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Just a few years ago – in the good ol' days – the governor of Illinois would meet with the four legislative leaders (the top Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and the top Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate) and devise a state budget that would be voted on a few days later by all legislators. Then everyone would go home for the summer.
Those weren't really the good old days, because that kind of arrangement stifled open discussion of the budget, limited access to important information about state spending and inevitably led to budget tricks, like the "member initiatives" that gave lawmakers pork-barrel goodies to bring home to their districts in exchange for a "yes" vote on the budget.
At least one person who voted absentee in last month's County Board District 9 Democratic Party primary didn't return the ballot in the required certified envelope so her vote wasn't counted. At least one person who wanted to vote in the primary was prohibited from doing so because she had already signed a petition for a Republican Party candidate. At least 114 Democrats showed up at the polls on March 21 but either voted for none of the four county board candidates, or just one of them when they could have voted for two. And thousands of other voters in Urbana and rural areas outside of Urbana didn't bother to vote in the race.
So when all of the official vote-counting was finished Tuesday, two weeks after Election Day, the results in the four-way race for two seats showed Steve Beckett with 806 votes, Bob Kirchner with 762 votes and Lisa Bell and Barbara Wysocki with 792 votes each. For many weeks before the election there were predictions that the race would be close, but no one had predicted it would end in a tie.
Judges have a tendency to be imperious, and that goes double when the judges in question have life tenure.
So perhaps no one should be surprised by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's response when he was asked about allowing cameras to record oral arguments before the nation's highest court.
With Texas Republican Tom DeLay's announcement that he plans to resign from the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats and much of the national news media have lost one of their favorite targets while Republicans have dumped an embarrassing political problem.
DeLay has been plagued for months by his connections to the burgeoning Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal on Capitol Hill as well as his own indictment in Texas for alleged violations of campaign finance law. After being forced to relinquish his position as majority leader of the U.S. House, DeLay initially vowed to seek re-election. Now faced with polls showing that he could lose in November, DeLay is giving up his seat in the hope that another Republican can be elected in his place in November.
So far, it's the city council members in Champaign and Urbana who have been wrestling with the question of whether to ban smoking in public places.
But under new legislation recently sent to Gov. Rod Blagojevich, members of the county board could be drawn into the fight. The General Assembly recently approved legislation that would allow counties to ban smoking at public places located in unincorporated areas, although it's unclear if the governor will sign the bill. Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said he is undecided about what action to take.
Part of the strategic plan for the University of Illinois' Urbana campus is to reshape the demographic of the undergraduate student body, to make it more diverse and more selective (read: even smarter).
It appears the UI is getting a head start on that five-year goal because of a surge in applications to the university this year. Only about one-third of the record number of applicants (approximately 22,300) will be admitted this fall, according to UI officials. How the university and the state's political establishment respond to anticipated complaints from so many disappointed applicants and their families will determine whether the UI can become even more selective in the future.
With less than a week until Friday's scheduled adjournment of the Legislature, there's been an interesting development among House Democrats who, because they have such a strong majority, essentially determine what will and won't get through the General Assembly.
Suddenly they've come to realize that Gov. Rod Blagojevich's budget spends a lot more money than the state is expected to take in next year. All we can say is, welcome to the real world.
How often does a small high school in rural East Central Illinois take first place in a national contest? Not often enough, but when it does – look out.
Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School in Ford County last month claimed first place in a most impressive national competition – a driver safety program sponsored by State Farm Insurance.
There's a remarkable metamorphosis under way in rural America, aided in part by the nation's unquenchable thirst for energy, a desire for energy independence and the recently approved federal energy bill with all of its subsidies and tax credits.
Rural America, including central Illinois, is becoming a center for energy production. Nearly every day brings news of a plan to build a wind farm or an ethanol plant on the prairie. Last week, an Indiana firm announced that it would build a 100-million-gallon ethanol plant in Royal. And in Woodford County, a Minnesota company acknowledged that it had contacted landowners about leasing farmland for another giant wind energy project, one with as many as 80 energy-producing turbines.
Public employee pensions have become a hot topic in Springfield, so hot in fact that a proposal to sweeten the pensions of thousands of police and firefighters in Illinois appears to have been accorded a quick and deliberate death this month. But that doesn't mean the outrageous scheme won't rise from the dead next year.
The proposal, which almost was attached to a bill in the House Rules Committee, would have permitted all police and firefighters (outside of those working in Chicago) with 20 years of service and at least 54 years of age to collect both their full salary and fringe benefits, plus their full pension, for their last five years before retirement. It would essentially allow some public employees to "double dip" from the same job. How's that for audacity?