Illinois Public Media News
About 11-thousand University of Illinois employees will have to take four unpaid days off work between now and the middle of May.
U of I administrators say furlough days have become unavoidable as the university faces a 440 million dollar shortfall in state funding. Administrators say the state has given the U of I only seven percent of the support it expected from this year's budget.
Interim president Stanley Ikenberry says no layoffs have been ordered, but departments are being asked to consider them because of a grim immediate future.
"Next year is not any more comforting," Ikenberry said. "So I think until we see the state leadership -- the governor, the leaders and members of the General Assembly, and frankly the citizens of the state -- rallying around a long term solution, I think we're going to be dealing with a mounting financial crisis."
Ikenberry believes the state will need to cut state spending and increase taxes to dig itself out of its budget deficit.
Chief financial officer Walter Knorr says the U of I has borrowed millions of dollars from its own funds - he says money from tuition, federal support and private giving have also kept the university going. "And indeed it's these other areas of the university that are giving us the liquidity that we require to be able to cope with the shortfall in funding from the state," Knorr said.
The four-day furloughs announced today do not affect civil service employees, but Knorr says their bargaining groups will be asked to put similar actions into their contracts. About 100 top administrators will take ten furlough days over the next five months.
Gov. Pat Quinn has named Chicago Alderman Manny Flores as the new chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission.
Quinn announced the appointment Monday at a news conference in Chicago, calling Flores hard working and diligent. The governor says Flores will have a "strong voice'' for consumers and focus on green initiatives. The ICC determines utility rates in Illinois.
Flores says he's humbled and honored by the appointment, and he calls it a "new challenge.'' Flores replaces Charles Box, whose term was to expire in January 2009. Box is the former mayor of Rockford.
The consumer advocacy group Citizens Utility Board calls Flores' appointment "good news'' and say he's "proven to be a strong, independent, and fair voice for consumers.
December was another month of slow economic improvement for Illinois --- according to the University of Illinois Flash Index.
The Flash Index increased by a fifth of a point, to 91.2 in December, from November's 90.0. U of I Economist Fred Giertz says the Index has been gradually going up since hitting a low of 90 in September.
"There has been now three months of small increases", says Giertz. "So it's good news in a very limited sense --- good news in the sense that things aren't getting worse, but it doesn't necessarily mean there's a lot of improvement."
Giertz says he thinks slow economic growth will continue in Illinois, provided there are no unforeseen reversals, but says it will take a couple of years for the Flash Index to reach 100, which would indicate the start of actual economic growth.
"I think the evidence suggests that we are on the path to recovery", says Giertz. "But the recovery's going to be pretty slow. But there's not guarantee about that. There could be some unforeseen circumstance or some reversal. We've certainly seen that in the last couple of years."
Giertz says the best-case scenario would be a healthier financial sector combining with renewed public confidence in the economy to create a snowball effect. But he thinks gradual sluggish improvements are more likely.
The Flash Index is based on corporate, personal income and sales tax receipts in Illinois. Despite the recent improvement, all three categories are down from a year ago.
More than 200 grade school students in Champaign are learning their way around a new building.
Unit 4 bid farewell to Booker T. Washington Elementary school before the holidays. Its students, teachers, and staff will spend the next year and a half in the Columbia Center while the Washington building is demolished and replaced.
It's a time of mixed emotions for 3rd grade teacher Julie Peoples, who's in her 21st year with Washington Elementary. She's sad to see the building go, but she also serves on a committee that will oversee the new Washington's transition to a magnet school program. Peoples notes her current students will be first to graduate from that new school:
"They want to know when the wrecking ball is going to tear down the old school, and I keep saying, 'Drive by.' I don't even have a date yet," Peoples said. "People have even been calling me -- people in the community, ex-parents -- wanting to know how they can get a brick. I talked with the principal and she said we're going to start selling bricks and make some money for the school. So it's kind of exciting."
Peoples says she can't say enough about district staff that helped with the transition over the holiday break.
Unit 4's Columbia Center was built in 1903 and has seen five additions added since then, the most recent one built in 1965. It's been used as an elementary school, middle school, and most recently for alternative education.
A semi-trailer carrying nearly 200 hogs overturned on an interstate west of Champaign Monday, blocking traffic for several hours. The driver of the semi was unhurt. But an estimated 10 to 12 percent of the hogs were killed, including about a half-dozen who had to be euthanized at the scene, due to their injuries.
That work was done by veterinarians and students from the University Of Illinois College Of Veterinary Medicine, who were called to the scene by state police to help out.
Dr. Kris Clement of the U of I Vet-Med teaching hospital was one of those called to help with the injured hogs. She says that fortunately, traffic accidents involving livestock trucks happen rarely. But Clements says the accident gave her students valuable experience - including a lesson about when to step into an accident scene.
"Our role didn't start until the survivors got off the trailer because that's the biggest thing -- you've got to get the uninjured ones off the trailer so they can be taken away and you actually have the room to work with the injured ones," Clement said. "Our instinct is to want to help right away, but we can actually get in the way."
The semi overturned as it was turning off of westbound I-74 onto southbound I-57. All lanes and ramps were opened to traffic after the truck and the uninjured hogs were removed.
Candidates are taking to the Web to connect with Illinois voters more than ever. A University of Illinois researcher is studying how much good it will do them in the upcoming primary election.
There are exceptions - mainly third party candidates without primary competition. But by and large, most candidates running for statewide office have a Web presence, Republicans a bit more so than Democrats. According to Michael Cheney, a fellow at the U of I's Institute of Government and Public Affairs, all 27 GOP candidates running statewide have a Web site compared with 84% of the Democrats.
Social media is common for campaigns too. Cheney says half of all statewide candidates have Twitter accounts, and 63 percent are on Facebook. But Cheney says the payback for online efforts is so far low. "A good part of that may be just to the number of candidates in each of the various contests, creating such clutter that it's really hard," Cheney said. "If you wanted to go out and check the Facebook pages for every candidate, you'd probably tire after you got about halfway through the list."
Cheney predicts an uptick in voters' online activity after the February 2 primary, when they can focus on the nominees.
New York's attorney general says he'll join the legal effort to keep Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes because the species could devastate the fishing industry and the environment.
Andrew Cuomo said he'll file a brief in U.S. Supreme Court today supporting Michigan's request to sever a century-old Chicago canal connecting Lake Michigan and the Mississippi water basin. Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio also are supporting the request. Illinois' attorney general's office is reviewing the suit. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago has said that closing the canal would not prevent the carp from migrating. Asian carp can grow to be 100 pounds and can consume massive quantities of plankton, the base of the Great Lakes food chain.
2009 was the safest year on Illinois roadways since 1921, when there were much fewer cars and trucks on the roads - and many of today's roads didn't even exist.
The state department of transportation says fewer than one thousand people died in vehicle crashes last year, more than a hundred fewer than in 2008. Transportation officials believe a big factor in the drop in traffic deaths is increased seat belt use - usage reached 93 percent in 2009, the highest ever. In the meantime, police have held special patrols to reduce some of the other major causes of traffic fatalities, including drunk driving, improper lane usage, speeding and following too closely.
A chain of chicken restaurants that became noted due to the 1993 slayings of seven employees at one of its suburban Chicago stores has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Brown's Chicken & Pasta filed on Tuesday ... two months after a DuPage County judge ordered the company to pay more than $800,000 to a former employee and minority shareholder. An attorney for the company says the company could not afford to pay the judgment.
Brown's has 39 stores in the Chicago area. The company once had as many as 150 stores, but the numbers have been dwindling since the slayings of the workers in Palatine.
The restaurants will remain open during the reorganization.
Governor Pat Quinn says a secret policy change that allowed some well-behaved criminals to leave prison after fewer than three weeks behind bars was a mistake. But he says given the state's budget woes, Illinois' prison system has been forced to economize.
The governor called the accelerated early release of inmates ... some of whom were violent offenders ... "bad judgment." And Quinn says he never gave Corrections Director Michael Randle the authority to do it.
Yet Quinn also seemed to downplay the gravity of the situation. He says each of the 1700 inmates released early on meritorious good time would have been out of prison by the end of January anyway.
"We should not in any way, I think, miss the point that there are literally thousands of people coming into our prison system for a very short period of time", said Quinn.
Quinn says that because the state corrections budget was slashed, Randle was put in the challenging position of finding savings. The governor says Randle will keep his job as director, but he has terminated the program. His opponent in the Democratic primary race for governor, Comptroller Dan Hynes, calls Quinn's acknowledgment "inadequate" and "lame.
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