Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 08, 2009

UI Political Science Professor: Madigan’s Decision May Affect Budget Talks

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.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 08, 2009

Residents and Backers of Tent City Ask Champaign City Council to Let Them Stay

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.

Categories: Community, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 08, 2009

Illinois Sending Layoff Notices to 2,600 Employees

Governor Pat Quinn began today the process of cutting 2,600 state jobs while sending a portion of the budget back to lawmakers with recommendations on how to cut $1 billion to help balance it.

Quinn could have made some of the cuts himself, but instead chose to veto a budget bill and leave it to lawmakers.

Lawmakers aren't due back at work at the Capitol until next week, but Illinois has been without a spending plan since a new fiscal year started July 1 with Quinn and lawmakers at an impasse over the budget.

Quinn wants an income tax increase to help fill a budget deficit he estimates at $9.2 billion, while some lawmakers have said they wouldn't even consider a tax increase without cuts, spending reforms and government efficiencies.

One of the programs targeted for budget cuts is Illinois Cares Rx, which serves low-income senior citizens and people with disabilities.

Governor Quinn has proposed cutting the program by $40 million, or 25 percent.

The Department of Healthcare and Family Services says that would affect about 150,000 people. They would not lose their coverage completely, but they would have to pay more for their medicine.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 08, 2009

Officials to Testify on Clout at U of Illinois

The state commission that's investigating allegations that political clout was used to get underqualified students into the University of Illinois is meeting again.

The commission will meet Wednesday in Chicago.

Governor Pat Quinn formed the panel last month to look into the university's admissions system after word of the use of clout first surfaced in the Chicago Tribune. The commission is led by former federal Judge Abner Mikva and is due to issue a report next month.

Among those scheduled to testify is Heidi Hurd, former dean of the College of Law. She's now a law professor.

During testimony Monday, an assistant dean said that over four years, the university forced the law school to accept 24 students with political connections who wouldn't have been admitted otherwise.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 08, 2009

City of Champaign Could Sell Township Offices: Supervisor

The city of Champaign's township buildings streets could be up for sale.

Offices for the township supervisor and assessor are located in two adjacent buildings at the corner of Green and Randolph, south of downtown Champaign. Township Supervisor Pamela Borowski says she's been approached by two commercial Realtors, representing investors interested in re-developing the entire block. Borowski would not give their names. She told Champaign City Council members Tuesday night that if the properties were sold, she'd like to move township offices into a single building.

"I have started looking at properties to potentially purchase or lease," Borowski said. "We haven't nailed down any particular properties yet, although there are a couple that are of interest to me."

Borowski says buildings she's looked at include the former Urban League building. She says if township offices are moved, she wants them to stay in or near downtown Champaign --- as a convenience for General Assistance clients using shelters in the area. And she says the new site would need enough parking for people visiting the township assessor's office.

Borowski says she'll have more details on a possible new site for township offices at an August 4th township board study session. Borowski says that after that, she'll likely ask for a special town meeting where Champaign voters could discuss and vote on the proposal.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 07, 2009

Bank Failures Especially Prevalent in Illinois

Illinois is leading the nation in bank failures so far this year, and a banking group warns that more failures are likely.

Regulators say the state's top ranking is largely because Illinois has more banks than any other state.

Illinois has seen 12 banks fail in 2009. The next highest is Georgia with nine failures and then California with six. Six of the Illinois failures came last week with the shut down of six banks owned by a single company, including Danvulle's First National Bank and John Warner Bank in Clinton.

Experts say they were brought down by investments that went bad. All have reopened with new owners. The Illinois Bankers Association says Illinois has far more banks than any other state, so more failures are likely.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 07, 2009

West Nile Virus Makes its Summer Appearance in Champaign County

West Nile Virus is back in Champaign County this summer after a very light season for mosquitoes last year.

That shortage of mosquitoes meant no reports of the virus in mosquito pools, animals or humans in 2008. Sanitarian Michael Flanagan of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health district says a trap in the city of Champaign yielded a positive test result in recent days. However, he says it's no reason to panic.

"Starting now, since that we've found this virus in Champaign County, it's time to become more aware of your clothing and mosquito protection for people," Flanagan said.

West Nile disease has led to deaths in Illinois and other Midwest states in previous years. But health officials say many cases are mild, sometimes leading to no overt symptoms. Flanagan says the best protection against the disease is keeping away from mosquitoes - wearing light-colored clothing, using repellent and dumping any standing water on your property.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 06, 2009

Chancellor Herman Admits Role in U of I Student Admissions Based on Clout, Says Practice Should End

UPDATED: Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Chancellor of the University of Illinois's flagship campus in Champaign-Urbana admitted his role Monday in getting politically connected applicants accepted to the school.

Testifying in Chicago before the Illinois Admissions Review Commission, Chancellor Richard Herman said the university should abolish its practice of admitting students based on clout.

Herman said he typically got 40 recommendations a year-most of them from trustees. He admits he was often the one with the final say over whether politically connected students were admitted. In one instance, Herman a trustee passed along a request to admit a student from then Governor Rod Blagojevich.

"Did I follow that directive?", said Herman. "Yes. That was a rough 24-hour period for me personally, and I am apologetic about it."

Herman said he wanted to "compensate" the law school for taking the trustee's "dicey" student. So he asked the trustee to find five jobs for graduating law school students. But Herman denies any quid pro quo.

The chancellor said he believed at the time that admitting the students would help the U of I, by showing they were being responsive.

Commissioner Maribeth Vander Weele wanted to know who the university was being responsive to. "By donors? By legislators? By the governor's office?", she asked.

"I suppose the answer to that would be yes", Herman replied.

But Commission Chairman Abner Mikva said the "responsiveness" might look very different to an Illinois resident whose own child was denied admission to the U of I, while the child of someone with an inferior record but superior clout was let in.

"Wouldn't you be very upset?", asked Mikva, asking Herman to put himself in that resident's shoes.

"I think that is really the reason for this hearing, sir, and I would be," said Herman.

"Especially since you know your tax money was paying at least 18 percent of that university's bills", continued Mikva.

"Agreed, sir," replied Herman.

Herman testified in Chicago, before the commission, which was set up by Governor Pat Quinn to investigate the role political influence played in student admissions to the University of Illinois.

After his testimony, a reporter asked Herman if he felt his job was on the line, "I feel I can continue to go forward," said the chancellor. "I feel I, others perhaps, but I made some mistakes --- from which I've learned."

Herman says he now supports an end to the U of I's so-called "Category I" list of politically connected students --- a list which the university has already put on suspension. He also promises to enact reforms such as requiring all requests on applicants' behalf to be made in writing.

The Admissions Review Commission is due to issue its report next month.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 01, 2009

Union Members Arrested in Springfield While Demonstrating for Illinois Tax Hike

For some union members, it's worth getting arrested in order to bring attention to Illinois' budget. Capitol police Tuesday detained eight home health care and child care providers. They had been protesting what they see as the Illinois House's lack of action on an income tax hike. The eight blocked the main entry to the Illinois House chambers. Police escorted them away after the workers refused to leave.

All are members of the S-E-I-U health care union. Union president Keith Kelleher explained they demonstrated to put pressure on the legislature to increase taxes.

"We do not appreciate the political games that are being played here", said Kelleher. "And they need to pass a fair tax increase. Just like many people got arrested to even get the right to have a union, many people got arrested during the civil rights movement to win civil rights for Americans, we are saying we need our economic rights."

Kelleher says without a tax increase, human service cuts will be devastating. He says otherwise the state's subsidy to help pay for the care of 150 thousand kids from moderate income families will be cut. He also says the state will stop paying for in-home aides that care for about 30 thousand elderly and disabled individuals.

A spokesman for the secretary of state says the eight protesters were released without charges after a brief detention. He says police had no choice but to remove them because it's a fire hazard to block entryways and exits.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 01, 2009

Local Lawmakers Differ on Failed Plan to Use Pension Bonds to Shore Up Budget

Two Central Illinois lawmakers dispute the funding mechanism behind one budget proposal that failed in the waning hours of the legislative session in Springfield Tuesday night.

On Monday... the House overwhelmingly passed a proposal to use 2-point-2 billion dollars in pension bonds to pay for human service programs. But the measure failed to make it out of the Senate on Tuesday night. Champaign Democratic Senator Mike Frerichs voted against components of the bill. He says the proposal was fiscally irresponsible.

"I think the state needs to stop using our pension system as a piggy-bank to get us out of our problems," says Frerichs. "We need to tackle the real issues facing the state and stop borrowing on the backs of future Illinoisans to solve our problems."

Mahomet Republican House member Chapin Rose says what was perceived as only a temporary funding plan would have fully funded the pension system by making a payment through a short-term loan at a lower interest rate than normal. He says that would have freed up the dollars for mental health, drug treatment, and related areas.

And Rose questions the actions of Governor Pat Quinn, and says the governor changed his tune in about an hour.

"At 4 PM yesterday (Tuesday, June 30th), he asked us to pass it," says Rose. "At 5 o'clock, he was apparently making phone calls to Democrats, asking to vote against his own plan, to blow a 2-million dollar hole in this budget. So basically, at 5 o'clock, he said, 'Y'know what? Let it crash, let it burn, let everybody close their doors.' That's ridiculous!"

The measure was killed on the Senate floor on Tuesday.

Senator Frerichs also contends the Governor has made inconsistent comments when it came to considering pensions as a way to balance the budget. He says Quinn has also wavered between proposals for temporary and permanent tax hikes.

Both lawmakers say they're ready to return to Springfield to continue budget talks. Legislative leaders have called for a special session on July 14th.

Categories: Government, Politics

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