Illinois Public Media News
Illinois officials have agreed to borrow billions of dollars as part of a new state budget.
The Illinois House and Senate approved the $3.5 billion borrowing plan Wednesday night. Gov. Pat Quinn quickly signed it into law.
The money will go to government pension systems. That frees up the state's annual pension contributions to be used for other expenses.
Critics call it irresponsible to pay for government expenses with borrowed money. They say it just digs a deeper financial hole for the state.
But supporters say Illinois needs a budget to keep providing government services. They say a tax increase or drastic cuts won't pass, so this is the only realistic option.
The bill is SB1292.
Action Tuesday by the U-S Energy Department gives a green light to action at the FutureGen site near Mattoon. So says Angela Griffin, president of the economic development group Coles Together.
The Energy Department issues a formal Record of Decision which formally approves FutureGen's goals, objectives and potential environmental impacts. Griffin says before, the FutureGen Alliance could only work on the experimental clean coal project in general terms. Now, she says they can focus directly on conditions at the Mattoon site.
"They can do some very site-specific engineering and design work, which will then lead to some very specific cost estimates which are needed to get at the final cost of the plant.," Griffith said. "This allows them to do some work here, it allows them do some further subsurface characterization of the site, to verify what we already believe is the case, to spend some money at our site in a way that they weren't able to do before today."
The FutureGen project aims to build an experimental coal gasification plant that cuts down on carbon emissions by burying them underground. The project depends on both federal funding and money from the energy industry. The Bush Administration had pulled away from the project, citing rising cost estimates. But FutureGen found new support under the Obama administration.
For the second week in a row, supporters of a tent city for the homeless spoke out at last Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting. But this time, they were joined by neighbors who were not supportive at all.
Supporters of the Safe Haven Tent Community at the St. Jude Catholic Worker House on South Randolph say a Sunday night police visit amounted to harassment. But the neighbors say they welcome the police. They blame the small mostly male tent community for continued problems over the last three months. Cathy Tanner is the property manager for nearby Huntington Towers.
"We have had vandalism," says Tanner. "We've had drinking on the premises. We've had drugs. On a daily basis, it seems like we're chasing someone out or we're calling the police."
But Safe Haven residents and their supporters say the bad behavior comes from some of the people who gather for the daily meals at the Catholic Worker House. Jesse Masengale is one of the residents of the tent community. He says they enforce rules amongst themselves against drinking, drugs and disruptive behavior.
"We police ourselves -- we take pride in policing ourselves," Masengale told council members. "These folks haven't had anything going for them for most of their lives. And now we've put something together for them, that they can self-govern and help grow on their own.
Masengale says Safe Haven is willing to move to to some other location, if the city will help them find one. But city officials say the tent community violates city zoning rules and have told the Catholic Worker House that Safe Haven must close by Friday. Catholic Worker Volunteer Chris Watson says they'll appeal the order. The group is holding a neighborhood meeting tonight at the Champaign firehouse next door to try to work things out with the neighbors.
Illinois legislative leaders hope to vote Wednesday on a new state budget.
The leaders are supposed to meet with Gov. Pat Quinn in an attempt to complete a plan for lawmakers to consider.
They're discussing a version of the budget that would not include a tax increase or the drastic cuts included in an earlier version. Instead, this budget would depend on more borrowing, leaving bills unpaid and other financial maneuvers.
The budget was supposed to be in place by July 1, but has been held up by disagreements over how to close a historic $11.6 billion deficit.
Thousands of state paychecks that are supposed to go out Wednesday will be delayed by the budget gridlock.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed the state's first major construction spending bill in a decade on Monday.
The 31-billion dollar measure is supposed to help fix roads, bridges, schools and public transit systems. Projects it will fund in east-central Illinois include improvements to I-74 from Mahomet to the Prospect Avenue exit in Champaign; a new interchange for I-57/70 around Effingham; the long-awaited renovation of Lincoln Hall at the University of Illinois; and construction of a new student services addition at Parkland College.
Now that he's signed the capital bill, Quinn says he's optimistic lawmakers will agree on a budget when they return to Springfield on Tuesday.
"I think the two go hand in hand", says Quinn, "having a stable budget allows us to sell the bonds for economic recovery. And the economic recovery helps our budget. The only way we're going to get out of our economic doldrums is to get people working."
The governor's office estimates the capital bill will create about half a-million jobs over the next six years.
Revenue from higher vehicle fees and increased food taxes will help pay for it. It's also funded by a massive expansion of video poker machines.
Four former presidents and chancellors of the University of Illinois are calling for a change in how members are appointed to the university's board of trustees.
The four, led by former U of I president Stanley Ikenberry, made their recommendation in a letter to the Illinois Admissions Review Commission, which is investigating charges that under-qualified students gained admission based on political influence. In many cases, the pressure to admit the students came from trustees.
Ikenberry says that the roots of the problem lie in having all university trustees selected by the governor. "I think that makes the university vulnerable," he says, "and I think it removes the checks and balances that would otherwise be important to healthy university governance."
In the letter, Ikenberry, former president James Stukel and former Urbana campus chancellors Morton Weir and Michael Aiken suggest a long-term solution. They argue that the U of I Alumni Association should elect six of the nine trustees on the U of I board in a "fair and transparent" manner, with only three selected by the governor. Ikenberry says many universities, such as Penn State, give alumni associations such appointment powers.
The Admissions Review Commission was scheduled to hear from three U of I trustees Tuesday afternoon --- David Dorris, Kenneth Schmidt and former chairman Lawrence Eppley.
A health care advocacy group is organizing its efforts toward legislation as Congress takes up the issue, and it wants Congressman Tim Johnson to join in their discussion.
The Champaign-based Campaign for Better Health Care assembled several small business owners who say they have trouble affording health care for their workers and themselves because of cost or pre-existing conditions. Café Kopi owner Paul West once offered his full time workers health insurance. "We had to give it up because it's too expensive, and we lost two good employees because of it," West said. "I myself got a temporary policy. i'm trying to find something myself. It's just been...it's hard."
Campaign organizers have set up two town hall meetings in Champaign on the issue, the first one this Saturday. They're criticizing 15th district congressman Tim Johnson for scheduling town hall meetings of his own on early Monday evenings in Villa Grove, Rantoul and Danville - they say they're too inconvenient for most workers.
Johnson's spokesman Phil Bloomer says the Monday evening meeting times were picked to accommodate the congressman's Washington DC schedule. He says Johnson's office understands where health care advocates like the Campaign for Better Health Care are coming from and have been in contact with them multiple times.
State Senator Dan Rutherford is making it official --- he's running for state treasurer.
The Pontiac Republican is holding press conferences around the state Monday to announce his candidacy. But he's already posted his statement on his YouTube page.
Rutherford blames Democrats for Illinois' financial mess, including high taxes in Chicago and Cook County, and the push by the governor and state Senate Democrats to raise the state income tax."I believe it's time", says Rutherford in his YouTube statement, "that the chief financial officer of the state of Illinois stand up and articulate those types of concerns and problems, and show that there has to be a rational path to follow."
Rutherford says the best solution to Illinois' financial troubles is job creation --- and he promises to push a job creation policy as treasurer.
Rutherford also used his campaign announcement to take a swipe at the current treasurer, Democrat Alexi Giannoulias. He cited the purchase by the treasurer's office of a 26-thousand dollar hybrid SUV, using money from the Bright Start college education savings program, and said it's something he would never allow as state treasurer. Giannoulias is expected to run for Senate next year, not treasurer. But his chief of staff, former lawmaker Robin Kelly, is a possible Democratic choice for the officer.
Rutherford is an executive with the ServiceMaster Company, and a state senator since 2002. He's the ranking Republican on the Senate Financial Institutions Committee, and say that, plus his business experience, will help him be an effective treasurer.
The city of Champaign will file applications this week for federal stimulus funds to replace its two oldest fire stations.
The Champaign City Council gave city staff the go-ahead to apply for the funds Tuesday night.
Fire Chief Doug Forsman says the want to replace and relocated Fire Station Three on Bradley Avenue on Champaign's northeast side ... and Fire Station Four on John Street on the west side. He says both facilities are old and cramped --- and not in the best locations to provide what he calls "balanced coverage" that allows fast response by firefighters to all parts of the city.
"Our goal," says Forsman, "is to be in compliance with the national standard, which is four minutes travel time to 90 percent of the calls."
Forsman proposes moving Fire Station Three to a spot north of I-74, to better serve expanding developments in that region. Fire Station Four would only move a couple of blocks to the Kenwood and Springfield area. But Forsman says that busier intersection would allow firefighters to get to their destinations more quickly.
Moving Fire Station Three north would leave Champaign's northeast side without a fire station of its own. But Chief Forsman says other fire stations would still be able to serve the region quickly.
"What we were careful to do in placing this," explains Forsman, "was to make sure that every bit of that district that used to be covered by Station Three exclusively is now covered by either Station Five and Station One, or both Five and Station One, within the four-minute time frame."
Champaign's northeast side is represented by City Councilman Will Kyles --- who says he doesn't like the idea of Fire Station Three moving out of the traditionally black neighborhood. And Mayor Jerry Schweighart had questions about the relocation of fire Station Four. But both joined other council members in giving city staff the go-ahead to apply for the stimulus grant.
The federal stimulus grant would pay for construction costs --- but the city would be responsible for buying land and design fees. Forsman says the city doesn't have to commit to anything until they learn if they've won federal funding --- the news is expected in the fall.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan says she's not running for Illinois governor or senator because she wants to "continue doing the job that I love.''
In a statement Wednesday, the Chicago Democrat said she will seek a third term at state's attorney. That dramatically changes the political landscape in Illinois.
Madigan had been considering a run for higher office. A long list of politicians were waiting to learn her decision before announcing their own plans. Madigan's statement gives few details about her decision to stay put, beyond saying she enjoys a job that lets her watch out for consumers, protect women and children and more.
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