Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 14, 2010

Champaign County Party Leaders Surprised by Quinn’s Open Primary Move

The two major political party leaders in Champaign County say they were blindsided by Governor Pat Quinn's decision to change Illinois' primary election process.

The governor used his amendatory veto power to write a new provision into a bill involving voter guides. The provision would remove the requirement that people declare which party's ballot they want when they go to the polls. Quinn's revision would mean that poll workers would hand voters ballots for all parties, and voters would choose secretly which one to turn in. However, lawmakers could choose to override Quinn's revision in the fall veto session.

Al Klein heads the Champaign County Democratic Committee but doesn't like his fellow Democrat's move. Klein says it will make his job tougher if he can't find out someone's party affiliation by how they voted.

"There are appointments that currently have to be made on a partisan basis", says Klein. "How do you determine --- other than what the person told you --- what their partisanship was, over the last ten years or so?"

Champaign County Republican Chairman Jason Barickman has the same concern as a party leader, but he's ambivalent on whether an open primary is a good idea.

"I think there's a good-government argument that can be made in favor of it, and that's enticing to me", says Barickman. "I think there some maybe more logistical questions as to how party leaders determine who their membership is."

Barickman says Republicans he's talked to are split in their opinion over an open primary. Supporters say if people weren't forced to openly declare a party, more would come out to vote.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 14, 2010

Illinois Juvenile Justice Head Steps Down

Governor Pat Quinn is replacing the head of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice which runs the state's youth prisons.

Kirk Friedenauer has headed up the agency since its inception in 2006.

That's when the Illinois legislature separated the youth prisons from the adult department of corrections with the idea that the state should treat kids, and rehabilitate them.

But the Blagojevich administration didn't give the agency any additional money and little progress was made.

In a recent interview with Chicago public radio station WBEZ, Friedenauer said, "Change that is meant to last and meant to endure, especially within the public arena, is a process, it's not an event, and it has to be one step at a time as fast as you can get there and we're gonna have setbacks."

Quinn says Friedenauer's departure is one part of his plan to move the youth prisons into the treatment focused department of Children and Family Services.

Quinn says he'll announce a new director shortly.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 14, 2010

Champaign’s Oldest Honorary Street Up For Renewal

It's been ten years since the Champaign City Council approved its first honorary street for a ten-year-term. And the council marked the anniversary Tuesday night by endorsing a renewal of the street for another ten years.

Honorary Illini Boulevard follows Kirby Avenue from Mattis Avenue east into the University of Illinois campus, past both Memorial Stadium and the Assembly Hall. Developer Kyle Robeson proposed the street name a decade ago, and requested its renewal this year to recognize the U of I's importance to the

"It's very simple", explains Robeson. "The university is the powerhouse that runs this city. Both cities, Urbana and Champaign. And that's why we're here. Or we'd just be another railroad town."

According to Mayor Jerry Schweighart, Robeson originally proposed Illini Boulevard as an official street name, but the city council decided on the honorary designation instead. Now, Champaign has honorary street signs honoring local civic leaders, athletes, soldiers, police officers, and entertainers. Schweighart says the honorary streets have served the city well.

"I think that we recognize some people that should be recognized" says Schweighart. "We get some requests that we have elected not to honor, for one reason or another. But by and large, it's (gone) pretty good."

Champaign now has more than two dozen honorary streets, and their special signs honor people ranging from local civil rights activist John Lee Johnson to film critic Roger Ebert. Honorary Illini Boulevard is unusual, because it's not named after a specific person. Council Member Marci Dodds says that's an inconsistency which warrants holding a discussion to set formal criteria for honorary street names. But she still voted to renew Honorary Illini Boulevard.

"I think we should go ahead and do it for a host of reasons" said Dodds during the council discussion, "not the least of which is probably the U of I could use our very vocal and visible support about now. But it's very different than other ones we've done. So I'm getting to think that it might be time that we really settle out on what will be an honorary street name, and what won't, so it doesn't look quite so arbitrary."

In addition to Illini Boulevard, other honorary streets in Champaign that don't honor specific individuals include Veterans Parkway to honor local veterans, and Burnham Boulevard to honor the old Burnham City Hospital.

Seven more honorary street names come up for renewal or cancellation next year --- including streets honoring Paralympic athlete Jean Driscoll and rock band REO Speedwagon.

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 13, 2010

Urbana Council Gives Go-Ahead for Shorter High Cross Road Multi-Use Path

The Urbana City Council gave the go-ahead Monday night for work on a new bike and walking path along High Cross Road on the city's east end. But the project is now much smaller than first planned.

The problem is the price. The project is now slated to cost a total of 1-point-2 million dollars, nearly twice the price estimate given when the planning was done back in 2005. , An ITEP (IIllinois Transportation Enhancement Program) federal grant is supposed to pay for most of the project. But Urbana Public Works Director Bill Grey says building the entire path at its current price may exceed the limits set by the grant rules. Still, he says scrapping the project and giving the money back would hurt Urbana's changes for landing such grant money in the future.

"I don't want to give you the impression, that if we go with Option Two and put the money back, that we're never going to see an ITEP grant again, so I'm not saying that tonight", says Grey. "I'm just saying it's going to hurt our chances, in competition with other cities, counties, entities that apply for this money. That we're not going to be in quite the same graces. That's all I'm saying."

In the end, the Urbana City Council voted for "Option Five". That calls for building just the southern portion of the multi-use path at this time --- from Windsor Road, past the Stone Creek subdivision, and out to Po' Boys restaurant and sport complex. The path would not make it out to the future Menard's site or to Walmart. With the reduced plan, the city will pay $310, 000 of its own money - instead of the $1.1 million the city would pay for its share of the full project.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 13, 2010

Urbana Mayor Continues to Press for Local Motor Fuel Taxes

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing's motor fuel tax plan faces charges from critics who say it would raise gasoline prices in the city. But the mayor and chief of staff told council members Monday night that other towns with their own motor fuel taxes haven't had that problem.

Mike Monson, the mayor's chief of staff, says he talked with officials at six downstate cities with motor fuel taxes, including Danville, Tilton, Galesburg and Peoria.

"I talked to them about the competitive effect, " says Monson. "They seemed to think there wasn't much of a price differential between stations that were within the city that were collecting this tax, and stations in nearby communities and unincorporated areas that didn't have it."

But Monson walked back from earlier estimates that a two-cent a gallon gasoline tax could raise a half million dollars a year for Urbana. He now thinks the number would be more like $350,000. City Public Works Director Bill Grey says that would still be enough to help keep up with street maintenance.

"We really need to do more work with resurfacing streets, and seal-coating, crack-sealing and patching streets", says Grey. "So two cents would be a big help." :

Prussing argues that a 2-cent per gallon motor fuel tax would would be barely noticeable --- if passed on to customers --- because gasoline prices already vary widely from one gas station to another. Prussing says she did her own survey of gas station prices last Friday, and found a 23 cent difference between the highest and lowest prices.

"So a 23 cent difference between two gas stations in the same city is more than ten times as much as a two cent tax", says Prussing. "We don't think the tax will get passed on, but if it does, it's still a very small amount, compared to the daily changes and the differences between stations."

Still Republican Alderwoman Heather Stevenson was unconvinced. She said she worried gas stations just outside the Urbana city limits --- in Champaign to the west and Urbana Township to the east --- could take customers away from gas stations in Urbana, if a motor fuel tax passes.

Mayor Prussing says a city gasoline tax is needed, because revenue from the state's motor fuel tax and Urbana's s general fund have not kept up with inflation. She says discussion of the proposed tax will continue at a later council meeting.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 12, 2010

U of I Lays Groundwork For Borrowing, Plans for 2012 Fiscal Year

The University of Illinois still has about six weeks to act on a plan to borrow funds in order to make payroll and fund other areas where it's lacking in money owed by the state.

U of I Trustees have already granted administrators the authority to take advantage of a bill signed by Governor Pat Quinn that enables public universities to borrow up to 75-percent of what's owed by the state for up to a year. For the U of I, that's around $210-million. But administrators expect to wait until just before the August 31st deadline to decide whether to act on the measure. Ed McMillan chairs the Board of Trustees' Audit, Budget, Finance, and Facilities committee. He says the U of I will continually assess its cash flow before making that decision.

But McMillan says all public universities, particularly those in Illinois, need to keep looking for new funding sources. "As you look at us over the next... let's say three years, you're going to find us working very hard at finding a revenue model that relies upon a different mix of revenue sources," said McMillan. "What that's going to be I don't know. I think you can look around the United States and see several different models that are being tried and successfully being pursued. I don't think any of us have any any predetermination as to what model should be."

U of I Associate Vice President of Planning and Budgeting Randy Kangas says the school could soon seek out a line of credit with a bank if it utilizes the borrowing measure. He notes the state intends to pay its overdue bills by the end of the calendar year... and that short-term interest rates are very favorable. And with Fiscal 2011 just underway, some leaders at the U of I are already thinking of the following fiscal year. Kangas says U of I Trustees plan to seek out about $67-million in state funds for fiscal 2012 by their September meeting. That's in addition to seeking the normal state appropriation of $697-million. Kangas says prior years have brought requests for additional funds of more than $100-million, seeking out help for areas like campus diversity and initiatives to improve graduation rates. He says there hasn't been a change in aspirations, but U of I leaders recognize the reality of Illinois' financial crisis. Kangas says the focus will be to see that top salaries are funded.

"Obviously, the state is in a crisis," said Kangas. "Probably, the nation is still in a crisis in the throws of an economic downturn. However, we have to tell people what our top priorities are. We have to tell the legislature by not fulfilling these requests what we're going to lose when we lost top faculty and staff. So is there a great chance of this being funded? Probably not a great chance." Kangas says there are other 'unavoidables' that are part of that funding request... including utility costs and worker's compensation.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 09, 2010

Candidate Kirk Talks About Jobless Benefits Vote, But Not Military Record

Senate candidate Mark Kirk says he voted against extending jobless benefits because Democrats didn't come up with a way to pay for the benefits without adding to the deficit.

The Republican congressman says he has often voted to let people continue collecting unemployment past the normal deadline, but he opposed the most recent extension because it would have increased the deficit by $30 billion.

The House approved the extension, but it was blocked in the Senate. That means hundreds of thousands of people are losing the unemployment benefits each week.

Kirk spoke at a news conference in Springfield Friday, where he discussed his "Springfield Agenda", the latest in a series of economic development plans for different regions of the state.

Meanwhile, Kirk says he is done answering questions about exaggerating his military accomplishments.

Several times this week, Kirk has refused to answer questions about specific incidents during his 21 years in the Navy Reserve. At his Springfield news conference, he said he'll let his official fitness reports speak for him from now on.

Those reports include glowing evaluations but offer no details on specific incidents -- such as whether he came under fire while serving in Afghanistan, as he once claimed.

Kirk apologized last week for making false statements about his military service and said he had been careless. He says that news conference fully addressed all questions.

Kirk has been on the defensive since the revelation that he claimed a military award he didn't win.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 08, 2010

Champaign Police Seek Info on Hit and Run Accident

Champaign Police are looking for a dark green SUV driven by a bearded white male in his 40s, following a hit and run accident in the 500 block of Alabama on the city's north side Thursday afternoon.

According to a police department news release, witnesses report seeing the vehicle strike a six year old girl and flee the scene at around 4 PM.afternoon. The vehicle was last seen heading south on Harris Avenue. The child was taken to Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana.

The vehicle is described as possibly being a GMC Yukon or Ford Explorer model, with lumber extending from the rear driver's side window.

The driver is described as a white male in his 40's, with a full beard and dark hair wearing a blue t-shirt and blue jeans.

Anyone with information about this accident is asked to call Champaign Police at 217-351-4545.

Anonymous tips can be sent to Crime Stoppers at 217-373-TIPS, through their website, or by texting Tip397 plus the information to CRIME (274637).


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 08, 2010

Gubernatorial Debate Features Five Candidates, Minus Quinn and Brady

Third party and independent candidates for Illinois governor took part in the first debate of the general election Thursday night. Democratic Governor Pat Quinn and Republican state Senator Bill Brady opted not to attend.

The Green Party's nominee for governor, Rich Whitney, called the missing Quinn and Brady "the elephants in the...not in the room, I guess you might say."

About 50 spectators showed up at Chicago State University to see the five-candidate debate.

Whitney is the only one with a secure spot on the ballot.

Budget issues dominated, with Whitney calling for tax increases, and eventually, free college tuition.

In contrast, the Libertarian Party's Lex Green said state residents should instead rely more on their communities and private charities, "because, as we see already, the state can't do it."

Independent Bill "Dock" Walls said Illinois should sell naming rights for highways and state buildings.

"I'd love to see the Microsoft Thompson Center", said Walls, by way of example.

Also at the debate: independent candidate Scott Lee Cohen and the Constitution Party's Michael White.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 08, 2010

Prosecution Testimony Continues in Blagojevich Trial, Could Wrap Up on Tuesday

Federal prosecutors say the corruption trial of ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is moving forward faster than expected and there is a good chance they will rest their case on Tuesday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar made the announcement in court Thursday after Judge James Zagel sent the jury home for the weekend.

Blagojevich's attorneys asked if they could be given more time to prepare given that the prosecution finished sooner than expected. Zagel said he wasn't inclined to grant that but would entertain the idea next week. He said at the earliest they would launch their case on Wednesday.

Earlier during trial proceedings on Thursday, jurors heard an FBI wiretap tape in which Rod Blagojevich told a political pollster on an FBI wiretap tape that naming U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to the Senate seat Barack Obama was leaving would yield "tangible political support.'' Blagojevich referred to "specific amounts and everything,'' and adds "there is some of it up front.''

Jackson has been accused of no wrongdoing in the case. But prosecutors say there is evidence that his supporters spoke about raising a large sum for Blagojevich if he would name the congressman to the Senate.

Also on a wiretap tape, Blagojevich was heard cursing everyone from the president to reporters. The target of his fury was the people of Illinois.

In a phone conversation with an aide, Blagojevich talked about legislative successes. Later he cited poll numbers that show his support at all-time lows.

Sounding increasingly angry, he directed his ire at his constituents, saying that, "Only 13 percent of you all think I'm doing a good job.'' He then cursed as he denounces the public as a whole.

Also on Thursday, former Deputy Governor Robert Greenlee testified that Blagojevich hid in the bathroom or left the office early to avoid discussing complex issues.

Greenlee testified that former key aide John Filan had to chase Blagojevich to discuss important state matters.

Greenlee testified that he had to dine with the Blagojevich family at a bowling alley to get the governor to focus on legislation.

He said he was skeptical when Blagojevich spoke of his hopes of getting a job in Washington but kept quiet because Blagojevich could be argumentative if he didn't like what he heard.

Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to charges including scheming to exchange President Barack Obama's former Senate seat for a high paying job, Cabinet post or massive campaign contribution.


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