Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 09, 2011

Is Casino Legislation Losing Momentum?

Despite delays and debunked predictions-and a never-ending wait for Gov. Pat Quinn's decision on a gambling expansion bill-supporters of expanded gambling in Illinois say they expect to find common ground by Oct. 25, the first day of the fall veto session.

The bill, stalled for months due to policy differences, political infighting and Quinn's reluctance to increase gambling venues, remains a top priority.

But the waiting game may be ending soon. Unless Quinn outlines his concerns "in short order," legislative leaders will present him with their own version of a clean-up gaming bill, known as a trailer bill, that will tighten control over the proposed Chicago-owned casino, according to State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), House sponsor of the bill. Other revisions may be coming as well, Lang said.

The options will be limited: Any change risks losing a vote on a bill that was a delicate balance of interests among Chicago, struggling cities such as Danville and Rockford that want new casinos, the horse racing industry and places like Joliet and Aurora where existing casinos fought the increased competition.

An amendatory veto, which would allow Quinn to change the bill and send it back to lawmakers for a re-vote, would be an unwise choice, Lang said.

"Substantial changes would put the speaker in a position of weighing compliance with the (Illinois) constitution on the amendatory veto," said Lang, who is House Speaker Michael Madigan's floor leader. "That's not a good way to go. If the governor thinks we're going to have substantial changes by way of amendatory veto, I think he's mistaken."

Whether lawmakers' power play will work remains to be seen. Quinn is occupied by daily state budget pressures. He announced Thursday a series of employee layoffs and facility closings that also will be a top item of negotiation during the fall veto session.

For now, the gambling bill that narrowly passed the legislature in May is not on Quinn's desk. In an unusual legislative gambit, Senate President John Cullerton is holding the bill in his chamber, even though it passed, for fear the governor will veto it. And by delaying, he is buying time for an ongoing negotiation. Once the bill reaches Quinn, he must act within 60 days or it becomes law.

Lang, along withSenate sponsor Terry Link, a Democrat from Waukegan, and Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, have been waiting for more specifics from the governor on which parts of the bill make him uncomfortable, but so far the governor has not been forthcoming. Lang and other proponents of the gambling expansion bill spent months crafting legislation with the right ingredients to win approval from a diverse General Assembly. The bill passed the House with only five votes to spare. It passed the Senate with the minimum 30 votes. If Quinn vetoes the bill, lawmakers would need to override his action with supermajorities in both chambers. Supporters would need six more votes in the House and six more in the Senate-likely an impossible threshold on such a controversial piece of legislation..

The more realistic option is to craft a trailer bill that addresses Quinn's concerns while keeping the original bill's vote intact. Starting over, bill sponsors said, is not an option. Many lawmakers who voted against the bill opposed it on moral grounds or voted "no" to protect existing casinos in their districts, which would be hurt by the competition. Ten casinos already exist in Illinois in Elgin, Aurora, East Peoria, East St. Louis, Metropolis, Rock Island, Alton and two in Joliet. The newest casino opened in July in Des Plaines.

Other lawmakers who voted against the bill feared more gambling would not play well in their districts. Those minds would be difficult to change, especially in an election year when they are running in new territories. The boundaries of all House and Senate districts will change for the 2012 election cycle because of redistricting.

When lawmakers return to Springfield this fall for a two-week veto session, some of them may not know whether they are facing competition next year.

"During the periods of time we'll be in Springfield for veto session, the time to circulate nominating petitions (to get on the ballot) will still be going on. So some legislators will be a little nervous about that," Lang said.

Even a follow-up gambling bill addressing Quinn's concerns could be tricky. Just a few cold feet would topple the coalition Lang and Link created last spring to pass the original bill.

For example, Link was able to bring reluctant Republicans on board, including state Sen. Larry Bomke of Springfield, by adding a year-round horse-racing component at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Lang pulled House colleague Luis Arroyo, Democrat of Chicago, into the "yes" column by promising a stream of casino revenue to a fund that would help homeowners facing foreclosure.

They convinced downstate representatives who would not benefit directly from expanded gambling to support it anyway by committing new money to county fairs, a source of pride for farming communities. They included a Danville casino to the bill, which added one senator and two state representatives as supporters.

As a result, the bill is a delicate pyramid of political trades. Any significant changes from Quinn would be a major setback.

"The timeframe is veto session or game over, right?" said Tony Somone, executive director of the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association, who says the bill is the last hope to save his industry. "I think we've showed the governor how our industry is on life support and we need him to sign the bill as is."

In addition to policy differences-Quinn said from the beginning the bill was too big-political infighting has slowed it down.

Quinn and Cullerton share a mutual lack of trust. One flare-up in May prompted Cullerton to call the governor "irrelevant" during state budget negotiations. Cullerton has refused to send Quinn the gambling bill until they reach a compromise, fearing Quinn might remind the legislature of his relevance by vetoing it outright. The bill is trapped in limbo between Cullerton's desk and Quinn's indecision.

The legislation would create the nation's first city-owned casino in Chicago, along with four others around the state. The measure also would allow the state's five horseracing tracks and Chicago's two airports to add slot machines, and it would allow existing casinos to expand.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who wants the bill, cranked up the pressure on Quinn several times already and is planning more. The Chicago City Council on Thursday approved a resolution supporting a new casino. In mid-summer, Emanuel publicly unveiledthe projects a new casino would fund and organized a news conference of minority aldermen who called on Quinn to sign the bill. Emanuel also is expected to drum up more publicity by working with downstate groups who want Quinn to sign the bill.

Last week, Emanuel hosted a tour for General Assembly members, bringing them on Chicago Transit Authority buses to the National Teachers Academy to meet with Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, followed by a visit to the 911 Emergency Communications Center. They ended the visit at a Millennium Park reception. The Chicago casino wasn't an explicit topic of conversation, but the tour gave Emanuel a chance to outline the city's needs.

Like all of Emanuel's moves, the timing was strategic. Lawmakers next month will be addressing the casino bill, however it plays out. Emanuel desperately wants it. The projected revenue boost for the city alone is an estimated $650 million annually, a huge cash cow for a city facing its own budget pressures.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 03, 2011

Illinois Lawmakers Head to Cuba to Strike Business Deals

A group of Illinois lawmakers are scheduled to travel to Cuba on Tuesday, in hopes of striking deals between Cuban officials and Illinois businesses.

Representative Dan Burke of Chicago will be going on what he calls a learning mission for him and other legislators. The Democrat said Cuban imports and exports with Illinois have dropped dramatically in the past, but he thinks now is a good time to turn things around.

"Being an agricultural state, we have everything that they would potentially need, I think the controls over the commerce and industry in Cuba has been lessened in the last few months so there are business opportunities for our state based companies that might be pretty dramatic," Burke said.

Burke said the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba is a reason for a decrease in exports and imports.

Taxpayers won't be footing the bill for the trip, as lawmakers will be paying their own way from either personal funds or their political accounts. Burke said the group will publish a report of the trip when they return home.

This isn't the first time Illinois politicians have visited Cuba. Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan was the first sitting U.S. governor to visit Cuba after Fidel Castro took power.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 26, 2011

Health Alliance Agrees on Contract Extension

Health Alliance Agrees on Contract Extension

Health Alliance has approved nine-month contract extensions for state workers and employees.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 26, 2011

DOC Director Responds to Concerns About Staffing Levels

The director of the Illinois Department of Corrections disputes charges from two state senators that many state prisons fall short of proper staffing levels.

State Senators Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) and John Jones (R-Mount Vernon) say that numbers obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that the ratio of inmates to security staff is reaching dangerous levels at some prisons. But state Corrections Director Tony Godinez said the numbers lack the context of the different conditions at each facility --- based on security level, building design, inmate population and the quality of training given the security staff.

"We will have enough staff, no matter what, because we have established what our minimal staffing patterns should be. We will not go below that," Godinez said. "In addition to that, my comfort level is more so with the fact that our staff is the best and they're the best trained."

Senators Cultra and Jones had also expressed concerns about whether enough new guards were being trained to replace those who would soon be eligible for retirement.

According to the Illinois Department of Corrections, roughly 800 recently trained guards have been hired in the past year, and new cadet training sessions will be scheduled later in fiscal year 2012.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 26, 2011

Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner Gets FAA Approval

A long overdue new plane from Chicago-based Boeing is one step closer to taking flight. The airplane maker got word Friday from the Federal Aviation Administration that the new Dreamliner 787 is safe and in compliance with federal regulations.

Joe Schwieterman is a professor of transportation at DePaul University.

He said the Dreamliner is the most notable new plane to come out in decades.

"This is a real milestone for Boeing," Schwieterman said. "It had lots of delays, but this shows the project has reached where it needs to go and they've got a lot of airplanes on order. I think we'll see a bit of a surge in order activity now that it's truly airworthy."

Boeing's new 787 has been delayed for a variety of reasons for the past three years. The company has more than 800 orders for the light-weight, fuel efficient airplane. A Japanese airline says it wants to start regular service with the plane on Nov.1.

Categories: Business, Transportation

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 25, 2011

State Board Could Vote on Illinois Toll Hike

Illinois drivers may soon see tollway fares nearly double, as the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority board could vote on the increase at a meeting Thursday.

The proposal would bump tolls for I-PASS users from 40 cents up to 75 cents - a nearly 86 percent increase. Drivers paying with cash would still have to shell out double the I-PASS amound, or $1.50.

The Illinois Tollway says all those extra quarters would add up to $12 billion to fund a massive, 15-year construction program. The plan calls for widening a long stretch of I-90, from near O'Hare Airport to Rockford. It would also finally allow for an interchange at the Tri-State Tollway and I-57 - two roads that cross each other, but don't connect.

For commuters, tollway officials say that would ultimately mean less time stuck in traffic. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who gets to appoint tollway board members, has said he supports the increase. Supporters of the plan say it would also create much-needed construction jobs. But critics have reportedly said the toll hike is larger than what's needed to fund the road projects.

The tollway board meeting Thursday comes after several public hearings around the state. If the capital plan is approved, the hike would go into effect on the first of the year.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 24, 2011

Illinois Firm Leaving for Indiana

Illinoisans are known for crossing into Indiana for cheap cigarettes, cheap gas and now cheaper costs of doing business it seems. On Tuesday, Indiana officials rolled out the red carpet in introducing the latest Illinois firm to leave the state.

Modern Drop Forge, a manufacturing firm in south suburban Blue Island, Illinois, will move its operations 30 miles to the east to a now vacant facility to Merrillville, Indiana.

Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels announced the company's intentions at a Tuesday morning press conference.

"We operate on the theory that let's make it as affordable as possible to come and hire Hoosiers," Daniels said. "Creating a climate that attracts successful, growing companies like Modern Forge to Indiana is our top priority. Since day one, we have worked hard to make Indiana the top jobs state in the country and Modern Forge will benefit from our strong infrastructure, skilled workforce and business friendly environment."

Modern Drop Forge is a family-owned business with operations in four states, employing some 700 people. It manufactures parts for aerospace, truck and recreational vehicles.

Greg Heim owns the company that's been in business, getting its start in Blue Island in 1914.

He says officials with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) and the Town of Merrillville, worked with his company to make an attractive offer to lure the company.

IEDC offered Modern Drop Forge $2 million in performance-based tax credits and up to $200,000 in training grants based on the company's job creation plans.

The city of Merrillville, meanwhile, provided additional property tax abatements.

But in the end, Heim said the cost of doing business in Illinois proved too much, especially with the state increasing its corporate income tax by 67 percent in January. The actual rate increased from 4.7 percent to 7 percent until 2015.

"I haven't talked to anybody (manufacturers in Illinois) that's said, 'Boy, Illinois is wonderful and why would I want to leave," Heim said.

Heim says he does feel badly about leaving Blue Island, a city that's done so much for his company.

"We have to do what's best. When you're in a family business, you have to think back over time about the people who have made it possible for you to be at where you are at today, and hope to God that they agree with our decisions. It's tough," Heim said.

Heim says when the company makes its move to Merrillville, its Blue Island plant will shut down. But Merrillville, largely a bedroom community with little industry, won't get all the jobs that are now in Blue Island. Heim said of the 260 jobs, about 240 will be moved to Merrillville's southeast side, just east of the well-known Westfield Shoppingtown "Southlake" Mall on U.S. 30 and east of Interstate 65.

Current Modern Drop Forge employees will be offered a chance at those jobs in Merrillville, but some will be filled by Merrillville area residents, Heim said.

Merrillville Town Council member Shawn Pettit says the move by Modern Drop Forge will help the town to shore up its finances. It's been running in the red ever since Indiana moved to a property tax cap for homeowners and businesses.

"It's going to be a shot in the arm for the local economy. The job creation is outstanding. The expansion that they're talking about is going to mean more tax dollars into the town," Pettit said.

The announcement by Modern Drop Forge comes on the heels of railroad operator CN decision to move some 250 jobs from the south suburbs to Gary, Indiana, while investing millions to upgrade a rail yard there.

While the news is good for Indiana, it's angering many in Illinois.

On Tuesday, Illinois Republican Party chairman Pat Brady took aim at Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.

"Governor Quinn and the Democrats in Springfield continue to fail us. The only way we can bring jobs back to Illinois is by making Illinois an attractive place to do business," Brady said. "Being the state with the fifth-highest corporate income tax, over 7,000 units of local government to deal with, an overly burdensome regulatory environment and a haven for trial lawyers with a heavy dose of corruption does not attract jobs to Illinois."

But Quinn administration is firing back.

"The Administration reached out to Modern Drop Forge with a competitive business package," Quinn said in a written statement. "We remain focused on solutions that will revitalize our economy in the short- and long-term, including getting our fiscal house in order after years of mismanagement, making Illinois more globally competitive and investing in infrastructure and education to create and grow more jobs."

Quinn said the state of Illinois led the Midwest in job growth last year, and is first in the Midwest for exports and foreign company investment, including more than 1,500 foreign companies with locations in llinois.

"But the reality is that Midwestern states will need to work together more, not less, to market the region to global visitors and business. An approach that focuses solely on picking off a neighboring state's businesses is short-sighted; it's a losing strategy for our region."

But Daniels insists he isn't trying to start a border war with Illinois and doesn't take issue with it for raising its corporate income tax.

"It's not for me to give advice to anybody else. Every state has to make its own decisions and I respect that," Daniels said. "I never say anything negative about anywhere else. I believe the competition is healthy for us all. But I'm just going to tell them ... Indiana is now, along with a couple of Sun Belt states, is everybody's pick as the best place to do business, the best place to hire people and have a good chance to get your money back. We make no apologies for ... building that climate and we're all for going on and marketing."

And true to his comment, Daniels planned on visiting other Chicago area firms on Tuesday to make his best pitch as to why they should make a run for the border.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 24, 2011

Indianapolis Airport Reconsiders Removing Artwork

Officials at Indianapolis International Airport are reconsidering a decision to take down a three-story sculptural painting and replace it with a video screen that will show advertising.

Plans had been to remove the glass-and-canvas piece called "Chrysalis'' from the prominent spot over the main escalators where it has been since the airport's new passenger terminal opened in 2008.

Airport spokesman Carlo Bertolini tells The Indianapolis Star (http://bit.ly/raEJoF ) that plans to install a video wall remain, but that officials are looking into whether it can be placed elsewhere.

A spokesman for Mayor Greg Ballard says the mayor's office has expressed its support that airport visitors be greeted with high-profile public art.

The airport paid $150,000 for the piece made from canvases, aluminum and glass panels that weighs more than a ton.

Categories: Business, Transportation

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 18, 2011

July Existing Home Sales Up From Year Ago

Sales of existing homes in Illinois were up 18.4 percent in July compared to a year ago, while the statewide median price went down 3.8 percent.

Figures released Thursday by the Illinois Association of Realtors show the state's home sales continuing to recover, but not the selling prices.

That's also the case in Champaign County, where July home sales were up sharply from a year ago, while the median selling price had fallen 11 percent.

Champaign County Association of Realtors President Max Mitchell said that's been the case for some time, as the country recovers from the collapse of the housing bubble.

"When our market was very active, sellers would put their house on the market, and sell in a reasonable time as long as they were priced properly," Mitchell said. "What we've seen in the past two years, is that sellers have been selling their homes for significantly less."

The Regional Economics Applications Laboratory at the University of Illinois analyzes housing sales data for the Illinois Association of Realtors. REAL director, Dr. Georffrey Hewings, said the fall in home prices has been largely due to the the number of foreclosed properties on the market. But he said he thinks that trend is slowing down.

"Over the next three months, we anticipate that prices will continue to move down, but at much, much slower rates than this time last year," Hewings said. "So, I think there's some general sense we have, that the market, if it isn't at the bottom, it's pretty close to it."

Hewings said home sales are recovering, after taking a fall last summer, when a federal tax credit for home buyers expired. Hewings said he believes the total number of Illinois home sales should continue to grow during the next three months.

The total number of homes sold in July in Champaign County was 195, up 43.4 percent from a year ago, and 105 homes sold in Macon County, for a 50 percent improvement. The 35 homes sold last month in Vermilion County represent a nearly 14.6 percent decline, although year-to-date home sales are up 16 percent from 2010.

Categories: Business
Tags: business

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 18, 2011

Illinois Unemployment up for 3rd Straight Month

State officials say unemployment in Illinois inched up to 9.5 percent in July, the third consecutive month it has increased.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security says there were 24,900 fewer jobs reported last month.

Unemployment for Illinois was 9.1 percent in June. But the rate one year ago in July was 10.1 percent.

The numbers were released Thursday and are based on data from the state agency and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The director of the employment security department is Jay Rowell. He says the July increase, which follows 15 months of declines, reflects uncertainty in consumer confidence and the volatility in the national economy.

He says long term data is a better indicator.

Categories: Business, Economics, Politics

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