Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 20, 2009

Champaign County Board Proposal Would Ask Voters if Auditor Should be Appointed, not Elected

A March 22nd News-Gazette article reported that Champaign County Auditor Tony Fabri is frequently absent from work, according to office phone records. Now, the Champaign County Board will consider putting a referendum on the ballot asking voters if they want to switch the auditor's post from elected to appointed.

Republican County Board member Al Nudo says the controversy over Fabri's apparent high absentee rate provides an opportunity to consider whether appointing the auditor might provide more accountability and professionalism than elections. But at Thursday's County Board meeting, Democrat Carol Ammons said the proposal coming so quickly after the News-Gazette article looked more like a witch-hunt to her.

"If we're going to look at actual strategic changes to the county", said Ammons, "we look at the auditor, we look at the recorder, we look at all of the non-constitutional offices, and we consider them alike."

Fabri is also Champaign County's Democratic Chairman. Nudo says he's open to discussing the recorder's and coroner's offices, which are held by Republicans. But Democrat Steve Beckett told the County Board Fabri's poor work attendance as measured by his office phone calls is a valid reason for reviewing the auditor's office alone.

"I can't ignore what I read this past weekend", said Beckett. "And it's not a witch-hunt if there's a witch".

Fabri could not be reached for comment Thursday night. According to the News-Gazette, he says office phone use is not a fair measure of his attendance, because he often uses his own cell phone at his desk, to avoid using county phones for political work.

Nudo's proposal now goes to the County Board Policy and Administrative Structure committees, which may take their time in considering it. A referendum on the auditor's office wouldn't show up on the Champaign County ballot until 2010, and any change wouldn't take effect until 2012, after Fabri's current term is over.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 19, 2009

IL Supreme Court Limits Governor’s Ability to Clear Criminal Records

Governors can issue pardons but they can't automatically clear a convict's criminal record, according to a new Illinois Supreme Court ruling.

The ruling involves pardons saying two men were innocent and could have their convictions expunged, or officially wiped away.

One pardon went to Stanley Howard, who was convicted of murder based on a confession that may have been obtained through torture. The other went to Dana Holland, who was convicted of rape but was later cleared by DNA evidence.

When they took steps to expunge their records, the courts said no.

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that despite the governor's pardons, the courts ultimately decide whether to expunge convictions.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 19, 2009

Illinois Marathon Gets Needed Volunteers, Could Use More

It didn't take long for organizers of the first-ever Illinois Marathon to find the volunteers they needed.

The marathon will be held on the streets of Champaign, Urbana and the U of I campus on the day before Easter. But local police said organizers needed to show by April 1st that they had 350 volunteers ready to help with traffic control, if they wanted to keep their special-events permits.

Marathon volunteer coordinator Mary Anderson says they issued the call for help on Monday, and by Tuesday night, they had enough volunteers signed up to ensure the race will take place. She says they're grateful for the response, but they could still use even more volunteers. Anderson says nearly 8-thousand runners have signed up for the Illinois Marathon and its related races --- and they'll need a total of 2-thousand volunteers. Volunteers will help staff the marathon and related events on Friday and Saturday, April 10th and 11th.

To volunteer to help on the Illinois Marathon, go to their website, www.illinoismarathon.com, and click on the volunteer link.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 18, 2009

Higher Education, UI Would Get Funding Increases under Budget Proposal

Higher education would get a slight increase in funding in a year when many other states are preparing their colleges and universities to accept flat funding or cuts.

Governor Quinn's budget proposal lifts operating funds for higher education by a little over one percent - in the University of Illinois' case, that means a nearly eight million dollar boost from the current year, to around 750 million dollars.

U of I spokesman Tom Hardy says that's not close to what the school requested, but it's realistic.

"When you look at what's been proposed here, you see an increase in operating appropriations for the University that makes us whole on the 2 1/2% cut that we received in the current fiscal year, and then adds another one percent on top of that," said Hardy.

Governor Quinn's proposal for a capital bill also includes U of I projects, including the long-postponed renovation of Lincoln Hall and money for a new engineering and computer building. But Hardy is expressing caution, saying the state hasn't passed a capital bill in several years.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 18, 2009

East Central IL Lawmakers Have Mixed Feelings on the Quinn Budget Proposal

A member of the legislative majority says he sees good faith in Governor Quinn's budget proposal, but he would still like to see some changes.

Democratic Senator Mike Frerichs of Champaign acknowledges that many lawmakers and the public are questioning the size of the tax increases in the plan. "I think there are those of us who would like to see a little more detail about what cuts we need to make in Illinois government first. I think there are more opportunities for cuts out there. But I think overall deficit reduction will be some combination of cuts in state services as well as revenue enhancement," said Frerichs.

Frerichs also says the proposed income tax hike was made fairer paired with a higher exemption for lower-income families. But he says it might stifle efforts from him and other downstate lawmakers to swap higher state taxes for lower local property taxes to fund education.

Pontiac Republican Senator Dan Rutherford says he credits Governor Quinn for unveiling a budget proposal free of smoke and mirrors. But he says Illinois families can't take the hit of a 50% income tax hike during the current economic crisis, calling the plan a 'non-starter.' And Rutherford says a proposal to boost corporate taxes and remove a manufacturer tax credit will hurt the incentive of companies to expand and create jobs. He says this is especially true in his district, where employers like Interlake and Caterpillar are already faced with layoffs:

"When it's time for investment into their plants, and a manufacturer says it's time to upgrade my tooling or upgrade my machinery, I think it's appropriate for us to give them credit and benefit in Illinois so they do it here rather than in another state, which those big companies can do," said Rutherford.

Rutherford says he's also concerned the Governor will shortchange Illinois' pension system by skipping payments. Fellow Republican Chapin Rose of Mahomet, a state representative, went further, calling the income tax hike proposal an assault on the middle class.

But Democratic Representative Naomi Jakobsson of Urbana wanted to remind colleagues that the Governor's proposal only forms the basis for budget debate over the next few weeks, and she blamed former Governor Rod Blagojevich for putting the state in its current situation.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 18, 2009

Gov. Quinn Proposes Budget, Income Tax Hike

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has laid out his budget plan to get the state's finances on track. But lawmakers have yet to get on board.

During his budget address Wednesday, Quinn cautioned the General Assembly that the state won't be able to cut its way out of the financial crisis. He called such thinking mean spirited and says it would lead to layoffs as well as to children and the elderly losing access to health care, saying he believes people would not support a "doomsday budget."

Governor Quinn says an historic budget deficit forced him to propose hikes in the income tax, vehicle registrations, cigarette purchases and call for employee furloughs and major changes in government pensions. But Palatine Republican Senator Matt Murphy says he doesn't buy Quinn's claims about further spending cuts.

"They're not easy and I'm not here to say it is," said Murphy. "But you can either raise taxes that will put more people out of work or you can balance the budget like everyone is having to do at home."

Lawmakers will debate the budget plan.... and likely make changes to it... over the next couple of months.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 18, 2009

Champaign City Council Endorses Six Million Dollar Budget Patch

The Champaign City Council voted Tuesday night to endorse a plan to fill a projected six-million dollar budget shortfall, created by a drop in city tax revenues.

The study session vote gives Champaign city staff the go-ahead to develop a budget plan that cuts spending, moves more money into the general fund from other areas, and increases some city fees while creating new ones. Council members had questions about the fees, as well as proposed cuts in staff postions --- all of them currently vacant, or expected to become vacant soon.

Council member Marci Dodds says despite her misgivings, she thinks the overall proposal will fill a budget hole without doing lasting harm to city services. "The whole goal", says Dodds, "was not to have tremendous impact on the public, or to just do a slice-and-dice, across-the-board cut; but really, to do this so we would preserve core city services".

Council members paid particular attention to the changes in city fees. Champaign Finance Director Richard Schnuer says the fee changes make up only about 20 percent of the overall proposal, and that the details are subject to change. The fee proposals include a more than 13-thousand percent jump in the license fee for ambulance services, an expansion of the natural gas tax to cover non-AmerenIP customers and a hike in the city franchise fee for cable TV customers.

Schnuer says they'll present a complete budget proposal to the city council in six weeks. Council members will review in study sessions in May, before taking a final vote in June.

The city of Urbana does NOT plan a similar cut to its budget. Mayor Laurel Prussing says she's been told by city comptroller Ron Eldridge that sales tax dollars from new retail developments puts Urbana on a firmer financial footing that some other local communities.

Categories: Government, Politics


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 17, 2009

Alumus, Businessman Tapped For Next U of I Trustee

An agribusiness leader from Greenville is Governor Pat Quinn's choice to serve as the next University of Illinois Trustee. U of I graduate Ed McMillan is a former CEO with Ralston Purina Company who now runs a consulting business. He's also stayed involved with the university, serving on its Alumni Association and U of I Foundation Boards, and heads the board of managers that oversees U of I Research Parks in Champaign and Chicago. Once his appointment is confirmed by the Illinois Senate, McMillan says he wants to draw on that research, working further to lure new technology to the campuses. And he says a 'nimble and creative' approach to higher education funding will help yield some of those benefits.

"That leads to the ability to attract and retain what I would call world class people to the institution in both teaching and research and development of tecnology and outreach," says McMillan. "That is, of course, very important to the college of ag and to agribusiness in Illinois, but outreach and extension is also very important to rural community and community development." The 63-year old McMillan is a 1969 agriculture science graduate. He's a Republican, and says he wasn't seeking out the office, but is honored to be asked. McMillan will replace Robert Sperling on the Board of Trustees, and will be one of three downstate voting members.

Mahomet Republican House member Chapin Rose calls McMillan a 'quality pick,' saying he's happy that Governor Quinn is following through on a recent pledge to tap U of I alumni groups for trustee considerations. Rose and other local lawmakers recently signed a resolution with that request.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 17, 2009

Caterpillar Begins “Rolling Layoffs” in Pontiac

Caterpillar Inc. has instituted rolling layoffs at its Pontiac plant. The move allows the plant to furlough its work force for a time while remaining in operation.

The acting president of United Auto Workers Local 2096 says the plant will shut down for the week of March 23 and then again for the week of April 13. The plant employs about 700 people, including 520 union members.

Caterpillar spokesman Jim Dugan says the company has announced a wide range of actions as it tries to deal with the slow growth in the global economy.

The Peoria-based company on Tuesday also announced plans to lay off more than 2,400 employees at five plants in Illinois, Indiana and Georgia. In Illinois, more than 1,700 workers at plants in East Peoria and Aurora are affected.

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