There were few surprises Wednesday in Gov. Pat Quinn's budget address in the Illinois General Assembly. He called it a "difficult" proposal, with steep cuts in spending on education. So we challenged Statehouse reporter Brian Mackey to find seven things that were surprising about the governor's speech.

Congressmen from Iowa and Illinois want to improve health care in rural parts of their states. Wednesday, democrat Bruce Braley from Iowa's First District and republican Aaron Schock from Illinois' 18th district introduced the Rural Health Clinic Fairness Act.  Braley says Medicare currently has an incentive program, with grants up to 44-thousand dollars, to encourage hospitals and other health professionals to transition to electronic medical records. Their bill would make rural health clinics eligible for these grants. 

Animal rights group protests at Peoria Walmart

Mar 6, 2013

Mercy for Animals brought its national tour to the Walmart on University in Peoria.  The group is traveling the country protesting the living conditions of pregnant pigs at pork suppliers for Walmart.  Members of Mercy for Animals displayed a 10-foot inflatable pig in a narrow crate as part of its protest.  Phil Letten is with Mercy For Animals.  He says the display aims to highlight how pregnant sows live at some suppliers:

 In his annual budget address Wednesday, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn laid the blame on the General Assembly for forcing him to cut spending on schools and other key state priorities.  Quinn says the cost of pensions is "squeezing" Illinois' finances, to the point that he's calling for a $400 million hit to education.  IPR’s Amanda Vinicky reports:  Governor Pat Quinn unveiled a budget that spends around $35 and a half billion dollars from the state's main checking account.One fifth of that would go toward the states' public pension systems.

Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun” tells the story of one African-American family in the early days of the civil rights movement. A production is now on stage at Bradley University. Reviewer Douglas Okey says the play has as much to say today as it did in 1959. He has this review for Peoria Public Radio and the Live Theatre  League of Peoria.

Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer, not those of Peoria Public Radio or the Live Theatre League.

The Peoria Police Department arrested Nathan Leuthold Wednesday morning for the murder of his wife, Denise Leuthold on February 14. Peoria Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard says  his department arrested the 37 year-old Leuthold in Pekin during a traffic stop they initiated. He says people have shared information that’s helped his department meet the probable cause standard to make Leuthold’s arrest. But Settingsgaard says detectives are still actively following-up on details.  

Illinois' finances were already bleak when Pat Quinn became governor in 2009.  Despite heavy cuts and an end to the national recession, they remain so.  

The first woman elected to statewide office in Illinois has died. Dawn Clark Netsch was 86. In January, she revealed she had ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

East Peoria to get new residential cable option

Mar 5, 2013

East Peoria residents will have another cable provider to choose from this summer.  Peoria Public Radio’s Alex Rusciano reports the City Council approved a franchise agreement with ITV-3: 

  The agreement means Comcast won’t be the only residential provider of TV, internet and phone service in East Peoria.  ITV-3 is owned by the same family that owns Family Video rental chain.  Levi Dinkla is Vice President of ITV-3. He says the agreement means more healthy competition:

Quinn to call for cutting education in address

Mar 5, 2013

  Governor Pat Quinn is expected to call for cuts in education funding in his annual budget address Wednesday. IPR’s Brian Mackey has more.  Although overall state spending is expected to increase in the coming budget year, the money that goes to education would be cut under Quinn's proposed budget.His top aides hammered what they say is the cause. Brooke Anderson: "It is the direct product of inaction on pension reform.Jack Lavin: "This budget is a direct result of the inaction on stabilizing pensions."Jerry Stermer: "...

Target opens in East Peoria's new Levee Distrist

Mar 5, 2013

  The new Target Store in East Peoria is open for business. It’s part of the city’s new downtown that includes new roads with a roundabout and storefront opportunities for shops and restaurants. The Costco Store opened about four months ago as one of the anchors to the Levee District. East Peoria Mayor Dave Mingus says, "target is really very symbolic of our vision being enforce. It's been a long journey and now with these openings and more to come, it really just makes it a reality for our public and our region.

Chief's look to fans for hot dogs picks

Mar 5, 2013

Peoria Chief’s opening day is less than a month away, despite today’s wintry conditions across Central Illinois. This year game-goers will be able to experience three new hot-dog options. Rocky Vonachen is the president of the Peoria Chief’s. He says fans can vote online for their favorite loaded hot dog. 

Pioneering Illinois politician and former state comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch died Tuesday at age 86.  Many Illinois Constitutional Officers, Congressman Mike Quigley, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Senator Dick Durbin have issued statements about Netsch and her service to the state.  Senator Durbin called her an indomitable force who blazed a path suitable for generations of Illinois women to follow.  IPR’s Brian O’Keefe talked with Illinois political expert Kent Redfield about Netsch’s life and contributions to state government:

10th Judicial Circuit Judge Michael Risinger is reassigned to civil court over concerns about his notes regarding his sentencing philosophy.  Chief Judge Michael Brandt says Risinger shared his rough agenda notes with lawyers and others ahead of a meeting about misdemeanor court.  One of the notes referenced a tie-in with the race and dress of the defendant when sentencing.  Risinger says his note should not stand alone, and he explained during the meeting that a sentencing hearing should take into account special circumstances with the defendant.

The Illinois State Board of Education has introduced a new way for kindergarten teachers to determine if students are ready for grade school. IPR’s Chris Slaby reports.

Governor Pat Quinn Monday, vetoed a measure that would have put casinos in Chicago, Danville, Rockford and Chicago's suburbs.

A tentative agreement between Governor Pat Quinn and the state's largest public-employee union, AFSCME, means retired workers finally know how much they should budget for health care. And it means the state will finally get the savings it had already been counting on.

State AFSCME deal carries effects

Mar 4, 2013

   A tentative agreement between Governor Pat Quinn and the state's largest public-employee union, AFSCME, means retired workers finally know how much they should budget for health care.  And it means the state will finally get the savings it had already been counting on. State and university employees who retired after long government careers have not had to pay any health care premiums. A new state law requires them to contribute. But how much they pay was subject to contract negotiations. And AFSCME and the Quinn administration's negotiations dragged on for 15 months.

Tri-County Commission details top priorities

Mar 4, 2013

  Local, state, and federal lawmakers or their aides attended an annual meeting held by the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission yesterday. Larry Whitaker is the Chair of the Tri-County Commission. He says the meeting is an opportunity to update lawmakers on projects, as well as for the commission to get feedback from them: “The other thing that we think that’s important is that the community understand through our legislators the work the commission’s doing.

Quinn vetoes gambling bill

Mar 4, 2013

Legislation to expand gambling the General Assembly approved nearly two years ago is finally dead. As IPR's Amanda Vinicky reports, Governor Pat Quinn vetoed a measure that would have given Illinois five new casinos.

When Governor Quinn gives his annual budget address later this week, he's expected to highlight Illinois' plethora financial problems. Which is what frustrates supporters of gambling expansion, who say more casinos would be like hitting the jackpot.

With Governor Pat Quinn scheduled to give his budget address this Wednesday, the director of the state's agriculture department says he's expecting another round of budget cuts. IPR’s Chris Slaby has more:

Already, Bob Flider says his agency has seen its state funding cut in half, from 41 billion dollars five years ago to about 21 billion in the current budget year. Flider says the department is looking into alternative funding, like by soliciting foundation grants.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn is scheduled to present his budget address in Springfield later this week.

Illinois has once again run out of money to help needy students go to college. The cutoff to be considered for a MAP grant expired over the weekend. IPR’s Brian Mackey has more.

Cuts expected for IL Ag Department

Mar 1, 2013

  The director of Illinois' Department of Agriculture says the agency will have to "get creative" if its budget continues to get cut.   IPR’s Chris Slaby reports. In the last five years, the Illinois Department of Agriculture has seen its state funding cut by nearly half.  Ag Director Bob Flider says he's expecting more cuts in the next budget.  So he's looking for alternative revenue sources. “Other states have been able to, through foundations, bring in some dollars.  We're going to be looking at some of those possibilities as well.”  But he says finding private donors will take time.

Quinn to give budget address this week

Mar 1, 2013

  Illinois Governor Pat Quinn is scheduled to present his budget address in Springfield later this week. “Obviously our pension reform will be part of the address, the need for getting that done right and getting it done now,” Quinn says.   Illinois is reported to have the worst-funded pension system in the country - and has about $97 billion in unfunded obligations. Quinn has said the pensions are unsustainable.

  A 22-year-old Pekin man faces federal charges of for a conspiracy to distribute heroin that led to the deaths of three people.  Anthony Mansini is charged with distributing more than 1,000 grams of heroin since 2008.  The federal indictment says he belonged to a heroin conspiracy that killed three people last year.  Pekin Police Chief Greg Nelson says the case is significant: “It’s big for Pekin because we were able to arrest somebody that we could show is responsible for deaths, and since that arrest we have not had any deaths.  Herin is back, it’s cheap, it's potent and dengerous.

  The Obama administration is urging the U.S. Supreme court to take a legal stance that could affect Illinois’ same-sex marriage fight.

IL House votes to ban cell phones while driving

Mar 1, 2013

  The Illinois House Friday once again voted to ban the use of cell phones while driving.  The legislation would prohibit holding a cell phone up to your ear while driving. But it would still be legal to use a speakerphone or headset, and to make calls to emergency personnel. "There are elements of Big Brother in this bill. There's no way that you can get around that." Rep. David Harris is a Republican from Arlington Heights.

This week, we're talking with George Stelluto, Music Director of the Peoria Symphony Orchestra. Their concert Saturday night features music of Mozart, Rossini, Maurice Ravel and Jacques Ibert. Stelluto talks about the pieces on the program and how they fit together. The concert will also feature a performance by winners of the Peoria Symphony Guild's young artist competition.

Governor Pat Quinn reached a tentative contract deal with the state's largest government-employee union early this morning. It comes as the union had increasingly been talking about going on strike. IPR’s Brian Mackey has more.