Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 19, 2011

Illinois State Treasurer Shares Concerns About State Debt

Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford says the state needs to come up with a budget that avoids any more debt.

Rutherford was in Champaign on Wednesday to address the local Chamber of Commerce. While Gov. Pat Quinn has supported borrowing to pay off a large backlog of bills, Rutherford said that particular proposal wouldn't improve the state's cash-flow situation. He said borrowing has saddled taxpayers with nearly $45 billion in debt.

"I understand restructuring debt," he said. "I'm open to that, but it has to be something that passes the smell test. It has to be something that a fiscally astute and responsive person will say, 'It's good, it's better, let's go.'"

Rutherford said Illinois' budget should be based on the state's actual revenue. He also said changes to worker compensation and the pension system are essential.

Rutherford added that the mass demonstrations across the country against financial greed and corruption should be a wake-up call for lawmakers.

"I think it is a signal to those that are policy making in Washington, DC and the state capitol of Springfield is they better get their act together because actions have consequences and the biggest consequence will be coming in November 2012, and that's the election," Rutherford said.

With the state having nearly five billion dollars in unpaid bills, lawmakers are expected to review the budget during the veto session that begins next week.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 19, 2011

Scalia: Politics Don’t Affect Supreme Court Decisions

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told a group of Chicago law students on Tuesday that the only thing political about the nation's highest court is the selection process.

Scalia said the process - especially confirmation hearings - have been highly politicized because the public has finally realized the court's immense responsibility. But once the judges do their work, he said political lines don't matter to the five Republican-appointed and four Democrat-appointed judges.

"I don't care a fig if a statute has been passed by a Democrat or Republican," Scalia said. "Once you're on the court, you don't owe anybody anything. Justices are notorious ingrates."

Scalia, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, did not elaborate on high-profile cases last term involving campaign finance rules and limits on class-action lawsuits where the court ruled along political lines.

Scalia spoke to students and took questions at Chicago-Kent College of Law for a keynote address during a conference on property rights. His lecture-style remarks delved into the court's 2010 decisions on a case involving owners of beachfront homes in Florida.

But he also weighed in on two other issues some Chicagoans might find equally as important - Chicago-style pizza and baseball.

"I like so-called deep dish, it's very tasty," he said as some audience members cheered. "But it should not be called a pizza. It should be called a tomato pie."

His answer to the second question, about whether he preferred the Cubs or White Sox, elicited some boos.

"I am a Yankees fan," he said.

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 19, 2011

Doctor Data Back Online in Illinois

Illinois patients once again can use a public website to find out whether their doctors and chiropractors have shady histories.

The Physician Profile became available Wednesday on the website for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

It allows consumers to see whether a doctor has been disciplined in Illinois or in another state. Malpractice judgments and settlements going back five years are posted.

The searchable database was taken offline last year when the Illinois Supreme Court declared a medical malpractice reform law unconstitutional.

A new law reinstated the database and gave doctors 60 days to review the information before the site went live. That review period has passed, allowing the comeback.

The website drew more than 150,000 hits weekly before it went dark in 2010.

Categories: Business, Health, Technology

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 19, 2011

United Auto Workers Vote ‘Yes’ to Ford Contract

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

Ford union autoworkers have approved a new four-year contract that's expected to bring 2,000 jobs to the Chicago region.

At first, it didn't seem like a slam dunk deal. Many workers complained the new contract reinforced an unfair two-tier payment system with part time workers doing the same work as full-timers and getting paid substantially less. The new contract included profit-sharing in lieu of pay raises, and many living in expensive metropolitan areas like Chicago wanted a cost of living pay increase.

Chicago's union workers were so against the contract that 77 percent of the South Side assembly plant voted against it last week; 70 percent at the Chicago Heights stamping plant did the same.

But as big 'yes' votes came in over the weekend from major facilities in Michigan and Kansas City, the scales began to tip tellingly in favor of the contract. Workers in Louisville, Ky., approved the agreement Tuesday, according to a post on the Louisville local's Facebook page. That was the last large local to vote, and it ensures the agreement will go into effect.

A final tally was not immediately available from the UAW Wednesday morning.

Richard Hurd, Professor of Labor Studies at Cornell University, said he's not surprised at all in the variation between plants on the vote. He said typically in votes for or against a contract, a local union leader holds a lot of sway.

Regarding the case of the Chicago plants' rejection, he thought it could go deeper.

"It could be that there are tensions in the facility and the vote reflects things other than the workers particular view towards the terms of the agreement. There may be bad relations between the current plant manager and workers, or between supervisors and workers. So workers less happy with situation will be more likely to vote against a contract," Hurd said.

The UAW represents approximately 41,000 hourly and salaried workers across 27 Ford manufacturing and assembling facilities in the United States. Now that the vote is in, the new four-year contract will begin moving forward. According to a UAW press release, it includes adding 5,750 new UAW jobs.

"These new UAW jobs mean more than 12,000 new jobs in total with jobs previously announced by Ford," said UAW President Bob King.

Chicago's two area plants are expected to reap 2,000 new jobs out of the deal by 2015. The agreement also promises $16 billion Ford is investing in new and upgraded vehicles and retooling plants.

A signing bonus for workers comes in at $6,000 dollars, which according to Hurd, is a big figure in these days of a depressed economy.

Now that the contract is approved, local unions will continue work on bargaining on behalf of individual plant agreements.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 19, 2011

Urbana School Board Ends Cell Tower Talks

By a 4-to-3 vote, the Urbana School Board decided Tuesday night to cut off negotiations with U.S. Cellular on a 150-foot cell phone tower that would have gone up next to Urbana Middle School.

School board President John Dimit had said he was concerned about aesthetics, but also felt much of the opposition to the plan was the result of misinformation he was receiving on the topic.

"For instance, some of the e-mails talked about razor wire on top of the fence, around the base of the tower" he said. "Well, nobody has talked about razor wire. As a matter of fact, the folks at U.S. Cellular first talked about putting a fence around the base of the tower that matched the fence that other e-mails have been praising us for that go around the athletic field."

Dimit supported the estimated $1 million in revenue the tower would bring over 25 years.

Champaign County board member Ralph Langenheim told the school board there could be an ethical dilemma if the District 116 rents out public property to a private company. Historic preservationist Brian Adams said he's concerned what a tower would do the neighborhood's historical character, including the Lincoln the Lawyer statue, Carle Park, and Urbana High School.

"That whole area just has a very unique character," he said. "My neighborhood consists of old houses. I live about a half mile away from this neighborhood. And unfortunately, we've lost a lot of integrity in our historic neighborhood. And I would hate to see something like that happen to this neighborhood."

School board member Peggy Patten said the tower would "certainly" be an aesthetic blight, with its height and 8-foot wide base. While it's uncommon for cell towers to fall, Patten said Urbana city planners have been told it happens on rare occasions.

Debate over the proposed tower lasted about eight months.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 18, 2011

Consultant Offers Suggestions for New Willard Governing Structure

An expert on the operation of airports says forming a local authority with funding by local taxpayers might be one way Willard Airport can cut costs.

Jack Penning, who's with Portland-based Sixel Consulting, is laying out this and other options that don't include the University of Illinois. He made his suggestions Tuesday before the annual meeting of Champaign County's Economic Development Corporation.

Penning said Willard simply doesn't compete well with other nearby airports, largely because it doesn't involve the community, whereas Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington is under the guidance of a local airport authority, and involves local property tax dollars.

"Because of that, there's a lot more community input into how the airport is run, because it's your neighbor running the airport," he said. "The airport here is run by the (U of I) Board of Trustees, which doesn't have single member from Champaign County outside of a student trustee. And so the people who use the airport, the people who live in Champaign County, really have very little say over how it's run."

Penning said in Bloomington, airlines pay about $1.50 per passenger, while they're paying more than $9 a passenger at Willard. He said the big difference is property taxes in Bloomington, as well as the U of I's wages and benefits to those who work at Willard.

Seamus Reilly co-chairs the EDC's airport committee. He said each of the consultant's suggestions offered greater possibilities for Willard.

"It's not so much that one or other governing structures is necessarily superior, but I think what came through was the fact that some of these other airports have a much stronger funding platform," Reilly said. "In other words, that they have money available and resources available to help develop the airport to move it forward."

Penning said the airport also has the option of being made part of the Champaign Urbana Mass Transit District, being operated through the Regional Planning Commission, or Willard could be operated by a private management firm. He didn't endorse one of the plans for Willard.

Penning's final report on Willard should be available for public review in about a month.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 18, 2011

Ethics Panel Extends Investigation of Rep. Jackson

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The House Ethics Committee has extended its investigation of Illinois Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

The committee is investigating whether Jackson or someone acting on his behalf, offered to raise funds for then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in return for an appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.

The committee said Tuesday there was no longer a request to defer the case. That request had come from the Justice Department.

Blagojevich, who won two terms as Illinois governor, was convicted in June of a wide range of corruption charges, including trying to sell the Senate seat.

Jackson has acknowledged he was "Senate Candidate A'' in the Blagojevich criminal complaint, one of several candidates whom authorities say the former governor considered for the Senate seat.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 18, 2011

Chicago Mayor Wants to Negotiate on Casino Measure

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he hopes to find common ground with Gov. Pat Quinn on expanding casino gambling, but Quinn says he's not looking to compromise.

Emanuel and Quinn discussed the issue at separate events Tuesday. The two Democrats publicly sniped for months over gambling expansion.

Emanuel wants a casino in Chicago, and he expressed impatience with Quinn's long deliberation over a measure passed by the legislature in May.

Qunn responded by telling Emanuel to back off. On Monday, Quinn laid out a framework for expansion that gave oversight of a Chicago casino to the state Gaming Board, rather than a city casino development committee.

On Tuesday, Quinn stuck to his guns, saying the framework is what he's willing to work with. Emanuel said he's encouraged about a deal.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 17, 2011

Lawmakers Hope for Compromise on Gaming Measure

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)

Three legislators and Danville's mayor are happy to see plans for a casino in the city remain intact after a review by Gov. Pat Quinn.

But Catlin Republican House member Chad Hays said removing slot machines at racetracks from the gaming measure will keep it from passing. He said backing of the bill for many downstate House lawmakers hinged on connections between horse racing and agriculture. Revenues from the racetrack slot machines would have gone toward conservation districts and county fairs.

Hays sad there are still options, including an override of a gubernatorial veto, but he said getting the necessary votes in the Senate is a long shot.

Hays noted that Senate President John Cullerton could introduce a 'trailer bill' to try and accommodate the governor, but he said he believes that won't get the necessary backing without the so-called 'racinos.'

"Being close enough to the process, and knowing the members on the (House) floor, where they are geographically, and what their relationship is to agriculture," Hays said. "I think you would lose a significant number of votes, probably 15 or 16 at least, if the 'racinos' would not be in the bill."

Hays said Quinn also has the option of taking no action once getting the bill over a period of 60 days, too late for any action in the veto session.

Champaign Senator Mike Frerichs said it was good to see Gov. Quinn recognize that Danville made a compelling case for a casino, and put forth some suggestions of his own. But he agrees that Quinn's removal of slot machines at racetracks, will cost a number of votes from downstate lawmakers because of the slot machines' benefit to agriculture.

Frerichs called Quinn's comments a good starting point, but he said a lot of work lies ahead in order to come to a compromise.

"I believe the sponsors acknowleged there may need to be some changes in order to scale back the extent of the expansions," Frerichs said. "I think (Gov. Quinn) has scaled it back so far that the bill will have lost several supporters in the House, downstate members who feel there's probably not a lot left in for downstate in what he's proposing."

Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said he is excited that Quinn has recognized the need for a casino in his city, but he also fears the loss of the slot machines at racetracks and changes to the Chicago casino license could kill the measure. Eisenhauer said he will keep tabs on changes to the bill as legislators prepare to return to Springfield.

"I'll talk to different legislators around the state to get a feel for what resolutions for what might be offered up to find out what discussions are in fact taking place, and is there anything that we can provide that would help in those discussions," Eisenhauer said.

Eisenhauer also said he plans to visit Springfield during the fall veto session, which starts Oct. 25.

The gambling legislation passed the General Assembly in May, but Senate President John Cullerton has been holding on to the measure until Quinn gave details on what he would support.

"We will be sure to include them in the discussions going forward at the idea of trying to come up with an appropriate compromise that can pass both the general assembly and the governor's support," said John Patterson, a spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 17, 2011

Ameren Illinois Says Gas Prices to Remain Steady for Upcoming Winter

Ameren Illinois says its natural gas customers can expect to pay about the same for gas this winter as they did last year.

Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris said they estimate gas prices to continue at their current level. The gas delivered by the utility averages about $0.61 per term last winter --- and Morris said the average this winter should be $0.62 per therm. He said that would continue a pattern of moderate natural gas prices that's been going on for about three years.

"It's pretty much been fueled by sluggish economies, soft worldwide demand for energy in all forms, and then a little more recently, the discovery of tremendous supplies of natural gas in shale formations right here in the United States and Canada," Morris said.

Morris also said that Ameren Illinois has enough natural gas available to meet customer needs even during a tough winter. While Ameren has most of its natural gas supplies hedged or "price-protected" to ensure against market volatility, the price the utility charges for delivering that gas to customers could go up. Morris says their delivery rate has already increased slightly, and could go up again this winter.

"There was a very small increase in the last rate case we had before the Illinois Commerce Commission," Morris said. "There is another rate case before the Commerce Commission now, which will not be decided until January. And I really can't predict what the Commission will do."

If the ICC grants the full rate increase requested by Ameren, Morris said natural gas delivery rates would go up around $4.85 a month for former CIPS customers, and $7.47 a month for former customers of Illinois Power. But Morris said it's more likely that smaller increases would be approved.

Morris said the delivery rate typically makes up about one-third of a customer's natural gas bill, with the rest paying for the gas itself. Morris said Ameren makes its profit on the delivery charge, and simply passes along the cost of the gas itself.

Morris advises customers to visit Ameren's ActOnEnergy.com website to review tips for saving on energy costs. He said customers can enroll in a Budget Billing plan at AmerenIllinois.com to better manage their energy bills.

Categories: Energy
Tags: energy

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