Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 02, 2011

US Rep. Johnson Plans to Introduce Two Year Budget Plan

Republican Congressman Tim Johnson of Urbana says he will introduce legislation that would require lawmakers to approve a budget every two years, rather than each year.

The measure would also establish an appropriations cycle starting Oct. 1 of each odd-numbered year, and any budget or appropriations bill passed by one chamber would have to be voted on in the other chamber within a two-week period. Johnson said there also couldn't be any hods, filibusters once one chamber acts.

Johnson said his budget plan will also give the federal government more time to assess how well agencies and departments use money that they are appropriated.

Illinois, which has a multi-billion dollar budget deficit, is on an annual budget cycle. Meanwhile, Indiana passes a budget every other year. Johnson said Indiana's billion dollar surplus is a testament that such a plan works.

"They have a surplus every year," Johnson said. "Look at what we're doing in Illinois. Illinois is an abyss of fiscal stewardship. No state in the union is operating worse than Illinois, and it has for years. So, if Indiana is our partial model, and looking at the results they have, I in many ways am glad to look at the model."

But John Ketzenberger, president of the non-partisan Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, said there isn't much connection between his state's budget cycle and its surplus. He noted that there are other reasons why Indiana has a surplus.

"There were more than a billion dollars in cuts," Ketzenberger explained. "When the recession started, more than a billion dollars in reserve, and the state used about $2 billion dollars in federal stimulus money over the course of the recession."

Ketzenberger said Indiana's biennial budget plan has helped the state by encouraging more fiscal discipline.

Johnson is running for re-election in a newly drawn 13th congressional district, which includes Champaign, Decatur, Bloomington, Springfield, and the Metro East area near St. Louis. He said he expects to get bipartisan support for his legislation.

His Democratic challenger, David Gill of Bloomington, said he would also support a two-year window for approving the federal budget. However, Gill criticized Johnson, saying his decision to vote against raising the nation's debt ceiling shows he doesn't have any credibility in tackling budget issues.

"The fact that he voted against that bipartisan deal to raise the deficit after the Democrats had compromised, and bent over backwards in terms of spending cuts and any kind of increased revenues," Gill said. "That makes me question where he's coming from and how much of his proposal for a two-year budget simply is playing politics."

Gill ran unsuccessful bids against Johnson in 2004, 2006, and 2010. Former Illinois lawmaker, Democrat Jay Hoffman of Collinsville, is also considering a run for the Congressional seat, but he hasn't announced his candidacy.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 02, 2011

Prairie Center Loses State Funding for Detox Center

An Urbana agency that treats victims of drug and alcohol abuse has again lost funding for its detox program, and this time it may be for good.

Prairie Center Health Systems CEO Bruce Suardini said it is doubtful the $450,000 will be restored by lawmakers this fall. In September of 2008, the program shut down for six months before funds were reinstated.

Suardini said the detox program still sees about 750 people per year, and after cutting off referrals Thursday night, he said more addicts won't get the appropriate treatment.

"We watch the clients carefully because it's life-threatening," he said. "So a lot of people who will now probably end up in an ER room will get treated for the day and released. And they really don't have a chance to look at the addiction and get into a long-term care kind of way to combat that addiction."

Cuts to those programs statewide equal 28-million dollars. Suardini says while a number of area legislators would back a supplemental bill to restore that money this fall, it would require 3/5ths majority in each chamber.

"The chances of that happening, and total money being restored in the state of Illinois - I'm just more pessimistic about that because of the volume of things that are on the (General) Assembly's plate," he said. "So I don't see that coming back."

But Suardini said other programs for residential care and outpatient clinics, including one in Danville, will continue to operate. But he said reduced staffing levels means clients will have to be put on a waiting list.

Meanwhile, Suardini said Prairie Center has ended talks with Community Elements in Champaign (formerly the Mental Health Center of Champaign County) about a potential merger. He said state funding mechanisms forced clients to use services separately, and a merger wasn't feasible at this time.

Community Elements CEO Sheila Ferguson says the decision was solely Prairie Center's, and was disappointed the two sides couldn't work something out.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 02, 2011

Two C-U Area Residents on Governor’s Muslim American Panel

Gov. Pat Quinn this week used the Muslim holiday of Eid ul-Fit--closing the holy month of Ramadan--to announce the members of a new Muslim-American Advisory Council.

The 26-member panel will advise the governor on ways to advance the role of Muslim-Americans in the state. Two of its members are from the Champaign-Urbana area.

Dr. Irfan Ahmad is executive director of the Center for Nano Scale Science and Technology, at the University of Illinois. He said the panel could help raise awareness throughout Illinois that Muslims are part of the fabric of the community--and also raise awareness within the Muslim community.

"That's (the) awareness we try to create within the Muslim community itself, that they have a role to play, we have a role to play, and the rest of society, the rest of the general fabric of the U-S has a role to play," Ahmad said. "Illinois can really drive home this message, both within the Muslim community, but also reaching out into the Muslim world."

Strengthening ties with the Muslim world is an area where Ahmad believes the advisory council can also help. He said the panel's understanding of Muslim culture could help identify economic opportunities. For instance, Ahmad points to the demand for meat slaughtered in accordance with Muslim dietary law, or halal.

"New Zealand exports a lot of meat to Muslim countries, but they do it in a slaughtered fashion, which is according to the Islamic (tradition)," Ahmad said. "So if the state and other entities are attuned to some of those sensitivities, they could potentially leverage some of those markets, say, if we were to export meat, for example."

Also serving on the governor's Muslim American Advisory Council is Imad Rahman. He's a board member at the Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center in Urbana, and serves as financial officer for the mosque's community health clinic in Champaign.

The Governor's Muslim American Advisory Council will be co-chaired by Samreen Khan, Governor Quinn's senior policy adviser and liaison to Asians and Muslims, and Kareem M. Irfan, president of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago.

The panel is already being criticized on anti-Muslim websites, for including officers with the Islamic Society of North America and the Council of American Islamic Relations, both of which have been accused of ties to Islamic extremist groups. The two organizations have denied the charges.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 02, 2011

Lt. Gov. Simon Wants to Make Ill. Districts More Efficient

Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon wants schools to know she isn't gunning for them.

Simon was recently appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn to lead a commission tasked with finding ways to cut school district administration costs and redirect funding back to students.

The commission begins its work with an eye on the high number of districts in the state. Officials say Illinois has about 870 districts. That's the third-highest number in the country behind California and Texas.

Quinn raised some hackles when he talked about school consolidation in this year's budget address. But Simon insists her effort isn't about cutting schools or reducing districts just for numbers' sake.

She says her goals for the Classrooms First Commission are to make districts more efficient and schools better equipped to educate students.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 02, 2011

Where was President Obama on September 11th, 2001?

In just over a week, the country will mark ten years since the September 11th terrorist attacks. In 2001, Barack Obama was a lawyer, a professor and a state senator.

As personal memories of September 11th go, President Obama's are remarkable in how unremarkable they are. Mr. Obama recounted the day as "one bright, beautiful Tuesday morning" a few years ago in an August 2007 speech captured by C-SPAN.

"I remember that I was driving to a state legislative hearing in downtown Chicago when I heard the news on my car radio, that a plane had hit the World Trade Center," he said.

Then an Illinois state senator, Barack Obama recalled he was on Lake Shore Drive. He continued to the Thompson Center, the state building in downtown Chicago, for a meeting of the policy wonky Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. Vicki Thomas is the committee's director. She and her staff rushed to the Thompson Center when they heard of the attacks.

"And on the plaza outside, we began to see members arriving, so we all kind of clustered," Thomas recalled. "They decided to cancel the meeting."

"As members arrived, we told them that that had been the decision, and everyone was sharing news, of course, about what had happened, what they had heard," Thomas said.

Thomas doesn't remember exactly who was in the group. Mr. Obama may have even arrived at the building a bit later.

"By the time I got to my meeting, the second plane had hit and we were told to evacuate," Mr. Obama said. "People gathered in the streets in Chicago, looking up at the sky and the Sears Tower, transformed from a workplace to a target."

He went next to his day job, at the law firm Miner, Barnhill and Galland.

"Back in my law office, I watched the images from New York - the plane vanishing into glass and steel, men and women clinging to window sills, then letting go. Tall towers crumbling to dust," Mr. Obama said. "It seemed all the misery and all the evil in the world were in that rolling black cloud blocking out the September sun."

In his book, The Audacity of Hope, Mr. Obama wrote about the scene in the law office. "A group of us sat motionless," he wrote, "as the nightmare images unfolded across the TV screen."

"This is our conference room, and this is where we had the television when the 9/11 explosions happened," said William Miceli, a partner at the firm, standing in the small basement room, with old furniture, law books and green carpeting.

The firm's offices are kind of hidden in a three flat, with no sign on a relatively quiet street just North of downtown.

"The firm was clustered in this room - basically everyone - lawyers, secretaries, paralegals - and the room was full," Miceli said. "We were all watching...it was a small screen.... As I remember it, there was really little conversation. There was no talking. People were just transfixed by what they were seeing on the screen."

So transfixed, Miceli said this week, that he wasn't aware of exactly who was in the room. He has no specific memory of Mr. Obama being there.

Miceli recalled that most people left early that day. At some point, Mr. Obama did too, to his home at the time, a condo not far from Hyde Park's Promontory Point. He described that night in a recent interview on CBS.

"I remember going home and Sasha had just been born," he said. "And I usually had night duty, so Michelle could get some sleep. And I remember staying up...late into the middle of the night, burping my child and changing her diapers, and wondering, 'What kind of world is she going to be inheriting?'"

At that time, few were interested in any profound thoughts this Illinois legislator had on the state of the world. His reaction to the attacks did not appear in the local newspapers, except for a very local one: the Hyde Park Herald.

The paper frequently ran columns by the neighborhood's elected officials, including Mr. Obama. After 9/11, then-editor Caitlin Devitt invited them to submit short statements for the following week's edition.

"The essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others," Mr. Obama wrote. "Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity. It may find expression in a particular brand of violence, and may be channeled by particular demagogues or fanatics. Most often, though, it grows out of a climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair."

Devitt said these comments were perhaps more nuanced that most political reactions at the time. Politicians like Mr. Obama, she said, know how to write for the less-hawkish Hyde Parkers.

Devitt doesn't remember taking special notice of Mr. Obama's September 19th statement.

"I mean, I never really imagined that these words that I'm reading now would one day maybe be translated into policy - foreign policy, you know, or our national policy, that's, you know, that's pretty, I don't think I thought that big about him," Devitt said.

At that time, the future president was also a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago's law school. The fall quarter hadn't yet begun, but a university spokesman said that by late September, Mr. Obama was teaching a couple courses.

Jaime Escuder was in one of them: Constitutional Law III: Equal Protection and Substantive Due Process. Escuder said in a recent interview that he can remember only one time that Mr. Obama made a comment related to September 11th.

"People starting wearing...the American flag starting appearing everywhere, and particularly - frankly - Republicans, although he didn't mention Republicans," Escuder said. "He did make a comment, though, such that it was clear he was uncomfortable with the - I guess you could say - the effort to politicize the American flag."

Escuder is a public defender now, and remembers his professor's comment when he sees other lawyers wearing flag pins, and when he sees President Obama wearing one. He said it maybe disappoints him a little, but he doesn't fault the president.

"He probably made the calculation that it could be turned into something far bigger than it really was, if he didn't wear it," Escuder said. "He is a patriot and it just takes away one more argument that people could be making against him, if he just sort of goes with the flow on that small issue."

In the fall of 2001, Mr. Obama's political future was cloudy. The year before he'd had an embarrassing primary election loss when he tried to oust U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush. But he'd started to think about a statewide run.

"We went to lunch right after 9/11," said Eric Adelstein, a political consultant based in Chicago.

At lunch, he and Mr. Obama talked about the terrorist attacks, which dominated most conversations at the time, Adelstein recalled. And the state senator with eyes for a bigger office asked him about the logistics of a U.S. Senate campaign. Adelstein said they both acknowledged a specific hurdle.

"He or I might have said, 'You know, now his name rhymes with this horrible mass murderer who's been accused of doing this thing and that would just create an added challenge," Adelstein said this week.

In his book, Mr. Obama wrote about this lunch with an unnamed "media consultant."

"We both looked down at the newspaper beside him," Obama wrote. "There, on the front page, was Osama bin Laden."

"Hell of a thing, isn't it?" Mr. Obama quoted the consultant. "Really bad luck. You can't change your name of course."

Mr. Obama wrote that the consultant "shrugged apologetically before signaling the waiter to bring us the check."

Adelstein doesn't remember it quite like that.

"I think I'd write that off to the poetic license of the author," Adelstein said. "It didn't exactly happen that way. But, you know, he's become president at a difficult time. Everyone who knew him back then, knew that this guy was going to go far, and I think we're grateful that he has."

Adelstin doesn't remember the exact date of the lunch, name of the restaurant or what the two men ate.

A lot of details get fuzzy over ten years. And it's not like everyone in the aftermath of 9/11 made a conscious decision to remember their interactions with Barack Obama, on the off-chance he would someday be in a position to, say, order a military operation to kill the terrorist behind the attacks.

Back then, he was a lawyer, a professor and a state senator. No more important than any of us, on a day that nonetheless would largely shape his presidency.

(AP Photo/Obama for America)

Categories: Biography, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 01, 2011

Illinois Police to Set Up Check Points to Catch Drunk Drivers

Illinois State Police officials are warning drivers cops will be out in full force this holiday weekend.

About 100 roadside safety checks are scheduled across the state in an effort to crack down on drunk driving. Over the past five Labor Days, 25 people have died from drunk drivers in Illinois.

Bob Park, with the state's Department of Transportation, said the number of fatalities from drunk drivers over the holiday weekend have dropped over recent decades.

"The culture has changed," Park said. "When you take a look at the statistics and you look at the death rate, I mean, having the lowest death rate sinec the 1920s, obviously what we're doing is working."

Police warn that most drunk driving incidents happen at night. Drivers caught under the influence could face jail time or have their license suspended.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 01, 2011

Democrat Hoffman Forms Committee to Explore 13th Dis. Congressional Run

A former state lawmaker from southwest Illinois says he wants to run against incumbent Republican Tim Johnson in the new 13th Congressional District.

Democrat Jay Hoffman of Collinsville said he is forming an exploratory committee to see if a run for congress is feasible. If he runs, Hoffman will face David Gill in the Democratic primary. Hoffman said he likes Gill and appreciates his stand in favor of health care reform. But the Collinsville Democrat said he is better suited to work for job creation and debt reduction in Washington.

"What is happening out in Washington right now, is not putting the people of Champaign-Urbana or central Illinois or southwestern Illinois first," Hoffman said. "It's putting the individual congressional members first. And I think people are just tired of that and want to see a fresh approach, an approach that's going to use our natural resources and create jobs and economic op for all of central Illinois."

Hoffman said Johnson has been serving in a congressional district --- the 15th --- that leans Republican, but he said the new 13th District is more of a tossup between the two parties. Hoffman said a race between him and Johnson would provide a clear choice.

"You want someone in Washington who's going to fight for job creation, and fight for working families, or do you want someone who's owned by the special interests and big business?" Hoffman said. "That's the distinction that'll be made."

The 49-year-old Hoffman served twenty years in the Illinois House. He gave up that seat in 1996 to run for Congress, but lost the race against John Shimkus. In October 1997, Hoffman was appointed to the Illinois House again, and served in the General Assembly before losing a re-election bid last year. He faced criticism for being a close ally of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Hoffman defends his ties to Blagojevich, saying everybody has a friend who has done things wrong. He said that when the time came, he voted to impeach Blagojevich in the Illinois House.

While not yet a formal candidate, Hoffman plans to campaign in the new 13th District on Labor Day. He said he also plans to appear in the Decatur Labor Day parade, and at Labor Day picnics in Bloomington-Normal and Champaign-Urbana.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 01, 2011

University of Illinois to Ask for 5 Percent More Money

The University of Illinois plans to ask the state for about five percent more money in the coming fiscal year.

The school plans for its budget to top $5 billion.

A university trustees' committee on Wednesday reviewed plans for a budget just over $5 billion for the 2012 fiscal year. The News-Gazette in Champaign reports that would be 5.2 percent more than the 2011 budget. The proposed budget must be cleared by trustees before it's considered by the governor, General Assembly and Illinois Board of Higher Education.

The state is now $313 million behind on money it owes the university from past appropriations. The state government is unable to keep up with money it has promised universities and other institutions because of a multi-billion dollar budget deficit.

Categories: Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 01, 2011

Possible Deal with Wrigley Bomb Suspect

Federal prosecutors say they have discussed a possible plea deal for a Lebanese immigrant accused of placing a backpack he thought contained a bomb near Chicago's Wrigley Field last year.

Prosecutors didn't elaborate when they told Judge Robert Gettleman at a Thursday status hearing in Chicago that they've been talking to defense lawyers about resolving the case before it gets to trial.

Sami Samir Hassoun has pleaded not guilty, including to attempted use a weapon of mass destruction. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

Prosecutors accuse the 23-year-old man of taking a fake bomb given to him by undercover FBI agents, then dropping it in a trash bin near the home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team.

Gettleman set a tentative trial date of Feb. 6.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 01, 2011

Hot Weather Forces Some Early Class Dismissals

NOTE: This story has been updated to include the Danville School District.

With high temperatures back in the forecast, some school districts are dismissing classes early.

Unit Four's three middle schools, plus Champaign Central High School will dismiss class early on Thursday and Friday, September 1st and 2nd.

Jefferson Middle School will dismiss at 12:50 PM Edison Middle School will dismiss at 12:55 PM. Champaign Central High School will dismiss at 1:05 PM. Franklin Middle School will dismiss at 1:10 PM. Transportation schedules will be adjusted to the early dismissal times. Unit Four elementary schools and Centennial High School are air conditioned, and will keep to their regular schedules.

Meanwhile, the Monticello School District is letting class out at its schools one hour early on Thursday and Friday, due to the heat.

And, the Danville School District 118 will also dismiss classes early, Thursday and Friday. Elementary buildings will dismiss at 1:15. Middle school buildings will dismiss at 2:25. Danville High School will dismiss at 1:40. There will be no afternoon pre-school classes on Sept. 1 and Sept. 2.

Categories: Education

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