Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 09, 2010

Quinn Extends Borrowing Power to Cash-Hungry Community Colleges

Governor Pat Quinn's signature extends the power to borrow money to Illinois' community colleges.

Earlier this week legislation that the governor signed gave the same ability to state universities - nearly all public higher education institutions are awaiting backlogged payments from the state, and many of those schools say the delays have prompted them to cut budgets and scrape to make payroll.

In signing the borrowing authority bill in Danville Wednesday, Governor Quinn said the two-year schools now have another tool to work through the state's budget crisis. Republican Representative Bill Black admits that the new borrowing power is only a Band-Aid.

"I know some of you in the media looked at the three bills and said 'this doesn't solve all the problems' -- no it doesn't, and I don't think the governor will give any the indication that it does," Black said. "But they're all small steps that we can take, and when the state gets back on its feet - and it will -- I think the bills he's signing today will help."

Two other bills the Governor signed Wednesday allow more frequent state payments to community colleges and let the state Community College Board limit some travel reimbursements. Colleges would still have to get the approval of their trustees to issue more bonds.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 08, 2010

Blagojevich Trial Begins with Jury Seated

The judge in the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has seated a jury.

Judge James B. Zagel named 18 jurors -- a panel of 12 and six alternates. The judge postponed an immediate decision on a request by Blagojevich's attorneys to dismiss fraud and racketeering charges against him. The former governor has pleaded not guilty to profiting from his power by trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's former Senate seat. Opening statements are now expected to begin.

The ex-governor appeared upbeat earlier as he made his way through the courthouse security and addressed reporters in the lobby.

Interest in the trial was high. The main courtroom in downtown Chicago and another overflow courtroom with audio feeds from the trial were filled to capacity.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 08, 2010

Ordinance Banning Indoor Furniture on Porches Heads to Urbana Council

An ordinance banning outdoor storage of indoor furniture was approved by the Urbana City Council's Committee of the Whole.

The ordinance follows a recent Urbana house fire that left 25 year old Ashley Ames severely burned. The fire started on a front porch couch. Fire Chief Michael Dilley says the ordinance is geared to limit overstuffed furniture such as couches, chairs and mattresses because its a large ignition source.

Dilley says outdoor furniture fires are not an isolated incident in Urbana in past years, and the regulation is not a restriction of one's freedom of choosing a lifestyle.

"We regulate lifestyle every day," Dilley said. "We have codes and ordinances that help people be safe, and this is just another one that over a period of years we've found that it's a problem. We don't just go out and pull something out of thin air. When we start having issues when people die, then we look at them."

Aldermen Dennis Roberts was the only vote in dissent. Roberts says people used to say quote "your home is your castle."

"It's possible, yes, that a fire could start on a porch because of a couch," Roberts told the council. "But does that mean no one should ever have a couch on the porch? I don't think so. I think we have to use common sense, and I think it's a shame that we're trying tro regulate people's styles of living outdoors."

The Urbana City Council will vote on the Ordinance next Monday.

In addition, Mayor Laurel Prussing says that June 8th 2010 has been proclaimed Al Johnston Day in Urbana. The veteran Urbana Police Officer recently retired.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 07, 2010

Governor Quinn Surveys Storm Damage, Declares Four Counties Disaster Areas

Gov. Pat Quinn has declared four Illinois counties disaster areas after tornadoes tore through parts of the state.

Quinn on Monday declared LaSalle, Livingston, Peoria and Putnam counties disaster areas. Quinn said during a visit to Dwight in Livingston County the declaration would help ensure the flow of state assistance to areas hit by tornadoes. The governor says he expects communities like Dwight and Streator to get federal help as well.

"We want to give everything we can from the state, but under these circumstances there are moneys available from the federal government for disaster assistants." said Quinn. "And I think very shortly we'll be filing for that." The National Weather Service says at least 15 tornadoes touched down across central and northern portions of the state Saturday night. The strongest was a tornado with 140 mph winds that touched down near Dwight before tearing through the town about 60 miles northeast of Bloomington. 14 people were hurt in the town, including one with serious injuries, and about 50 suffered minor injuries in nearby Streator. Dozens were injured and a number of homes and businesses were damaged.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 04, 2010

Arcola Homestead Savings Bank Closed by Regulators

State banking regulators closed the Arcola Homestead Savings Bank Friday, and turned it over to the federal regulators. But unlike many failed banks, Arcola Homestead will not be opening under a new name.

FDIC spokesman David Barr says Arcola Homestead Savings Bank will be closing for good.

"More than nine out of ten bank failures result in a transition over to a new ownership group", says Barr. "However, in this case, Homestead was one of the four or five percent of the bank failures we've seen, where we haven't been able to find a buyer."

But Barr says Homestead depositors will still be getting their money back. He says checks for all insured deposits will be mailed to account owners, starting on Monday. In addition, Homestead depositors have the option of transferring the checking and NOW accounts over to the First Mid-Illinois Bank in Arcola. Barr warns that account holders will have to go over to the First Mid-Illinois branch in Arcola to make the switch --- and that checks from their Homestead checkbooks are no longer valid.

The FDIC says 81 federally insured banks have failed so far this year. Arcola Homestead Savings Bank 12th Illinois bank to fail.The federal agency says the bank had about $17 million in assets and $18.1 million in deposits, as of March 31st.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 03, 2010

Another Year of Status Quo for IL Legislator Scholarship Program

A bill designed to change Illinois' often-abused legislative scholarship program is heading nowhere, and that means lawmakers may avoid one more touchy vote before the fall election.

The Senate faces a deadline next week to consider Gov. Pat Quinn's veto of the measure. But a spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton says senators have no plans to return to the Capitol by then.

Cullerton is a Chicago Democrat who sponsored a series of restrictions on the scholarships rather than support an outright ban passed by the House.

Quinn vetoed Cullerton's proposal on May 11, saying he preferred to eliminate the program.

Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon says this particular bill is dead but the issue isn't.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 03, 2010

Jurors Answer Judge’s Questions as Blagojevich Trial kicks Off

The judge in the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has begun questioning potential jurors for the case.

Among the first questions Judge James Zagel asked them today were whether they had read much about the case and whether they could set aside any preconceived notions about Blagojevich.

The former governor is accused of scheming to profit from his power to fill President Barack Obama's former Senate seat. He denies any wrongdoing.

One potential juror said she had seen the former governor's wife, Patti Blagojevich, on a reality TV show eating a bug.

Jurors were referred to in the courtroom by numbers only. Zagel plans to keep the jury anonymous until after the trial and denied a request by news organizations to reverse that.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 02, 2010

Blagojevich Corruption Trial Starts Thursday with Jury Selection

18 months after his arrest on federal corruption charges, jury selection begins Thursday in Chicago in the trial of Rod Blagojevich. The former Illinois governor is charged with trying to trade state decisions and appointments for cash and political favors --- including an appointment to the President Obama's old Senate seat.

A University of Illinois law professor says a major point of contention in the Blagojevich trial will be the link between favors granted by the former governor and requests for campaign donations and favors.

Professor Andrew Leipold says he thinks arguments by the defense will not focus on what Blagojevich said, but on what those statements mean.

"When the former governor said X, did he mean, 'and if you don't give me money I won't do it', says Leipold. "Or was he discussing two different topics: 'I'm prepared to do this'; and perhaps separately, 'Are you going to be contributing to my campaign, because we're doing a lot of good work, and I would value your support'."

Leipold says that question will make testimony by someone like former Blagojevich aide Lon Monk especially important ... because he would be in a position to know the former governor's intentions. Monk is cooperating with federal prosecutors in the Blagojevich trial.

Meanwhile, while opening arguments in the trial are still days away, Blagojevich has been make his cause before the public,w ith TV and radio appearances, and the publication of a book.

Leipold says it's an unusual move for a defendant in a trial.

"The notion that your client would be out going on talk shows and on the radio and on reality television is normally not something that defense lawyers would encourage", says Leipold. "Anything the governor says in any of his many, many, many public appearances are fair game, in the sense that if he says something that turns out to be different that what he says at trial, then he's subject to impeachment by that."

And Leipold says it's clear that Blagojevich intends to testify in his own defense at the trial. It will be Blagojevich's word against his words recorded in wiretapped conversations that prosecutors say show the former governor engaging in a "public corruption crime spree".

But Leipold says he expects the defense to argue that Blagojevich's requests for money and political favors were not connected to any of his actions as governor.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 02, 2010

Champaign County Board Members Are In No Hurry To Come Agreement with Employee Unions

Two Democratic Champaign County Board members say there's been a real sense of cooperation with employee unions as the county seeks out more than a million dollars in cuts.

Both Labor Subcommittee Chair Sam Smucker and committee member Brendan McGinty say there's no sense of urgency in getting an agreement approved. 127 employees, including 70 union workers, are expected to take furlough days in the next fiscal year. Smucker says the county is trying to avoid layoffs, and without naming specifics, says both sides have discussed a number of other mechanisms to make up for a lack of state funds. "I think all of them have been discusseed publicly and privately, and again, the thing that's most heartening is I think the employees really do recognize the situation that the county's in and are coming to the table with that sort of seriousness."

McGinty says departments did a good job of avoiding layoffs and furloughs last year by trimming travel and training budgets. And he says department heads have left the equivalent of one payroll off their budgets for the last six months. "They handled that in different ways," said McGinty. "But we've done it, for all intents and purposes, with minimal impact to our work force. And that's been a real show of cooperative spirit between the employees and department heads and elected officials."

Smucker says he hopes any additional cost-saving measures will put Champaign County in a position to provide regular raises a couple of years from now. The majority of the union workers impacted by furloughs are clerical staff. Another $600,000 in cuts may be required, but county officials are waiting to see if the flow of funds from state appropriations and county fees improve.

The Champaign County Board's Labor Subcommittee meets again Thursday afternoon.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 02, 2010

Blagojevich Trial Will Go On Despite Defense Request

A federal judge in Chicago today turned down a last-minute request for a delay in former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial and told his attorneys to get ready to start picking a jury tomorrow.

The impeached Illinois governor's racketeering and fraud trial is set to get under way following 18 months of skirmishing in the courts and the media.

Blagojevich and his brother, Nashville, Tenn., businessman Robert Blagojevich, have pleaded not guilty. They're accused of scheming to profit from the governor's power to fill the U.S. Senate seat that President Barack Obama vacated following his November 2008 election.

Blagojevich's lawyers contend they've been swamped by as many as nine million pages of documents, 270 hours of tapes and summaries of interviews with more than 700 people. They say they haven't had time to prepare.


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