Illinois Public Media News
The tax cut deal worked out by President Obama and Senate Republicans includes a one-year extension of tax credits for ethanol --- although at 36 cents a gallon, which is down nine cents from the existing 45-cent tax credit set to run out Dec. 31st.
A spokesman for Illinois Congressman Tim Johnson, Phil Bloomer, said the one-year extension is shorter than what the Urbana Republican would prefer. Instead, Johnson said he wants a permanent extension of the tax credits.
"If you take these away, as it seems to indicate at this point," Bloomer said. "I think that would have severe consequences for farm states, for central Illinois and the entire Midwest."
But even a one-year extension of the the ethanol tax credit, even at a lower rate, would be good news to Illinois Corn Growers Association Board President Jim Reed. Reed said the tax credit has been key to making ethanol available to consumers, but he said it is time to look for a different way to encourage ethanol production, and an extension would give the industry time to do that.
"By it being extended a year," Reed said. "That really gives us the opportunity to stand back and think about what we can do to increase access to ethanol and make it more available to the consumer, and really do what we can help us limit that importation of the foreign oil."
But Clark Bullard with the Prairie Rivers Network said he does not care for the proposed extension of ethanol tax credits. The U of I Engineering professor said so much of the corn crop goes to making ethanol that corn prices are up, leading to higher food prices and environmental abuses.
"It has given farmers tremendous incentives to clear the last little strip of wildlife habitat, and ... bring highly erodible land into production, just to get more acres of corn at this higher price," Bullard said.
Bullard said even if the ethanol tax credit was dropped, federal mandates for ethanol use would still keep production up to a certain level. He supports further research into ethanol made from ethanol made from grasses or wood chips as an alternative to corn.
The search for a site in Champaign to house a new high school continued Tuesday night in the second public forum with members of the Champaign school board.
The Unit 4 School District is considering seven spots in the city to build the new school to accommodate a growing student population and expand educational resources. The potential sites includes four plots of land near the north end of Prospect Avenue. Two are west of First Street and south of Windsor Avenue, and one is west of I-57 in Northwest Champaign.
The project, which aims to replace Central High School, would be funded with more than three million dollars in facilities sales tax money coupled with a tax referendum of at least $50 million dollars that would have to be approved by voters.
Jamar Brown's 9-year-old son is poised to one day attend Central High. Brown said with an influx of students filling up the school's classrooms, he is worried about the quality of education.
"Yes, the classes should be mixed, but just when you have 30 students, it's very hard for the teacher to effectively teach all of them," Brown said.
Brown said he is considering sending his son to a private high school unless a larger public school is built in the district. School Board President Dave Tomlinson said the district does not intend to eliminate any of the seven prospective sites from its list just yet. He also said that if plans for a new school go forward, Central High will not be torn down.
"There's never even been a discussion about we're going to get rid of that as a Unit 4 building," Tomlinson said. "We're going to build a new high school, and we're going to re-use the Central High School facility as something else for the district."
Questions about the project can be e-mailed to CentralComments@ChampaignSchools.org.
(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)
University of Illinois President Michael Hogan has tapped a physics professor to head up the search for new Urbana chancellor.
Doug Beck was also recommended by the campus Senate as part of an online campus poll. He will be working with eight other faculty members, three students, a dean and academic professional. The rest of the committee will be chosen next week. U of I leaders hope to wrap up the process of replacing interim Chancellor Robert Easter by May, well in advance of the next academic year. The interim Chancellor and vice president replaced Richard Herman, who stepped down in Oct. 2009 after an admissions scandal. Beck said whoever is named to the post needs to have a passion for everything the Urbana campus stands for.
"Champion all the great things that happen on this campus, from education to research, so that's the kind of person we're going to be looking for," Beck said. "My role as committee chair, of course, is to try to take the best advantage of the people that are going to be on the committee. We're really going to be looking for the involvement of all the stakeholders here - all the parts of our community on campus... the students, the staff, the academic professionals, faculty, and the administration."
Beck said he hopes to speak with President Hogan about the job description soon. Since the search committee is not yet finalized, and students have final exams next week, Beck says it is unlikely the committee will complete much of its work before the semester break.
Eric Jakobsson was sworn in Monday night as alderman of Urbana's second ward.
Jakobsson, who is married to State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana), replaces former council member David Gehrig. Gehrig resigned from the seat in November citing the work overload. Mayor Laurel Prussing said she appointed Jakobsson, a former University of Illinois biology professor, because of his honesty and ability to make sound decisions.
"Well, I've known him for many years," Prussing said. "I think he's an individual with very high integrity, and what I was looking for with a council member is someone who would have very balanced approach to things, not jump to conclusions, but be willing to listen to people and ask good questions."
Jakobsson said he is ready to get to work on issues like historic preservation and the prospects of setting up a wind farm located outside the city on the University of Illinois campus in South Farms.
"One of the things that I welcome about it is the opportunity to be more fully engaged with the community," Jakobsson said.
At his first council meeting as an elected official Monday night, Jakobsson heard a spirited debate about the proposal for setting up the wind farm. While the project would not be based within Urbana, it would be close enough where city officials can enforce a zoning ordinance. The project has an estimated budget of about $4.5 million dollars, but supporters of the plan raised doubts over whether it would be economically feasible to construct three wind turbines as originally proposed.
Groups touting the plan, including the U of I's Students for Environmental Concerns, shared their voice of support for the project's environmental benefits while property owners raised concerns about the proximity of the wind turbines to their land.
A $2 million grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation would help set up the wind turbines, but that grant is slated to expire in May, leaving less time to make last minute changes to the project. Jakobsson said the city wants to see this project become a reality, but he said officials need to explore its impact on the entire community, including residential areas where noise pollution could become a big problem as a result of the wind turbines.
"When the city is given responsibility over an area, the city can't neglect that and the city won't, I'm sure," he said.
Jakobsson plans to stay on the council on a more permanent basis, which is why he is running in next year's city council race against Brian Dolinar of the Independent Media Center. Since both candidates are Democrats, a Feb. 22 primary will determine whose name appears on the ballot.
Democrat Pius Weibel will head the Champaign County Board for another two years.
He and Democrat Tom Betz were re-elected as chair and vice chair on party-line votes of 14 to 12 Monday night, besting Republican nominees Alan Nudo and Jonathan Schroeder. One member, Democrat Geraldo Rosales, was absent. Weibel said the keeping the budget tight as possible remains the top priority, and he said the mere size of the board, 27 members, gives off the impression that things are not being accomplished.
"We've gotten many things done," Weibel said. "We've built new buildings, we've changed some old buildings into new things. We've changed structure. We've done a lot of things. I think the problem is because we have so many people, people think with wll these voices, that's why we're dysfunctional - like a big family vs. a small family."
Weibel said he expects the county board to begin discussion a week from Tuesday on reducing the board from 27 to 22 members, while boosting the number of districts from 9 to 11. On November 2nd, voters overwhelmingly approved an advisory referendum supporting the change. The changes would take effect with redistricting, for the 2012 election.
At least two new County Board members are ready to consider the change. However, Stephanie Holderfield said the effectiveness of reducing the size will rely largely on communication. The District 1 Republican from Mahomet said now that constituents have spoken, it is up to her and other board members outside of Champaign and Urbana to have a voice.
"I think it's going to depend on how the county board representative communicates with the township supervisors, and the community is one and a half miles outside the town limits," Holderfield said. "That's what my job is. My job is to be a good communicator and good facilitator of the constituents one and a half miles outside an incorporated area."
Holderfield is the one new Republican on the board. New District 9 Democrat Christopher Alix says he is ready to advance the proposal as well, saying it will work as well as what's currently in place. He and Democrat James Quisenberry were also sworn in Monday night, along with Democrat Pattsi Petrie in District 6.
The Art Theatre in Champaign will roll out a new series this month with an emphasis on the performing arts.
The theater is teaming up with the digital film company, Emerging Pictures, to feature operas, ballets, and Shakespearean plays in High Definition and surround sound. The first selection in the series is this weekend's presentation of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost, recorded from London's Globe Theatre. Sanford Hess, the operator at the Art Theatre, said he hopes the showings will offer audience members a close representation of what it is like to see a live performance.
"You get close-ups of the performers that you would never get when you're sitting in the theatre," he said. "At the same time you still get that kind of communal experience of watching it with many other people who are also opera lovers or who love to see ballet."
Hess said he plans to invite speakers to give a presentation before each showing to provide some background about the stories and help explain the staging of each production.
"With the Shakespeare (plays), I think it's not so much the story that you need, but sometimes it's fascinating to know the historical context that some of the plays take place in," he explained. "I know Richard III has been staged in sort of World War II time frame. So, they're trying to make a point and have somebody give some context before you start; it's great."
Ticket prices for operas will be set at $20 for adults, and $18 for children, students, and senior citizens. All Shakespearean plays and ballets will be priced at $15 for adults and $13.50 for children, students, and senior citizens. Audience members can get discounted rates by purchasing a three-show package. The 2011 Winter/Spring season starts next month with a free showing of Verdi's Aidia on January 1st and 2nd.
Hess said the Art Theatre also plans to start showing digitized classic films early next year with works by British director Alfred Hitchcock, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, and filmmakers from the French New Wave movement.
Former Indiana Republican State Senator Joe Harrison is being remembered as an icon and a mentor for many now serving in the legislature.
The 40-year Senator who served as majority leader for 25 years died Thursday in Chicago after suffering a heart attack while visiting his daughters. He was 79.
Senator and Majority Floor Leader Connie Lawson succeeded Harrison as Senate Majority Leader. In her first legislative session in 1997, she said no one was more enthusiastic to see legislators back at the capitol. Lawson said Harrison was eager to explain complicated issues to new lawmakers, having served on his pension and labor committee for her first two years.
"That's not an easy committee to serve on and the bills are not easy to read," Lawson said. "He was always eager to teach each and every one of us what those bills meant. I just remember the way he ran his committee was in a professional and efficient way."
Harrison shared some of the same legislative area as Lafayette Republican Senator Ron Alting when he first campaigned. Alting said Harrison was always a statesman, and never a politician - who acted in the best interests of his constituents, even when his decisions were not the most popular. Alting said Harrison would fight controversial topics head-on, adding that his efficiency helped taxpayers.
"He told you if you testified to get to the point," Alting recalled. "He focused right to what the subject matter was and say your piece and sit down."
Funeral services for Harrison will be Thursday in Attica.
Dozens of people who don't want former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to be Chicago's next mayor are moving ahead with efforts to keep him off the February ballot. However, the man who moved into Emanuel's house and later decided to challenge him says he won't mount a mayoral campaign himself.
Chicago election officials began handling petition challenges Monday in the mayor's race including more than 30 objections to Emanuel's candidacy.
The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners has assigned hearing officers to his case and others wanting to run for mayor, alderman or other citywide office.
Opponents say Emanuel doesn't meet the residency requirement to run for mayor because he lived in Washington for nearly two years while working for President Barack Obama. One challenger is Rob Halpin, who had moved into Emanuel's Chicago home when Emanuel went to Washington.
Halpin said in a Monday statement that the challenges of running for office - starting with the cost - led to his decision to drop out. Halpin didn't mention Emanuel's name, but says he has no plans to endorse or work against another candidate.
Halpin made headlines a few months ago when he said he wasn't moving out of Emanuel's house, despite being asked to. Emanuel moved back to Chicago, but is living elsewhere.
Emanuel, a former Chicago congressman, moved back in October to run for mayor after Richard Daley announced he wouldn't seek a seventh term.
Sidewalk snow and ice removal requirements for downtown and Campustown in Champaign were put into effect at noon on Sunday (December 5th).
Public Works Director Dennis Schmidt announced that due to the snow accumulated during the weekend snowfall, property owners in the downtown and Campustown areas had until noon on Tuesday, December 7th to clear snow and ice from sidewalks. The deadline is based on the 48 hours warning period established by City Ordinance. Schmidt said through a news release that sidewalks that were not in compliance could be cleared by the City at the property owner's expense.
The downtown Champaign area subject to the Sidewalk Snow Removal Ordinance is bordered by State Street on the west, 2nd Street on the east, Columbia Avenue on the north and Springfield Avenue on the south. The Campustown area subject to the ordinance is bordered by Neil Street on the west, University Avenue on the north, Windsor Road on the south and Wright Street (which is also the Champaign city border) on the east.
Champaign's Sidewalk Snow Removal Ordiance is put into effect when snow accumulation reaches two inches or more.
A map and other details of the ordinance can be seen on the City of Champaign website (www.ci.champaign.il.us/snow).
Free mobile food pantries will be dispatched throughout Champaign County starting this weekend.
The United Way is teaming up with several labor groups to distribute nearly 40,000 pounds of food from the Eastern Illinois Food Bank to low-income families in Rantoul, Mahomet, Champaign and Urbana during the first three Saturdays of the month.
According to U.S. Census Bureau, more than 18 percent of people in Champaign County were living in poverty in 2008, which during that year was about six percent higher than the state's overall poverty level. Eric Westlund, the AFL-CIO Community Services Liason, said the poverty level in Champaign County has not changed substantially, but he said there is still a significant need to feed hungry families.
"You can't really tell by looking at somebody if they're in poverty or not," he said. "It's just not something that's visible, but believe me there's just so many people out there that can use a little help, especially at this time of the year."
Each mobile pantry can feed up to 150 families. Westlund said many children in low-income families are not getting enough protein, which is why the pantry will offer a lot of canned fruits and vegetables.
"We're looking to feed these kids so that they are healthy," he said. "There's a little peanut butter in there, and they'll get some cookies, but there will be fresh produce and other things to offset that too."
The food will be distributed Saturday at the First United Methodist Church, 200 S. Century Blvd., Rantoul at 10 a.m. and at the Mahomet United Methodist Church, 1302 E. South Mahomet Road at 12:30 p.m. On Dec. 11, the pantry will distribute goods at Stratton Elementary School, 902 N. Randolph St., C. Distribution at 10 a.m. On Dec. 18, the final pantry will be set up at Prairie Elementary School, 2102 E. Washington St., U. Distribution at 10 a.m.
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