Illinois Public Media News
The University of Illinois' Board of Trustees hasn't met on its flagship campus since late September.
And there's not another meeting scheduled in Urbana until December. U of I spokesman Tom Hardy says the Trustees' schedule this year represents a bit of an anomaly. He says the rule of thumb is that Trustees will meet two to three times in both Urbana and Chicago over the course of a year, along with one meeting on the Springfield campus.
But Hardy says accessibility of space has kept the Trustees from their Urbana meetings in the Illini Union the past few months. And he says there's the availability of the trustees themselves to consider.
"Six of the statewide appointed trustees hail from the greater Chicago area, and the other three are from areas outside of the Chicago area," said Hardy. "Every one of them is a professional or executive who have very busy schedules."
Two months ago, Hardy says one meeting was moved from Urbana to Springfield in an effort to be there at the time the legislature was in session. But lawmakers ended up taking that week off. U of I Trustees will meet on the Chicago campus on June 9th. The next Trustees meeting in Urbana is slated for December 2nd.
As the Champaign school district gets ready for another year of reduced spending, it has an agreement with teachers to continue another year on their old contract.
The Unit Four School Board approved a one-year contract extension with the Champaign Federation of Teachers Monday night. Teachers had voted to ratify the extension the week before. The new agreement takes effect June 30th.
Unit Four spokesperson Beth Shepperd said extending the terms of the current contract one more year was the realistic approach to financial problems that led the school board to cut spending in next year's budget by about $1.5 million. She called the agreement "a response to current financial situations and uncertainty at the state level."
Shepperd said the contract keeps teachers' salaries steady ---- with no raises except those on the step pay salary schedule.
"The salary schedule is structured so that a teacher moves up with a year's experience," Shepperd said. "They will get that upward movement. But there will be no increase to the overall salary schedule."
The extension also adds another $50 to the district's annual contribution for each teacher's Health Savings Account, for a total of $300.
A Unit Four news release quotes Champaign Federation of Teachers Deb Foertsch as saying she is satisfied with the agreement --- and looks forward to working with district officials for a longer term agreement in 2012.
Shepperd would not make a prediction on whether the school district's finances will have recovered enough by then to allow for a more generous contract.
University of Illinois President Michael Hogan says faculty could receive their first pay raise in three years this summer if current state budget proposals become reality.
Hogan told The News-Gazette newspaper in Champaign on Monday that faculty on campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Springfield and Chicago could see raises of less than 4 percent.
That figure is based on current funding proposals that would see the university's state appropriation either remain flat as Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed or be cut by up to 3 percent. The Illinois House and Senate have proposed cuts of 1.1 to 3 percent for the state's public universities.
Hogan said he's concerned by the exit of some key faculty members over the past few years.
State Farm Insurance says it will close two-dozen field offices over the next year in three states, including one in Champaign on West Park Court that employs 20 people.
It is part of an effort to save the company $8 million over the next five years. State Farm did a year-long study leading up to the consolidation plan, and found it could save money by centralizing technology while remaining efficient.
State Farm spokeswoman Missy Lundberg said administrative staff will consolidate to Indianapolis, but she said most employees will not be affected.
"A lot of those 13 hundred employees are what we call mobile claim workers, and they will be staying in those communities," she said. "What that means is that they will maybe work out of their home, maybe work out of a car, maybe work out of an agent's office."
The Bloomington-based company says it hopes to retain all the affected employees.
In addition to the State Farm office in Champaign closing, Illinois branches affected by the consolidation are in Marion, Collinsville, Springfield, Peoria, Moline, Rockford, Elmhurst, Tinley Park, and Arlington Heights.
Offices in Michigan and Indiana will also close.
A man accused of plotting to blow up a federal courthouse in Springfield has pleaded guilty.
Michael C. Finton was immediately sentenced today to serve 28 years in prison.
Finton, who is also known as "Talib Islam," was arrested in September 2009. Authorities said he repeatedly met with an undercover government operative he thought was a member of Al Qaida.
Finton parked a van loaded with fake explosives outside the federal courthouse and then made a cell phone call that he thought would trigger an explosion.
Urbana City Council members will get their first look at their May 16th meeting at a $48.3 million budget plan for the fiscal year starting July 1st.
At a news conference the previous Monday, Mayor Laurel Prussing says spending in her F-Y 2012 budget is nearly 5% greater than in the current year.
Urbana is seeing a slow recovery in sales and property tax revenues, plus money from state highway grants and the new tax on motor fuel, but Prussing said her budget would also dip further into the city's General Reserve Fund. The mayor says that fund should ideally be kept at around $3 million, but the 2012 budget plan would bring it down below $100,000 by next summer.
"The problem is that the revenues are not as great as of the expenditures," Prussing said. "So that's why we had to use our reserves. Obviously you can't do that forever. But I think that's what you use your reserves for, when you're going through a drop in your revenues, and you need to maintain your services."
City Comptroller Ron Eldridge said part of the challenge is that Urbana's modest growth in tax revenues doesn't compare to the drop in revenues it saw with the onset of the recession three years ago.
"Our revenue (growth) is in pretty much what I would call our normal trend, in that 3-4% range," Eldridge said. "The difficulty is that the hole was so deep that ... our revenues fell back to the level they were four to five years ago. We have such a large hole to dig our way out of it, it's going to be difficult to dig our way out of that at 3-4% a year, even though those are normal revenues."
Mayor Prussing said she wants to avoid laying off city staff. To do that, 11 vacant positions would not be filled next year under the budget plan, and wages and salaries would be frozen --- although a police contract is still being negotiated. Urbana's two big road projects for next year would be improvements to Airport Road east of Cunningham ... and Philo Road south of Windsor. The city would also borrow money to make improvements to Boneyard Creek in downtown Urbana.
The Urbana City Council will hold study sessions on the proposed budget on two Mondays, May 16th and May 23rd. A public hearing on the Urbana city budget is scheduled for Monday, June 6th in City Council chambers.
Mayor Prussing said she is also seeking questions or comments on the budget via email at firstname.lastname@example.org; via phone at 217-384-2456 and by mail at 400 S. Vince Street, Urbana IL 61801.
CORRECTION: This story originally stated that the budget would be presented at the Monday, May 9th Urbana City Council study session. Instead, the presentation will be made on May 16th.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Monday that it's giving Amtrak $404 million to expand high-speed rail service in the Midwest.
The money will go toward making upgrades along the Chicago-St. Louis corridor and to constructing new segments of 110 mph track between Chicago and Detroit.
Once completed, the two projects are expected to reduce travel times and improve safety.
The Chicago-to-Detroit enhancements are expected to shave 30 minutes off of passenger travel times between the two destinations, and the government claims the construction phase of the project will create 1,000 jobs.
The money was part of $2 billion originally earmarked for high-speed rail links between Tampa and Orlando, Florida.
But Florida Governor Rick Scott canceled the project earlier this year, making the money available to be used in other parts of the nation.
The Department of Transportation targeted rail projects in 15 states to receive the additional funds. 24 states, the District of Columbia and Amtrak had all applied for the dollars.
The largest share of the money - nearly $800 million - will be used to upgrade train speeds from 135 mph to 160 mph on critical segments of the heavily traveled Northeast corridor.
"The investments we're making today will help states across the country create jobs, spur economic development and boost manufacturing in their communities," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
Advocates of high-speed rail are scheduled to go to the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield on May 19th to lobby state officials to support enhanced passenger rail service in the state.
This morning defense attorneys for Rod Blagojevich are expected to cross examine the first major witness in the former governor's retrial.
John Harris was Blagojevich's chief of staff and he spent three days on the stand last week testifying for prosecutors. He was caught on federal wiretaps advising Blagojevich on how to use a senate seat appointment to enrich himself.
Harris hoped Blagojevich could become a member of Obama's cabinet and in exchange Blagojevich would appoint anyone to the Senate that Obama wanted.
Harris is caught on one phone call talking to another Blagojevich adviser about their attempts to get that offer to Obama's people.
"We wanted our ask to be reasonable and rather than make it look like some sort of selfish grab for a quid pro quo," Harris said. "We had to lay the groundwork to show that we're going to be stuck in the mud here."
Harris was an attorney and he has pleaded guilty in the case and is cooperating with prosecutors.
In their cross examination, Blagojevich's defense team could point out that Harris came up with many of the illegal schemes himself but that would be an admission that the schemes were indeed illegal. Instead they will probably focus on the idea that it was all just talk and no crimes were ever committed.
(Photo by Robert Wildeboer/IPR)
A new report by a fiscal watchdog group shows Illinois Governor Pat Quinn's proposed budget is unbalanced by more than $2 billion.
The report by the Civic Federation found Quinn overestimated some of the money the state is bringing in, specifically when it comes to income taxes.
Quinn's proposed budget estimates Illinois raised $7 billion when it increased the personal income tax rate earlier this year, but the Civic Federation's report finds Quinn's budget for next year does not set aside enough money for income tax refunds. It's about $1 billion short.
Legislators approved the tax increase in January to help balance the state's $13 billion deficit. Quinn also wants to borrow money to pay bills and temporarily suspend some state funding to local governments.
Recently, Illinois' comptroller announced that by her count, Illinois' budget is still some $8 billion out of whack.
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has a stack of bills on his desk, but the most controversial he's likely to sign is House Bill 1210.
That one reached Daniels' office late Friday afternoon.
The bill cuts $3 million in federal funding to Planned Parenthood of Indiana. The money's from the federal government and is supposed to help low-income women get reproductive services. But Planned Parenthood also provides abortions, something Daniels opposes.
Daniels has already said he intends to sign the bill. He says Hoosier women will still be able to get reproductive health care services from other providers.
The head of Planned Parenthood in Indiana says her agency will sue to restore the funding, but will wait until Daniels signs the bill. That could come at anytime.
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