Illinois Public Media News
Gov. Pat Quinn and Sen. Dick Durbin are applauding the s recommendation of a panel of Illinois lawmakers to close a state prison so that it can be sold to the federal government.
In a statement, the Democrats say that selling Thomson Correctional Center to the U.S. to house Guantanamo Bay detainees shouldn't be a political or partisan issue. They say it should be about "doing what's right for our troops, for our national security and for the people of Illinois.''
The Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability voted 7-4 Wednesday to accept a recommendation to close Thomson.
Only Republicans ... like Bloomington Sen. Bill Brady ... cast "no" votes. Brady, who's running for governor, says Quinn has botched programs to release Illinois prisoners early. He says it shows Illinois needs Thomson to house the state's own inmates. He points to an estimate that shows it may cost 350 million dollars to build a prison like Thomson today.
"But yet, our governor in all the great negotiating skills that he has, indicated he'd be thrilled if he could get 120 to 150 million dollars", said Brady. "This is something we can ill afford to give the federal government. We're not only giving them a way out on terrorists. We're giving them a facility for half of what it would cost them to build today."
Other Republicans on the Commission casting "no" votes were Rep. Patti Bellock, Sen. Mike Murphy and Rep. Raymond Poe. Two Republicans voted for the Thomson prison sale --- Rep. and Co-Chairman Rich Myers and Sen. Dave Syverson. The Commission's five Democrats all voted "yes" --- they are Sen. Mike Frerichs of Champaign, along with Rep. Al Riley, Sen. and Co-Chairman Jeff Schoenburg, Sen. Donne Trotter and Rep. Elaine Nekritz.
The vote by the bipartisan committee is nonbinding, and Quinn already has said he plans to sell the prison. The sale could be completed as early as the spring.
(Additional reporting by Illinois Public Radio)
Work could begin this spring on a new Christie Clinic facility in southwest Champaign. The Champaign City Council endorsed the project at its study session Tuesday night. It will be the first development to go up at the I-57 Curtis Road interchange.
Champaign Council members are welcoming the Christie Clinic project, even though it doesn't quite fit the zoning guidelines being developed for the Curtis Road Interchange area --- guidelines meant to avoid the strip-mall look of the North Prospect shopping district. Despite the discrepancy, council members decided that the Christie project is an important one that will get development started in the area.
But Councilman Tom Bruno says he expects the proposed zoning guidelines to still apply to all future development at the Curtis Road Interchange.
"Because a catalyist is a good idea for the area", says Bruno, "I'm willing to go along with these exceptions. But a future developer would be sorely mistaken if he thought my acquiescence to the Christie project would indicate that this is a starting point for somehow chipping away at the concept we have in mind out here."
Another reason the council supports the project --- Christie officials say that once it's built, they can start work on a major renovation to their downtown Champaign clinic.
The new clinic at the Curtis Road Interchange takes the place of Christie's ill-fated Clearview project, which was planned but never built at I-57 and I-74. Phase One will have 60-thousand square feet of floor space --- with future expansions planned up to 200-thousand square feet.
The Champaign City Council will take a final vote on an annexation agreement for the new Christie Clinic site next month.
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.
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