Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 01, 2010

Lt. Gov. Candidate Sheila Simon Talks About Education with U of I Students

Sheila Simon says improving education will bring more jobs to Illinois.

During a campaign stop on the University of Illinois campus, the democratic nominee for lieutenant governor said improving access to education will be a top priority if she and Pat Quinn win the general election in November.

She criticized GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady for calling on a 10 percent budget cut across the board to different state programs, saying public education cannot afford to sustain cuts that steep. However, during a campaign stop in Champaign earlier in the day, Brady acknowledged that some programs may see more drastic cuts than others.

Simon also praised her running mate, Pat Quinn, for supporting the $26 billion jobs bill passed by Congress last month. Quinn has said the money will save about six thousand jobs for Illinois teachers, while Brady said he would rather use that federal money to help the state's budget.

"State Senator Brady said, 'No, it's irresponsible.' I think we have a different definition of irresponsible," she said. "I think it's irresponsible not to support education in the state."

Sheila Simon also commended the Quinn administration for raising more awareness about the problems facing the Monetary Award Program. The MAP program gives grants to needy college students attending public and private schools, but has been turning more students away. Simon said it is critical to find a better way to support the program.

During her campaign stop, Simon also described her interest in working with community organizations to curb the level of domestic violence in the state.

Simon is the daughter of the late U.S. Senator Paul Simon. She was appointed to run on the democratic ticket earlier this year after Independent gubernatorial candidate Scott Lee Cohen was forced to drop out because of his personal life. Cohen is now running as an Independent for governor, along with the Green Party's Rich Whitney.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 31, 2010

FutureGen Alliance Agrees to Energy Department Changes

Companies that have worked with the U.S. Department of Energy in its bid to build an experimental coal power plant and store its carbon dioxide have decided to stick with the project, but the consortium said that a series of terms and conditions will have to be met this fall.

The Alliance wants to build and operate a pipeline that would be part of recent Energy Department changes, and they want to run the site where carbon dioxide would be stored underground. Alliance Board Chairman Steve Winberg said in a press release that the group is pleased that the federal government and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) have been able to preserve the $1 billion in funding for advancing clean coal technologies and associated jobs.

"We look forward to working with them and our new partners in making FutureGen 2.0 a success," said Winberg. The original FutureGen was to include a power plant near Mattoon, but the Department of Energy replaced the idea with plans for a new plant there for storing emissions. The new so-called clean coal project will now involve a retrofitted power plant in Western Illinois. Mattoon withdrew from the project after the change.

Meanwhile, the economic official who led Mattoon's effort to lure and develop the original FutureGen project calls the Alliance a group of great partners with high integrity. Coles Together President Angela Griffin says she wishes the companies all the best as they plan FutureGen 2.0. She says the Alliance is investing in the project for the right reasons - bringing a billion-dollar project to Illinois. But Griffin says it's unclear what exactly the Department of Energy will be seeking in a new community to house a carbon storage facility. She cites a press release put out by the DOE last week for interested communities.

"There were no site parameters or project parameters that the communities could then look at that would then say whether or not they were eligible," said Griffin. "Now, largely in that press release it talked about 10 square miles of subsurface, and I think 100 miles from the Meredosia plant. But other than that, I don't know that communites have received any direction about what they need to have in terms of site features in order to apply."

Griffin says she spoke with the mayor of Marshall, who expressed interest in luring the new FutureGen facility. And she says the mayor of Taylorville had also shown interest. But Griffin says she hasn't endorsed any community to host the new carbon storage facility. Griffin says her group may cross paths again with the FutureGen Alliance, as economic officials in Mattoon pursue development of technologies at the city's site that address greenhouse gas emissions. And Alliance Chairman Steve Winberg says the site in Mattoon is 'excellent' for future commercial development.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 31, 2010

Brady Touts Jobs Plan, Backs off 10-Percent Cuts Pledge

Illinois' Republican candidate for governor says his plan for jobs would ultimately mean property tax relief for local school districts.

Bloomington Senator Bill Brady visited a machining facility in Champaign Tuesday to tout those plans. He says by introducing $3,750 dollars in tax credits for businesses over a 2-year period - and repealing the estate tax and gasoline sales taxes - that would bring 700,000 jobs back to Illinois.

Brady said 10-percent of revenue growth from those jobs will be placed into a property tax relief fund for school districts. He also refuted claims by his opponent, Democratic Governor Pat Quinn - that his more immediate plans for cutting education would actually raise property taxes.

"Ten percent of state funding on average to the school system is less than 2-and a-half percent reduction in overall spending," said Brady. "Now, there are many raises that are out there and contracts that might be negotiated to forgo for one year to meet these difficult times without pink-slipping or raising property taxes."

Brady also insists that school districts, universities, and social service providers would not experience the same problems they are now if they knew how much state money to count on in the first place. Brady says struggles at institutions like the University of Illinois are a result of state leaders "over promising and under-delivering."

The Senator has long pushed for 10-percent across the board cuts in state spending to balance the budget. But Brady said Tuesday that if elected, he will have experts audit the state's budget.

"Every dollar will be examined," said Brady. "Some programs likely will go by the wayside. Some will be examined. Some will be reduced. But we need someone to scrutinize every dollar of state spending so that we're utilizing the precious resources the taxpayers give us in a balanced way to focus on our highest priorities."

Brady said it is a mathematical equation that the state has to cut at least a dime in every dollar of spending, but wants to prioritize the remaining 90 cents.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 30, 2010

Champaign Asks City Staff to Develop Contingency Plans in City Budget

Champaign department heads and employee unions are being asked to develop contingency plans should rising costs and the poor economy force further cuts in services.

City finance director Richard Schnuer said the first $1 to $2 million in suggested cuts should be prepared by November, but he said departments could be asked to seek out an additional $4 million in cost reductions early next year. If the city has to act, Schnuer would not speculate on what areas could be cut, but he said that it is unlikely any department would go untouched. Schnuer added that employee compensation has become one of the key areas that could force these decisions.

"We had hoped that we would be able to have an agreement with the bargaining units to have a short-term contract that would have no increases to help us get us through this year, and hopefully, with the economy beginning to grow we'd have some more money for increases at at later time," said Schnuer. "But we have been bargaining for several months now, and unfortunately, that has been unsuccessful. We see that we will be paying some kind of increases."

Schnuer also noted that under Illinois law, police and fire unions can bring an arbitrator if they do not reach an agreement in negotiations. He said a number of parties at the state level want to reduce the share of income tax that goes to local governments.

"That would cut us close to $2 million based on proposals that have been made," said Schnuer. "We would like to think the state would balance its budget without reducing revenues to our city, but certainly, that may not be the case."

Schnuer also said the city is not counting on revenue growth in the current year. Schuner said there have already been more than $8 million in cuts in the last three years, primarily coming from city administration and public works. Proposals will be posted for city council consideration by November, but Schnuer said information will be available for the public review through the city's website as the process moves forward.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 27, 2010

Gas Leak Affects Downtown Champaign During Noon Hour

A gas leak in Champaign prompted the re-routing of cars and pedestrian traffic for about 90 minutes Friday.

Lieutenant John Millls with the Champaign Fire Department says an excavator hit a plastic line under the railroad tracks east of the Illinois Terminal building. The gas could be smelled for blocks when the line was hit just past 11:30, and a couple of businesses had to be evacuated. Mills says a crew was able to shut off a valve at Water and Chester streets just past 1. Firefighters left the scene at 1:15, and turned the scene over to Ameren for further repairs.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 26, 2010

Charges Dropped Against Robert Blagojevich

Federal prosecutors say they will not retry the brother of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges.

Nashville, Tenn. businessman Robert Blagojevich had been accused of scheming with his brother to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's old Senate seat and squeeze people for campaign donations.

A jury last week deadlocked on the four counts against Robert Blagojevich and 23 of 24 counts against the former governor.

Prosecutors said Thursday they made the decision based on the brother's less central role in the alleged schemes. But they have said they will retry Rod Blagojevich.

The hearing Thursday will also determine when a trial could be held.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 26, 2010

Engineers Focus on Design Phase in Latest Olympian Drive Roundtable

Another series of roundtable discussions on a proposed extension of Olympian Drive in Champaign County spent a lot of time on the design phase.

Engineers in Wednesday's public hearing in Urbana briefly ran through cost options of what's been identified as the first two phases through prior roundtables. Those are extending Olympian at Apollo Drive to Lincoln Avenue, and extending North Lincoln at Saline Court to Olympian. The full project calls for extending Olympian to US 45. The 60 people attending Wednesday night split up into roundtables on items like bike paths, wide medians, and installing roundabouts. But at least one elected official contends engineers have bigger issues to contend with first.

Champaign County Board Democrat Brendan McGinty calls the meeting a good effort, but says this issue is much more complicated. "There are going to be sticky issues regarding the sweeping 'S' up to connect Lincoln to Olympian," said McGinty. "Focusing on that to get the public behind that and the landowners behind that I think would be important. But, you know these are issues that would need to be addressed at some point. It feels like this is step 52 that we are taking now when we really need to be addressing step 1, 2, and 3."

McGinty says last night's forum also should have included talk on property acquisition, since it's been discussed among Urbana city leaders. County Board Republican Alan Nudo says he was impressed with the list of cost options, but says engineers need to do a feasibility study on the traffic in that area before deciding on a two or four lane road. Urbana City Council member Brandon Bowersox says he's glad stakeholders got to have a say. "There were no easy clear-cut answers, there were really a split of feelings, but at least it was good for me to see that everyone had a chance to come weigh in on that," said Bowersox. "That information will all be public, and all be available to people as we go ahead."

A longtime supporter of roundabouts, Urbana Mayor Prussing says she was happy to see support for traffic calming devices that cut down on accidents and save the cost installing traffic signals. Engineer Matt Heyen says Illinois' Department of Transportation has confirmed that part of $5-million in Illinois 'Jobs Now' funds can be used to extend Olympian Drive to Lincoln Avenue. The next public meeting on the project is expected this fall.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 25, 2010

UI Food Science Expert: Eggs, Chickens in Iowa Salmonella Scare Can Be Eaten

The Iowa farms whose eggs have been recalled in a Salmonella outbreak aren't saying yet what will become of their hens, but it's possible they'll wind up becoming meat for soup or other products.

Food safety experts like Bruce Chassy of the University of Illinois say there's no reason for the eggs or the meat not to be eaten as long as they're thoroughly cooked to kill any Salmonella bacteria.

The farms say they're already sending the eggs to be pasteurized and sold as a liquid product. Pasteurization should kill most if not all of the Salmonella.

Wright County Egg Farms and Hillandale Farms are the two Iowa egg producers that have recalled more than a half-billion eggs.

Both companies say they're waiting to hear from the Food and Drug Administration before deciding what, if anything, to do with their hens.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 25, 2010

Vermilion County Health Department Aims to End Friday Furloughs by October

The administrator of the Vermilion County Health Department said she hopes finances will allow her staff to return to a 5-day a week schedule in just over month.

Shirley Hicks said the Friday furlough days that started in June haven't reduced the volume of work. A lack of state funds forced the department to become a minimum certified facility that month, offering a handful of services, including immunizations, emergency planning, and the Women, Infants, and Children or WIC program. But Hicks said the department still has the same clients in those areas, noting the work has not been furloughed.

"High-risk restaurants - they need inspection three times a year," said Hicks. "Can you do all of those kinds of things? And what are doing on complaint calls? How effectively can you go out and respond to issues of communicable disease if you're not available three of seven days?"

At issue is continued budget problems caused by cash flow from the state. Hicks said in addition to that backlog of about $400,000, her department still owes Vermilion County for roughly half of a $300,000 loan made last year. County Board Chairman Jim McMahon said the county will help the department if it keeps the 4-day schedule, but not with a 5-day a week plan. McMahon said the funds that have come back from the state have led Hicks to believe that the health department can resume a normal work week in about six weeks.

"I don't share the same confidence, but at the same time, you have to let managers be managers," said McMahon. "So if you make that decision and go back to five days, basically what you're saying is you no longer would need the county board's help. So if you're saying that, you're back to five days - everybody's happy."

McMahon said if county decided to stick with the 4-day a week schedule, the county will provide 'whatever means necessary' to maintain a minimum certified health department to maintain services like immunizations and restaurant inspections.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 24, 2010

GOP Candidates Endorse Merging Two Financial Offices

The Republican candidates for Illinois Treasurer and Comptroller say they're confident that consolidating the two offices will not only save the state money, but be done in a system with checks and balances.

Former Treasurer Judy Barr Topinka and Pontiac Senator Dan Rutherford say merging the positions will save the state 12-million dollars by trimming jobs, office space, and saving communication time when investing money. Campaigning in Urbana Tuesday, Topinka says it used to be that way, when Illinois simply had a state auditor. A person in the office in the 1950's... Orville Hodge... was convicted and sentenced to prison for embezzlement. Topinka says the two offices were created for oversight, but adds that's what the office of auditor general is for now. "He (William Holland) serves in that function of oversight. Second of all, becase of the high-tech computerization, we have the same numbers."

If they're elected, Topinka and Rutherford say they'll actively campaign for the change before lawmakers next year. If lawmakers approve the change, it would require voter approval in November 2012. If the question passes, the single financial officer would be on the ballot two years later. And during their time in office, "Communication will be key," said Rutherford. "Because of our relationship, we will talk about when she's gonna disperse and when I can make funds available. But the thing is, someday Judy and Dan aren't gonna be there, there will be a different personality, and we want to have this thing fixed for the future."

Illinois' Democratic candidates for Treasurer and Comptroller, Robin Kelly and David Miller, have also gone on record supporting the idea. Kelly contends she first proposed merging the offices, but the GOP candidates say press reports indicate she was only exploring such a plan until recently.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

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