Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign County Board has slated a public hearing for February 9th on a proposal for single-member county board districts, coupled with a reduction in the number of county board members.
County Board Policy Committee Chairman Tom Betz put the hearing on the agenda for the board's February 9th committee of the whole meeting --- and he hopes board members will discuss the idea more than once before making a decision. Betz says the current multi-member districts make county board members less accountable to voters.
"Multi-member districts -- and I used to not feel this way -- allow people to duck their responsibilities. Someone else could do the work because they could be invisible," Betz said. "Unfortunately, I think that's one of the problems of the current system."
Betz' proposal couples single-member districts with a smaller county board --- some 13 to 17 members. Betz says the current 27-member board is too big for single-member districts to be workable, and that shrinking the board further to 9 members would rob it of its diversity.
Champaign County voters rejected single-member districts in an advisory referendum in 2001.
Officials at the University of Illinois say they're creating a Web site that will allow people to review the school's budget and give feedback.
University spokeswoman Robin Kaler says the idea is to make one place for students, staff and faculty to learn as much as they want about how financial decisions are made. It also allows people to get involved.
The site is called "Stewarding Excellence at Illinois'' and will launch later this month. The site will be linked to the university's home page. It includes an organizational chart of committees making budget decisions.
The new site comes as the university could face possible furloughs or other budget cuts.
Balancing the budget was a top priority for the five Republican candidates for Illinois governor, at a debate held in Urbana for broadcast on statewide public radio and TV Thursday night. Jim Meadows reports.
Frontrunners Andy McKenna and Jim Ryan declined to appear, giving the five other GOP governor candidates more time to outline their plans for balancing Illinois' budget. Dan Proft said he was ready to sell the Illinois Lottery, and then make 4 billion dollars in spending cuts.
Proft said the list includes "specific cuts like 400 million dollars for high-speed rail from Chicago to St. Louis, which isn't even high-speed rail ... 100 million dollars for spending to buy up land in Peotone for the third airport that's not coming".
Adam Andrzejewski said he was ready to do away with entire agencies.
I'll zero out every agency", said Andrzejewski, "like the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, that's not performing on its mission. That'll save us a billion dollars. With me, everything's on the table."
All the candidates opposed Democratic proposals to raise taxes, and some, like Bloomington State Senator Bill Brady, called for tax cuts to spur business growth.
"Cutting the double sales tax penalty on Illinois families and businesses" was one of Brady's examples. Another was "cutting the estate tax penalty, and cutting the taxes and fees that the Blagojevich/Quinn administration imposed on Illinois families and businesses."
State Senator Kirk Dillard and DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom also took part in the debate.
Dillard says his years in the Edgar administration showed he has what it takes to stand up to political heavyweights on the Democratic side.
"I have the experience as Jim Edgar's chief of staff. I've dealt with Mike Madigan. I've told him "no". I've said we're going to keep the legislature in session until we pass property tax caps for beleaguered suburban homeowners. I've told Mayor Daly "no". I Had to tell Mayor Daley you'not going to get a land-based casino the size of four football fields."
Bob Schillerstrom pointed to his experience as the County Board Chairman in DuPage County, the state's 2nd most populous county.
"As essentially the governor of a small state for the last eleven years, I know what leadership is all about", said Schillerstrom. "I know how to run a government. I know when to say no. You go up to DuPage County, you talk to some people --- I've made them mad up there, because I know when to say no."
A 2nd debate featuring Democratic candidates Pat Quinn and Dan Hynes is set to be held in Carbondale next Thursday, January 21st at 7 PM, for airing on public broadcasting stations
Draft recommendations from an Illinois task force on nursing home safety are drawing both praise and criticism.
Thursday's report recommends increased staffing for nursing homes. Pat Comstock of the state's largest nursing home trade group says that may be impossible. She says it's already difficult to find qualified workers.
Praise for the report comes from Tony Zipple, who heads a Chicago-based nonprofit agency serving people with mental illness.
Zipple gives the task force high marks for recognizing the need for affordable supportive housing. He'd like the state to do more to prevent people with severe mental illnesses from ever having to move into a nursing home.
Illinois ranks highest in the nation in the number of mentally ill adults under age 65 living in nursing homes.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn used his first traditional "State of the State" address Wednesday to highlight his record...push again for more tax revenue...and salute veterans.
The one hour 12 minute speech included references to Abe Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Paul Simon - two Roosevelts and a tribute to Secretary of State Jesse White.
Quinn struck his usual populist tone, noting he uses his VIP card at a discount hotel chain, and lobbying for a constitutional amendment to let voters put ethics reforms on the ballot.
"Democracy is a process that goes on year after year", said Quinn, "and it's very important that we bring the people in to our democracy and let them set the rules for our conduct and our behaviors.
Quinn didn't talk directly about the state's deep budget problems until more than 45 minutes into his speech. The governor said he's cut the budget ... but argued that Illinois needs to raise taxes.
"Now I do believe we need more revenue", said Quinn. "I think after cutting all the costs, after using strategic borrowing, after getting as much money as we can get from the federal government, we're still short."
But that was all Quinn said about state finances.
The campaign of Comptroller Dan Hynes, Quinn's opponent in next month's primary election, released a statement calling the speech a - quote - "rambling and unfocused performance" that lacked "concrete plans."
Republican candidates for governor were uniformly critical. One of them, State Senator Bill Brady of Bloomington said Quinn is sending an anti-business message.
"He knows he's wrong, but it's in his DNA to do exactly the wrong thing --- he knows he shouldn't be talking about it", said Brady. "I can gurantee you there are thousands of business leaders that are saying right now, 'wait a second, this guy's scaring me.'"
Among other east-central Illinois lawmakers, Democratic State Representative Naomi Jakobsson of Urbana was the most supportive. In an audio news release sent out by the Illinois House Speaker's office, Jakobsson said the governor gave a "pretty good review" of how much progress Illinois has made in the year since he took office.
"He talked about a lot of the things that we were able to accomplish, and I often do that too", said Jakobsson. "It's good to remind people that we can work together, we do things together, both sides of the aisle, and we get some good things done."
State Senator Dale Righter, a Mattoon Republican, said Quinn talked only in "broad strokes" about the budget deficit, and has failed to consider cuts proposed by the Republican miniority.
"The governing party here in Illinois doesn't want to take ahold of the reins, and do something we all know is responsible, because that would potentially be politically unpopular", said Righter.
Democrat State Senator Mike Frerichs of Champaign, said he wanted to hear more specifics about the budget --- and hoped they would be forthcoming in the governor's budget address. Frerichs says quick action is needed to solve the state's budget crisis.
"I'm hopeful we do something this Spring", said Frerichs, "because quite frankly, I don't see how we make it through next November, when some people say we'll deal with those issues, without defaulting on a lot of our promises.
NPR's David Schaper reports on how Governor Pat Quinn and other politicians are addressing the budget crisis in Illinois. First aired on All Things Considered, 1/13/10.
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.
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