Street on the east, Columbia Avenue on the north and Springfield Avenue on the south. The Campustown area subject to the ordinance is bordered by Neil Street on the west, University Avenue on the north, Windsor Road on the south and Wright Street (which is also the Champaign city border) on the east.
Champaign's Sidewalk Snow Removal Ordiance is put into effect when snow accumulation reaches two inches or more.
A map and other details of the ordinance can be seen on the City of Champaign website (www.ci.champaign.il.us/snow).
A special write-in election will be held to fill State Representative-elect Adam Brown's vacant Decatur City Council seat.
Brown narrowly defeated four-term incumbent Bob Flider (D-Mt. Zion) in the November 2nd election, and last week resigned from the city council. Brown's resignation came after the election filing deadline, which means candidates interested in running for the seat will have to file as write-in candidates on the ballot.
If more than four candidates decide to jump into the race, then a special write-in primary will take place on Feb. 22 with the names of the four top candidates appearing on the ballot in the April 5 election. But if there is not a primary, then Macon County Clerk Steve Bean said voters will have to write-in the candidates' names in the general election. Bean said this will be the largest write-in race that has taken place Macon County in recent years.
"It'll slow down whatever counting process we have for whichever election we do this in," he said.
But before the general election, Decatur Mayor Mike McElroy will have to appoint a new city council member to fill Brown vacated seat. He has 60 days to choose someone following Brown's departure from the council. McElroy, who's up for re-election, acknowledged that it is possible he will appoint someone who plans on running for the seat in the general election.
"I don't know that it behooves anyone to figure that we just want you for five months," McElroy said. "If you're thinking seriously about it, then we want someone that's going to go on and finish out that term."
He said whoever he appoints will have to win the approval of the five current sitting members on the Decatur City Council. McElroy said he hopes to make a decision by next week. People interested in running as a write-in candidate have until Dec. 23 to file the necessary election documents with the Decatur city clerk. Unlike national or statewide races, no signatures or petitions are required for write-in candidates to be on the ballot.
So far, the only person to declare his candidacy is Macon County Historical Society director Patrick McDaniel, who unsuccessfully ran for the Decatur City Council last year. However, others have expressed interest in running.
An early morning house fire in Broadlands has claimed the lives of two young children.
Firefighters were called to the home on Logan Street just past 2 a.m., and worked at the scene for more than 3 hours. The two-story house was destroyed. The names of the one and two-year olds who died are not being released pending notification of other family members. Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup says an autopsy will be conducted in Bloomington on Friday. County Sheriff's Lieutenant Ed Ogle said the six members of the family were all sleeping in the downstairs living room in an effort to stay warm before being awakened by neighbors. He said the parents were able to get the older children out, but couldn't get back in to save the younger children.
The four other family members were not hurt. Ogle said the home was engulfed in flames by firefighters arrived, and spread quickly.
"We don't know how long it had been burning until prior to somebody noticing it," Ogle said. "That's what we're currently working with the state fire marshal's office on now to try to determine how it started, where it started, and what possibly fed it so fast."
Ogle said the fire likely started in a garage which is attached by a breezeway. Five fire departments fought the blaze, including Broadlands, Longview, Villa Grove, Sidney, and Homer. Water hauled to the scene caused the road to freeze up, which was closed until after 6 a.m., after an IDOT crew could spread salt in that area.
State Representative Bill Black has given his last speech on the floor of the Illinois House.
The Danville Republican was emotional in his final address to colleagues before he retires this month after 24 years, but it was not the fiery emotion that statehouse observers are familiar with, when Black would tackle controversial issues, sometimes screaming and slamming down his microphone.
Black kidded fellow lawmakers, complimented staff members and quoted "To Kill a Mockingbird" in his speech. He also reminisced about lawmakers who died during his tenure, citing a recent Chicago Tribune column that examined mortality.
"I prefer to remember the fun and glorious days of being able to walk beside them, work with them, when the sun was shining so brightly on our faces," Black said, his voice quavering. "God, I love this place and I love all of you. But as in everything there is a time."
Black was the House deputy Republican leader until earlier this year, when he was demoted by Republican leader Tom Cross for voting against his party on a borrowing bill. In his speech, Black saluted Cross and said he understood the demotion, thanking Cross for not taking away some of the privileges of the post.
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