Illinois Public Media News
Gov. Pat Quinn and Sen. Dick Durbin are applauding the s recommendation of a panel of Illinois lawmakers to close a state prison so that it can be sold to the federal government.
In a statement, the Democrats say that selling Thomson Correctional Center to the U.S. to house Guantanamo Bay detainees shouldn't be a political or partisan issue. They say it should be about "doing what's right for our troops, for our national security and for the people of Illinois.''
The Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability voted 7-4 Wednesday to accept a recommendation to close Thomson.
Only Republicans ... like Bloomington Sen. Bill Brady ... cast "no" votes. Brady, who's running for governor, says Quinn has botched programs to release Illinois prisoners early. He says it shows Illinois needs Thomson to house the state's own inmates. He points to an estimate that shows it may cost 350 million dollars to build a prison like Thomson today.
"But yet, our governor in all the great negotiating skills that he has, indicated he'd be thrilled if he could get 120 to 150 million dollars", said Brady. "This is something we can ill afford to give the federal government. We're not only giving them a way out on terrorists. We're giving them a facility for half of what it would cost them to build today."
Other Republicans on the Commission casting "no" votes were Rep. Patti Bellock, Sen. Mike Murphy and Rep. Raymond Poe. Two Republicans voted for the Thomson prison sale --- Rep. and Co-Chairman Rich Myers and Sen. Dave Syverson. The Commission's five Democrats all voted "yes" --- they are Sen. Mike Frerichs of Champaign, along with Rep. Al Riley, Sen. and Co-Chairman Jeff Schoenburg, Sen. Donne Trotter and Rep. Elaine Nekritz.
The vote by the bipartisan committee is nonbinding, and Quinn already has said he plans to sell the prison. The sale could be completed as early as the spring.
(Additional reporting by Illinois Public Radio)
Work could begin this spring on a new Christie Clinic facility in southwest Champaign. The Champaign City Council endorsed the project at its study session Tuesday night. It will be the first development to go up at the I-57 Curtis Road interchange.
Champaign Council members are welcoming the Christie Clinic project, even though it doesn't quite fit the zoning guidelines being developed for the Curtis Road Interchange area --- guidelines meant to avoid the strip-mall look of the North Prospect shopping district. Despite the discrepancy, council members decided that the Christie project is an important one that will get development started in the area.
But Councilman Tom Bruno says he expects the proposed zoning guidelines to still apply to all future development at the Curtis Road Interchange.
"Because a catalyist is a good idea for the area", says Bruno, "I'm willing to go along with these exceptions. But a future developer would be sorely mistaken if he thought my acquiescence to the Christie project would indicate that this is a starting point for somehow chipping away at the concept we have in mind out here."
Another reason the council supports the project --- Christie officials say that once it's built, they can start work on a major renovation to their downtown Champaign clinic.
The new clinic at the Curtis Road Interchange takes the place of Christie's ill-fated Clearview project, which was planned but never built at I-57 and I-74. Phase One will have 60-thousand square feet of floor space --- with future expansions planned up to 200-thousand square feet.
The Champaign City Council will take a final vote on an annexation agreement for the new Christie Clinic site next month.
About 11-thousand University of Illinois employees will have to take four unpaid days off work between now and the middle of May.
U of I administrators say furlough days have become unavoidable as the university faces a 440 million dollar shortfall in state funding. Administrators say the state has given the U of I only seven percent of the support it expected from this year's budget.
Interim president Stanley Ikenberry says no layoffs have been ordered, but departments are being asked to consider them because of a grim immediate future.
"Next year is not any more comforting," Ikenberry said. "So I think until we see the state leadership -- the governor, the leaders and members of the General Assembly, and frankly the citizens of the state -- rallying around a long term solution, I think we're going to be dealing with a mounting financial crisis."
Ikenberry believes the state will need to cut state spending and increase taxes to dig itself out of its budget deficit.
Chief financial officer Walter Knorr says the U of I has borrowed millions of dollars from its own funds - he says money from tuition, federal support and private giving have also kept the university going. "And indeed it's these other areas of the university that are giving us the liquidity that we require to be able to cope with the shortfall in funding from the state," Knorr said.
The four-day furloughs announced today do not affect civil service employees, but Knorr says their bargaining groups will be asked to put similar actions into their contracts. About 100 top administrators will take ten furlough days over the next five months.
Gov. Pat Quinn has named Chicago Alderman Manny Flores as the new chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission.
Quinn announced the appointment Monday at a news conference in Chicago, calling Flores hard working and diligent. The governor says Flores will have a "strong voice'' for consumers and focus on green initiatives. The ICC determines utility rates in Illinois.
Flores says he's humbled and honored by the appointment, and he calls it a "new challenge.'' Flores replaces Charles Box, whose term was to expire in January 2009. Box is the former mayor of Rockford.
The consumer advocacy group Citizens Utility Board calls Flores' appointment "good news'' and say he's "proven to be a strong, independent, and fair voice for consumers.
Candidates are taking to the Web to connect with Illinois voters more than ever. A University of Illinois researcher is studying how much good it will do them in the upcoming primary election.
There are exceptions - mainly third party candidates without primary competition. But by and large, most candidates running for statewide office have a Web presence, Republicans a bit more so than Democrats. According to Michael Cheney, a fellow at the U of I's Institute of Government and Public Affairs, all 27 GOP candidates running statewide have a Web site compared with 84% of the Democrats.
Social media is common for campaigns too. Cheney says half of all statewide candidates have Twitter accounts, and 63 percent are on Facebook. But Cheney says the payback for online efforts is so far low. "A good part of that may be just to the number of candidates in each of the various contests, creating such clutter that it's really hard," Cheney said. "If you wanted to go out and check the Facebook pages for every candidate, you'd probably tire after you got about halfway through the list."
Cheney predicts an uptick in voters' online activity after the February 2 primary, when they can focus on the nominees.
New York's attorney general says he'll join the legal effort to keep Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes because the species could devastate the fishing industry and the environment.
Andrew Cuomo said he'll file a brief in U.S. Supreme Court today supporting Michigan's request to sever a century-old Chicago canal connecting Lake Michigan and the Mississippi water basin. Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio also are supporting the request. Illinois' attorney general's office is reviewing the suit. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago has said that closing the canal would not prevent the carp from migrating. Asian carp can grow to be 100 pounds and can consume massive quantities of plankton, the base of the Great Lakes food chain.
2009 was the safest year on Illinois roadways since 1921, when there were much fewer cars and trucks on the roads - and many of today's roads didn't even exist.
The state department of transportation says fewer than one thousand people died in vehicle crashes last year, more than a hundred fewer than in 2008. Transportation officials believe a big factor in the drop in traffic deaths is increased seat belt use - usage reached 93 percent in 2009, the highest ever. In the meantime, police have held special patrols to reduce some of the other major causes of traffic fatalities, including drunk driving, improper lane usage, speeding and following too closely.
Governor Pat Quinn says a secret policy change that allowed some well-behaved criminals to leave prison after fewer than three weeks behind bars was a mistake. But he says given the state's budget woes, Illinois' prison system has been forced to economize.
The governor called the accelerated early release of inmates ... some of whom were violent offenders ... "bad judgment." And Quinn says he never gave Corrections Director Michael Randle the authority to do it.
Yet Quinn also seemed to downplay the gravity of the situation. He says each of the 1700 inmates released early on meritorious good time would have been out of prison by the end of January anyway.
"We should not in any way, I think, miss the point that there are literally thousands of people coming into our prison system for a very short period of time", said Quinn.
Quinn says that because the state corrections budget was slashed, Randle was put in the challenging position of finding savings. The governor says Randle will keep his job as director, but he has terminated the program. His opponent in the Democratic primary race for governor, Comptroller Dan Hynes, calls Quinn's acknowledgment "inadequate" and "lame.
For the first time this season, property owners in downtown Champaign and in Campustown have to clean off their sidewalks under city rules.
It's the third winter of the city's mandatory shoveling policy for business owners in the two commercial areas. It was highly controversial when it was put into effect three years ago, but public works director Dennis Schmidt says it's gained acceptance.
"Compliance has gotten better each year", says Schmidt. "And I think definitely, accessibility to those areas, both for able-bodied shoppers and folks with physical disabilities has definitely improved. And I think those were the two goals that we had all along."
Property owners have 48 hours to clear a path on their public sidewalks - the clock started running at 10:00 Monday morning. Any walks not cleared can be cleared by city crews at the owner's expense. Champaign puts the snow removal order in effect every time there's a snowfall of two inches or greater.
Monday, December 28th, was the first day that voters could take out an absentee ballot for the February 2nd primary election. And for the first time, absentee voters in Illinois don't have to give a reason for wanting to vote early --- thanks to a new state law that took effect last August.
Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden says the new law exempting voters from having to state a reason for voting absentee makes absentee voting more like early voting ---except that it begins two weeks earlier, and can be done by mail. Shelden says the change will mean even more ballots cast before Election Day. Danville Election Commission Director Barbara Dreher agrees. She thinks the level of both early and absentee voting will "rise up exponentially, and take the pressure off of the polling places on Election Day".
Such ballots already make up a sizable percentage of ballots cast in elections. In the November 2008 election, about 12 percent of Champaign County ballots and nearly 10 percent of Danville ballots were cast early or absentee.
Shelden predicts that as more ballots are cast before Election Day, Election Day itself will lose its importance as a civic event engaging all voters at the same time.
"I don't want to say that's negative, but it's going to be almost a bygone memory in a matter of four or five years", says Shelden. "I think we'll see so many people voting early that Election Day will, in itself, have a different meaning to people."
Shelden thinks more pre-Election Day voting will also change campaign strategies, because campaigning in the last few days before Election Day will lose its impact.
You can apply for an absentee ballot in Illinois through your local election authority or county clerk's office --- in person, by mail or phone, and in some locations, such as Champaign County, online. Absentee ballots can be cast in Illinois until the day before Election Day.
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