Illinois Public Media News
The Champaign City Council approved about one million dollars Tuesday night in new and increased fees to help balance the next budget. However, a big increase in license fees for the area's two ambulance companies was rejected.
It would have been a VERY big increase for Carle's Arrow Ambulance and Provena's Pro Ambulance --- jumping from the current 125-dollars a year to 20-thousand dollars a year. City Fire Chief Doug Forsman said the money would help pay their costs as first responder to emergency calls, which often includes assisting ambulance workers. Councilman Tom Bruno thought the increase was reasonable, when the two ambulance companies were considered in the context of the hospitals that owned them.
"It'd be very interesting to see how the the 20-thousand dollar fee we proposed compares to the annual marketing budget of either Provena or Carle," said Burno.
But the ambulance companies, especially Pro Ambulance, said their ability to provide service would be jeopardized by the 20-thousand dollar license fee, especially if other communities followed suit with their own fee hikes --- Urbana was already planning to do so. Council member Marcie Dodds said she thought the increase went too far. "A 16 thousand percent increase is just troubling," said Dodds. "I'm concerned with unintended consequences."
The ambulance license fee hike failed on a 4 to 5 vote. But Champaign council members approved several other new and increased fees, from a higher franchise fee for cable TV to a fee for truck drivers who miscalculate and get their rigs stuck under railroad viaducts. A final council vote on the budget --- including the fee increases --- is set for June 16th.
The University of Illinois will suspend the use of its list of applicants for admission whose names were submitted through political connections.
While the 'Category I' list is suspended, a task force of U of I personnel will spend the summer reviewing the process by which many applicants were the subject of such inquiries. This announcement comes three days after the Chicago Tribune reported the existence of what it called a 'clout list' of people who may have been accepted to the university ahead of those with better qualifications. Spokeswoman Robin Kaler says the article raised some red flags, and it's time for the task force to make sure all students are admitted based on merit.
"The Category I system has raised a number of legitimate questions, and we simply want to create a process that can ensure the integrity of admissions," says Kaler.
The list consisted of the names of about 160 Urbana campus applicants on behalf whom admissions inquiries were made by public officials, alumni, and others with political influence. The task force is expected to have about six members, and include one or more faculty representatives. Its full makeup and timetable will be announced shortly, but Kaler says the group is expected to complete its work before the next admissions cycle begins in September. President Joseph White and chancellors of the three university campuses met Monday to discuss admissions issues.
An historic measure to limit campaign contributions in Illinois is headed to Governor Pat Quinn's desk, despite criticism it does little to actually curb the flow of campaign money.
Quinn admits the measure is flawed, but backs it anyway, saying it's the best the state can get right now.
Critics say there are too many loopholes. Representative Bill Black, a Danville Republican, says one of the biggest flaws is a lack of limits on so-called in-kind contributions. "That means those people who control the committee funds can use unlimited contributions to hire staff, lease computers, pay the rent on an office, buy hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign commercials," Black said on the House floor.
Meantime, the Senate failed to act on another reform measure the governor has called a top priority. The proposal would allow voters to decide to change the state constitution so an unpopular governor could be recalled.
But critics say the measure would put too much power in the hands of lawmakers. At least 30 lawmakers, with equal support from both parties, would have to sign off. So either party could block a recall effort. Critics also say other statewide elected officials should be eligible for recall.
Meanwhile, a legislative purge of state workers is not going forward after all. For now, state employees and commission members who could have lost their posts are safe.
The Illinois House overwhelmingly approved a plan to "fumigate" state government of people hired under disgraced former Governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich. Anyone current Governor Pat Quinn chose to keep on could stay, but otherwise the legislation would have fired seven hundred fifty of these political hires.
But when Senators took up the measure they voiced opposition. Republican Dan Cronin of Elmhurst called it a power grab. "It's irrelevant whether or not you had any connection whatsoever to Governor Blagojevich," Cronin said. "We're going to tell you that you're fired because we can. And you gotta come hat in hand, back into the office, come kiss the ring."
Senate President John Cullerton says in lieu of that criticism, he pulled the measure before Senators could take a vote, leaving open the opportunity to try again later. "I think there's some real confusion as to what it does, and I didn't want to rush into that until we make sure everybody understands what it is," Cullerton said.
House Speaker Mike Madigan drafted the measure. Madigan says it's needed to rid Illinois of anyone who abetted the former Governors' corrupt practices.
Illinois lawmakers have approved a state budget that only provides about six months of funding for agencies and programs. Governor Pat Quinn says that won't do.
Quinn is calling a summit with legislative leaders today at the Capitol in the hopes of breaking a logjam over raising taxes. Quinn says the state needs an income tax hike to help dig out of a huge deficit.
Quinn says he has no plans to act on what's been termed a "lights on" budget, designed to keep government operating if no compromise is reached by the start of the new fiscal year July first. Lawmakers left Springfield early this morning but could be called back to town in the future. Quinn downplays speculation of a long, drawn out budget battle.
"I happen to be a repair man," Quinn said. "I understand in a bad situation, find the hole in the roof and repair it."
But Quinn had little success in working with fellow Democrats who control the legislature, and Republicans are refusing to climb on board with a tax increase. More votes will now be needed to pass a tax hike. Quinn won't say what he'll do if his talks with legislative leaders fails to result in a break through. He says the budget lawmakers approved would result in severe cuts to services and calls that unacceptable.
The Illinois House has adjourned for the evening without voting on a proposed tax increase as Gov. Pat Quinn had requested.
Democrats say they simply lack the votes to pass a tax increase. In a private meeting, they considered several options but couldn't agree on anything.
The situation increases the possibility of lawmakers approving a budget that falls billions of dollars short of covering the state's expenses. That would require massive cuts in services to Illinois residents.
Quinn says an incomplete budget is not acceptable.
The House also took no action Friday on a bill to limit campaign contributions
The Illinois Senate passed the measure Thursday night, and lawmakers suggested it would have the necessary support in the House. The bill, which Gov. Pat Quinn also backs, could resurface on Saturday.
The reform bill limits individual contributions to $5,000 a year and $10,000 from a corporation or political organization. Illinois currently has no limits on campaign contributions.
Republicans have criticized the bill for having too many loopholes. The head of a reform commission Quinn appointed to clean up Illinois government has complained it doesn't go far enough.
Lawmakers are running out of time before the session ends on Sunday.
University of Illinois President Joseph White wants to meet with admissions officials to be sure no inappropriate pressure was placed on them to enroll students who otherwise may not have been.
Friday's Chicago Tribune makes reference to a 'clout list' of prospective students who it contends received special consideration over the last five years. The newspaper says one such student who was admitted after initially being rejected by the U of I is a relative of convicted political fundraiser Tony Rezko. White says no one should feel pressure to admit a student because someone with political clout takes an interest.
"I have made it clear from the time I'm president that I will never exert such pressure and I never have," says White. "And that admissions officers and other people in the University are not to succumb to such pressure - that admissions decisions are to be based on the merits." White says he will often forward information to admissions officers regarding a prospective student, but that doesn't mean he's urging that the person be enrolled to the U of I. The president does say that lists of inquiries about a hopeful student, some through the urging of politicians, aren't unusual at institutions like the U of I and University of Michigan, where he served as interim president. But White says the Tribune was wrong to call the U of I list 'secret.
A bill to limit campaign contributions passed the Illinois House nearly unanimously in March. But Republicans opposed the bill on a near party-line vote when an amended version passed the Illinois Senate Thursday night.
State Senator Dale Righter of Mattoon voted against the bill in the Executive Committee and on the Senate floor. He says the amendment from Oak Park Democrat Don Harmon would add loopholes that set relatively high limits for transfers between political committees --- and no limits on in-kind contributions, like when one politician pays for TV time or campaign mailings for another. He says that will just concentrate more political power in the hands of the legislative leaders.
"While you've capped everyone else's ability to be involved monetarily in the political system, you have left virtually uncapped the legislative leaders," says Righter, who says the bill would only increase leaders' power when it comes to providing or withholding campaign support.
As amended, the bill would cap campaign contributions at 5-thousand dollars a year from individuals, ten-thousand dollars a year from groups like corporations or unions, and 90-thousand dollars a year from political committees.
Besides Republicans, the reform groups also oppose the bill, including the state Reform Commission set up by Governor Pat Quinn. They want tighter limits on contributions, including caps on in-kind donations. But Quinn is supporting the bill, saying it's the best that can be done at this time.
The measure now goes back to the Illinois House.
The Indiana Supreme Court has heard arguments over who is the rightful mayor of Terre Haute in a legal fight that has gone on since shortly after the 2007 city election.
Attorneys for Mayor Duke Bennett and former Mayor Kevin Burke appeared before the justices Thursday, arguing over whether Bennett was eligible to run for office.
Bennett won the election by 107 votes out of some 12,000 cast, but the state appeals court last fall ruled that the results should be thrown out.
That court sided with Burke's contention that Bennett was barred from being a political candidate because he worked at a mental health agency that received federal funding.
Bennett's lawyers asked the Supreme Court to decide how broadly the federal Hatch Act should apply to Indiana candidates.
Gov. Pat Quinn says he remains optimistic that Illinois lawmakers will raise income taxes to help balance the state budget.
The Democratic governor said Thursday that Illinois won't be able to pay its bills or provide vital services without the nearly $4 billion a tax increase would provide. Quinn says he's confident lawmakers will "live up to their responsibilities'' by passing a balanced budget.
State government faces a budget deficit of at least $11.6 billion. But legislators show little interest in raising taxes. They are talking about passing a budget that would only cover part of the state's annual expenses. That would postpone tough budget decisions until later in the year.
The central Illinois community of Peoria has approved a memorial to singer Dan Fogelberg.
The songwriter _ whose hits "Leader of the Band'' and "Same Old Lang Syne'' helped define the soft-rock era _ was a Peoria native whose music career was nurtured in Champaign-Urbana as a University of Illinois student. He died in 2007 at his home in Maine after battling prostate cancer. He was 56.
The city council this week unanimously approved plans to place the memorial at Peoria's Riverfront Park. The man leading the push for the memorial, Hugh Higgins, says he's thrilled by the decision.
Higgins supports a memorial featuring a boulder etched with the lyrics of one of Fogelberg's songs. The project will be paid for by donations. Higgins estimates the cost at around $10,000.
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