Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 28, 2010

Sheila Simon Chosen as Quinn’s Running Mate

Sheila Simon has won the Democratic nomination for Illinois lieutenant governor.

Simon had the backing of Gov. Pat Quinn, who praised her public service and also said it was important to have a downstate resident on the Democratic ticket.

The Democratic State Central Committee chose Simon Saturday to fill a vacancy created when the original nominee dropped out amid a scandal over his legal problems.

She defeated Rep. Art Turner, who had finished second in the February primary election.

Turner is black and some Democratic leaders had predicted that rejecting him would sour black voters on the Democratic ticket.

Meanwhile, Republican lieutenant governor nominee Jason Plummer is welcoming Simon to the race

Plummer said Saturday that he hopes for a thoughtful campaign that sticks to the issues -- especially Simon's support for raising income taxes.

The 27-year-old candidate says the Democratic State Central Committee's decision to choose Simon over Turner was an example of arrogance.

Plummer says Gov. Pat Quinn hand-picked his running mate and ignored the voters.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 26, 2010

IL Democratic Leaders to Choose Lt Gov Choice on Saturday

Illinois Democratic Party leaders meet Saturday morning in Springfield to pick a nominee for lieutenant governor.

Governor Pat Quinn announced on Friday he wanted Sheila Simon to fill the ballot spot left vacant by Scott Lee Cohen, who won the primary and then withdrew.

Simon is the daughter of the late U-S Senator Paul Simon, himself a one-term lieutenant governor.

Quinn doesn't get a vote when party officials pick the nominee...but he hopes they listen to his preference.

"There's no sure thing in life, okay?", says Quinn. "You're not sure until they vote"

And some powerful members of the Democratic State Central Committee say they will not be supporting Simon - instead voting for state Representative Art Turner, who finished second in the primary.

Turner's supporters say there could be a voter backlash if he doesn't end up the nominee, but Quinn says the longtime lawmaker has no claim to the nomination.

"The way primaries work is, the one who finishes first is the winner", sayd Quinn. "Everyone else goes home, you know? When it's over it's over."

It's ALL expected to be over on Saturday, when the 19 men and 19 women on the committee cast their votes.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 26, 2010

IL House Votes Down Blago Portrait

Portraits of Illinois' former governors hang in the state capitol. But House lawmakers want to make sure a likeness of the state's last governor, Rod Blagojevich, doesn't join them, at taxpayers' expense.

Previous Illinois governors have gotten in trouble with the law ... including Otto Kerner and George Ryan. Portraits of both men still hang in the Capitol. But Rod Blagojevich is the only Illinois Governor to have been impeached and removed from office.

Republican Representative Bill Black of Danville says that distinction is why he doesn't want the state to foot the bill for a painting of Blaogjevich ... which Black estimates could cost up to $25,000.

"I don't think it unreasonable to say you forfeit your right to have the taxpayers memorialize your time as Governor", said Black. "You've given up that right when you were impeached and convicted by the Illinois Senate."

Black says if a private group or the family wants to pay for a portrait ... that's O-K.

While Black's measure passed ... 23 representatives voted "no", including Onarga Republican Shane Cultra

Representative Jack Franks, a Woodstock Democrat, ultimately voted for the measure. But he says you can't just erase history.

"Sometimes its been shameful", said Franks, chuckling, "but it's our history."

If it becomes law, the measure will apply to any Governor thrown out of office.

The House also approved a measure requiring public officials convicted of corruption to forfeit and return to the state any profits of their crimes. That measure passed 107-0.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 26, 2010

Quinn Wants Sheila Simon as his Running Mate as Dems Pick Lt. Gov. Candidate

Gov. Pat Quinn is set to announce that the daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon is his pick for a running mate.

A person familiar with Quinn's selection process tells The Associated Press that Quinn wants Sheila Simon to fill the lieutenant governor spot. The person didn't want to pre-empt Quinn's announcement at a Friday afternoon news conference and would speak only on condition of anonymity.

While Simon might be Quinn's choice, the Democratic Party State Central Committee has the final say. They'll meet Saturday in Springfield to make the official pick.

Simon is a law professor at Southern Illinois University and a former member of the Carbondale City Council.

Democrats get to pick Quinn's running mate because primary winner Scott Lee Cohen quit amid questions about his past. Simon is on a list of finalists they'll choose from.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 25, 2010

Another Slight Increase for IL Unemployment

Unemployment in Illinois rose slightly from January to February.

The seasonally adjusted jobless rate for February was 11.4 percent. That compares to 11.3 percent in January. There were 900 fewer jobs in Illinois in February.

Illinois Department of Employment Security Director Maureen O'Donnell says she's encouraged that the job loss pace is slowing in the state. She says a few more months of data are needed before it's possible to assess the path of recovery.

Illinois' jobless rate is at its highest level since July 1983. Since the recession began in December 2007, the nation has lost 8.4 million jobs and Illinois has lost 403,600 jobs.

The national unemployment rate in February was 9.7 percent.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 24, 2010

Citizen Police Review Board Question on City of Champaign Town Meeting Agenda

A Champaign resident says citizens haven't been given the full opportunity to weigh in on the debate over a police review board in the city. So Wayne Williams has submitted a proposal to put an advisory referendum on the November ballot in Champaign, asking voters if they favor a citizens police review board. William's proposal is on the agenda at the April 13th City of Champaign annual town meeting, where voters in attendance will decide whether it gets on the ballot.

"Police officers are employees of the citizens of the city", says Williams. "And I believe that having a review board just gives individual citizens --- or the citizens at large --- more control over the government."

The fatal shooting last October of teenager Kiwane Carrington during a scuffle with a Champaign police office led to renewed calls for a citizens police review board in the city. But Williams says he favored the concept before the shooting.

The city of Urbana has a citizen police review board, as does Danville... but Champaign City Council members turned down the idea of having their own three years ago on a 5-to-4 vote.

Williams says a police review board is not intended to be anti-police. He compares his proposal to police department's use of dashboard cameras... and notes they've proven useful after some officers were initially against the idea.

Another proposal from Williams on the annual town meeting agenda in Champaign concerns health care reform. Williams admits when he filed paperwork for that proposal, he didn't believe health care overhaul legislation would be passed by Congress and signed by the president. But Williams says he still may push for that referendum just to gauge citizen support for the reform package.

Williams is a Democratic precinct committeeman in Champaign, who was recently appointed to the Champaign County Board of Review. He's run unsuccessfully for the Champaign County Board and City of Champaign Township Assessor.

Townships across Illinois will hold their annual town meetings on Tuesday, April 13th. The annual town meeting for the City of Champaign Township begins at 6:55 PM in the council chamber of the Champaign City Building.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 24, 2010

Illinois Lawmakers Pass Pension Overhaul

Illinois is one step away from a two tiered pension system for most public employees. The House and Senate easily approved changes for future workers Wendesday . Those currently on the payroll and retirees won't be affected.

But anyone hired beginning next year will face limits on how much they can earn and be required to work longer... until age 67... to retire.

The move is touted as a cost savings for state government. Illinois is considered to have the worst funded pension system in the country... but unions representing downstate teachers, university employees, state workers and others argue that's NOT their members' fault. AFSCME Executive Director Henry Bayer says state leaders have a history of failing to put enough money in....

"The problem of our pensions is not a problem of rich benefits", says Bayer. "The problem with our pensions is we have not funded them year in and year out as we were supposed to have done."

Bayer says the changes would make it harder to recruit top talent to the public sector.

Unions were outraged when Democratic leaders ended negotiations last week. House Speaker Mike Madigan says the state had to act fast. Madigan says otherwise... the state faces a financial downgrade that could make it more expensive to borrow money for infrastructure and other needs...

"It's currently acting as an impediment for the State to borrow money for activities that we all agreed to do", says Madigan.

Madigan estimates the state will save 100-billion dollars in the next few decades by paying out less in pensions. But that's led to speculation the state might also look to use some of that savings up front and make a smaller contribution to the systems next fiscal year.

Governor Quinn said in a statement Wednesday night that he looked forward to signing the bill.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 24, 2010

Champaign to Move Forward with Study of Stormwater Utility Fee

The Champaign City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to start exploring a stormwater utility fee to help pay for the city's storm sewer and drainage system.

Property owners would pay a fee based on the square footage of structures that cause water runoff, such as buildings and driveways. City officials also discussed the possibility of property owners earning credits to reduce their fees, by installing rain barrels, water gardens, or other devices to reduce runoff.

Susan Hart agrees that using credits is a good way to encourage those behaviors. She's a member of a steering committee that studies flooding problems in Champaign's Washington West Watershed. But, Hart says, the most important thing for now is to collect the money to improve the city's storm sewer system:

"I think it's good", Hart said of the credit idea. "Yes, absolutely. I think the behaviors are a big part of it but there are parts of the city that need pipe first. And then, of course, we can go into the behaviors, but right now we need pipe."

Public Works Director Dennis Schmidt says the city could use a G-I-S or geographic information system to measure the square footage of impervious surfaces on properties, for the purpose of determining their fee.. Mayor Jerry Schweighart says the lack of such technology had discouraged the city from adapting a stormwater utility fee when it last considered the idea in 2002.

"We were discussing ways of measuring it, and the discussion was measuring the amount of rainfall that came off of your roof, and a lot of other things that were just not practical, and (the council) just kind of lost interest", says Schweighart. "I'm glad to hear we've gotten a lot more scientific in the way of measuring these properties."

A feasibility study to assess how the stormwater utility fee should be calculated will take 10 to 12 months. Champaign Public Works Director Dennis Schmidt says it could take an additional year to set up a collection system for the fee. Urbana city officials are also studying the idea.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 23, 2010

Four-Day School Week Concept Passes Illinois House

The Illinois House wants to give struggling schools a chance at saving money by having students in class only four days a week.

The measure easily advanced to the state Senate. Supporters say costs like busing students and electricity would be lower. The sponsor, Danville Republican Representative Bill Black, says it would require schools that drop a day to have longer hours when school is in session. That way, students would still be in class the same amount of time.

But opponents, like Chicago Democratic Representative Monique Davis, say the state should avoid placing money problems on the backs of students and their families. "I don't believe that children should be told you can stay home alone for a full day and take care of yourselves, take care of your little brothers, take care of your little sisters because the state can no longer afford to educate you," Davis said.

Under the proposal, school districts interested in dropping to a four day school week would have to hold public hearings. The State Board of Education would also review the plan.

Public education faces one-point-three billion dollars in cuts next school year. Governor Pat Quinn is suggesting lawmakers approve a tax increase to plug that hole.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 23, 2010

State Analyzes Effects of Health Care Overhaul

With a major healthcare reform about to become law......many Illinoisans are left wondering what's in it for them. The Illinois Department of Insurance has put together a list of changes directly affecting people in the state.

Most provisions won't take effect until 2014, but residents could start seeing changes to their policies within the year. The state Department of Insurance expects health insurance rates to stabilize. The agency points out those seeking coverage won't be discriminated against because of a pre-existing illnesses.

The department's Director Michael McRaith says those changes will reduce trepidation on the part of Illinois consumers. "No longer will people be denied an application for insurance, be denied a claim that they filed with their insurance company, will be charged more because they've been sick or they might become sick in the future," McRaith said.

A major provision of the package is an insurance exchange system. McRaith says that will let Illinoisans shop around and pick from state approved policies. He adds that preventative services like mammograms will also be included. The changes will expand Illinois' Medicaid system, but there are no official cost estimates. One study found one third of Illinois residents have no health coverage.

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