Illinois Public Media News
The city of Champaign is getting ready to release another round of budget cuts - and some city employees may be given the option to leave their jobs.
City manager Steve Carter will tell city council members next week about a proposal for a voluntary separation incentive. If the council approves, some union and non-union employees would be able to get two weeks' salary for each year of service up to 26 weeks if they agree to leave, with a minimum of $10,000.
Carter said he expects about 20 employees would accept the incentive, which will be offered first to people whose jobs are already under threat of being cut.
"Any position, whether through past budget decisions or the ones we're going to be discussing next Tuesday, those will be our top priority (for separation offers)," Carter said. "We have the ability to lay people off, but our preference would be not to. We have really good employees, and if we can find a way to make this more mutual, the better for the organization and for the people."
Carter said police officers and firefighters would not be offered voluntary separation because their positions would likely have to be re-filled. He said the city administration will say what other budget cuts they think should be made in the middle of the current year's budget. The last five year forecast suggested the city needed to cut $1.2 million in recurring costs from this year's spending plan.
University of Illinois trustees have adopted a policy designed to limit tuition increases even as they raise the cost of housing at the school's three campuses.
The tuition policy approved Thursday links tuition increases to inflation and other factors.
Students are guaranteed by state law to pay the tuition rate they paid in their freshman year throughout their undergraduate years. But the rate increases for most incoming classes.
This year, tuition increased 9.5 percent and led to complaints from some students and parents. The cost of tuition and housing for a typical undergraduate year at the Urbana-Champaign campus is more than $20,000.
Governor Pat Quinn said he likes 'the basic framework and concept' for the next year's tuition that was outlined Thursday by University of Illinois Chief Financial Officer Walter Knorr.
"I think that has a lot of merit to try and keep tuition pretty much even with inflation and adjusted dollars," Quinn said. "I think carrying that out is a good mission."
Quinn said the state is also putting about $404 million into grants for MAP, or the Monetary Awards program., but he said the demand is at least 50-percent higher that. Quinn added that one of his goals for the next four years is to secure more scholarship money for students who attend Illinois' public universities and community colleges.
Trustees on Thursday also raised the cost of a double dorm room in Urbana-Champaign 4 percent to $9,452 a year. Costs in Springfield and Chicago increased less sharply.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
Mitsubishi Motors North America plans to produce a new model at its plant in Normal, Ill., extending the life of the facility just a month after employees agreed to lower wages the company said were needed to keep it open.
Mitsubishi announced the plans as part of new, global business plan aimed at revitalizing the troubled Japanese automaker.
"One of the main pillars of this (plan) is a transition from region-specific models with all of the specifics that entails - producing for a single market, single group of consumers, a single economy - to more global models that are produced for multiple markets," Mitsubishi spokesman Dan Irvin said. "And the new model will be one of those global models."
The company plans to announce what the new model will be in the next few weeks, he said, but all four models now made at the central Illinois plant - the Galant, Eclipse and Spyder and the Endeavor sport utility vehicle - will be phased out.
Employees and local officials at the plant said they're still waiting for details on the new model and to learn whether it will keep all 1,300 plant employees on the job. But the news that one of the largest and highest-paying area employers will stay open was a relief.
"These jobs are very hard to come by and, again, particularly in this economy when most companies of this nature are just hoping to sustain their current employment levels," city manager Mark Peterson said. "These would be, I hate to say impossible, but almost impossible to replace."
The United Auto Workers said Mitsubishi's announcement was a just reward for tough pay concessions its members had little choice but to accept.
"Considering the economy, the state of the economy right now, I think the decision was pretty clear for a majority of the members," UAW local President Ralph Timan said. "It was a tough decision, and it came with sacrifices."
Two-thirds of the union's almost 1,100 members at the plant voted last month to cut a reported $1.67 an hour from their wages after the company said it needed the concessions to remain competitive.
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity said at the time that it was talking with Mitsubishi about possible incentives. The agency and company continue to talk but so far no tax breaks or other incentives have been provided spokesman Mike Claffey said.
Like the auto industry in general, Mitsubishi North America has struggled with slow sales. The company's U.S. market share for 2009 was just over one half of one percent - the lowest level since 1985, according to WardsAuto.com, a web site that tracks auto industry data.
The company's new business plan, which it calls Jump 2013, is aimed at producing more vehicles to sell in emerging markets such as China and Brazil. The goal, according to a company release, is to raise sales to 1.37 million vehicles in 2013 from the roughly 1 million it expects it will sell by the end of the current fiscal year in March.
The Normal plant started making the Gallant and the other three models it now manufactures in 2005, Irvin said.
"They've been very good to us for a very long time," he said.
The plant at one point employed far more workers, but 1,200 were laid off in 2004 as part of what Mitsubishi said at the time was its last chance for survival. Those layoffs have been followed by other wage and benefit concessions.
Peterson said Thursday that he's anxiously waiting for details about what the company's new model will mean for job numbers at the 22-year-old plant.
"The questions is: Now that's one model - is that going to sustain all 1,100 existing jobs, and could it mean more out there?" he said.
President Barack Obama is shifting senior White House staffers to his hometown of Chicago and opening a campaign headquarters there as he steps up preparations for the formal launch of his re-election bid this spring.
The moves open a new chapter in Obama's presidency; he will juggle dual roles of candidate and president for the remainder of his first term.
As aides ramped up preparations for 2012, outgoing White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that the president will soon file papers with the Federal Election Commission to formally declare his candidacy. Officials say fundraising and grass-roots organizing is to begin in March or April.
"We've made progress on getting the economy back in order and I think the president wants to continue to do that," Gibbs said.
Thus, Obama is starting to execute a campaign plan that's been in the works for months. Under it:
Obama's deputy chief of staff Jim Messina will leave the White House to serve as campaign manager. Aides say he's looking for office space in downtown Chicago, and reaching out to potential campaign donors and consultants.
White House social secretary Juliana Smoot and Democratic National Committee executive director Jennifer O'Malley Dillon will serve as deputy campaign managers. Both are veterans of the 2008 campaign, with Smoot having served as finance director and Dillon focusing on battleground states.
As the campaign approaches, the White House plans to close its political affairs office and move its functions to the DNC. White House political director Patrick Gaspard will join the DNC as executive director.
Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine will continue to serve as the committee's chairman. He announced the changes at a DNC staff meeting Thursday.
Gibbs said dismantling the White House political wing was "a matter of duplication and efficiency that makes a lot of sense."
However, Gibbs said he doesn't expect the president to be hitting the campaign trail anytime soon.
"Just because the president sets up the machinery of ultimately running for re-election does not mean that you're going to see the president doing a ton of political reelection events," he said.
The developments are a part of broader White House changes as Obama prepares for his re-election race.
David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager in 2008, recently joined the White House; senior adviser David Axelrod plans to join the campaign in Chicago and Gibbs is to serve as a consultant.
A Sangamon County inquest Thursday determined the late Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin died of a close-contact bullet wound to the heart in a vehicle parked at his home Dec. 14.
Investigators say they found no note from the 53-year-old Democrat. They also say there were no signs of foul play and no drugs or alcohol in his body.
The scene was bloody when police responded to a 911 hang-up call to Davlin's home, according to Illinois State Police Sergeant Brad Sterling
Sterling described the scene to jurors during an inquest into Davlin's death. He testified Davlin was found in the front, passenger seat of his white Lincoln Navigator parked in his garage. He said while the car was running, there was no indication of carbon monoxide poisoning as the garage door was left half open.
Sterling said police suspect Davlin used a revolver to shoot himself in the chest. He said the bullet went through Davlin's heart, through his body, and was found in the seat cushion. The cordless, home phone Davlin presumably used to call police was in the cup holder next to his body.
According to Sterling, investigators found no note at the home, and he said there was no sign of foul play nor of violence. Sangamon County Coroner Susan Boone also told jurors a toxicology report showed no alcohol nor drugs in Davlin's system.
The entire inquest, including jury deliberations, lasted less than an hour. Sergeant Sterling said the state police investigation is expected to wrap up soon. Neither Sterling, Boone, nor anyone on the seven-member jury was willing to answer reporters' questions after the proceedings.
Davlin died the morning he was to show up at a court hearing to give a financial accounting for an estate he was handling. The IRS also said he owed $90,000 in back taxes.
The two-term mayor had recently announced he would not seek re-election.
Mitsubishi is announcing major changes in production that effect its auto assembly plant in Normal.
The Japanese-based automaker says, as part of its new business plan, workers at the Normal plant will begin producing a new model vehicle later this year, while production of current models will be phased out. The company is shifting its production philosophy away from a regional to a global approach, and Irvin said the new model made at the Normal plant will be sold worldwide, not just in the U.S.
Mitsubishi spokesman Dan Irvin said the move reaffirms two decades of hard work by employees of the Normal plant.
"And I think we can all really happy and pleased about that and look forward to a bright future," added Irvin.
The announcement comes two months after union workers at Mitsubishi's Normal plant agreed to wage concessions in return for a jump start in production,
Irvin said Mitsubishi will announce details of the new model at an event in Normal in a couple of weeks. He would not say if the plans call for more hiring or an addition of a second shift. He said it will not include production of an electric vehicle, although Mitsubishi's new business plan calls for the launch of eight new electric-powered vehicles.
Some auto industry publications say the new vehicle will be built on the same platform that carries the Outlander crossover and the Lancer sedan--two of the company's highest selling models.According to the new business plan, it will take three years to phase out the Eclipse, Galant and Endeavor crossover and bring the new vehicle on line.
University of Illinois trustees have re-elected Christopher Kennedy as their chairman.
Trustees meeting in Chicago on Thursday picked Kennedy as the leader for the next year of the governing board that oversees the university and its three campuses. Kennedy was first elected in September 2009. Lawrence Eppley was his predecessor but resigned over the university's admissions scandal. Kennedy was one of six trustees appointed in September 2009 by Gov. Pat Quinn to fill vacancies left by resignations related to that scandal.
Kennedy is a son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and he runs Merchandise Mart Properties in Chicago.
Quinn on Wednesday reappointed another trustee, Karen Hasara of Springfield. The governor also picked two new trustees, Chicago-area lawyers Patricia Brown Holmes and Ricardo Estrada.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has filled three vacancies on the University of Illinois' Board of Trustees just as the board is scheduled to meet Thursday in Chicago.
Three of the 10 seats on the board were vacant after the terms expired over the weekend. Patricia Brown Holmes and Ricardo Estrada will join the board as new trustees replacing Frances Carroll and Carlos Tortolero. Meanwhile, Karen Hasara, whose term was also up, will continue serving.
All three appointees are alumni of the University of Illinois. Holmes, a partner at Schiff Hardin LLP, has been named one of Illinois' "Top 50 Women Lawyers" by Illinois Super Lawyers. She received both her bachelor of science and juris doctorate degrees from the University of Illinois. Estrada currently serves as the first deputy commissioner in the Department of Family and Support Services for the City of Chicago. He received his master of business administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Hasara, a current trustee for the Springfield Mass Transit District, served as mayor of the city of Springfield from 1995-2003. She received both her Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts degrees from the University of Illinois at Springfield.
Hasara and Tortolero were appointed to the board in 2009 when other trustees resigned over a university admissions scandal. Carroll refused to resign.
"Students from all over the world come to Illinois because they know that they will receive the highest quality of education from the University of Illinois," Governor Quinn said in a statement. "I am confident that today's appointees will help ensure the continued integrity and quality of our state's flagship university.
A $10 million grant to the University of Illinois from the Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) will help preserve large amounts of grains and oil seeds lost each year by establishing the ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss.
The institute will be housed within the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. It will also work with the College of Engineering, College of Business and College of Information Technology. The money from the grant will be used to launch new technology, collect crop data, and offer agricultural training programs for students and farmers.
The UN Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that around 10 to 20 percent of the world's grain harvest goes to waste because of mishandling or post-harvest operations. It is a problem ADM officials say poses a serious threat to the world's food supply, especially in developing nations. ADM president Patricia Woertz said just about five percent of all agricultural research dollars are used to study postharvest losses. Woertz said she hopes the research that results from this grant improves the world's food supply.
"It is our hope that the post harvest strategies and the practical applications devised here at U of I will ultimately boost the livelihoods of rice farmers in Southeast Asia, the sorghum grower in Eastern Africa, and the sunflower farmer in India," Woertz said. "Ultimately their gain is the world's gain."
Interim Vice Chancellor Steve Sonka, who is the former director of the National Soybean Research Laboratory, will head the institute. He said he is hopeful this new partnership with ADM will help the university strengthen its ties with groups in other countries that are also trying to reduce crop losses.
"Our strategy is to learn from their research - both their triumphs and failures - build on their work and then expand it," Sonka said.
The founder of Jimmy John's sandwich shops says he's considering moving his company's headquarters from Champaign to Florida because of Illinois' new tax increase.
Jimmy John Liautaud told the News-Gazette on Tuesday that he's gathering information on a potential move and will ask the company's board to decide.
Liautaud said he could absorb the increased costs but doesn't believe he should have to.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed the income tax increase last week to help address billions of dollars in state budget shortfalls. And during a visit to the University of Illinois Urbana campus Wednesday, the governor said he hoped Liataud would reconsider any move out of the state. Quinn said a tax increase was necessary to get Illinois out of a "fiscal emergency".
"I inherited a budget deficit of billions and billions of dollars when I became governor," Quinn said. "I was direct right from the beginning. I said we needed to use the income tax to pay our bills"
With Quinn's signing of tax hike legislation last week, Illinois' corporate income tax rate increased from 4.8 to 7.0 percent. Quinn says that's still one of the lower corporate tax rates in the Midwest. But Florida, where Liautaud is considering a move for his company, has a even lower corporate income tax rate --- a flat 5.5 percent.
Jimmy John's headquarters employs 100 people in Champaign. The privately held chain has more than 1,000 sandwich shops around the country.
Liautaud said he recently moved his family to Florida from Champaign.
(Additional reporting from the Associated Press)
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