The Associated Press

Missouri Department of Transportation

Illinois could have $275 million more for road and bridge projects this year if lawmakers approve a Department of Transportation funding plan when they return to Springfield on Wednesday.

A document obtained by The Associated Press identifies $400 million in extra federal and freed-up state money to pump into the transit improvement program during the next five years.

DOT wants to use $275 million of that this summer, which would be a 15 percent increase over the $1.76 billion planned for work this year statewide.

Jackson County Sheriff

A former southern Illinois sheriff is back in a federal lockup in Arizona after being sentenced again in a drug-trafficking case in which he allegedly plotted to have witnesses against him killed.

Raymond Martin is serving his life sentence at a maximum-security prison near Tucson. That's where the former longtime Gallatin County law enforcer was being housed before he was resentenced earlier this month in Benton.

The Mississippi River's water level is dropping again and barge industry trade groups warn that river commerce could essentially come to a halt as early as next week in an area south of St. Louis.

The Coast Guard remains confident that the nation's largest waterway will remain open despite the worst drought in decades. But officials with the American Waterways Operators and Waterways Council Incorporated said Thursday that even if the river is open, further limits on barges will halt commercial traffic.

Gov. Pat Quinn says lawmakers should have plenty of time to deal with pension reform and other major issues during a shortened lame duck session.

Legislators are scheduled to return to Springfield next week. Quinn has said he wants them to approve a fix for the state's estimated $95 billion pension crisis before new lawmakers are sworn in Jan. 9. Other issues that could be on the agenda are a gambling expansion, allowing gay marriage and a bill to let illegal immigrants have driver's licenses.

Lawmakers have a new proposal on the table Wednesday as part of efforts to fix Illinois' multi-billion-dollar pension crisis.

Democratic Rep. Elaine Nekritz and about a dozen other lawmakers  announce the new legislation aimed at reducing the state's $95 billion pension liability.

The plan calls for raising employee contributions and reducing cost of living increases. It would also create a tiered retirement age. Younger employees would have to work longer, and some costs for teacher pensions would shift to school districts.


The Prison employees union is responding to overtime reports at Tamms Correctional Center.   

The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees is holding a news conference Wednesday morning in Cairo.  A newspaper report says the Tamms Supermax Prison paid out almost a million dollars in overtime to its security staff in the past year.

The Fall Veto session will end a day early.   Legislative leaders announced Tuesday that neither chamber of the Illinois General Assembly will be in session Thursday.        

Illinois lawmakers could tackle high-profile issues beginning tomorrow in their six-day fall session.

State of IL

The Quinn administration has terminated the contract between the state of Illinois and its largest public employee union.

State of IL

The state's public workers' pension squeeze is now the subject of a website established by the governor and aimed at the public.

IL General Assembly

Illinois lawmakers are considering a measure to cap any wage increases for state employees in contracts negotiations between their unions and the governor's office.

A business group says the Illinois pension system is ``unfixable'' and that even current retirees' benefits will have to be cut to keep it from bankruptcy.

Drought-plagued Midwest farming states got little benefit from the massive storm that pounded the Eastern Seaboard this week, although the nation's worst drought in decades appears to be easing in some areas.

The U.S. Drought Monitor's weekly update posted Thursday shows that 60% of the land in the lower 48 states is experiencing some degree of drought as of Tuesday. That's down nearly 2 percentage points, taking into account much of Sandy's fallout.

The Illinois State Board of Education is issuing a report card that shows the percentage of schools that failed to meet strict performance targets set by the federal No Child Left Behind law is climbing slightly.

But in releasing its report card, the board explains that the evaluation process is being overhauled because of major flaws in the current system. The latest evaluation of schools, students and teachers found that 66 percent of the state's schools failed to meet the targets. Out of 671 high schools, only 11 met the standards based on test scores.

A group of voters is challenging the validity of a measure on this fall's ballot that would make it more difficult to improve retirement benefits for public employees.

In a statement Thursday, Republican state Senate candidate John Bambenek, of Champaign, said he and 10 other Illinois residents filed a lawsuit arguing the question is unconstitutional.

Bambenek says the form of the question and the amendment are ``deceptive, inaccurate and incomprehensible.''

Illinois' unemployment rate dipped to 8.8% in September.

That's down from a rate of 9.1% in August. And the Illinois Department of Employment Security says the seasonally adjusted figures reported Thursday show Illinois' unemployment rate has fallen 10 times in the past 13 months.

IDES says Illinois added 13,800 jobs in September, and Director Jay Rowell calls the news ``encouraging because it reinforces the trend of continued job growth.''

A former college classmate of a Bangladeshi man accused of plotting a car bomb attack on New York City's Federal Reserve says the allegations don't square with the peaceful student he remembers.

Jim Dow says he was shocked to learn of 21-year-old Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis' arrest Wednesday during an FBI terror sting in New York.

Southeast Missouri State University says Nafis attended school only last spring. Dow says he had a physics class with Nafis and befriended him, giving the student a ride home twice a week.

State Board of Elections

Super PACs are bringing more than $1 million to Illinois legislative races - but what impact the unexpected campaign finance phenomenon will have in the Nov. 6 balloting is up for debate.

Elections records show five of the ten super PACs in Illinois have raised serious money and are spending on legislative races. Super PACs arose from court rulings that determined political committees unaffiliated with candidates or causes can spend unlimited money.

David Morrison of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform says the money can have a ``huge impact'' on state campaigns.


Several central and northern Illinois Democrats are urging Gov. Pat Quinn to drop plans to close seven correctional facilities because of overcrowded prisons.

Sen. Pat McGuire said Monday that the youth detention center at Joliet is the only facility for the worst juvenile offenders. The Joliet Democrat says closing it would make the rest of the system more dangerous.

Kevin Boucher/WSIU

Illinois State Sen. Gary Forby is urging Gov. Pat Quinn to drop his prison-closure plans with inmate numbers at an all-time high.        

The Benton Democrat said Quinn should reconsider after The Associated Press reported the prison population hit a record -- 49,154 -- last weekend.        

The Corrections Department denied a figure that large even though the analysis was based on the agency's own numbers.

Quinn says a tight budget requires closure of five correctional facilities -- including Tamms in Forby's district. The Democrat pledges it can be done safely.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is ordering state agencies to make more data available online and urging local governments to do the same.

Agencies now have to make sharing data a priority when setting up new computer systems. They also have to step up their efforts to find raw data to share.

Information ranging from daily traffic to retail sales is already available. But that's just a fraction of the facts and figures generated by state government.

Agencies have four months to produce a plan for complying with the executive order issued Tuesday.

National Weather Service

Several days of rain brought some relief to farmers in the nation's midsection as they contend with the worst drought in the U.S. in decades.

The rain was too late to make much of a difference for those growing corn. Most have already started harvesting. Soybean growers, however, are hoping the showers will help their crops, and ranchers are grateful for a break from hauling water for their cattle.

Federal authorities continue an investigation into a small aircraft crash in northeast Missouri that claimed the lives of two men from southern Illinois.

The Quincy Herald-Whig reports that authorities identified the victims as 74-year-old John R. Johnson of Carbondale, Ill., and 47-year-old Carl S. Maiden of DuQuoin, Ill.

The accident happened Wednesday night. Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Tony Molinaro says the cause isn't yet known but the FAA is investigating. It wasn't clear which man was the pilot.

WSIU Staff

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has officially abandoned his hope of shutting down prisons by Friday.

A letter from the Corrections Department instructs employees at targeted prisons to keep reporting to work. In it, Director ``Tony'' Godinez announces a ``temporary delay for the layoffs and closures'' that were scheduled for August 31st.

Governor Quinn wants to empty the Tamms supermax prison and the women's prison at Dwight to save money.

IL Dept. of Agriculture

Attendance was up nearly 15 percent at this year's Illinois State Fair.

State Fair manager Amy Bliefnick tells The State Journal-Register in Springfield attendees seemed to enjoy the mild weather after weeks of heat earlier in the summer. Attendance for the 10-day fair was just more than 844,000 this year. Last year it was about 735,600.

Bliefnick says attendance figures ``would have been very different'' if central Illinois had the triple-digit temperatures it saw in July.

High-speed Internet service might seem common for many, but it's still a luxury for some Illinois residents living in rural areas.

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register reports that 13 percent of the state had no broadband access, other than satellite and cellular offerings, at the end of 2011 under minimums set by the Federal Communications Commission.

But rural electric and telephone co-ops across the state have begun extending fiber-optic broadband.

Gov. Pat Quinn says he's very disappointed in Illinois legislators, particularly Republicans, for not taking action on the state's pension problem.

Illinois lawmakers adjourned a special session Friday without making any progress on the state's massive pension crisis.

Quinn says legislators need to show some ``political fortitude.''

The democratic governor says he isn't giving up on overhauling the pension system and its fast-growing costs.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has proposed a statewide ban on assault weapons.

Gov. Pat Quinn has called lawmakers back to Springfield for a one-day special session to reform the state's pension systems. But, so far, he doesn't have a plan beyond that.        

Quinn announced Monday that legislators will convene Aug. 17.        

He says lawmakers already have legislation on the table that they should consider. That includes a measure pushed by Senate President John Cullerton that addresses two of the state's five pension systems.        

A southern Illinois man faces up to 60-years in prison now that he's been convicted in a 2010 killing of a 15-year old girl.