Illinois Public Media News
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.
University of Illinois trustees will vote Thursday (May 20th) to confirm the schools' incoming president and to raise tuition. But first ... a trio of legislators and union members will protest.
Michael Hogan will make $620,000 a year as the U of I's president. The last Illinois president. B. Joseph White, made $450,000.
State Senator Marty Sandoval of Cicero is one of several Democrats who say Hogan should forgo the hike. He says it will start Hogan off on the wrong foot ... given that the school's set to increase tuition by 9.5%.
"Everyone has been very public about holding the line on cost", says Sandoval. "And ... it's just apparent that the board of the University of Illinois, and President Hogan just don't get it. That people are hurting."
Sandoval wants a tuition freeze. The SEIU union says when its members are asked to take furloughs and accept layoffs, the university's top administrator should set an example. University spokesman Tom Hardy defends Hogan's package as comparable with peer institutions. Hardy says the pay is what's needed to get the best person for the job.
The state of Indiana says the boyhood home of famed World War II journalist Ernie Pyle will no longer be a state historic site, but its supporters say the battle to reopen it hasn't ended.
The home in the Vermilion County town of Dana has been closed to visitors since January. The state Department of Natural Resources has put off a vote to de-access the property - in other words, to sell or reassign the frame house, a Quonset hut and the exhibits on the site. Spokesman Phil Bloom says the museum attracted few visitors and wasn't economically viable.
But Phil Hess, who heads the group Friends of Ernie Pyle, contends that the state didn't give the museum a fair chance when it laid off the site administrator.
"That was the first position lost, and the staff was cut periodically through the whole time to where the Ernie Pyle site was down to only 1/6 the hours of the average of the other sites in the Indiana system," said Hess. "We were kind of predestined to fail."
Now that the DNR has postponed a decision on disposing of the property until November, Hess says his group will ask the governor's office to reverse the closure decision. Hess claims museum donors were led to believe the exhibits would remain in Dana. DNR officials have proposed moving the most important Ernie Pyle memorabilia to the state museum in Indianapolis.
Recycling pickup for multi-family housing will come to Champaign next year, under an item approved for the new city budget.
In a tight budget year, Champaign officials are counting on user fees to pay for recycling pickups at multi-family buildings. The fee is expected to be 2 to 3 dollars per month per dwelling, or per person in shared housing such as fraternities and sororities.
City Councilwoman Deb Feinen says she's waited a long time for Champaign apartment dwellers be able to get recycling pickup, which has been offered in Urbana for years.
"When I got on Council, I was basically told by some other council members, 'no way, not gonna happen, we've voted on that before, go away, I don't wanna talk to you about it'", says Feinen. "I am delighted that we are now in a situation, four years later, to see multi-family recycling."
Apartment building owners in Champaign were always allowed to contract for recycling pickup on their own. But the budget item approved Tuesday night requires the service at all multi-family dwellings citywide.
The recycling issue was part of a review of the proposed city budget which Champaign City Council members wrapped up Tuesday night. They'll take a final vote in June.
The renovation of an old warehouse on Champaign's north end will mean the end of a mural celebrating local African-American history.
The Champaign City Council approved a special use permit Tuesday night that will allow Sullivan Plumbing to convert and expand a one-story warehouse at 5th and Park into a two-story building with both office and apartment space.
But the conversion will cover up the African-American history mural painted on the building's north wall in 1978. Dave Monk was among those involved in the mural project, which he says helped bring white and black together.
"It has connotations of not only local interest, but a demonstration at the national level of how we could interact on the fringe of black-white communities", Monk told council members.
Monk said a way might be found to preserve the mural, if Champaign council members would delay their vote. But the council approved the special use permit unanimously.
Councilman Tom Bruno noted that the mural's creator, Angela Rivers, had told the News-Gazette that it would be too expensive to restore the badly faded work.
"It would be nice if this mural could be preserved", said Bruno. "But it would be even nicer if this building could improve that neighborhood. And perhaps we can't have both."
However, other council members said they hoped the mural would be well-documented for history's sake.
Signs will soon go up along streets leading into Urbana that tell people their bicycles are welcome.
The purple signs recognize Urbana's new designation as a bike-friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists.
Public Works Director Bill Grey says the signs send an important message.
"It does send a message that this is a town that is accommodating bicycling as a mode of transportation", says Grey. And we're implementing the facilities to do so, and the education and enforcement that go along with that. And encouragement of people to want to get out of their cars , or seek this as a viable mode of transportation."
City councilman and avid cyclist Charlie Smyth says the designation is important for Urbana because of the estimated 8 percent of city residents who use bikes to get to work. Smyth says that's according to the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission. And he says it's important for the city to upgrade its designation from bronze to silver-level. Smyth says that will require more and better bicycle education programs in Urbana --- and better connections between bike paths.
Champaign has not been named a Bicycle Friendly Community --- but the League of American Bicyclists did name Champaign city government a Bicycle Friendly Business.
New contracts for residential recycling pickup in Urbana are on hold, until the city council gets answers about why apartment dwellers would be able to recycle more materials than those who live in single-family homes
The extra material in question is number six polystyrene plastic. Urbana-based Community Resource is offering to pick up the hard-to-recycle plastic --- except for foam --- in its winning bid for multi-family recycling in the city. But ABC Sanitary Hauling of Champaign would NOT recycle Number Six, under its winning bid to continue as Urbana's single-family curbside recycler.
Alderman Charlie Smyth says he wants both residential recycling programs in Urbana to accept Number Six Plastic.
"Because really, it's confusing to have one program doing more than the other", says Smyth. "I'll just as soon put my stuff in Multi-Family, because I'll be able to more. I want to be able to put all my plastic film and #6 plastic in, and not have to worry about checking all the stupid numbers. If I just know I can put every bit of plastic in the barrel, I'm going to be happy."
The Urbana City Council was set to vote on both the curbside and multi-family recycling bids Monday night. But now the issue goes back to the city council's Committee of the Whole for more discussion.
Urbana's proposed budget doesn't include any tax hikes, but eliminates raises and leaves a number of jobs vacant in order to do that.
The city will also rely on $6 million in reserves to balance the budget. Mayor Laurel Prussing says the $48 million dollar proposed spending plan also relies on fine and fee hikes from the past year. The city will leave seven jobs unfilled, including a police officer, a public works maintenance worker, and an executive assistant job that's being eliminated for good. Prussing says one area of revenue - the state motor fuel tax... really hasn't changed in 20 years, and suggests the city should enact its own. She says a 2-cent tax would bring a half-million dollars a year for street improvements. "This is something that has to be discussed with the council, and I'd like to talk about it with Champaign," said Prussing. "But I think it's something that Urbana really has to take seriously because we have a need for this and I think since we'd only be asking for a fairly modest amount, we'll have to see what the public thinks." Prussing says a 5-cent motor fuel tax has worked well in Danville, where residents don't mind spending the extra money to upgrade streets.
Mayor Prussing says she's also concerned about what courts decide on Provena Covenant Medical Center's tax exemption. She says if local hospitals provide enough charitable care to be exempt, then Urbana taxpayers are paying for it. She says that doesn't seem fair for the city to pick up that cost. Urbana's city council gets its first look at the budget plan on May 24th - a final vote on the plan will be on June 21st.
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