Illinois Public Media News
Urbana's proposed budget doesn't include any tax hikes, but eliminates raises and leaves a number of jobs vacant in order to do that.
The city will also rely on $6 million in reserves to balance the budget. Mayor Laurel Prussing says the $48 million dollar proposed spending plan also relies on fine and fee hikes from the past year. The city will leave seven jobs unfilled, including a police officer, a public works maintenance worker, and an executive assistant job that's being eliminated for good. Prussing says one area of revenue - the state motor fuel tax... really hasn't changed in 20 years, and suggests the city should enact its own. She says a 2-cent tax would bring a half-million dollars a year for street improvements. "This is something that has to be discussed with the council, and I'd like to talk about it with Champaign," said Prussing. "But I think it's something that Urbana really has to take seriously because we have a need for this and I think since we'd only be asking for a fairly modest amount, we'll have to see what the public thinks." Prussing says a 5-cent motor fuel tax has worked well in Danville, where residents don't mind spending the extra money to upgrade streets.
Mayor Prussing says she's also concerned about what courts decide on Provena Covenant Medical Center's tax exemption. She says if local hospitals provide enough charitable care to be exempt, then Urbana taxpayers are paying for it. She says that doesn't seem fair for the city to pick up that cost. Urbana's city council gets its first look at the budget plan on May 24th - a final vote on the plan will be on June 21st.
The University of Illinois' 18th president says it's easy to dwell on the financial problems of the state, rather than the good things the 3-campus institution has to offer. When introduced Wednesday, Michael Hogan also stressed the need to look beyond an admissions controversy that led to the previous president's resignation. The Iowa native got a large ovation in Urbana... about six weeks before he takes the helm of the U of I. Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert has this report:
The next president of the University of Illinois will have the task of maneuvering the school through shrinking state funding and lingering mistrust.
But Michael Hogan says he's up to the task. Hogan today visited the Urbana campus, one day after his appointment was announced. Hogan is leaving the presidency of the University of Connecticut to take over for interim president Stan Ikenberry, who stepped in after the U of I admissions scandal. Hogan told trustees, faculty and students that he knows adversity.
"There are challenges ahead for the University -- everyone knows that. These are tough economic times not only here but for public and private higher education across the country," Hogan said. "But I'm looking forward -- I'm really looking forward -- to addressing these challenges, and mostly to addressing them in partnership with the faculty, the staff, the students and the board of this great university."
Hogan rose above more than 200 applicants for the U of I's top job, including other university presidents and provosts. Professor May Berenbaum sat on the search committee - she's happy that the U of I is still held in high esteem in spite of its problems.
"It speaks well for our campus and its reputation, and it's hope for the future that there were so many people who wanted to face those challenges," Berenbaum told Illinois Public Media's Celeste Quinn. "In that sense, it was quite reassuring -- daunting at first, but as the process unfolded it was more and more encouraging."
Hogan will receive a $620,000 salary according to the U of I plus a $225,000 retention bonus after five years. Trustees chair Chris Kennedy says even at that salary, the university is getting a bargain and is not paying top dollar.
In an effort to improve students' health, legislators want Illinois schools to share good ideas. The measure creates a database districts can access to learn about successful wellness programs offered at other schools statewide.
The legislation's sponsor, Plainfield Democratic Senator Linda Holmes, says many schools already have nutrition and physical education programs in place. But she says others don't even know where to start. "This gives you the ability to go to this database and it will have the best practices of other schools you can look and say 'wow look, we can incorporate this activity our school has this capability," Holmes said. "So it's everybody's best practices, leaving you as school coming not having to try and reinvent the wheel, but finding out what's working in others." Holmes adds that using the database would be voluntary.
Lawmakers also gave their seal of approval to creating a co-op-like relationship between farmers and schools, so local fresh foods can be incorporated into lunch programs. Both proposals now head to the Governor.
Illinois' courts are in the process of getting an update for how judicial evidence is handled. Hearings will be held next week in Chicago and Springfield.
The rules the courts in Illinois follow when handling evidence are scattered in common law, statutes, and court decisions.
Most states have these rules outlined in one authoritative source, but not Illinois. Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald wants to change that, which is why he appointed a special committee to write a blueprint of the state's evidence rules.
This committee includes appellate judges, trial judges, law school professors, and legislators. The manual they've designed is intended to make the judicial process more efficient.
Supreme Court spokesperson Joe Tybor says a judge or lawyer could consult the legal manual to determine the validly of the defense's accusation based on previous rulings. "It should help any lawyer, any judge, and any client who needs information to make a decision on how to proceed," Tybor said. The Supreme Court would have to approve the final product.
Mahomet-Seymour school students are scheduled to return to school tomorrow after a threat prompted school officials to evacuate the schools and ultimately dismiss students for the day.
The district received the threat at about 9:00 this morning. The threat involving bombs and firearms originally came to the Mahomet police department, which notified the school district.
Superintendent Keith Oates says the school doesn't often receive bomb threats, and this threat is different from others they've received in the past:
"It's rare and usually it involves just one building or a specific location within a building. So this is a first for us as far as involving all buildings," Oates said
Oates said canine units from the U of I and Urbana police departments swept the buildings and found nothing.
According to Oates, the district's crisis protocol was followed. It includes removing students to two churches. Oates says all of the students were picked up from these off-campus locations.
Vermilion County's financially struggling Health Department is cutting 16 more staff members by June 30th as it looks to maintain minimum state-certified status.
Adminstrator Steve Laker says even operating at that level will rely on another loan from the county - this one for $75,000. The Vermilion County Board will discuss the loan at its meeting Tuesday. The county is also being asked to pick up about 88-thousand dollars in buyouts for laid off employees. Laker says the health department will also implement a four-day work week later this month. "We're going to set a standard furlough day one day a week. The Fridays will be elimated," says Laker. "So our staff time will be elimated from 35 hours to 28 hours a week, and our operations will be a 4-day a week operation."
By July 1st, Laker says his department will only maintain three programs partially dependent on federal dollars. Those programs are communicable disease services, environmental health... and WIC, or the Women, Infants and Children program. Vermilion County's health department is owed more than $600,000 by the state. It started the year with 74 employees, and plans to have 31 when the next fiscal year begins.
The University of Illinois is expected to name its next president by next week. Trustee Pam Strobel confirmed today that the announcement will come between now and next Thursday's U of I Trustees meeting in Chicago. She says the person is a sitting university president or provost. Her comments came after the Trustees' finance committee meeting.
Illinois lawmakers have yet to approve a budget, but Interim President Stanley Ikenberry says trustees still plan on a tuition hike for next year of 9.5 % based on the best information they have. After the committee meeting, he said the U of I will also consider a short-term borrowing measure to make up for a loss of state dollars. Ikenberry says it's frustrating that lawmakers haven't completed their work. He says trustees have to give both the U of I, as well as parents, time to plan. But Ikenberry admits the funds from that tuition increase will fall well short of covering roughly $46 million dollars in lost state support, and a number of comparable budget reductions will still be required.
"I think our philosphy going into this is to ask academic programs and students both to share in this... that's been our practice in the past," said Ikenberry. "And that's what kind of a recommendation would provide for." Ikenberry says it remains to be seen whether the U of I would act on a measure giving short-term borrowing authority to public universities. Governor Pat Quinn has yet to sign the bill. Ikenberry says unless legislators solve Illinois' overall financial crisis, he says borrowing will be likely.
Today, Friday, May 7th, is supposed to be the last day for Illinois legislators in Springfield, based on a self-imposed deadline. With an eye toward adjournment, the Illinois Senate approved a spending plan in the early morning hours. But there's still no final budget agreement.
Partisan differences over the best way to proceed given Illinois' $13 billion deficit are the main holdup. Whether the GOP will continue to remain opposed to Democrats' plan to borrow money remains uncertain.
Unless one or two House Republicans go along with borrowing ... Illinois will skip putting about $4 billion into the state's already underfunded pension systems.
Another central component of the budget gives the governor flexibility to make cuts, borrow from earmarked state funds, further put off paying state vendors, and institute furloughs.
State Representative Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat, says there's good reason to give Quinn emergency powers.
"As much as none of us like this, we're in very uncertain times and trying to paddle through uncharted waters," says Harris.
Republicans say the governor has a poor record of managing state finances and argue he can't be trusted with such flexibility.
As the House and Senate look to reconcile on a budget ... a cigarette tax hike, tax amnesty program and possibly allowing video gaming at horse racetracks ... are all options. Whatever the final budget, it's clear legislators won't go through with education cuts that teachers unions say could have led to 20 thousand layoffs at schools statewide.
The Illinois House on Thursday approved giving public universities the authority to borrow money to pay bills. The schools are owed hundreds of millions of dollars from the state.
The controversial change is being viewed as a temporary solution to university cash flow problems. The State of Illinois owes more than $700 million to universities... putting some in jeopardy of being unable to make payroll.
Under this proposal... the universities could borrow based on how much the state owes for the current fiscal year... which expires June 30th. When the state finally comes through.... the schools would be required to quickly pay off the loans.
Urbana Democrat Naomi Jakobsson endorsed the measure.
" When universities are able to do this short term borrowing, able to pay their staff and employees, our young people will continue to receive the world class education they should get from Illinois and that they will be able to get from Illinois", said Jakobsson.
Danville Republican Representative Bill Black concurred. Black says he understands there are concerns about schools taking on the debt ... but he sees no other available option.
"Unless you want the universities to close before the fall semester starts, I suppose you could vote no", said Black. "If you want them to stay open, I suppose as distasteful as it might be to some of us, I have no other alternative. I intend to vote for the bill."
Several lawmakers say they are concerned about allowing the schools to take on the debt... but others argue there is no alternative.
Lawmakers previously sent the Governor a plan to let community colleges establish a line of credit to also cover bills.
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