Illinois Public Media News
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing's motor fuel tax plan faces charges from critics who say it would raise gasoline prices in the city. But the mayor and chief of staff told council members Monday night that other towns with their own motor fuel taxes haven't had that problem.
Mike Monson, the mayor's chief of staff, says he talked with officials at six downstate cities with motor fuel taxes, including Danville, Tilton, Galesburg and Peoria.
"I talked to them about the competitive effect, " says Monson. "They seemed to think there wasn't much of a price differential between stations that were within the city that were collecting this tax, and stations in nearby communities and unincorporated areas that didn't have it."
But Monson walked back from earlier estimates that a two-cent a gallon gasoline tax could raise a half million dollars a year for Urbana. He now thinks the number would be more like $350,000. City Public Works Director Bill Grey says that would still be enough to help keep up with street maintenance.
"We really need to do more work with resurfacing streets, and seal-coating, crack-sealing and patching streets", says Grey. "So two cents would be a big help." :
Prussing argues that a 2-cent per gallon motor fuel tax would would be barely noticeable --- if passed on to customers --- because gasoline prices already vary widely from one gas station to another. Prussing says she did her own survey of gas station prices last Friday, and found a 23 cent difference between the highest and lowest prices.
"So a 23 cent difference between two gas stations in the same city is more than ten times as much as a two cent tax", says Prussing. "We don't think the tax will get passed on, but if it does, it's still a very small amount, compared to the daily changes and the differences between stations."
Still Republican Alderwoman Heather Stevenson was unconvinced. She said she worried gas stations just outside the Urbana city limits --- in Champaign to the west and Urbana Township to the east --- could take customers away from gas stations in Urbana, if a motor fuel tax passes.
Mayor Prussing says a city gasoline tax is needed, because revenue from the state's motor fuel tax and Urbana's s general fund have not kept up with inflation. She says discussion of the proposed tax will continue at a later council meeting.
The University of Illinois still has about six weeks to act on a plan to borrow funds in order to make payroll and fund other areas where it's lacking in money owed by the state.
U of I Trustees have already granted administrators the authority to take advantage of a bill signed by Governor Pat Quinn that enables public universities to borrow up to 75-percent of what's owed by the state for up to a year. For the U of I, that's around $210-million. But administrators expect to wait until just before the August 31st deadline to decide whether to act on the measure. Ed McMillan chairs the Board of Trustees' Audit, Budget, Finance, and Facilities committee. He says the U of I will continually assess its cash flow before making that decision.
But McMillan says all public universities, particularly those in Illinois, need to keep looking for new funding sources. "As you look at us over the next... let's say three years, you're going to find us working very hard at finding a revenue model that relies upon a different mix of revenue sources," said McMillan. "What that's going to be I don't know. I think you can look around the United States and see several different models that are being tried and successfully being pursued. I don't think any of us have any any predetermination as to what model should be."
U of I Associate Vice President of Planning and Budgeting Randy Kangas says the school could soon seek out a line of credit with a bank if it utilizes the borrowing measure. He notes the state intends to pay its overdue bills by the end of the calendar year... and that short-term interest rates are very favorable. And with Fiscal 2011 just underway, some leaders at the U of I are already thinking of the following fiscal year. Kangas says U of I Trustees plan to seek out about $67-million in state funds for fiscal 2012 by their September meeting. That's in addition to seeking the normal state appropriation of $697-million. Kangas says prior years have brought requests for additional funds of more than $100-million, seeking out help for areas like campus diversity and initiatives to improve graduation rates. He says there hasn't been a change in aspirations, but U of I leaders recognize the reality of Illinois' financial crisis. Kangas says the focus will be to see that top salaries are funded.
"Obviously, the state is in a crisis," said Kangas. "Probably, the nation is still in a crisis in the throws of an economic downturn. However, we have to tell people what our top priorities are. We have to tell the legislature by not fulfilling these requests what we're going to lose when we lost top faculty and staff. So is there a great chance of this being funded? Probably not a great chance." Kangas says there are other 'unavoidables' that are part of that funding request... including utility costs and worker's compensation.
The B-17 Bomber turns 75 this year. The fleet of planes covered the skies of Germany during World War II bombing raids, but today only a few remain. These flying bricks could sustain such significant battle damage that the aircraft lived up to its name, the Flying Fortress. To mark 75 years, the plane recently stopped at Willard Airport near Champaign. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers had a chance to take a ride in the Flying Fortress.
Senate candidate Mark Kirk says he voted against extending jobless benefits because Democrats didn't come up with a way to pay for the benefits without adding to the deficit.
The Republican congressman says he has often voted to let people continue collecting unemployment past the normal deadline, but he opposed the most recent extension because it would have increased the deficit by $30 billion.
The House approved the extension, but it was blocked in the Senate. That means hundreds of thousands of people are losing the unemployment benefits each week.
Kirk spoke at a news conference in Springfield Friday, where he discussed his "Springfield Agenda", the latest in a series of economic development plans for different regions of the state.
Meanwhile, Kirk says he is done answering questions about exaggerating his military accomplishments.
Several times this week, Kirk has refused to answer questions about specific incidents during his 21 years in the Navy Reserve. At his Springfield news conference, he said he'll let his official fitness reports speak for him from now on.
Those reports include glowing evaluations but offer no details on specific incidents -- such as whether he came under fire while serving in Afghanistan, as he once claimed.
Kirk apologized last week for making false statements about his military service and said he had been careless. He says that news conference fully addressed all questions.
Kirk has been on the defensive since the revelation that he claimed a military award he didn't win.
Construction will start this month on a wind farm along the McLean and Woodford County lines.
Invenergy is building 100 wind turbines, producing 150 megawatts of power. Central Region Development Vice President Bryan Schueler says the company is working with contractors on a start date. He won't disclose the cost of the project.
The project was approved three years ago, but a group opposed to the wind farm sued over the zoning process. That lawsuit was settled in late 2008, but it took more time for Invenergy to find financing.
Meanwhile, Horizon Wind Energy has filed for a special use permit to build its third wind farm in central Illinois. That project is proposed for northeastern McLean County between Colfax, Lexington and Chenoa.
The head of a national academic group says a terminated University of Illinois professor was well within his rights to express opinions on Catholicism, and should lobby to get his job back.
After adjunct Professor Kenneth Howell stated that homosexual acts are immoral, a student complained to the head of the U of I's Department of Religion that the professor was engaging in hate speech. Howell claims the dismissal violates his academic freedom. U of I English Professor Cary Nelson is President of the American Association of University Professors. He says while many faculty members choose to remain neutral on various issues, they can also state their positions, and invite their students to argue on those points.
"I always tell students where I stand, and then I say 'please disagree with me - give me a hard time." says Nelson. "Let's get a debate going. You do a good job on the debate, you get extra credit. I want you to dispute me, not just settle for my beliefs." Nelson also says Howell has earned the right to request a hearing before faculty in the Department of Religion. Nelson says if it's proven before an elected committee that Howell was let go because of his opinion, he should be allowed to get his job back.
But Nelson says the professor can also appeal before the AAUP. He says the organization sees more cases like Howell's each day, in which a non-tenured faculty member is dismissed because of a complaint from a student or parent. "He's apparently taught nine years.on contracts like this," (a year-by-year hire.) "They're often let go without any kind of full, professional, evaluation. Basically some administrator decides 'well, it's not worth the trouble, he or she is controversial, we'll just cut them loose. But that damages everyone's academic freedom."
Howell doesn't have a local phone listing. His comments in e-mails were obtained by the News-Gazette. The head of the U of I's Religion Department, Robert McKim, also couldn't be reached for comment. University spokeswoman Robin Kaler declined comment since Howell's firing is a personnel issue.
Champaign Police are looking for a dark green SUV driven by a bearded white male in his 40s, following a hit and run accident in the 500 block of Alabama on the city's north side Thursday afternoon.
According to a police department news release, witnesses report seeing the vehicle strike a six year old girl and flee the scene at around 4 PM.afternoon. The vehicle was last seen heading south on Harris Avenue. The child was taken to Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana.
The vehicle is described as possibly being a GMC Yukon or Ford Explorer model, with lumber extending from the rear driver's side window.
The driver is described as a white male in his 40's, with a full beard and dark hair wearing a blue t-shirt and blue jeans.
Anyone with information about this accident is asked to call Champaign Police at 217-351-4545.
Anonymous tips can be sent to Crime Stoppers at 217-373-TIPS, through their website, or by texting Tip397 plus the information to CRIME (274637).
Third party and independent candidates for Illinois governor took part in the first debate of the general election Thursday night. Democratic Governor Pat Quinn and Republican state Senator Bill Brady opted not to attend.
The Green Party's nominee for governor, Rich Whitney, called the missing Quinn and Brady "the elephants in the...not in the room, I guess you might say."
About 50 spectators showed up at Chicago State University to see the five-candidate debate.
Whitney is the only one with a secure spot on the ballot.
Budget issues dominated, with Whitney calling for tax increases, and eventually, free college tuition.
In contrast, the Libertarian Party's Lex Green said state residents should instead rely more on their communities and private charities, "because, as we see already, the state can't do it."
Independent Bill "Dock" Walls said Illinois should sell naming rights for highways and state buildings.
"I'd love to see the Microsoft Thompson Center", said Walls, by way of example.
Also at the debate: independent candidate Scott Lee Cohen and the Constitution Party's Michael White.
Federal prosecutors say the corruption trial of ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is moving forward faster than expected and there is a good chance they will rest their case on Tuesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar made the announcement in court Thursday after Judge James Zagel sent the jury home for the weekend.
Blagojevich's attorneys asked if they could be given more time to prepare given that the prosecution finished sooner than expected. Zagel said he wasn't inclined to grant that but would entertain the idea next week. He said at the earliest they would launch their case on Wednesday.
Earlier during trial proceedings on Thursday, jurors heard an FBI wiretap tape in which Rod Blagojevich told a political pollster on an FBI wiretap tape that naming U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to the Senate seat Barack Obama was leaving would yield "tangible political support.'' Blagojevich referred to "specific amounts and everything,'' and adds "there is some of it up front.''
Jackson has been accused of no wrongdoing in the case. But prosecutors say there is evidence that his supporters spoke about raising a large sum for Blagojevich if he would name the congressman to the Senate.
Also on a wiretap tape, Blagojevich was heard cursing everyone from the president to reporters. The target of his fury was the people of Illinois.
In a phone conversation with an aide, Blagojevich talked about legislative successes. Later he cited poll numbers that show his support at all-time lows.
Sounding increasingly angry, he directed his ire at his constituents, saying that, "Only 13 percent of you all think I'm doing a good job.'' He then cursed as he denounces the public as a whole.
Also on Thursday, former Deputy Governor Robert Greenlee testified that Blagojevich hid in the bathroom or left the office early to avoid discussing complex issues.
Greenlee testified that former key aide John Filan had to chase Blagojevich to discuss important state matters.
Greenlee testified that he had to dine with the Blagojevich family at a bowling alley to get the governor to focus on legislation.
He said he was skeptical when Blagojevich spoke of his hopes of getting a job in Washington but kept quiet because Blagojevich could be argumentative if he didn't like what he heard.
Blagojevich has pleaded not guilty to charges including scheming to exchange President Barack Obama's former Senate seat for a high paying job, Cabinet post or massive campaign contribution.
Property tax money owed by Provena Covenant Medical Center is now in the hands of Champaign County.
County Treasurer Dan Welch received the $8-point-8 million check Thursday morning. An appellate court last week sided with taxing bodies, meaning the hospital owes the funds for tax years 2002 thru 2008. But Welch notes Provena is still fighting the court's decision regarding 2004 onwards. In October, an administrative law judge will determine whether about $6-point-6 million can be released to taxing bodies. But Provena could still take the decision to appellate court.
Welch says that means taxing bodies will likely want to hold off on using that $6-point-6 millon, but they could use just over $2 million from years the hospital is not contesting for taxing bodies like Urbana's school District and Champaign County. Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing says those funds would come out of the city's tax increment financing district, which would first receive that money. "Smaller units really do need the money," said Prussing. "I don't think it would be right for the city to try to glom onto it. These are people that we work with continuously, so I think the fair thing to do is just give the money back as quickly as we can. And we have our legal council looking into exactly what is the proper way to do this." Prussing says it's 'unfortunate' that Provena is dragging this case out.
Meanwhile, Provena is planning to file for an exemption on its 2010 taxes. Spokeswoman Lisa Lagger issued a statement... noting the hospital provided over $25 million in charitable care in the Champaign Urbana area in the past year, saying those amounts 'clearly represent the value of charitable assets being returned to the community.
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