Illinois Public Media News
Several school districts in Champaign County now have a chance to save more money when issuing bonds for school construction projects. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.
The chance came last week when the Champaign County Board formally designated the county as a "Recovery Zone", ---- an area experiencing economic distress under terms set by the federal Recovery Act. That clears the way for eligible school districts to issue some of their school construction bonds as Recovery Zone bonds --- with the federal government picking up 45 percent of the interest charge.
Cameron Moore of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission says he's gotten "strong Indications" from the Champaign, Urbana and Rantoul City school districts that they would probably use the Recovery Zone bonds, as they prepare to issue bonds for construction projects in the next couple of months.
Assistant Superintendent Beth Shepperd of the Champaign Unit Four school district says they plan to use about about $1,300,000 in Recovery Zone Bonds as part of their bond issue next month. She calls the opportunity an exciting one, "because it certainly lessens the amount of money that the taxpayers pay for interest, gives us the lowest interest rate available to governmental entitites right now, and gives us more money to good things for our students in the schools." Shepperd says the rest of Unit Four's bond issue will be issued as Build America bonds. She says they are also subsidized under the federal Recovery Act, but at 35%.
The RPC's Moore says the Fisher and Rantoul Township districts could also use the special bonds. But the bonds can only be issued during 2010. The federal government is making $2,349,000 in Recovery Zone bonds available in Champaign County.
With still no clear picture on funds coming from the state, University of Illinois Interim President Stanley Ikenberry suggests it will be at least June before officials know what tuition rates will be for next academic year. But Ikenberry told U of I Trustees in Chicago Thursday that it's hard to imagine even a best-case scenario where officials aren't looking at a high single-digit increase of around 9-percent - or about 3 to 3-point-5 percent hikes in each year over a four-year period:
"That would be a best-case scenario. We may not be dealing with a best-case environment," says Ikenberry. "So we may be faced to look at a number that will be considerably in excess of that. But it's premature, I think to walk into those waters now. But we will start that journey in March." The U of I is still owed more than 400-million dollars by the state. While tuition won't be known for a while, trustees yesterday raised the price of student housing by 4-point-6 percent on the Urbana campus. It will cost just over 9-thousand dollars starting this summer. Trustees also voted to increase undergraduate fees in Urbana by 2.8 percent to 28-hundred 42 dollars. The annual fees pay for student health services, career counseling facilities repair and other services.
Meanwhile, the co-chair of a budget task force assisting the U of I is recommending 10-percent cuts in three areas, including information technology. U of I foundation executive Craig Bazzani told U of I Trustees that information technology alone has five chief information officers. He's challenging them to find ways to streamline operations among the U of I's three campuses, and trim about 30-million dollars over the next year or two. Bazzani says information technology can't afford the 'army' of people it has, but he says the cuts will impact both people and equipment. "And so we've grown fairly significantly for good reason undoubtedly and we want to embrace the idea that more automation is good," says Bazzani. "The curves will continue to go up. There isn't any way that we're going to be able to shut off the faucet on the use of IT. We want to encourage it, but we have to have a better delivery mechanism in the future than what we have today."
The other areas Bazzani is targeting for 10% cuts are strategic procurement and energy task force recommendations. He says budget cutting moves like furlough days and hiring freezes are merely temporary ways of saving at the U of I.
Bazzazi expects to have his report before Interim President Ikenberry by May.
Illinois' growing budget deficit means one near-certainty for the winner of this year's gubernatorial election - they'll be making cuts in state spending. The two Democrats and five Republicans all say they'll reduce spending to some degree, while looking at ways to bring in new revenue. The questions are how much and where. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.
The two Democratic candidates for Illinois governor meet again Thursday in southern Illinois for a debate airing on public broadcasting stations. Illinois Public Media will air the debate live at 8 PM, on WILL-TV and WILL AM 580 ... and on the WILL home page (www.will.illinois.edu).
In their earlier meeting this week in Chicago, the two candidates verbally beat up on each other.
Comptroller Dan Hynes went after Governor Pat Quinn for an early release program for prisoners.
Quinn went after Hynes over his office's oversight in the run-up to the Burr Oak Cemetery scandal.
Expect more of the same in the Thursday night debate in Carbondale.
Quinn has long been the Democratic front-runner and was well ahead in a Tribune poll released in December.
But both campaigns now say their internal polls show the race has tightened.
This is the second of two debates arranged by public broadcasting stations.
Five of the seven Republican candidates for governor met LAST Thursday in Champaign-Urbana.
Before his removal from office, former Governor Rod Blagojevich made it a priority to extend health care to more lower-income Illinoisans. Today more children, their parents and others are covered under state-supervised programs with names like AllKids, Family Care and Illinois Cares RX. But massive budget pressures may make this year's candidates for governor rethink those expansions. AM 580's Tom Rogers looks into what those programs do - and where health care stands in the minds of potential officeholders.
In March of 1860, the people of a little town called West Urbana voted to incorporate as the city of Champaign. Now, 150 years later, Champaign is preparing to celebrate it sesquicentennial.
Champaign's 150th anniversary celebration will be built on the themes of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Yesterday is featured first, with a local history exhibit scheduled for March and April at the Illinois Terminal building. Some of the artifacts to be displayed were brought to Tuesday night's Champaign City Council study session ... old newspapers, theater programs, a 19th century fire helmet decorated with an eagle's head design.
City Planner TJ Blakeman says they're looking for more pieces of city history - and invites the public to call him at 217-403-8800, if they have items they can loan for the exhibit. Items being sought include objects associated with the Illinois Central Railroad, Parkland College, the Champaign Police Department and Burnham City Hospital --- with other items from Champaign's past welcome as well.
The Champaign sesquicentennial will also feature a downtown music festival in July to honor the city's present accomplishments ... and the dedication in March of next year of a fountain to look toward the future. The Legacy Fountain will be erected at One Main Plaza. 150th Anniversary Celebration Coordinator LaEisha Meaderds says the 200-thousand dollar fountain is still in the early design stages.
While the city of Champaign and the Champaign Park District are donating some funds for the Sesquicentennial Celebration, they hope to raise another $250,000 from private organizations. Donations from Individuals will be accepted, but not actively sought.
WILL plans to be part of Champaign's 150th anniversary celebration as well --- with the production of a 13-part television series about the city.
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.
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