Illinois Public Media News
The initial groundwork has already been laid for a high-speed rail line between Chicago and St. Louis, with trains traveling 110 miles an hour.
Now the authors of a new study of even faster trains want to include Champaign on such a route. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association is advocating for 220 mile an hour trains that would connect Champaign to Chicago in 45 minutes.
Association Executive Director Rick Harnish says competitors in Asia and Europe have gained an edge on their ability to compete in a global economy. He says China's trains will cover the distance of Chicago to New York down to four hours by the year 2013:
"If you could get on a train here and be in Chicago and transfer to another train and be in New York in 5 hours, you can't do that by plane today. It does have an impact," Harnish said. "We're spending more on our infrastructure than our competitors are, we're spending more per-trip, per-person than our competitors are, and we're making fewer trips than our competitors are because it's so much more expensive to travel here than over there."
Illinois is in the running to receive 8-billion dollars in federal stimulus money to begin building initial high-speed rail lines. Meanwhile, Governor Pat Quinn is asking lawmakers to add 400-million dollars for high-speed rail in a capital construction program. Harnish estimates the state would need to find another 10-million for a market study of the faster trains.
Illinois Senate Transportation Committee Chair Martin Sandoval says Illinois is no longer looking at theories and believes the state will make the investment.
The small village of Philo in east central Illinois has a new water tower.
The village on Monday replaced a 50,000-gallon water tank thought to date back to the late 1800s with a new 250,000-gallon water tower. The older tank was wooden but was replaced by a steel tank in the 1920s or 1930s.
The company Aqua Illinois now runs the village's water system. Company vice president Tom Bruns says the new tower will be safer for the community because it can pump water for six hours if there was a fire, instead of only 45 minutes.
Philo is about 13 miles from downtown Champaign in Champaign County. Aqua Illinois serves residents in seven Illinois counties.
Better traffic flow, new streetscape designs and a more pedestrian friendly setting are part of a long-range plan for University Avenue in Champaign-Urbana. The Champaign County Regional Planning Commission held a public meeting on the project last (Tuesday) night in downtown Champaign.
Between now and 2035, the project aims to transform University Avenue from downtown Champaign to the Four-Corners-Cunningham. Part of the corridor lies within the county board district of Champaign Democrat Alan Kurtz, who says the plan is sorely needed.
"The corridor itself is getting old"m says Kurtz.. "It hasn't been revamped, only in certain areas. And I think a long range plan working in this way to run the corridor both through Champaign and Urbana and to renew both ends right through the cities are very important to this mistake."
Kurtz says one remaining question is the cost of the project. Eric Halvorsen of the Regional Planning Commission says they'll be working on the cost estimates --- and strategies for paying the cost --- over the next few months.
The drive to come up with a state budget broke down completely Tuesday night, meaning Illinois will begin a new fiscal year without any plan for paying its employees or delivering government services.
Government won't shut down without a budget in place, but the situation creates uncertainty for anyone who depends on state money: government workers, road crews, community agencies caring for the sick and needy, and more.
The Illinois Legislature adjourned Tuesday night without any firm plans to return or even for the governor and legislative leaders to resume negotiations.
Earlier on Tuesday, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn promised a veto if lawmakers send him a budget that fails to balance and slashes key services.
In a hastily arranged speech to a joint session of the Illinois House and Senate, Quinn urged lawmakers to put aside their political concerns and do whatever is necessary to produce a sound budget.
The Democratic governor said he is prepared to stay in Springfield all summer to get results.
Quinn wants to raise taxes to close the largest budget deficit in Illinois history. But many lawmakers oppose that idea.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has quickly signed into law a new two-year state budget that lawmakers approved just hours before the current spending plan was to expire.
Daniels signed the bill Tuesday night in his Statehouse office in Indianapolis, about an hour after the Indiana Senate adjourned. The Republican governor says the budget has some flaws but does limit spending to preserve Indiana's reserves.
The Republican-controlled Senate voted 34-16 in favor of the plan, which the Democrat-led Indiana House had passed on a 62-37 vote amid impassioned debate earlier in the day.
Lawmakers had faced a midnight deadline to pass a new budget or stopgap funding measure to prevent most of Indiana state government from shutting down.
Here's a look at some features of the budget bill passed by the Indiana General Assembly:
_ Spends about $27.8 billion over the two-year budget cycle. _ Public schools will see an average state funding increase of about 1 percent in the first year and 0.3 percent in the second year. That's less than House Democrats wanted for schools but $54 million more than Senate Republicans provided in their previous version of the budget. _ Includes "trigger'' mechanism so that if the economy improves and state revenues increase above projections, schools would get a share of the extra cash. _ Restores 1 percent cut in operating expenses for higher education made in the fiscal year that was to end on Tuesday. Uses federal stimulus dollars to essentially flat-line future higher education operating costs at 2009 levels over next two years, although Ivy Tech would receive an increase because of large spikes in enrollment. _ Includes bonding authority for numerous university building projects. _ Provides 5 percent increase in state financial aid from current levels. _ Includes no limits on charter schools as some Democrats wanted. _ Includes a pilot program for virtual charter schools, to which Democrats had objected, but allows only 200 students the first year and 500 students the second year. That's a smaller group of students than the Senate Republicans included in their previous version of a budget. _ Keeps $1 billion in reserves at the end of the budget cycle as Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels required. _ Includes a plan to help the struggling Indianapolis Capital Improvement Board by allowing the city to raise its hotel tax and possibly other taxes later if the CIB needs more financial help. _ Funds the CHOICE program for home health care services at $48 million per year. _ Includes funding for public television and state tourism promotion.
Source: Senate Republican fiscal staff.
A federal judge says he intends to declare a mistrial on the remaining counts in the political corruption trial of ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The jury found Blagojevich guilty of one count of lying to federal agents in a verdict read around 4:30 Tuesday afternoon. There were 23 other counts against Blagojevich and four against his brother.
US attorneys say the government plans to retry the Blagojevich case "as quickly as possible.''
WILL-AM and FM have live coverage of the verdict until 6:00 tonight.
For 11 years, Champaign County government has had two administrators -- Deb Busey to look after staffing and finance and Denny Inman to take care of procurement and facilities. But that will change October 1st. The Champaign County Board has voted to switch to a single-administrator system, and to put Busey in the job. After the vote, Busey talked with AM 580's Jim Meadows about the challenges ahead and about the controversial clause in her contract that bars county board members from publicly criticizing her job performance. But first, Busey talked about the prospect of becoming the county's sole administrator after sharing duties with Denny Inman for over a decade.
A Carle Clinic official says a federal decision barring the admittance of new patients for clinical trials at Carle Cancer Center shouldn't be cause for alarm.
The grants administration office at the National Cancer Institute issued the order, saying its Office for Human Research Protections, or OHARP, won't allow new patients to be enrolled while a series of patient protection issues have been resolved.
Carle Clinic Vice President for Planning and Marketing Carol Koenecke-Grant says many of the areas cited were administrative functions, and that these problems are not unique to Carle. She says OHARP is planning to conduct an audit next month to review filings and documentations:
"When one has something like that, you put policies and procedures in place to explain how you're going to store records, how you're going to document things, all of that," Koenecke-Grant said. " This is pretty typical for any organization that conducts clinical trials."
An letter from OHARP obtained by the News-Gazette listed 11 separate cancer clinical trials in which concerns have been raised, including protocol changes conducted by a Carle research investigator without obtaining the required approval.
Koenecke-Grant says a protocol change cited by federal order could be citing something as simple as a scheduling change. She says one example could be that a patient on a protocol fails to attend a lab test on a particular day.
But Koenecke-Grant says it's important to note that this ruling does not affect current Carle Cancer Center patients and that federal officials felt comfortable that it continue with those clinical trials. Carle is to respond to two pages of recommendations by July 7th.
A doctor with the National Cancer Institute, which handles clinical trial programs wasn't available for comment Thursday.
Governor Pat Quinn is underlining the prospect of deep cuts to state services in advance of next week's special legislative session. On Thursday he paid visits to three sites that offer services to people with disabilities, including one in Champaign.
The Governor is still confident lawmakers will see it his way and pass an income tax increase that eases the state's 11 billion dollar-plus budget deficit before making cuts that are too drastic.
"The people of Illinois understand at this tough time that we're going to have to raise revenue in order to have a balanced budget and to have decent services," Quinn said.
As it stands, the stopgap budget lawmakers passed before adjourning their session would mean cuts in state grants for agencies like Champaign's Developmental Services Center. That threat got hundreds of clients and supporters of the DSC out to rally. Roger Webber's son Alex is about a year from graduating high school, where he's been mainstreamed after years of DSC services.
"For 17 years we have assumed there would be group homes, job coaching and programs available, and there would be a network to pick him up," Webber told the Governor in his address to the rally. "With these cuts -- and I feel like I'm preaching to the choir -- we have no idea, we are scared of how he will do and what happens if something happens to us."
Quinn has backed off slightly from his original income tax hike proposal, saying it should be in effect for only two years. Republicans say long-term budget cuts are needed first.
A new one-cent sales tax to fund school facilities will take effect in Champaign County next year. The Champaign County Board voted Thursday night to ratify the tax which voters approved in April.
County Board members did not have to enact the full one cent sales tax approved by voters. And county board member Stan James suggested a lower amount. In light of the bad economy, the Rantoul Township Republican said school districts should settle for a quarter-cent sales tax instead. "They can always come back and ask for more if the need is there", said James. "But now's the wrong time to send a message to people that are out there hurting that we're going to raise their taxes."
But the County Board voted down that suggestion. Urbana Democrat Tom Betz, who says he opposes sales taxes in general, argued the county board should heed the will of the voters --- even though the referendum won with a lower voter turnout than the first unsuccessful referendum in November. "Those votes need to count," said Betz of the April referendum result. "And the ballot proposition said 'at one percent'. It didn't say 'at a quarter percent', it said 'one percent'. It was promoted as one percent."
School officials attending the county board meeting say they'll use part of the sales tax money to pay off existing construction debt and lower property taxes. Urbana School Board President John Dimit says he expects all school boards in the county to spend the sales tax money quote "exactly how we promised the voters".
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