Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 17, 2011

Ill. Lawmakers Face Big Decisions in Final 2 Weeks

Illinois lawmakers face some big decisions in the next two weeks, including how much to cut the budget and whether to overhaul workers' compensation.

The spring legislative session is supposed to end by May 31, but there are still three different budget plans on the table. They're roughly $2 billion apart on how much to spend.

Now lawmakers must decide whether to back one particular proposal or come up with a compromise.

Lawmakers are also looking to lower business costs for injured workers. The chief dispute is whether employees will have to prove injuries are job-related.

Another proposal could affect the cost of electricity. Utilities are looking for more flexibility to increase rates to pay for investment in new technology.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 17, 2011

SURS Director: State Pension Contribution Bill Needs Monitoring

State employees are starting to find out just how a proposed pension reform bill in Springfield would affect them.

People who are covered under the state's traditional pension plan would pay more into their pensions under the Republican-sponsored bill to start cutting into the deep state pension fund deficit. The State Universities Retirement System (SURS) is one of four systems facing scrutiny after years of state underpayments into their coffers.

Speaking on WILL's Focus program Tuesday morning, SURS director William Mabe said state pension benefits are not overly generous to begin with, especially since SURS members don't receive Social Security for their time working in state government.

He said the bill would let people choose a self-managed retirement plan that would let them avoid the increase.

"If they were to remain in the current plan, their contributions would increase, and they could increase significantly depending on how many people move out of the current plan into the new plan," Mabe said. "It's a very complex piece of legislation that's requiring a lot of analysis. We're having our actuaries look at it and our legal counselors heavily involved in reviewing it."

Mabe said SURS currently has pension liabilities of $30 billion but only $14 billion in assets. There are exceptions to the increased contributions for police and firefighters as well as judges - who may eventually have to rule on whether the bigger bite on employees' paychecks is constitutional.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 17, 2011

Redistricting Panel Forwards 3 New Map Designs to Champaign Co. Board

The Champaign County Board will have three more maps with re-drawn board districts to consider when it meets Thursday night.

On a 9-to-2 vote, the county's redistricting commission has forwarded two revised maps from Champaign County's Regional Planning Commission, and one of two submitted by the Champaign County NAACP. The two 'no' votes came from Royal area Republican County Board member Ron Bensyl and public commission member Diana Herriott.

But the independent, 11-member panel declined to rank the approved plans known as 1F, 3D and NAACP design B in order of preference. Champaign County Board Democrat and commission member Michael Richards said his party's caucus still needs to review two of them.

"I would assume that if the NAACP likes map B, then the caucus will like it too, but that doesn't mean they won't like 3D," he said "We presumably will want to have a game plan going into Thursday. Right now there's no game plan from the Democrats as to which map we would prefer."

Redistricting commission chair Rick Winkel, a former Republican State Senator, said he would support any of the three.

"It's compact, it looks much better than earlier maps we were working with," Winkel said. "It meets the eyeball test and doesn't look like a map with all kinds of jigsaw puzzle parts. We had some concern about that. There was some criticism of the previous map. But I think it meets the criteria that the county board recommended to us."

Richards and County Board Democrat Alan Kurtz say both of those maps are compact, and contain a majority-minority district. But other commission members say the NAACP design weakens the rural vote. And 1F got its share of criticism for splitting Urbana into five districts. Two other maps were removed from consideration - one proposed by the NAACP, and the other by prior Democratic County Board Candidate Eric Thorsland.

Commission Chair Winkel said he would have preferred to examine one map at a time, but likes the low population deviation of the three designs forwarded to the Champaign County Board. But in case the board doesn't agree on one of them, the panel has tentatively set its next meeting for Wednesday, May 25th.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 16, 2011

Guenther: Decision to Retire ‘Bittersweet

A search committee will begin seeking out a new athletic director at the University of Illinois.

Ron Guenther is retiring after 19 years on the Urbana campus. The 65-year old and one-time Illini football standout says age wasn't really a factor in his decision. Guenther says was still an emotional decision for him, one that he confirmed just a few days ago.

"It's actually bittersweet, as the way I looked at it," Guenther said in a noon hour conference call with reporters on Monday. "I think there is a point where emotionally, I was very convinced I was ready. I am going to do something else, I just don't know what it's going to be."

Guenther said he had been thinking about retirement since the start of the calendar year. He says the option for a two-year extension was there, but decided the middle of last week that leaving the position was the right option. But Guenther said it's still been an emotional time.

"Even my wife Meagan said two weeks ago 'are you sure this is what you want?' And the answer was 'I'm not sure," said Guenther. "But I know in my gut that institutions are much bigger than any one person, and that this was the time in my opinion to move to new leadership."

Athletic teams under Guenther made an Illini men's basketball Final Four appearance, and Illinois football teams made six bowl appearances. But he said achievements in those programs shouldn't overshadow others.

"The run we had in tennis... and the current run that we have going in men's golf," Guenther said. "I don't think there's any one particular thing that I look at. I drive around here (the Urbana campus) early in the morning before anybody gets in and I look at the buildings, and that's a piece of it as well."

Guenther said everything is place for the Illini football team to have success, coming off a Bowl win and retaining most of the staff. And he said there's good reason to be optimistic about the basketball team with 3 solid classes, and another coming in.

Guenther helped oversee the $121-million renovation to Memorial Stadium, and he says plans to upgrade Assembly Hall are also on the right track. Guenther said he admits U of I President Michael Hogan has a lot on his plate, and that opting for the two-year extension would have been one less thing for him to think about. But Guenther said Hogan's reaction was 'what's best for you?' as the two of them discussed his decision.

U of I Business Dean Larry DeBrock will chair the committee to replace Guenther, whose last day is June 30th. Guenther is a native of Elmurst who played Illinois football in the 60's, earning MVP honors in 1966.

Categories: Education, Sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 16, 2011

Panera’s “Pay-What-You-Want” Concept “Huge Success

The St. Louis restaurant company Panera says its experiment to open several "pay-what-you-want nonprofit restaurants" has been a huge success.

Customers at these special facilities order like normal, but the cashiers simply suggest payment amounts - what customers actually put into the donation box is up to them.

Panera founder and chairman Ronald Shaich says nearly 80 percent of customers pay the full prices or more.

"The singular thing we've learned is that humanity is fundamentally good," Shaich said. "People have essentially been doing the right thing. People get it, people respond to it, they don't abuse it. I think at first some people thought that they would abuse us."

All proceeds go toward a non-profit foundation as well as a job training program for youth.

Panera's first pay-what-you-want location was in opened in Clayton. The company has since opened two other facilities in Detroit and Portland, Oregon.

(Photo courtesy of TerryJohnston/Flickr)

Categories: Business
Tags: business

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 16, 2011

Former Speaker Gregg to Run for Indiana Governor

Former Democratic Indiana House Speaker John Gregg promised supporters a fun and energetic campaign as he kicked off his bid for the governor's office in 2012.

Gregg filed paperwork Monday to create an exploratory committee for the governor's race and put up a campaign website. He plans to officially launch his full campaign with an event later, but met with supporters at an Indianapolis produce market Monday to talk about what he would bring to the governor's office.

Gregg is known for his homespun personality and quick wit. He says Hoosiers are tired of "divisive politics'' and want someone like him who can bring people together. That's a dig at Republican front-runner U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, whom Democrats are trying to portray as too conservative for mainstream voters.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 16, 2011

U of I Athletic Director Ron Guenther to Retire

University of Illinois Athletic Director Ron Guenther says he will retire after his contract runs out June 30th.

Guenther said in a news release Monday that he's been working with the university on a succession plan and a search committee has started looking for his replacement. Guenther had talked recently about possibly staying on after June to begin work on a planned renovation of the Assembly Hall.

Guenther's 19 years on the job have been marked by a number of sports-related construction projects. They include the recent $121 million renovation of Memorial Stadium. Interim Vice President and Chancellor Bob Easter praised Guenther for his integrity and high athlete graduation rates.

Guenther is a University of Illinois graduate and played on the football team in the early 1960s.

Categories: Education, Sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 16, 2011

Emanuel Sworn in as Chicago’s New Mayor

Declaring that Chicago is ready for change, Rahm Emanuel took the oath of office Monday, becoming the 46th mayor in Chicago's history and the first Jewish resident to occupy the office.

Nearly all of Chicago's top elected officials were on hand for the occasion, as were Vice President Joe Biden and several U.S. cabinet secretaries. The event also featured the swearing in of Chicago's new City Council, City Clerk Susana Mendoza and Treasurer Stephanie Neely.

During his inaugural address, Emanuel praised outgoing mayor Richard M. Daley and his wife, Maggie, for their lifetime of service, but declared that serious challenges lie ahead.

"We must face the truth," he said. "It is time to take on the challenges that threaten the very future of our city: the quality of our schools, the safety of our streets, the cost and effectiveness of city government, and the urgent need to create and keep the jobs of the future right here in Chicago."

Emanuel placed schools atop his list of priorities and vowed to push for quick, effective change - even poking fun at his own high-strung reputation in the process.

"As some have noted, including my wife, I am not a patient man," he joked. "When it comes to improving our schools, I will not be a patient mayor."

The inauguration ceremonies took place in the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, a park which became one of the signature achievements of his predecessor, the retiring mayor Richard M. Daley.

Emanuel's inauguration capped a whirlwind - and largely unexpected turn of events - that began with an appearance Emanuel made on PBS' Charlie Rose in April of last year during which the then-White House chief of staff publicly revealed his interest in becoming mayor of Chicago one day.

The comment made national news and stirred the political dust in the Windy City, but the speculation soon dissipated as most seasoned political observers expected then-Mayor Richard M. Daley to seek a seventh term in office. Little did most people know that Daley would stun the political world in September 2010 by announcing his current term would be his last.

Daley's decision not to seek re-election set off a scramble to fill the office he came to occupy for 22 years and created a political vacuum which Emanuel raced to fill. Within weeks, he'd stepped down as White House Chief of Staff and was given a presidential send-off that was carried live on local and national television outlets.

While the list of names of potential mayoral candidates stretched into the dozens, Emanuel's name was always on the short list of top contenders given his political and fundraising skills. In the end, just six candidates remained on the ballot, though it was unclear for weeks whether Emanuel would be one of them.

During much of the fall, Emanuel fended off a series of legal battles that focused on whether he was eligible to run for mayor. At issue was whether he met the minimum one-year residency requirement to be allowed on the ballot. The battle became a centerpiece of the election campaign until the Illinois Supreme Court ultimately ruled in his favor, just a few weeks before the February municipal elections.

On Election Day, Emanuel won a sweeping victory, winning a majority of votes cast and avoiding a run-off, reflecting strength in all corners of the city.

The election not only marked a changing of the guard for Chicago, but it also marked a return to elected public office for Emanuel. Previously, he served for three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives representing the legendary 5th congressional district on the city's north side. While in office, he earned a national reputation as a key architect of the Democrats successful strategy to regain control of Congress in 2006. Emanuel then left Congress in 2009 to serve as Chief of Staff to newly-elected President Barack Obama.

The move wasn't the first time Emanuel left the Chicago area to serve a president. He worked as fundraiser and key advisor to Democrat Bill Clinton during Clinton's 1992 campaign for the presidency and for most of his two terms in office thereafter. It was his work in the Clinton administration on such projects as the passage of the NAFTA treaty that earned him a reputation as a highly effective and fearsome political operator.

But Emanuel's beginnings in politics can be traced back to the man he succeeds as mayor, Richard M. Daley. He worked as a fundraiser for Daley, helping him win election to office in 1989. That experience and those connections helped pave the way for his career since.

"I have big shoes to fill," Emanuel said Monday. "Nobody ever loved Chicago more or served it better than Richard Daley."

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 16, 2011

Rahm Emanuel to be Sworn in as Chicago’s New Mayor ‎

In a major power shift for a city that thrives on tradition, former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel takes over as Chicago's first new mayor in two decades on Monday when he replaces the retiring Richard M. Daley, the only mayor a whole generation of Chicagoans has ever known.

Vice President Joe Biden was expected to attend the morning inauguration ceremony at a popular downtown park before Emanuel heads over to City Hall and, for the first time since he was elected in February, walks into the fifth-floor office that was Daley's lair for 22 years.

"When I go there, which will be right after I get sworn in ... unless I take a wrong turn, that will be the first time, it will be with my family," said Emanuel, who plans to have his wife, Amy Rule, their three children, his two brothers and parents in tow.

Biden's attendance is testament, in part, to Emanuel's high profile in Washington where he worked until October. He quit as President Barack Obama's top aide to come back to Chicago to run for mayor.

"I'm glad he's decided to come and represent the administration and I'm also glad on a personal level because of our friendship," Emanuel said last week. "It's about Chicago, it's not about me."

Emanuel inherits a city with big money problems. Not only has Emanuel's transition team predicted a $700 million budget shortfall next year, but thanks to some controversial decisions by Daley - most notably the push to privatize parking meters - he has limited avenues to find funds to improve schools and repair the city's aging infrastructure.

It's a challenge Emanuel has not shied away from.

Emanuel, who represented Chicago in Congress before he left for Washington, made his feelings about his desire to be mayor known more than a year ago during an interview on Charlie Rose's PBS talk show. He said "it's no secret" that he wanted to run for mayor if Daley didn't seek re-election.

When Daley announced last fall that he wouldn't seek a seventh term after 22 years in office - longer than any other mayor in the city's history - some wondered if Emanuel had known anything when he made that comment. But if he did, that didn't stop him from just days before Daley's stunning announcement renewing his lease with the tenant who rented his Chicago home while the Emanuels lived in Washington.

That decision to rent his house was at the center of, as it turns out, the only thing that stood between Emanuel and the mayor's office: the legal battle over whether or not he was a resident of Chicago and eligible to run for mayor.

That fight ended with an Illinois Supreme Court ruling in his favor, but not before an appellate court panel decided that Emanuel's time away from the city made him ineligible to run and knocked his name off the ballot.

With that out of the way, Emanuel simply steamrolled over his opponents. Branded as a Washington outsider by other candidates including former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and former Chicago schools president Gery Chico, Emanuel didn't miss an opportunity to remind voters that, unlike his opponents, he had friends in high places, even as he sought to convince them that he was one of them.

There was the campaign stop by former President Bill Clinton and the visit to Chicago by the Chinese President Hu Jintao - a visit, Emanuel reminded reporters that included a private meeting between the two.

Armed with a $14 million campaign war chest that dwarfed those of his opponents, the only question in the last weeks of the race was whether Emanuel would get 50 percent of the votes plus one vote to avoid a runoff.

Emanuel, who kept his temper and his legendary profane vocabulary under wraps during the campaign, ended up collecting 55 percent of the vote.

Once elected, Emanuel wasted little time putting his administration together, bringing with him a number of people from his days in Washington. For key posts, he went far outside the city.

He hired the schools chief in Rochester, N.Y. to run the city's massive school system. He went to Newark, N.J., to find his police superintendent, choosing the head of that department rather than promote someone already in the department. And where Daley hired a local newspaper reporter as his press secretary, Emanuel hired his away from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington.

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 16, 2011

Former Blagojevich Staffer to Testify During Corruption Trial

An old friend from Rod Blagojevich's early political career will be on the stand Monday in the former governor's retrial.

John Wyma was chief of staff when Blagojevich served as a congressman and stayed on as a consultant and fundraiser through Blagojevich's time as governor. He parlayed his relationship with Blagojevich into a very lucrative career as a lobbyist. Clients paid him thousands of dollars a month because he could get meetings with the governor or his staff.

Prosecutors subpoenaed Wyma about some of his business dealings, and in 2008 he provided information that allowed prosecutors to start recording the governor's phone calls. Blagojevich talked about Wyma outside court last Thursday after Wyma started his testimony. Blagojevich seemed unusually thoughtful.

"John Wyma was someone that I thought was a close and good friend and to see him lie like he's lying, understanding that he's doing it because he's being compelled to do it because he may have done some things wrong," he said. "He's afraid that he's going to get prosecuted, doesn't take away the sense of sadness that you feel because this guy was once someone that you thought was a good friend."

Wyma is testifying with a grant of immunity from prosecutors, meaning he can't be prosecuted for any crimes he committed related to this case, provided he tells the truth. He's testifying about conversations he had with Rahm Emanuel about Barack Obama's senate seat just after the 2008 presidential election.

(Photo by Rob Wildeboer/IPR)

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