Illinois Public Media News
Gov. Pat Quinn is getting ready to propose changes to the workers' compensation system in Illinois.
The Chicago Democrat on Friday said both the law and the Workers' Compensation Commission must be revamped. He says changes to the law would make the system more affordable for businesses while remaining fair to workers.
Quinn's comments come amid a federal investigation into possible workers' compensation abuses at state agencies and in the actions of arbitrators. The Associated Press has obtained five subpoenas looking for claims data.
Quinn says he's talking to lawmakers and wants Republicans and Democrats to work together on an overhaul.
The CEO of Peoria-based Caterpillar Inc. now says a letter he wrote to Gov. Pat Quinn complaining about the state's business climate was never intended as a threat to move the Fortune 500 manufacturer out of Illinois.
Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman said Wednesday in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington that news reports about the letter sensationalized his statements about the state's business climate.
According to a copy of the speech, Oberhelman said he'd like to invest further in Illinois. But he said Illinois lawmakers have created an unfriendly business environment.
Lee Enterprises' Springfield bureau reports Oberhlman says in the letter that the company had been courted by other states and while he'd like to stay he also had to "do what's right" for the company.
The Illinois House wants to lift the ban on smoking at riverboat casinos that border states where smoking is allowed.
The bill passed 62-52 Tuesday. It now goes to the Senate.
Rep. Daniel Burke said he sponsored the measure because Illinois is losing business to states that allow smoking at casinos. The Chicago Democrat claims casinos have lost $800 million since 2008 because gamblers go to Iowa, Indiana or Missouri casinos.
Burke says casinos have improved air filtration systems, reducing the health concerns from smoking.
Supporters of the smoking ban say it's unfair to subject gamblers and casino employees to second-hand smoke.
Traffic is moving again along Green Street between Wright and 6th Streets in Champaign's Campustown after crews tore down the 2nd floor and attic of a building damaged by a fire.
The building houses Mia Za's Cafe, Zorba's restaurant, and Pitaya clothing boutique. Officials say the fire started above the ceiling of Mia Za's. At the height of the blaze, fire personnel from Urbana and Champaign used 11 fire engines, four ladder trucks and two squads to fight the blaze.
Champaign city planner T.J. Blakeman says owners of affected businesses surveyed the damage over the weekend, and he says it could be a while before they figure out what they will do next.
"I really hope that they're able to find a space and re-open in campus," Blakeman said. "The students really want that."
Blakeman says nearby businesses did not suffer major damage since the fire was contained to the one building. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
St. Louis-based beer giant Anheuser-Busch (BUD) is buying Chicago-based Goose Island brewery for $38.8 million.
Anheuser-Busch says the deal, announced Monday, will help Goose Island meet growing demand for Honkers Ale and its other brands. Anheuser-Busch has distributed Goose Island beers since 2006.
Goose Island founder and president John Hall will stay as chief executive officer. He says the company couldn't brew some of its specialty beers fast enough to keep up with demand - and the deal with Anheuser-Busch will help with that.
"Chicago is going to continue to be our principle market," he said. "We will probably expand into some new markets, but we're not going to do any of those things until we supply the markets we're in right now."
Hall said Goose Island's roughly 120 employees will still operate in Chicago. Hall also said the beers will remain the same - and that he wouldn't have agreed to the deal if it involved changing the recipes.
Chicago's two Goose Island brew pubs are not part of the deal; they will continue operating. The deal needs regulators' approval and is expected to close in the second quarter this year.
Anheuser-Busch is buying 58% of Fulton Street Brewery, Goose Island's legal name, for $22.5 million and the remaining 42% from Portland, Ore.-based Craft Brewers Alliance for $16.3 million.
(Photo courtesy of Goose Island)
Illinois' junior U.S. Senator is worried about the state's business climate after state lawmakers approved increases in both corporate and income taxes.
In a visit to Champaign Friday, Mark Kirk touted his Small Business Bill of Rights. He says the legislation would help reverse the trend of other Governors trying to lure business away from Illinois.
The Senator says one portion of the measure would exempt small employers from federal taxes for 10 years if they commit to investing in vacant commercial property.
"Because nothing was happening there (vacant properties) anyway," Kirk said. "And we want to make central towns and cities exciting to invest in. Or for new innovators, a fast lane at the patent office. Because we know that small innovates 8-times faster per capita than big business."
The portion of Kirk's bill that expedites the federal patent approval process passed the Senate earlier this month. That provision assists business owners with patent filing issues.
Other parts of the legislation seek to lower business health care costs by allowing interstate competition for insurers, and to cut energy costs by promoting the use of hybrid vehicles and more efficient practices.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
The latest government data suggest some states are recovering much faster than others from the recession, including a few that were hit the hardest.
U.S. companies have added jobs for 12 straight months, but the gains have been uneven.
The U.S. Labor Department says the unemployment rate dropped in 27 states in February, including Illinois. It rose in seven states and stayed the same in 16. Last week, the Illinois Department of Employment Security announced the state's jobless rate had fallen to 8.9 percent for Februrary. That's the first time since February 2009 that the unemployment rate has been below nine percent - and the 13th consecutive monthly decline in unemployment rolls.
Job growth in Illinois stands at 1.5 percent, which slightly outpaces the national average of 1.0 percent. The industries posting the biggest job increases in Illinois include Professional and Business Services, Education and Health Services, and Trade, Transporation and Utilities.
Forty-four states have added jobs during the last year, including some that were badly battered during the downturn. Since January 2010, Illinois has added 85,000 jobs, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security. California added nearly 200,000 net jobs, and Michigan created a net 71,000 jobs during the last year.
Still, six states reported a net loss in jobs in that time, including a few that weren't considered trouble spots: New Jersey, New Mexico, and Kansas.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
The U.S. Postal Service announced Thursday that it will reduce its workforce with layoffs and offers of buyouts and will close seven district offices from New England to New Mexico to help address record losses.
The reorganization, designed to eliminate 7,500 administrative, executive and postmaster jobs this year, came as a commission that is evaluating the Postal Service's plan to eliminate Saturday delivery concluded that one in four letters would be delayed by not just one but by two days.
The independent Postal Regulatory Commission also said that postal officials underestimated the losses the agency would suffer from handling less mail- and overestimated the cost savings.
Five-day service and a smaller workforce are among the Postal Service's strategies to become solvent after losses of $8.5 billion in fiscal 2010, the result of declining mail volumes. Projected losses for 2011 are $6.4 billion.
Once buyout decisions aimed at administrative staff are final in April, the agency plans to eliminate the jobs of thousands of postmasters and supervisors, many through layoffs, officials said.
"Nobody did anything wrong, but we're a victim of the economy and past legislation," said Anthony Vegliante, the Postal Service's chief human resources officer and executive vice president. The cuts are expected to save $750 million a year.
District offices that handle managerial work will close in Columbus, Ohio; Albuquerque, N.M.; Billings, Mont.; Macon, Ga.; Providence, R.I.; Troy, Mich., and Carol Stream, Ill., the Postal Service said.
The closures will pave the way for the agency to close up to 2,000 local post offices throughout the next two years, a plan announced in January.
Vegliante said he expects about 3,000 administrators to take the buyouts, which will offer $20,000 to employees over age 50 with at least 20 years of service, or any age with at least 25 years of service. Layoffs will then be used to help reach the 7,500 goal, he said, though he would not commit to a number.
The Postal Service has eliminated 105,000 full-time positions in the last two years, among them clerks, plant workers and mail handlers. Those cuts were made mostly through attrition and early retirements.
The Postal Service announced plans for five-day service in 2009, although Congress, which must approve the change, has showed little interest in pursuing it.
Among the findings of the 211-page opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission:
- Five-day service would delay by two days delivery of 25 percent of first-class and priority mail.
- The Postal Service did not adequately evaluate the effect of five-day service on rural areas.
- While the Postal Service estimated net savings from the reduced service at $3.1 billion, the commission's estimate is closer to $1.7 billion.
- Lost revenue from mail volume declines from the service cuts would be $600 million a year, not the $200 million the Postal Services estimates.
Margaret Cigno, the regulatory commission's chief analyst, said many letters normally delivered on Saturday would not arrive until Tuesday because Saturday mail would no longer be transported and processed over the weekend. "Saturday would not just end delivery, but mail would not go out," she said.
Postal officials said they would continue supporting the plan.
"I'm comfortable that people did their due diligence," Vegliante said, calling five-day service "an inevitable question."
"Whether it's tomorrow or 10 years from now, sooner or later it's got to be dealt with."
(Photo courtesy of Coolcaesar/Wikimedia Commons)
Illinois tax collectors have a message for residents who skirt sales taxes online and out of state: Start paying up.
The cash-strapped state will step up enforcement this year of the decades-old "use tax," which applies to many items bought online or in another state. Officials have added reminders on this year's paper and online tax forms about the tax.
The state has made a recent push to collect sales taxes from retailers like Amazon.com Inc. and Overstock.com Inc., approving a law this month that led both companies to drop affiliates in the state.
But Susan Hofer, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Revenue, says auditors will target "big ticket" purchases, like boats sold in Florida, over smaller purchases online.
"If you go online and buy a book on Amazon, it's your conscience that you have to live with," Hofer said.
The tax applies to any purchases made with a sales tax rate lower than Illinois' 6.25 percent, to protect in-state retailers that charge the tax.
For shoppers who didn't keep their receipts, the state has published a list of suggested "use tax" amounts based on income: $15 for people who made $20,000 last year, $27 for people making $50,000, and $52 for people making $100,000.
That's not including taxes on major purchases like boats or cars.
Residents can also pay back taxes on purchases as far back as 2004, thanks to state law passed last year.
The revenue department estimates that Internet shopping could have generated $153 million last year if online retailers were taxed at the state rate. Illinois lawmakers have tried to collect from Amazon and others, which say they shouldn't pay taxes in the state because they don't have offices there.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill this month that charges sales taxes on online purchases made through Illinois affiliates of online companies. That led to Amazon announcing it would end its relationships with state affiliates.
Hofer acknowledged the difficulty revenue auditors face with online shopping.
"How would I or one of our enforcers know if you went home every night and spent five hours shopping on Amazon?" she said.
The state won't have statistics on how many residents will pay until the end of tax season, Hofer said. But interviews with accountants suggest most people either haven't made untaxed purchases or aren't reporting them.
"I've had one client out of 300 volunteer to pay it," said Julie Herwitt, a Chicago accountant. She said she believes most of her clients don't know the tax exists.
At the Bird Armour LLC accounting firm in Springfield, fewer than 5 percent of the 350 returns finished so far have made "use tax" payments, managing member Michael K. Armour said.
"I must admit that I am surprised at the number of people that have come forward," he said.
Last year, the state collected an estimated $4 million to $6 million from the tax. The department hopes that will double this year, Hofer said.
"We expect that people will pay what they owe, recognizing this is part of their responsibility as a citizen," she said.
(Photo courtesy of Rob Lee/Flickr)
The junior U.S. senator from Illinois says federal funding for National Public Radio might not take a complete cut. But Republican Sen. Mark Kirk says the Senate is looking to make broad cuts in all areas of funding.
"If you want to step back and look at the Congress from a 100,000 feet, expect a 10 to 20 percent reduction across the board, including NPR," he said.
The U.S. House voted last week to completely end federal funding to NPR. The measure prohibits local public stations from using federal money to pay NPR dues and buy programming.
But support for the plan in the Senate seems slim. The White House opposes the bill, saying funding cuts could force some stations to go dark.
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