Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 24, 2010

Illinois Lawmakers Pass Pension Overhaul

Illinois is one step away from a two tiered pension system for most public employees. The House and Senate easily approved changes for future workers Wendesday . Those currently on the payroll and retirees won't be affected.

But anyone hired beginning next year will face limits on how much they can earn and be required to work longer... until age 67... to retire.

The move is touted as a cost savings for state government. Illinois is considered to have the worst funded pension system in the country... but unions representing downstate teachers, university employees, state workers and others argue that's NOT their members' fault. AFSCME Executive Director Henry Bayer says state leaders have a history of failing to put enough money in....

"The problem of our pensions is not a problem of rich benefits", says Bayer. "The problem with our pensions is we have not funded them year in and year out as we were supposed to have done."

Bayer says the changes would make it harder to recruit top talent to the public sector.

Unions were outraged when Democratic leaders ended negotiations last week. House Speaker Mike Madigan says the state had to act fast. Madigan says otherwise... the state faces a financial downgrade that could make it more expensive to borrow money for infrastructure and other needs...

"It's currently acting as an impediment for the State to borrow money for activities that we all agreed to do", says Madigan.

Madigan estimates the state will save 100-billion dollars in the next few decades by paying out less in pensions. But that's led to speculation the state might also look to use some of that savings up front and make a smaller contribution to the systems next fiscal year.

Governor Quinn said in a statement Wednesday night that he looked forward to signing the bill.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 24, 2010

Champaign to Move Forward with Study of Stormwater Utility Fee

The Champaign City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to start exploring a stormwater utility fee to help pay for the city's storm sewer and drainage system.

Property owners would pay a fee based on the square footage of structures that cause water runoff, such as buildings and driveways. City officials also discussed the possibility of property owners earning credits to reduce their fees, by installing rain barrels, water gardens, or other devices to reduce runoff.

Susan Hart agrees that using credits is a good way to encourage those behaviors. She's a member of a steering committee that studies flooding problems in Champaign's Washington West Watershed. But, Hart says, the most important thing for now is to collect the money to improve the city's storm sewer system:

"I think it's good", Hart said of the credit idea. "Yes, absolutely. I think the behaviors are a big part of it but there are parts of the city that need pipe first. And then, of course, we can go into the behaviors, but right now we need pipe."

Public Works Director Dennis Schmidt says the city could use a G-I-S or geographic information system to measure the square footage of impervious surfaces on properties, for the purpose of determining their fee.. Mayor Jerry Schweighart says the lack of such technology had discouraged the city from adapting a stormwater utility fee when it last considered the idea in 2002.

"We were discussing ways of measuring it, and the discussion was measuring the amount of rainfall that came off of your roof, and a lot of other things that were just not practical, and (the council) just kind of lost interest", says Schweighart. "I'm glad to hear we've gotten a lot more scientific in the way of measuring these properties."

A feasibility study to assess how the stormwater utility fee should be calculated will take 10 to 12 months. Champaign Public Works Director Dennis Schmidt says it could take an additional year to set up a collection system for the fee. Urbana city officials are also studying the idea.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 23, 2010

Four-Day School Week Concept Passes Illinois House

The Illinois House wants to give struggling schools a chance at saving money by having students in class only four days a week.

The measure easily advanced to the state Senate. Supporters say costs like busing students and electricity would be lower. The sponsor, Danville Republican Representative Bill Black, says it would require schools that drop a day to have longer hours when school is in session. That way, students would still be in class the same amount of time.

But opponents, like Chicago Democratic Representative Monique Davis, say the state should avoid placing money problems on the backs of students and their families. "I don't believe that children should be told you can stay home alone for a full day and take care of yourselves, take care of your little brothers, take care of your little sisters because the state can no longer afford to educate you," Davis said.

Under the proposal, school districts interested in dropping to a four day school week would have to hold public hearings. The State Board of Education would also review the plan.

Public education faces one-point-three billion dollars in cuts next school year. Governor Pat Quinn is suggesting lawmakers approve a tax increase to plug that hole.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 23, 2010

State Analyzes Effects of Health Care Overhaul

With a major healthcare reform about to become law......many Illinoisans are left wondering what's in it for them. The Illinois Department of Insurance has put together a list of changes directly affecting people in the state.

Most provisions won't take effect until 2014, but residents could start seeing changes to their policies within the year. The state Department of Insurance expects health insurance rates to stabilize. The agency points out those seeking coverage won't be discriminated against because of a pre-existing illnesses.

The department's Director Michael McRaith says those changes will reduce trepidation on the part of Illinois consumers. "No longer will people be denied an application for insurance, be denied a claim that they filed with their insurance company, will be charged more because they've been sick or they might become sick in the future," McRaith said.

A major provision of the package is an insurance exchange system. McRaith says that will let Illinoisans shop around and pick from state approved policies. He adds that preventative services like mammograms will also be included. The changes will expand Illinois' Medicaid system, but there are no official cost estimates. One study found one third of Illinois residents have no health coverage.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 23, 2010

The Arguments For—and Against—Olympian Drive

The debate over the Olympian Drive extension will continue at an Urbana City Council committee-of-the-whole meeting in three weeks. Council members have put off a decision on a state-funded design engineering study for the road. It would be just the latest phase in a long-standing project that Mayor Laurel Prussing says would bring economic development --- and jobs --- to the north edge of the city. But opponents like Bill and Virginia Ziegler (left) and Leslie Cooperbrand (right) argue it would do more harm than good. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports on the Olympian Drive debate.

Download mp3 file

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 23, 2010

Urbana City Council Delays Action on Olympian Drive

A crucial vote on the Olympian Drive extension will have to wait three more weeks.

The Urbana City Council voted last (Monday) night to keep a package of intergovernmental agreements in committee until the April 12th meeting. Those agreements are for a state-funded design engineering report on the proposed extension of Olympian Drive through the north edge of Urbana.

Council members said they needed to know more about the potential impact of the project. And most, like Alderman Dennis Roberts, said they had received lots of email about Olympian Drive --- most of it opposing the project.

"I probably received way more people's email who oppose the road", said Roberts. "But I think like many people on the council, that there hasn't been a real honest discussion on what we expect to happen here. And what the impacts are, and what the design potentials are. And I think it's the responsibility of the city council to plan --- far in the future."

IDOT has asked the Urbana City Council to make a decision on funding for the study by May 1st. Meanwhile, land acquisition for the road project would be delayed because the Champaign County Board --- which must sign off on buying right-of-ways ---- has put off a vote, possibly until next year.

Mayor Laurel Prussing says the Olympian Drive extension would bring business and jobs to the north edge of Urbana. But opponents say the road would cut through valuable farmland --- and they question how much development would actually be attracted.

Categories: Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 22, 2010

U of I Professor Expects Health Reform To Become Key Campaign Issue

A University of Illinois professor says it may take until November's elections to discover the real winners and losers in the US House passage of health care reform.

Institute of Government and Public Affairs Director Robert Rich says the first assumption is that President Obama is a winner for pushing through legislation that many didn't expect to pass. But Rich says he fully expects Republicans to campaign on the repeal of the legislation until the fall. He points to the fact that no Republicans voted for it in House, and Rich says he fully expects the same result in Senate when votes are taken on the final measure. "I think what that is... and Senator (John) McCain already said that the Democrats will pay a price for this... and I don't take that as him being necessarily correct," says Rich. "What I take that to be is the gauntlet has been let down, and to say that we're now on March 22nd, elections coming up this this fall, and this is going to be a major issue in the campaign."

Rich says children are immediate winners of the measure, since they can't be denied insurance for pre-existing conditions. He also says small businesses should benefit since they can form alliances to negotiate better insurance rates. The Executive Director of the Illinois-based Campaign for Better Health Care, Jim Duffet, says the first sign of the measure's passage is that people won't be turned down by their insurance company for having an illness. Duffett also credits lawmakers for including language that encourages entrepreneurism.

"There's so many people that would love to start a new business,' says Duffett. "So many people that would love to use their creativity and their minds to be able to create different jobs, take this idea and run with it. So many people have not been able to do that because they're fearful they cannot get health insurance for themselves or their family because they have a pre-existing condition. So that is going to be off people's backs." Duffet also commends the bill's authors for letting young people stay on their parents' insurance longer, until the age of 26.

Rich says everyone should keep in mind that what he considers the heart of the legislation, coverage of the uninsured, doesn't go into effect until 2014. Rich says that presents opportunities for a repeal both this year and in 2012. But Rich says that's unlikely... with a two-thirds vote required and President Obama still in office.

Categories: Health, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 22, 2010

Brady “Ready” to Vote At Any Time on Income Tax Increase—and to Vote No

Some Democrats are reacting coolly to Governor Pat Quinn's call on lawmakers to stay in Springfield over their spring break to work on budget issues - but Quinn's challenger says "bring it on."

Quinn wants a vote soon on his proposal to raise the state income tax rate by one percent to help bolster education funding in the midst of a 13 billion dollar budget deficit. Republican candidate for governor Bill Brady says he's in favor of an early vote too, but for a different reason.

"We're ready to go tomorrow," Brady said. "The sooner the better, because it's time that he stopped living in fantasy land, and it's time that he realized that the real picture is that we're not going to raise taxes. We're not going to do that to Illinois families and businesses, and we're going to deconstruct and construct a budget that's balanced."

Brady says he's against any sort of tax increase in this year's general assembly. Democratic House leader Mike Madigan will only say he's taking the idea of an early vote on an income tax increase under advisement.

Brady made a weekend appearance at a Champaign County GOP event headlined by former Bush administration advisor Karl Rove.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 19, 2010

Police Seek Home Invasion Suspect

Champaign, Urbana and University of Illinois Police were conducting special patrols on the U of I Urbana campus Friday, following a report of a home invasion and aggravated battery early Friday morning.

Authorities say that as the occupant of an apartment in the 400 block of East Healy was opening her door... she was grabbed from behind, and struck in the face several times. She was treated at a local hospital.

The attacker is described as a 35-year old black male, 5 foot 10, 170 pounds, wearing a dark shirt, jeans, and tan hat.

A sketch is on line at www.publicsafety.illinois.edu


AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 19, 2010

Purse Snatcher Wields Syringe on U of I Quad

An Urbana man was arrested on the University Illinois Quad Friday afternoon, after allegedly snatching a woman's purse and threatening to use a syringe to stab passersby who pursued him.

Jeff Unger of the U of I News Bureau says U of I and Champaign Police have charged 20 year old Nathaniel Huff with robbery, aggravated battery and possession of a syringe. Authorities say Huff is not a student.

The incident occurred on the south end of the Quad, near Gregory and Lincoln Halls. Unger says Huff allegedly grabbed a woman's purse and ran off. But a number of people in the vicinity ran after and restrained him, despite Huff's threats to stab them with the syringe. No one was injured. Police aren't sure if anything was in the syringe.


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