Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 18, 2011

Museum to Sell Radio Arte License, Building

The license of Chicago's only noncommercial Latino radio station is for sale.

The board of the National Museum of Mexican Art has decided to unload the broadcasting license of youth-run WRTE, 90.5 FM, better known as Radio Arte, according to museum President Carlos Tortolero. Tortolero said the museum also plans to sell an 11,000 square foot building in the city's Pilsen neighborhood that houses the station and another museum youth program, Yollocalli Arts Reach.

"The funding, especially in radio, is going south," Tortolero said. "We have a building that's costing us money. We tried to borrow some money to do some things and [banks] are saying, 'No, no. You can't.' The banks are looking at us and saying, 'Hey, you have to get rid of some of this stuff.'"

Tortolero is meeting with potential buyers of the license. Those include Chicago Public Media, the parent of WBEZ. The museum has also brought a real-estate appraiser through the building. Tortolero said the museum, which launched both youth programs in 1997, plans to continue them.

But his moves have sparked opposition from some current and former Radio Arte volunteers. They say they're forming a cooperative to try to buy the station.

"We want to keep the frequency, name, license and transmitter," said Martín Macías Jr., 22, who produces a weekly news show for the station.

Categories: Business, Community

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 18, 2011

Danville Mayor Testifies on Income Tax Cuts in Springfield

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

The Illinois Statehouse was crowded with people Wednesday, speaking out against proposed budget cuts.

Union members in purple T-shirts are angry about possible cuts to home health care and pension benefits. Mayors in gray suits and power ties oppose any move to reduce their share of income tax money.

Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said his city has already cut 72 positions, and reduced its budget by millions, the proposed income tax reductions would mean an additional 11-to-18 jobs lost. He says that means across the board reductions in areas like public works, safety, and local development.

"Services that will impact the quality of life that our citizens currently enjoy," Eisenhauer said. "And more importantly, services that, by their reduction or cut, will really make it even more difficult for us to go and attract new business, new industry, or new families coming into our community."

Meanwhile. nursing home employees and residents delivered petitions to Governor Pat Quinn's office Wednesday. All those groups and more say their funds are too important to cut. But they're not offering any suggestions on how state officials could avoid cuts and still balance the budget. Three different Illinois budget plans are being considered. All of them would include service cuts, but the amounts vary.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 18, 2011

Feds Agree to Buy Thomson Correctional Center

Illinois may be the new host of a maximum security federal prison.

Since late 2009, the state and federal government have been in negotiations and while there has been no official confirmation, legislators have confirmed terms of transferring the Thomson Correctional Center to the feds. President Barack Obama's original plan was to send Guantanamo Bay's terror suspects to Thomson. A backlash killed that plan.

Still the administration insisted it wanted to take the state-of-the-art prison off Illinois' hands, as it has barely been used. State legislators from northwestern Illinois, including Republican Representative Richard Morthland, say they were notified by Governor Pat Quinn of a deal.

Morthland said it was to be kept quiet because there are unfinished details. However, it appears the state will get $165 million for Thomson. That's lower than its $220 million appraised value. But Morthland said it will create needed high-quality jobs.

"They'll need places to live, there're going to need places to shop, and they're going to be providing a lot of services," Morthland said. "The Federal Bureau of Prisons has a preference to working with local producers, so the farmers in the area and other people will be able to do business with the prison. And so it's really going to be a great shot in the arm for northwestern Illinois."

Given crowding in Illinois correctional facilities, the state could surely use it to house its own criminals. But Illinois doesn't have the money to open the prison. Congress would still need to approve the purchase, but no further action is necessary at the state level.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 18, 2011

Champaign City Council Grants Liquor Tax Preliminary Approval

Members of the Champaign City Council expect further discussion in the coming weeks on a proposed four percent tax on packaged liquor.

The suggestion has been raised as a way to avoid cutting three jobs at the city's police station, and closing the front desk during overnight hours. City Finance Director Richard Schnuer said the tax would raise about $700,000 a year. Council members tentatively backed the tax on a six-to-three vote in Tuesday night's study session. But one opposed to the idea, Deb Frank Feinen, said those favoring the tax haven't gauged the full impact on the local economy.

"We have local small business owners who have package liquor stores or sell alcohol," she said. "And I want to be very careful and cautious before imposing a tax that may impact their business because it's more important ultimately that we keep those businesses running."

Feinen said the tax could also change spending habits at liquor stores, or drive people to neighboring communities to purchase liquor. Council member Karen Foster brushes off those suggestions. She proposed the tax in last week's meeting. Foster said local bars and restaurants that serve alcohol are already subject to a food and beverage tax, and this would level the playing field.

"Any liquor drink is taxed already," she said. "And I've heard from campus bar owners and they feel that this is a fair tax to have the package liquor stores also have a tax."

Feinen suggests the city look at hiking the local hotel-motel tax, or consider making cuts elsewhere. But she said the council should also have a broader discussion about the police department, and consider a portion of the cuts there.

It's unclear when the council will conduct a final vote on the proposal, but a final budget approval is expected on June 21st.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 18, 2011

U-Civil Service Merit Bd Hears Both Sides on Ac-Pro Reclassification Bill

Academic professional workers at the University of Illinois crowded into a State Universities Civil Service Merit Board meeting in Urbana on Wednesday morning.

These workers are exempt from state Civil Service rules --- and they were concerned about a bill in Springfield that would take exemption powers away from state universities. (Academic Professionals at the U of I Urbana campus include many Illinois Public Media employees, including the news staff.)

Rick Atterberry of the Council of Academic Professionals told Merit Board members that Civil Service rules are a bad fit for certain specialized university jobs. Atterberry pointed to the practice of "bumping" --- when a Civil Service worker whose own job is eliminated can take over the job of someone with less seniority.

"Bumping severely and irreparably disrupts operations resulting in the loss of key employees with the requisite skills and specialized institutional knowledge critical for the continuation of successful operations," Atterberry said.

But Universities Civil Service Advisory Committee Chair Barney Bryson told the Merit board that real problem lies with universities that grant improper Civil Service exemptions.

"We can only look to Chicago to see how far out of line this has been --- oh I don't want to use that word --- we can see how far this has been misused," Bryson said.

Service Employees International Union Local #73 Vice President Phil Martini also brought up the UIC case. He said audits by the State Universities Civil Service System found that a majority of recent Civil Service exemptions at the Chicago campus were inappropriate. But he said that exemptions for most positions related to teaching and research were legitimate --- and questioned whether the Academic Professionals attending Tuesday's Merit Board meeting had anything to worry about.

"I'll bet 90 percent of the people in this room are not affected by this change," Martini said. "We're talking (in the UIC cases) about people at the lowest level of wages in the university, now being replaced by people that are making wages much higher than the equivalent job."

U of I Associate Vice President of Human Resources Maureen Parks acknowledged the problems with improper Civil Service exemptions at the Chicago campus, which she says are being fixed. But she argued state universities need the ability to quickly identify those jobs which don't fit Civil Service guidelines.

"Many of our schools have groundbreaking research grants and contracts which were awarded from federal agencies," Parks said. "These external requirements, deadlines and deliverables require specific capabilities, background experience and skills."

The Civil Service Merit Board had no action to take on the Civil Service exemption bill, although they heard discussion on the measure at three points during the Thursday meeting --- during the Public Comment session, in reports from Advisory Committees, and a discussion of the U of I Chicago case.

Universities Civil Service executive director Tom Morelock said he doesn't think the Civil Service exemption bill will make it out of the General Assembly this spring.

The measure (Senate Bill 1150) passed the Illinois Senate last month, and is now awaiting action by the House Executive Committee.

Meanwhile, Morelock said he is working on his own rule changes, aimed at achieving the same goals as the bill. He says the new rules could move through the state regulatory review process in the next eight-to-12 months. But Sizemore cautioned that input from all involved parties could result in a watering-down of his proposal.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 18, 2011

Construction Begins on Carle Heart and Vascular Institute

Carle Foundation Hospital has begun construction on a building that will focus primarily on heart and vascular care.

The nine-story Carle Heart and Vascular Institute, located on the hospital's campus, will include eight catheterization labs and upgrades to technology. The facility will also house intensive care beds that are currently located in buildings constructed in the 1960s and 1970s.

"We have a real need here to improve our facilities," Carle CEO James Leonard said. "We have fantastic technical capabilities. We have great people, but we're really out of space. The demand continues to increase for all cardiovascular care, both around heart attacks as well as strokes."

During a dedication ceremony Wednesday, the Institute's medical director, Matt Gibb, emphasized the center's role in treating health conditions that can worsen over time, such as a stroke, diabetes, or a heart attack.

"The tower will be a true environment for healing," Gibb said. "It will be a place where we can help patients prevent and beat heart disease, and also return to normal life following an event like a heart attack."

Hospital officials estimate the center will have a $100 million impact on the local economy, and create up to 150 jobs during the two years it takes to construct the building.

The $220 million project, which was approved by the state in 2010, will be financed with cash and the sale of bonds.

It is scheduled to be completed in 2013.

(Design courtesy of Carle Foundation Hospital)

Categories: Business, Health, Technology

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 18, 2011

Mumbai Terror Trial Jury Comprised Mostly of Minorities

A jury has been seated in the terrorism trial of a Chicago man.

The twelve jurors and 6 alternates chosen will be hearing the case against Tahawwur Rana who's accused of planning the Mumbai terror attack that killed 160 people.

Ten of the jurors are women and eight are African American. Rana's defense attorneys say there were a lot of minorities in the overall pool of jurors, and that's why there are so many on the panel. Charlie Swift says it's a good jury for them.

"The idea here was to get a jury of Mr. Rana's peers and I believe that we got a jury of Mr. Rana's peers. People who can understand Mr. Rana's position as an immigrant. People who can understand Mr. Rana's position as a minority in his community, Mr. Rana's position as a businessman and as a family member," Swift said.

Opening statements in the case are scheduled to begin Monday.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 18, 2011

Blago Judge: Prosecutors Likely to Rest Thursday

The judge at the corruption retrial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich says he expects the prosecution to rest its case on Thursday.

Prosecutors told Judge James Zagel they'll be able to get through their four remaining witnesses within just a few hours on Thursday.

Zagel said Wednesday that defense attorneys would have their chance to start calling witnesses Monday. And he said he thought closing arguments would happen at the very end of May.

Prosecutors have called only a dozen witnesses over 2 1/2 weeks in a drastically streamlined case. Some 30 witnesses testified over six weeks at the first trial.

Blagojevich faces 20 charges including that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat. He denies any wrongdoing.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 17, 2011

Solar-Powered Home Arrives on U of I Campus

Twenty University of Illinois students say the recent tornado damage in the south illustrates the need for building solar homes.

The wood frame of the Re_home is now on the Urbana campus, where a team will do the rest of the construction before September's Solar Decathlon in Washington, DC. The team's project manager, Beth Newman, said the idea is constructing something to run on solar power within days of a natural disaster.

"They could be up and running within a couple of days since the solar panels will already be installed on the roof before shipment," Newman said. "It's sort of a quick, easily assembly home that could be used without having to connect an electical grid."

Newman said her team was inspired to address disaster relief after storms that hit parts of Central Illinois last summer, including the cities of Streator and Dwight. She said the home could help in either a small or large-scale disaster.

"I guess what we're sort of focusing on is maybe some disasters that don't receive FEMA funding," Newman said. "Some of these towns that are hit by tornadoes, it's just really random, there might be only a few homes destroyed. And FEMA funding may not support them, so this is sort our alternate solution to that situation."

The re-home will remain on display on campus until the competition in September. It's located south of the Urbana quad, and west of the Pennsylvania Avenue greenhouses.

Categories: Education, Energy

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 17, 2011

Bill Bans Scholarships to Lawmakers’ Relatives

The Illinois Senate is sending Gov. Pat Quinn legislation that would prohibit lawmakers from giving school scholarships to relatives.

The bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale makes relatives -- including those related by marriage -- ineligible for legislative scholarships to pay for college from Senate or House members.

Legislators may hand out tuition waivers each year. The process has been criticized for decades because tuition waivers in some cases have gone to family members or political supporters.

But efforts to abolish the system have failed. A proposal to change the process last year drew a veto from Quinn because he prefers to do away with it entirely.

Categories: Education, Government, Politics

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