Health care reform has been a dominant issue when candidates for Illinois' US Senate race talk about the country's older Americans... but it's not the only issue. Seniors voting next week in the primary (including Rantoul's Cheryl Melchi, left) are not only questioning the future of issues like Medicare and Social Security but their candidates' ability to address them. AM 580's Jeff Bossert surveyed some East Central Illinois residents for their thoughts.
Illinois Public Media News
University of Illinois Interim President Stanley Ikenberry says administrators and faculty should be more aggressive to communicate to the public what's at stake if state funding remains at a standstill. Speaking to the Urbana Campus Academic Senate Monday, Ikenberry said he and all other public university presidents in Illinois will soon be sending a letter to Governor Pat Quinn and legislative leaders.
He says it will contain two messages. The first is to urge all involved to quickly find a solution towards fixing Illinois' fundamental financial problems. Ikenberry says the second is that public institutions like the U of I have a reliable schedule of state payments. "It is possible for us to imagine drifiting on now for several months with no material change in the rate of reimbursement from the state," says Ikenberry. "That just begins to create a nightmare of a situation that I don't think we can tolerate without a much more aggressive public position to alert the public of what the dangers really are." The Academic Senate passed a resolution yesterday urging its members to address these problems before state officials and the public. It was written in response to the U of I furlough policy impacting 11,000 employees. Some are considering taking common furlough days as a means for educating their students on Illinois' financial crisis through campus rallies or even trips to Springfield to address the legislature.
A proposal to cut $2.2 million from next year's Champaign School District budget would eliminate jobs and reduce programs. But Unit Four officials say the cuts are necessary to keep the district's finances healthy.
The proposed spending reductions include the elimination of some teachers and teachers' aide positions, cuts in athletics, and the end of summertime Drivers Ed. The reductions would only cover part of a Unit Four budget deficit that has grown over the past three years to $3.9 million. But Chief Financial Officer Gene Logas told the Unit 4 School Board Monday night that there's just not much more they can cut.
"If there's anyone sitting there thinking tonight that there ought to be three or four million dollars of fat (in the budget), and it ought to be easy to present the Board of Education with that kind of a list, you're deceiving yourself", said Logas.
Logas says the rest of the funding gap would be covered by working cash bonds, a reduction in the district's fund balance, and a new fee for extra-curricular activities.
School Board President Dave Tomlinson says he was particularly concerned by a proposal to save $300,000 at the high school level by cutting six full-time positions.
"We all are concerned that we set our high schools up for success", says Tomlinson. "So, generally speaking, we're going to look at every cut in detail, and make sure we're doing it appropriately and with the least possible interruptions in the classroom."
Unit 4 School board members will review the cuts over the next six weeks before taking a final vote in March. They voiced misgivings about some of the proposals last night, but did not question the need to cut spending.
Several school districts in Champaign County now have a chance to save more money when issuing bonds for school construction projects. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.
The chance came last week when the Champaign County Board formally designated the county as a "Recovery Zone", ---- an area experiencing economic distress under terms set by the federal Recovery Act. That clears the way for eligible school districts to issue some of their school construction bonds as Recovery Zone bonds --- with the federal government picking up 45 percent of the interest charge.
Cameron Moore of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission says he's gotten "strong Indications" from the Champaign, Urbana and Rantoul City school districts that they would probably use the Recovery Zone bonds, as they prepare to issue bonds for construction projects in the next couple of months.
Assistant Superintendent Beth Shepperd of the Champaign Unit Four school district says they plan to use about about $1,300,000 in Recovery Zone Bonds as part of their bond issue next month. She calls the opportunity an exciting one, "because it certainly lessens the amount of money that the taxpayers pay for interest, gives us the lowest interest rate available to governmental entitites right now, and gives us more money to good things for our students in the schools." Shepperd says the rest of Unit Four's bond issue will be issued as Build America bonds. She says they are also subsidized under the federal Recovery Act, but at 35%.
The RPC's Moore says the Fisher and Rantoul Township districts could also use the special bonds. But the bonds can only be issued during 2010. The federal government is making $2,349,000 in Recovery Zone bonds available in Champaign County.
With still no clear picture on funds coming from the state, University of Illinois Interim President Stanley Ikenberry suggests it will be at least June before officials know what tuition rates will be for next academic year. But Ikenberry told U of I Trustees in Chicago Thursday that it's hard to imagine even a best-case scenario where officials aren't looking at a high single-digit increase of around 9-percent - or about 3 to 3-point-5 percent hikes in each year over a four-year period:
"That would be a best-case scenario. We may not be dealing with a best-case environment," says Ikenberry. "So we may be faced to look at a number that will be considerably in excess of that. But it's premature, I think to walk into those waters now. But we will start that journey in March." The U of I is still owed more than 400-million dollars by the state. While tuition won't be known for a while, trustees yesterday raised the price of student housing by 4-point-6 percent on the Urbana campus. It will cost just over 9-thousand dollars starting this summer. Trustees also voted to increase undergraduate fees in Urbana by 2.8 percent to 28-hundred 42 dollars. The annual fees pay for student health services, career counseling facilities repair and other services.
Meanwhile, the co-chair of a budget task force assisting the U of I is recommending 10-percent cuts in three areas, including information technology. U of I foundation executive Craig Bazzani told U of I Trustees that information technology alone has five chief information officers. He's challenging them to find ways to streamline operations among the U of I's three campuses, and trim about 30-million dollars over the next year or two. Bazzani says information technology can't afford the 'army' of people it has, but he says the cuts will impact both people and equipment. "And so we've grown fairly significantly for good reason undoubtedly and we want to embrace the idea that more automation is good," says Bazzani. "The curves will continue to go up. There isn't any way that we're going to be able to shut off the faucet on the use of IT. We want to encourage it, but we have to have a better delivery mechanism in the future than what we have today."
The other areas Bazzani is targeting for 10% cuts are strategic procurement and energy task force recommendations. He says budget cutting moves like furlough days and hiring freezes are merely temporary ways of saving at the U of I.
Bazzazi expects to have his report before Interim President Ikenberry by May.
Police in Urbana say a thief who made off with hundreds of old X-rays from Carle Clinic probably wanted them for the value of their silver content.
Urbana Police Sgt. Dan Morgan says that on Jan. 13, a man who is believed to have done the same thing at other hospitals in Illinois showed up at the clinic's storage facility and picked up 1,300 packets of X-rays intended for recycling.
Carle Clinic spokeswoman Jennifer Hendricks says X-rays were from 2005 and earlier, and she does not believe the information included with them would be sufficient for identity theft.
Morgan says that if the thief is successful at recycling the X-rays for their silver content, he'd probably get a few hundred dollars --- enough to make the crime a felony.
Illinois' growing budget deficit means one near-certainty for the winner of this year's gubernatorial election - they'll be making cuts in state spending. The two Democrats and five Republicans all say they'll reduce spending to some degree, while looking at ways to bring in new revenue. The questions are how much and where. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.
The two Democratic candidates for Illinois governor meet again Thursday in southern Illinois for a debate airing on public broadcasting stations. Illinois Public Media will air the debate live at 8 PM, on WILL-TV and WILL AM 580 ... and on the WILL home page (www.will.illinois.edu).
In their earlier meeting this week in Chicago, the two candidates verbally beat up on each other.
Comptroller Dan Hynes went after Governor Pat Quinn for an early release program for prisoners.
Quinn went after Hynes over his office's oversight in the run-up to the Burr Oak Cemetery scandal.
Expect more of the same in the Thursday night debate in Carbondale.
Quinn has long been the Democratic front-runner and was well ahead in a Tribune poll released in December.
But both campaigns now say their internal polls show the race has tightened.
This is the second of two debates arranged by public broadcasting stations.
Five of the seven Republican candidates for governor met LAST Thursday in Champaign-Urbana.
Before his removal from office, former Governor Rod Blagojevich made it a priority to extend health care to more lower-income Illinoisans. Today more children, their parents and others are covered under state-supervised programs with names like AllKids, Family Care and Illinois Cares RX. But massive budget pressures may make this year's candidates for governor rethink those expansions. AM 580's Tom Rogers looks into what those programs do - and where health care stands in the minds of potential officeholders.
In March of 1860, the people of a little town called West Urbana voted to incorporate as the city of Champaign. Now, 150 years later, Champaign is preparing to celebrate it sesquicentennial.
Champaign's 150th anniversary celebration will be built on the themes of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Yesterday is featured first, with a local history exhibit scheduled for March and April at the Illinois Terminal building. Some of the artifacts to be displayed were brought to Tuesday night's Champaign City Council study session ... old newspapers, theater programs, a 19th century fire helmet decorated with an eagle's head design.
City Planner TJ Blakeman says they're looking for more pieces of city history - and invites the public to call him at 217-403-8800, if they have items they can loan for the exhibit. Items being sought include objects associated with the Illinois Central Railroad, Parkland College, the Champaign Police Department and Burnham City Hospital --- with other items from Champaign's past welcome as well.
The Champaign sesquicentennial will also feature a downtown music festival in July to honor the city's present accomplishments ... and the dedication in March of next year of a fountain to look toward the future. The Legacy Fountain will be erected at One Main Plaza. 150th Anniversary Celebration Coordinator LaEisha Meaderds says the 200-thousand dollar fountain is still in the early design stages.
While the city of Champaign and the Champaign Park District are donating some funds for the Sesquicentennial Celebration, they hope to raise another $250,000 from private organizations. Donations from Individuals will be accepted, but not actively sought.
WILL plans to be part of Champaign's 150th anniversary celebration as well --- with the production of a 13-part television series about the city.