(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
Gov. Pat Quinn says he's calling lawmakers back to work in Springfield.
Quinn announced Monday he would be talking to legislative leaders about a date to come back because he says there's an outstanding issue with the state's capital construction program.
The Chicago Democrat says lawmakers adjourned last week without approving an appropriations bill so the state can spend money on its ongoing capital construction program.
Quinn says he wants the lawmakers back to the state Capitol promptly so work doesn't have to stop on projects around the state, including road, bridge and other construction projects.
Mahomet Republican Chapin Rose says this nearly $300 million re-appropriation bill is separate from a lawsuit pending before Illinois' Supreme Court over the Illinois Jobs Now! plan, saying the capital funds that legislators have yet to vote on are already in place.
He believes something will be worked out over a day or two in Springfield this summer, and Rose agrees there are some important projects in the measure. But he's not happy the way the bill was handled by Senate Democrats:
"We are talking about austerity, and trying to right the ship, and not spend more money on projects," said Rose. "So frankly, for the Senate Democrats to do this is highly cynical. But that's what they've chosen to do is highjack the construction part of the budget."
Champaign Democratic Senator Mike Frerichs says the construction issue may take longer than a day or two in Springfield.
"I think there's pretty much agreement on the need to pass the capital component of this," Frerichs said. "But there are some real differences of opinion on spending priorities between the House and the Senate that were also included in this bill."
The Senator says that includes new money attached to the bill in the Senate to help those with developmental disabilities and mental health issues, areas identified as priorities in the Senate Democratic caucus. Rose says the most important thing is that Illinois' operating budget passed last week, and that a vote on capital projects will have no impact on schools, universities, and everyday travel on roads and bridges. Quinn says if work stops on the projects it will throw 52,000 people out of work.
A Chicago-based scientist says he's grateful to U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk for siding with legislation that backs stem cell research.
Kirk on Monday called for congressional action to codify an executive order on the research issued by President Barack Obama in 2009.
Dr. John Kessler directs a stem cell research institute at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He says Kirk is backing legislation that's "absolutely essential for the field'' because uncertainty over federal funding discourages young scientists from doing research on stem cells.
Kirk says stem cell research offers "the best promise'' to cure certain diseases. The Illinois Republican says, if senior Democratic senators choose not to move the stem cell legislation in this Congress, he will. He says court challenges to taxpayer-financed stem cell research make legislation necessary.
There are people out there who want think they have that million dollar recipe that food shoppers will flock to buy. But beyond that first batch, what's missing is the right kitchen. As part of the series "Life on Route 150," Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers looks at the effort to build a community kitchen in Champaign-Urbana, and he visits one-kitchen in Danville that's taken off.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
View a Slideshow from The Cook's Workshop in Danville
A survey on the greatest health needs in Champaign County has been broken down into four general areas.
The state requires the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District to complete a local assessment of needs plan every five years. After more than 11-hundred replies last year, priorities were identified as access to care (or paying for medical, mental and dental health), accidents (including DUI crashes and those in the home), obesity, and violence (including alcohol-related abuse and domestic violence.)
CUPHD Epidemiologist Awais Vaid says the county's current Community Health Plan was narrowed from 10 categories five years ago. He says public health is given no specific guidance on how to come up with the priorities.
"It's basically the community partners, the community leaders that get together and decide one what should be included," said Vaid. "But the last time we identified 10 of them, it became too much to address each of them, because each takes time and resources."
Vaid says community coalitions are being put together to address the four areas, each of them involving members of the public health district.
"The last time we finished the process, and thought as time goes by, some group will start addressing each one of these. It didn't happen," said Vaid. "So most of them were not addressed the way we were expecting to. But this time we do have specific groups that have a vested interest."
Yearly progress on the surveyed areas will be posted on the CUPHD's website.
It's been a while since Indiana reported revenues exceeding projections, but that's what happened in May.
Indiana's State Budget Agency reported today that the state took in $1.2 billion, roughly $151 million more than forecasters projected.
The increase covers a nearly $90 million revenue shortfall in April.
"It is clear that individual income tax collections have improved dramatically in 2011 compared to 2010 due to strong employment and income growth," agency director Adam Horst stated in a written statement. "Payroll withholdings, the largest component of individual income tax collections, have consistently grown in excess of 6 percent throughout 2011. For April and May, individual income tax collections grew 20 percent compared to the same time period for 2010."
In this fiscal year, which ends at the end of June, Indiana's collected $128 million more in taxes that the state's forecasting committee projected.
Revenues are also up by over 9 percent this year than last.
The only down side to the forecast was gaming revenues for the state.
Horst said riverboat wagering tax collections again fell short of the monthly target, and now lag behind 2010 revenues by 3.4 percent.
"On the other hand, racino (horse racing) wagering tax collections continue to exceed monthly targets, and are running 7.4 percent ahead of 2010 revenues," Horst said. "Through May, total gaming revenues trail the revenue forecast by $13 million and are running $8 million behind collections for the same time period last year."
Northwest Indiana is home to five casino boats along Lake Michigan.
The stale gaming numbers come at a time when Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is considering signing a bill that would dramatically increase casino licenses in the state.
Under the proposed plan, a casino could be approved for a south suburban location, as well as for downtown Chicago. Either location could eat into revenues taken in by casinos in Northwest Indiana.
It's been six weeks since a Champaign County judge ordered the closure of an apartment complex between Rantoul and Thomasboro.
But public health officials say people continue to live there. Indeed, as of Thursday, there were several cars parked in front of a far east building, which had a new dumpster nearby and kids playing in the yard.
The first collection buildings in the complex, known as Cherry Orchard, looks empty from the main highway - County Road 1500 East. There appears to be no cars and no people.
In April, a Champaign County judge fined its managers, Bernard and Eduardo Ramos, more than $54,000 and ordered them to close down the property following a nearly four-year-old Champaign County Public Health Department case.
New painted words "For Sale" have replaced "Cherry Orchard" on a large, weathered wood sign. New phone numbers with the 202 area code have appeared. The property is listed for $1.3 million on this website. There is no longer a "for rent" sign.
The main entrance is blocked by an old telephone pole propping up a door turned on its side decorated by the word "Closed" in spray-paint. An electrical cord of some type serves as a make-shift rope between two trees that flank the main entrance.
By all appearances, from the corner of county roads 1500 East and 2700 North, the 11-acre, 68-unit apartment complex looks to be in compliance with the April court order.
A woman answered a call to one of the phone numbers listed on the sign, but pleasantly declined to give her name and said she would only discuss the details of the complex and its selling price with serious buyers. She said the complex was "empty, completely empty."
The Ramoses were accused of failing to legally connect sewer and septic systems for six of their eight apartment buildings on the property. The apartment complex has traditionally housed many migrant workers.
The Health Department had sought to stop the Ramoses from renting out the property until the septic system could be legally fixed.
Bernard and Eduardo Ramos have repeatedly declined to comment for any news stories about the complex - including not returning calls seeking comment and posting signs warning "media dogs" to stay away. After April's ruling, the pair flashed a sign at reporters that read "slander- lying" as they left the courtroom.
The Ramos incurred more legal troubles when they failed to show up for a status hearing in May, after reports that the complex had yet to be closed and tenants remained. They notified the state's attorney's office prior to the hearing to report that they were on an extended trip to Texas.
At the May hearing, Judge John Kennedy issued a civil contempt warrant and a criminal contempt warrant for both Bernard Ramos and his father, Eduardo. The arrest warrants each include a $10,000 bond. If arrested, the judge requires that the Ramoses post the full amount - a total of $20,000 each - rather than the typical 10 percent before they can be released.
Soon after, the complex appeared to have been closed down.
But health officials who regularly spot-check the complex have found people living there, and neighbors have reported to health officials that men are working on apartments during the day as well and that residents remain in the buildings.
A visit to the area on Thursday morning showed the same.
While the main entrance to the complex is closed, a second driveway - accessible further down County Road 2700 North - leads right to the far east building (noted as number 5 on the map below).
There appeared to be a work van and four or five cars parked in front of the complex.
There were also children playing out front.
Neighbors have also reported that new air conditioners have been installed in the windows and a new dumpster was placed nearby.
Health Department officials do not have the authority to physically remove anyone from the complex; however, they remain concerned about the safety and health of residents who continue to live there due to the conditions of the complex.
Health officials are also concerned that the Ramoses are preparing the place for additional tenants - migrant workers who typically move to the area during this time of year, said Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde.
As of Friday, Bernard and Eduardo Ramos have yet to be arrested on the outstanding warrants for contempt of court.
The County Board of Health plans to meet next week with officials from the county to see what options they can legally pursue to ensure that the apartment complex is vacated and the illegal discharge of sewage ends, Pryde said.
(Photo by A. H. Gorton of CU-CitizenAccess)
Recent Photos Taken of the Cherry Orchard Apartment Complex:
President Obama's administration took its first stab Wednesday at reversing Indiana's controversial ban on funds to agencies offering abortion services, primarily Planned Parenthood.
Donald M. Berwick, administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, sent a letter to Indiana's Family and Social Services Administration. Berwick said the law improperly bars Medicaid beneficiaries from receiving services from a qualified provider, as federal law requires. Indiana could face penalties if the law is not changed, he warned.
But Bryan Corbin, spokesman for the Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, said the state intends to fight for the law.
"We are reviewing the Center for Medicaid Services letter with our client, the Family and Social Services Administration to determine our client's options, but we will continue to defend the statute," he Corbin.
The Republican-led Indiana General Assembly approved the bill in late April. It was signed in early May by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, also a Republican, even though Daniels had sought a "truce" on social issues. The law bans $3 million the state receives from going to any agency that provides abortion services or to agencies that deal with Planned Parenthood.
The law also bans abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy unless there is a substantial threat to the woman's life or health.
At the time, it was thought that Daniels signed the legislation to appease conservatives as he contemplated a run for the Republican nomination for president, which he ultimately decided against. Daniels explained, however, that he supports the law because a majority of Hoosiers oppose abortion. He said women can obtain health care needs from providers other than Planned Parenthood.
Daniels said agencies that lost funding can have them restored if they cut ties to Planned Parenthood of Indiana. Planned Parenthood officials say 9,300 low income Hoosier women will or have lost coverage because of the new law.
The University of Illinois will spent the next several months researching the feasibility of a high-speed passenger rail line between Chicago and Champaign.
Governor Pat Quinn on Thursday announced the $1.25 million study for 220-mph trains. Such a line could also include cities like St. Louis and Indianapolis, and is meant to compliment an already planned 110-mph network connecting Chicago to other Midwest cities.
U of I President Michael Hogan says such a train can have a huge impact on regional economic development throughout the Chicago area. Hogan says this is also an area where the U of I can make a huge difference in the world of freight and passenger rail.
"The possibility of a high-speed rail link, bringing our two campuses closer together, facilitating that kind of big science and collaboration, and not just in engineering and hard sciences, but in the medical sciences as well," said Hogan. "The impact that could have in tranforming an already great university into a super power university."
The U of I, Illinois Department of Transportation, and a special advisory group will provide input throughout the course of the study. The Executive Director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, Rick Harnish, sits on the panel.
"Turkey is already running bullet trains," said Harnish. "There's 4,000 miles in Europe. There's 4,000 miles in Asia. And there's been bullet trains in Japan since 1964. All of those countries are enjoying faster, lower cost, and more reliable travel than we are today. This is what keeps U of I on the global map."
The study will involve the U of I's Rail Transportation and Engineering Center and the Department of Economics on the Urbana campus, and the Department of Urban Planning on the university's Chicago campus. The results from the study are expected late next year.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
The prosecution has begun an aggressive cross-examination of Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich at the ousted Illinois governor's corruption retrial.
Prosecutor Reid Schar asked Blagojevich if he was a convicted liar. Blagojevich answered yes.
Prosecutors likely relished the chance to grill Blagojevich. At his first trial last year - in which he was convicted of lying to the FBI - the ousted governor never took the stand and prosecutors never had a chance to cross-examine him.
During five days of questions from his own attorney, Blagojevich denied all the allegations against him, including that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
Earlier, Blagojevich tried to carefully explain conversations he had with his advisers in late 2008 about various ways he could leverage his power to appoint a U.S. senator.
The conversations were secretly recorded by the FBI, and the jury in Blagojevich's federal corruption trial has already heard them.
At one point, Blagojevich is heard talking with members of his inner circle about his desire to be appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services by President Barack Obama.
"If [HHS] was available to me, I could [appoint Obama friend] Valerie Jarrett in a heartbeat," Blagojevich said on the call.
Asked on Thursday morning by his attorney, Aaron Goldstein, to explain that statement, Blagojevich analogized it to saying, "If I could play center field for the Cubs, I would do that in a heartbeat, too."
Blagojevich testified he understood the cabinet appointment was not going to happen. He said that's because, in part, one of his friends and closest political supporters, the SEIU's Tom Balanoff, told him it was not a possibility.
Why, then, was Blagojevich still talking about the idea on wiretapped conversations with his advisers?
"It goes to one of my insecurities," he explained. "I was embarrassed by the flat out dismissal of the idea by [Balanoff]."
The ex-governor testified that he was "trying to not look too irrelevant to my staff."
Guided by Goldstein, Blagojevich reiterated that no actual deal was offered involving the cabinet job and a Jarrett appointment. He explained that no decision had been made.
Labor Union Gig
The testimony then moved on to another alleged scheme, that Blagojevich would appoint Jarrett if Obama was able to arrange for the governor to become a national coordinator for the labor advocacy group "Change to Win."
Blagojevich testified that such a job would put him in a position to "have my cake and eat it too." He said it would allow him to make money to help his family's finances, while being involved in an issue important to him, and allow for a possible - though admittedly unlikely - political comeback.
But once again, Blagojevich told jurors he wasn't sold on the idea and didn't try to make it happen.
"I never decided to do it," Blagojevich testified. "I ultimately didn't like the idea."
Non-Profit Advocacy Leader
Instead, Blagojevich said he started to focus on another idea he found "more appealing." He wanted to land a leading role at what would be a new non-profit that would advocate for children's healthcare.
At this point in his testimony, Blagojevich tried to further an underlying theme to his defense: that he was influenced by the words and assistance of his advisers.
Regarding the non-profit idea, Blagojevich said he talked to his top government lawyer, Bill Quinlan, "constantly and continuously" about how to form such a group.
Judge James Zagel has barred Blagojevich from employing an "advice of counsel" defense to the charges he faces. But he is allowed to state that informal advice from his staff contributed to his "state of mind." Blagojevich insists he was acting "in good faith."
Getting to Rahm
On one of the wiretapped phone calls, Blagojevich is heard chatting with his former aide, Doug Scofield, about the non-profit idea. They were trying to figure out the best way to get a message to then-U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, to see if he'd be willing to approach some big Obama donors to provide start-up cash for the advocacy group.
The ex-governor said he was being clear to Scofield that he didn't want there to be any commitments made to Emanuel, who at the time was the incoming White House chief of staff. They planned to ask John Wyma, an insider who was close to both Emanuel and Blagojevich, to be the emissary.
"I didn't want him to give the wrong impression that I was promising something I hadn't decided on," Blagojevich testified, referring, in part, to the U.S. Senate seat.
Blagojevich acknowledged he believed it would be "highly unlikely" for Emanuel to agree to help set up the advocacy group, but added, "Why not see if he'd be willing to help? You never know."
The ex-governor said he did not make the call personally, because he was "frankly being sensitive to Rahm."
The message apparently never got to Emanuel, who is now the mayor of Chicago. Testifying last week as a witness for the defense, Emanuel said he was never approached about a potential deal involving the Senate seat, and an advocacy group.
More Emanuel Contact
Earlier on Thursday, Blagojevich testified he talked, directly, to Emanuel three times about the Senate appointment.
The ex-governor said he raised the idea of appointing Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the Senate, in exchange for some sort of possible legislative deal with her father, House Speaker Mike Madigan.
Blagojevich said he believed Emanuel was "pleasantly surprised" that the governor was considering a Madigan appointment.
"[Emanuel's] a sensible guy and understood the politics as well as the good things that could be done," Blagojevich said on the stand.
Madigan "Mega Deal"
Blagojevich testified that "throughout the entire period, [Lisa Madigan] was always on my mind" as a Senate pick.
Blagojevich referred to a possible deal involving the Madigans as the "mega deal." He said he directed his deputy governor, Bob Greenlee, to prepare a document containing a legislative wish list that could be presented to Speaker Madigan.
"I love that document," Blagojevich said, noting it included an expansion of state-funded healthcare, passage of a statewide construction bill, and a written promise from Madigan that he would seek no sales or income tax increases.
"I couldn't get any of it done without Michael Madigan unless I found creative ways around him," Blagojevich testified. "But we needed him to do this."
Describing other items on the document, including climate change and poverty reduction initiatives, Blagojevich was warned by Judge James Zagel to read the list "without your campaign speech."
And he would have help making the deal, Blagojevich said. The governor said he had conversations about it with a number of U.S. Senate Democrats, including Nevada's Harry Reid, Illinois' Dick Durbin and New Jersey's Robert Menendez. He said they wanted Lisa Madigan to be appointed, and it was his hope that - should he choose to go through with the deal - "they would be the ones to broker [and] negotiate" it.
Blagojevich has yet to be cross-examined by prosecutors. But they are likely to point out, as they often have, that there was, in fact, no Madigan "deal," because the Madigans were not approached about it.
The former governor and his attorney tried to stay one step ahead of that argument. Blagojevich testified he was trying to "line up everyone I could [in support of the deal] before [making] the ask."