Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 10, 2010

Furlough Days Planned at SIU Carbondale

Employees at the Southern Illinois University campus at Carbondale will be facing four unpaid furlough days during the current school year.

Chancellor Rita Cheng's office announced this week that an agreement has been reached with several unions on campus that will allow for the furlough days, as one way to close a budget shortfall. Cheng says other suggestions --- like requiring more furlough days for higher-income employees had been discussed as a way to make their burden more equitable --- but the idea was ultimately turned down.

"For example, if someone makes $30,000 (a year), a day is about $100," Cheng said. "For someone who makes $300,000, a day is $1,000. So there will be a difference of what people contribute, based on scaling of a day, rather than taking a flat rate from everyone."

Six unions on the Carbondale campus are still holding out for more information and options to avoid the furlough days. Leaders of those unions --- including ones for faculty and civil service employees - announced Tuesday night they would work together against the furloughs

Faculty Association President Randy Hughes said six campus unions are united in their intention to fight the furlough plan.

"All six of us will work to protect the rights of others to negotiate, to be free from any sort of unilateral or illegal action on the part of the university to impose administrative closures without bargaining in good faith," Hughes said..

The planned closure days are scheduled during student breaks in November, December, January and March, and won't affect classes. The university's student employees are exempt from the unpaid days.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 10, 2010

Champaign County Board Gives Redistricting Panel Preliminary Approval

An 11-member board that will redraw districts for the Champaign County Board has received tentative approval from board members.

The county's Redistricting Commission was supported in last night's committee of the whole meeting on a 23 to 2 vote. The concept of the panel is to have an open and transparent process for re-drawing boundaries based on 2010 census numbers. County Board Chair Pius Weibel selected the 11 names after interviewing 39 applicants. Democrat Brendan McGinty said it is unlikely that any other county board member would have chosen all the same names, but that's not his concern.

"I would have preferred to keep it completely non-political, but I do think that it's important to have some people on there with some experience at doing this," McGinty said. "It's not only the job of the other members to take into question how best to do this, but it's also our job and the community's job to watchdog how this takes place."

Republican Alan Nudo called this a groundbreaking decision for the county, state, and nation.

"This is not just a 6-month project, this is a 10-year project," Nudo stated. "The voting cycles from now through the end of 2020 will be affected by this. So we have to make sure that those seven citizens and the four County Board members look at it from the standpoint of what's right for the citizenry of the county and not the party."

The two 'no' votes from Democrat Carol Ammons, who said the group lacks diversity, and Royal Republican Ron Bensyl, who rejected it despite being named to the committee. Bensyl said he rejected two names on the panel, but other board members said they likely would have chosen different candidates among the 39 that applied.

The commission will consist of two Democrats and two Republicans from the County Board. Besides Bensyl, Republican Jonathan Schroeder, and Democrats Alan Kurtz and Michael Richards have been recommended. The seven at-large members include former State Senator Rick Winkel, former Urbana City Council member Esther Patt, and Unity High School teacher Diana Herriott of Sidney.

Meanwhile, a draft resolution has been prepared based on an advisory referendum approved by 74-percent of Champaign County voters last week. It calls for reducing the county board from 27 to 22 members, and changing from 9 districts of three members each to 11 districts of two members each. If the County Board follows through with the changes, they will take effect with the 2012 election. Board Chair Weibel said the next county board will likely review the plan in December.

Meanwhile, Weibel said he has not decided whether he wants to continue as County Board chair, but will announce his plans soon.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 09, 2010

U of I Administrators Vow to Set 2011-12 Tuition Early Next Year

University of Illinois President Michael Hogan said it is hard to say how much tuition will go up in the 2011-2012 school year, but he said students and parents 'won't stomach' another one of 9 to 10 percent.

Administrators plan to recommend the amount of that increase by January. The uncertainty over state funding the past couple of years has prompted the U of I to wait as late as June to approve the next fall's tuition.However, Hogan said administrators cannot continue to keep parents and students waiting.

"That doesn't work very well for us for planning purposes, and recruiting students," he said. "Because it doesn't allow us to tell students (about tuition), half of them get some form of financial assistance. So students that are applying here need to know sooner rather than later if they're getting in, and what their financial aid package will be. Or they go somewhere else."

Hogan made his comments following a presentation on tuition and affordability at the U of I Board of Trustees' Audit and Budget committee meeting. He said the drop of state support in the past decade has been 'staggering.'

Associate Vice President for Planning and Budget Randy Kangas said the U of I's appropriation is below what it was for the 1999 Fiscal Year, before adjusting for inflation. The university is currently owed about $320-million in state appropriations.

Hogan emphasized that last year's increase of 9.5 percent was one of the lowest tuition hikes in the country.

"So we've got to change the rhetoric of what we're looking at," Hogan said. "Rather than the one big bump (9.5%) to get a realistic understanding of what students are actually going to pay year in and year out as they go through a 4-year degree program.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 08, 2010

Task Force Looks at Home Stats to Close Champaign County’s Economic Gap

A Champaign County housing task force is studying the number of available homes in the area to identify housing needs and economic gaps that can be filled within the community.

The Regional Housing Task Force is made up of officials in Champaign County, Champaign, Urbana, the Housing Authority of Champaign County and the village of Rantoul.

In a preliminary report, the task force identified the city of Champaign as not having enough rental housing units in low-income and minority areas, specifically in sections of the city that border Urbana. According to the study, a five-year need exists for 127 additional rental units that are affordable to households earning less than $20,000.

The city's Neighborhood Programs Manager Kerri Spear said she hopes the report helps shed light on what can be done to curb homelessness in the whole county. Spear, who is part of the task force, said more rental housing units should be spread out across Champaign County to prevent the further concentration of poverty.

"Homelessness does not just impact one city," she said. "There's a need to create more affordable rental units."

The study also suggested that adding market rate homes to high poverty areas could help boost the economy.

The report also indicated that there is a surplus of owner occupied homes in Champaign. Between January 2000 and September 2010, a total of 4,129 new homes were built in Champaign County. Just in Champaign, many developers overbuilt "high end" single-family homes that are valued between less than $140,000 and more than $400,000, which has left about a three to four-year supply of extra lots within the city.

"So, there may be a surplus of housing units in one community," Spear said. "But yet if the people that need those units are in another community, do they have the transportation options available, or are there jobs in that area?"

Households with incomes of less than $20,000 were found to have a five-year surplus of housing units in Urbana and Rantoul.

The Champaign City Council will hear details about the report at its regular meeting Tuesday at 7:30pm at the Illinois Terminal Building. The task force then plans to present its findings during a public open house on Tuesday, November 16 from 5-6:30 pm at the City Building at 102 N. Neil St., Champaign.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 08, 2010

Higher Ed Funding Reform Panel Prepares to Wrap Up

A panel created by state lawmakers is wrapping up work on recommendations on higher education funding. The proposals include changes to the MAP financial aid program, and tying state funding bonuses for colleges and universities to institutional performance --- such as a school's graduation rate.

University of Illinois President Michael Hogan said he thinks his school will do pretty well on the institutional performance front. But the commission's recommendations will also include increased funding for higher education. Hogan said lawmakers will have to decide whether increasing higher education funding is important to them, at a time when state government faces a financial crisis.

"I think this is all part of a larger discussion we have to have with the state," Hogan said. "Because the real conundrum here is that the state can't afford us, but it can't afford to do without us. So we have to find a way to sustain the quality of the educational and research product we have on all of our campuses --- at a time when the state has no money for it."

Illinois Board of Higher Education executive director Don Sevener said the recommendations include requirements that colleges and universities don't sacrifice academic rigor in the quest to get students to complete their studies.

"We do not want to incentivize colleges simply to pass students along to get more money for more course completions or more degrees granted, if those degrees are not high quality and useful in the marketplace," Sevener said.

The Illinois Higher Education Finance Study Commission holds its final meeting Wednesday, November 10, at Columbia College in Chicago. Lawmakers want the commission's final report is to be ready for review by December 1st. The Study Commission is made up of lawmakers and educators, including Illinois State University professor James Palmer, an expert in higher education funding.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 05, 2010

Quinn Declares Victory, Plans to Meet Brady for Lunch

Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn said he and Republican opponent Bill Brady plan to have lunch soon discuss ways to "work together for the common good" of Illinois.

Quinn held a news conference Friday, hours after Brady conceded the extremely close race. Quinn said he hopes to meet with Brady at Manny's deli, an eatery popular with Chicago politicians. He said he was inspired by Senator-elect Mark Kirk and Alexi Giannoulias having a beer the day after their bitter race for the U.S. Senate.

Quinn won by less than 20,000 votes and says his campaign was "often underestimated."

The victory gives Quinn his first full term in office after replacing ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich nearly two years ago.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 05, 2010

Brady Concedes, Quinn Wins Full Term as Governor

Republican Bill Brady conceded the extremely close race for Illinois governor Friday to Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn, giving him his first full term in office after replacing ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich nearly two years ago.

The state senator thanked supporters at a press conference in his hometown and pledged to work with Quinn and his legislative colleagues.

"Illinois families need leadership and it is time after a bitter election that our leaders come together and unite for the families of Illinois," he said in Bloomington. Brady said he had called to congratulate Quinn on his win.

The Brady campaign had been searching since Election Day for possible uncounted votes to close the just more than 19,400-vote lead Quinn held.

But election results made it clear Quinn had won. An AP analysis of uncounted votes from absentee and other ballots showed Brady wouldn't be able to overcome Quinn's lead with all precincts reporting.

The victory means Quinn avoided the fate of Democratic governors nationwide who were swept away by a Republican surge.

Quinn won the state's closest governor's race in decades and has to tackle one of the nation's worst budget problems and a deficit that could top $15 billion.

"I have work to do," he said Thursday, the same day the state Senate put off voting on a borrowing plan Quinn wants to pay the state's underfunded pension system. "I know the people of Illinois want to make sure we get our economy back on stride. That's what I'm focused on night and day."

State officials have until Dec. 3 to certify all results.

Quinn has already moved on thanking voters Thursday at a Chicago deli.

"I think the people of Illinois know I won the election," said Quinn, who held on even as Republicans in Illinois claimed the Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama, along with a majority of the state's congressional delegation.

Tuesday's election was the closest Illinois governor's contest since 1982, when incumbent Republican Jim Thompson defeated Democrat Adlai E. Stevenson by 5,074 votes.

Unofficial results compiled by AP and released Thursday showed Brady trailing Quinn by a margin of about half a percentage point in an election where 3.6 million ballots were cast. That's a tiny difference, but there was no way Brady could make it up, the AP found.

Thousands of provisional ballots were cast in Tuesday's election, but experts say few of those will end up being declared valid. And if they are, most come from Cook County, a Quinn stronghold.

There also are tens of thousands of absentee ballots sent to voters that haven't been returned, as well as some that have been returned but not yet counted. Experts say absentee ballots that haven't been sent in yet probably never will be.

"When you get a few days out from the election, most of them don't come back," said Ken Menzel, an attorney with the State Board of Elections.

Even if all the absentee ballots wound up being counted, they would not help Brady close the gap if they followed local voting trends.

Exit polls showed Quinn received overwhelming support in the city of Chicago and had solid support among those from households with less than $100,000 income, labor union households and those with a family member who had lost a job in the last two years.

Quinn campaigned on a politically risky proposal to raise the state income tax by one-third as Illinois struggles with its budget deficit. Brady flatly rejected raising taxes.

Derek Rank, 38, of Chicago, said he voted for Quinn because he was forthcoming about the state's fiscal mess, even if that meant higher taxes.

"He was honest about actually having to increase taxes," said Rank, an information technology expert. "If you're saying you can eliminate the hole we're in without raising taxes, you're lying.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 04, 2010

FutureGen Alliance Returns Original Power Plant Site to Mattoon

The land that was to be the site of a futuristic clean-coal burning power plant has been returned to the community of Mattoon.

The area that was to have hosted FutureGen was given back Thursday by the FutureGen Alliance. Mattoon dropped out of plans for FutureGen once they were reconfigured by the Department of Energy. This announcement allows the community to market the 440 acres to other businesses.

Coles Together President Angela Griffin said four companies that are not being disclosed have already toured the land. She said the goal is lure something similar to FutureGen. It is estimated that tens of millions of dollars was spent to survey, engineer, and analyze the area.

Griffin said that money will not be recouped, but is not a total loss.

"The work that was done is still valid and good," Griffin said. "And so we're able to use that - the completed surveys and the completed engineering. And that all has value. I don't think anybody will be able to recover costs for dollars that were spent to characterize the site in any way."

Griffin also said putting a dollar figure on the amount spent would be difficult, since so many entities paid for the work, including the state, city, the FutureGen Alliance, and the Southern Illinois University Clean Coal Review Board. She said this news should provide some relief for Mattoon residents, and remind them they will be kept apprised of any plans for the land.

"I think (Thursdays) news is going to put a lot of relief in the hearts of people who gave one way or another to the FutureGen effort," Griffin said. "The site did return to the community. We do control it now, and we'll able to determine what goes in there, and the community doesn't have to worry that something will happen there that they're opposed to."

An informational meeting regarding the future of the site is planned for Monday morning at 9 at Pagliacci's Restaurant in Mattoon. Meanwhile, the FutureGen Alliance reported that nine communities met Wednesday's deadline to be part of what's called FutureGen 2.0. The host city to be selected early next year will store carbon emissions, working with a power plant in the western Illinois community of Meredosia.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 04, 2010

AP: Illinois Gov. Quinn Narrowly Defeats GOP Opponent

Democratic Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has narrowly defeated his Republican challenger, according to the Associated Press.

An AP analysis of uncounted votes from absentee and other ballots shows state Sen. Bill Brady will not be able to overcome the just more than 19,400-vote lead Quinn holds with 100 percent of precincts reporting Thursday.

Brady has said he will not concede until all votes are counted, including absentee ballots from military members serving outside Illinois. Brady said his campaign's collecting and evaluating data, and will wait until all votes are counted before deciding its next step.

"There could be mistakes, there could be other issues, there could be military ballots, there could be absentee ballots that haven't yet been counted," Brady said.

Brady estimates it will be a month before all that is sorted out, but even some of his fellow Republicans, like Senator Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale, say Brady's chances of catching up with Quinn are slim.

"Barring fraud, 19 thousand votes, because of the new technology, is a pretty big hurdle," he said.

Dillard lost the GOP primary to Brady by less than 200 votes. Dillard said if he had been the nominee, he would have won the general election. Quinn's campaign said the governor's lead is "decisive" and that it is time to return focus to state issues.

Quinn inherited the governor's mansion nearly two years ago when lawmakers ousted Rod Blagojevich after his arrest on federal corruption charges. He campaigned on a proposal to raise the state income tax by one-third as Illinois struggles with a deficit that could top $15 billion. The Quinn campaign released a statement saying the voters have spoken and "the outcome is decisive."

State officials have until Dec. 3 to certify all results.

(Photo courtesy of Elmhurst College/flickr)

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 04, 2010

Governor Election Uncertainty May Stretch into State Policymaking

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican Bill Brady are stuck in limbo instead of launching their transition or tackling a legislative agenda as the Illinois governor's race drags on.

Brady said Wednesday he's willing to wait a month for official results after all the votes are counted to see if he can overcome Quinn's slim lead, which had widened to about 19,000 votes at last count.

The uncertainty means Quinn may face the fall legislative session without any certainty he'll still be governor in January. That's a handicap as he tries to resolve a budget deficit that could hit $15 billion next year.

For Brady, it leaves him focused on the election instead of looking ahead to form a new administration should he win.

Democratic Senate President John Cullerton said the possibility of not having the election settled until early next month will not impact government business.

Categories: Government, Politics

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