Illinois Public Media News
Illinois lawmakers have approved a budget and returned home, but they refused to give Governor Pat Quinn all he wanted.
Over the past few weeks it became clear Governor Pat Quinn's efforts to get a tax increase were being pushed aside. Instead, Quinn pinned his hopes on borrowing nearly 4 billion dollars. The proceeds would go into public employee pension systems, freeing up tax dollars that could be used on various needs like schools. One problem was that Quinn was unable to convince enough legislators to give him borrowing authority. The majority party Democrats in the Senate still needed Republican help, and they didn't get it, angering Senate President John Cullerton. "We don't have any Republican votes like they did in the House," Cullerton said following the session.
The House narrowly approved borrowing earlier in the week, getting a pair of Republicans to go along. Cullerton says he envisions returning to the Capitol in a couple of weeks, before the new fiscal year begins.
The Senate failure means Quinn will have to try again or try to manage the state's $13 billion deficit with $4 billion to spend. Democrats could also vote to skip the payment altogether, a move Quinn says would be more costly in the long run.
University of Illinois administrators will renew their efforts to place a wind turbine on the Urbana campus.
In 2005, the U of I had initially sought three turbines for the south farms. Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement Steve Sonka says cost overruns caused former Chancellor Richard Herman to put the project on hold. But administrators are now asking the Clean Energy Community Foundation to extend a $2 million grant for the turbine. The grant was set to expire July 1st... but Sonka says administrators should be able to extend the use of those funds for enough time to get the turbine in place. Sonka says turbine costs have gone down, and Interim Chancellor Robert Easter was supportive of what the U of I would make back on a single turbine over time. "Chancellor Easter asked the F&S (Facilities and Services) people to look at the return, and for our portion of the investment, it's a reasonably attractive financial and energy saving environmental return," said Sonka. "A simple payback period 7 to 8 years is pretty attractive for a capital investment."
Sonka says the campus has undertaken many energy saving projects since 2005, including the replacement of inefficient heating and cooling systems - and pursing the turbine now makes sense. The grant would be partnered with funds from a $500,000 student fee, and Sonka says U of I would sell bonds to cover the remaining cost, around $2 million. Sonka says a new state procurement law taking effect in July also forces the university to wait until then to send out requests for proposals. Members of the U of I Student Sustainability Committee applauded the move. President Suhail Barot says the turbine is another factor that will help move forward the campus climate action plan of reducing energy use by 40% by the year 2025.
The Urbana School Board met for more than three hours Tuesday night on plans for a new Early Childhood Center. But board members -- already worried about state education funding -- could not reach a consensus on the project, which would be funded by the countywide sales tax for school construction.
Two board members want to build a new center on a new site. A third member supports building on the site of the current Early Childhood Center on Broadway. But school board President John Dimit says the district should close one of its existing elementary schools for early childhood use.
With no agreement on where to build, the Urbana school board will vote next week to commission an architectural program -- essentially a formal description of the features the new building would contain. Dimit says they can make that move before deciding whether to build a new building or convert an old one..
"We've been operating under some assumptions of a just a general 40,000 square feet," Dimit said. "I'm concerned that we get that programming down to a little bit more detail, and that's something we can do without having a particular site in mind. As a matter of fact, it may dictate the type of site that we eventually choose."
Tuesday night's school board meeting was attended by several people who spoke against closing an existing school to convert to early childhood classes. The group "Keep Urbana Neighborhood Schools" submitted a petition with 777 signatures, asking the Urbana school board to keep all six of its current elementary schools open.
In the fall of 2012, students attending Champaign's Carrie Busey Elementary will be going to class in Savoy.
Unit 4 board members and village officials held a dedication ceremony Tuesday at the future site of Carrie Busey Elementary School, in Savoy's expanding Prairie Fields subdivision. Champaign Superintendent Arthur Culver says the neighborhood is well prepared for a school, with an adjoining park, and streets for accommodating buses. "People like to go that's close in proximity to their homes," said Culver. "People will be excited, it will be less of a burden on transportation on the folks that live in Savoy, and of course, everybody's always excited about getting a brand new, LEED certified, state-of-the-art educational facility."
Unit 4 school Board President Dave Tomlinson credits the passage of the countywide sales tax referendum for getting the school built. He says it will also create about $80 million in construction jobs between the new Carrie Busey and renovations at other school buildings. All staff and most students from the existing Carrie Busey elementary are expected to transfer to the new school. Once it's built, the current building will serve as a transitional center while renovations at other Unit 4 schools take place.
Savoy Village President Robert McCleary says the wider streets and park in that neighborhood are ready to accommodate school buses, and more than 400 students. "As a long-term resident of this area, a lot of the old infrastructure at Central (High School) and Edison downtown (Champaign), something will have to be done," said McCleary. "So in a lot of communities, they move that sort of stuff out to the outside edge of the communities. And Savoy's definitely on the edge of the community." Carrie Busey is a 'three strand' elementary school, with three sections of each grade level from kindergarten through 5th grade. Construction on the new school starts next summer. Work is expected to wrap up by July of 2012.
The University of Illinois is the first in the Big Ten to draft a long-term plan to make the campus more sustainable.
The ambitious plan calls for an end to the use of coal to provide power on the Urbana campus within seven years. It also proposes a 40 percent reduction in energy use by the year 2025 and a carbon-neutral campus by 2050. The plan is part of a nationwide effort by college campuses to make climate-action plans.
Dick Warner heads UIIUC's Office of Sustainability. He says higher education is the perfect place to begin concentrating on stemming climate change.
"I think the most important impact a decade from now will be the way these issues and concepts are in the minds of students who come here and then move onto their next chapter as citizens somewhere," Warner said. "So the way that we teach about this and behave about this is very important."
The U of I's biggest electricity and steam-heating source is the coal-fired Abbott Power Plant. Warner says in two years, the campus will add more specific details to the plan, but Abbott could either be converted to another power source or closed altogether. He says the plant needs $177 million in deferred maintenance.
As the Urbana City Council looked over the mayor's $48 million budget plan during Monday night's Committee of the While meeting, some members wondered if they should be making plans in case they need to make some mid-year spending cuts a few months from now.
Mayor Laurel Prussing's budget plan for 2010-2011 would freeze salaries and wages, and leave several positions unfilled. But some Urbana council members worry more cuts might be needed if tax revenues don't meet projections. When city Comptroller Ron Eldridge mentioned provisional plans for mid-year staff cuts if needed, Alderwoman Diane Marlin said she needed to know more.
"I'm concerned that these optimistic projections on revenue may not come to pass", said Marlin. "And I think it's my job as a council member to kind of think of more of a worse-case scenario, and at least about being prepared for it."
But Mayor Prussing was reluctant to release details --- in part because the staff cut scenarios name specific people. Later, the mayor said if they needed to cut more, they wouldn't just consider one plan.
"There isn't just one way of doing it", said Prussing. "We'd come up with many different things, and the council would have to decide what our top priorities are."
Prussing says her administration will monitor city tax revenues carefully, to see if mid-year spending cuts are needed --- and also watch for new revenue sources. One potential source is a local motor fuels tax. The mayor says Urbana council members will discuss that idea next month.
A Champaign Police officer involved in the fatal shooting of a teenager in the city last October has seen the appeal of his 30-day suspension denied.
Champaign city manager Steve Carter says the decision on Daniel Norbits was handed down on Friday. Norbits was given the month's suspension without pay last month. Carter said while Norbits didn't intend to fire his weapon, he failed to maintain control of it on October 9th when Kiwane Carrington was shot and killed following a report of a break-in. The Fraternal Order of Police then filed an appeal on behalf of Norbits, who said the suspension was unjustified. If the officer chooses to continue in the appeals process... Carter says the next step would be for Norbits to appear before an arbitrator.
Some Urbana residents any attempt to close a local elementary school would hamper education.
The group calling itself Keep Urbana Neighborhood Schools suggests funds from the countywide 1-percent sales tax approved last year go towards a new early childhood facility, or upgrading an existing one. The group has launched a petition drive asking the District 116 school board to use the funds as they were intended. Parent Lynda Minor is one of its members. "They did not campaign to close an elementary school," said Minor. "We feel that early childhood is a priority and they do need that new facility and we want them to use that money that way - not go backwards in all the progress we've made in our elementary schools by closing an elementary school and re-purposeing that."
Minor says shutting down an existing school would cause overcrowding in the remaining buildings. She favors District 116's option of combining early childhood with adult education to form a family education center. Minor says that would have been a great benefit for her and other parents if such a program were offered when her kids were in the early childhood program. The citizen's group plans to turn in its petitions at Tuesday night's special Urbana School Board meeting, set for 7 p.m. at the district's administrative center.
A group monitoring animal research at the University of Illinois' Division of Animal Resources says some of them have become very ill, and one has died as a result of negligence.
The executive director of "Stop Animal Exploitation Now," Michael Budkie, says such a problem isn't unique to the U of I, noting that animals have died at 30 other research facilities around the country in the last few years. Citing reports obtained from the USDA, Budkie claims the U of I uses a large number of animals in painful projects without the benefit of anesthesia. In another instance, he says the university failed to report severe illnesses to federal authorities for a year, and that the principal investigator lost the records in that time.
"If a researcher can have severe illnesses come up with the animals and no one knows about it, and he or she does not bother to report it for a year, that indicates very clearly that the supervisory mechanisms for handling animals research at the University of Illinois-Urbana aren't functioning properly," Budkie contended.
While the reports don't cite specific animals, Budkie says similar work elsewhere involved chinchillas.
U of I Spokeswoman Robin Kaler says these are all isolated incidents that have been reported to the USDA, and that the process to identify problems keeps them from happening again. She says one of the animals died when it was mistakenly administered a glucose tolerance test in diabetes research. Kaler says it was euthanized when attempts to revive the animal were unsuccessful. She cites another case involving a formula to ensure the health growth of piglets, which were moved shortly after researchers realize they had outgrown their cages.
An attempt to expand the state's early voting program to college campuses in time for November's general election is stalled.
Senator Michael Frerichs, a Champaign Democrat, wants to make it easier for students to vote before Election Day by letting them cast ballots without leaving campus. "You can go on campus and see long lines waiting to vote, and students stand there for a little while realizing, 'Eh, I don't have the time. I'm going to go off to my class'," Frerichs said. "And if we spread this out over a longer period before the election, I think that won't be as big of a problem."
He's sponsoring a measure that would begin a trial program at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Southern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, and Lewis and Clark Community College. The legislation requires county clerks to set up early voting stations at those schools. While the proposal made it through the Senate, it hasn't moved in the Illinois House. Critics, including Representative Chapin Rose of Mahomet, estimate it could cost counties about one hundred thousand dollars to set up the voting stations. Rose says communities shouldn't be left to pick up that tab when college students can already head to the polls on their campuses on Election Day.
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