Illinois Public Media News
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.
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.
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.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn on Tuesday vetoed a key portion of a makeshift state budget that was approved by legislators, calling it a "halfway measure'' that would fail to fund basic services and set Illinois up for a wave of lawsuits.
Quinn's action leaves state government without a spending plan for the new budget year. That endangers the paychecks of thousands of state employees and creates a risky financial situation for state-funded groups that provide child care, drug treatment and other services.
Lawmakers aren't scheduled to return to the Capitol for further discussions until July 14, roughly the same time that the first government paychecks would be interrupted by the budget impasse.
The Democratic governor did not use his power to call a special session that would bring legislators back to Springfield more
Quinn's budget veto marks another round of uncertainty and frustration for Illinois taxpayers. The move leaves state workers who might not get a paycheck and poor families wondering if they'll lose daycare and health services.
For the third straight time, Illinois government has entered a new budget year without a new budget in place. State officials are amid the worst fiscal crisis in Illinois history.
Things have gotten so twisted in Springfield that Quinn wound up opposing his own borrowing plan and legislative leaders are likely to fight to revive a budget they didn't want in the first place.
For now, government will operate more or less normally. But Quinn noted without a budget, any group depending on state money can keep delivering services as usual but they "do so at the risk of not being paid.
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 about an hour after the 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 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 state government from shutting down.
Wednesday marks the start of the new state government fiscal year. But there's no budget agreement and no indication when one might happen.
The state will keep operating for at least a while... even though it has no spending authority. Lawmakers have approved a budget that includes heavy cuts to social services, which Governor Pat Quinn announced he won't sign. It all adds up to an ongoing stalemate that threatens to drag well into the summer or longer. Quinn spoke before a joint session of the House and Senate just hours before lawmakers left the Capitol. "We must not put off decisions until later in the summer or the fall or next winter... that's not what adults do," Quinn told lawmakers in the House chamber.
Quinn is still trying for an income tax increase, but so far he lacks the votes to get it passed. A gubernatorial veto would force lawmakers back to the Capitol, but there's no timetable yet for their return. The Governor says the state has a budget deficit of more than nine billion dollars, but there's even disagreement if that's an accurate amount.
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.
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