Illinois Public Media News
Illinois officials have agreed to borrow billions of dollars as part of a new state budget.
The Illinois House and Senate approved the $3.5 billion borrowing plan Wednesday night. Gov. Pat Quinn quickly signed it into law.
The money will go to government pension systems. That frees up the state's annual pension contributions to be used for other expenses.
Critics call it irresponsible to pay for government expenses with borrowed money. They say it just digs a deeper financial hole for the state.
But supporters say Illinois needs a budget to keep providing government services. They say a tax increase or drastic cuts won't pass, so this is the only realistic option.
The bill is SB1292.
Action Tuesday by the U-S Energy Department gives a green light to action at the FutureGen site near Mattoon. So says Angela Griffin, president of the economic development group Coles Together.
The Energy Department issues a formal Record of Decision which formally approves FutureGen's goals, objectives and potential environmental impacts. Griffin says before, the FutureGen Alliance could only work on the experimental clean coal project in general terms. Now, she says they can focus directly on conditions at the Mattoon site.
"They can do some very site-specific engineering and design work, which will then lead to some very specific cost estimates which are needed to get at the final cost of the plant.," Griffith said. "This allows them to do some work here, it allows them do some further subsurface characterization of the site, to verify what we already believe is the case, to spend some money at our site in a way that they weren't able to do before today."
The FutureGen project aims to build an experimental coal gasification plant that cuts down on carbon emissions by burying them underground. The project depends on both federal funding and money from the energy industry. The Bush Administration had pulled away from the project, citing rising cost estimates. But FutureGen found new support under the Obama administration.
For the second week in a row, supporters of a tent city for the homeless spoke out at last Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting. But this time, they were joined by neighbors who were not supportive at all.
Supporters of the Safe Haven Tent Community at the St. Jude Catholic Worker House on South Randolph say a Sunday night police visit amounted to harassment. But the neighbors say they welcome the police. They blame the small mostly male tent community for continued problems over the last three months. Cathy Tanner is the property manager for nearby Huntington Towers.
"We have had vandalism," says Tanner. "We've had drinking on the premises. We've had drugs. On a daily basis, it seems like we're chasing someone out or we're calling the police."
But Safe Haven residents and their supporters say the bad behavior comes from some of the people who gather for the daily meals at the Catholic Worker House. Jesse Masengale is one of the residents of the tent community. He says they enforce rules amongst themselves against drinking, drugs and disruptive behavior.
"We police ourselves -- we take pride in policing ourselves," Masengale told council members. "These folks haven't had anything going for them for most of their lives. And now we've put something together for them, that they can self-govern and help grow on their own.
Masengale says Safe Haven is willing to move to to some other location, if the city will help them find one. But city officials say the tent community violates city zoning rules and have told the Catholic Worker House that Safe Haven must close by Friday. Catholic Worker Volunteer Chris Watson says they'll appeal the order. The group is holding a neighborhood meeting tonight at the Champaign firehouse next door to try to work things out with the neighbors.
Illinois legislative leaders hope to vote Wednesday on a new state budget.
The leaders are supposed to meet with Gov. Pat Quinn in an attempt to complete a plan for lawmakers to consider.
They're discussing a version of the budget that would not include a tax increase or the drastic cuts included in an earlier version. Instead, this budget would depend on more borrowing, leaving bills unpaid and other financial maneuvers.
The budget was supposed to be in place by July 1, but has been held up by disagreements over how to close a historic $11.6 billion deficit.
Thousands of state paychecks that are supposed to go out Wednesday will be delayed by the budget gridlock.
The Illinois Green Party will start getting ready for the 2010 elections at its semiannual meeting this weekend in Champaign and Urbana.
Illinois Green Party chairman Phil Huckleberry says the party members expect to hear from candidates looking for support from the Greens in the Feb. 2 primaries.
Party organizers expect more than 100 people to attend the two-day meeting, Saturday in Champaign and Sunday in Urbana.
The Greens are the only party in the state other than Republicans and Democrats eligible to field candidates for every office in the state.
The approval of state capital money for a student services center at Parkland College means administrators will start exploring other sources to complete the facility.
The chairman of the college's board of Trustees, Jim Ayers, says the building is much larger in scope and size than when originally conceived more than 15 years ago as part of a Campus Master Plan. The state is expected to fund roughly half of the center's cost... or $15 million. The rest would likely be sought through a combination of student fee hikes and a referendum. Ayers says such a center is now looked upon as more than a place for students to register for classes and discuss financial aid.
"I think we anticipate the Foundation is going to move there, a restaurant and hospitality program will be put in there someplace, and a wide variety of activites will all be brought under the umbrella of student services," says Ayers. Parkland Vice President of Student Services Linda Moore says having a student center would also free up existing offices for instructional space. While there's no timetable for building such a facility, Ayers says Parkland would likely decide by this fall on a plan to fund the building's remaining cost.
Ayers holds out hope that federal money could be a part of that as well. He cites comments made Tuesday by President Barack Obama, who wants to pump $12 billion dollars into the nation's community colleges, including $2.5 billion for construction.
University of Illinois trustee Lawrence Eppley says he never forced politically connected students to be admitted to the Champaign-Urbana campus.
Eppley told a special commission he passed along between 5 and 10 names per year for special consideration. He says about half those came from staffers in former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's office.
Eppley says he thought passing the names on was "benign." University employees have testified that they considered inquiries from the trustees to be "directives."
Eppley says he now understands there were problems with the unofficial inquiries that he says functioned as an "underground recommendation system.''
Eppley says the state commission is needed to "fix'' the clout list. Gov. Pat Quinn formed the commission to investigate whether special treatment was given to politically connected applicants, known as "Category I.''
After the Chicago Tribune reported on the "Category I'' list in May, the university suspended it.
(Additional reporting by The Associated Press)
For a fifth straight year, a history education project headed up by the Urbana school district is getting a million-dollar federal grant.
The American History Teachers Collaborative is aimed at giving teachers the research time and resources they need to paint a more realistic and gripping picture of history in their classrooms.
The group's coordinator, Kathy Barbour, says when teachers conduct their own research, they can teach their students about national history through a local lens.
"For the teachers to be able to bring newspaper articles or photographs or documents or letters from right here in central Illinois and bring those to their classrooms, it's a very powerful thing for the students to be able to see that history happens here and we're tied to the bigger picture," Barbour said.
For instance, Barber says teachers have found articles and other documents about events in Champaign County that illustrate the national civil rights movement. She says the money helps fund workshops for teachers in seven area districts as well as research trips to museums.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed the state's first major construction spending bill in a decade on Monday.
The 31-billion dollar measure is supposed to help fix roads, bridges, schools and public transit systems. Projects it will fund in east-central Illinois include improvements to I-74 from Mahomet to the Prospect Avenue exit in Champaign; a new interchange for I-57/70 around Effingham; the long-awaited renovation of Lincoln Hall at the University of Illinois; and construction of a new student services addition at Parkland College.
Now that he's signed the capital bill, Quinn says he's optimistic lawmakers will agree on a budget when they return to Springfield on Tuesday.
"I think the two go hand in hand", says Quinn, "having a stable budget allows us to sell the bonds for economic recovery. And the economic recovery helps our budget. The only way we're going to get out of our economic doldrums is to get people working."
The governor's office estimates the capital bill will create about half a-million jobs over the next six years.
Revenue from higher vehicle fees and increased food taxes will help pay for it. It's also funded by a massive expansion of video poker machines.
Three people have died after their vehicle was struck by Amtrak's westbound California Zephyr, with 277 passengers and crew aboard.
LaSalle County Sheriff Tom Templeton said Monday that five people were in the vehicle when it was struck by the Amtrak train just before 3:07 p.m. Two other occupants were injured.
Two of the deceased were identified as 82-year-old Benjamin Rasmusen and 81-year-old Marilyn Rasmusen of Leland. The third victim was not immediately identified.
Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari confirmed a vehicle was obstructing the tracks and says there were no injuries to passengers or staff aboard the train. The train was delayed for seven hours, and 100 passengers bound for Omaha and points east were transferred to charter buses. The wreck also delayed four other Amtrak trains, Magliari said.
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