Illinois Public Media News
Decatur has become the latest Illinois community to benefit from an update to more than 20-year old telecommunications law.
Governor Pat Quinn was in the city Monday, announcing it now has access to AT&T's super-fast mobile broadband network. Craig Coil is the President of the Decatur and Macon County Economic Development Corporation. He says the city has been behind the curve in luring in new technology, particularly for the business community - and that it's safe to assume to the announcement will lead to new jobs in Decatur. Earlier this month, the Governor signed off on a plan that updates a 1985 law, giving phone companies more flexibility to expand service. The measure allows the companies to change pricing and package deals without having to wait for approval from the Illinois Commerce Commission.
Coil says the changes are critical as everyone becomes more mobile. "The day of the land line is guess is, while not gone, certainly diminished over what it had been in past years," said Coil. "Our ability to take advantage of these techologies continues to be a critical factor, along with the ongoing ability of our community to communicate globally and more efficiently and more effectively, so it's a positive for everybody."
Last week, AT&T announced plans to add more than 80 cell sites in Illinois this year, along with the upgrade of 300 other sites. The company has spent more than a billion dollars to bring the 3G broadband network to Illinois.
As one University of Illinois report released last week looked at potential cost savings, another sought out ways to bring in money.
The chair of the committee looking at revenue generation says it was important to investigate ways to improve the Urbana campus' financial situation without cuts. College of Education Dean Mary Kalintzas says it will take a shift in the university's thinking to find income sources outside state tax money.
"We have a public purpose, we do research, we do teaching," Kalintzas said. "But we have intellectual capital that sometimes faculty capitalize on and commercialize, or other people take on and commercialize. But we've been so focused on breakthrough research and teaching that we have in the past thought that it's not our job, or it's an extra job, to take on the commercialization of the knowledge that we generate."
Kalintzas says it may take changes in state law to let the U of I get more return from its intellectual property. She says loosening those state-imposed limits may also help jump-start an online education program after the ill-fated Global Campus project. At the top of the committee's list of recommendations is an increase in out-of-state student enrollment while keeping the number of in-state U of I students level.
Republican candidate for governor Bill Brady says the minimum wage in Illinois is too high to be competitive and it should match the federal rate.
But Brady stopped short Friday of saying he would roll back the state wage... which will go to $8.25 an hour July 1... if elected in November. The state senator from Bloomington says the federal wage of $7.25 should be uniform across the nation so that states with lower rates than Illinois' don't steal jobs away. A Democratic-controlled Legislature and governor adopted a four-year process that upped the state wage each year. This year's bump is the final step.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn said earlier this week he "fought hard to increase the minimum wage in our state.
Once a year for the last 20 years, a park in Champaign becomes a kind of launching pad.
This year, the Great Annual Rocket Launch takes on the theme of 'The Year We Make Contact' - since it is 2010. Awards will include best Science Fiction or Fantasy Rocket and Best Flying Saucer Flight.
Jonathan Sivier with the group Central Illinois Aerospace says there's no telling how complex some of the amateur spacecraft will be. But he says there could be a wide variety of designs this year. "Some things that look like something from a movie or TV show or something like that." said Sivier. "We have a secondary theme of flying saucers, and then every year we have - 'what's the most impressive flight of the day?' 'what's best the best looking rocket of the day?'... it's all very arbitrary." Sivier says the projects vary, but adds he's amazed what some can do compared to when the group started in the early 90's. "There are some little bitty video cameras that are very tiny, but get really good results from their rockets," said Sivier. "And the variety of motors that are available for rockets these days is quite wide."
Sivier and some friends started Central Illinois Aerospace when they were students at Mahomet-Seymour High School. It now has more than 40 regular members, but he says many more come out for the annual rocket launch. It's from 10 to 4 Saturday in Dodds Park, and includes a potluck dinner.
A center that helps immigrants and refugees in Champaign County is facing funding shortfalls and may be forced to close. Shelley Smithson's report is part of the "CU Citizen Access" project.
22 Champaign County union employees would take unpaid furlough days to help keep the county in the black --- under an agreement that the County Board ratified Thursday night.
he 22 are all members of AFSCME Local 900, which represents about 150 county employees paid by the county's General Fund. County Administrator Deb Busey says they only needed furlough days for a few of the union employees, as part of mid-year budget cuts approved by the county board last month.
"Because the midyear cuts we did that led to these furlough days were done at the department level", explains Busey. "And only six of the departments needed to use furlough days, as part of their solution for the cuts that they had to make."
The departments using furlough days include Administrative Services, the Auditor, the State's Attorney, the Juvenile Detention Center and Emergency Management. The furloughs will range from four hours to three days in length.
Members of AFSCME Local 900 will vote on the furlough agreement next week. If the agreement is ratified, the 22 AFSCME workers will join 57 non-union employees who also face furlough days over the next few months. Busey says Champaign County is also trying to negotiate furlough days for 48 Fraternal Order of Police union members in the county court system.
An advisory referendum to reduce the size of the Champaign County Board will be on the ballot this November. County Board members voted 21 to 4 Thursday night to put the question before the voters.
Few county board members --- even those against shrinking the board's size ---- wanted to be seen as denying voters the chance to weigh in on the matter. One who did vote no was Democrat Alan Kurtz. He says cutting the county board from its current 27 seats down to 22 would hurt the level of diversity among board members.
"I enjoy the diversity on the board", Kurtz told his fellow board members, "the rural representation, the minority representation, the expertise, and experience of our board members, who all bring something to the table."
But others, like Republican Alan Nudo, say a smaller county board would be more accountable, and retaining multi-member districts would help it stay diverse.
"With 27 members, it's a little bit too much", says Nudo. "I think 22 will give it the diversity that we need, that many people want. And I think the biggest issue for me is that compact and contiguous districts will produce the diversity that we want to get."
The proposed county board reduction is a compromise for some members, who wanted an even smaller board, or preferred single-member districts. Democrat Brendan McGinty first proposed the county board reduction, along with Republican Greg Knott. McGinty says the current county board is "dysfunctional", and admits he'd like the reduction to go further.
"I'd love for the board to be much smaller", says McGinty, "but I'm willing to compromise, because this is a good step. It might be baby steps, but this will create, in my opinion, more accountability. This is a good thing to do."
State law says that the county board reduction referendum must be non-binding, and that only a local county board can officially decide how many members it should have.
The rain in recent days has kept many farmers in Central Illinois from wrapping up their planting.
Illinois Farm Bureau spokesman John Hawkins says spring temperatures allowed farmers to get all their corn and some soybeans in, but have been on hold for several days since. And he says much of the corn crop near creeks or in low-lying areas essentially drowned from all the rainfall, and can't be re-planted at this point. Hawkins says Interstates 74 and 72 corridor saw the heaviest rainfall, particularly west of Springfield and Peoria, where it was 4 times above normal.
But he says a dry spell wouldn't be the best solution either. "Should the rains immediately stop, and we go to drier weather, a lot of these crops are going to be impacted by the heat and humidity because the root systems are so shallow," said Hawkins. "So if the ground dries out too quickly, we may have just as many problems as if the rains continue." Hawkins also says the term 'green snap' is a common problem in places that don't see heavy rains, but have wind speeds strong enough to basically break a quick-growing corn stalk right above the ground. "It's where the plant grows so fast, that when a strong wind hits it, it just snaps it off right above the ground." said Hawkins. "That's a total loss for the farmer."
Dick Miller, a farmer in in the Champaign County community of Philo, says his biggest concern is crop disease, since the rain has kept him from spraying his more than 300 acres of soybeans. University of Illinois researchers indicate the number of planting days for the region the past three years has been well below normal.
A former administrator and researcher at Carle Foundation Hospital has settled her lawsuit against the Urbana firm.
Suzanne Stratton was Carle's vice president for research and had worked on breast cancer at the hospital's Cancer Center before she was fired in November of 2008.
Stratton charged that Carle had violated federal whistleblower laws by retaliating against her. Stratton had brought up allegations that Carle violated laws protecting human research subjects in its cancer studies.
Last week a federal judge approved both sides' agreement to settle the lawsuit with prejudice - that means Stratton won't be able to file another case on the same claim.
Carle spokeswoman Jennifer Hendricks Kauffman would not disclose any other terms of the agreement - in the suit, Stratton had sought to be reinstated and receive financial damages. Neither Stratton nor her attorney could be reached for comment.
Information Technology could be the first area at the University of Illinois to see some cost reductions under a 3-year plan to reduce expenses by about $60 million.
Former U of I administrator Craig Bazzani co-chaired the Administrative Review and Restructuring Working Group. He says Information Technology, costing about $300 million annually, brought the most obvious concerns. Bazzani says only a third of that supports central computing operations on the U of I's three campuses, as well as the administration and university hospital. He says that leaves a lot of opportunities for consolidation among data centers... potentially saving on equipment, energy costs, space... and personnel. "If we can become more system-itized in renewing all our desktop equipment at essentially a scheduled basis, we made an estimate for example we might be able to reduce 50 people who simply would not be needed to support the maintenance on desktops," said Bazzani. "So I.T. is one area I would point to for lots of opportunities for consolidation - a fresh look at new technology."
Bazzani's group said the school could save about $18 million in information technology functions. Another targeted area of the review is administration. Bazzani suggests reductions in the number of vice chancellors and assistants, saying the the three campuses need as many as are necessary, but as few as possible. "It's unimaginable that we would ask faculty and students to do more before we really have an opportunity to really deal with handling administrative costs in a better way," said Bazzani. "That was a clear signal from the president and the chancellors directly that we order and demonstrate things in a way to the academy that they feel comfortable before tuition goes up another nickel that we address some of these other problems."
Bazzani says it's often difficult for administrators to do their own internal review, but notes the U of I will need some outside help to deal with changes in the state's pension laws and how they affect human resources. "But to create a blueprint, it was our judgment that we know our culture best, we have an enormous number of content experts inside the university, many talented creative faculty and staff, and gave them the opportunity to step back in a very independent way, a very unbrideled way, to give us the best professional advice about where we see things moving in the next five years."
And he says while his panel is respectful of the academic differences between each U of I campus, members want to find ways to make administrators more compatible between the three cities. U of I Interim President Stanley Ikenberry will lead an implementation team to begin considering these and other changes. Bazzani says administration is moving quickly on the plan - and savings could be seen in as soon as two years.
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