Hannah Meisel

Hannah covers state government and politics for WUIS and Illinois Public Radio while working toward a master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield.

She graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she was managing editor for online at The Daily Illini. Hannah has also worked for NPR in Washington, D.C. 

Campus communities in the state feel the consequences of drastic higher education cuts. 

tammyduckworth.com

Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth says she has a plan to address criminal justice reform in her campaign for U.S. Senate...and a solution for relations between police and people of color. But it's not the main focus for the Democrat. 

            

Duckworth stopped into a local coffee shop in Champaign for a meet and greet, where she answered voter questions.

But despite police killings in Chicago and elsewhere dominating the headlines this week, race relations didn't come up once in the half-an-hour informal Q&A.

Hannah Meisel / Illinois Public Radio

A former prosecutor in the Cook County State's Attorney's office says it took far too long to investigate the shooting death of Chicago teen Laquan McDonald at the hands of a white police officer. 

That prosecutor happens to be running for U.S. Senate.

Democrat Andrea Zopp is praising Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's decision to fire police superintendent Garry McCarthy, one week after the city charged the officer who shot McDonald 16 times and released the dashcam video of the shooting.

Wikipedia

Republicans in Illinois' Congressional delegation are on board with Governor Bruce Rauner's move to temporarily close the state's borders to Syrian refugees in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris. 

The state's eight Republican House members are also condemning President Obama's plan to let in 10,000 refugees from that country this year.

Illinois is one of 24 states closing its borders to Syrian refugees in wake of the terrorist attacks in France last Friday. It's unclear whether this move is legal under federal law.

In a statement, Gov. Bruce Rauner announced the state will "temporarily suspend" accepting Syrian refugees, citing safety and security concerns after the Islamic State group killed and injured hundreds of people in the Paris attacks.

But U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner says the agency's lawyers don't know yet if states can usurp federal immigration law and close its borders.

University of Illinois

The Illinois economy continues to grow … but at a slower rate than a few months ago. That’s according to a monthly economic report from the University of Illinois.

The U of I Flash Index fell to 105.8 in October from 106 in September. Though any number over 100 indicates growth in the state's economy, this is the third month of decline for the index.

The report's author Fred Giertz says the slower growth is a reflection of a bigger global trend -- including slowdowns in Europe and China.

Hannah Meisel / Illinois Public Radio

Mike Madigan is running for the Illinois General Assembly.

No, the other one.

Urbana businessman and city council member Mike Madigan is running for the 52nd state senate district, he announced Monday in Champaign.

Madigan is the owner of Hickory River restaurants in Urbana, Peoria, Springfield and Decatur and has served on the city council since May 2013. He's the only Republican in that heavily Democratic body.

While he may have the name in common with longtime Democratic House Speaker Madigan, this Madigan says the similarities pretty much end there.

Hannah Meisel / Illinois Public Radio

Financial trouble in Illinois's biggest city has many worried about Chicago's potential ripple effects on the state with money problems of its own. Gov. Bruce Rauner sees an opportunity in Chicago's fiscal mess.

For all the trouble Illinois is in, Chicago is in deeper. The city's bonds are considered "junk" by the country’s leading ratings agencies.

The school system has closed over 50 facilities and laid off hundreds over the past few years, and the mayor last month proposed a $600 million property tax hike just to pay for its police and fire pensions.

Wikimedia

A bigger portion of older people's income could be going to healthcare costs next year.

This change is based on something seemingly unrelated: Low gas prices.

Each year, the federal government releases what's called a "consumer price index," that lays out the amount of inflation observed in the U.S. economy.

Social Security and other government beneficiaries will receive a cost of living increase tied to inflation. But economists this year predict there will be no cost of living adjustment, known as a COLA, because gas prices have been so low.

Amanda Vinicky / Illinois Public Radio

The llinois Department of Transportation may be wrapping up its busy construction season, but the upcoming winter will mean more repairs for road crews to work on next summer. But that depends on getting a state budget in place first.

A lot of money for road construction comes from a separate fund than what's being debated in Springfield right now in the months-long budget stalemate. But some money comes from the same pot of cash that many human services and other state programs are vying for.

Hannah Meisel / Illinois Public Radio

It's been nine months since Illinois' income tax rate dropped when a temporary tax hike rolled back on January first. And though the state is operating without a budget, Illinois is already spending over 90 percent of what it spent last year...which has already led to a cash shortage.

It's happened before: When the state's accounts reach a $0 balance, the computer system responsible for paying for programs, pay and services stops writing checks.

State of Illinois

Leaders of several state universities and community colleges are sounding the alarm as they begin month three of receiving no money from Illinois. 

State support for Illinois’s 12 public universities and its 49 community colleges is the largest part of the state government that isn’t being funded during Springfield’s budget impasse.

While the state’s bigger schools, like the University of Illinois, are able to truck along without much impact on students, the situation at Eastern Illinois University is much more dire, officials say.

State of Illinois

Illinois public colleges and universities have become collateral damage in the state’s months-long budget impasse, fueled by political stalemate between Illinois’ Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and the democratically-controlled General Assembly.

Rauner says he’s willing to consider more state revenue to pay for support to items like public colleges and universities, but only if lawmakers pass his pro-business, union-weakening “Turnaround Agenda” first.

Brian Mackey

Illinois has gone more than three months without a budget, but state government is anything but shut down.

Court orders and existing law made it possible for the largest chunks of the state's financial obligations to be paid ... except for the state's 12 public colleges and universities. That includes the University of Illinois, where Governor Bruce Rauner dedicated on Friday the opening of a veteran’s center on the school's Urbana campus.

Flickr User Ron Cogswell / "House of Representatives Building and the East Portico of the U.S. Capitol -- Washington (DC) January 2013" (CC BY 2.0)

Illinois will be among the first states to implement a savings program for the lifelong care of people with disabilities. The financial planning tool is being promoted at a time when state-funded services for those with disabilities are not being paid.

 

The ABLE Act, which stands for Achieving a Better Life Experience, is federally-inspired legislation, signed into law earlier this year. The program is similar to 529 college savings plans, which have certain tax exemptions.

 

USDA

The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture says Illinois has a big role to play in the fight for global food security.

Secretary Tom Vilsack told University of Illinois students yesterday it will fall on their shoulders to figure out a way to increase food production in the next 35 years, as much as it increased in the last 10,000 years.

In his speech at the U of I Urbana campus, Vilsack said Illinois’s top crop plays an integral role in global trade.

University of Illinois / illinois.edu

The University of Illinois will perform background checks on every new hire, beginning in October.

The school's board of trustees voted to approve the policy yesterday at its meeting in Urbana.

Board member Pat Fitzgerald, a former federal prosecutor, says the background checks aren't meant to preclude applicants with a criminal record.

Flickr user frankieleon / "Vaccination" (CC BY 2.0)

The mumps outbreak at the University of Illinois stands at over 100 cases after the first week of classes. Students and community members are being encouraged to get an extra dose of the mumps vaccine.

The number of mumps cases in Champaign County has steadily climbed since the beginning of June, when most of the student population leaves the campus.

So far, a total of 93 students have been infected, and 11 more community members have come down with the mumps. Most of them had been vaccinated against the disease. 

University of Illinois

It’s been nearly a week since Phyllis Wise abruptly stepped down as chancellor of the University of Illinois’ Urbana campus. She cited "external issues" that have “distracted us from the important tasks at hand.”

The day after Wise resigned, the U of I released hundreds of emails in response to Freedom of Information requests. Many of the emails were sent to and from Wise's personal email accounts. They revealed that she also encouraged others to use their private emails, in an effort to skirt FOIA law.

University of Illinois / illinois.edu

UPDATE: University of Illinois officials named Barbara Wilson as interim chancellor at the University of Illinois. A University Trustees Committee rejected the bonus pay for the departing Wise Wednesday. The University Of Illinois will dismiss Wise rather than accept her resignation. However, she is still welcome to teach at the school.

It’s been a tumultuous year for Wise and the Urbana campus. The year included lawsuits involving the non-employment of controversial professor Steven Salaita and allegations of abuse in three sports programs.

Former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar has some advice for the man currently in the job – fellow Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Edgar says it might be time for Rauner to blink.

After more than five weeks working without a budget, Illinois leaders don't seem close to compromise. The two main players -- Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan -- both say they could work together to pass a budget, but …

Rauner says he won't compromise his five pro-business initiatives in his "Turnaround Agenda." Madigan, on the other hand, calls Rauner's positions "extreme."

Without a budget agreement in Springfield, a possible government shutdown gets closer. And for already cash-strapped schools, it's not just state money that's at stake, but federal money, too.

Schools have three major sources of funding: Local property taxes, state money and federal dollars. Depending on how wealthy or poor an area is, those three sources vary in weight.

But schools in high-poverty areas tend to need extra educational mediation...that's where federal money comes in.

University of Illinois / illinois.edu

The University of Illinois will be able to continue operating, even in the case of a possible state government shutdown. 

Governor Rauner and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly are engaged in a budgetary stalemate. With 20 days left until the next fiscal year, the state’s comptroller says her office could cease payments come July 1.

But U of I spokesman Tom Hardy says the university and its employees would not be immediately affected.

Hannah Meisel/WILL

At a stop Wednesday in Decatur, Gov. Bruce Rauner indicated he'd let the state go without a budget if Democratic leaders don't bend to his wishes...and he’ll blame it on the Democrats, too.

Last month, Democrats pushed through a budget that spends $4 billion more than the state has. Rauner says he won't sign it -- or talk revenue -- until his pro-business ideas are also passed. The governor told the crowd outside Decatur's Beach House Restaurant getting the five items on his agenda passed shouldn't be a big deal.

AFSCME

Illinois's contract with the state's largest employee union expires at the end of the month, and negotiations with the governor are supposedly going badly.

Democrats are trying to prevent a potential strike, but the governor might have other plans.

AFSCME pushed the legislation so its 3,800 members would be able to continue working without a contract past the June 30 deadline. It's an apparent reaction to memos sent from Gov. Bruce Rauner's office to state agencies, asking them about what they'd need to keep running in case of a strike.

senatorbarickman.com / Peoria Public Radio

Governor Rauner spent most of the past four months traveling around Illinois, touting his so-called "Turnaround Agenda."

Some of his requests, like allowing localities to create right-to-work zones, faced an uphill battle from the beginning. But other items, like term limits, have been popular with voters since the governor ran on them last year.

Now Democrats, who control the legislature, refuse to bring a term limit proposal to a vote. They say it's a distraction from passing a state budget before the weekend's deadline.

Flickr user Carl Drougge / "Räls och dimma, ett vinnande koncept" (CC BY 2.0)

Illinois lawmakers are urging an increase in safety programs for rail operators. That’s despite the threat of state funding cuts to railroads.

A bipartisan pair of legislators say safety training is too important to be squeezed out of railway budgets, no matter what they're given by the state. They brought in Lou Jogmen, with the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, who says the state is especially at risk.

"Illinois remains in the higher realm of accidents and fatalities,” Logmen said. “Unfortunately, people aren't paying attention."

idot.illinois.gov

The Illinois Department of Transportation is launching a statewide effort to come up with new revenue sources for construction projects. The state's financial woes have not affected public works projects in the past, but Illinois is beginning to see consequences for under funding maintenance.

IDOT Acting Secretary Randy Blankenhorn says the General Assembly's piecemeal approach to capital construction took the state on a roller coaster ride.

Flickr user Mike Mozart / "Heinz" (CC BY 2.0)

Illinois-based Kraft foods announced yesterday it's being bought by fellow food giant Heinz. The two companies will have a near-equal partnership, and say they'll keep their separate headquarters for now.

Kraft employs over 3,000 Illinoisans between its suburban Northfield headquarters and its downstate Champaign processing plant, which is the largest in North America.

Champaign County Chamber of Commerce president Laura Weis says the plant has been a boon to the region's economy.

Carl Nelson / WNIJ

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s approval rating has taken a bit of a dip in the two months he’s been in office. That’s according to several recent surveys.

The governor's current rating sits around 36 percent, which is a full 20 points behind Democrats like President Barack Obama or Illinois Senator Dick Durbin.

But Rauner says he's not worried.

Pages