Illinois Public Media News
A week full of classes and events in Champaign County is aimed at helping people guide their personal finances through the tough economy.
The Chicago Federal Reserve is kicking off Money Smart Week this week in several Illinois communities. It's meant to boost financial literacy in a time when it's more important than ever.
One of the advisory committee members in Champaign County is Parkland College president Tom Ramage, who says students and their families can use the courses to chart their immediate and long-term financial futures.
"This gives students the opportunity to get direct answers to specific questions they might have in a short, free -- which is a key word -- experience where they can spend a couple hours, or a couple days, on a specific topic that's relevant, timely to them," Ramage said.
Nearly 25 community agencies, banks, schools and other groups are putting on classes and seminars ranging from basic saving and investing to making budgets and preventing against identity theft.
You can find a schedule of events at the Chicago Fed's website, moneysmartweek.org.
From your computer screen to your cellphone to much of what you hear on this radio station, the world is filled with digital media that make it possible for people to express themselves in ways unheard of a generation ago. Now, the University of Illinois is launching a new institute dedicated to promoting arts that use digital media. It's called the edream Institute. AM 580's Jim Meadows spoke with its director, Dr. Donna Cox.
The campus senate at the University of Illinois at Springfield is calling for an outside investigation of the school's athletic program, after incidents which led to the resignation of three coaches last month. But the campus senate is holding off on a vote expressing no confidence in the university's chancellor.
The university is already conducting an internal investigation into the controversy, which prompted the school to call the women's softball team back from a trip to Florida, but officials have declined to discuss details.
Today, the campus senate, which includes faculty, staff and students, passed a resolution to conduct a separate independent investigation. They were also scheduled to consider a vote expressing no confidence in Chancellor Richard Ringeisen.
Before the vote, the senate removed all mention of Athletic Director Rodger Jehlicka from the discussions and is delaying a no confidence vote for Ringeisen until the external investigation is completed. Ringeisen says the school must address concerns about the controversy, but he says he can't elaborate on what happened.
"If you think that a chancellor enjoys not being able to share details with people so that the accusations will stop, you're wrong," Ringeisen said
Ringeisen says if he did reveal details of the incident, he would be risking a lawsuit. The campus senate hopes to have the results of the independent investigation by the fall.
Illinois's governor has appointed a longtime advocate of universal health care to a troubled state board. The move comes amid questions about whether the board should even exist.
Quentin Young will chair the state's Health Facilities Planning Board. The board regulates where the facilities can be built or taken away. Critics say the board stifles competition ... but Young says a little planning will lead to a fairer system.
"There's no perfect way, obviously, to have balance between regulation and competition. But this planning agency is an attempt to control the devastating cost of health care," Young said.
The board has been a venue for graft and kickbacks, involving close associates of former Governor Rod Blagojevich. Congressman Mark Kirk suggests abolishing the board, calling it, quote: "an opportunity for total corruption." Kirk is thought to be mulling a run for governor.
Incumbent Pat Quinn says the key is appointing trustworthy people. Quentin Young has been a civil rights activist, Pat Quinn's personal physician.
General Growth Properties Inc., the nation's second-largest mall operator, says it has filed for bankruptcy protection after failing to convince its debt holders to give it more time to refinance its crushing debt.
The Chicago-based real estate investment trust said early Thursday it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in a New York court. Some 158 regional shopping centers under its control also filed for bankruptcy protection.
The company owns Champaign's Market Place Mall.
General Growth says it received a financing commitment from Pershing Square Capital Management LP of about $375 million and expects it will be able to continue operating its malls as it reorganizes.
The operator of jewelry store in Market Place says most changes coming out of the bankruptcy announcement won't impact the common shopper.
Eric Connery... whose family owns Bauble's.... says he knew this news was coming for the past several months. But he believes having a lease intact makes his store an asset instead of a liability. Connery recently renewed the lease for another year.
He says other than some possible changes in management... it should be business as usual at the mall:
"Their financial problems are so far beyond the mall level they wouldn't affect us," Connery said. "I don't foreseeing anything changing for the negative. The only thing I'd see happening is maybe you'll have some different people in different positions, and change isn't always a bad thing."
Connery says General Growth Properties is just a company that needs time to get its finances restructured... and he expects its ownership of the Champaign mall to remain intact.
(from AM 580 and The Associated Press)
The federal economic stimulus contains millions of dollars in research funding - money the University of Illinois is competing for, against dozens of other research institutions.
That's putting an unprecedented burden on the office that handles grant applications, which has already seen a big increase in grants over the past five years. The director of the Office of Sponsored Programs and Research Administration, Kathy Young, says they're still getting a handle on the crush of activity.
"We can't staff for what we don't know about yet," said Young. "It's going to be a concerted effort of the existing staff to shoulder the burden and do what we can. My management team and I are looking at what tasks we can parse off to keep the subject-matter experts working on the really critical issues."
Young says temporary staff may be able to handle the rest of the workload. The U of I says the federal government itself is also undergoing a flood of requests for grants from the National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy and other agencies that have gotten billions of dollars in research money. Federal officials expect a 60 percent increase in grant activity over the next six months.
A bill to help steer voluntary donations towards crisis nurseries in Illinois has made its second appearance in Springfield.
Crisis nurseries provide free short-term child care for families undergoing emergencies. Stephanie Record (reh-CORD) is executive director of the Crisis Nursery in Urbana. She says the legislation would make more funding possible, at a time when her agency is seeing a drop in grant funding and an increase in demand for services.
"If we get 100,000 people to check off every year, explains Record, "we would be able to remain on there, and then split those dollars between the six nurseries throughout the state".
State Senator Mike Frerichs of Champaign says his bill passed the Senate last year, but was blocked in the House due to infighting between the House Speaker and former Governor Rod Blagjevich. He's more optimistic about the bill's chances this year. The measure passed the Senate last month, and is being sponsored in the House by Danville Republican Bill Black.
If the bill becomes law, crisis nurseries in Illinois would join ten other charities to which Illinois taxpayers may donate part of their tax refund. Frerichs says he doesn't agree with legislators who say that bringing in a new charity will hurt levels of giving to those already on the tax checkoff list.
A nationwide day of protests linked to the federal tax deadline included a 400-person rally in Champaign.
The gathering was one of hundreds of so-called "tea party" rallies meant to vent about what participants call excessive taxation. But organizer Kevin Waite says the target of the protest went beyond economic worries.
"Certainly there is some anger, and a lot of people here are not only here for the financial issues but peripheral issues as well, because we feel that as time progresses our liberties are being diminished," Waite said.
Becky Brouillard of Rantoul says she's never taken part in political activities, but she says recent stories of the bailout and stimulus bills sparked her anger - but she says that anger is directed at members of both major parties.
"I know this has been spun as being about Obama and different things, that's not it," Brouillard said. "I think that's it's just a general unrest about where the federal government's going."
Randy Stufflebeam called on participants to engage in a new revolution, though not an armed revolution - yet. The 2006 Constitution Party candidate for Illinois governor was the keynote speaker.
For the second year in a row, voters at the annual town meeting in Urbana have turned down a request to place an advisory referendum on the ballot supporting Instant Runoff Voting.
The vote at Tuesday night's annual town meeting for Cunningham Township in Urbana was 82 to 13 against putting the referendum on next year's primary ballot. One of the opponents was Champaign County Board Member Tom Betz. He says most Urbana voters agree with him that Instant Runoff Voting is not a fair way to conduct elections, "because it disenfranchises voters". Betz went on, "It allows a second place candidate to potentially win. I believe in majority rule, and this is not majority rule. It's anti-democratic. I don't even believe it's lawful in the state of Illinois."
But supporters of the proposal accuse Democrats of denying voters the chance to make their own decision on the matter.
Under Instant Runoff Voting, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate wins a majority of the vote, the ballots for the candidate with the least votes is recounted using the voters' second choice, and so on, until a majority winner is chosen.
Meanwhile, over at the City of Champaign town meeting, the vote was 29 to 4 in favor of putting a non-binding question on the 2010 primary ballot in favor of a property tax hike for Township General Assistance.
Champaign voters previously approved a non-binding referendum for more Township aid for the poor last spring. But they've twice defeated referenda calling for actual property tax hikes. Randall Cotton, who sponsored the question at the town meeting last night, says they'll have to work harder to get their message across. But he says the support for the funding is there. "There's a growing group of people who are really very acutely interested in this issue," says Cotton. "And of course, it's more timely and important now than any time before in recent memory, because of the incredible downturn in the economy."
Cotton says the referendum that City of Champaign voters will see next year will provide more details than previous ones. He says it will point out that Champaign's funding for General Assistance is less than 10 percent of the average funding levels for Springfield, Bloomington and Peoria. And the resolution will call for a cap on how much property tax bills can go up.
The Champaign City Council has changed its mind, and will continue to award grants to social service agencies for another two years. But there will be new strings attached.
The grants, using federal funds, were scheduled to end July 1st. The city of Champaign was taking a different approach to social service funding --- working with the school and park districts to create its own initiatives targeting troubled neighborhoods, such as Garden Hills.
But city council members decided at last night's study session to continue granting money to local social service agencies through 2012, using 300-thousand dollars in city funds tagged for urban renewal. City Manager Steve Carter says these grants will only go to agencies ready to follow the pattern of the city's neighborhood initiatives. "It will be very much targeted," said Carter, "both in terms of geographic location in the community and the types of programs we're looking for."
Champaign officials changed their minds, because they saw local social service agencies losing funding due to the slumping economy, while the need for their services increased. At the same time, officials with the agencies argue the city funding can be crucial in obtaining matching grants, making city funds go further. "Essentially, ten thousand becaomes near enough 200-thousand dollars," said Tom Sullivan of the Center for Women in Transition.
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