Illinois Public Media News
State lawmakers have ordered a commission to look into Illinois' unsteady system of higher education funding -- that commission meets for the first time Tuesday.
One of the members of the panel is an economics professor emeritus at the University of Illinois. Walter McMahon says the commission will compare Illinois' higher ed funding procedure against other states and discuss the right balance between state appropriations, tuition and money for students financial aid.
McMahon says that leg of the funding system - financial aid -- is crucial because many students drop out for lack of money, which leads to lower graduation rates. He believes the Monetary Awards Program, or MAP, favors needy students who go to private colleges instead of public universities or community colleges...and McMahon says the maximum MAP award each year should not go up. "That would then funnel the money a little bit more to students who are most in need and going to places like Parkland (College in Champaign), where tuition is not as high," said McMahon.
The commission will give its recommendations for higher-ed budgeting in December to the Governor, the General Assembly and the Illinois Board of Higher Education.
The corruption trial of former governor rod Blagojevich has come down to closing arguments, and a University of Illinois law professor says the success of either side depends on those arguments.
Last week Blagojevich's defense rested its case without bringing the ousted governor to the witness stand. Law professor Andrew Leipold says that's a common decision for defense attorneys, since defendants are innocent until proven guilty, and defenders don't think the prosecution totally proved its case. But Leipold still says he was surprised that Rod Blagojevich didn't testify since he and his lawyers had often said he would.
"I think most of what they were thinking is, 'Do we have anything to gain by exposing the governor not only to rebuttal evidence but to cross-examination?'" Leipold said. "Will he be able to articulate why it is that these tapes, that sure sound bad, really aren't that bad?"
Leipold says Blagojevich's attorneys will probably tell jurors that despite numerous phone conversations discussing potentially illegal acts, the ousted governor never took action. "To the extent the defense plan is going to be that the governor was blowing off steam, that he was just exploring possibilities but never intending to act on it...that's really important for the defense in closing, to help the jury reconcile the evidence they heard with that version of events," Leipold said.
The decision not to bring Blagojevich to the stand kept prosecutors from using two key former officials as witnesses. But Leipold says if prosecutors thought Tony Rezko or Stuart Levine were crucial to their case, they would have had them testify earlier in the trial.
Leipold says a lot rests on whether jurors see the prosecution's witnesses as credible - especially former chief of staff Lon Monk, who negotiated a plea deal in exchange for his testimony.
The Champaign County Board approved a two-year labor contract Thursday that freezes wages for nearly 90 county employees.
Union members ratified the agreement three weeks ago. Tara Mcauley of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Workers-Council 31, says union members understand the county's difficult financial position.
"The revenue from their tax base for the county is down, and the state of Illinois has not been paying their bills and potentially is cutting their funding this year", says McCauley. "So the money just really isn't there right now for a wage increase."
The contract is retroactive to last December, and will be reopened for negotiation this coming December. McCauley says they hope that more state funding or local tax revenue might be available at that point.
Champaign County Administrator Deb Busey says similar labor contracts have been negotiated for other county employees not under county board authority. Those include employees at the county courthouse, and the circuit clerk's and state's attorney's offices.
A neighborhood group's dream of a new playground has come closer to reality. The Champaign County Board voted Thursday night to lease the group some county-owned land in the neighborhood, where the playground can be built.
The Dobbins Down neighborhood in northwest Champaign is mostly in unincorporated territory. And its location north of I-74 puts its far away from any public park. But with the Champaign County Board's approval of a $50-a-year lease on a vacant lot it owns, the Dobbins Down Improvement Association looks forward to a small park where neighborhood kids can play. Association Chair Lesley Kimble says it's been the group's longtime goal.
"We want to see playground equipment that kids can have an option, a healthy option in their neighborhood to go do, other than play video games and hang out and not get in trouble."
The Dobbins Down group has applied for assistance from KaBOOM, a non-profit group that builds playgrounds using local volunteers and corporate funding. Kimble says getting the lease on the vacant lot was the last thing they needed to be recommended for funding. If all goes well, she says the park could be built in September. The Dobbins Down Improvement Association would assume liability for the park, and be responsible for its upkeep. Kimble says they hope to name the playground in memory of the late Mable Thomas, a longtime Champaign city employees who worked on neighborhood issues.
Four communities in East Central Illinois saw slight increases in the jobless rate between May and June.
The state's Department of Employment Security says Champaign-Urbana, Danville, Bloomington-Normal, and Decatur all saw that figure go up more than a percentage point. Danville and Decatur's unemployment rates were among the highest last month - at 12.3 and 12.2%. Champaign-Urbana's unemployment rate went from 7.8 to 9.5%, while Bloomington Normal's from 6.9 to 8.0%. Those rates in all four metropolitan areas are also higher than they were in June of 2009.
But the agency says overall, rates appear to be going down, citing a drop in rates in and around Chicago over last year. Director Maureen O'Donnell says a trend of smaller increases are encouraging, noting specific movement must occur before jobless rates drop consistently across the state. "Any economic rebound following the most profound recession in decades will include slight up-and-down movements in the unemployment rate as well as the number of jobs created,' said O'Donnell. "That is why long-term trends continue to offer the best guidance on our national and state economy."
Elsewhere in Central Illinois, Peoria's unemployment rate for June was 10.3%, holding steady from the previous month, and Springfield's was 8.2%, up from 7.3%
A preliminary hearing has been set for August 17th for Brian Maggio. At his arraignment Thursday in Urbana, the 42-year old appeared on closed circuit TV in court. Champaign County Judge Jeff Ford read the charges against him as he appeared in court via closed circuit television wearing a green gown, a protective garment worn by inmates correctional officers fear have suicidal tendencies. He was charged with 4 counts on first degree murder in the shooting death of his brother, 32-year old Mark Maggio. Each charge carries a sentence of 20 to 60 years, but because Maggio was using a handgun, he faces an additional 25 years to life if convicted.
Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Reitz says the defendant's and witnesses accounts differ - but that Mark Maggio did die at the scene of the parking lot of the Maggio's IGA supermarket. "The defendant took out the handgun and shot his brother," said Reitz. "Preliminary autopsy results indicate that the gunshot wound was to the side and back of the victim and that it was essentially one gunshot wound into him that ultimately caused his death."
Reitz says Brian Maggio made the initial 911 call and indicated that he had shot his brother. His bond has been set at $1-million.
Police say a quarrel between two brothers on Wednesday in Tolono has left one of them dead.
Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh says officers arrested 42-year-old Brian Maggio of Savoy for the shooting death of his 42-year-old brother, Mark. The shooting occurred outside the IGA supermarket. Employees told police that the alleged shooter owned the IGA store, while his brother owned another IGA in Arcola.
The incident shocked residents of the small town, including Monical's Pizza founder Ralph Monical. "They're both usually two mild-mannered kids," said Monical. Champaign County Sheriff's investigators and Tolono Police spent Wednesday at the scene of the shooting. Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup said the victim was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy is scheduled for Thursday. Police declined to discuss a possible motive for the shooting and did not know if the arrested man had an attorney.
The Republican pursuing an East Central Illinois Senate seat may only have $50 left in his campaign fund, but he says that hasn't slowed down what he calls a grassroots campaign.
Campaign disclosure reports filed Tuesday showed Tea Party organizer Al Reynolds spent about $8,000 dollars thus far, while Democratic incumbent Mike Frerichs spent more than $50,000. And the 52nd District Senator still has more than $200,000 available. Reynolds says he's just starting to approach businesses to seek out donations to help with campaign ads and mailings, but wants to focus on the issues. "(Congressman) Tim Johnson and his campaign last time... he raised under $300,000 for a US-Rep seat," said Reynolds. "And so I'm thinking for a state senator, we shouldn't have to raise that kind of money. The issues alone should speak for what we do here. And basically, it's my getting out in front of people, and telling them what it is."
Reynolds says amassing a huge campaign fund also goes against the tea party's stance of wasteful spending, and has gotten out his campaign message in rallies. Senator Frerichs says he's focused on doing a lot of fundraising on his own. "I think in any election, you can't take your opponent for granted, and especially this year when there seems to be a lot of voter frustration," said Frerichs. "It's frustration I share with the direction the state's going." Frerichs also says he'd like to rely on money he raised, and not the state Democratic party, to maintain independence in the race. Reynolds says state Republican campaign funds would be nice, but suspects it's too early for Illinois GOP leaders to decide whether they'll get involved in his campaign.
Rod Blagojevich's attorneys say the ousted Illinois governor will not testify at his corruption trial. They promptly rested the defense case this morning.
Blagojevich had long pledged to take the stand in his own defense, saying for months that he wanted to do so to set the record straight.
But his attorneys initially said Tuesday they could rest the case without calling a single witness. They confirmed that Wednesday. They say the prosecution did not prove its case.
Experts have said putting Blagojevich on the stand could be risky.
Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to scheming to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's old Senate seat and to scheming to launch a racketeering operation in the governor's office.
Champaign city officials are looking forward to having recycling for apartment buildings by the end of the year. The City Council voted Tuesday night to sign a contract with Allied Waste Transportation to provide recycling pickup for multi-family dwellings. Currently, recycling pickup in Champaign is only mandated for single family homes and apartments with four units or less.
Council Member Mike Ladue is a longtime recycling booster. He says the city had once been a leader in community recycling, before pulling back in the 1990s. But with the introduction of recycling pickup for apartment buildings, LaDue says the recycling will expand to a new scale and scope, "including the 55 percent of our residents who are renters, a great majority of whom live in multiplex dwellings. This will reach all those residents, many of whom have been interested in recycling for many, many years."
In contracting with Allied Waste Transportation, Champaign will join the city of Urbana in mandating recycling pickup for all residential buildings. City officials estimate the contract will cost about $ 1.5 million over five years, to be paid for with user fees.
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