Illinois Public Media News
Gov. Pat Quinn has signed a new Illinois budget that will cut spending in many areas and allow the state's pile of unpaid bills to climb even higher.
The Chicago Democrat says he's doing his best to protect government services that help the economy, schools, health and public safety.
Rather than balance the budget, lawmakers voted to give Quinn special authority over spending. That means he'll decide which programs are slashed, which bills will go unpaid and which special funds will be raided.
Quinn said Thursday that he's using this authority to cut $1.4 billion in spending.
The past six months have seen Vermilion County's Health Department reduced to providing just a handful of services.
The transition to a minimum federally-certified facility means the department now offers only immunizations, emergency planning, environmental health, and the Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC program. Wednesday was the last day for the retiring Administrator Steve Laker, who's seen his staff reduced from 74 to 30 since the start of the year due to dwindling state funds. The department is still owed $600,000, and still has to pay back Vermilion County for a $300,000 loan. It also started furlough days a month ago, operating Monday thru Thursday. Laker says walk-in clinics for sexually transmitted disease, and family planning programs will be missed the most. "That's going to have a devestating effect on people," said Laker. "As far as real economic effects and perhaps social and financial effects down the road, due to unwanted pregancies. I can't send out a memo saying 'folks, it's a good idea to cease your sexual activities because you no longer have access to family planning services. I know it's not going to work."
Laker says Aunt Martha's Health Center in Danville is expected to pick up about half of what his department provided for family planning. But the federally-funded facility's director of health operations, Alice Sartore, says no one should be turned away, despite the limits of federal grant dollars. "Because just as any other grant-funded services, we know that our grant never covers the cost of the services." said Sartore. "But our adminstration here at Aunt Martha's is really in tune with the needs of all of the communities in which we operate community health centers." Aunt Martha's is based in suburban Chicago, and operates 18 locations throughout the state. Laker says he's been frustrated that he can't find a phone number for the Danville office. Sartore says the facility offers a toll-free number for all its clients, and those appointments with new ones in Vermilion County will start up in about two weeks. That phone number is 1-877-692-8686.
Meanwhile, Vermilion County's Health Department has hired a new administrator to replace Laker. Shirley Hicks has been with the department since 1985.
The state has come through with some last-minute funds for the University of Illinois as the fiscal year draws to a close.
That includes a payment of about $30 million reported Tuesday by Chief Financial Officer Walter Knorr. U of I Interim President Stanley Ikenberry says that brings the state's backlog of payments to about $295-million, when it was more than $430 million back on December 31st. Ikenberry says while Illinois still needs to address its financial crisis as soon as possible - the U of I is getting more orderly state payments, and that's a surprise. But he says university staff has done everything it can to receive those funds.
"Our finance people have been unrelenting in their telephone calls to the comptroller's office to seek the payment of the bills," said Ikenberry. "..and to remind them that we're out here living from hand to mouth, and that we need the payment of those receivables." Ikenberry will step down from the role of interim president this week, turning over the office to new President Michael Hogan. The 75-year old has served as interim president since January, and was U of I President from 1979 to 1995.
A change at the top doesn't mean University of Illinois Interim President Stanley Ikenberry is retiring just yet. He served in the office the last six months, and was U of I President from 1979 to 1995. The 75-year old Ikenberry will now see to it that a working group follows through with a series of consolidations and other cost-cutting moves. He'll report on the team's progress to new President Michael Hogan, who starts his job Thursday.
Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert talked with Ikenberry about that role, and other challenges he foresees in the months ahead:
State agencies and organizations are waiting for details on next year's Illinois state budget, which Governor Pat Quinn is expected to sign on Wednesday or Thursday. A group representing people with disabilities is bracing for the possibility its programs will take a hit.
The Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities is worried the governor will slash funding for home and community care programs.
Tyler McHaley says he's enrolled in the home services program. He fears cutbacks will mean he...as well as other people with developmental disabilities ... will get less help.
"The cuts will mean fewer hours in terms of having meals prepared for us, to go outside the home, for laundry....all the things that everyone takes for granted are being cut for us,", says McHaley.
McHaley says it could also mean providers may lose their jobs.
Nellie Logan is a home care assistant for the elderly in Springfield. She says she stops by elderly and disabled people's homes to help out with laundry and dishes.
"They're not going to be able to stay and be able to function as they need to be, as they want to be," says Logan. "And if these people have to go into nursing homes, it's going to cost the state a hell of a lot more than paying me to come help these people."
Logan says she doesn't think she'll lose her job because of job cuts ... but says lawmakers need to understand ... that people...many of whom can't live on their own ...are at the mercy of state government.
A spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Services, which oversees the programs, didn't want to comment on any possible cuts and says the agency is waiting to hear from the Governor.
Governor Quinn plans to discuss his budget plans during a 10:30 AM Chicago news conference on Thursday. Quinn has said he'll try to protect education, public safety and human services as much as possible. But he says because the General Assembly failed to approve new revenues, he has no choice but to cut the budget.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk says he's sorry for being careless and making mistakes about his accomplishments.
Kirk addressed supporters Tuesday in his first news conference since reports that he had embellished his military record, including claiming a prestigious award he didn't win.
The Illinois congressman says he isn't perfect. But he pledged he'll do better and that it won't happen again.
Meanwhile Kirk's Democratic opponent's campaign calls the Republican candidate's apology "hollow.''
A spokesman for Alexi Giannoulias criticized Kirk, saying the congressman wasn't careless as he claims. Spokesman Matt McGrath says Kirk "lied.'' McGrath contends there are too many inconsistencies for Kirk to claim he was careless.
Kirk also acknowledged twice being scolded by the Pentagon for improperly mingling politics with his military duties.
It's something his campaign had flatly denied just two weeks ago.
When a blogger disclosed a Defense Department memo referring to Kirk being "counseled'' for political activity while on duty, the Kirk campaign said the memo was "off the mark'' and that he had never violated Pentagon policies. His campaign called the document "a baseless political ploy.''
Kirk acknowledged today that he was counseled in late 2008 after he gave interviews about former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's arrest. He also says he was counseled for a Twitter post he said his staff made in July 2009 when he was on duty.
Kirk is locked in a tight battle for President Barack Obama's old Senate seat with Democrat Giannoulias and Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones.
Testimony from a labor union official shows ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich angled for job offers and other help from supporters of President Barack Obama.
The SEIU's Tom Balanoff says in November 2008 he acted as a go-between between Blagojevich and members of Obama's inner circle.
In a secretly taped call played at the trial on Tuesday, Blagojevich talks to Balanoff about Senate candidates, including Obama friend Valerie Jarrett.
Then the governor wonders aloud if Obama donors would give millions to start a health care advocacy group Blagojevich could work for.
BLAGOJEVICH: Yeah and then we can help our new senator, Valerie Jarrett, go out and push that. BALANOFF: So let me...let move this idea and...let me put that flag up and see where it goes.
Balanoff testified Tuesday he never had any intention of looking into Blagojevich's idea.
On cross examination, Balanoff acknowledged Blagojevich never explicitly said he'd appoint Jarrett in exchange for personal benefits or favors.
Balanoff also testified that state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias told him in passing, "Maybe (Blagojevich will) appoint me."
When Balanoff told the governor this, he says Blagojevich responded with a expletives aimed at Giannoulias.
Giannoulias' current Senate campaign says his comment to Balanoff about being interested in the seat was made "half jokingly."
Meantime, Balanoff says Blagojevich also dismissed suggestions that Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky get the appointment.
He says Blagojevich told him he wanted to pick an African American, so the governor said - quote - "If Jan could show me she had any ancestors who came over on a slave ship, she'd be fine."
A statement from Schakowsky says the comment "demonstrates Blagojevich's cynical attitude toward the African-American community.
An independent candidate for Champaign County Sheriff faces a possible roadblock in his effort to get on November's ballot.
Jerommie Smith of Sidney says he'll carefully examine the voter registry and contest a challenge from Stephen Frank. The Fisher resident is objecting to more than 1,000 signatures on Smith's petitions - claiming a number of them aren't from registered voters. Other claims from the former law partner of Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh include that the signatures are illegible, voters from outside the county signed the petitions, and that petitions were signed more than once.
Smith, who's from Sidney, says he expected an immediate challenge when filing the petitions, noting Sheriff Walsh hasn't had an election opponent. "I think that anytime you start getting competition, and you throw that out there, and if you can win an election by not having to a campaign, I guess that's what they're trying to do." said Smith. "The question I have is - who checked the voter registry to our petitions? All I know is that he (Frank) filed, and they're claiming an objection to this, and I don't know who checked them, who didn't, and I don't know if it matters or not. But our job is to go through it ourselves to see if their claims are valid or not."
The 3-member Champaign County Electoral Board has scheduled a hearing for Thursday at 1 at the county courthouse to hear Frank's objections. One of that's panel's members, Urbana Circuit Clerk Linda Frank, is the ex-wife of Stephen Frank, and has already said she'll step down for that hearing. Smith calls that an 'admirable' move.
Decatur has become the latest Illinois community to benefit from an update to more than 20-year old telecommunications law.
Governor Pat Quinn was in the city Monday, announcing it now has access to AT&T's super-fast mobile broadband network. Craig Coil is the President of the Decatur and Macon County Economic Development Corporation. He says the city has been behind the curve in luring in new technology, particularly for the business community - and that it's safe to assume to the announcement will lead to new jobs in Decatur. Earlier this month, the Governor signed off on a plan that updates a 1985 law, giving phone companies more flexibility to expand service. The measure allows the companies to change pricing and package deals without having to wait for approval from the Illinois Commerce Commission.
Coil says the changes are critical as everyone becomes more mobile. "The day of the land line is guess is, while not gone, certainly diminished over what it had been in past years," said Coil. "Our ability to take advantage of these techologies continues to be a critical factor, along with the ongoing ability of our community to communicate globally and more efficiently and more effectively, so it's a positive for everybody."
Last week, AT&T announced plans to add more than 80 cell sites in Illinois this year, along with the upgrade of 300 other sites. The company has spent more than a billion dollars to bring the 3G broadband network to Illinois.
As one University of Illinois report released last week looked at potential cost savings, another sought out ways to bring in money.
The chair of the committee looking at revenue generation says it was important to investigate ways to improve the Urbana campus' financial situation without cuts. College of Education Dean Mary Kalintzas says it will take a shift in the university's thinking to find income sources outside state tax money.
"We have a public purpose, we do research, we do teaching," Kalintzas said. "But we have intellectual capital that sometimes faculty capitalize on and commercialize, or other people take on and commercialize. But we've been so focused on breakthrough research and teaching that we have in the past thought that it's not our job, or it's an extra job, to take on the commercialization of the knowledge that we generate."
Kalintzas says it may take changes in state law to let the U of I get more return from its intellectual property. She says loosening those state-imposed limits may also help jump-start an online education program after the ill-fated Global Campus project. At the top of the committee's list of recommendations is an increase in out-of-state student enrollment while keeping the number of in-state U of I students level.
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