Illinois Public Media News
Gov. Pat Quinn isn't saying exactly how he plans to cut state spending to close the multibillion dollar budget gap --- only that he's going to.
Just days after Illinois lawmakers left many key spending decisions up to Quinn, the governor said Tuesday only that he's willing to make the tough cuts that lawmakers are unwilling to make.
But when pressed for details, Quinn talked only about how some costs will be trimmed through furlough days for lawmakers and himself and a reduction in travel expenses for state workers. Those steps don't come close to closing a $13 billion budget shortfall.
Quinn was clear on what he does not want to cut and hopes he won't have to cut much: education, public safety, human services and health care.
That would rule out cuts to most of the state budget.
After 17 years, the Champaign Liquor Advisory Commission is no more. The Champaign City Council voted 8-0 Tuesday night to dissolve the panel set up to advise council members on changes to the Champaign liquor code.
Issued discussed by the Liquor Advisory Commission in recent years include Unofficial St. Patrick's Day, package liquor deliveries, and regulations for nuisance parties. But the commission -- which was made up of six Champaign liquor license holders, two University of Illinois representatives and a city council member --- canceled many of its monthly meetings, and held actual meetings just four times in the past year. The Liquor Advisory Commission had never exercised its powers to hold hearings or inspect bars and liquor stores. Champaign Mayor and Liquor Commissioner Jerry Schweighart says the panel no longer serves a useful purpose.
"They only meet once a month for what, an hour, hour and a half", says Schweighart. "Some of these issues drug on for a long time with the LAC studying them. On some of these things, I need a quicker response. So I think I can get that quicker response by using direct communication with all the license holders."
Schweighart says the Liquor Advisory Commission canceled many meetings, because there were few issues for them to discuss. "And they were getting frustrated with that", adds the mayor. "I know that some of the commissioners were disgusted with the fact that they'd spend so much time on an issue, and then the council would just totally out-of-hand reject it. So, there was frustrations on both parts."
No Liquor Advisory Commissioners or other liquor license holder spoke up about the vote to disband the panel during the council meeting.
Schweighart says he'll keep in touch with liquor license holders by mail and email, and reach out to members of the now defunct commission informally when he needs their input. In the meantime, the mayor says he's looking at phasing out some other city commissions he thinks are no longer needed.
The Urbana Park District and the public will spend the next few months poring over three separate proposals for a new outdoor pool.
A team of consultants is putting together those three plans, along with what it would cost to build and operate each of them. Park District Executive Director Vicki Mayes says public input has already been a large part of replacing Crystal Lake Pool. She says the park district will soon be taking comments on these three proposals on line ,and through its 'neighborhood nights' events held around town this summer. Mayes says the goal of a new pool is making it unique to Urbana, striking a balance for its younger and older users. "Features that attract and are really positive for families who have children," said Mayes. "And also to hold onto those folks that are core users, which are fitness swimmers, swim lessons. It will be some combination of traditional pool elements - definitely a zero depth, which is an easy entry element."
Mayes says amenities like the 'lazy river' found at Champaign's Sholem Aquatic Center are likely too expensive for a new Urbana pool. Building a new pool will require a tax referendum, but Mayes says it's too early to say whether that will happen next spring when factoring in the economy. She says the district may also consider building the pool in different phases. At Tuesday's Park District Board study session, the board will ask consultants to come up with those three designs, a rough idea of their cost, as well as possible fee structures for pool admission. Urbana has been without a public outdoor pool since Crystal Lake Pool closed in 2008 due to electrical problems. The Park District hopes to have a new one built by late 2012 or early 2013.
Illinois lawmakers have approved a budget and returned home, but they refused to give Governor Pat Quinn all he wanted.
Over the past few weeks it became clear Governor Pat Quinn's efforts to get a tax increase were being pushed aside. Instead, Quinn pinned his hopes on borrowing nearly 4 billion dollars. The proceeds would go into public employee pension systems, freeing up tax dollars that could be used on various needs like schools. One problem was that Quinn was unable to convince enough legislators to give him borrowing authority. The majority party Democrats in the Senate still needed Republican help, and they didn't get it, angering Senate President John Cullerton. "We don't have any Republican votes like they did in the House," Cullerton said following the session.
The House narrowly approved borrowing earlier in the week, getting a pair of Republicans to go along. Cullerton says he envisions returning to the Capitol in a couple of weeks, before the new fiscal year begins.
The Senate failure means Quinn will have to try again or try to manage the state's $13 billion deficit with $4 billion to spend. Democrats could also vote to skip the payment altogether, a move Quinn says would be more costly in the long run.
As the Urbana City Council looked over the mayor's $48 million budget plan during Monday night's Committee of the While meeting, some members wondered if they should be making plans in case they need to make some mid-year spending cuts a few months from now.
Mayor Laurel Prussing's budget plan for 2010-2011 would freeze salaries and wages, and leave several positions unfilled. But some Urbana council members worry more cuts might be needed if tax revenues don't meet projections. When city Comptroller Ron Eldridge mentioned provisional plans for mid-year staff cuts if needed, Alderwoman Diane Marlin said she needed to know more.
"I'm concerned that these optimistic projections on revenue may not come to pass", said Marlin. "And I think it's my job as a council member to kind of think of more of a worse-case scenario, and at least about being prepared for it."
But Mayor Prussing was reluctant to release details --- in part because the staff cut scenarios name specific people. Later, the mayor said if they needed to cut more, they wouldn't just consider one plan.
"There isn't just one way of doing it", said Prussing. "We'd come up with many different things, and the council would have to decide what our top priorities are."
Prussing says her administration will monitor city tax revenues carefully, to see if mid-year spending cuts are needed --- and also watch for new revenue sources. One potential source is a local motor fuels tax. The mayor says Urbana council members will discuss that idea next month.
A Champaign Police officer involved in the fatal shooting of a teenager in the city last October has seen the appeal of his 30-day suspension denied.
Champaign city manager Steve Carter says the decision on Daniel Norbits was handed down on Friday. Norbits was given the month's suspension without pay last month. Carter said while Norbits didn't intend to fire his weapon, he failed to maintain control of it on October 9th when Kiwane Carrington was shot and killed following a report of a break-in. The Fraternal Order of Police then filed an appeal on behalf of Norbits, who said the suspension was unjustified. If the officer chooses to continue in the appeals process... Carter says the next step would be for Norbits to appear before an arbitrator.
An attempt to expand the state's early voting program to college campuses in time for November's general election is stalled.
Senator Michael Frerichs, a Champaign Democrat, wants to make it easier for students to vote before Election Day by letting them cast ballots without leaving campus. "You can go on campus and see long lines waiting to vote, and students stand there for a little while realizing, 'Eh, I don't have the time. I'm going to go off to my class'," Frerichs said. "And if we spread this out over a longer period before the election, I think that won't be as big of a problem."
He's sponsoring a measure that would begin a trial program at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Southern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, and Lewis and Clark Community College. The legislation requires county clerks to set up early voting stations at those schools. While the proposal made it through the Senate, it hasn't moved in the Illinois House. Critics, including Representative Chapin Rose of Mahomet, estimate it could cost counties about one hundred thousand dollars to set up the voting stations. Rose says communities shouldn't be left to pick up that tab when college students can already head to the polls on their campuses on Election Day.
The General Assembly is back in Springfield this week, with the House back Monday and the Senate in on Wednesday.
Legislators' main mission is to pass a new budget. The Illinois House will convene after an approximately two week long break to work on a budget with the same framework as the spending plan that has already passed the Senate. That plan relies on some cuts and granting Governor Pat Quinn extraordinary authority to make more financial decisions. It's expected the House could tweak it to protect certain programs and rein in some of Quinn's powers. An outstanding question is if the House will borrow money to make a $4 billion public pension payment, or skip the payment altogether. Democratic Representative Ken Dunkin of Chicago says either are better than taking money from social services and education.
"Some of us simply are not looking at reality," Dunkin said. "The reality is if you're in a jam, at this level, and this is a rare occasion for us to be in such significant deficit, borrowing or suspending payment to one year is not a bad option."
Also unclear if is there will be support to pass a cigarette tax hike to help fund schools. Democrats -- who control the legislature -- are aiming to finish before the end of the month. Thereafter, passing a budget will be tougher because some Republicans will need to get on board.
Furlough days for 127 employees are part of a mid-year budget cutback approved Thursday night by the Champaign County Board.
County Administrator Deb Busey says she consulted with county department heads and elected officials to find nearly a million dollars in cuts for the 2nd half of the fiscal year.
But Busey is projecting a total shortfall of $1.6 million for Champaign County --- due to continued delays in state funding and a drop in county fee revenue. She says she'll wait a couple of months before cutting any further.
"The remaining $600,000 is with the hope that those revenues will improve more than what the current projections show", says Busey. "And cutting a million dollars out of half a year's budget seemed fairly aggressive, and it's what we did at this point. "
The majority of those cuts are coming from Personnel and most of that through unpaid furlough days for county employees. For 70 employees, the furlough days are subject to negotiations with their unions --- a process Busey says is still ongoing.
The Carle Foundation is bringing more defendants into a lawsuit over the hospital's property tax status.
Carle has had to pay property taxes for several hospital buildings since 2002, when Champaign County and Cunningham Township officials ruled that Carle didn't provide enough charity care to be considered tax-exempt. The hospital appealed - that case is awaiting a ruling from state revenue officials. In the meantime, Carle sued the state, the county and the township claiming they improperly revoked Carle's tax exemption.
Now Carle's senior vice president for legal affairs, L.J. Fallon, says they've added the city of Urbana, the Urbana school district and the Urbana park district to the suit. He claims they should pay back their share of nearly $800,000 Carle agreed to put up in lieu of paying property taxes if Carle won its suit.
Fallon acknowledges this will put a crimp in talks over the tax exemption of several former Carle Clinic buildings - property that could also be taken off the tax rolls now that they're part of Carle Hospital under this year's merger.
"I can't imagine that the filing of this lawsuit -- although we tried to give them advance notice and prepare them -- I can't gauge whether or not they'll still want to have discussions about payment in lieu of taxes," said Fallon. "They, like us, probably want to see how this is going to resolve so that we can have some really meaningful discussions."
Earlier this year the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that another Urbana hospital, Provena Covenant Medical Center, was liable for property taxes. A Champaign County judge is set to hear Carle's latest motion Tuesday.
In a statement released late Thursday afternoon, Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said she was disappointed by Carle's decision to add defendants. Prussing contends that Carle never mentioned the concerns it outlined in the suit.
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