Illinois Public Media News
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing continued her promotion of a local gasoline tax, Monday night, by bringing in an official from another city that already has one.
City Manager Dennis Keif of Pekin told the Urbana City Council about the four-cent-a-gallon gas tax his Tazewell County city has had since 1996 to raise money for a major highway project, regular street maintenance and property tax relief. He says gas station owners warned that the tax would force them to charge more for gasoline than competitors in Peoria with its two-cent gas tax, and smaller nearby towns with no tax. But Keif says there's no sign that gas stations in Pekin have suffered.
"Almost without exception, the price is exactly the same in all of the communities", Kief told Urbana council members. "Typically, it actually runs a little bit higher in Peoria than the other communities. But Pekin is no higher than the other communities."
Kief's answer was in reply to questions from Alderman Dennis Roberts, who said afterward that he's "inclined to support" Mayor Prussing's proposal for a two-cent gasoline tax to help pay for street maintenance. He thinks a vote could come later this summer.
Also Monday night, the Urbana City Council approved a $250 administrative fee to be imposed on motorists whose vehicles are towed after being arrested for certain serious offenses like D-U-I, felony drug offenses, and fleeing and eluding a police officer. The fee would be charged in addition to the towing fee. Champaign began imposing a similar fee for cars towed for serious offenses last year.
The first black scholar admitted to the National Academy of Sciences is being remembered as a mathematician who had a unique way of getting to the heart of the problem.
David Blackwell died of natural causes July 8th at the age of 91. The Centralia native attended the University of Illinois at age 16, earning his doctorate in mathematics in 1941. Blackwell's time at the U of I was followed by an appointment at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, alongside Albert Einstein, as well as time teaching at Howard University, and the University of California at Berkley, where he taught math for over 30 years. UCLA statistics professor Thomas Ferguson says he first met Blackwell as a student at Berkley in the early 50's. "He had this way of finding the right questions to ask that were the right problems to look at," said Ferguson. "Then he would go after those problems, and actually come out with something really interesting to say about them. In each of these areas that I'm thinking, he writes some sort of fundamental paper that everybody else jumps on, and then keeps going."
David Blackwell was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1965. His career had its share of obstacles. In 1942, he was blocked from becoming an honorary Princeton faculty member because of his race. Blackwell's initial efforts to teach at U-C Berkeley were also blocked for the same reason. But he also wrote two books, published more than 80 papers and eventually held 12 honorary degrees from schools like Harvard and Yale.
Funeral services are tentatively set for July 31st.
Rod Blagojevich's brother says a businessman claimed he could raise millions in campaign funds if Jesse Jackson Jr. were named to the Senate, but that he and the Illinois governor considered it "a joke.''
Robert Blagojevich testified Monday at the ousted governor's corruption trial. He said businessman Raghuveer Nayak told him that he could raise $1 million if the congressman was appointed to the seat Barack Obama was leaving to move to the White House.
Robert Blagojevich said Nayak said he could raise another $5 million eventually. But Robert Blagojevich said neither he nor his brother took the offer seriously. He said he told Nayak that Jackson was not going to be appointed.
Both Blagojevich brothers have pleaded not guilty to taking part in a scheme to sell the Senate seat.
Meanwhile, the federal judge presiding over Blagojevich's corruption trial has denied a motion from defense attorneys asking that the ousted Illinois governor be acquitted.
U.S. District Judge James Zagel on Monday refused to acquit Blagojevich and told attorneys to go ahead with the defense case. Zagel said he was basing his decision partly on the testimony in the prosecution's case and partly on the tone and manner in which witnesses answered the questions.
Defense attorneys often ask judges for such acquittals at the close of the prosecution case during a trial. The prosecution at the Blagojevich trial rested last week. Such motions are rarely granted.
The Champaign School District reached a tentative contract agreement with its support staff union Monday night.
Negotiators for Unit Four and the Champaign Educational Services Personnel union had been meeting since March - including a session with a federal mediator in June. But when scheduling problems prevented any meetings with the mediator in July, the two sides resumed contract talks on their own. Tomlinson says both Unit Four and the union were committed to reaching a settlement.
"Well I think everybody realized the importance of getting a good contract before school started", say Tomlinson. "And our balanced calendar schools start (their classes) next week. And the union and district came together and worked very hard to get the best contract for everybody involved."
Tomlinson would not release details of the tentative agreement, pending ratification votes by both sides. He expects members of the support staff union to ratify the contract in the next couple of weeks, with a school board vote on Monday, August 9th. The old contract for about 500 teachers' aides, bus drivers and other workers at Unit Four ran out June 30th.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan sat down with Illinois Public Media's Tom Rogers to discuss her office's new Silver Beat effort to combat fraud against senior citizens. But she also took time to talk about her reaction to wiretap tapes played in former Governor Rod Blagojevich's corruption trial naming her a a potential US Senate replacement for President Obama as Blagojevich considered the politics of the selection. Madigan also talks about financial reform legislation and a new nationwide consumer protection agency -- but says she'd rather see someone other than her get the job of heading it.
Governor Pat Quinn has responded to outrage over raises he gave to high-level advisers by cutting their pay, but many other state employees will see their paychecks reduced as well.
The Governor used extra powers given to him to get Illinois through the budget crisis by ordering a pay cut he says amounts to 9.2 percent. Quinn says he'll set the example -- he and anyone working directly for him must take 24 unpaid days off.
"I am a diligent hard-working governor," said Quinn. "I understand that we're in difficult circumstances. So I'm cutting my own pay."
State workers who aren't in a union, such as agency heads, managers, and policy staff, must also take 24 furlough days.
Quinn's action comes after revelations that he doled out salary hikes averaging about 11% to 35 members of his staff, including a raise for his budget director. Republicans called on Quinn to roll back the pay increases.
While making his announcement, Quinn also challenged state legislators to double the 12 furlough days they're supposed to take. He also wants the state's largest public employees union, AFSCME, to agree to furloughs.
An AFSCME spokesman says the union will hear what Quinn has to say, but adds that employees are already overworked even as the economy has increased demand for state services. AFSCME and Quinn are currently working under a deal that encourages voluntary furloughs. It also saves the state money by deferring a portion of the pay increases members were scheduled to receive through a contract that was negotiated by former Governor Rod Blagojevich's administration.
The city of Urbana has been trying to make the area friendlier to bicyclists, and tomorrow an organization will give some recognition to that effort.
For the first time, Urbana will be listed as a Bicycle-Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. It's also a first for any downstate Illinois community.
Jennifer Selby is a civil engineer for the city. She's overseeing Urbana's pro-bicycle effort, which involves what she calls the "5 E's" -- engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation.
"Engineering means bike lanes, bike paths and those types of things," said Selby. "Education is the types of education programs you have, for adults and for kids -- campaign programs, videos, any kind of printed materials. Encouragement means programs such as Bike to Work Day, which we held the first one in May of this year."
The city also stepped up enforcement of bicycle safety issues - both for riders and motorists - and having a long-range plan for further improvements. Selby says more bike routes and year-round efforts to encourage bike use could raise the level of the bicycle-friendly community recognition from bronze to silver.
The League of American Bicyclists formally announces the title at a Saturday morning event at Urbana's Market at the Square.
The support staff union with Champaign schools resumes negotiations with the district on Monday, and both sides indicate the meeting could produce an agreement.
The two parties started meeting in early March, and brought in a federal mediator by June. He wasn't able to meet with them again until August, so the two sides started meeting on their own. Union president Mary Logsdon says they made progress on many issues in two meetings held last week. The sticking points that remain are salary, health insurance, and bringing the salary for teacher aides on par with other districts. "We both have our own priorities that we want to see accomplished," said Logsdon. "Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don't. That's where sometimes we have to compromise, or give and take. So at this time, I think we're both right there, and I think in the next week, I think we can come to some consenus."
Unit 4 School Board President Dave Tomlinson says the district is doing what it can to reward hard work in tough financial times. "I think both sides have come realizing what the needs are, and you know, the district wants to give to employees who work hard. And we're trying to do the best we can by them, understanding there's serious budget issues, but we need to make sure that we're doing everything we can for our employees."
Tomlinson says talks have never been contentious. The previous contract expired June 30th. The Champaign Unit 4 support staff union represents about 500 teacher aides, clerical workers, custodians, bus drivers, and food-service workers.
Tests have found little to no toxicity from the algae in Clinton Lake, but state officials still say swimmers and other users should be concerned.
A 12 year old girl from Urbana had become ill after swimming there over the Fourth of July holiday. The state Department of Natural Resources posted an algae advisory. But they've amended it now that 2 out of 4 water samples found only very low levels of the type of algae that would cause a public health concern.
DNR spokeswoman Januari Smith says blue-green algae scum is common in most bodies of water, but it's best avoided. "We didn't close the lake to swimming or boaters or any other lake users," said Smith. "We just advised them -- we did this last week and we are still doing it -- to be very cautious. Do not swim in stagnant water or in obvious algae blooms."
Smith says Clinton Lake is not treated for algae and they don't plan any treatment.
The new University of Illinois president says he has experience dealing with state governments that are struggling with meager budgets, and more struggling will take place in the next year.
Michael Hogan says he wants to correlate the yearly increases in tuition with state funding reductions that are forcing universities to pass the cost on to students and parents. Hogan sat down for an interview with Illinois Public Media's David Inge, telling him that the U of I has to concentrate just as much on controlling costs, and future staff reductions are possible. He wouldn't specify where layoffs could happen, but he says a committee report has focused on certain services that could be restructured.
"We're going to begin right away when it comes to IT, human resources, strategic purchasing and a variety of other back-office operations, administrative operations. We can begin implementing the recommendations coming out of that committee and begin realizing the savings quickly."
Hogan expects a steering committee to help implement the first of the cost-cutting measures soon. In the meantime, he foresees opening a line of credit to keep up with bills, admitting that doing so makes him uneasy.
Meanwhile, Hogan says some steps to help ease the budget crunch can also be of academic benefit. He admits that students from outside Illinois pay much higher tuition rates - but he also says they're needed to bring a diverse perspective.
"We're trying to create a learning environment on campus that's more cosmopolitan and prepares people for life in the world they're going to face when they get their degrees," Hogan said. "So the best argument for more nonresidents, or more diversity or more international students, is not really a financial argument. It's an intellectual and academic argument, an educational argument." But when asked, Hogan would not give a target number of out-of-state students the U of I wants. The report recommended keeping in-state enrollment level.
Hogan says he won't get defensive about the $620,000 salary that trustees approved for him before he took over as president earlier this month. But he says he plans to forgo pay raises or deal with furlough days if the university calls on other employees to do so.
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