Illinois Public Media News
Democrat Alexi Giannoulias has won the chance to defend President Barack Obama's old Senate seat against Republican Mark Kirk.
Democratic voters nominated the Illinois treasurer in Tuesday's primary. With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Giannoulias had 39 percent of the vote.
GOP voters picked the five-term congressman Kirk. With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Kirk had 56 percent of the vote.
Republicans have targeted the seat since then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested for trying to sell it. Blagojevich later appointed Roland Burris, who didn't run for a full term.
Illinois is being even more closely watched after an upset win by the GOP in Massachusetts that cost Democrats the late Sen. Edward Kennedy's seat.
In the state treasurer's race to replace Giannoulias, his deputy Robin Kelly defeated Justin Oberman for the Democratic nomination. She will face 52nd district Republican State Senator Dan Rutherford in November.
Explosive growth" is how the Eastern Illinois Food Bank describes a more than doubling of food recipients over the last four years.
The food pantries in 14 counties supplied by the food bank report more than 100 thousand people received food from them last year. That's 133% higher than the number of recipients in 2005, the last time the "Hunger in America" study was compiled.
Jim Hires directs the Eastern Illinois Foodbank. He says his agency saw an identical increase between 2001 and 2005. Hires believes the economic downturn is partially to blame for the continued increase, but he also thinks his agency and member food pantries are doing a better job of finding those in need.
"Our numbers were going up anyway because of our efforts to reach more people," Hires said. "Even at our best effort we were still only reaching about half of the people who are in need. So we were taking steps. Couple that with the recession and all of a sudden it just ballooned almost out of control and really had us scrambling to meet the need."
Hires says a change in federal commodity policy has led to more surplus food going to the Eastern Illinois Food Bank, letting the agency use its money in creative ways to find more food.
Two area Toyota dealerships expect to start lining up service calls to repair recalled models by the start of next week.
Jim Turner is the President of O'Brien Auto Park in Urbana. He says parts should be delivered in the next couple of days, and technicians are currently being trained on how to repair gas pedals that could stick on rare occasions.
Repairs are expected to take half an hour, but with thousands of customers to serve, Turner says handling all its recalled vehicles could take a few weeks:
"We don't have a lot of details about how many parts we can get all at once," Turner said. "There's a few open-ended questions about exactly how many parts we can get. So this will probably take a month at least to get everybody taken care of."
Meanwhile, the service manager of Toyota of Danville says they're holding off on making appointments, but they're making sure the parts for the eight recalled models are in place first. Kyle Vogel says he expects their technicians will handle about 500 repairs.
Vogel says he also wants to stress that this recall applied only to certain models, and that Japanese-made and some US-manufactured Camry models weren't impacted. But he says any Toyota driver is welcome to bring their car by for peace of mind's sake.
Both Toyota dealers plan on extending their service hours to handle the recall repairs.
The Urbana City Council approved a ten-thousand-dollar option last (Monday) night to buy the Goodyear Tire Center property on Vine Street downtown. Buying the property would be another step toward the city's acquisition of the entire block for future redevelopment.
The 200 block of South Vine Street lies just north of the Urbana City Building --- the city already owns a parking lot on the block. And Mayor Laurel Prussing says the owners of the Goodyear property approached the city about a possible sale. The mayor says the city's long-term goal is to buy the entire block, and then find a developer for it. Prussing hopes for a mixed-used building on the site, with space for both commercial and residential tenants.
"We should just think about something that's a really green development", says Prussing, "and that fits in with our overall city plan. I think we have to think about what would be the idea height of this project, if we're talking about infill."
But development won't happen right away. The Goodyear Tire Center's lease runs until 2013. And some of the residential properties on the block are also occupied by tenants. Prussing says the city has contracts to eventually buy those properties as well --- but she says she doesn't want to displace any current tenants. The mayor says the city will first do its due diligence on the Goodyear property, including an environmental audit, before the Goodyear purchase is finalized.
A Republican running for governor and a Democratic Senate hopeful both stopped in Champaign Monday, during the last day of campaigning before the Illinois Primary.
Gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady flew into Willard Airport, where he told reporters that his ten-percent across-the-board budget-cutting plans would not result in voter backlash.
Brady's proposals would mean about 75-million dollars less coming to the University of Illinois. But the state senator from Bloomington says the university will have an easier time solving its problems, if state leader live up to their commitments.
"Governor Quinn just recently admitted he spent money that he promised to the U of I", said Brady. "As governor I won't do that. I'll give the U of I a balanced budget that they can count on. Then, we begin building state revenues by partnerships between the University of Illinois and businesses to bring jobs back. It's the job growth and the natural revenue growth associated with the job growth in this state that will give us the resources we need to fund out universities and our schools."
Brady says all state agencies, including the U of I, have to share in getting Illinois' finances back in order.
Brady also cited new poll data, suggesting that he and State Senator Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale are now in a virtual dead heat for the GOP nomination for governor. Brady says his campaign has benefited from negative campaign ads by Dillard and former state GOP Chairman Andy McKenna attacking each other.
The crowded GOP gubernatorial primary also includes businessman Adam Andrzejewski, political commentator Dan Proft and former state Attorney General Jim Ryan. Bob Schillerstrom's name is on the ballot, but the DuPage County Board chairman has dropped out of the race, and is endorsing Ryan.
Later in the day, Democratic Senate Alexi Giannoulias called on his supporters in Champaign last to keep up their efforts through primary election day and beyond.
Giannoulias told about 30 campaign volunteers at the Clybourne tavern in Campustown that these are challenging times, but Americans always stand up to challenges, "and not only have we gotten by, but we've actually thrived." Giannoulias exhorted his supporters to "get to work", promising them that "we're going to kick some butt tomorrow, we're going to kick some butt in November, we're going to make history, and we're going to move this country forward."
Giannoulias declined a meeting with reporters, and spent much of his time at the Clybourne meeting one-on-one with supporters.
Giannoulias is one of four remaining candidates for the Democratic Senate nomination, along with former Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman, Chicago Urbana League President and former NPR executive Cheryle Jackson and radiologist Robert Marshall. A fifth candidate, attorney Jacob Meister, has dropped out of the race, but is endorsing Giannoulias.
Bicyclists in Champaign will get their own lanes on two major north-south arteries if city council members approve.
The city is proposing adding a bike-only lane to State and Randolph streets, from their north ends at Bradley Avenue south to Hessel Boulevard. City planners are holding an open house Monday afternoon at the Champaign Public Library to discuss the plan for the two one-way streets.
Planner Mishauno Woggon is aware of the grumbling that came from some motorists after one of the first high-profile bike lanes was developed along Urbana's Philo Road commercial area. She says the new lane configuration restricted vehicle traffic through what planners call a "road diet."
"With the State and Randolph project there is no lane reduction so there is no road diet as part of this project," Woggon said. "So for drivers they're really not going to notice a difference in terms lof less lanes to drive in or congestion or things like that."
Woggon says in some narrower parts of State and Randolph streets, the bike lanes will be marked as so-called "sharrows," meaning bike and vehicle traffic will share them. The open house at the Champaign Library runs from 4:30 to 6:30.
The University of Illinois plans to send out emails to its Urbana campus employees on Tuesday, providing details about its voluntary separation incentive program. The U of I is offering incentives for faculty and staff who retire or resign --- but only if the conditions are right.
The cash-strapped U of I is looking to save money by shedding some of its faculty and staff --- and it will pay a half-year's salary up to 75 thousand dollars for faculty and staff who resign or retire. But university spokeswoman Robin Kaler says campus units will only offer the incentives in cases where the employee's departure would provide a real savings --- because that person would not be replaced, or would be replaced at a lower cost.
"So for example, if you had someone who made $70,000 a year and you determined maybe that you could not replace that person if they went, spending $35,000 to recoup another $35,000 could be a savings for the university," Kaler said.
The incentive programs target civil service and academic professional staff who agree to resign or retire before next fall semester --- and faculty eligible for retirement who agree to retire before fall semester 2011. A two-month application window begins on Wednesday. The incentive program only covers the U of I Urbana campus, not the Chicago or Springfield campuses, or university administration.
University of Illinois employees planning to retire this academic year don't have to worry about unpaid furlough days affecting their retirement benefits --- if they act in the next few days.
The university says that employees who sign a retirement agreement by Tuesday, February 2nd, don't have to take furlough days --- or a voluntary pay reduction.
U of I spokesperson Robin Kaler says the furlough waivers are being offered to employees considering retirement, who may be concerned by how furlough days will affect their final year's salary --- and consequently their pension levels.
"We did not want that furlough program to doubly hit people, just because of that window within which they those to retire", says Kaler.
The furlough waiver offer is for employees on all three U of I campuses who plan to retire by the start of the next fall semester. Employees on the Urbana campus may still be eligible for cash benefits to be offered in a voluntary separation and retirement program to be unveiled next week.
Eastern Illinois University now has a furlough policy to deal with the financial crunch facing higher education. But unlike the University of Illinois, there are no current plans to implement furloughs at EIU.
And if administrators make that decision, President Bill Perry says most collective bargaining agreements on the campus at Charleston currently don't include furlough language, including those for faculty. As things stand, he says about a fourth of employees at Eastern would be impacted. Some contracts call for layoffs instead of furloughs. Perry says there are those who feel that's the best option since layoffs been part of those contracts for a long time. "Other people are of the opinion with furloughs no one loses their job entirely," says Perry. "Everyone in the group shares a little bit of the pain. So you can see the arguments on both sides as to the right way to proceed. Rarely in a university do you have unanimty on any issue, right?"
The furlough policy released by Perry Thursday afternoon calls for an employee to take up to 24 furlough days over a 12-month span. He says EIU would try to provide 30 days notice before the implantation of furloughs. Eastern raised its housing costs last week, and implemented a hiring freeze. EIU is still owed about $33 million from the state. Perry says a tuition hike could happen, but no figure has been discussed.
The University of Illinois will unveil incentive programs next week for faculty and staff on the Urbana campus considering resignation or retirement.
The programs have been in the works for several weeks. Deans, directors and department heads on the Urbana campus were given advance notice of the incentive programs Thursday in an email from Associate Provost for Human Resources Elyne Cole.
The programs offer a lump sum cash incentive for voluntary retirements and resignations --- equal to 50 percent of current annual salary, or 75-thousand dollars, whichever is less.
Civil service and academic professional employees working on the Urbana campus for at least four years in a row may apply for incentives covering resignations and retirements. Another incentive program covering retirements only is open to faculty and academic staff who are already eligible for retirement under SURS, the State University Retirement System. A two-month window for applications begins Wednesday.
In her email, Cole stresses that the incentive programs are voluntary, and that no one should be encouraged to participate, or discouraged from doing so. She describes the incentives as one way to address "challenging financial times" at the U of I.
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