Illinois Public Media News
The Illinois Green Party will start getting ready for the 2010 elections at its semiannual meeting this weekend in Champaign and Urbana.
Illinois Green Party chairman Phil Huckleberry says the party members expect to hear from candidates looking for support from the Greens in the Feb. 2 primaries.
Party organizers expect more than 100 people to attend the two-day meeting, Saturday in Champaign and Sunday in Urbana.
The Greens are the only party in the state other than Republicans and Democrats eligible to field candidates for every office in the state.
University of Illinois trustee Lawrence Eppley says he never forced politically connected students to be admitted to the Champaign-Urbana campus.
Eppley told a special commission he passed along between 5 and 10 names per year for special consideration. He says about half those came from staffers in former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's office.
Eppley says he thought passing the names on was "benign." University employees have testified that they considered inquiries from the trustees to be "directives."
Eppley says he now understands there were problems with the unofficial inquiries that he says functioned as an "underground recommendation system.''
Eppley says the state commission is needed to "fix'' the clout list. Gov. Pat Quinn formed the commission to investigate whether special treatment was given to politically connected applicants, known as "Category I.''
After the Chicago Tribune reported on the "Category I'' list in May, the university suspended it.
(Additional reporting by The Associated Press)
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.
The sudden announcement from Lisa Madigan leaves two major Democratic primaries fairly wide open next year - but it may also have ramifications for this year's legislative budget deadlock.
Some had theorized that lawmakers led by Madigan's father, House Speaker Mike Madigan, were happy to withhold support for Governor Pat Quinn's spending and income tax proposals in order to help Lisa Madigan in a potential run for governor against Quinn. But University of Illinois political science professor Robert Rich says today's (Wed) news throws that speculation out the window.
"It will put some additional pressure on the Speaker to make his position and why he's doing it totally transparent, Rich said "Alternatively it'll say to his critics that he never did it because of his daughter."
Rich says Madigan's decision to run for re-election as attorney general opens up both races to other potential Democratic candidates, such as state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias or comptroller Dan Hynes. It may also provide more breathing room for Governor Quinn, who hasn't said if he plans to run for a full term.
Residents and supporters of a tent community for homeless people made their case to the Champaign City Council Tuesday night.
Neighbors of the St. Jude Catholic Worker House in Champaign had complained about disorderly people living outdoors in tents. But Catholic Worker volunteers say the tent residents now enforce rules banning such behavior. Jesse Masengale is one of about a dozen people living at what has become the Safe Haven Tent Community on the Catholic Worker House grounds. Addressing city council members Tuesday night, Masengale said, "We have established agreed-upon rules, policies and procedures. We have the benefit of following rules already established by legal tent cities from across the country."
One such tent city is Dignity Village, which the city of Portland Oregon recognizes as a transitional housing campground. Supporters of Safe Haven say Champaign city officials could do the same. But Councilwoman Karen Foster says the tent city worries the neighbors and clearly violates the city zoning code. She says it should go. "If they are in need of housing", says Foster, "then -- like we did with the Gateway people -- we can try to work with them to try to find them affordable housing."
Fosgter referred to the crisis that residents of Gateway Studios suffered in May, after the owner failed to pay utility bills and the property closed down. But Safe Haven supporters say that incident illustrates a shortage of affordable housing that the city needs to address.
Council members Mike LaDue, Deb Feinen and Will Kyles said they'd be willing to meet with people from the Catholic Worker House and Safe Haven. But Foster and City Manager Steve Carter say Safe Haven residents will eventually have to fold their tents.
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