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This Hour: Latest Illinois news, sports, business and entertainment

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University: Ill. pension reform had costly mistake

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - University of Illinois officials have worried for months that state pension reforms will push employees to retire early. But they say language inadvertently placed in pension law may provide even stronger incentive.

Avijit Ghosh (ah-vih-JEET' gohsh) is a senior adviser to university President Robert Easter. He said at a trustees' meeting Friday that the pension law passed last year would effectively take away a year of pension benefits from about 4,000 University of Illinois employees if they don't retire before July 1. Those pensions would be reduced by up to 35 percent.

The change affects employees at other public universities, too.

State Sen. Daniel Biss was involved in drafting the legislation and says the fix would be simple. But some lawmakers may be uneasy about reopening the pension legislation.


Democrats: Illinois schools could face major cuts

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Senate Democrats say most of Illinois' 860 public school districts would have their funding cut next year if the state's temporary tax increase rolls back as scheduled.

Figures the Democrats are circulating detail a total of $450 million in general state aid cuts to schools and support Democratic arguments for extending a tax increase and changing the complicated school funding formula.

Democrats estimate Illinois will lose $1.6 billion in revenue if the state's tax increase rolls back in January.

Chicago Public Schools would see a $173 million decrease in funding next. Galesburg schools would lose $1.9 million. Still, some districts will actually see funding boosts despite because they will appear "poorer" through the eyes of the state.

Republicans say Democrats are needlessly seeking to expand spending once again.


Investigator wants tougher legislative ethics laws

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - The Illinois General Assembly's top ethics officer is again recommending stronger rules to govern lawmakers - including opening records when they recommend a constituent for a job or university admission.

Inspector General Tom Homer released a letter Friday that was sent to legislators. It asks them to adopt a law requiring state agencies to keep track of and make public lawmakers' recommendations.

It comes just a week after Homer closed an investigation without finding wrongdoing in recommendations that House Speaker Michael Madigan and two other House Democrats made to the Chicago-area Metra transit agency.

Spokesman Steve Brown says Madigan will ask the Legislative Ethics Commission to review the proposals.

Sen. Terry Link - a Waukegan Democrat - says too many rules could hinder lawmakers in doing their jobs.


Blagojevich campaign account donates final dollars

THIRD LAKE, Ill. (AP) - A federal campaign account for imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is now empty, two years into the Chicago Democrat's prison term.

The (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald reports Friends of Rod Blagojevich donated $709.85 to a Serbian Orthodox Church monastery earlier this month.

The gift to the monastery in Third Lake cleared out the account and was reflected in reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

The Lake County monastery is the seat of the church's Midwestern America diocese. Blagojevich has Serbian roots.

Blagojevich is in a Colorado prison serving a 14-year sentence for multiple corruption convictions. A court is expected to rule on his appeal soon.


Another top Illinois DNR official departs

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - A top Illinois Department of Natural Resources official is the latest administrator to leave the agency.

The Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises newspapers reports Tony Mayville was fired Monday from his position with the DNR's Office and Mines and Minerals.

The Du Bois (DOO' boyz) man says his unsuccessful bid for an Illinois House seat was carried out before the DNR's chief cleared him to run. Mayville says his handling of campaign donations from a coal company also was a factor.

Mayville's departure follows the resignation of one director who attended professional fishing tournaments while on sick leave. And the agency's acting director of Mines and Minerals quit after revelations a campaign fund he controlled accepted contributions from a coal company.


GOP lawmaker objects to 9-0 vote for Obama library

CHICAGO (AP) - A Republican lawmaker is protesting after an Illinois House committee recorded a 9-0 vote to commit $100 million for President Barack Obama's library and museum, even though the committee's four GOP members weren't there.

Rep. Ed Sullivan of Mundelein says he didn't expect a vote during Thursday's hearing. He told WBEZ radio and the (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald he would've voted no.

Sullivan says "the legacy of the Obama presidential library shouldn't be kicked off in a cloud of controversy."

Lawmakers approved the money to sweeten Chicago's bid for the library.

Democrats used the roll call from a Wednesday hearing on gambling as the vote for the library. No one objected.

A spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan says if there's a problem the committee will reconvene and vote again.


Ill. prisons to use costly drug for hepatitis C

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Illinois prison officials will be using an effective, but costly, new drug to treat inmates with hepatitis C. But they aren't sure of the total cost.

The Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises reports Friday that the Department of Corrections has approved using Sovaldi. Studies show it has a cure rate of 95 percent.

But a single treatment can cost $61,000. Corrections officials estimate there are as many as 150 inmates in each of 25 prisons who have the life-threatening blood-borne infection linked to tainted needles.

Illinois screens inmates for the disease when they are admitted unless they refuse.

John Maki (MA'-kee) of the prison watchdog group, the John Howard Association, says undiagnosed inmates can spread the disease and the state is obligated to provide treatment.


Former gov't informant charged with wire fraud

CHICAGO (AP) - A Chicago real estate developer who was a key government witness in corruption cases is facing federal charges after authorities say he stole $370,000 from a Chicago suburb.

Prosecutors charged John Thomas with wire fraud and arrested him Friday. They say the 51-year-old used money awarded to his company to repay personal loans, legal fees and other expenses.

The $900,000 from Riverdale was supposed to be used by Thomas' company for a redevelopment project at the now-closed Riverdale Marina, although prosecutors say only a portion was used for legitimate work.

Thomas is expected to appear in court Friday. It wasn't immediately clear if he had an attorney.

Thomas was an undercover informant in a series of corruption cases, including the case against fundraiser Tony Rezko, who's serving time in prison.


Clock ticking for states to adopt health exchanges

CHICAGO (AP) - More than 30 states that defaulted to the federal government to run their health insurance markets under President Barack Obama's health care law must decide if they want to take a crack at it themselves. Time is running out with hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money at stake.

Obama's home state of Illinois would seem like the best bet to be the home of the next state-run exchange.

But the law's disastrous rollout and lingering unpopularity make the decision difficult for state lawmakers, who would need to pass legislation for Illinois to qualify for crucial federal funding. That's a tough road politically, even in a state controlled by Democrats.

The law intended each state to run its own marketplace, but just 16 states and Washington, D.C., did so.


Ferry stops service on Mississippi River

MEYER, Ill. (AP) - A farm cooperative has shut down a ferry service that shuttled agricultural products and other goods across the Mississippi River between western Illinois and eastern Missouri.

The Quincy Herald-Whig reports Friday that the Ursa Farmers Cooperative made the decision, citing a too costly $618,000 in needed repairs. The ferry connected the cities of Canton in Missouri and Meyer in Illinois. The cooperative operated the ferry for the last two decades and shut it down about a month ago.

Roger Hugenberg is the cooperative's assistant general manager. He called stopping the ferry service a "tough decision" but says that the repair costs couldn't be justified.

Hugenberg says it's possible the ferry could return but it would require new partnerships to share costs.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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