State pension systems post high returns

SPRINGFIELD – The boards of State Universities Retirement System and the other state contributory systems were apparently right to have defied Gov. Rod Blagojevich's budget office when it came to investing the proceeds of the state's $10 billion pension bond sale.

End-of-year financial reports show the pension systems earned dramatically higher investment returns than they would have had they succumbed to the administration's request to make only conservative fixed-rate investments such as bonds or Treasury bills.

Education initiatives adding up

SPRINGFIELD – The costs of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's new education initiatives are adding up quickly and have drawn criticism from students, school officials, librarians and lawmakers.

In advance of Thursday's State of the State address – set for noon at the Capitol – the governor has previewed plans to provide all Illinois children a book a month for their first five years of life; require 40 hours of community service to graduate high school; make reading specialists permanent fixtures in low-performing elementary schools; and revive an Edgar-era program called Project Success.

It's finals time again

High school students settled back into academic work mode last week on the heels of their winter break. Some took books home to study, while others are brushing the dust away after keeping them in their lockers for two weeks.

Regardless of which category students fall into, many of them will be bombarded with final exams this week. Most area high schools have exams after the break, for reasons ranging from creating a balanced first- and second-semester schedule to religious importance.

Lawmakers face major budget tilt

SPRINGFIELD – The budget is the top priority as the Illinois General Assembly returns to the Capitol this week to begin its spring legislative session.

"I think that we are looking at a very difficult session with regards to the budget," said state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon. "I think that 'train wreck' probably potentially best describes what we have to look forward to."

DuPage County man accused of charity fraud

SPRINGFIELD – Donations an Illinois man had allegedly been soliciting for veterans during the last 18 months were actually going into his own pocket, according to a lawsuit Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed.

The attorney general is alleging that John C. Chamboullides of DuPage County stole a donor list from a national veterans' nonprofit foundation and created a fake charity with a similar name.

Mars on his mind

PASADENA, Calif. – Although Chris Voorhees grew up on Central Standard Time and now lives by Pacific time, he's been sleeping, eating and working on "Martian time" these days as one of the 280 scientists and engineers working on the Mars Exploration Rover project.

"We've got people working night and day," said Voorhees, a 29-year-old mechanical systems engineer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. – headquarters for the mission operations center of the Spirit rover project.

Mom will seek venue change in murder case

CLINTON – Amanda Hamm's defense attorney, Peter Wise, said Wednesday that "there is a righteous, gripping and compelling story to be told" about the night her three children drowned in Clinton Lake.

But special prosecutor Roger Simpson has another word for the case.

Wealth from tax amnesty spread around

SPRINGFIELD – Local governments recently received an unexpected bonus from the state as a result of this fall's successful tax amnesty program.

Parkland College got an extra $130,634, while the city of Danville raked in $101,204; Champaign schools got a check for $172,708.

Why are babies still left to die?

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois is one of 45 states with laws on the books allowing a parent to anonymously relinquish a newborn baby at designated safe havens, such as hospitals and fire stations, without fear of prosecution, but some babies here and around the country are still being left to die in trash bins or other unsafe locations.

A study released this fall by the National Conference of State Legislatures found that the laws have had only a limited effect.

Departing chief says future looks bright for NCSA

Some people thought the National Center for Supercomputing Applications would fall apart when Larry Smarr, the only director it had ever known, left. Dan Reed knew that notion was nuts.

So Reed, who took over from Smarr in 2000, has no illusions about what his leaving now means.