Illinois Public Media News
The University of Illinois plans to ask the state for about five percent more money in the coming fiscal year.
The school plans for its budget to top $5 billion.
A university trustees' committee on Wednesday reviewed plans for a budget just over $5 billion for the 2012 fiscal year. The News-Gazette in Champaign reports that would be 5.2 percent more than the 2011 budget. The proposed budget must be cleared by trustees before it's considered by the governor, General Assembly and Illinois Board of Higher Education.
The state is now $313 million behind on money it owes the university from past appropriations. The state government is unable to keep up with money it has promised universities and other institutions because of a multi-billion dollar budget deficit.
Federal prosecutors say they have discussed a possible plea deal for a Lebanese immigrant accused of placing a backpack he thought contained a bomb near Chicago's Wrigley Field last year.
Prosecutors didn't elaborate when they told Judge Robert Gettleman at a Thursday status hearing in Chicago that they've been talking to defense lawyers about resolving the case before it gets to trial.
Sami Samir Hassoun has pleaded not guilty, including to attempted use a weapon of mass destruction. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
Prosecutors accuse the 23-year-old man of taking a fake bomb given to him by undercover FBI agents, then dropping it in a trash bin near the home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team.
Gettleman set a tentative trial date of Feb. 6.
NOTE: This story has been updated to include the Danville School District.
With high temperatures back in the forecast, some school districts are dismissing classes early.
Unit Four's three middle schools, plus Champaign Central High School will dismiss class early on Thursday and Friday, September 1st and 2nd.
Jefferson Middle School will dismiss at 12:50 PM Edison Middle School will dismiss at 12:55 PM. Champaign Central High School will dismiss at 1:05 PM. Franklin Middle School will dismiss at 1:10 PM. Transportation schedules will be adjusted to the early dismissal times. Unit Four elementary schools and Centennial High School are air conditioned, and will keep to their regular schedules.
Meanwhile, the Monticello School District is letting class out at its schools one hour early on Thursday and Friday, due to the heat.
And, the Danville School District 118 will also dismiss classes early, Thursday and Friday. Elementary buildings will dismiss at 1:15. Middle school buildings will dismiss at 2:25. Danville High School will dismiss at 1:40. There will be no afternoon pre-school classes on Sept. 1 and Sept. 2.
Yay" --- that's the one word on the new marquee installed Wednesday afternoon at Champaign's Virginia Theater.
Workmen used a crane to hoist the sign up to the front of the 90-year-old vaudeville and movie theater. It replaces the old triangular marquee that had hung on the Virginia since the 1940s.
Supporters of that marquee protested the Champaign Park Board's decision to replace it with one resembling the theater's original lighted sign. District spokesperson Laura Auteberry said the 1940s marquee will continue to have its supporters. But she said the new marquee is a better fit.
"We now have three sides of a marquee to advertise on instead of just two," Auteberry said. "And it also opens up the facade of the building itself. You can now see the entire facade with the beautiful windows and all the architectural detail as opposed to the old one that really blocked all of that."
Auteberry said the new marquee makes perfect sense. "It looks beautiful, and is absolutely more architectually in keeping with the style of the architecture of the building than was on there before, which better represents how the building looked and was intended when it was opened in 1921."
The word "Yay" was the only word on the Virginia's new marquee when it was installed Wednesday. Auteberry said the marquee will next be fitted with hundreds of light bulbs and wired for electricity. Soon, it will be advertising the Virginia Theater's next attraction, a Sept. 10 showing of the 1930 movie classic "All Quiet on the Western Front".
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
Champaign Republican Robert Meister, 28, has jumped into Illinois' 103rd House District race.
Meister is the vice chairman of the Champaign County Partnership. He also owns Minneci's Ristorante in Champaign. He said if elected, he would push for tax breaks to help small micro businesses that are likely to create jobs.
"I've already created several jobs on a smaller scale, and that is really what sparked my interest to make it on a larger scale," Meister said after announcing his candidacy on Tuesday at the Stone Arch Bridge in Champaign. "Too many people have come to me and told me that they need help, and I feel like I have the ideas to do that."
Meister said he wants to find ways to make a college education more affordable and accessible. He also said he would be open to term limits.
Also running for the seat is Democratic incumbent Naomi Jakobsson, who was first elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 2002. Jakobsson said affordable health care and higher education will continue to be priorities for her as she campaigns for another term.
"I just plan to keep working and representing the constituents and working with them in the way I've been doing," Jakobsson said. "I don't see that I'm going to let up on any of my priorities."
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
A trio of east central Illinois Republicans has renewed the call to end legislative scholarships in the state.
House members Jason Barickman, Chad Hays, and Chapin Rose point to a federal investigation involving some Chicago Democrats who have provided the scholarships. Hays said it has been some time since the scholarships served their original intent of helping young people from challenging backgrounds. The Catlin freshman lawmaker said it is time to gain back the public trust, through one act of integrity at a time.
"The notion that a legislative scholarship would be utilized as a perk to give out to somebody who is a large campaign contributor is something that is unconscionable, and something that I personally will not be associated with," Hays said. "I have not given scholarships this year, and I will not give them out going forward."
In a press conference Tuesday, Champaign House freshman Barickman noted that even the state's top Democrat wants to bring an end to the program.
"Gov. (Pat) Quinn has been talking about this issue since his budget address early in the year," he said. "I think if we could have a roll call vote on this bill with all the current public pressure out there, plus all the governor's presumed support for it, we might be able to put the votes together to get it to pass."
Hays said the program has come under so much scrutiny, that recipients themselves are being hounded about their relationships with lawmakers. He said the program now is too far off track to be saved. Rose said by not providing the scholarships, it should save the state about $14 million.
Legislation to abolish the program that was introduced last spring could could be revived this fall. It had the backing of all three Republicans and 13 additional Democrats, including Urbana Democrat Naomi Jakobsson.
A University of Illinois panel looking for ways to save money in the school's administration says it's nearly halfway toward its goal of saving $60 million over the next three years.
A report on the savings was provided to The Associated Press on Tuesday, one day before it's presented to the Board of Trustees. The administrative working group says the university has achieved $26 million in recurring savings stemming from changes in procurement, information technology and off-campus leasing, among other areas.
More than half of the $26 million comes from centralizing how the university buys supplies, from copy paper to computers.
The university says the savings program was launched in late 2009 as the school's three campuses and hospitals struggle with less money and slow payments from the state.
One of the 101 Ameren Illinois workers sent to help repair power lines in Vermont says Hurricane Irene unleashed flash-flooding in the state of a kind unseen in Illinois.
Mark Drawve is an electrical superintendent with Ameren's Mattoon office. He said Vermont's terrain, with its steep hills, causes devastating floods that have cause damage, in a way that wouldn't happen in Illinois.
"Not in this form, no," Drawve said. "We're in Illinois, which is mostly pretty flat and rural. They're having the challenge of even having to rebuild whole lines, because the water just washed out complete sections of transmission lines and sub-transmission lines. So they are in the process of building brand-new lines."
Drawve said he and his fellow Ameren Illinois crew members are working 17-hour days to restore power in and around Vermont's second largest city, Rutland. The area is served by Central Vermont Public Service. Drawve said that besides washing out power lines, the flooding has washed out roads, making it hard for their crews to travel around the region.
"We sent some crews Sunday evening to areas that they knew would be impacted by the flash floods," Drawve said. "Because of that, until they get some roads repaired, we can't even get those crews back, or hooked up back with the main force. And they continue to work on those roads as we speak."
With all these difficulties, Drawve said that as of Tuesday morning, line crews had restored power to about 18,000 of the 38,000 people who lost power in Vermont. He said Ameren crews did the work for about 6,000 of those customers in the Rutland area. But Drawve said they are not used to working in hills and valleys --- and said there is talk of moving the Ameren crew to another area, and bringing in a Canadian crew more familiar with Vermont's type of terrain.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Legislation to raise electric rates to help pay to modernize Illinois' power grid is on its way to the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn, despite his repeated pledges to veto it.
The energy bill would raise electric rates as part of a $3 billion, 10-year plan to give Commonwealth Edison and Ameren money for basic infrastructure and a modern Smart Grid.
The bill would allow a 2.5 percent annual rate increases for the first three years. ComEd bills are projected to climb about $36 a year, while Ameren customers would pay about $34 more by the project's 10th year.
It's estimated consumers might save $7 to $10 per month by using smart meters.
Com Ed claims the Smart Grid technology will allow consumers to monitor and reduce energy usage - and will help the company respond more effectively to power outages. Com Ed serves approximately 3.8 million customers in northern Illinois.
Com Ed calls the measure "the most comprehensive electric utility-based job creation and capital investment program in generations," though Quinn claims it places too big of a burden on consumers. However, critics say the legislation guarantees ComEd and Ameren higher profits on the backs of consumers.
Quinn's "anti" stance caused supporters to put the measure on a type of legislative hold. The hope was they could use the extra time to win over the governor and other critics, including the AARP and the Citizens Utility Board.
The proposal's House sponsor, State Rep. Kevin McCarthy (D-Orland Park), said that it didn't work. But he said the storms that knocked out power for days in suburban Chicago early this summer prove why the power grid needs to get "smart."
"There's a chance that some of these things, through redirecting the power source and just the knowledge of where it's at and how many people are affected by each individual one, that we could have used that information in order to get some of these people back on line quicker," McCarthy said.
McCarthy said even though there is still opposition, he wanted the measure to get to the governor's desk so Quinn would have to act on it before October's veto session.
Earlier this year, Quinn and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a joint statement urging the Illinois Senate to reject the measure before it became law.
"While Commonwealth Edison and Ameren talk about investment in Smart Grid, Senate Bill 1652 is clearly not just about investing in this technology," wrote Quinn and Madigan at the time. "This legislation locks in guaranteed, significant annual profits for the utility companies without real oversight by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC)."
According to the Governor's office, ComEd rates would increase by approximately $180 million - or 9 percent -- every year for 10 years.
ComEd continued Monday to call on Quinn to sign the bill.
"Since its introduction last winter, the bill has undergone significant revisions to address concerns raised by the governor and multiple stakeholders. It is clear that the benefits provided by the bill greatly exceed its costs and allow Illinois the opportunity to invest in much-needed infrastructure improvements," the company said in a statement.
The measure's sponsors predicted they could find enough votes to override Quinn if he follows through with his threat to veto the measure. McCarthy said if it is needed, he will introduce a follow-up measure to appease those concerns. He said that could include requiring the utilities to set aside money to help low-income customers afford their electric bills, or a lower return on equity.
Chicago-area ComEd crews are lending a hand to their counterparts in Philadelphia in the wake of Hurricane Irene, while the Illinois National Guard is sending 160 of its own to New York.
Thirty ComEd crews departed Monday morning to join the 100 crews already deployed to the area. Martha Swaney, a ComEd spokeswoman, said it is common for the company to help its affiliates after periods of extreme weather.
"The crews that left last week were prepared to work more than one thousand hours on storm response efforts, and again those efforts will focus on repairs due to wind damage, downed trees, downed wires, downed branches, just to ensure that those facilities are restored," Swaney said.
As of Monday afternoon, 168,000 PECO customers were without power. Weather in Chicago looks clear this week, and ComEd said it isn't worried about the loss of manpower.
"I will note that the mutual assistance that we've offered to PECO and provided is not unlike the assistance that ComEd received after the massive storm that struck northern Illinois on July 11," said Swaney, noting that the crews for that storm had to be brought in from further away because neighboring areas were focused on their own damage. "PECO was actually among 400 personnel from 14 other states that supported ComEd's storm restoration efforts following the July 11th storm, and we're glad to return the favor."
Illinois National Guard troops are heading to nearby New York to help clean up after Hurricane Irene. The 160 troops are deploying to the East Coast indefinitely, while 1,000 who were on stand-by have now been told their services are no longer needed.
Mike Chrisman, a Public Affairs representative with the Illinois National Guard, said Illinois treated this as a "training mission."
"This is something typical that we've done many many other times; the snow storms February, the floods in May and June, and just recently this as well, so this is part of our job as the National Guard, to be ready and respond in case we're needed," Chrisman said.
Chrisman said the troops were sent to New York by the federal government, who looks at each state's resources, and determines how best they can assist, and that state funds are not being used. The governor's office says New York has agreed to reimburse Illinois for expenses related to the deployment.
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