Illinois Public Media News
A partner in the FutureGen clean-coal project in Illinois is withdrawing from the effort within weeks.
The FutureGen Alliance that has included St. Louis-based Ameren Corp. says the utility won't continue its cooperative agreement for the project past the end of this year. The coalition says it is negotiating a plan to buy for the project a portion of a power plant Ameren intends to soon close near the west-central Illinois village of Meredosia.
The alliance also is asking to be allowed to take over an agreement between Ameren and the Energy Department for development of the $1.65 billion project.
Ameren says it will still maintain the plant so it can be retrofitted as planned for the effort, which also includes storing carbon dioxide.
Two Republican lawmakers who plan to run against each other in the March primary both say they are wary of the tax break measure that will be presented to them on Tuesday. The measure would give tax breaks for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Sears --- both of which have threatened to leave the state.
State Sen. Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) said he wants to see tax changes that would help farmers and small businesses, and State Rep. Jason Barickman (R-Champaign) said he doesn't favor any bill that provides tax breaks for some, but not for all.
Barickman and Cultra have both filed their petitions to get on the March primary ballot in the new 53rd Illinois Senate District.
Cultra, who is the incumbent in the race, currently represents the old 53rd Senate District, and he said his experience as a lawmaker gives him an advantage over Barickman.
"It's up to him to convince people that they need a change," Cultra said. "The district that I represent, I represent very well. It fits me personally as far as the views that I have are the views of the district."
Barickman is running in his first election, after being appointed to take over Cultra's old House seat. Barickman said he does not want to make the race a personal battle between him and Cultra. But Barickman does say that Illinois needs effective, conservative leadership.
"For Republicans, what we have to do is put the best leaders that we can in Springfield who can voice a conservative message, but can also reach across party aisles and bring some of those Democrats with us on issues that are important, like concealed carry and limited spending," Barickman said.
With the veto session starting this week, both lawmakers say they are uneasy about supporting a new package of possible tax breaks for Illinois businesses. The measure passed the House Revenue Committee on Monday afternoon by a 6-0 vote.
The measure's main goal is to provide tax relief to Chicago area companies that have threatened to leave Illinois due to last January's tax hike. They include financial exchange holding company CME Group and Sears Holdings, which owns Sears and Kmart.
Barickman said the tax increases passed last January affected everybody, and that any tax rollbacks must help all businesses and taxpayers, not just specific big corporations.
"Those types of people need to have a voice in Springfield. And I'm certainly going to fight for tax relief that helps them, and not necessarily the one that just helps a specific, cherry-picked group," Barickman said.
Meanwhile, Cultra said he is looking for specifics in the package ---- specifics that helps farmers and small businesses, like a lower inheritance tax and a restoration of the research and development tax credit for corporations.
"These were all things that were in place, that were done away with, that we created more reasons for people not to invest in Illinois. And it just makes common sense to have these things in place," Cultra said.
The latest version of the tax break package released on Monday would restore the tax credit, and make changes in the estate tax. It would also include tax breaks for families and the poor.
The new 53rd Senate District includes all of Ford and Iroquois Counties, and also parts of McLean and Vermilion. Barickman and Cultra used the first day of the filing period to file their petitions for the March 20th Republican primary.
Candidates have until next Monday to file petitions in state and local races.
Ron Zook's first time addressing the media as the University of Illinois' former football coach was not about what went wrong this season or the future of his career. Instead, he recognized some of the people who backed him over his seven-year stint at the U of I.
In a Sunday afternoon press conference in the U of I football squad room, Zook didn't take questions. Rather, he simply said thank you to many, including former athletic director Ron Guenther for giving him a chance, current AD Mike Thomas, and U of I President Michael Hogan. Zook says sometimes, their jobs include making difficult decisions, and he respects that.
But the now-former coach says there's a lot to look forward to in the football program's future.
"I see our facilities - team - the foundation in place - two terrific bowl trips, and hopefully a third this year," said Zook. "If it falls right, our fifth year seniors will get their third bowl trip. And our players can become the first at our school with two bowl victories. I think our program is very close, I really do. We just didn't quite finish a few games here and there, and I'm proud of how close we are."
If the Illini are selected for a bowl game, it would mark their first back to back bowl appearances since 1991 and 92. Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning will serve as interim coach.
Zook got a bit emotional, pausing when thanking his players, some of them who were in the press conference, calling the team a family. Zook says he wants to make sure the players are ok, and "for that reason, it's not the time to entertain questions, after I've had some time to digest and reflect, I think will be a better time for that, I hope you all understand. Thank you."
With that, Zook left the podium following a 2 and a half minute statement.
U of I Athletic Director Mike Thomas says the search for a new football coach begins immediately. But he wouldn't name specific candidates, or give a timeline for that search. And Thomas says he wouldn't rule out someone without head coaching experience, noting that academics and recruiting are also important.
He says another key factor for coaching at Illinois is success within the Big Ten conference, where the winning percentage was about 30-percent under Zook.
"So I think when you look at us first of all in a conference, are we competitive in a very good football conference?," said Thomas. "But when you're competing at the highest level, as you see with the other teams that are doing that right, that's when your name is in the national picture, they're talking about you for BCS Bowl games, and you're traditionally thought of a Top 25 team."
Thomas says he made the decision to dismiss Zook after Saturday's 27-to-7 defeat at Minnesota. He says it's easy to use the economy as an excuse for lighter attendance at Illini games, but he notes other schools are finding ways to fill the stadium. Thomas says that comes down to the quality of play on the field.
"This program - you need to feel like there's hope around it, and that people are getting excited, and that people are selling tickets," he said. "And when an Ohio State or a Wisconsin shows up, that the stadium is being sold. As a matter of fact, demand exceeds the capacity, and that's not really where we're at right now, but the hope is that someday we get there."
Zook is 34-51 at Illinois. He took the 2007 team to the Rose Bowl and lost to USC. Last season's squad beat Baylor in the Texas Bowl.
Ron Zook talks to the media on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011 hours after being fired as the University of Illinois' football coach
Ron Zook's run as Illinois football coach is over.
U of I Athletic Director Mike Thomas issued a press release Sunday, announcing that Zook would not be retained as head football coach, ending a sen-year run that saw the Illini qualify for three bowls, including the 2008 Rose Bowl.
The announcement came a day after the Illini ended the season at 6-6, losing six straight to end the season, including Saturday's finale at Minnesota 27-7.
"I assessed the entire program and felt that it was time for a change in leadership," Thomas said. "It is imperative that our program shows some consistency and competes for championships, and I think a change in coaches can help us get there sooner. I wasn't here seven years ago when Ron Zook took over as coach, but it's clear the program is in better shape than what he inherited."
Thomas says new leadership is needed to take the football program to the level to compete for championships on a consistent basis.
Zook was named head coach at Illinois in December, 2004, and compiled a record of 34-51, including 18-38 in Big Ten play during his Illini stint. The six-game losing streak came after starting the 2011 campaign with six consecutive victories and earning at Top 20 ranking. In 2007, Illinois surprised many with a 9-4 record, including a 6-2 mark in Big Ten play to finish in second place.
The Fighting Illini posted a memorable 28-21 vicory over top-ranked Ohio State at Columbus that season to propel them into a Rose Bowl invitation. Following the 2007 season, Zook was named the Liberty Mutual National Coach of the Year and Big Ten Coach of the Year.
Zook is one of only four coaches to win games at Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, and produced three first-round NFL draft picks in the last four seasons. Illinois' 38-14 victory over Baylor at the 2010 Texas Bowl was Illinois' first bowl victory since 1999.
But, the three seasons of bowl eligibility were also interspersed with two wins in 2005 and 2006, five wins in 2008 and three in 2009. Zook finishes his Illinois tenure with a winning record over just Indiana among conference opponents. Thomas indicated a national search would begin immediately and that he hoped to name a new coach as soon as possible.
"Obviously, we have some hiring policies and regulations to follow, and some candidates may be involved with their own teams and bowl preparations, but I expect to move forward quickly," Thomas said.
Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, was head coach at Wyoming from 2000-02, will serve as interim coach through the expected bowl game appearance.
UPDATE: Hours after he was fired as football coach at Illinois Ron Zook is thanking the university and his players for what he called "seven special years.
Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has a request for the judge who is scheduled to sentence him next month. He's hoping it could lead to a lighter prison sentence. Blagojevich wants to play in court previously sealed portions of federal wiretap recordings. His attorneys filed the request on Thanksgiving Day.
Blagojevich's lawyers say he should be allowed to use parts of tapes as a way to argue that he deserves a lighter sentence. They say the tapes will describe Blagojevich's state of mind and "lack of ill intent."
The portions that the ex-governor wants played were blocked from being heard at his trial last June when he was convicted on 17 of 20 charges.
Those charges included attempted extortion for trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
Blagojevich's sentencing hearing is set to begin Dec. 6 before U.S. District Judge James Zagel.
UPDATE: The Champaign Center Partnership confirmed Saturday afternoon that the Parade of Lights would go on as scheduled at 6 PM. Executive Director TJ Blakeman says despite a weather forecast of rain tonight, they have hopes that it won't begin until after the parade is over.
What's known as Small Business Saturday around the country is being used as a day to spotlight local businesses in the oldest commercial areas of Champaign.
Saturday, November 25th, has been dubbed Shop Local Saturday by the Champaign Center Partnership, which promotes businesses in the Downtown, Midtown and Campustown areas. Executive Director TJ Blakeman says that area features some of Champaign's most vigorous local businesses.
"What's great about our Downtown, Campus and Midtown merchants is that most of them, if not, a majority of them have put their heart and soul into their business", says Blakeman. "And I think it's really important for the community to come out and support them. They are the backbone of our Center-City districts, and we want to focus as much attention on that as we can, and really encourage the community to do the same."
Blakeman says there will be several special activities in Champaign's Campustown-Midtown-Downtown area, including a visit by Santa Claus to the Convention and Visitors Bureau offices from 1 to 5 PM, special movie showings at the Art and Virginia theaters, strolling carolers and the annual downtown Parade of Lights.
The Champaign Center Partnership has taken over operation of the parade, which was previously run by the Champaign Park District. Blakeman says the parade will have 51 entries this year, which he calls about standard for the event. He says the lighted floats have a wide range of sponsors, "everything from some of our non-for-profits to business interests in the community at-large". Blakeman says some float sponsors are from outside Champaign-Urbana area, such as the Danville Regional Airport, which has put a float in the Parade of Lights for several years.
The Parade of Lights is scheduled to begin Saturday evening, November 26th, at 6 in downtown Champaign, and end with the official lighting of the downtown Christmas tree at One Main Plaza at 7:30 PM. Blakeman says if it rains, the parade could be postponed to Saturday December 3rd. He says any weather-related decision to postpone the parade will be made around noon on Saturday, and publicized on local media.
Maggie Daley, the wife of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and a gracious promoter of the city's cultural and educational programs, has died. She was 68.
Maggie Daley, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, died Thursday night, family spokeswoman Jacquelyn Heard told The Associated Press.
Daley had been a reserved and dignified presence at her husband's side during his 22 eventful years as mayor.
Heard said Daley was surrounded by her husband and children when she died just after 6 p.m. CDT.
"The mayor and his family would like to thank the people of Chicago for the many kindnesses they've shown Mrs. Daley over the years, and they appreciate your prayers during this time," Heard said.
When she first learned she had breast cancer in June 2002, Daley said she was shocked. "But you pick up and you move on. ... I'm not alone here. There are a lot of people who have experienced this," Daley said in the weeks after the diagnosis.
The Daleys' daughter, Lally, had moved up her wedding from New Year's Eve to Nov. 17 so her mother could fully participate. The former mayor said his wife had a difficult summer, and a longtime mayoral aide said she had suffered setbacks and was not getting around as much as she normally did.
When Richard Daley was elected to his first term as Chicago's mayor in 1989, he thanked his wife in his acceptance speech, calling her "the best campaigner in the family." She was with him at the September 2010 news conference when he announced he wouldn't seek another term. He left office in May 2011.
During his time in office, Richard Daley would routinely tear up when he spoke about his wife. They had met while he was campaigning for the Illinois Senate and were married in 1972. Eventually, their partnership became a steady force for the city during his at-times turbulent two decades at the helm of the nation's third-largest city.
In the years after the cancer was diagnosed, Maggie Daley was in and out of the hospital. She received chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy and had a tumor removed from her right breast.
By December 2009, doctors said the cancer had spread and Daley had radiation treatment for a cancerous lesion on a bone of her lower right leg. Doctors advised her to use a wheelchair until she finished therapy.
In March 2010, a titanium rod was inserted into her leg to reduce the risk of fracture after having radiation treatment on the leg.
All the while, she maintained a public life as Chicago's first lady.
She was in Millennium Park in 2006 when the city's "Cloudgate" statue was dedicated, calling it the cornerstone of the park.
"It serves as a gateway to the lakefront and downtown and beautifully captures our signature skyline," she said.
In 2009, she and more than a dozen athletes headlined a departure party before boarding a flight to Copenhagen where the International Olympic Committee was to decide if Chicago would host the 2016 Summer Games. The committee picked Rio de Janeiro.
She was active in Gallery 37, which educates and employs young people in the arts, and she was a champion of the educational program After School Matters. She also had held a paid position as president of Pathways Awareness Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to teach parents about disabilities affecting children.
While her husband could be prickly, particularly with the media, Maggie Daley became a beloved figure. She declined most interview requests, saying she did not want to talk about herself, but she was gracious and smiling with reporters, typically saying only that she was feeling "just fine" when asked about her health. When, for example, her crutches fell to the stage during a rare speech, she simply said, "It's OK, we'll just leave them there," and moved on.
Born Margaret Corbett, she earned a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Dayton and held honorary degrees from Columbia College in Chicago and the Catholic Theological Union.
She is survived by her husband and three children. Her 33-month-old son, Kevin, died of complications related to spina bifida in 1981.
The Illinois Department of Human Services suspended two employees without pay after an investigation found they had allowed improper expenditures in a state program of up to $100,000.
Agency spokeswoman Januari Smith says Pamela Clay-Wilson and Dawn Laga were suspended for 20 days and received additional training. A third employee implicated in the report by the Office of the Executive Inspector General _ Madesa Dickerson _ left her job a year ago.
The three oversaw 76 clients of an educational and vocational program for the disabled who qualify for state payment for some items like work uniforms.
But the report found $500 went for funeral expenses, $200 to meet a lawyer about child custody and more.
Laga declined comment. Attempts to reach Clay-Wilson and Dickerson were unsuccessful.
A bill with tax incentives for big companies and working families is expected to come before the Illinois legislature next week. It's been dubbed a "Christmas Tree" bill because it's got a little something for everyone.
The bill started out as tax incentive to persuade corporations like Sears and CME to stay in Illinois. But Democrats want to add tax incentives for individuals and working class families. Republicans want to add tax incentives for small businesses. Meantime, Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn wants to make sure it all passes.
"You know it has to be a reasonable bill - it can't be overloaded. So we'll sit down over the next few days and hopefully come up with a good proposal to get some majority support," Quinn said in a news conference on Tuesday.
Sears has threatened to leave the state if a new tax package isn't passed soon. If the legislature can't pass a bill next week, it'll have to wait until lawmakers return in January.
Former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has canceled his travel plans indefinitely to stay with his ailing wife.
Daley's former top press aide Jacqueline Heard said in an e-mail to the Associated Press that the former mayor planned to fly to Harvard University next week as a visiting fellow. But Heard says Daley decided to cancel because he wants to stay with Maggie Daley, who has been battling metastatic breast cancer since 2002.
Last week, the couple's daughter, Elizabeth "Lally" Daley, was married after the family decided to move up the wedding by several weeks because of Maggie Daley's health.
(Photo by Susie An/IPR)
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