Illinois Public Media News
The city of Champaign isn't planning any major construction projects or improvements in the next budget year - but it doesn't plan any layoffs either.
However, the city still expects revenue to fall about $3.5 million short of needs, so it's cut about two and a half million dollars from the proposal for fiscal year 2011. That's not as deep as the six million dollars cut last year, but Champaign finance director Richard Schnuer says none of those cuts are being restored either.
"It's been a difficult year for us as well as for people in the community who are suffering the impacts," Schnuer said. "We've sure tried to continue to provide the services that contribute to the high quality of life in the city. And we hope that we did make those choices -- if not, we're happy to hear from people."
The proposed cuts in the $67 million general fund budget mainly involve jobs that won't be filled once current employees retire or leave.
The Champaign city council gets its first formal look at the budget Tuesday night - it'll also be available at the city building and the Champaign Public library.
Gov. Pat Quinn is proposing legislation that he says would offer tax relief to millions of Illinois property owners.
Quinn plans to present the Homeowner's Property Tax Relief Initiative of 2010 to the General Assembly this week.
The legislation would create a Taxpayer Action Board modeled after the statewide utility watchdog that Quinn helped start in the 1980s.
Quinn says the taxpayer board would be independent and nonpartisan. It would help property owners appeal their tax bills and assessments.
The legislation also looks to make it easier for property owners to get information about the assessment process, including comparable sales statistics.
The proposal would also extend a provision that reduces homeowners' taxable value by $20,000.
The candidate who won the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor only to pull out of the race amid scandal now says he wants to be Illinois' governor.
In a statement Monday, Scott Lee Cohen says he plans to get on the November ballot as an independent.
Cohen quit the lieutenant governor's race amid accusations of failure to pay child support and holding a knife to his girlfriend's throat.
He says he's running because he's tired of mismanagement in Illinois government.
Cohen says he isn't perfect but he's honest. And he says Illinois needs honesty more than it needs perfection right now.
To get on the Illinois ballot, Cohen would need to submit 25,000 signatures from registered voters on petitions by June 21. If Cohen succeeds, he'll face Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, Republican state Sen. Bill Brady and Green Party candidate Rich Whitney.
More delays could be in store for a clean coal technology plant in eastern Illinois. The FutureGen Industrial Alliance is still negotiating finances with the state, dragging out a decision by the US Department of Energy on whether to build the plant in Mattoon.
Illinois Democratic US Senator Dick Durbin says the agency is extending its study of the experimental plant.
"I said that the Secretary of Energy had to decide this project on it's merits and I wanted him to do that," Durbin said over the weekend in Springfield. "I think we've made a good strong case, but we don't take anything more granted."
Durbin, the Majority Whip, says he's optimistic the plant will be built.
The Energy Department had planned to announce by now whether to go forward, but the agency has decided to keep studying the alliance's plans another 60 days.
If built, FutureGen would be the worlds' first zero emissions coal-fired power plant. Carbon dioxide created from burning coal would be stored underground. The project would create thousands of construction jobs.
Optimism remains that construction on the long-delayed FutureGen power plant will get the federal government's okay soon.
In the meantime, local officials can do little more than watch and wait for a decision from the Energy Department. It's in talks with corporate members of the FutureGen Alliance who want to get the $1.8 billion dollar coal-to-energy plant built and operating near Mattoon.
Angela Griffin heads the economic development group Coles Together. "As far as we know they're still in negotiations," Griffin said. "There's still a lot of details to be worked out with the agreement going forward, and they're not at liberty at this point to talk about those."
But Griffin says she and others in the Mattoon area are being kept up to date on the talks, even if she doesn't know the details. Griffin wouldn't estimate when the government and the Alliance can reach a conclusion.
She does say that once that agreement takes place, the construction phase will have a big impact on Mattoon. She says plant developers expect to keep cement plants within a 100-mile radius of FutureGen busy as they drill the initial wells for the plant's carbon-sequestration unit.
Ameren says it will seek a rehearing of its rate case ... after the Illinois Commerce Commission granted the utility only a fraction of what it seeking in increases for gas and electricity delivery.
At the same time, Ameren is cutting budgets, instituting a hiring freeze, reducing its use of contractors, and delaying or canceling some projects and activities.
In an internal newsletter released by the company, Ameren Illinois president Scott Cisel calls the actions "regrettable but necessary".
Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris says their core commitment to delivery reliable energy won't be affected. But he says customers might notice some changes in service.
"This doesn't mean it would, but we could be talking about wait times for calls to customer service, wait times to have new service installed" says Morris. "It could have impacts like that. Those aren't reliability issues but those are service quality issues."
The I-C-C voted 3 to 2 Thursday to allow Ameren just $4.75 million of the $130 million it was seeking in additional revenue on delivery rates. Morris says the company was surprised by the ruling, and believes it had made a strong argument for the full increase. Ameren has 30 days to seek a rehearing of its rate request. There's no guarantee that the ICC will grant a rehearing.
Partisan fighting over the best way to improve the way Illinois draws its legislative map means there likely won't be any change.
A proposal backed by Democrats to overhaul the process fell two votes shy in the Illinois House Thursday.
At least one Republican had to get on board for it to pass. None did.
The political stakes of redistricting are high, as a district can be drawn to all but assure victory for a party's candidates.
The current system often leaves which party controls the map-drawing to chance.
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie says the Democrats' plan is an improvement. Instead, she says, Illinois will be left with the status quo. That process breaks a deadlock by drawing a Republican or Democrat's name from a stovetop hat, like the one Abraham Lincoln wore.
"And when they pull a name out of a hat we'll be the laughing stock again," says Currie.
But Republicans say they couldn't support the Democrats' proposal because it allows legislators to handpick the voters who will be responsible for their political fate. The GOP says its plan ... which is favored by groups including the League of Women Voters ... removes that self interest. An independent commission draws the map from the start.
GOP Representative Jim Watson of Jacksonville, an Iraq War veteran, chided the Democrats' plan for giving legislators the ability to draw their own districts.
"Two years ago I was in Iraq and I was helping a nation try to forge a democracy", said Watson. "And I will tell you right now if we would have said 'Hey Anbar Provincial Chairman ... you want to make your own map and have legislative districts and vote on it?' ... that the United Nations would have come in and said 'hell no!' "
But Democrats blocked that plan in the General Assembly. and a campaign to collect enough petition signatures to get it on the ballot has fallen short.
"We did a great deal in a very, very, very short time", says League of Woman Voters executive director Jan Czarnik. She says that in just four-and-a-half months, the Fair Map campaign volunteers gathered an estimated 150,000 to 160,000 signatures. But 280,000 valid signatures are needed to get a constitutional amendment on the Illinois ballot.
The deadline to submit petitions to get a constitutional amendment on the Illinois ballot is Monday.
Efforts to reform the way Illinois redraws its legislative districts every ten years appear to have run out of steam. A proposed constitutional amendment backed by Democrats fell two votes short of passage in the Illinois House Thursday.
And organizers of a petition drive to get another proposal on the ballot say they've failed to collect enough signatures. Despite their differences, Both proposals actually featured the same key method to fix the state's redistricting process. Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows reports.
In the controversy over a new marquee sign for the Virginia Theater, the Champaign Park board has learned that there's little difference in cost between rebuilding the current neon marquee and constructing a replica of the original marquee from the 1920s.
In fact, a company specializing in theater marquees told the park district that rebuilding the yellow, neon, triangular and badly deteriorated Virginia marquee could cost 140 to 160 thousand dollars. Meanwhile, bids for building a replica of the original, white, rectangular marquee range from 158 to 270-thousand dollars.
Park District Marketing Director Laura Auteberry says that at their May meeting, park commissioners want to see more detailed, color renderings of the original marquee replica, so they can better compare it next month with the current marquee that has attracted some vocal defenders.
"Because a lot of the comments we've received from the community is they like the neon, they like the color, that that really stands out when people are going by", says Auteberry. "So we're going to provide that in the way of a rendering, so it gives people a better vision --- between the two --- of which would look better on the building."
At a study session Wednesday , four of the five park commissioners said they personally prefer the original marquee from the 20s, but don't want to go against popular opinion if it truly favors the current marquee. Work on the marquee would be part of the renovation of the Virginia Theater lobby, scheduled for June through November.
Saturday's Illinois Marathon in Champaign-Urbana could alter the schedule for some shoppers at this season's first Market at the Square.
The Market will start its 31st season this weekend at Illinois and Vine Streets in Urbana. Vine is also one of those streets that will see more than 10,000 runners pass through from the west, as the marathon and half-marathon races get underway at 7:30. Starting their route at the U of I by going up 1st Street, runners will be entering Urbana on Green Street, north on Race, and east on Main Street. Lieutenant Kent Jepsen is the special events coordinator with Urbana Police. He expects the intersection of Main and Vine Streets to re-open around 9, but says there will be some gaps. "Prior to that, of course the runners will have lightened up," said Jepsen. "You'll be at the back of the pack of the 9-to-10,000 runners, so there will be pusling across Main and Vine as runners allow. In other words, when there's light runners and gaps in between them, the officer and volunteers will allow traffic to pulse through southbound." Market at the Square shoppers who live just south of that intersection won't be impacted. The runners will continue east on Main Street and south down Cottage Grove.
A total of 14,200 runners are now registered for the 2nd annual Illinois Marathon. Full details are available on line at the Illinois Marathon website. Event Co-director Mike Lindemann says motorists in Champaign won't see the same impact, with some streets limited to one lane. "I don't want to say there won't be delays in Champaign, there will be." said Lindemann. "But if people are patient, or if they look at that web site, there's a beltway map to get around the course. And to get around it, obviously you have to drive a few miles out of the way, but it might be better than waiting 15 or 20 minutes at a corner to get across the street." Lindeman says the event has now recruited the volunteers necessary for Saturday's events. Six countries and 46 states are represented in the marathon, half-marathon, and 5K race.
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