Illinois Public Media News
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn delivers his State of the State Address, Wednesday, January 13th, at 12 noon. WILL-AM will broadcast Illinois Public Radio's live coverage of the speech before state lawmakers in the House chamber of the Illinois Statehouse in Springfield.
Barbara Flynn Curie is a fellow Democrat in the Illinois House. She says she still supports the governor's call for an income tax hike to reduce the state's multi-billion dollar
"I do think that it's critical if we want to maintain services for the vulnerable, people who are our responsibility, we really have to do the job", says Flynn Curie.
Curie says she thinks the governor should blame the state's dire financial situation on the global recession rather than over-spending on the part of lawmakers.
Meantime - the top Republican in the Illinois House, Minority Leader Tom Cross, says there's more room for cuts in the state budget - before lawmakers talk about raising taxes. Cross says the economy is the biggest issue facing the state..And he thinks there are better ways to improve the state's bottom line than Governor Quinn's plan to raise the income tax.
"I think the governor and many of his colleagues on his side of the aisle, the income tax hike is the easy way to address some of these issues", says Cross. "The tough issues are the issues of reform."
Cross says the state should look to make budget cuts before raising taxes. He says that would save money - and help lure businesses into Illinois.
Changes made in the wake of the Kiwane Carrington shooting are now part of the Champaign Police Department's Use of Force policy and procedure. The Champaign City Council endorsed the revisions last (Tuesday) night.
The updated policy now spells out the combination of circumstances that must be in place before an officer may use deadly force on a citizen --- involving cases where a person has harmed, or is threatening to harm the officer or another person, or is threatening to use a deadly weapon to escape.
The police department's Taser policy is also clarified. New language makes it clear that Champaign Police do not use Tasers, but may call in other agencies with Tasers when they feel they are needed. Police Chief R-T Finney says even then, Taser use is limited, according to the situation.
"We had a situation where we needed to use a Taser", says Finney. "(The) agency came; the situation changed in terms of the person who was barricaded was utilizing some volatile chemicals in the house. And we opted not to use the Taser at that point. So, you know, we still have that control."
The changes to police policy come after 15 year old Kiwane Carrington was shot to death during a struggle with a Champaign officer last October. The shooting led to renewed charges that Champaign Police do not treat African-Americans fairly --- and pledges from the city council to improve police/community relations.
The changes were not enough for eight people who addressed the city council last night. They included Terry Townsend, who said the changes were only incremental, and failed to address deeper problems with relations between police and the African-American community.
"It is imperative that we do something to take the confrontational nature out of police community relations" Townsend told the city council. "And having these policies that you just can't make major changes because of constitutional or state law ... that you tweak ... that's not going to make the issue go away."
Some council members said they thought more needed to be done as well. District One Councilman Will Kyles says he saw frustration among both police and community members who did not believe that change was possible.
"That's the root of the problem", said Kyles. "That's what I want to work on --- not just having a discussion, but really helping, not only the community but the officers believe that things are going to change. Because right now, I don't think in my heart that people thing that."
Kyles called for more positive engagement between the Champaign Police Department and the community - including with some of the department's harshest critics.
City Manager Steve Carter said the revisions to the Use Of Force Policy may not address all problems, but were a step forward. Police Chief Finney says he doesn't think the policy needs any further tweaking. He says there are other police policies to address other concerns.
It's still unclear whether coaches like Bruce Weber, Ron Zook and other athletic staff would have to take mandated furlough days announced by the University of Illinois last week.
Intercollegiate Athletics spokesman Kent Brown says Athletic Director Ron Guenther is working with the department's legal counsel to quickly find an answer. Coaches may be exempt since their contracted salaries aren't paid with state funds, relying instead on ticket sales, corporate sponsors, donations, and media rights. But Brown says Guenther and the coaches under him are ready to honor whatever's decided.
"Ron's understanding is we would follow along with the furlough program as it's stated," says Brown. "The only question so far has been how does that affect some of the guaranteed contracts that are a little differently written than the normal academic professional contract." Brown says time is of the essence for basketball coach Bruce Weber, who's either coaching or recruiting seven days a week right now. But Weber said after a recent game that he would participate in the furloughs. Football Coach Ron Zook has been out of town and hasn't commented on the policy.
If the coaches did have to take furlough days, Brown says the amount of money given back to the U of I would be based on their base salaries of around $400,000, not the promotional appearances and other events that allow them to earn around $1.5 million a year.
The annual district report card for the Champaign School District shows that Unit Four beat the statewide average in areas like the graduation rate and ACT scores. But the district failed to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress under the No Child Left Behind Act.
The report card shows the district falling short mostly with reading scores for blacks, Hispanics, the economically disadvantaged and students with disabilities.
Deputy Superintendant Dorland Norris says teachers are increasing their efforts to help at-risk children.
"We're wrapping around those students," Norris said. "They're getting good classroom instruction, and then they're getting support from literacy specialists, coaches or interventionists, and whatever support we can pull in to wrap around all of the students that are struggling learners."
But Norris notes that federal standards for making Adequate Yearly Progress go up every year --- from 62.5% in 2008 to 70% in 2009 --- and with even higher levels in years to come. Last year, eight of Unit Four's 16 schools reported problems in making Adequate Yearly Progress. Norris says of that group, all but Booker T. Washington School is a first-timer. She says the other seven --- including both high schools --- were placed on the list for the first time, because of rising AYP standards.
Unit Four's annual report card is available online, at the school district's website, www.champaignschools.org. The district report card was formally presented to the school board Monday night.
Furlough days could be just the beginning of the changes ahead at the University of Illinois. Two top university leaders say the next few years could see a host of changes, as the U of I adjusts to diminishing state funding.
Interim Urbana campus chancellor Robert Easter says the state's budget crisis has forced U of I administrators to start looking at how they can maintain the integrity of the institution in the long-term, considering the financial problems they're facing. He says university officials are starting to hold conversations they haven't had for some time.
"Those conversations are around what are we really about, what are our key programs that we want to have as a part of our future. What do we want to look like in 20 years?" Easter said. "And how do we decide those things that we no longer do? They may have been important at some time in the past, they may still be important. But what are our priorities?"
Easter says he'll be meeting with deans and vice-chancellors on the Urbana campus this Friday to start work on designing the framework for those conversations. While their outcome is unknown, U of I interim president Stanley Ikenberry says he envisions a U of I five years from now with the same number of faculty or more, but with fewer non-teaching and administrative staff.
Ikenberry and Easter made their comments Monday night during a live interview on WILL Radio and TV.
As Champaign City Council members consider changes to the police department's use-of-force policy, an internal review is getting underway into last fall's police shooting death.
15 year old Kiwane Carrington was shot and killed as he and Officer Daniel Norbits were scuffling during a report of a break in at a Vine Street house. Police chief RT Finney had also responded and was slightly injured controlling another juvenile.
Champaign city manager Steve Carter is in charge of the internal investigation - he'll be assisted by two people outside city government - retired Urbana police chief Eddie Adair and retired McLean County judge John Freese.
Adair says their investigation will review the state police report into the shooting incident but won't change the outcome of that report, which led to a state's attorney's decision not to file charges.
"This is of an internal focus, looking at the training practices of the department and its policies and procedures as it relates to those only," Adair said.
Tomorrow night the Champaign City Council looks at proposed changes to the police department's use of force policy. City officials want to clarify for officers the right times to use lethal force.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says he didn't know why 48 inmates released early were back in prison when he talked about them last week -- and he didn't ask.
Quinn stopped a secret early release program known as MGT Push and announced that 48 of 1,700 inmates set free early were back behind bars because they violated parole rules.
The Associated Press found that at least 17 violated parole by committing violent crimes like attempted murder and armed robbery.
Quinn said Friday he never asked Corrections officials what the violations were.
The Democrat wouldn't say whether the public should have known about the crimes. He says he stopped the plan quickly and is reforming the prison agency.
Quinn was at an unrelated event in the Chicago suburb of Matteson.
Gov. Pat Quinn and Sen. Dick Durbin are applauding the s recommendation of a panel of Illinois lawmakers to close a state prison so that it can be sold to the federal government.
In a statement, the Democrats say that selling Thomson Correctional Center to the U.S. to house Guantanamo Bay detainees shouldn't be a political or partisan issue. They say it should be about "doing what's right for our troops, for our national security and for the people of Illinois.''
The Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability voted 7-4 Wednesday to accept a recommendation to close Thomson.
Only Republicans ... like Bloomington Sen. Bill Brady ... cast "no" votes. Brady, who's running for governor, says Quinn has botched programs to release Illinois prisoners early. He says it shows Illinois needs Thomson to house the state's own inmates. He points to an estimate that shows it may cost 350 million dollars to build a prison like Thomson today.
"But yet, our governor in all the great negotiating skills that he has, indicated he'd be thrilled if he could get 120 to 150 million dollars", said Brady. "This is something we can ill afford to give the federal government. We're not only giving them a way out on terrorists. We're giving them a facility for half of what it would cost them to build today."
Other Republicans on the Commission casting "no" votes were Rep. Patti Bellock, Sen. Mike Murphy and Rep. Raymond Poe. Two Republicans voted for the Thomson prison sale --- Rep. and Co-Chairman Rich Myers and Sen. Dave Syverson. The Commission's five Democrats all voted "yes" --- they are Sen. Mike Frerichs of Champaign, along with Rep. Al Riley, Sen. and Co-Chairman Jeff Schoenburg, Sen. Donne Trotter and Rep. Elaine Nekritz.
The vote by the bipartisan committee is nonbinding, and Quinn already has said he plans to sell the prison. The sale could be completed as early as the spring.
(Additional reporting by Illinois Public Radio)
Work could begin this spring on a new Christie Clinic facility in southwest Champaign. The Champaign City Council endorsed the project at its study session Tuesday night. It will be the first development to go up at the I-57 Curtis Road interchange.
Champaign Council members are welcoming the Christie Clinic project, even though it doesn't quite fit the zoning guidelines being developed for the Curtis Road Interchange area --- guidelines meant to avoid the strip-mall look of the North Prospect shopping district. Despite the discrepancy, council members decided that the Christie project is an important one that will get development started in the area.
But Councilman Tom Bruno says he expects the proposed zoning guidelines to still apply to all future development at the Curtis Road Interchange.
"Because a catalyist is a good idea for the area", says Bruno, "I'm willing to go along with these exceptions. But a future developer would be sorely mistaken if he thought my acquiescence to the Christie project would indicate that this is a starting point for somehow chipping away at the concept we have in mind out here."
Another reason the council supports the project --- Christie officials say that once it's built, they can start work on a major renovation to their downtown Champaign clinic.
The new clinic at the Curtis Road Interchange takes the place of Christie's ill-fated Clearview project, which was planned but never built at I-57 and I-74. Phase One will have 60-thousand square feet of floor space --- with future expansions planned up to 200-thousand square feet.
The Champaign City Council will take a final vote on an annexation agreement for the new Christie Clinic site next month.
About 11-thousand University of Illinois employees will have to take four unpaid days off work between now and the middle of May.
U of I administrators say furlough days have become unavoidable as the university faces a 440 million dollar shortfall in state funding. Administrators say the state has given the U of I only seven percent of the support it expected from this year's budget.
Interim president Stanley Ikenberry says no layoffs have been ordered, but departments are being asked to consider them because of a grim immediate future.
"Next year is not any more comforting," Ikenberry said. "So I think until we see the state leadership -- the governor, the leaders and members of the General Assembly, and frankly the citizens of the state -- rallying around a long term solution, I think we're going to be dealing with a mounting financial crisis."
Ikenberry believes the state will need to cut state spending and increase taxes to dig itself out of its budget deficit.
Chief financial officer Walter Knorr says the U of I has borrowed millions of dollars from its own funds - he says money from tuition, federal support and private giving have also kept the university going. "And indeed it's these other areas of the university that are giving us the liquidity that we require to be able to cope with the shortfall in funding from the state," Knorr said.
The four-day furloughs announced today do not affect civil service employees, but Knorr says their bargaining groups will be asked to put similar actions into their contracts. About 100 top administrators will take ten furlough days over the next five months.
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