Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 03, 2009

Champaign City Council Rejects Ambulance License Fee Hike, Endorses Other Tax and Fee Increases

The Champaign City Council approved about one million dollars Tuesday night in new and increased fees to help balance the next budget. However, a big increase in license fees for the area's two ambulance companies was rejected.

It would have been a VERY big increase for Carle's Arrow Ambulance and Provena's Pro Ambulance --- jumping from the current 125-dollars a year to 20-thousand dollars a year. City Fire Chief Doug Forsman said the money would help pay their costs as first responder to emergency calls, which often includes assisting ambulance workers. Councilman Tom Bruno thought the increase was reasonable, when the two ambulance companies were considered in the context of the hospitals that owned them.

"It'd be very interesting to see how the the 20-thousand dollar fee we proposed compares to the annual marketing budget of either Provena or Carle," said Burno.

But the ambulance companies, especially Pro Ambulance, said their ability to provide service would be jeopardized by the 20-thousand dollar license fee, especially if other communities followed suit with their own fee hikes --- Urbana was already planning to do so. Council member Marcie Dodds said she thought the increase went too far. "A 16 thousand percent increase is just troubling," said Dodds. "I'm concerned with unintended consequences."

The ambulance license fee hike failed on a 4 to 5 vote. But Champaign council members approved several other new and increased fees, from a higher franchise fee for cable TV to a fee for truck drivers who miscalculate and get their rigs stuck under railroad viaducts. A final council vote on the budget --- including the fee increases --- is set for June 16th.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 02, 2009

Police Report Paints a Tragic Picture of Victim

The Vermilion County state's attorney has released the extensive state police report into the shooting death of a medical student after a chase.

The 320 page binder includes interviews with police officers who responded to the chase, which ended on I-74 near Oakwood April 6th with the death of 23 year old Toto Kaiyewu. State's attorney Randy Brinegar also released 34 discs including surveillance video of Kaiyewu buying a machete at a Walmart in southern Illinois - he had threatened police with a machete before he was killed.

Psychiatric records in the report suggest that Kaiyewu had been treated for several disorders and had reported feeling paranoid and having hallucinations two months before the incident - he had been sent by his medical school to Carbondale to re-take several failed courses, and he was dismissed from the school earlier this year.

Kaiyewu's parents have questioned why their son was stopped by police and later shot, and they have said he did not display any emotional problems. Abby and Victor Kaiyewu have not returned a phone call seeking comment, and their attorney would not comment.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 01, 2009

UI to Suspend ‘Category I’ List, Appoint Admissions Task Force

The University of Illinois will suspend the use of its list of applicants for admission whose names were submitted through political connections.

While the 'Category I' list is suspended, a task force of U of I personnel will spend the summer reviewing the process by which many applicants were the subject of such inquiries. This announcement comes three days after the Chicago Tribune reported the existence of what it called a 'clout list' of people who may have been accepted to the university ahead of those with better qualifications. Spokeswoman Robin Kaler says the article raised some red flags, and it's time for the task force to make sure all students are admitted based on merit.

"The Category I system has raised a number of legitimate questions, and we simply want to create a process that can ensure the integrity of admissions," says Kaler.

The list consisted of the names of about 160 Urbana campus applicants on behalf whom admissions inquiries were made by public officials, alumni, and others with political influence. The task force is expected to have about six members, and include one or more faculty representatives. Its full makeup and timetable will be announced shortly, but Kaler says the group is expected to complete its work before the next admissions cycle begins in September. President Joseph White and chancellors of the three university campuses met Monday to discuss admissions issues.

Categories: Education, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 01, 2009

Ethics Reform Passes, “Fumigation” Bill Stalls, No One’s Happy

An historic measure to limit campaign contributions in Illinois is headed to Governor Pat Quinn's desk, despite criticism it does little to actually curb the flow of campaign money.

Quinn admits the measure is flawed, but backs it anyway, saying it's the best the state can get right now.

Critics say there are too many loopholes. Representative Bill Black, a Danville Republican, says one of the biggest flaws is a lack of limits on so-called in-kind contributions. "That means those people who control the committee funds can use unlimited contributions to hire staff, lease computers, pay the rent on an office, buy hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign commercials," Black said on the House floor.

Meantime, the Senate failed to act on another reform measure the governor has called a top priority. The proposal would allow voters to decide to change the state constitution so an unpopular governor could be recalled.

But critics say the measure would put too much power in the hands of lawmakers. At least 30 lawmakers, with equal support from both parties, would have to sign off. So either party could block a recall effort. Critics also say other statewide elected officials should be eligible for recall.

Meanwhile, a legislative purge of state workers is not going forward after all. For now, state employees and commission members who could have lost their posts are safe.

The Illinois House overwhelmingly approved a plan to "fumigate" state government of people hired under disgraced former Governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich. Anyone current Governor Pat Quinn chose to keep on could stay, but otherwise the legislation would have fired seven hundred fifty of these political hires.

But when Senators took up the measure they voiced opposition. Republican Dan Cronin of Elmhurst called it a power grab. "It's irrelevant whether or not you had any connection whatsoever to Governor Blagojevich," Cronin said. "We're going to tell you that you're fired because we can. And you gotta come hat in hand, back into the office, come kiss the ring."

Senate President John Cullerton says in lieu of that criticism, he pulled the measure before Senators could take a vote, leaving open the opportunity to try again later. "I think there's some real confusion as to what it does, and I didn't want to rush into that until we make sure everybody understands what it is," Cullerton said.

House Speaker Mike Madigan drafted the measure. Madigan says it's needed to rid Illinois of anyone who abetted the former Governors' corrupt practices.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 01, 2009

IL Lawmakers Pass Stopgap Budget, Quinn Calls for More

Illinois lawmakers have approved a state budget that only provides about six months of funding for agencies and programs. Governor Pat Quinn says that won't do.

Quinn is calling a summit with legislative leaders today at the Capitol in the hopes of breaking a logjam over raising taxes. Quinn says the state needs an income tax hike to help dig out of a huge deficit.

Quinn says he has no plans to act on what's been termed a "lights on" budget, designed to keep government operating if no compromise is reached by the start of the new fiscal year July first. Lawmakers left Springfield early this morning but could be called back to town in the future. Quinn downplays speculation of a long, drawn out budget battle.

"I happen to be a repair man," Quinn said. "I understand in a bad situation, find the hole in the roof and repair it."

But Quinn had little success in working with fellow Democrats who control the legislature, and Republicans are refusing to climb on board with a tax increase. More votes will now be needed to pass a tax hike. Quinn won't say what he'll do if his talks with legislative leaders fails to result in a break through. He says the budget lawmakers approved would result in severe cuts to services and calls that unacceptable.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 29, 2009

Illinois House Adjourns Friday with No Action on Budget, Ethics

The Illinois House has adjourned for the evening without voting on a proposed tax increase as Gov. Pat Quinn had requested.

Democrats say they simply lack the votes to pass a tax increase. In a private meeting, they considered several options but couldn't agree on anything.

The situation increases the possibility of lawmakers approving a budget that falls billions of dollars short of covering the state's expenses. That would require massive cuts in services to Illinois residents.

Quinn says an incomplete budget is not acceptable.

The House also took no action Friday on a bill to limit campaign contributions

The Illinois Senate passed the measure Thursday night, and lawmakers suggested it would have the necessary support in the House. The bill, which Gov. Pat Quinn also backs, could resurface on Saturday.

The reform bill limits individual contributions to $5,000 a year and $10,000 from a corporation or political organization. Illinois currently has no limits on campaign contributions.

Republicans have criticized the bill for having too many loopholes. The head of a reform commission Quinn appointed to clean up Illinois government has complained it doesn't go far enough.

Lawmakers are running out of time before the session ends on Sunday.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 29, 2009

UI President White to Meet with Admissions Office Over ‘Clout List

University of Illinois President Joseph White wants to meet with admissions officials to be sure no inappropriate pressure was placed on them to enroll students who otherwise may not have been.

Friday's Chicago Tribune makes reference to a 'clout list' of prospective students who it contends received special consideration over the last five years. The newspaper says one such student who was admitted after initially being rejected by the U of I is a relative of convicted political fundraiser Tony Rezko. White says no one should feel pressure to admit a student because someone with political clout takes an interest.

"I have made it clear from the time I'm president that I will never exert such pressure and I never have," says White. "And that admissions officers and other people in the University are not to succumb to such pressure - that admissions decisions are to be based on the merits." White says he will often forward information to admissions officers regarding a prospective student, but that doesn't mean he's urging that the person be enrolled to the U of I. The president does say that lists of inquiries about a hopeful student, some through the urging of politicians, aren't unusual at institutions like the U of I and University of Michigan, where he served as interim president. But White says the Tribune was wrong to call the U of I list 'secret.

Categories: Education, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 29, 2009

Illinois American Water Files with State Regulators for Rate Increase in Champaign District

Champaign-Urbana area customers of Illinois American Water would pay nearly 35 percent more for their water service, under a rate request that the company filed Friday with the Illinois Commerce Commission.

This is the second rate increase that Illinois American says is needed to help pay for the new water treatment plant the company built west of Champaign. But spokesperson Kathryn Foster says the increase would pay other improvements as well. She says the increase also includes revenue to pay for "enhancements to the Mattis Avenue water treatment plant, to enhance water quality and operations reliability. And we're also investing in replacing and relocating mains, hydrants and meters."

In all, Foster says the rate hike request reflects more than 37-million dollars spent on the water system in Illinois American's Champaign District. An average residential customer's water bill would go up about 10 dollars, to 41-dollars-67 cents a month. The new rate schedule would also mark a switch from bi-monthly to monthly billing.

Whatever rate increase the ICC approves for Illinois American Water would take effect in the spring of next year. Foster says the next step is the state's comprehensive review process, which will include public hearings and opportunities for public comment.

Categories: Environment

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 29, 2009

The Movies and Science

Researchers have found an opportunity for public education in a Hollywood blockbuster. "The DaVinci Code" offered a rich backdrop of religious history in laying out its plot. And in its sequel "Angels and Demons," author Dan Brown injects physics - the Vatican is threatened by a bomb planted by the shadowy organization the Illuminati. Its explosive charge is based on antimatter stolen from CERN, the Swiss particle physics laboratory that produces antimatter in its Large Hadron Collider. Physicists want to step in with some caveats. University of Illinois professor Kevin Pitts says CERN, the collider and antimatter are very real, but he tells AM 580's Tom Rogers that antimatter's potential is just starting to be realized.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 29, 2009

Righter Says Bill to Limit Campaign Contributions Has Too Many Loopholes

A bill to limit campaign contributions passed the Illinois House nearly unanimously in March. But Republicans opposed the bill on a near party-line vote when an amended version passed the Illinois Senate Thursday night.

State Senator Dale Righter of Mattoon voted against the bill in the Executive Committee and on the Senate floor. He says the amendment from Oak Park Democrat Don Harmon would add loopholes that set relatively high limits for transfers between political committees --- and no limits on in-kind contributions, like when one politician pays for TV time or campaign mailings for another. He says that will just concentrate more political power in the hands of the legislative leaders.

"While you've capped everyone else's ability to be involved monetarily in the political system, you have left virtually uncapped the legislative leaders," says Righter, who says the bill would only increase leaders' power when it comes to providing or withholding campaign support.

As amended, the bill would cap campaign contributions at 5-thousand dollars a year from individuals, ten-thousand dollars a year from groups like corporations or unions, and 90-thousand dollars a year from political committees.

Besides Republicans, the reform groups also oppose the bill, including the state Reform Commission set up by Governor Pat Quinn. They want tighter limits on contributions, including caps on in-kind donations. But Quinn is supporting the bill, saying it's the best that can be done at this time.

The measure now goes back to the Illinois House.

Categories: Government, Politics

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