Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 18, 2011

Consultant Offers Suggestions for New Willard Governing Structure

An expert on the operation of airports says forming a local authority with funding by local taxpayers might be one way Willard Airport can cut costs.

Jack Penning, who's with Portland-based Sixel Consulting, is laying out this and other options that don't include the University of Illinois. He made his suggestions Tuesday before the annual meeting of Champaign County's Economic Development Corporation.

Penning said Willard simply doesn't compete well with other nearby airports, largely because it doesn't involve the community, whereas Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington is under the guidance of a local airport authority, and involves local property tax dollars.

"Because of that, there's a lot more community input into how the airport is run, because it's your neighbor running the airport," he said. "The airport here is run by the (U of I) Board of Trustees, which doesn't have single member from Champaign County outside of a student trustee. And so the people who use the airport, the people who live in Champaign County, really have very little say over how it's run."

Penning said in Bloomington, airlines pay about $1.50 per passenger, while they're paying more than $9 a passenger at Willard. He said the big difference is property taxes in Bloomington, as well as the U of I's wages and benefits to those who work at Willard.

Seamus Reilly co-chairs the EDC's airport committee. He said each of the consultant's suggestions offered greater possibilities for Willard.

"It's not so much that one or other governing structures is necessarily superior, but I think what came through was the fact that some of these other airports have a much stronger funding platform," Reilly said. "In other words, that they have money available and resources available to help develop the airport to move it forward."

Penning said the airport also has the option of being made part of the Champaign Urbana Mass Transit District, being operated through the Regional Planning Commission, or Willard could be operated by a private management firm. He didn't endorse one of the plans for Willard.

Penning's final report on Willard should be available for public review in about a month.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 18, 2011

Ethics Panel Extends Investigation of Rep. Jackson

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The House Ethics Committee has extended its investigation of Illinois Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

The committee is investigating whether Jackson or someone acting on his behalf, offered to raise funds for then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in return for an appointment to the Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.

The committee said Tuesday there was no longer a request to defer the case. That request had come from the Justice Department.

Blagojevich, who won two terms as Illinois governor, was convicted in June of a wide range of corruption charges, including trying to sell the Senate seat.

Jackson has acknowledged he was "Senate Candidate A'' in the Blagojevich criminal complaint, one of several candidates whom authorities say the former governor considered for the Senate seat.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 18, 2011

Chicago Mayor Wants to Negotiate on Casino Measure

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he hopes to find common ground with Gov. Pat Quinn on expanding casino gambling, but Quinn says he's not looking to compromise.

Emanuel and Quinn discussed the issue at separate events Tuesday. The two Democrats publicly sniped for months over gambling expansion.

Emanuel wants a casino in Chicago, and he expressed impatience with Quinn's long deliberation over a measure passed by the legislature in May.

Qunn responded by telling Emanuel to back off. On Monday, Quinn laid out a framework for expansion that gave oversight of a Chicago casino to the state Gaming Board, rather than a city casino development committee.

On Tuesday, Quinn stuck to his guns, saying the framework is what he's willing to work with. Emanuel said he's encouraged about a deal.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 17, 2011

Lawmakers Hope for Compromise on Gaming Measure

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)

Three legislators and Danville's mayor are happy to see plans for a casino in the city remain intact after a review by Gov. Pat Quinn.

But Catlin Republican House member Chad Hays said removing slot machines at racetracks from the gaming measure will keep it from passing. He said backing of the bill for many downstate House lawmakers hinged on connections between horse racing and agriculture. Revenues from the racetrack slot machines would have gone toward conservation districts and county fairs.

Hays sad there are still options, including an override of a gubernatorial veto, but he said getting the necessary votes in the Senate is a long shot.

Hays noted that Senate President John Cullerton could introduce a 'trailer bill' to try and accommodate the governor, but he said he believes that won't get the necessary backing without the so-called 'racinos.'

"Being close enough to the process, and knowing the members on the (House) floor, where they are geographically, and what their relationship is to agriculture," Hays said. "I think you would lose a significant number of votes, probably 15 or 16 at least, if the 'racinos' would not be in the bill."

Hays said Quinn also has the option of taking no action once getting the bill over a period of 60 days, too late for any action in the veto session.

Champaign Senator Mike Frerichs said it was good to see Gov. Quinn recognize that Danville made a compelling case for a casino, and put forth some suggestions of his own. But he agrees that Quinn's removal of slot machines at racetracks, will cost a number of votes from downstate lawmakers because of the slot machines' benefit to agriculture.

Frerichs called Quinn's comments a good starting point, but he said a lot of work lies ahead in order to come to a compromise.

"I believe the sponsors acknowleged there may need to be some changes in order to scale back the extent of the expansions," Frerichs said. "I think (Gov. Quinn) has scaled it back so far that the bill will have lost several supporters in the House, downstate members who feel there's probably not a lot left in for downstate in what he's proposing."

Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said he is excited that Quinn has recognized the need for a casino in his city, but he also fears the loss of the slot machines at racetracks and changes to the Chicago casino license could kill the measure. Eisenhauer said he will keep tabs on changes to the bill as legislators prepare to return to Springfield.

"I'll talk to different legislators around the state to get a feel for what resolutions for what might be offered up to find out what discussions are in fact taking place, and is there anything that we can provide that would help in those discussions," Eisenhauer said.

Eisenhauer also said he plans to visit Springfield during the fall veto session, which starts Oct. 25.

The gambling legislation passed the General Assembly in May, but Senate President John Cullerton has been holding on to the measure until Quinn gave details on what he would support.

"We will be sure to include them in the discussions going forward at the idea of trying to come up with an appropriate compromise that can pass both the general assembly and the governor's support," said John Patterson, a spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 17, 2011

Ameren Illinois Says Gas Prices to Remain Steady for Upcoming Winter

Ameren Illinois says its natural gas customers can expect to pay about the same for gas this winter as they did last year.

Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris said they estimate gas prices to continue at their current level. The gas delivered by the utility averages about $0.61 per term last winter --- and Morris said the average this winter should be $0.62 per therm. He said that would continue a pattern of moderate natural gas prices that's been going on for about three years.

"It's pretty much been fueled by sluggish economies, soft worldwide demand for energy in all forms, and then a little more recently, the discovery of tremendous supplies of natural gas in shale formations right here in the United States and Canada," Morris said.

Morris also said that Ameren Illinois has enough natural gas available to meet customer needs even during a tough winter. While Ameren has most of its natural gas supplies hedged or "price-protected" to ensure against market volatility, the price the utility charges for delivering that gas to customers could go up. Morris says their delivery rate has already increased slightly, and could go up again this winter.

"There was a very small increase in the last rate case we had before the Illinois Commerce Commission," Morris said. "There is another rate case before the Commerce Commission now, which will not be decided until January. And I really can't predict what the Commission will do."

If the ICC grants the full rate increase requested by Ameren, Morris said natural gas delivery rates would go up around $4.85 a month for former CIPS customers, and $7.47 a month for former customers of Illinois Power. But Morris said it's more likely that smaller increases would be approved.

Morris said the delivery rate typically makes up about one-third of a customer's natural gas bill, with the rest paying for the gas itself. Morris said Ameren makes its profit on the delivery charge, and simply passes along the cost of the gas itself.

Morris advises customers to visit Ameren's ActOnEnergy.com website to review tips for saving on energy costs. He said customers can enroll in a Budget Billing plan at AmerenIllinois.com to better manage their energy bills.

Categories: Energy
Tags: energy

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 17, 2011

Quinn OK with New Casinos, But Not Other Slot Machine Locations

(With additional Reporting by The Associated Press)

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says he can accept new casinos in Danville, Chicago and other cities. But he is drawing the line at allowing slot machines at racetracks, airports and other locations.

At a news conference Monday morning, the governor discussed his objections to a gambling bill (Senate Bill 744) passed by lawmakers, but not yet sent to him.

Quinn laid out a framework for gambling expansion that includes five new casinos that the legislation calls for, including Chicago, Danville, Rockford and two suburban locations. But he said he can't accept allowing slot machines racetracks, Chicago's two airports and other locations.

"I don't think anybody in Illinois wants 14 new gambling locations --- including the state fair, including our airports," Quinn told reporters. "When people get off a plane from another country or another state, the first thing they see are armed guards next to casinos? I don't think so."

Quinn also wants both suburban locations to be decided by the Illinois Gaming Board --- rejecting the Park City location named in the gambling bill for a new casino in Lake County. Quinn said cities should compete to host a new casino in the western suburbs, as well as another one in southern Cook County.

In addition, the Governor wants to change the rules for communities that don't want to host legal video gaming. Quinn said that with the expansion of gaming in other areas, communities should be able to choose or reject video gaming on an "opt-in," instead of an "opt-out" basis.

Quinn said the gaming bill passed by lawmakers has too many tax breaks and protections for casino owners, and fails to provide sufficient tax revenue for Illinois' education and infrastructure needs. He said the proposed tax structure in the bill would lower tax revenues from casinos, compared to existing tax rules.

Quinn urged lawmakers to craft a new gambling bill and not pursue the one they passed --- because he said he will veto it if it's sent to him.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 17, 2011

Wheldon Fans Leave Tributes at Indianapolis Track

Dozens of fans have left flowers, candles and notes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway gates in memory of two-time Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon.

The makeshift memorial began taking shape within hours after Wheldon was killed Sunday in a massive crash during an IndyCar race in Las Vegas.

Fans continued stopping by the Indianapolis track early Monday, including one that WISH-TV reports left a bottle of milk _ the traditional drink by Indy 500 winners that Wheldon dumped over his head after winning the race in May.

Fan Beckie Jeffrey tells WTHR-TV that Wheldon was a friendly driver who made time to talk with fans, especially children.

Categories: Biography, Sports
Tags: sports, people

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 17, 2011

Cellini Trial Follows the Money

Stuart Levine, the star witness in the government's corruption case against William Cellini, is expected back on the stand Monday.

Levine is giving an insider account of how people who pay attention to state boards that deal with the mundane business of government can make a whole lot of money. He provided the same insights into government when he spent three weeks on the stand in the trial of Tony Rezko, who was a top fundraiser for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Stuart Levine has told jurors how he used his position on obscure state boards to secretly pay himself sham fees. He was on the board of the Teacher's Retirement System, and he said that at Cellini's urging, he embarrassed and forced the resignation of the agency's director and then pushed to install Cellini's choice for a successor. Levine said the moves gave Cellini considerable power over the agency, which then awarded Cellini a $220 million business contract.

Prosecutors say there was nothing illegal about that, but they say, to hold on to their power under Rod Blagojevich, Levine and Cellini tried to extort campaign contributions for the former governor.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - October 16, 2011

Congressional Democrat, Republican Hold Town Hall in Champaign

Republican Congressman Tim Johnson of Urbana took part in an hour-long town hall meeting on Sunday in Champaign with Democratic Congressman Christopher Murphy of Connecticut.

The town hall was meant to demonstrate bipartisanship in Congress, but it is unclear how that will register with voters leading up to the 2012 election.

Murphy is in his third term in Congress, and he is running for the U.S. Senate in Connecticut to replace Joe Lieberman, who is not running for re-election. Murphy said he may not agree with Rep. Johnson on every issue, like the federal health care law, but he said it's important for Democrats and Republicans to find common ground.

"Civility between two members of Congress can lead to civility to a larger public debate," Murphy said. "So, I was thrilled that this meeting was so civil, and it encourages me to put more time into trying to promote that kind of conversation in Washington."

Johnson and Murphy are leaders of the Center Aisle Caucus, which includes Republicans and Democrats who try to show that both parties can come together despite their differences.

Johnson is running for re-election in Illinois' re-drawn 13th Congressional District. He said he is not concerned about the political ramifications that could result because of his efforts to reach across the aisle.

"If cooperation and civility means you lose for re-election, then I'm just going to have to lose for re-election. That's ok. I'm not worried about that," Johnson said.

The roughly 100 people who showed up to the town hall included voters who identify as Independents and Republicans. There were also Democrats there, like 87-year-old Eleanor Ray, who said she plans on supporting Johnson's re-election bid in part because of his willingness to work with Democrats.

"It pleases me very, very much," Ray said. "I think civility is the only path to cooperation in the Congress that's so sorely needed right now."

Some of the topics brought up during the town hall included the war in Afghanistan, the re-authorization of the federal farm bill, and efforts to promote renewable energy.

Johnson said he plans to take part in a similar town hall meeting in Murphy's district in Connecticut.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - October 16, 2011

More ‘Occupy’ Protests in Central Illinois

Hundreds in Springfield and Peoria have joined the protest against corporate greed and economic disparities that began with the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York.

About 300 protesters marched in downtown Springfield on Saturday to join a global day of demonstrations. The Occupy Springfield rally was peaceful and there were no arrests. One protester, 55-year-old Joe Feiden of Petersburg, the State Journal-Register he was at the rally because corporations have too much political influence.

Another 300 people staged a march Saturday in Peoria. The Journal-Star reports the group plans to rally every Saturday and may set up a permanent occupation in a park. The mostly liberal protesters included some supporters of Texas Republican Ron Paul, a favorite of libertarians.

Another demonstration was held in downtown Champaign Saturday, where a group marched from Main Street to West Side Park.

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

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