Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 22, 2011

Utility Ameren Touts Electric Car Use

As the U.S. electric car market gears up this year, utility company Ameren is showing off one of the models.

Company spokesman Leigh Morris says its 17-day test drive of Mitsubishi's i-MiEV is intended to show that the utility is prepared to handle charging for either all-electric cars as well as hybrids. He says the utility will provide free electric upgrades needed to charge the vehicle, like a new transformer in the home.

The I-MiEV is aimed at the European market, but a similar model is expected to arrive in the U.S. this fall, and has a maximum driving range of about 85 miles. Morris says Ameren is also showing off the car to give the consumer some options:

"This type of a vehicle is probalby ideally suited for somebody who does a lot of urban-type driving," he said. "Because you're not going to get in it and drive to St. Louis. It has that limitation of the 85 miles. The fact of the matter is, an all-electric car is not going to be suited for everybody."

Morris said Ameren Illinois plans to purchase four plug-in hybrid bucket trucks of its own soon.

"We're also going to be test-driving the (Chevy) Volt as well as the Nissan Leaf," he said. "And I would not be surprised if down the road as become vehicles become available, if we don't try those out as well. This is all a learning curve for everybody. I think we're really at the birth of the electric car."

The I-Miev charges with a 120-volt outlet for about 12 hours, but consumers can purchase higher-voltage charging stations. Ameren is taking the electric car to 16 cities in its market over the next couple of weeks, including Champaign-Urbana, Peoria, Decatur, and the St. Louis area.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 22, 2011

Indiana Democrats Leader Says Boycott to Continue

The leader of Indiana's House Democrats says their boycott will continue Wednesday.

House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer issued a statement Tuesday from the Democrats' hotel in Illinois saying his caucus remains resolved to fight the Republican agenda they consider an attack on the middle class.

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma had said Tuesday that he was optimistic that Democrats might return soon. Bauer said Democrats wouldn't return Wednesday and would review the situation day by day after that.

Bosma told reporters he was hopeful Democrats would return so the House would have the quorum needed to conduct business. But Bosma also said he predicted Purdue's basketball team would go to the Final Four, and they have already been eliminated from the NCAA tournament. He described himself as an "eternal optimist.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 22, 2011

Illinois Broadband Connections Outnumber Landlines

The number of broadband Internet connections in Illinois has exceeded the number of phone landlines for the first time, a sign that the use of traditional phone service continues to decline.

The number of high-speed Internet connections in the state rose to 6.4 million last year, while the number of phone landlines dropped 31 percent to 6.2 million, The State Journal-Register of Springfield reported. But both numbers are dwarfed by the number of Illinois wireless subscribers: about 11.6 million last year.

Federal and state regulators released the figures Monday.

Illinois legislators rewrote the state's telecommunications law last year to include three landline options with cheap rates that can't be increased.

AT&T and other communications companies supported the bill, which lifted many state regulations on landlines. Supporters of the overhaul said it would bring new jobs and allow companies to focus on developing broadband and other technologies.

Jim Zolnierek, the Illinois Commerce Commission's director of telecommunications, told the Journal-Register that he expected "to see these same trends continue going forward."

(Photo courtesy of Anderson Mancini/Flickr)

Categories: Technology

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 22, 2011

Ill. Officials Tout High-Speed Rail Construction

The next phase of construction on a high-speed rail route between Chicago and St. Louis will begin next month, a high-stakes transportation project similar to those that other states have rebuffed, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin announced Tuesday.

"Illinois has always been a strong railroad state and we always will be," Quinn said at an Amtrak rail yard near downtown Chicago.

Quinn and Durbin took swipes at other states for turning back money for high-speed rail, including Florida, which rejected $2.4 billion that had been earmarked for rail projects in that state because new Republican Gov. Rick Scott was worried taxpayers could get socked with the bill for any overruns and operating subsidies. Illinois has said it will try to get a part any money that other states return.

"The governors of these other states that have given up their money can stand by and wave at our trains when they go by. We're going to move people, we're going to freight, we're going to set a standard for America. It starts right here in Chicago," Durbin said.

But not everybody in Illinois is gung-ho about fast trains. Freshman Congressman Joe Walsh said the government can't afford to spend the money and he doubted their cost effectiveness because Americans love their cars. He said governors like Scott in Florida had the right idea by giving up federal money for rail projects.

"I respect the governors who have done that, that clearly is not what Pat Quinn is about," Walsh, whose district is in northern Illinois.

Illinois' other senator, Republican U.S. Mark Kirk, supports high speed rail including federal funding and believes it should be a private-public partnership so that trains move with the speed and reliability to serve consumers who would otherwise would fly, Kirk spokesman Lance Trover said.

When high-speed trains are eventually traveling up to 110 mph, the trip between St. Louis and Chicago could be cut by 90minutes to less than four hours.

Illinois has been awarded $1.2 billion in federal money to expand passenger rail and the state has promised to kick in another $42 million. Last year, Quinn and Durbin debuted the first $98 million in upgrades to a 90-mile stretch of track from Alton, just northeast of St. Louis, to Lincoln for the high-speed route.

The latest $685 million section of the construction project is scheduled to start April 5 and includes building new rail track using concrete ties between Dwight and Lincoln and between Alton and the Mississippi River. A modernized signal system will also be installed between Dwight and Alton, Quinn's office said. Officials estimate the work would create more than 6,000 direct and indirect jobs, such as construction and manufacturing work. Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Guy Tridgell said job numbers are typically devised using formulas based on the amount of money being spent on a project.

Trains traveling at 110 mph on the 284-mile Chicago-to-St. Louis corridor could debut between Dwight and Pontiac as early as next year, Quinn's office said. Upgrades to the Dwight-Alton portion of the corridor are expected to be finished by 2014.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 22, 2011

University of Illinois Considers Raising Tuition

The University of Illinois' Board of Trustees is scheduled to vote on raising tuition by 6.9 percent during its meeting Wednesday in Springfield.

Board members approved a measure in January to tie tuition increases with the rate of inflation. If trustees approve the tuition hike, students who come to the University next fall would pay 2.7 percent more a year, a figure U of I spokesman Tom Hardy says is near the rate of inflation. Those figures don't include fees, room and board.

"I would call it a conservative proposal," Hardy said. "That reflects concerns about affordability, reflects the need to be able to protect the university's purchasing power by adjusting for inflation."

Under the proposal, new students at the university's Urbana-Champaign campus would pay $11,104 a year in tuition. Students at the Chicago campus would pay $9,764, while students in Springfield would pay $8,670.

Hardy said the increased tuition is smaller than what has been introduced in the last decade. He said with the U of I waiting on about $440 million in state payments, the University hopes to generate about $35 million in additional revenue. About 17 percent of that revenue would be used for need-based grants.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 22, 2011

Illinois U.S. Senators Want to Know More About U.S. Nuclear Reactors

Illinois' two U.S. Senators want to know more about the safety of the state's nuclear reactors.

Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk plan a hearing to get more details on the nuclear industry in Illinois. The move comes in the wake of radiation fears in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami.

Durbin said with Illinois' eleven nuclear reactors, questions should be asked.

"When you consider that half the power in Illinois comes from nuclear power, we are concerned about this and should be," he said. "I have no reason to believe they are dangerous at all but I do believe this is a wake up call."

Durbin said the state's residents deserve to hear what is being done to prepare for a possible disaster. He added that he remains a supporter of nuclear energy although safety at the sites and the disposal of nuclear waste are issues that demand scrutiny.

Illinois has 11 nuclear reactors, and six are boiling water reactors similar to ones affected by the devastation in Japan. One is about 40 miles away from Urbana in Clinton.

VIDEO EXTRA: James Stubbins, head of nuclear engineering at the U of I, says about a third of the country's nuclear reactors are similar to the ones affected by the devastation in Japan. He asses the stability of U.S. reactors against natural disasters. To hear more from an interview he did with WILL's David Inge, click here: http://tinyurl.com/5tcpl2e


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 22, 2011

Illinois Agencies Challenge SEC Regulation

Ramped-up regulations proposed by the Securities and Exchange Commission are supposed to help prevent another financial meltdown, but government agencies in Illinois are fighting one proposal they allege would do more harm than good.

The measure would require volunteers on state and local boards that make financial decisions to register as "municipal advisors." The idea is to increase SEC oversight on people with a say over taxpayer dollars. The SEC says appointed board members should register because they are not directly beholden to voters.

Protesting cities from Illinois include Champaign and Peoria, as well as state universities like Western, Northern, Illinois State and the University of Illinois. The Illinois Finance Authority is also against the change. That agency's Bill Brandt said unpaid board members already get oversight - from Illinois' governor, Attorney General, and annual audits.

"Now you have the federal government trying to someone how intervene in that, which is a real constitutional question," Brandt said. "I'm all for federal regulation of the markets. But I'm not sure neither the governor nor the legislature of Illinois are really anxious to have all of their decisions reviewed by a federal agency that otherwise has no bearing on what Illinois does to bring jobs into the state."

Brandt also said the SEC's proposal would drive away qualified people with investment expertise, who are volunteering out of a commitment to public service. He said many won't participate if they have to pay to register, take ongoing classes, disclose their personal finances and be exposed to increased liability.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 22, 2011

Republicans Tap Esry To Serve On Champaign County Board

The choice of Champaign County Republican leaders to fill a vacant seat on the County Board has lived in the St. Joseph area since he was a toddler.

Aaron Esry co-owns A&R Electric, a local electrical business, and works on his family's farm near St. Joseph. He's a past Champaign County Farm Bureau board member, but a county board appointment would be his first experience in public office. However, he says he comes from a family familiar with local government --- both parents and a grandfather having served in various local government positions. The 36-year-old Esry says he's ready to represent District Four, which covers the southeastern quarter of the county -- including St. Joseph, Odgen, Philo, Sidney, plus portions of Savoy and southwest Champaign.

"I know it's going to be work", says Esry. "And I know that you have to put in work if you want to see things change and move in the direction you want them to change. And I hope to go on there and do a good job and serve the district and the county well."

Esry says he also plans to run for a full county board term in 2012 --- when the Champaign County Board will undergo redistricting, and a reduction in membership.

Local Republicans chose Esry to take over the county board seat of Gregg Knott, who , like Esry, also lives in St. Joseph Township. Knott resigned from the Champaign County Board last month to focus on running for the Parkland College Board. The county board is expected to vote on Esry April 21st.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 22, 2011

Sen. Kirk Says NPR Could See 10 to 20 Percent Cut

The junior U.S. senator from Illinois says federal funding for National Public Radio might not take a complete cut. But Republican Sen. Mark Kirk says the Senate is looking to make broad cuts in all areas of funding.

"If you want to step back and look at the Congress from a 100,000 feet, expect a 10 to 20 percent reduction across the board, including NPR," he said.

The U.S. House voted last week to completely end federal funding to NPR. The measure prohibits local public stations from using federal money to pay NPR dues and buy programming.

But support for the plan in the Senate seems slim. The White House opposes the bill, saying funding cuts could force some stations to go dark.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 21, 2011

Indiana GOP Starts Website to Track Boycotting Democrats

Indiana Republicans have turned to the web to decry a month-long boycott by Democratic House members.

An Indiana Republican party spokesman says the new website highlights the fact that the more than 30 Democrats aren't just staying at an Urbana hotel. Pete Seat says the site is meant to emphasize how the legislators are spending their time.

"They have been sneaking across the border, coming back to Indiana on weekends or throughout the week," he said. "Some of them are campaigning for other elected offices - three of them are running for mayor in different cities around the state. Others are coming back for personal reasons. But none of them are going back to the statehouse to do the job they were elected to do."

Those mayoral candidates and Democratic House members are Ryan Dvorak of South Bend, Craig Fry of Mishawaka, and Dennis Tyler of Muncie.

The tracking website includes links to press reports about the Democrats, and Seat says Indiana residents have also reported to his party when seeing the absent lawmakers out in public. The boycotting Democrats contend they're away from the capitol to hold up legislation that would unfairly impact education and labor, including a controversial school voucher bill that would fund private education with public tax dollars.

Meanwhile, the National Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has started a new TV ad running in the Indianapolis area attacking Gov. Mitch Daniels and fellow Republicans.

Categories: Government, Politics

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