Illinois Public Media News
Ameren Illinois says its natural gas customers can expect to pay about the same for gas this winter as they did last year.
Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris said they estimate gas prices to continue at their current level. The gas delivered by the utility averages about $0.61 per term last winter --- and Morris said the average this winter should be $0.62 per therm. He said that would continue a pattern of moderate natural gas prices that's been going on for about three years.
"It's pretty much been fueled by sluggish economies, soft worldwide demand for energy in all forms, and then a little more recently, the discovery of tremendous supplies of natural gas in shale formations right here in the United States and Canada," Morris said.
Morris also said that Ameren Illinois has enough natural gas available to meet customer needs even during a tough winter. While Ameren has most of its natural gas supplies hedged or "price-protected" to ensure against market volatility, the price the utility charges for delivering that gas to customers could go up. Morris says their delivery rate has already increased slightly, and could go up again this winter.
"There was a very small increase in the last rate case we had before the Illinois Commerce Commission," Morris said. "There is another rate case before the Commerce Commission now, which will not be decided until January. And I really can't predict what the Commission will do."
If the ICC grants the full rate increase requested by Ameren, Morris said natural gas delivery rates would go up around $4.85 a month for former CIPS customers, and $7.47 a month for former customers of Illinois Power. But Morris said it's more likely that smaller increases would be approved.
Morris said the delivery rate typically makes up about one-third of a customer's natural gas bill, with the rest paying for the gas itself. Morris said Ameren makes its profit on the delivery charge, and simply passes along the cost of the gas itself.
Morris advises customers to visit Ameren's ActOnEnergy.com website to review tips for saving on energy costs. He said customers can enroll in a Budget Billing plan at AmerenIllinois.com to better manage their energy bills.
(With additional Reporting by The Associated Press)
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says he can accept new casinos in Danville, Chicago and other cities. But he is drawing the line at allowing slot machines at racetracks, airports and other locations.
At a news conference Monday morning, the governor discussed his objections to a gambling bill (Senate Bill 744) passed by lawmakers, but not yet sent to him.
Quinn laid out a framework for gambling expansion that includes five new casinos that the legislation calls for, including Chicago, Danville, Rockford and two suburban locations. But he said he can't accept allowing slot machines racetracks, Chicago's two airports and other locations.
"I don't think anybody in Illinois wants 14 new gambling locations --- including the state fair, including our airports," Quinn told reporters. "When people get off a plane from another country or another state, the first thing they see are armed guards next to casinos? I don't think so."
Quinn also wants both suburban locations to be decided by the Illinois Gaming Board --- rejecting the Park City location named in the gambling bill for a new casino in Lake County. Quinn said cities should compete to host a new casino in the western suburbs, as well as another one in southern Cook County.
In addition, the Governor wants to change the rules for communities that don't want to host legal video gaming. Quinn said that with the expansion of gaming in other areas, communities should be able to choose or reject video gaming on an "opt-in," instead of an "opt-out" basis.
Quinn said the gaming bill passed by lawmakers has too many tax breaks and protections for casino owners, and fails to provide sufficient tax revenue for Illinois' education and infrastructure needs. He said the proposed tax structure in the bill would lower tax revenues from casinos, compared to existing tax rules.
Quinn urged lawmakers to craft a new gambling bill and not pursue the one they passed --- because he said he will veto it if it's sent to him.
Dozens of fans have left flowers, candles and notes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway gates in memory of two-time Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon.
The makeshift memorial began taking shape within hours after Wheldon was killed Sunday in a massive crash during an IndyCar race in Las Vegas.
Fans continued stopping by the Indianapolis track early Monday, including one that WISH-TV reports left a bottle of milk _ the traditional drink by Indy 500 winners that Wheldon dumped over his head after winning the race in May.
Fan Beckie Jeffrey tells WTHR-TV that Wheldon was a friendly driver who made time to talk with fans, especially children.
Stuart Levine, the star witness in the government's corruption case against William Cellini, is expected back on the stand Monday.
Levine is giving an insider account of how people who pay attention to state boards that deal with the mundane business of government can make a whole lot of money. He provided the same insights into government when he spent three weeks on the stand in the trial of Tony Rezko, who was a top fundraiser for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Stuart Levine has told jurors how he used his position on obscure state boards to secretly pay himself sham fees. He was on the board of the Teacher's Retirement System, and he said that at Cellini's urging, he embarrassed and forced the resignation of the agency's director and then pushed to install Cellini's choice for a successor. Levine said the moves gave Cellini considerable power over the agency, which then awarded Cellini a $220 million business contract.
Prosecutors say there was nothing illegal about that, but they say, to hold on to their power under Rod Blagojevich, Levine and Cellini tried to extort campaign contributions for the former governor.
Republican Congressman Tim Johnson of Urbana took part in an hour-long town hall meeting on Sunday in Champaign with Democratic Congressman Christopher Murphy of Connecticut.
The town hall was meant to demonstrate bipartisanship in Congress, but it is unclear how that will register with voters leading up to the 2012 election.
Murphy is in his third term in Congress, and he is running for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut to replace Joe Lieberman, who is not running for re-election. Murphy said he may not agree with Rep. Johnson on every issue, like the federal health care law, but he said it's important for Democrats and Republicans to find common ground.
"Civility between two members of Congress can lead to civility to a larger public debate," Murphy said. "So, I was thrilled that this meeting was so civil, and it encourages me to put more time into trying to promote that kind of conversation in Washington."
Johnson and Murphy are leaders of the Center Aisle Caucus, which includes Republicans and Democrats who try to show that both parties can come together despite their differences.
Johnson is running for re-election in Illinois' re-drawn 13th Congressional District. He said he is not concerned about the political ramifications that could result because of his efforts to reach across the aisle.
"If cooperation and civility means you lose for re-election, then I'm just going to have to lose for re-election. That's ok. I'm not worried about that," Johnson said.
The roughly 100 people who showed up to the town hall included voters who identify as Independents and Republicans. There were also Democrats there, like 87-year-old Eleanor Ray, who said she plans on supporting Johnson's re-election bid in part because of his willingness to work with Democrats.
"It pleases me very, very much," Ray said. "I think civility is the only path to cooperation in the Congress that's so sorely needed right now."
Some of the topics brought up during the town hall included the war in Afghanistan, the re-authorization of the federal farm bill, and efforts to promote renewable energy.
Johnson said he plans to take part in a similar town hall meeting in Murphy's district in Connecticut.
Hundreds in Springfield and Peoria have joined the protest against corporate greed and economic disparities that began with the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York.
About 300 protesters marched in downtown Springfield on Saturday to join a global day of demonstrations. The Occupy Springfield rally was peaceful and there were no arrests. One protester, 55-year-old Joe Feiden of Petersburg, the State Journal-Register he was at the rally because corporations have too much political influence.
Another 300 people staged a march Saturday in Peoria. The Journal-Star reports the group plans to rally every Saturday and may set up a permanent occupation in a park. The mostly liberal protesters included some supporters of Texas Republican Ron Paul, a favorite of libertarians.
Another demonstration was held in downtown Champaign Saturday, where a group marched from Main Street to West Side Park.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
A University of Illinois professor who created the first usable light-emitting diode will join Thomas, Edison, the Wright brothers and a select group of scientists and inventors when he's inducted into the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame next month.
The university said Friday that 82-year-old Nick Holonyak Jr. will be inducted in a ceremony in Dayton, Ohio, on Nov. 3. He will be added to the Hall of Fame along with Nikola Tesla and James Tsui.
Since its creation by Holonyak the LED has become commonplace. It is used in everything from instrument panels to head lamps used by joggers. His work has also helped create household dimmer switches, the lasers central to CD and DVD players, and fiber-optic communication.
The city of Decatur is ordering the only taxi company in town to shut down over what the city manager calls violations of local codes.
The Herald & Review in Decatur reports City Manager Ryan McCrady ruled Friday that AOK Taxi used an unregistered vehicle as a taxi and failed to inform the city about changes in its fleet such as the junking of a number of cars that had fire damage.
McCrady said the loss of the taxi service would create a hardship, but he said his duty is to make sure the taxis are safe and well regulated.
AOK owner Anthony Walker said he is considering suing the city. Walker shut the company down for a while last year as he complained about city regulations.
U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) will be joined by Democratic Congressman Christopher Murphy of Connecticut in a town hall forum this weekend in Champaign.
Johnson and Murphy co-chair the Center Aisle Caucus. Johnson spokesman Phil Bloomer said the two congressmen will take questions from the public, and demonstrate that despite their differences, both parties can come together.
"We thought it was a very unusual opportunity to bring these two guys together to talk about ways to improve dialogue in Washington, DC instead of calling each other names," Bloomer said.
Johnson, who is running for re-election in the redrawn 13th Congressional District, will do another town hall in Connecticut in Murphy's district.
Meanwhile, Murphy, who has served three terms in Congress, said he hopes the town hall sets an example for other Democrats and Republicans to work more closely on legislation.
"I think job creation is on the minds of the residents of Illinois just like it is in Connecticut, but I'm really hoping to get a broad sense of what it is that people in his district care about," Murphy said. "It will be interesting to match it up with what I'm hearing back in Connecticut."
The town hall will take place on Sunday at 1:30 PM at the I-Hotel at 1900 South First Street in Champaign.
A couple of Champaign County Board members are offering very different suggestions to boost what's described as a healthy fund balance.
Democrat Brendan McGinty says the county has exceeded revenue projections this year by about 2-percent, and underspent as well. Meanwhile, the county has downsized through attrition and furlough days, and McGinty says he's still seeking ways to replenish a depleted fund balance, and what he calls 'bare bones' operations.
McGinty says one way would be to conduct an audit of the county's fee structure.
"A lot of people don't want to increase fees, and I understand that," he said. "But when you have not increased fees, and kept up with the cost of delivering services for 30 or 40 years, then you fall behind. And you're missing out on potential revenue that can help the health of the county and help employ the right number of people, because we're pretty trim right now."
One example is a hike in marriage license fees, which did recently go up from 20 to 30 dollars. McGinty says the few thousand dollars coming from it won't make much of an impact. The original proposal called for raising the fee to $75.
County Administrator Deb Busey told the board this week that revenue projections are actually up a bit. County Board Republican Stan James says county government is getting away from its intended purpose, like law enforcement and infrastructure.
"We're getting into a lot of programs that are sort of an outreach or an outshoot, and maybe we need to revisit those like we do with the quarter-cent safety tax," he said. "We give to youth groups. I'm not saying I'm against that, but I'm just saying that it's tax money that could be used to to pay the bills that need to be paid."
McGinty also endorses Republican Alan Nudo's suggestion of offering more private-pay rooms in the Champaign County Nursing Home. He says the county needs to work with hospitals to transfer patients needing long-term care. The state currently owes Champaign county $1-point-8 million in Medicaid reimbursements.
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