Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 14, 2012

Union Leaders Push for Pension Compromise

Story by Sean Powers, with additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio

Illinois union leaders are asking political leaders to negotiate with them before approving a plan to overhaul the state's pension systems. They made their plea on Monday in a teleconference with reporters.

Lawmakers are scheduled to gather in Springfield on Friday, Aug. 17 to consider options for fixing Illinois' underfunded pension system. It is a task that could include shifting pension costs for public school teachers from the state to school districts.

Sean Smoot, with an association of Illinois police officers, said the pension proposals currently under consideration are unconstitutional and will not solve the funding problem.

"Let me be clear: the path they have chosen, they have chosen alone, without meaningful input  from retired or working employees," Smoot said.

Christine Boardman, the president of a union representing government workers, said it is legislative leaders who have walked away from discussions.

"It is not the workers, it is not the people who actually add value to the state every single day," Boardman said.

In a conference call with reporters, Boardman and other labor leaders outlined what they'd like to see in pension legislation.

They want tax law changed to close what they call "loopholes" benefitting corporations. They want to make sure current retirees are not affected by the changes. And they say state funding of retirement benefits should be automatic and guaranteed.

Cinda Klickna is the president of one of Illinois' two big teacher unions.

"The pension crisis was caused by past governors and legislatures that failed the people of our state," Klickna said.

Klickna said union members have been paying for their retirement out of every paycheck, and should not have to pay for past decisions to underfund pensions.

“For decades, our members have made their payments to the retirement system, while the state has not," Klickna said. "Our members are asking, ‘What guarantee will the legislature make going forward, so that we protect tax payers, and pension system participants against a repeat of the bad  behavior that caused the pension crisis.’”

Consistent underfunding over the years is one of the main reasons the pension system is  roughly $85 billion short of what it needs to meet future obligations.

With Illinois talking about pension cuts, more than 4,500 state employees have retired in the past fiscal year. Roughly the same number of University employees also retired. That’s the highest in at least five years.

Categories: Economics, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 14, 2012

DOT Grants to Help Willard Airport Attract DC Service

Story by Jeff Bossert

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin’s office has announced federal funding for the University of Illinois’ Willard Airport south of Champaign, to be used to attract air service to Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.

In a news release issued Tuesday, Durbin (D-Ill.) announced that Willard Airport would receive $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Small Community Air Service Development Program. The money would fund revenue guarantee and marketing support for the new air service.

Willard Airport currently offers passenger service to Chicago and Dallas. According to the travel website Expedia, a trip from Willard Airport to Washington DC requires one or more stops to change flights.

U of I Director of Real Estate Services Bruce Walden says the funds come as a result of a research project with Sixel Consulting, analyzing where people are traveling.

"We felt that we had the best possibility of sustaining a flight if we could travel to the D.C. area," he said. "Hopefully we've done enough homework that we can also convince not only the federal government, but also the airline industry, of the validity of the route, and the likelihood that it could be sustained."

Walden said the U of I has been working with business groups in an effort to secure the required matching funds.  

Sen. Durbin’s announcement of funding for Willard Airport also included DOT funding for airports in Bloomington-Normal and Springfield.

Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington-Normal will receive $500,000 to launch new air service to Washington, D.C. or New York.

Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield will receive $250,000 in DOT funding for ground handling and marketing services to support new low-cost air service to Florida, Myrtle Beach, Las Vegas and/or Phoenix.

In the release, Sen. Durbin said that the grants “will support new air service to three important airports in Central Illinois and hopefully lead to more students, families and businesses taking advantage of these new routes”.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 13, 2012

Mayo Clinic: Jackson has Bipolar Disorder

Story by The Associated Press
  Jesse Jackson, Jr.

Doctors say Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. is under treatment for bipolar disorder.

A release Monday from the Mayo Clinic states that the Democrat underwent an extensive evaluation and is responding well to treatment for the disorder at the facility in Rochester, Minn. The release says Jackson is regaining his strength.

Jackson spokesman Frank Watkins declined to comment.

The clinic says that Bipolar II disorder is a treatable condition that affects parts of the brain controlling emotion, thought and drive and is likely caused by a complex set of genetic and environmental factors.

Jackson has been away from the public eye since June 10 when family members said he collapsed at their Washington home. He's been on an extended leave of absence from Congress.

Categories: Health, Politics

Illinois Public Radio - Illinois Public Media News - August 13, 2012

Lawmakers Return to Springfield to Deal with Pensions

Story by Amanda Vinicky

Members of Illinois' General Assembly weren't supposed to return to the capitol until November, but they will be back in Springfield later this week for a special session. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has called for the special session on Friday to overhaul the state's pensions, even though lawmakers are still divided over the best way to do it.

There is an $83 billion gap in what the state has promised its employees they'll get when they retire, and what Illinois actually has in the bank. Legislators are in widespread agreement they have to do something to cut the state's pension costs.

In the spring, the Senate passed a measure that begins to do that, but it only applies to General Assembly members and state employees. Not affected are the benefits of public school teachers, university workers, and judges. That pushes aside having to resolve a dispute over how much school districts should have to pay versus the state.

But House Republicans say they won't back that partial solution.

"So it's a really significant bill, there's no question about the sufficiency of the bill, it's constitutional and it's already passed one chamber,"  Senator President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) responded. "So, I don’t know why the House Republicans wouldn't want to vote for it, I think it's a mistake."

The House GOP has said a measure that only deals with two pension funds is too weak, and lifts pressure on lawmakers to finish the job.

Categories: Economics, Politics



WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 10, 2012

Interfaith Vigil Held Following Temple Shooting, Mosque Fire

Story by Sean Powers

Interfaith Vigil Held Following Temple Shooting, Mosque Fire

An interfaith vigil at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign attracted more than 30 people Thursday, who showed their support following two tragedies this week at a mosque and a temple.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 10, 2012

Danville School Board Files Complaint Against Union

Story by Jim Meadows

It has been more than a month since the old contract between the Danville school district and its employees union expired --- and more than two months since negotiators for the two sides sat down at the bargaining table. Now, the school board has filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board --- accusing it of refusing to come to the bargaining table.

Categories: Business, Education

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 10, 2012

Gov. Quinn Reiterates Support for Same-Sex Marriage

Story by Sean Powers

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is still on board with the idea of gay marriage in Illinois.

This comes after a string of headlines about the divisive issue, including the revelation that the CEO of Chick-fil-A opposes it. Most recently, Democratic leaders agreed to address gay marriage at their upcoming national convention.

Quinn said he wull continue to push for a change in policy.

“I do favor marriage equality when that bill comes before the legislature I hope it passes and if it gets to my desk I’ll sign it,” he said.

President Obama endorsed equal rights for same-sex couples earlier this year.

One day after that announcement, Quinn said that he agrees with the President’s stance.

Quinn also signed a law establishing civil unions for same-sex couples in Illinois last year.


Illinois Public Radio - Illinois Public Media News - August 10, 2012

Former Inmates Not Surprised Quinn Keeping Reporters Out of Prisons

Story by Robert Wildeboer

Inmates recently released from prisons in Illinois say they're not surprised that Gov. Pat Quinn won't let reporters in to see conditions.

Chris Clingingsmith just completed seven years behind bars for driving drunk. He lost his wife, his house, his cars and his motorbike, but he’s glad he got caught when he did because he would have been in a much worse situation than he’s in now if he had stayed on the streets and hurt someone.

He said prison isn't supposed to be fun, but the Vandalia prison doesn’t meet even basic standards. He said he wouldn't even house a dog in the kind of conditions men are enduring in basements at the minimum security institution.

Chicago Public Radio has been asking to visit the prison for several months, but Gov. Pat Quinn has said no.

“They don't want you to see firsthand what we're telling you,” Clingingsmith said. “I have no reason to lie.  I'm not in there anymore so they can't do anything to me.  If you walked in there, I'm not going to exaggerate, you would probably just go wow, they actually house people in these areas.  You would be amazed.  You would think that's above and beyond punishment.”

Clingingsmith said a lot of the men housed at Vandalia are getting very mad. Clingingsmith said the lawmakers who oversee the prisons need to get to Vandalia so they know what’s going on.

Gov. Quinn said he wants to look into the conditions at some of Illinois' minimum-security prisons. A watchdog group and former inmates have reported deplorable conditions at the prisons in Vienna and Vandalia.

Those reports indicate some areas were overrun with rats and roaches, and men slept in rooms that flooded every time it rained. But despite repeated requests, Quinn says he won’t let reporters in to see the conditions firsthand.

"Yeah, well I don't believe in that. I think that it's important that -- when it comes to our security of our prisons, I go with the correctional office -- the director that I have at the Department of Corrections. Security comes first and it isn't a country club," Quinn said.

Quinn said he will look into the conditions, and would only say if reforms are needed. He wants to be sure they're done "properly."

Quinn is currently working on closing some prisons, but the union representing workers opposes those closures, saying overcrowding will get worse.

Illinois spends more than a billion dollars a year on prisons.


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