Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 29, 2011

Jaguars Being Sold to Urbana Businessman

The NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars have reached an agreement to sell the small-market franchise to Urbana businessman Shahid Khan.

Majority owner Wayne Weaver made the announcement Tuesday, hours after he fired coach Jack Del Rio and gave general manager Gene Smith a three-year contract extension. He said Khan will have 100 percent control of the team. Weaver called Khan "a great American success story'' and said the Pakistan-born entrepreneur plans to keep the team in Jacksonville.

Khan, a University of Illinois alumnus, is the owner and CEO of the Flex-N-Gate Group based in Urbana, Ill. Khan had been a candidate to buy controlling interest in the St. Louis Rams last year. In September, the U of I named an addition to its College of Applied Sciences after Khan and his wife Ann, who donated $10 million to help fund construction of the facility.

The sale of the franchise and the firing of Del Rio are the city's most significant news since the team's inception in 1993.

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)

Categories: Biography, Business, Sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 29, 2011

Lawmakers Return to Springfield to Consider Tax Break Bill

State lawmakers are back in Springfield on Tuesday to try to pass legislation that will keep a pair of major corporations happy enough to stay in Illinois while also doing something for smaller businesses and everyday taxpayers.

A scaled-back tax package is before the General Assembly after it became clear earlier this month during the regularly scheduled veto session that there wasn't enough support for a larger and more expensive version. However, there is still no telling if the new plan will succeed.

What's now the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group cites its namesake city as its birthplace when in 1848 the world's first futures exchange was created.

Sears came to the city not long after in 1887. The company is now in suburban Hoffman Estates.

Despite their long histories in Illinois, both fixtures are threatening to leave. They are being lured by other states with bids of tax breaks and incentives.

Illinois legislators fearful of losing all of those jobs are back at the capitol crafting a counter offer.

Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion), who chairs the House Revenue Committee, has pushed a plan that creates, extends and increases a smattering of other taxes to the benefit of other businesses, and to individuals.

Bradley's proposal has an annual price tag of $250 million, which is $850 million less compared to an earlier proposal. It would include $85 million in relief for Chicago-based financial exchanges that are threatening to leave the state. It also includes $15 million in tax credits for Hoffman-Estates based Sears, which says it may also move.

"We're trying to create fairness, we're trying to create balance, we're trying to spend the money we have as wisely as possible and we're trying to do it in a sustainable manner," Bradley said. "I wish we had more, I wish we could do more. But the reality is that we need to pay bills, we need to keep these companies in Illinois, we need to provide as much relief as we can small businesses and working men and women."

At about $600 million less than the earlier package, Bradley said the plan he is sponsoring is what Illinois can afford.

Businesses groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Manufactures Association say they are pleased with the proposal. They like that it no longer retroactively reverses a tax break that lets companies delay paying taxes on big machinery purchases. They also like that it extends a research and development tax credit, that it partially reverses a suspension of the net operating loss deduction, and it provides relief on the estate tax.

The GOP's negotiator, Rep. David Harris (R-Arlington Heights), said the plan is designed to benefit small and medium businesses.

"The objective is to key in, for business proposes, to show that it's not just the big guess, but small and medium businesses that we want to help as well," Harris said.

There's even a live theater production tax credit, after Broadway in Chicago has continually testified it will help bring acts to the city.

That wide range is why House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) gets miffed.

"I think there are serious questions about the top heavy nature about this proposition," Currie said. "I think there are serious questions about the issue of whether we ought to just jump when some other state says 'we're going to steal your businesses away from you.'"

Currie suggests the General Assembly consider narrow measures targeted solely at the Mercantile Exchange and Sears. The package has blossomed because legislators will be attracted to the various components. Especially when they are hearing protests like that of Toby Chow, with the Make Wall Street Pay Illinois coalition.

"Let me tell you what fairness really means," Chow said. "It means saying no to further budget cuts, which will pile misery upon misery for the 99 percent, and it means saying no to tax breaks which will pile idle wealth upon idle wealth for those in the 1 percent. It means standing up to their extortion and blackmail and threats to leave Chicago."

In the spirit of appeasing some of those concerns, the package breaks not just for businesses but also to individual taxpayers. It increases the earned income tax credit, to the benefit of the working poor. But the credit's significantly smaller in this new, scaled back version of the package.

Gov. Pat Quinn's budget director David Vaught said the administration wants more.

"That makes a huge difference to that single mother, and it also makes a huge difference to our economy," Vaught said. "So, it makes a huge difference out there for those folks who are not happy with government."

That's not to mention critics who argue the package does nothing for the middle class. The standard tax exemption gets a one-time raise, but going forward it will not be tied to inflation as originally proposed.

House sponsor John Bradley said there is pressure to add here, subtract there, but he said he will continue negotiating in an attempt to get enough votes. But at some point, he said, it will be time to move forward.

If getting a package through the General Assembly is being done to please the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, time is nearly up. Its chairman was upset earlier this month because the legislature couldn't get it done during its regularly scheduled veto session. That's why lawmakers hurried back.

To the consternation of some legislators, nobody from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange present at the committee was wiling to testify how long it'll wait.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 28, 2011

GOP Legislative Rivals Wary of Tax Break Bill

Two Republican lawmakers who plan to run against each other in the March primary both say they are wary of the tax break measure that will be presented to them on Tuesday. The measure would give tax breaks for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Sears --- both of which have threatened to leave the state.

State Sen. Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) said he wants to see tax changes that would help farmers and small businesses, and State Rep. Jason Barickman (R-Champaign) said he doesn't favor any bill that provides tax breaks for some, but not for all.

Barickman and Cultra have both filed their petitions to get on the March primary ballot in the new 53rd Illinois Senate District.

Cultra, who is the incumbent in the race, currently represents the old 53rd Senate District, and he said his experience as a lawmaker gives him an advantage over Barickman.

"It's up to him to convince people that they need a change," Cultra said. "The district that I represent, I represent very well. It fits me personally as far as the views that I have are the views of the district."

Barickman is running in his first election, after being appointed to take over Cultra's old House seat. Barickman said he does not want to make the race a personal battle between him and Cultra. But Barickman does say that Illinois needs effective, conservative leadership.

"For Republicans, what we have to do is put the best leaders that we can in Springfield who can voice a conservative message, but can also reach across party aisles and bring some of those Democrats with us on issues that are important, like concealed carry and limited spending," Barickman said.

With the veto session starting this week, both lawmakers say they are uneasy about supporting a new package of possible tax breaks for Illinois businesses. The measure passed the House Revenue Committee on Monday afternoon by a 6-0 vote.

The measure's main goal is to provide tax relief to Chicago area companies that have threatened to leave Illinois due to last January's tax hike. They include financial exchange holding company CME Group and Sears Holdings, which owns Sears and Kmart.

Barickman said the tax increases passed last January affected everybody, and that any tax rollbacks must help all businesses and taxpayers, not just specific big corporations.

"Those types of people need to have a voice in Springfield. And I'm certainly going to fight for tax relief that helps them, and not necessarily the one that just helps a specific, cherry-picked group," Barickman said.

Meanwhile, Cultra said he is looking for specifics in the package ---- specifics that helps farmers and small businesses, like a lower inheritance tax and a restoration of the research and development tax credit for corporations.

"These were all things that were in place, that were done away with, that we created more reasons for people not to invest in Illinois. And it just makes common sense to have these things in place," Cultra said.

The latest version of the tax break package released on Monday would restore the tax credit, and make changes in the estate tax. It would also include tax breaks for families and the poor.

The new 53rd Senate District includes all of Ford and Iroquois Counties, and also parts of McLean and Vermilion. Barickman and Cultra used the first day of the filing period to file their petitions for the March 20th Republican primary.

Candidates have until next Monday to file petitions in state and local races.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 25, 2011

Champaign to Hold Parade of Lights & Shop Local Events on Saturday

UPDATE: The Champaign Center Partnership confirmed Saturday afternoon that the Parade of Lights would go on as scheduled at 6 PM. Executive Director TJ Blakeman says despite a weather forecast of rain tonight, they have hopes that it won't begin until after the parade is over.

What's known as Small Business Saturday around the country is being used as a day to spotlight local businesses in the oldest commercial areas of Champaign.

Saturday, November 25th, has been dubbed Shop Local Saturday by the Champaign Center Partnership, which promotes businesses in the Downtown, Midtown and Campustown areas. Executive Director TJ Blakeman says that area features some of Champaign's most vigorous local businesses.

"What's great about our Downtown, Campus and Midtown merchants is that most of them, if not, a majority of them have put their heart and soul into their business", says Blakeman. "And I think it's really important for the community to come out and support them. They are the backbone of our Center-City districts, and we want to focus as much attention on that as we can, and really encourage the community to do the same."

Blakeman says there will be several special activities in Champaign's Campustown-Midtown-Downtown area, including a visit by Santa Claus to the Convention and Visitors Bureau offices from 1 to 5 PM, special movie showings at the Art and Virginia theaters, strolling carolers and the annual downtown Parade of Lights.

The Champaign Center Partnership has taken over operation of the parade, which was previously run by the Champaign Park District. Blakeman says the parade will have 51 entries this year, which he calls about standard for the event. He says the lighted floats have a wide range of sponsors, "everything from some of our non-for-profits to business interests in the community at-large". Blakeman says some float sponsors are from outside Champaign-Urbana area, such as the Danville Regional Airport, which has put a float in the Parade of Lights for several years.

The Parade of Lights is scheduled to begin Saturday evening, November 26th, at 6 in downtown Champaign, and end with the official lighting of the downtown Christmas tree at One Main Plaza at 7:30 PM. Blakeman says if it rains, the parade could be postponed to Saturday December 3rd. He says any weather-related decision to postpone the parade will be made around noon on Saturday, and publicized on local media.

Categories: Business, Community

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 23, 2011

Tax Incentive Bill May Have Something for Everyone

A bill with tax incentives for big companies and working families is expected to come before the Illinois legislature next week. It's been dubbed a "Christmas Tree" bill because it's got a little something for everyone.

The bill started out as tax incentive to persuade corporations like Sears and CME to stay in Illinois. But Democrats want to add tax incentives for individuals and working class families. Republicans want to add tax incentives for small businesses. Meantime, Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn wants to make sure it all passes.

"You know it has to be a reasonable bill - it can't be overloaded. So we'll sit down over the next few days and hopefully come up with a good proposal to get some majority support," Quinn said in a news conference on Tuesday.

Sears has threatened to leave the state if a new tax package isn't passed soon. If the legislature can't pass a bill next week, it'll have to wait until lawmakers return in January.



AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2011

Exelon Moves Closer to Merger

Chicago-based Exelon is a step closer to becoming one of the largest power companies in the country. Shareholders of Exelon and its rival, Constellation Energy, approved a merger Thursday. Exelon is the parent company of Commonwealth Edison.

Analyst Travis Miller with Morningstar predicts the merger will bring new jobs to Illinois and benefit consumers. "You know a larger company offers cost savings that can flow to ComEd and reduce the infrastructure portion of consumer bills," Miller said.

Miller predicts the merger will be finalized by early 2012, but it still needs approval from regulators.

Meantime, Illinois' attorney general is criticizing the deal. Lisa Madigan's office is concerned about what would happen to electricity prices if the merger goes through.

Categories: Business, Energy, Technology

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 18, 2011

Carbon Sequestration Begins at Research Project in Decatur

A research project studying a method to keep carbon dioxide emissions out of the atmosphere got down to business this week. After three years of preparations, the Illinois Basin-Decatur project began injecting CO2 from an ethanol plant into the ground more than a mile deep.

Robert Finley with the Illinois Geological Survey at the University of Illinois' Prairie Research Institute said the CO2 injections will continue for another three years, until a million metric tons of the gas is embedded in the massive Mount Simon underground sandstone formation. Finley said Mount Simon offers a big potential at a place for storing CO2 emissions.

"The Mt Simon sandstone at Decatur is 1,650 feet thick, and we'll be storing only in the lower several hundred feet of this unit, and this rock unit is quite laterally extensive," Finley explained. "It covers most of Illinois, southwestern Indiana and western Kentucky."

The Illinois Basin-Decatur project is located on the Archer Daniels Midland campus in Decatur, and uses CO2 from an ADM ethanol plant. The U of I's Illinois State Geological Survey is the lead agency for the project, which is one of seven around the country funded by the U-S Department of Energy, and the second to begin actual sequestration. Finley said the carbon sequestration process has started smoothly --- and the long-term question is whether the gas can be pumped underground continuously without leaking.

He said their findings will be applied to another, larger carbon sequestration project, for which ADM is taking the lead. A training and education center for the larger project is being built at Decatur's Richland Community College.

Eventually, Finley said the experience and knowledge gained from the projects at Decatur can help other carbon sequestration projects --- like the FutureGen project which will bury CO-2 emissions from a coal plant in western Illinois.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 16, 2011

AT&T Expands Mobile Broadband to Danville Area

An economic official in Danville says the expansion of mobile broadband in the area adds a missing sales tool in parts of rural downstate Illinois.

AT&T's mobile broadband has now expanded to rural cities like Rossville, Tilton, and Georgetown, and St. Joseph. The company is now offering a 3G network, with hopes of expanding it to 4G if AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile USA is approved.

Vermilion Advantage President Vicki Haugen says employers of all sizes, ranging from to ThyssenKrupp, to farmers, to a winery in Oakwood stand to benefit.

"So you look at communities like Hoopeston or Oakwood, off of the interstate (I-74), or some of the other communities that have business development," said Haugen. "They have been at an unfair disadvantage just because of the lack of quality connectivity. This is a key to today and in the future."

Champaign Democratic Senator Mike Frerichs says the legislature's 2010 vote to modernize Illinois' telecommunications act made the expansion possible. AT&T Illinois President Paul La Schiazza says the company has boosted its infrastructure by $3-point-8 billion the last 3 years, due in part to that legislation.

Besides Danville, 11 other cities are impacted, including Hoopeston, Westville, and Tilton in Vermilion County, and St. Joseph and Gifford in Champaign County.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 11, 2011

Airtran Airways to End Service in Central Illinois

Nineteen Airtran Airways workers will lose their jobs in Bloomington-Normal, and travelers will have to book flights on other airlines when the carrier pulls out of the Central Illinois Regional Airport next June.

According to a release from Airtran, continued high fuel prices and the changing economic climate require the end of air service to Central Illinois. Airtran carried 39-percent of Bloomington Normal passengers last year. Airtran also cut service to three other cities and earlier this year dropped four other cities including the Quad Cities in Illinois.

Bloomington-Normal's largest carrier remains Delta. The loss of service includes three daily non-stop flights. Municipal leaders had expressed concern earlier this year about the possibility of service loss when Airtran did not renew special spring break flights to Fort Myers.

Airport Director Carl Olson had been meeting with Southwest executives for more than six months trying to make the case


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