Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 23, 2011

Congressional Republicans ‘Left to the Mercy’ of Illinois Dems

It's likely to be a few more days before Democrats propose new boundaries for Illinois' U.S. House districts. But Republicans already know they're not going to like it.

Two things are for sure: (1) Census numbers mean that Illinois is losing a congressional seat; and (2) the new map will favor Democrats, who control redistricting.

"They could push me East. They could push me West. They could change the district altogether. They could leave it as is," said U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, a freshman Republican from Chicago's Northwest suburbs. "We don't know and because nobody on the Republican side has any seat at this table, we're left to the mercy of the one party in Illinois that's running things."

Walsh freely acknowledges that if Republicans were in control, they'd draw a map that favors their candidates.

Meantime, Raja Krishnamoorthi isn't waiting for the new boundaries. The former Democratic candidate for Illinois comptroller is publicly "exploring" a run for Walsh's 8th district.

In an interview Sunday, Krishnamoorthi said that based on early reports it's "pretty clear that...Democrats are going to be more competitive in this district and other places as well."

On Tuesday in Springfield, the House and Senate panels tasked with redistricting are scheduled to hold a joint hearing on proposed maps for state legislative districts. This will be the third hearing since those boundaries were released late last week.

A separate public hearing is planned for following the release of the proposed U.S. House map, according to Rikeesha Phelon, a spokesperson for state Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.

"I don't anticipate that it will be early in the week," Phelon wrote in an email.

Top Democrats want the maps approved before the General Assembly is set to adjourn on May 31st. After that, the proposal would need Republican votes in order to pass.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 23, 2011

FutureGen Hearings Planned for June

The Department of Energy plans three public hearings next month in Illinois on the FutureGen coal-energy project as it gathers information about the potential environmental impact.

A hearing is planned for June 9 in Jacksonville. That's near the Morgan County site where the project will retool a power plant to use new technology that captures the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from coal and then store it underground.

Hearings also are planned for June 7 in Taylorville and June 8 in Tuscola in eastern Illinois. Those are alternate FutureGen locations.

A group of coal companies and other firms known as the FutureGen Alliance earlier this year picked the Morgan County town of Meredosia for the project. An earlier version of FutureGen planned for eastern Illinois was scrapped.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 23, 2011

Location Device for Autistic Children Would Connect with 911

Searching for lost children and seniors may be a little easier under a plan state legislators sent to Governor Pat Quinn.

It's a small wristband and fastens just like a watch, but instead of telling the time, a small microchip inside acts like a GPS system. They are worn by people prone to wandering off like autistic children or someone with Alzheimer's.

Lawmakers voted to allow the device to patch in directly to 911, an exemption not many other private alarm companies enjoy. The wristband itself could call police when a person goes missing. Carol Stream Republican Senator John Millner said a single cop can find the missing person, rather having to activate a whole search squad.

"With this device here, its simply one call, one activation and we would be able to find that person swiftly, saving money, saving time," Millner said.

But Rockford Republican Dave Syverson voted against it. Only one business in the state, Murphysboro-based Care Trak, currently makes the devices.

"For one company we're setting up that they can go to 911 direct, but for burglaries, and for seniors, they still run through the private sector," Syverson said.

Syverson said if the state gives this company an exemption, other alarm systems will want the same perk.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 23, 2011

GE Capital to Add 1000 Jobs in Chicago

GE Capital plans to nearly double the number of its employees in Chicago to more than 2,000, in part because of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's economic plans for the city, the company announced Monday.

Officials with the financial services arm of General Electric joined Emanuel at a news conference, saying that 500 of those new jobs - skilled commercial, technical and regulatory positions - would be added within the next year. The other 500 jobs would come in the next few years.

The company also is looking for a new office in Chicago to accommodate the growing work force.

During his mayoral campaign, Emanuel touted his relationships with business and government leaders from his time as an Illinois congressman and when he was President Barack Obama's chief of staff. Monday's news conference served as a reminder of his national stature as well as a pep rally for Chicago.

Emanuel, who is trying to attract more businesses to the nation's third largest city to help overcome its budget shortfall, downplayed the effect his relationship with GE CEO Jeff Immelt may have had on the company's decision. However, the mayor mentioned that because he had Immelt's phone number and email address, he was able to set up a meeting in March.

"Having a personal relationship obviously didn't hurt," Emauel said. "It pushed it a little, tilted it a little."

But, he added: "If this didn't make economic sense to GE and their bottom line they wouldn't have done it. ... You're not going to do this as a favor."

Chicago's projected budget deficit for next year has been estimated at between $500 million and $700 million.

One GE executive said that Emanuel's "economic platform" helped prompt the company to bring more jobs to the city, saying Chicago was the right place to expand.

"There is a wealth of financial services and banking talent available to us in the city of Chicago at a very good value," said Daniel Henson, President and CEO of GE Capital, Americas.

The Connecticut-based GE currently has 4,000 employees across Illinois, according to a news release.

Categories: Business, Economics, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 23, 2011

Indiana Colleges Proposed Tuition Rates Exceed Cap

Some of Indiana's taxpayer-supported universities are planning tuition increases for the coming school year that exceed caps suggested by a state panel.

Indiana's higher education commission asked Indiana's seven public universities this month to raise their tuition for in-state students by no more than 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent.

Although the universities aren't required to follow the panel's tuition recommendations, commissioner Teresa Lubbers warns that higher increases threaten to "price people out of their opportunity for a middle-class life in Indiana.''

Since Lubbers' request, Indiana University has proposed tuition and fee increase for in-state students totaling be 5.5 percent in 2011-12 and 5.4 percent the following school year.

Ball State University has proposed raising tuition and fees by 3.9 percent next year and by an additional 4.9 percent in 2012-13.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 23, 2011

Lawmakers Hold Hearing on State Health Insurance Contracts

State legislators continue to give state employees a venue to air their grievances about the potential loss of their health care plan.

Members of the Senate Insurance Committee met Monday, and heard from about a dozen university workers and state employees whose HMO is Urbana-based Health Alliance.

Officials with the Department of Health Care and Family Services decided in May to end Illinois' 30-year relationship with Health Alliance, saying it would award HMO contracts for the next fiscal year to Blue Cross Blue Shield, with Open Access Plan contracts to PersonalCare and HealthLink.

The state estimates the new contracts would save taxpayers over $100 million a year, and over one billion dollars over the next ten years.

"This decision to drop Health Alliance is about more than bureaucratic procedure, state contracts, or budget numbers," State Senator Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) said. "It's about potentially disrupted care, loss of long-standing patient-doctor relationships, and lack of access to quality health care at an affordable cost for tens of thousands of people in downstate Illinois."

State Senator John Jones (R-Mount Vernon) made an ultimatum to Governor Pat Quinn and Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services Director Julie Hamos. Jones said he may hold off on voting for certain pieces of legislation until the Health Alliance controversy is solved.

"There's a lot of major legislation that needs to be passed in the next few days, including a budget. It's time that all of us said, 'Hey governor, and Director Hamos, if you want that done, you better take care of this first," he said.

Officials from from the University of Illinois, Health Alliance, and Humana testified before the committee. However, there were no representatives present from from the Governor's Office or the Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

Humana Illinois also had its contract dropped.

One of the biggest gripes has been the dearth of facts leading up to the state's decision.

"It's shocking the lack of transparency and information when you're talking about a topic like health insurance and the magnitude of the cost," Humana Illinois Dave Reynolds said.

But health department officials say they are just following the law.

"We've had to be very conservative in what we can tell the public, legislators and even the press so as to not violate the strict ethical rules in the process," Healthcare and Family Services spokeswoman Stacey Solano said.

Solano said as soon as there is a ruling by a state ethics commission on Health Alliance and Humana's objections, the administration will be able to explain its decision. She said that should put to rest employees' fears and anxiety, which she said are "being fed by misinformation."

The Committee of Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) is set to meet Wednesday, May 25 to discuss the matter.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan recently ruled it is not within lawmakers' power to approve or deny the contracts in question.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 22, 2011

Ind. Gov. Daniels Not Running for President

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said early Sunday that he won't run for president because of family considerations, narrowing the field in the race for the GOP nomination.

"In the end, I was able to resolve every competing consideration but one," the Republican said, disclosing his decision in an e-mail to supporters. "The interests and wishes of my family, is the most important consideration of all. If I have disappointed you, I will always be sorry."

The e-mail, sent by the governor through Eric Holcomb, the Indiana Republican Party chairman and one of Daniels' closest advisers, was confirmed by other others close to the governor on the condition of anonymity to avoid publicly pre-empting his announcement.

A two-term Midwestern governor, Daniels had been considering a bid for months and was pressured by many in the establishment wing of the party hungering for a conservative with a strong fiscal record to run. He expressed interest in getting in the race partly because it would give him a national platform to ensure the country's fiscal health would remain part of the 2012 debate.

But he always said his family - his wife and four daughters - was a sticking point.

"The counsel and encouragement I received from important citizens like you caused me to think very deeply about becoming a national candidate," Daniels said in the middle-of-the-night message.

"If you feel that this was a non-courageous or unpatriotic decision, I understand and will not attempt to persuade you otherwise," he added. "I only hope that you will accept my sincerity in the judgment I reached."

He becomes the latest Republican to opt against a run as the GOP searches for a Republican to challenge President Barack Obama in 2012.

The Indiana governor's close friend, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, surprised much of the GOP when he pulled the plug on a candidacy in April; he privately had encouraged Daniels to run instead. A week ago, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the 2008 Iowa caucus winner, bowed out, followed quickly by celebrity real estate developer Donald Trump.

They followed others who decided to sit this one out as well, even as polls show Republican primary voters wanting more options in a race that includes former Govs. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, as well as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and a handful of others.

In the wake of the decisions by Barbour and Huckabee to skip the race, the clamoring among establishment Republicans for Daniels to run - including from the Bush family circle - had become ear-shattering.

Daniels, himself, had sounded more optimistic about a run in the past week than he had in months, though he never had sounded particularly enthused. And his advisers had been quietly reaching out to Republicans in Iowa and other early nominating states for private conversations.

But, as he talked about a candidacy, he always pointed back to his family as the primary issue that would hold him back.

And as he weighed a bid, the spotlight shown on his unusual marital history as well as his record as governor.

His wife, Cheri, filed for divorce in 1993 and moved to California to remarry, leaving him to raise their four daughters in Indiana. She later divorced, and she and Daniels reconciled and remarried in 1997.

Mrs. Daniels had never taken much of a public role in her husband's political career.

So it raised eyebrows when she was chosen as the keynote speaker at a major Indiana fundraiser earlier in May.

Both husband and wife were said to be pleased with the reception they got, and advisers privately suggested that the outcome could encourage Daniels to run for president. Even so, Republicans in Washington and Indiana with ties to Daniels put the odds at 50/50.

A former budget director under George W. Bush, Daniels used his time considering a run to also shine a spotlight on rising budget deficits and national debt - even though his former boss grew the scope of government and federal spending during his tenure.

Daniels, a one-time senior executive at Eli Lilly & Co., caused a stir among cultural conservatives by saying the next president facing economic crisis "would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues."

He is looked with admiration in GOP circles for being the rare Republican who won office in a Democratic year - 2008 - in a state that Obama had won. And, since being re-elected, he has leveraged Republican majorities in the state Legislature to push through a conservative agenda.

Daniels made his intentions clear in a characteristically understated e-mail.

It ended: "Many thanks for your help and input during this period of reflection. Please stay in touch if you see ways in which an obscure Midwestern governor might make a constructive contribution to the rebuilding of our economy and our Republic.

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 20, 2011

Blagojevich Retrial Won’t Restart until Wednesday

Officials at U.S. District Court in Chicago say the corruption retrial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich won't restart until Wednesday.

Clerk of Court Michael Dobbins released a brief statement Friday afternoon saying there'd be no trial proceedings either Monday or Tuesday.

Since testimony got under way at the start of this month, jurors have heard evidence Monday through Thursday with Fridays off.

Judge James Zagel has said he'll meet attorneys Monday to begin discussing instructions that'll eventually be given to jurors when they withdraw to deliberate.

That meeting is still expected to take place. Dobbins' statement didn't say why there'd be no testimony early in the week.

The prosecution rested this week. And the defense is expected to start calling witnesses when the retrial resumes Wednesday morning.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 20, 2011

Lawmakers Weigh Options on State Health Insurance Contract

Many of the 100,000 state and university employees covered by Health Alliance HMO are outraged at the possibility they will have to switch plans and doctors and possibly pay more.

The Attorney General has issued an opinion that clarifies what legislators can do about it. Legislators continue to fight back against the decision to drop Health Alliance as an option for employee medical coverage.

The Attorney General's opinion says the legislature has no say over that. But the opinion does make clear a bipartisan legislative commission can authorize or reject if Illinois acts as a self-insurer.

The state has a self-funded, Open Access Plan now. Republican Representative Chad Hays of Catlin said employees will have no choice but to sign up for it because the new HMO choice, Blue Cross Blue Shield, doesn't have a downstate network of doctors.

"There simply is not an HMO option in most of downstate Illinois, so by definition we are going to push people into an open access plan," Hays said.

The commission could then say that with so many added people, it's unaffordable for the state to offer self-funded insurance, and reject offering one completely. That may send the issue into a tailspin, with potentially no managed care option, something the state must provide. It would pit legislators who want to keep Health Alliance, against Governor Pat Quinn. His administration says dropping Health Alliance will save the state money. The insurance firm disputes that claim.

The Department of Healthcare and Family Services says it's 100 percent confident in its decision and promises that will become clear once it allowed to release more details.

The state can't do that now because Urbana-based Health Alliance is protesting the bid process.

In the meantime Hays has filed a resolution asking that the state extend until September how long employees have to choose what health insurance they want for the next year.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 20, 2011

Quinn Rules Out Casino in Danville

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn says he is willing to talk about adding a casino in Chicago, but he stated on Friday that he is opposed to a larger expansion of gambling.

"If it's done the right way, it's worth looking at," Quinn said, referring to the possibility of starting a casino in Chicago. "It's very important where the money goes that is derived from this."

Quinn wants help to fund areas of the budget like education. A Chicago casino would be much larger than any currently in operation in Illinois. Gaming supporters have also pushed for slot machines at horse tracks.

New Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel supports a casino in the city to help generate revenue. Many Chicagoans now make the short drive over the Indiana border to gamble at casinos there.

When asked what he thinks about the prospect of Danville getting a casino, Quinn said Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer should not "hold his breath." Quinn said he doesn't want the state to be the "Las Vegas of the Midwest."

Eisenhauer said a casino would be a huge boost to Danville's economy, bringing in millions of dollars in additional tax revenue and resulting in up to 1,200 permanent jobs. He said if a casino works in Chicago, there is no reason other communities shouldn't get one.

"I think we can certainly make the case that there are other communities in the state of Illinois who could also benefit from such a license," Eisenhauer said. "Danville being the poster child of that."

House Republican Chad Hays of Catlin echoed Eisenhauer's sentiment, saying downstate border communities are just as worthy of a gaming license.

"I find that kind of statement by the Governor to be very unfortunate," Hays said. "I certainly would hold out hope that if there's going to be an expansion, people south of I-80 would not be left out. I don't think the people south of I-80 would be appreciative, and I certainly don't think they would forget."

Danville's immediate dreams for a casino were dashed earlier this year when a gaming expansion bill failed to make it out of the Illinois House. That effort included five communities poised to get a casino, which Quinn called top heavy.

"We're not going to do that," he said. "I will never support that. It's way too much. I told all the legislators, Democrat and Republican, House and Senate, that having the doors wide open and anything goes, that's just not the way to go."

Skokie Democrat Lou Lang said he plans to introduce a gaming expansion measure next week in the Illinois House of Representatives that includes Danville.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

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