Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 17, 2010

Urbana Motor Fuel Tax Passes, Will Take Effect Oct. 1

It will cost an extra 2-cents a gallon to buy gas in Urbana, beginning October 1st.

The local motor fuel tax proposed by Mayor Laurel Prussing last spring was approved by the city council Monday night on a 4-to-3 vote. The tax going towards street maintenance and safety will generate $340,000 annually. An escalator of 0.4 cents will kick in each July for three years, bringing that total to about $544,000 dollars by 2013, but the gas tax will be up for review each of those years. The vote among council members mirrored that of a study session a week earlier.

Alderwoman Heather Stevenson has always opposed the plan, saying this may actually mean she buys her gas and does her shopping elsewhere.

"If I'm in Champaign, I'm going to purchase items over there that I possibly could purchase in Urbana." said Stevenson. "So I think it's not about traveling a mile to save money on gas, it's about saving money... and spending money - tax dollars - in another area."

Stevenson says the council needed to explore alternatives to the tax to pay for road improvements. Urbana resident Bob Bosshart opposed it, saying it will hurt the middle income during the recession.

Alderman Dennis Roberts supported what he calls a 'gentle tax' but admits passing any off on residents during a recession is tough.

"It'll be reviewed, and it is important to be self-sustaining and take care of your own streets as a municipality." said Roberts. "But I also realize that all taxes are a burden to people who are using them, so this is not the easiest vote."

Mayor Laurel Prussing says other towns enacting the tax hadn't seen an increase in gas prices when compared to neighboring communities. She proposed the tax last spring because she says state motor fuel tax dollars haven't increased in 20 years, while the cost of road repairs have more than doubled.

The gas tax also earned the approval of AFSCME Council 31's Michael Wilmore, who says union members from Urbana's Public Works Department work hard to make the city a safe place to live and travel.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 16, 2010

LeRoy Mother’s Suit Over Her Sons’ Deaths Moved to Federal Court

A mother's lawsuit alleging that police delays led to her sons' deaths has been moved to federal court.

Amy Leichtenberg filed the wrongful death lawsuit in March in McLean County. It now goes to federal court in Peoria.

The lawsuit claims police in LeRoy waited too long to issue an Amber Alert after she reported that her sons were overdue from a custodial visit.

Nine-year-old Duncan Leichtenberg and 7-year-old Jack of LeRoy were killed by their father, Michael Connolly, in March 2009. Connolly then killed himself.

The suit names the city of LeRoy and several police officers. Their attorneys asked that the suit be moved because some claims of wrongdoing involve federal issues rather than state issues. The suit seeks $10 million in damages.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 14, 2010

Quinn Acknowledges Early Prison Release Report but Won’t Fire DOC Head

Gov. Pat Quinn says he isn't going to fire the director of the Department of Corrections despite criticism of its early release of prisoners in an effort to save money.

The report released Friday, written by a former Appellate Judge David Erickson and two Quinn aides, says the department neglected the most important consideration, the potential impact on public safety.

While Quinn has placed most of the blame on Michael Randle, he says he also takes responsibility for the mistakes. He added it is his job to find remedies for those mistakes.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady blasted Quinn for skipping the presentation of the report in Springfield. He called it "a dangerous abdication of responsibility'' for Quinn not to deliver the results of the report himself.

Quinn said he was busy at the Illinois State Fair and then at an event with veterans. He later held a press conference at a Chicago beach to answer questions from reporters.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 13, 2010

Former University High School Coach Expected Back in US to Begin Prison Sentence

Authorities say a former coach at Urbana's University Laboratory High School intends to turn himself in to authorities three years after being convicted of a sex crime.

It's believed that Yuri Ermakov, 28, has been in Russia since a Champaign County jury found him guilty of criminal sexual assault. He left the courthouse in August of 2007, and a month later Judge Jeff Ford sentenced Ermakov to 12 years in prison. The charge against him stems from incidents involving female students at Uni High, where Ermakov was a track coach. University of Illinois Police Lieutenant Roy Acree says the FBI has been tracking the Ermakov the last three years - and that federal authorities told him recently the two sides had been negotiating.

"Once they determined exactly where he was, the conversations started." said Acree. "I'm not sure if the conservations were with the suspect himself or his mother, but a couple weeks ago I was contacted by the FBI, and learned that they had negotiated for him to return to the country." Ermakov lived in Urbana with his parents before allegedly fleeing the US. He's scheduled to appear before Judge Ford at a hearing Thursday morning, and is then expected to start serving his 12-year sentence. But Chicago Attorney Steve Richards has indicated he'll file a post-conviction petition on Ermakov's behalf with hopes of getting him a new trial.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 13, 2010

Other Illinois Communities Taking a Second Look at FutureGen 2.0

Add Decatur and Springfield to the list of Illinois towns thinking about bidding for a role in the reworked FutureGen clean-coal project.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin's office says a number of towns have inquired since Mattoon declined to become an underground storage site for carbon dioxide from a retrofitted coal plant in western Illinois. Durbin's office won't say which towns.

Mayor Mike McElroy says Decatur is looking into how many jobs the project might bring.

Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin says the capital city will take a hard look, too.

The Department of Energy last week announced radical changes in FutureGen. Plans to build a new power plant in Mattoon were scrapped in favor of retrofitting an old plant in Meredosia.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 13, 2010

Blagojevich Jury Taking an Extended Weekend

Jurors struggling to reach agreement at the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich are taking three days off.

They are leaving the former governor, attorneys and other court watchers with an agonizing wait to find out whether they can break their apparent deadlock. There is no indication how long it might take for them to make a decision. And it's a wait that will be all the more difficult because jurors offered only the slightest of hints Thursday about what they've been doing in 12 days of deliberations.

The judge responded by telling them to deliberate further.

Since they began their deliberations two weeks ago, jurors have met Monday through Friday with weekends off.

A one-sentence statement from the court official didn't explain why they decided to take this Friday off.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 12, 2010

Blagojevich Jurors Say They’re Deadlocked on 11 Counts, Haven’t Discussed 11 Others

Jurors in the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich say they have reached agreement on just two of 24 counts against him. The judge says he'll tell them to go back and deliberate some more.

Late this morning he jurors said they have not discussed 11 counts of wire fraud. They indicated they have discussed the remaining 11 counts and appear to be deadlocked on them.

The jury had sent a note to Judge James B. Zagel on Wednesday saying they were stuck, and Zagel had asked for clarification. Zagel said he wants the jury to go back and discuss the wire fraud counts.

Blagojevich and his brother have pleaded not guilty to charges including trying to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 12, 2010

Durbin Has Small Stomach Tumor Removed, No Cancer Found

Senator Dick Durbin is recovering today after undergoing a surgical procedure that removed a portion of his stomach.

A release from the Democrat's office says a routine checkup a few weeks ago revealed that Durbin had a small growth in his stomach - the small gastro-intestinal stromal tumor was removed this morning at a Chicago hospital. Durbin's office says it appears the tumor had not spread elsewhere, and no cancer was found in Durbin's stomach or esophagus.

A spokesman says the senator could be released from the hospital and resume a light schedule in a couple of days and a full schedule in a week.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 12, 2010

Tuscola Says it May Revive Its Interest in FutureGen

The Illinois community that was runner-up to Mattoon in the race to get the original FutureGen project has submitted its interest in the revamped version of the pollution-control project.

But the head of Tuscola Economic Development, Brian Moody, says local leaders need a lot more information on what's now being called FutureGen 2.0. Instead of a brand new coal-burning power plant, the project now involves piping carbon dioxide emissions from other power plants to an underground storage facility. On Wednes+day Mattoon leaders backed out of FutureGen, saying public opinion is against hosting only the CO2 storage site.

Moody says his community needs to know if Douglas County residents would want the site - and if the US Department of Energy will follow through.

"Folks feel like, can we trust any of these folks or not?" Moody said. "To me it's largely about what will they put in writing and what they can solidly commit to, and is that a potential positive for this area."

Moody says raw emotions have led some area lawmakers to call the underground storage concept a dumping ground - he says it's already happening in the Tuscola area with natural gas storage and a coal-burning generator at a local chemical plant.

Moody says Tuscola would have to draft a new plan since they don't have an option on the land once proposed for FutureGen.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 11, 2010

Congressman Still Holds Out Hope for Mattoon-based FutureGen, Blasts DOE

Urbana Congressman Tim Johnson says he holds out hope the Department of Energy officials will visit Mattoon despite the community's desire to move on.

The Republican has been urging the DOE to reverse its decision since last week's announcement to make the city a storage site rather than home to a new coal-fired power plant. Johnson says Department Assistant Secretary James Markowski made a commitment to him Tuesday that Energy Secretary Steven Chu would still come to Mattoon. "He said he said he'd come here, so I can only take him at his word." said Johnson. "However, given the lack of credibity of the Department of Energy in this whole decision making process, their lack of transparency and lack of communication with me, I've come to not believe anything they would tell me. So the fact he said he would come, or at least his undersecretary said he'd come, is just about as believable as the fact he told us in April he'd keep us posted on an hour by hour basis."

Johnson has called the Department of Energy's decision an 'absolute betrayal' of lawmakers like him that have pushed for the FutureGen project for years. He says Coles Together made the right decision to reject the new FutureGen, adding that the reconfigured project involving a power plant in Western Illinois likely won't happen either. Johnson calls FutureGen 2.0 a bureaucratic effort to 'kick the can further down the road.


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