Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has laid out his budget plan to get the state's finances on track. But lawmakers have yet to get on board.
During his budget address Wednesday, Quinn cautioned the General Assembly that the state won't be able to cut its way out of the financial crisis. He called such thinking mean spirited and says it would lead to layoffs as well as to children and the elderly losing access to health care, saying he believes people would not support a "doomsday budget."
Governor Quinn says an historic budget deficit forced him to propose hikes in the income tax, vehicle registrations, cigarette purchases and call for employee furloughs and major changes in government pensions. But Palatine Republican Senator Matt Murphy says he doesn't buy Quinn's claims about further spending cuts.
"They're not easy and I'm not here to say it is," said Murphy. "But you can either raise taxes that will put more people out of work or you can balance the budget like everyone is having to do at home."
Lawmakers will debate the budget plan.... and likely make changes to it... over the next couple of months.
The Champaign City Council voted Tuesday night to endorse a plan to fill a projected six-million dollar budget shortfall, created by a drop in city tax revenues.
The study session vote gives Champaign city staff the go-ahead to develop a budget plan that cuts spending, moves more money into the general fund from other areas, and increases some city fees while creating new ones. Council members had questions about the fees, as well as proposed cuts in staff postions --- all of them currently vacant, or expected to become vacant soon.
Council member Marci Dodds says despite her misgivings, she thinks the overall proposal will fill a budget hole without doing lasting harm to city services. "The whole goal", says Dodds, "was not to have tremendous impact on the public, or to just do a slice-and-dice, across-the-board cut; but really, to do this so we would preserve core city services".
Council members paid particular attention to the changes in city fees. Champaign Finance Director Richard Schnuer says the fee changes make up only about 20 percent of the overall proposal, and that the details are subject to change. The fee proposals include a more than 13-thousand percent jump in the license fee for ambulance services, an expansion of the natural gas tax to cover non-AmerenIP customers and a hike in the city franchise fee for cable TV customers.
Schnuer says they'll present a complete budget proposal to the city council in six weeks. Council members will review in study sessions in May, before taking a final vote in June.
The city of Urbana does NOT plan a similar cut to its budget. Mayor Laurel Prussing says she's been told by city comptroller Ron Eldridge that sales tax dollars from new retail developments puts Urbana on a firmer financial footing that some other local communities.
An agribusiness leader from Greenville is Governor Pat Quinn's choice to serve as the next University of Illinois Trustee. U of I graduate Ed McMillan is a former CEO with Ralston Purina Company who now runs a consulting business. He's also stayed involved with the university, serving on its Alumni Association and U of I Foundation Boards, and heads the board of managers that oversees U of I Research Parks in Champaign and Chicago. Once his appointment is confirmed by the Illinois Senate, McMillan says he wants to draw on that research, working further to lure new technology to the campuses. And he says a 'nimble and creative' approach to higher education funding will help yield some of those benefits.
"That leads to the ability to attract and retain what I would call world class people to the institution in both teaching and research and development of tecnology and outreach," says McMillan. "That is, of course, very important to the college of ag and to agribusiness in Illinois, but outreach and extension is also very important to rural community and community development." The 63-year old McMillan is a 1969 agriculture science graduate. He's a Republican, and says he wasn't seeking out the office, but is honored to be asked. McMillan will replace Robert Sperling on the Board of Trustees, and will be one of three downstate voting members.
Mahomet Republican House member Chapin Rose calls McMillan a 'quality pick,' saying he's happy that Governor Quinn is following through on a recent pledge to tap U of I alumni groups for trustee considerations. Rose and other local lawmakers recently signed a resolution with that request.
Most polling places in Champaign County already had voters lined up at 6 am, eager to be among the first voters in what would become a watershed election. That zeal continued through the day, and when all the votes were counted, the county and region posted near record turnout. AM 580's Tom Rogers recaps a hectic day that ended in history being made.
If you're a Champaign County resident who fears rising tax bills during a shaky economy, the resuults from the general elections are good -- all four tax hike questions on the ballot were defeated. Townships, school districts and the county forest preserve district sought the tax increases. But in every case, the answer from voters was no. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.
Republicans have been hurt by the Bush administration's low approval ratings. Some members of Congress from traditionally conservative districts are having more trouble fending off Democratic challengers. But local incumbent Tim Johnson of the 15th district could be one of the safest Republicans up for re-election. AM-580 intern Whitney Wyckoff has more.
Here's another indicator of an unusual election year: the tightest legislative election in eastern Illinois involves not an open seat nor a vulnerable rookie lawmaker -- but one of the state's most senior legislators. 22 years in the statehouse have brought Bill Black of Danville a high profile and a devoted following. But as AM 580's Tom Rogers reports, an unusual chain of events has led to a battle with first-term Vermilion County board member Lori DeYoung.
Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz says a change in philosophy has allowed some of those who go through the justice system to take responsibility for what they've done, recover and get on with their lives. But challenger Janie Miller-Jones disagrees with that assessment and says the office needs to do more to prevent crime to begin with. AM 580's Jeff Bossert previews the race for State's Attorney.
The two candidates for Champaign County Auditor say county finances are on shaky ground, and the global economic crisis may make matters worse. Each candidate says they're the best choice to keep an eye on those finances for the next four years. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.