Illinois Public Media News
State workers demonstrated at dozens of locations around Illinois on Thursday protesting Gov. Pat Quinn's proposed budget cuts that would eliminate 3,000 state jobs.
At the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus, about 20 members of AFSCME Local 2971 marched outside the State Regional Office Building on South 1st Street. The local represents state workers in a nine-county area. And its president, Rebecca Hardin, said the governor's cuts would close two state police dispatch centers in her region --- part of consolidation plan reducing the number of centers statewide to just four. Hardin said employees at the Ashkum and Pesotum call centers who are not laid off would have to transfer to Springfield or Des Plaines to keep their jobs.
"So they'll be in charge of counties that they're unfamiliar with," Hardin said. "It's going to put a lot of harm and risk on the troopers. It's going to be a very stressful job, because the people are so dedicated to handling the calls and knowing the areas, and they're not going to know those areas."
Quinn's proposals would also close state Human Service offices in Edgar and Douglas Counties. Residents of those counties who receive services such as LINK cards and Medicaid would have to travel to other counties when they need to visit a DHS office.
Other proposals around the state would close prisons in Dwight and Tamms, and a developmental center in Jacksonville.
AFSCME spokesperson Tara McCauley said none of the governor's cuts are needed to balance the budget. Instead, she says the governor and lawmakers should undo the tax breaks recently granted for corporations like Sears. Those breaks came one year after a lame-duck Illinois legislature passed a state income tax increase.
Meanwhile, AFSCME is negotiating a new contract with the state, but McCauley said she does not think Quinn's proposed cuts have anything to do with the bargaining process. The current AFSCME contract expires June 30.
(Photo by Jim Meadows/WILL)
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
As University of Illinois trustees met on Thursday on the Urbana campus, a new letter calling for the firing of President Michael Hogan was released, with the signatures of about 125 Urbana campus faculty.
The letter follows trustees' direction to Hogan last week to fix his relationship with faculty. But faculty members say they're not willing to wait.
In the letter, faculty called Hogan's short time in charge of the university a failure.
"We view it as essential that Hogan's failed Presidency be seen for what it is, and that a path be forged which can rapidly restore a healthy governance structure," the letter said.
Some members of the faculty have complained about Hogan's leadership style. They also fear some of his plans would reduce campus autonomy. Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Jean-Pierre Leburton signed the letter. He said he wants a university president who does a better job communicating with faculty and students.
"I would like a leader who understands what this campus is about, that the campus is mostly done by the faculty and students," Leburton said. "Then when a decision has to be taken, it's taken within the culture that exists here within the campus of Urbana-Champaign."
University spokesman Tom Hardy said trustees did not have the chance to go over the letter during their meeting on Thursday.
But Trustees did hear another letter, read by Don Chambers, the Chicago-campus professor who chairs the Faculty Senates Conference. That letter praises Hogan for the revisions he proposed for his controversial enrollment management plan.
"The recent sessions we had in working through these changes have been as I have said repeatedly a demonstration of shared governance at its best, and what can be accomplished when we work together," Chambers said.
U of I Trustees Chair Chris Kennedy says the board has been on campus since Wednesday, meeting with administrators and leading faculty members.
And he says during Thursday's executive session, there was a chance for trustees to share the results of one-on-one meetings with faculty, and share them with the president.
"We had a private session, during which we distilled, I think what we heard from all of the faculty," Kennedy. "University trustees have asked me to enter into a dialogue with the president, and provide a distillation of those thoughts, and I intend to do that."
Hogan's chief of staff, Lisa Troyer, resigned in January amid concerns over the enrollment policy. The plan was the source of an e-mail debate between Hogan and Urbana Chancellor Phyllis Wise.
Before the plan was revised, Chambers said there were five total concerns with the original enrollment management policy, but those concerns have been ironed out.
Chambers thanked the U of I's Board of Trustees and the administration for listening to faculty concerns about the enrollment management plan. He said Hogan's proposals should be sent to all three campus Senates on Monday, and that he believed they could come to a "positive conclusion" on the matter.
Given the positive comments by Chambers, University spokesman Tom Hardy said faculty comments in the letter calling on trustees to fire Hogan don't add up.
Last month, around a hundred faculty members signed a separate letter calling on President Hogan to resign.
13th Congressional Debate from Illinois Public Media on Vimeo.
The Democratic candidates running in Illinois' re-drawn 13th Congressional district took part in a debate Wednesday night on WILL-TV.
Bloomington doctor David Gill and Greene County State's Attorney Matt Goetten are competing in Tuesday's Democratic primary.
The candidates have different opinions about term limits. Gill, who is running for the U.S. House of Representatives for the fourth time, said he support term limits for members of Congress.
"Just as we passed an amendment in 1951 to term limit presidents, we should do the same," Gill said. "A lot of my friends tell me the downsides to it. I think the upside outweighs the downside."
Meanwhile, Matt Goetten said he would oppose a constitutional amendment for term limits. He said there is a lot of institutional knowledge that could be gained by serving in office over a long period of time.
"I just don't see us getting to the threshold that we need to get to to even have that be an issue," Goetten said.
During the debate, the candidates also weighed in on gay marriage and contraception issues.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. Gill said DOMA should be repealed.
"I think our LGBT friends should be stood up for by true Democrats, and I think proudly stand up for them," Gill said. "They should have the freedom to marry is all 50 states of the union."
Goetten said he doesn't believe the law would survive a court challenge.
"DOMA is unconstitutional," Goetten said. "I believe it will be found such later this year. I, like Dave, am for equality."
The two Democrats were also asked about President Obama's decision to require contraception coverage for employees of Catholic institutions.
Goetten has described himself as a pro-choice Catholic who has always chosen life. Gill said he is the only 100 percent pro-choice candidate in this race, and he accused Goetten of ducking the issue. Goetten said he agrees with Gill that women should have access to contraception.
Gill and Goetten are competing to run against Congressman Tim Johnson of Urbana, who faces challenges from Metro East residents Michael Firsching and Frank Metzger in the GOP primary.
The re-drawn 13th Congressional District stretches from Champaign-Urbana west to the Mississippi River and to the Illinois suburbs of St. Louis.
View the online chat room that was live during the broadcast
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
On his last full day of freedom, Rod Blagojevich gave a statement to reporters in front of his home on Chicago's North side.
Blagojevich first thanked people for their support over the last three years. He said the citizens of Illinois elected him twice to be governor of the state. He called that a privilege and an honor.
Blagojevich said he fought hard for the people during his time as governor and listed some key legislation that passed during his term. He faulted himself for possibly fighting too hard and not "having more humility."
The ex-governor paused as supporters chanted, "Free our governor," before turning his statement to address his wife Patti and his two daughters. He called going to prison the hardest thing he'd ever have to do.
"How do you make sense of all of this? What do you tell your children?" he asked.
Blagojevich regretted that he would be away from his daughters for more than a decade.
"It's hard for me to say that I have to go to prison. That's a hard word for me to say," he said.
His wife Patti stood by his side during the entire statement, trying to hold back tears. The ex-governor praised her for standing by his side and being a "great mom."
After his statement, Blagojevich didn't take any questions and the family returned to their home.
The 55-year-old Democrat is due to report to a prison in Colorado on Thursday to begin serving a 14-year sentence. He was convicted of 18 criminal counts during two trials, including charges that he tried to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.
More than 50 reporters crowded onto the street near the former Illinois governor's home as television helicopters hovered overhead.
Neighbors and supporters hung a banner over the railing of Blagojevich's home that read, "Thanks Mr. Governor. We will pray."
Current Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn told reporters Wednesday the state is a much better place than it was on January 29th, 2009, the day Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office.
"We're going to have two governors, two former governors, in jail at the same time. That's something that we never, ever want to have happen," Quinn said. "And I think that it's important that the people of Illinois, who are good and true, always come out first."
Quinn said he wishes Blagojevich's family well.
Blagojevich had announced he'd make the statement starting precisely at 5:02 p.m., which enabled prime time news to lead with his remarks. Attorneys for the ousted Illinois governor say he wants to depart in a dignified way, without a media frenzy. That fueled speculation he'd try to slip out of Chicago undetected, but his spokesman says Blagojevich never entertained that idea.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin met Wednesday with the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to talk about assisting the southern part of the state damaged by deadly storms.
A tornado tore through the Harrisburg area last month, killing seven people.
Assistance from FEMA would help with repairs and rebuilding, but the agency denied the state's request for federal help. FEMA had ruled that insurance, charities and state money could cover costs linked to the storm that tore through five southern Illinois counties.
Speaking after the meeting with FEMA, Durbin said Illinois is getting another chance.
"I still feel confident, having seen this damage and compared it to a lot of other disasters, that we have a good fighting chance for this federal declaration," Durbin said. "I want it to happen, the people down there have suffered enough. Seven people lost their lives, a lot of folks are out of their homes, the community has just pitched in in every way possible to help out. This federal declaration will help a lot of people get back on their feet."
Speculating about why Illinois didn't receive assistance from FEMA the first time, Durbin said application materials gathered were lacking information. He said he expects FEMA to get a revised application in less than a week, and then make a decision within a few days.
For the first time in twenty years, the Illinois G-O-P presidential primary will really matter. That is according to Dennis Hastert, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Hastert stopped in the Quad Cities on Wednesday as part of a state-wide tour to garner support for Republican Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. Hastert said after working with all of the Republican contenders over the years, he decided to support Romney.
"I have a lot of respect for Newt Gingrich. He's a smart guy and he's very articulate," Hastert said. "As you'll find with most of the people who worked with Newt aren't supporting Newt because he's sometimes very eccentric. You never know which direction at kind of a snap of a finger he'll decide to go."
Illinois voters will decide in next Tuesday's primary, how the state's 69 delegates will be divided.
So far in the campaign Romney is in the lead with 495 delegates with Rick Santorum in second at 252.
The two candidates vying for the Republican nomination in Illinois' 51st State Senate district faced each other Tuesday in their only debate.
State Rep. Chapin Rose of Mahomet and Tom Pliura of Le Roy debated each other in Bloomington. Rose said his priority is getting Illinois' budget under control. He said his experience as a fifth-term State Representative will help him cut state spending.
"This year and this current budget we actually cut $2.8 billion out of the current budget. Now, the reality is we need to go beyond that," Rose said. "We need to cut more."
Pliura has never run for public office, but if elected, he has said he will serve no more than two terms. He said his own lack of political experience will shake things up in Springfield, unlike his opponent whom he referred to as "another career politician."
"We've got enough politicians down in Springfield," Pliura said. "We need some problem solvers. We can't blame the Democrats when we got to clean up our own house."
Illinois' Republican primary is next Tuesday.
A Bloomington woman is under arrest, and accused of bringing contraband to an inmate at the Champaign County Jail.
The Champaign County Sheriff's Department says 24 year old Allyssa C. Solava was arrested by Bloomington Police today (Wednesday) and taken to the McLean County Jail.
Solava has been working at the Champaign County Jail for the past ten months as a mental health counselor, on the payroll of an independent contractor, Correctional Health Care Companies.
Sheriff's investigators allege that Solava brought contraband, including a cell phone, into the jail and gave it to an inmate. The Sheriff's office say it learned of the matter, when a citizen's complaint about late-night telephone calls led to jail guards discovering the phone.
Judge Richard Klaus set bail for Solava at a quarter million dollars. Champaign County Sheriff's investigators say additional charges against other people are possible in the case.
Champaign city leaders have asked staff to set up a fee charged by stores for using plastic or paper bags.
Concerns in a city survey about bag litter prompted a 2-and a half hour discussion in Tuesday night's city council study session, and a 6 to 3 vote favoring the fee. All but a handful of comments favored the plan to encourage use of reuseable bags when buying groceries and retail items.
In an online city survey, nearly 900 respondents indicated they reuse the bags, but many were also concerned about the amount of litter they produce. Cindy Eaglan of Illini Recycling says she's all for using tote bags instead, but says Champaign should focus on other areas of recycling instead of taxing seniors who can't afford the fee, and driving consumers elsewhere.
"I will not be penalized to shop here," Eaglan said. "And that's basically what you're doing. Putting a tax on bags is simply a penalty for choosing to shop in Champaign."
Backers include current and former owners of Champaign Surplus. Dan Epstein says encouraging cloth or canvas bags will help his business.
"Whether it's a few pennies per pag, or 15 cents, or some of the other quotes that were (suggested), every time you do that, there's a cost," he said. "Being able to reduce bags helps all merchants. Certainly from Champaign Surplus' pespective, I know that reduce costs will help us create jobs."
Other supporters include 10 members of the University of Illinois' Students for Environmental Concerns, who displayed pictures of bags littering Boneyard Creek and farm fields. Council member Deb Frank Feinen says a fee shows the city wants to do something about the environment, and set a community standard.
"I'm not looking for a new tax to generate revenue to fill our budget gap," she said. "I'm looking for a disincentive for people to choose plastic or paper bags at the grocery store."
Council member Karen Foster voted against the fee, saying the city shouldn't legislate over a business' right to carry the bags. Foster says the city is 'nickle and diming' people to death, and can't afford another tax. Councilmen Will Kyles and Kyle Harrison also voted it down.
Champaign City Manager Steve Carter says it will likely be summer before a fee amount is decided and set up. Proceeds would go towards an education campaign on recycling.
The vote supporting the fee didn't include an outright ban on paper or plastic bags, which Mayor Don Gerard called 'egregious'.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels on Tuesday urged Congress to reconsider sweeping changes called for in a federal debt report he says has fallen by the wayside in the past year.
Daniels said he would like to see a "reunion tour'' of the sweeping report drafted by former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson and former Clinton aide Erskine Bowles in 2010. The report called for a mix of tax changes and spending cuts to tackle the national debt. It was circulated but never adopted by the bipartisan commission empanelled by President Barack Obama.
Daniels made the request on a conference call with the group No Labels, which group founder Nancy Jacobson said was heard by 20,000 listeners. Since announcing last year he would not run for president, Daniels has used appearances on the national stage to push spending cuts and entitlement reform while equally criticizing Obama.
The message is essentially the same as the one he laid out in his book released last year.
"I'd like to see a Bowles-Simpson Reunion Tour next year,'' Daniels said. "If we're going to embrace this problem, nobody's going to get 100 percent of what they're looking for.''
Obama established the 18-member national debt commission in February 2010. Since then, the recommendations made by chairmen Simpson and Bowles have often been referenced in Washington _ in everything ranging from the debt-ceiling debate to No Labels' current push to get a federal budget approved _ but have gained little traction.
Daniels' Republican colleagues in the presidential contest have moved away from a debt-centric message in the last few months as the national economy has gotten stronger, but Daniels remains focused on the issue.
"There's no difference between us, Greece and Portugal and these other countries teetering on the brink,'' Daniels said. "The only difference between us is a slight difference of degrees.
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