Morning headlines: Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Ill. General Assembly Approves Budget
Schools are traditionally an area Illinois legislators have left untouched when they're looking to cut spending. But the budget the General Assembly approved Monday night gives 3 percent less to education for the coming year that begins in July.
Overall cuts are wide ranging and total $2.3 billion less than what Gov. Pat Quinn proposed in Feb. That was enough for Republicans in the House, but the Senate GOP says it's still too rich.
Democrats in the Senate voted to add back more than $400 million to programs such as mental health services and the cost of burials for the indigent.
Senator Dan Kotowski, a Democrat from Park Ridge, defended the restoration.
"The fact is, there are services in there for people who are the most vulnerable in our state," said Kotowski. "Home delivered meals for people, the Guardian's Advocacy Council. People don't have guardians. They're aged, disabled; they need services. Transitional housing for homeless people."
It's unclear if the House will agree. Legislators predict a long day ahead as negotiations continue. Today is the last day of the legislative session.
Debris Removal to Begin This Week in Joplin
Crews are preparing to begin the long process of removing debris from tornado-ravaged Joplin later this week.
City Administrator Mark Rohr says the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will oversee the process of getting rid of debris from an estimated 8,000 damaged and destroyed homes, apartments and commercial buildings.
An exact date for the removal to begin has not been set, however. Rohr has not said where the millions of tons of rubble will go.
The deadly tornado struck May 22, cutting a path more than six miles long and up to three-quarters of a mile wide through the southwest Missouri town of 50,000 residents.
Meanwhile, some of the people left temporarily homeless by the tornado could be placed in housing nearly an hour's drive from Joplin. FEMA told The Associated Press Monday that its first option for housing the thousands of displaced is to find them existing rental housing. FEMA is looking at available housing within a 55-mile radius because there isn't much housing left in Joplin. If enough existing housing isn't available, FEMA will consider bringing in trailers, as it did for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Blagojevich Trial Continues
Ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is set to return to the witness stand for a third day at his political corruption retrial, which is now heading into its fifth week of testimony. He's expected to talk further about allegations that he attempted to shake down executives for campaign donations by threatening state decisions that could hurt their businesses.
One widely anticipated topic is how he addresses the allegation that he sought to sell or trade President Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat for a high-profile job or large campaign donations. He'll likely try to explain what he may have meant in secretly recorded conversations about benefiting from his power to appoint someone to the seat.
Blagojevich denies wrongdoing. He was convicted in his first trial of lying to the FBI.