Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 09, 2011

State Farm to Close Champaign Office

State Farm Insurance says it will close two-dozen field offices over the next year in three states, including one in Champaign on West Park Court that employs 20 people.

It is part of an effort to save the company $8 million over the next five years. State Farm did a year-long study leading up to the consolidation plan, and found it could save money by centralizing technology while remaining efficient.

State Farm spokeswoman Missy Lundberg said administrative staff will consolidate to Indianapolis, but she said most employees will not be affected.

"A lot of those 13 hundred employees are what we call mobile claim workers, and they will be staying in those communities," she said. "What that means is that they will maybe work out of their home, maybe work out of a car, maybe work out of an agent's office."

The Bloomington-based company says it hopes to retain all the affected employees.

In addition to the State Farm office in Champaign closing, Illinois branches affected by the consolidation are in Marion, Collinsville, Springfield, Peoria, Moline, Rockford, Elmhurst, Tinley Park, and Arlington Heights.

Offices in Michigan and Indiana will also close.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 09, 2011

Man Gets 28 years in Springfield Bomb Plot

A man accused of plotting to blow up a federal courthouse in Springfield has pleaded guilty.

Michael C. Finton was immediately sentenced today to serve 28 years in prison.

Finton, who is also known as "Talib Islam," was arrested in September 2009. Authorities said he repeatedly met with an undercover government operative he thought was a member of Al Qaida.

Finton parked a van loaded with fake explosives outside the federal courthouse and then made a cell phone call that he thought would trigger an explosion.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 09, 2011

Prussing Proposes “Cautious” 2012 Budget Plan for Urbana

Urbana City Council members will get their first look at their May 16th meeting at a $48.3 million budget plan for the fiscal year starting July 1st.

At a news conference the previous Monday, Mayor Laurel Prussing says spending in her F-Y 2012 budget is nearly 5% greater than in the current year.

Urbana is seeing a slow recovery in sales and property tax revenues, plus money from state highway grants and the new tax on motor fuel, but Prussing said her budget would also dip further into the city's General Reserve Fund. The mayor says that fund should ideally be kept at around $3 million, but the 2012 budget plan would bring it down below $100,000 by next summer.

"The problem is that the revenues are not as great as of the expenditures," Prussing said. "So that's why we had to use our reserves. Obviously you can't do that forever. But I think that's what you use your reserves for, when you're going through a drop in your revenues, and you need to maintain your services."

City Comptroller Ron Eldridge said part of the challenge is that Urbana's modest growth in tax revenues doesn't compare to the drop in revenues it saw with the onset of the recession three years ago.

"Our revenue (growth) is in pretty much what I would call our normal trend, in that 3-4% range," Eldridge said. "The difficulty is that the hole was so deep that ... our revenues fell back to the level they were four to five years ago. We have such a large hole to dig our way out of it, it's going to be difficult to dig our way out of that at 3-4% a year, even though those are normal revenues."

Mayor Prussing said she wants to avoid laying off city staff. To do that, 11 vacant positions would not be filled next year under the budget plan, and wages and salaries would be frozen --- although a police contract is still being negotiated. Urbana's two big road projects for next year would be improvements to Airport Road east of Cunningham ... and Philo Road south of Windsor. The city would also borrow money to make improvements to Boneyard Creek in downtown Urbana.

The Urbana City Council will hold study sessions on the proposed budget on two Mondays, May 16th and May 23rd. A public hearing on the Urbana city budget is scheduled for Monday, June 6th in City Council chambers.

Mayor Prussing said she is also seeking questions or comments on the budget via email at llprussing@urbanaillinois.us; via phone at 217-384-2456 and by mail at 400 S. Vince Street, Urbana IL 61801.

CORRECTION: This story originally stated that the budget would be presented at the Monday, May 9th Urbana City Council study session. Instead, the presentation will be made on May 16th.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 09, 2011

Chicago Lands Millions for High Speed Rail Projects to St. Louis and Detroit

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Monday that it's giving Amtrak $404 million to expand high-speed rail service in the Midwest.

The money will go toward making upgrades along the Chicago-St. Louis corridor and to constructing new segments of 110 mph track between Chicago and Detroit.

Once completed, the two projects are expected to reduce travel times and improve safety.

The Chicago-to-Detroit enhancements are expected to shave 30 minutes off of passenger travel times between the two destinations, and the government claims the construction phase of the project will create 1,000 jobs.

The money was part of $2 billion originally earmarked for high-speed rail links between Tampa and Orlando, Florida.

But Florida Governor Rick Scott canceled the project earlier this year, making the money available to be used in other parts of the nation.

The Department of Transportation targeted rail projects in 15 states to receive the additional funds. 24 states, the District of Columbia and Amtrak had all applied for the dollars.

The largest share of the money - nearly $800 million - will be used to upgrade train speeds from 135 mph to 160 mph on critical segments of the heavily traveled Northeast corridor.

"The investments we're making today will help states across the country create jobs, spur economic development and boost manufacturing in their communities," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Advocates of high-speed rail are scheduled to go to the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield on May 19th to lobby state officials to support enhanced passenger rail service in the state.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 09, 2011

Blagojevich Defense Walks a Fine Line in Cross Examination

This morning defense attorneys for Rod Blagojevich are expected to cross examine the first major witness in the former governor's retrial.

John Harris was Blagojevich's chief of staff and he spent three days on the stand last week testifying for prosecutors. He was caught on federal wiretaps advising Blagojevich on how to use a senate seat appointment to enrich himself.

Harris hoped Blagojevich could become a member of Obama's cabinet and in exchange Blagojevich would appoint anyone to the Senate that Obama wanted.

Harris is caught on one phone call talking to another Blagojevich adviser about their attempts to get that offer to Obama's people.

"We wanted our ask to be reasonable and rather than make it look like some sort of selfish grab for a quid pro quo," Harris said. "We had to lay the groundwork to show that we're going to be stuck in the mud here."

Harris was an attorney and he has pleaded guilty in the case and is cooperating with prosecutors.

In their cross examination, Blagojevich's defense team could point out that Harris came up with many of the illegal schemes himself but that would be an admission that the schemes were indeed illegal. Instead they will probably focus on the idea that it was all just talk and no crimes were ever committed.

(Photo by Robert Wildeboer/IPR)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 09, 2011

Report Finds Quinn’s Proposed Budget Unbalanced

A new report by a fiscal watchdog group shows Illinois Governor Pat Quinn's proposed budget is unbalanced by more than $2 billion.

The report by the Civic Federation found Quinn overestimated some of the money the state is bringing in, specifically when it comes to income taxes.

Quinn's proposed budget estimates Illinois raised $7 billion when it increased the personal income tax rate earlier this year, but the Civic Federation's report finds Quinn's budget for next year does not set aside enough money for income tax refunds. It's about $1 billion short.

Legislators approved the tax increase in January to help balance the state's $13 billion deficit. Quinn also wants to borrow money to pay bills and temporarily suspend some state funding to local governments.

Recently, Illinois' comptroller announced that by her count, Illinois' budget is still some $8 billion out of whack.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 07, 2011

Planned Parenthood Bill Reaches Daniels’ Desk

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has a stack of bills on his desk, but the most controversial he's likely to sign is House Bill 1210.

That one reached Daniels' office late Friday afternoon.

The bill cuts $3 million in federal funding to Planned Parenthood of Indiana. The money's from the federal government and is supposed to help low-income women get reproductive services. But Planned Parenthood also provides abortions, something Daniels opposes.

Daniels has already said he intends to sign the bill. He says Hoosier women will still be able to get reproductive health care services from other providers.

The head of Planned Parenthood in Indiana says her agency will sue to restore the funding, but will wait until Daniels signs the bill. That could come at anytime.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 06, 2011

Sen. Lugar Says America Must Engage Pakistan

U.S. Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana says the U.S. must continue to deal with Pakistan despite the fact that relations between the two countries are strained following the death of Osama bin Laden.

"Distancing ourselves from Pakistan would be unwise and extremely dangerous," said Lugar.

Lugar's comments came during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held Thursday.

The hearing dealt specifically with the U.S. policy toward Pakistan. Lugar, the committee's ranking Republican, said he wants to understand whether Pakistani officials knew bin Laden was hiding in the military town of Abbottabad.

He told Senators and experts at the hearing that America's trust in Pakistan has been shaken, but the relationship must continue.

To stop, he said, would "weaken our intelligence gathering. Further complicate military operations in Afghanistan. In short, Pakistan is a strategically vital country which we must engage for our own national security."

Committee chair Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, echoed Lugar's statements, saying America should not rush into a situation that hurts its interests.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 06, 2011

Evacuated Cairo Residents Allowed to Check Property

Residents of flood-stricken Cairo were allowed to visit their properties Friday as a mandatory evacuation of the southern Illinois city remained in effect.

Residents could check on property, drop off or pick up items and check pets, said Cairo police chief Gary Hankins. They can't spend the night and the mandatory evacuation order from April 30 continues open-ended, he said.

Cairo is near the confluence of Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Most of the town's 2,800 residents left when the mayor ordered the evacuation, fearing the pressure from the high water in the Ohio River would burst the local flood wall and levees.

"The rivers are still at near-record highs," Hankins said. "It's just still not safe."

On Thursday, the Army Corps of Engineers completed its third and final explosion at the Birds Point levee in southeast Missouri. The Corps intentionally breached the levee along the Mississippi River to relieve pressure on the floodwall at Cairo and elsewhere nearby.

That initial blast allowed water into 130,000 acres of Missouri farmland. About 100 homes were evacuated.

Meanwhile a voluntary evacuation remained in place at Metropolis, on the Ohio River across from Paducah, Ky.

Water levels declined Friday on the Mississippi and Wabash Rivers, but were holding or slightly higher on the Ohio River, said Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson.

"We actually already are looking at trying to get in with our damage assistance teams," Thompson said. "With flooding you really have to wait until the water goes down."

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Categories: Community, Environment

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 06, 2011

Urbana Market at the Square Set to Open

One of central Illinois' oldest and largest farmers' markets starts its new season Saturday morning, May 7th.

The Market-at-the-Square in downtown Urbana promises over 160 vendors selling everything from fresh produce to arts and crafts. Market director Lisa Bralts-Kelly says attendance averages about 7,000 visitors each week.

Not all produce is available at farmers markets in the month of May, and Market-at-the-Square is no exception. But Bralts-Kelly saod there are some things shoppers can always count on at this time of year.

"You'll have various lettuces, spinach, green onions, fresh-cut herbs that are OK in cool weather, all of those things," Bralts-Kelly said. "But then we have asparagus, which is really the star of the show. And the season for asparagus started a couple of weeks ago, so we'll have it at the Market this weekend. And then, as that starts to wane, the strawberries will start to come on."

One thing that will NOT be at Market-at-the-Square this year is pets and other animals.They're barred from the Market under a new policy. Bralts-Kelly said that they've come to realize that the busy outdoor market is not a good setting for pets.

"We just witnessed many interactions between, not just dogs and people, but also dogs and other dogs," she said. "And we did field a lot of complaints from patrons about animals --- whether it was for sanitation reasons, or crowding, noise, leashes. We've been compiling all this feedback for years, and we decided that this year was probably the time to do it."

Bralts-Kelly said pets are already banned at the Taste of Champaign-Urbana, and the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival --- making Market-at-the-Square the last big outdoor food event in the area to enact such a policy. Service animals will still be welcome, and community groups registered as "animal-related" can also have animals at their booths.

Urbana's Market-at-the-Square is a city-run event that runs Saturday mornings, now through November 5th, at Lincoln Square in downtown Urbana. It will be joined by another area farmer's market next month --- Champaign's North First Street will host its farmers market on Thursday afternoons, starting June 9th.


Page 616 of 830 pages ‹ First  < 614 615 616 617 618 >  Last ›