Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 02, 2009

Sagging Numbers in Illinois Economic Index

A University of Illinois economist doesn't see a bottom yet in the latest economic slowdown.

The monthly U of I Flash Index authored by Fred Giertz fell for a seventh straight month in March. It now stands at 95.6 - with any number below 100 showing economic contraction. It's been five months since the index showed growth in the Illinois economy. The Flash Index takes the state's economic pulse by examining state tax receipts for the previous month. Giertz expects further declines ahead for the index. It still hasn't reached the level seem in the last two slowdowns, in 1990 and 2001 - and Giertz believes this latest recession is deeper.

Categories: Business, Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 02, 2009

Blagojevich Indictment Imminent?

Federal prosecutors have worked for weeks to produce an indictment accusing ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich of committing an extraordinary "white-collar crime spree'' in the heart of Illinois government. Their handiwork could be seen as early as today.

U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald has until Tuesday to get an indictment that would replace a complaint charging the former governor.

Blagojevich is accused of plotting to trade or sell President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat and a host of other crimes.

Today is believed to be the last day the grand jury meets before the deadline, although the government never announces the time and place of grand jury meetings.

Fitzgerald could ask Chief Judge James F. Holderman of U.S. District Court for another deadline extension.

Categories: Criminal Justice, Politics
Tags: crime, politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 02, 2009

Voters Mull Over a 1% Sales Tax for Schools

Voters in Champaign County will have the future of education funding in their hands when they hit the polls next Tuesday. At issue is a referendum to raise the county sales tax by a penny per dollar. The money would fund school building projects, pare down debt and potentially lower property taxes. As AM 580's Tom Rogers reports, after one failed attempt, the referendum's supporters are taking nothing for granted.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 01, 2009

Champaign City Council Endorses Phase One of Five-Year Plan to Raise Liquor License Fees

The Champaign City Council is backing just the first year of what had been a five-year-plan for increasing liquor license fees in the city.

City staff had proposed the multi-year plan to phase in increases on a yearly basis, instead of imposing them all at once. But council members say they want to see a cost-of-service study before approving the entire plan, to see how much it actually costs the city to regulate liquor establishments. That information is especially important, as Champaign looks for new revenue sources due to recession-related drops in tax revenue.

Mayor and city liquor commissioner Jerry Schweighart says Champaign's liquor license fees could stand to be raised anyway, because they're some of the lowest in the region. For instance, he says a bar currently pays $1900 for a Class A liquor license in Champaign, compared to $4000 in Urbana.

The first year increase endorsed Tuesday night will raise fees for all liquor licenses in Champaign by 200 dollars on June 1st --- that would raise the fee for a Class A, or bar license, to 21-hundred dollars. Fines for violations will also go up, and the city will create a new 25-dollar keg fee.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 01, 2009

Toddler Accidentally Shoots Mother in Champaign

A mother was accidentally shot by her two-year-old child. That's the preliminary report from Champaign Police about an incident that occurred Tuesday evening in the 400 block of East Beardsley Avenue.

Police say it appears the toddler accidentally discharged a firearm and shot the mother, but that the injuries were NOT life threatening. The mother was taken to an area hospital.

The two-year-old was one of three children in the home at the time. The others are aged ten and eleven. None of them were injured.

Champaign Police are continuing their investigation.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 01, 2009

Champaign City Council Keeps Status Quo on Downtown Parking Rates

Parking rates in downtown Champaign will stay pretty much as they are, thanks to action by the Champaign City Council last night. Council members endorsed the latest phase of the downtown parking plan, but voted against any change in parking rates and hours.

The city council voted last year to raise downtown parking rates and extend enforcement hours to pay off bonds on the new Hill Street parking deck. Parking rates now go as high as 75 cents an hour in the core of downtown, and those rates are enforced until 9 PM. Some downtown business owners told the council the move was bad news for them. Salon owner Paul Kane told the council, "I think the inception of this parking rate has really hurt the smaller businesses, that depend on people that are going to come down here for an hour or two and spend a short period of time to spend some money".

But Councilman Tom Bruno says the most expensive parking areas in downtown Champaign are usually crowded, because they're where people want to be. "When it's 75 cents hour here by the Equire," said Bruno, referring to a bar across the street from the City Building, "and 50 cents over by West Side Park, they want to spend 75 cents and park right outside the Esquire, because that's where the action's at."

Plus, says Bruno, the city needs parking revenue to pay off the parking deck bonds. But Councilman Mike LaDue says he fears that downtown Champaign will gain a reputation --- deserved or not --- as being difficult to park in.

While there will be no change in basic parking rates, city staff say they'll look at way to clarify parking rules that many find confusing, as well as ways to promote the new downtown parking deck.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 31, 2009

Champaign School Board approves Reduction-In-Force Notices for Teachers and Support Staff

The Champaign School Board approved layoff notices for 80 teachers and other certified employees and 22 support staff Monday night. It's an annual practice that school officials say they dislike intensely, but are required to do.

Unit Four officials say most of the employees receiving Reduction-In-Force --- or RIF notices --- will be rehired for next year. But until they find out, they're in professional limbo. The high number of RIF notices results from the requirement to inform school employees of layoffs 60 days in advance ---- before their job status for next year has been finalized.

Champaign School Board President Dave Tomlinson cast the lone vote against the RIF notices.

"I voted no, because I hate RIF's, frankly, and this is part of the job I don't want to do", Tomlinson said.

But Tomlinson says he doesn't see a realistic alternative to the RIF notices. RIFed employees likely to be rehired are those who work parttime, are paid with grant money, were hired at the last minute, or have to comply with new certification rules.

The number of RIF notices sent out by Unit Four is roughly the same as last year, with just a handful of them representing jobs that have been definitely eliminated. Assistant Superintendent Beth Shepperd says that number could go up for next year, when school officials may have to cut additional jobs to deal with a projected decline in property tax revenue.

In Urbana, the District 116 school board sent out RIF notices to 52 teachers last week, and will vote on about five more next week.

CORRECTION: WILL broadcast reports on this story had incorrectly described the 80 certified employees receiving RIF notices as being all teachers, and put the number of support staff getting RIF notices at 23.

Categories: Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 30, 2009

Bodies of Two Missing Children from LeRoy, Father Likely Found

Authorities say bodies matching the descriptions of two small boys missing from a central Illinois town and their father have been found.

An Amber Alert was canceled for 9-year-old Duncan Connolly and his 7-year-old brother Jack, who both lived in LeRoy in McLean County. Authorities have said they went missing March 8 after their father allegedly failed to return them to their mother after a custody visit.

Authorities say the children's' bodies were found Sunday inside a car in remote Putnam County.

The car was registered to Michael Connolly, who authorities described as a fugitive in a child abduction case. The body of a man matching his description was found about 60 feet from the car on Sunday.

Police didn't release further details pending an afternoon news conference. Autopsies have been scheduled.

Categories: Criminal Justice
Tags: crime

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 27, 2009

Legislature Passes “Speed Parity” for Cars and Trucks

The Illinois House and Senate have approved bills raising the speed limit for trucks on rural interstate highways to 65 miles per hour.

Neither bill affects the speed limit for trucks in Cook County. The House version also exempts the five counties that surround Chicago. Once the two chambers apporve identical bills, the measure will be sent to Gov. Pat Quinn for his signature.

The speed limit for cars on interstate highways is 65, but for semis the speed limit is 55. Traffic safety experts believe having two different limits increases the chances of accidents on the roads.

However, Democratic Sen. Don Harmon of Oak Park isn't convinced. When Missouri went to a uniform speed, Harmon said, fatalities jumped by more than 70.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 27, 2009

Quinn Defends His State Police Director Pick

Gov. Pat Quinn is defending his pick to lead the Illinois State Police, saying Jonathon Monken is the right man to lead the agency in the wake of a scathing audit about the agency's performance.

Monken has taken over the agency, but has yet to be confirmed by the state Senate. Some key lawmakers say he lacks the necessary experience.

The 29-year-old Monken is a decorated military veteran and Quinn says that experience makes him qualified for the post.

Quinn is defending Monken's nomination for the post amid Thursday's release of an audit that found there was a huge backlog in testing crime evidence.

Quinn called Monken a strong leader and he dismisses suggestions that Monken isn't qualified for the post.


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