Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 23, 2010

The Arguments For—and Against—Olympian Drive

The debate over the Olympian Drive extension will continue at an Urbana City Council committee-of-the-whole meeting in three weeks. Council members have put off a decision on a state-funded design engineering study for the road. It would be just the latest phase in a long-standing project that Mayor Laurel Prussing says would bring economic development --- and jobs --- to the north edge of the city. But opponents like Bill and Virginia Ziegler (left) and Leslie Cooperbrand (right) argue it would do more harm than good. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports on the Olympian Drive debate.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 23, 2010

Urbana City Council Delays Action on Olympian Drive

A crucial vote on the Olympian Drive extension will have to wait three more weeks.

The Urbana City Council voted last (Monday) night to keep a package of intergovernmental agreements in committee until the April 12th meeting. Those agreements are for a state-funded design engineering report on the proposed extension of Olympian Drive through the north edge of Urbana.

Council members said they needed to know more about the potential impact of the project. And most, like Alderman Dennis Roberts, said they had received lots of email about Olympian Drive --- most of it opposing the project.

"I probably received way more people's email who oppose the road", said Roberts. "But I think like many people on the council, that there hasn't been a real honest discussion on what we expect to happen here. And what the impacts are, and what the design potentials are. And I think it's the responsibility of the city council to plan --- far in the future."

IDOT has asked the Urbana City Council to make a decision on funding for the study by May 1st. Meanwhile, land acquisition for the road project would be delayed because the Champaign County Board --- which must sign off on buying right-of-ways ---- has put off a vote, possibly until next year.

Mayor Laurel Prussing says the Olympian Drive extension would bring business and jobs to the north edge of Urbana. But opponents say the road would cut through valuable farmland --- and they question how much development would actually be attracted.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 22, 2010

U of I Professor Expects Health Reform To Become Key Campaign Issue

A University of Illinois professor says it may take until November's elections to discover the real winners and losers in the US House passage of health care reform.

Institute of Government and Public Affairs Director Robert Rich says the first assumption is that President Obama is a winner for pushing through legislation that many didn't expect to pass. But Rich says he fully expects Republicans to campaign on the repeal of the legislation until the fall. He points to the fact that no Republicans voted for it in House, and Rich says he fully expects the same result in Senate when votes are taken on the final measure. "I think what that is... and Senator (John) McCain already said that the Democrats will pay a price for this... and I don't take that as him being necessarily correct," says Rich. "What I take that to be is the gauntlet has been let down, and to say that we're now on March 22nd, elections coming up this this fall, and this is going to be a major issue in the campaign."

Rich says children are immediate winners of the measure, since they can't be denied insurance for pre-existing conditions. He also says small businesses should benefit since they can form alliances to negotiate better insurance rates. The Executive Director of the Illinois-based Campaign for Better Health Care, Jim Duffet, says the first sign of the measure's passage is that people won't be turned down by their insurance company for having an illness. Duffett also credits lawmakers for including language that encourages entrepreneurism.

"There's so many people that would love to start a new business,' says Duffett. "So many people that would love to use their creativity and their minds to be able to create different jobs, take this idea and run with it. So many people have not been able to do that because they're fearful they cannot get health insurance for themselves or their family because they have a pre-existing condition. So that is going to be off people's backs." Duffet also commends the bill's authors for letting young people stay on their parents' insurance longer, until the age of 26.

Rich says everyone should keep in mind that what he considers the heart of the legislation, coverage of the uninsured, doesn't go into effect until 2014. Rich says that presents opportunities for a repeal both this year and in 2012. But Rich says that's unlikely... with a two-thirds vote required and President Obama still in office.

Categories: Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 22, 2010

Brady “Ready” to Vote At Any Time on Income Tax Increase—and to Vote No

Some Democrats are reacting coolly to Governor Pat Quinn's call on lawmakers to stay in Springfield over their spring break to work on budget issues - but Quinn's challenger says "bring it on."

Quinn wants a vote soon on his proposal to raise the state income tax rate by one percent to help bolster education funding in the midst of a 13 billion dollar budget deficit. Republican candidate for governor Bill Brady says he's in favor of an early vote too, but for a different reason.

"We're ready to go tomorrow," Brady said. "The sooner the better, because it's time that he stopped living in fantasy land, and it's time that he realized that the real picture is that we're not going to raise taxes. We're not going to do that to Illinois families and businesses, and we're going to deconstruct and construct a budget that's balanced."

Brady says he's against any sort of tax increase in this year's general assembly. Democratic House leader Mike Madigan will only say he's taking the idea of an early vote on an income tax increase under advisement.

Brady made a weekend appearance at a Champaign County GOP event headlined by former Bush administration advisor Karl Rove.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 19, 2010

Police Seek Home Invasion Suspect

Champaign, Urbana and University of Illinois Police were conducting special patrols on the U of I Urbana campus Friday, following a report of a home invasion and aggravated battery early Friday morning.

Authorities say that as the occupant of an apartment in the 400 block of East Healy was opening her door... she was grabbed from behind, and struck in the face several times. She was treated at a local hospital.

The attacker is described as a 35-year old black male, 5 foot 10, 170 pounds, wearing a dark shirt, jeans, and tan hat.

A sketch is on line at www.publicsafety.illinois.edu


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 19, 2010

Purse Snatcher Wields Syringe on U of I Quad

An Urbana man was arrested on the University Illinois Quad Friday afternoon, after allegedly snatching a woman's purse and threatening to use a syringe to stab passersby who pursued him.

Jeff Unger of the U of I News Bureau says U of I and Champaign Police have charged 20 year old Nathaniel Huff with robbery, aggravated battery and possession of a syringe. Authorities say Huff is not a student.

The incident occurred on the south end of the Quad, near Gregory and Lincoln Halls. Unger says Huff allegedly grabbed a woman's purse and ran off. But a number of people in the vicinity ran after and restrained him, despite Huff's threats to stab them with the syringe. No one was injured. Police aren't sure if anything was in the syringe.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 19, 2010

Forbes Study Places Fighting Illini Among Most Valuable Teams

In a season where the Fighting Illini's bid to make the NCAA tournament fell short, a study by Forbes magazine says it's still among the most financially viable college basketball programs.

The team ranked 5th in the magazine's study and tops among Big Ten Conference teams with a value of $20.8 million. Reporter Peter Schwartz analyzed 'dividends' that teams can generate, including money for academics and scholarships, their athletic conference, and their community at large. In Forbes' third annual ranking of the most valuable college basketball teams, Schwartz says the U of I's athletic department was also able to keep costs for basketball down while helping a lot of so-called 'non-revenue' sports like volleyball and tennis.

Schwartz also says being one of the primary attractions of the area doesn't hurt. "There's even more professional sports competition in and around the area as well, but at the same time, being in Urbana and not being in Chicago actually plays to the programs' benefit." says Schwartz. Schwartz says the Illini's most impressive figures include $7-million in gate receipts, and more than $4 million coming from season ticket holders. Schwartz says success on the court also plays a role into a team's financial success. The Fighting Illini are hosting at least one postseason game next week as part of the NIT Tournament. Schwartz says that will help a team, but it's not a deciding factor in its final ranking in the study.

Other Big Ten schools on Forbes' list of the 20 most valuable teams include Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Minnesota. Tops on the list was the North Carolina Tar Heels, with a value of $29 million.

Categories: Economics, Education, Sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 19, 2010

Champaign County Bd Votes to Set Up Redistricting Commission

In an attempt to take the politics out of drawing county board district boundaries ... the Champaign County Board voted Thursday night to form a special Redistricting Commission, in which the majority of members will be citizens from the community. County officials believe the commission may be a first for Illinois.

The new commission is an attempt to get past district maps drawn to favor whichever party holds the majority on the county board. For the map to be based on 2010 Census data, the Champaign County Board will vote on a map drawn up by a commission made up of four county members --- two from each party --- and seven at-large members representing different sectors of the community, such as business, labor, farmers, students --- and political independents. Democrat Steve Beckett says the goal is to come up with district boundaries that are drawn fairly and don't favor one party over another.

"I think it uses these principles, and it tests maps", says Beckett, "and it tries to look at one that doesn't bust up villages and doesn't bust up townships, and tries to make things compact and contiguous as our statute wants us to do, and have the right population and take into account and take into account federal requirements."

Most Republicans on the county board voted for the new commission, but only a third of the county board's Democratic majority did so. Among the opponents, Urbana Democrat Tom Betz says there's simply no way that politics can be taken out of the redistricting process.

"This is a nice attempt", said Betz. "It's very good public relations. I hope it turns out to be more than good public relations. But let's not kid ourselves that politics is out of this picture, because this is going to be very political.

Betz predicted the real politics would begin when the at-large members of the Redistricting Commission are chosen. The nominations will be made by Champaign County Board Chairman Pius Weibel, who actually voted against the measure. The county board will vote to ratify Weibel's choices.

The commission rules aim for openness, with proposed maps posted on the Internet, and subjected to public hearings. Past voting data would not be considered in drawing up district boundaries. But the Champaign County Board will still have the final say on district boundaries for the 2012 election.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 18, 2010

Supreme Court Rules Against Provena Covenant’s Tax Exempt Status

The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that Urbana's Provena Covenant Medical Center will have to pay property taxes to Champaign County dating back to 2002.

Justices determined Thursday that the hospital did not provide enough charity care to qualify for its tax exemption, upholding an appellate court ruling. That amount in taxes is expected to be around $8 million.

The Champaign County Board of Review initially recommended to the Illinois Department of Revenue that the hospital be denied the exemption. Chair Laura Standefur says after reviewing financial statements that her board found a few reasons for turning the hospital down, but it started with the amount of charity care. Sandefur says it's hard to define, but the board knows when it's not at the appropriate level.

"Charity, I think, is kind of that same way," Sandefur said. "Less than one percent, is that exclusive use? What defines exclusive or even majority use? None of us on the board could really look at those numbers and think that that was used exclusively for charitable purposes."

Champaign County treasurer Dan Welch says it's still not clear how the roughly $8 million in property taxes should be collected. He says the majority of the funds would be earmarked for Urbana's Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, district. But he says Urbana city leaders may be able to change how those funds are divided. Mayor Laurel Prussing has already suggested breaking down those funds among taxing bodies, including more than $4 million for schools, $1.2 million for the city, and $720,000 for Champaign County.

Provena officials released a written statement on the Supreme Court decision. Local Hospital Board Chairman Cody Sokolski says he's deeply disappointed in the ruling, noting that the hospital provided more than $38 million in free care and other community benefits in 2008. Provena Covenant CEO David Bertauski says he hopes the ruling prompts a dialogue among elected officials and hospitals over how charity care should be defined.

Six years ago Provena's tax exempt status for 2002 was revoked after the state department of revenue sided with Champaign County officials. A circuit court judge overturned the ruling, but an appeals court later reversed it again in the state and county's favor. In the meantime, Provena has been putting contested tax money - more than a million dollars a year -- into a fund that remained tied up pending the Supreme Court ruling.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 18, 2010

Churches Struggle to Keep Up with Demand in Assistance

As unemployment climbs and economic hard times worsen for many in Champaign County, area churches are finding it difficult to keep up with the need. Shelley Smithson reports as part of a joint project confronting poverty in the area.

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Categories: Community, Economics

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