Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 03, 2011

Indiana Economic Outlook Improves Although Gaming Revenues Down

It's been a while since Indiana reported revenues exceeding projections, but that's what happened in May.

Indiana's State Budget Agency reported today that the state took in $1.2 billion, roughly $151 million more than forecasters projected.

The increase covers a nearly $90 million revenue shortfall in April.

"It is clear that individual income tax collections have improved dramatically in 2011 compared to 2010 due to strong employment and income growth," agency director Adam Horst stated in a written statement. "Payroll withholdings, the largest component of individual income tax collections, have consistently grown in excess of 6 percent throughout 2011. For April and May, individual income tax collections grew 20 percent compared to the same time period for 2010."

In this fiscal year, which ends at the end of June, Indiana's collected $128 million more in taxes that the state's forecasting committee projected.

Revenues are also up by over 9 percent this year than last.

The only down side to the forecast was gaming revenues for the state.

Horst said riverboat wagering tax collections again fell short of the monthly target, and now lag behind 2010 revenues by 3.4 percent.

"On the other hand, racino (horse racing) wagering tax collections continue to exceed monthly targets, and are running 7.4 percent ahead of 2010 revenues," Horst said. "Through May, total gaming revenues trail the revenue forecast by $13 million and are running $8 million behind collections for the same time period last year."

Northwest Indiana is home to five casino boats along Lake Michigan.

The stale gaming numbers come at a time when Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is considering signing a bill that would dramatically increase casino licenses in the state.

Under the proposed plan, a casino could be approved for a south suburban location, as well as for downtown Chicago. Either location could eat into revenues taken in by casinos in Northwest Indiana.

Categories: Business, Economics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - June 02, 2011

Chicago-Based Groupon Files for Hotly Anticipated IPO

The daily deal website Groupon has filed to sell shares to the public, stoking excitement about a new tech boom in Chicago.

Groupon plans to raise as much $750 million and says it will use the money for working capital, including buying other companies.

Last year, Forbes called Groupon the fastest-growing company ever, and anticipation of a Groupon IPO has been growing ever since the company reportedly spurned a $6 billion buyout offer from Google.

Waverly Deutsch is a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She says this is a huge deal for Chicago's tech scene.

"Either in 2000 or 2001, BusinessWeek featured a cover article that was, 'How Did Chicago Entirely Miss the Tech Boom?' They can't say that this time around," Deutsch said.

In its IPO filing, Groupon says sales grew from $3 million in the second quarter of 2009 to $645 million in the first quarter of this year. The company says its ticker symbol will be GRPN.

Categories: Business
Tags: business

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - June 01, 2011

Another Slight Economic Bump Shown in UI Flash Index

Tax revenue keeps going up in Illinois, and that means a continued rise in an indicator of how well the state's economy is doing.

The monthly University of Illinois Flash Index rose.2 in May to 96.8. For the past two years it's been creeping ever closer to 100, the break-even point between economic growth and contraction. The Flash Index uses tax revenue from sales and income to measure the overall economy.

U of I economist Fred Giertz authored the index. He says a small portion of that increasing tax revenue may have come from rising prices on food and fuel. "Some tax revenues are stimulated by inflation, actually -- for example, the sales tax on gasoline," Giertz pointed out. "So it's not directly about that; certainly over the long run it would be related, but not over the short run. The more direct link would be something that came out (Tuesday) about consumer confidence."

Last month's confidence index dropped sharply - Giertz says that's a more significant result of higher food and gas prices.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 31, 2011

Gaming Expansion Heads to Governor Quinn, Includes Casino for Danville

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

The Illinois Senate voted 30-27 Tuesday to approve five new casinos, including one in Danville. The others would go to Chicago, Rockford, Lake County and somewhere in the south suburbs.

The measure would also add slots at existing casinos and allow horse racing tracks to have them for the first time in what would be the largest growth in legalized wagering since its introduction in Illinois two decades ago.

The goal of the legislation is to lure gamblers back from other states and raise revenue Illinois. The idea is crucial to Illinois, which has up to $8 billion in unpaid bills, and to the Senate, which rejected a $6 billion plan Sunday to borrow money to cover the obligation, proponents say.

The measure would bring in $1.6 billion in upfront licensing fees and other payments from new casino owners, according to State Senator Terry Link (D-Waukegan). He said all would the money would go toward "paying off old debts."

Continuing new revenue would be $500 million or more annually, including tens of millions of dollars more for schools.

Tom Swoik of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association said existing casinos would lose up to 30 percent of their revenue. He said the revenue estimate is unrealistic because it assumes that current casinos, with 1,200 gambling slots apiece, will all add the 400 spots the legislation allows.

The legislation goes to Gov. Pat Quinn. The Democratic governor has said he is open to a casino in Chicago but opposes four other casinos.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he is pleased the Illinois Senate approved legislation that will allow for a casino in the city. Emanuel said a casino would "energize'' Chicago's economy and create between 7,000 to 10,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer has said a casino would be a huge boost to Danville's economy, bringing in millions of dollars in additional tax revenue and resulting in up to 1,200 permanent jobs. Eisenhauer said if a casino works in Chicago, there is no reason other communities shouldn't get one.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 31, 2011

Champaign Firm Recalls RC Helicopters for Blade Hazard

Champaign-based Horizon Hobby is recalling nearly 18,000 remote-controlled model helicopters sold under one of its own brands in the U-S and Canada.

The U-S Consumer Product Safety Commission and Health Canada announced the recall Tuesday.

The products pose a hazard, because the main rotor blades and blade grips can fly off from the rotor head, and pose an impact or laceration hazard. Hoirzon Hobby has received 312 reports of the rotor blades flying off the rotor head. There have been 34 reports of the blades striking someone, including 12 lacerations.

The voluntary recall affects the Blade Bind-N-Fly Helicopter (Model # BLH3580) and Ready to Fly Helicopter (Model # BLH3500), and the Main Blade Grips replacement parts (Model # BLH3514).

The CPSC says consumers should contact Horizon Hobby for free replacement parts and directions. Horizon Hobby has set up a recall hot-line at 877-504-0233.

Categories: Business, Health

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 27, 2011

On 2nd Try, Gambling Bill Gets House Committee OK

A huge expansion of legalized gambling in Illinois is headed to the House floor.

The proposal would create licenses for five new riverboat gambling casinos. It would include a gambling boat or land-based casino in Chicago. It also would expand horse racing and add slot machines at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie was approved 8-3 Friday by the Executive Committee. It failed in the same committee Wednesday with only five votes.

Gov. Pat Quinn said earlier Friday he opposes "top-heavy'' gambling expansion and frowned on gambling at the fairgrounds.

Lobbyists for existing riverboat casinos oppose the measure because they say the market is saturated and state revenues would drop at current boats.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 26, 2011

Gambling Expansion Blocked by House Panel

One state lawmaker is taking a gamble on a big expansion to the state's gaming industry, and so far it isn't paying out.

The latest plan to grow the number of casinos has hit a snag.

Skokie House Democrat Lou Lang says a short drive across the Illinois border shows just how much money the state is losing out on.

"If you go to gaming enterprises in other states and never get out of your car and just drive through the parking lot around the states that surround Illinois, you'd see nothing but Illinois license plates," Lang said.

Five new casinos, slot machines at race tracks and video gaming are all packed into Lang's proposal. That was enough for a House panel to give it a thumbs down. Opponents call it overreaching and a monumental expansion. Existing riverboat casinos railed against it, saying the gambling market is already saturated. Tom Swoik, who represents those casinos, says revenues have dropped by nearly a third and building more won't generate new dollars.

"That's like saying that a third of the houses available are vacant but let's help the economy by building more houses," Swoik said.

Governor Quinn has indicated his willingness to discuss a Chicago casino. Lang could scale back what he's asking for, but he won't have much time to change it before the legislature is set to adjourn next week.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 25, 2011

Il. Commission Votes to Suspend Open Access Plans for State Employees

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio)

The state agency in charge of health insurance for public employees says it is going forward with a plan to drop Health Alliance HMO and Humana as options for state and university employees' medical insurance.

Urbana-based Health Alliance and Humana have protested the move.

The state's decision comes in spite of a vote Wednesday morning by the bipartisan Commission on Governmental Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA) to end self-insured/Open Access Plans for state employees, which is what the state planned to move employees to in areas where the HMO/Blue Cross Blue Shield plan isn't available. The vote potentially sets up a constitutional clash over the fate of health insurance for about 100,000 state and university workers.

Moving many employees to this sort of plan is how Governor Pat Quinn's administration had been planning to save up to $100 million a year.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a ruling last week stating that legislators don't have the power to interfere with specific contracts. However, despite Madigan's ruling, State Senator and CGFA member Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) said the commission has the authority to weigh in on policy changes. He also noted that the commission's vote reflects a major policy shift in self-insurance at the state level.

"And that's something we have consent power over," Frerichs said. "We don't have the ability to consent to individual contracts, but this big policy shift we do. We rejected that, and I think that will necessitate rebidding of the whole package."

State Senator Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) also sits on the commission. He said the vote by CGFA was done as an attempt to get all parties back to the bargaining table.

"My hope is that everybody involved in this process, rather than rush into court and having lawsuits, can all sit down together and try and perhaps try and rebid it, come up with a different plan," Murphy said.

It is unclear if the commission's vote is binding, and could send matters into a tailspin. The Department of Healthcare and Family Services is going forward as if that vote was insignificant.

"We followed the letter of the law," DHFS spokeswoman Stacey Solano said. "Everything was done fairly, it was done ethically, so why would we reopen the bidding?"

Downstate legislators have been highly critical of the decision to drop Health Alliance. They have shown no signs of letting down.

Meanwhile, many of the employees and retirees with Health Alliance as medical insurance say they don't want a new provider because they fear they will be forced to switch doctors. They are also concerned they will pay more out of pocket on doctor's visits.

As it stands now, state employees have until June 17 to decide what provider they want for medical coverage. The state is also considering opening another enrollment period this fall.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 23, 2011

GE Capital to Add 1000 Jobs in Chicago

GE Capital plans to nearly double the number of its employees in Chicago to more than 2,000, in part because of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's economic plans for the city, the company announced Monday.

Officials with the financial services arm of General Electric joined Emanuel at a news conference, saying that 500 of those new jobs - skilled commercial, technical and regulatory positions - would be added within the next year. The other 500 jobs would come in the next few years.

The company also is looking for a new office in Chicago to accommodate the growing work force.

During his mayoral campaign, Emanuel touted his relationships with business and government leaders from his time as an Illinois congressman and when he was President Barack Obama's chief of staff. Monday's news conference served as a reminder of his national stature as well as a pep rally for Chicago.

Emanuel, who is trying to attract more businesses to the nation's third largest city to help overcome its budget shortfall, downplayed the effect his relationship with GE CEO Jeff Immelt may have had on the company's decision. However, the mayor mentioned that because he had Immelt's phone number and email address, he was able to set up a meeting in March.

"Having a personal relationship obviously didn't hurt," Emauel said. "It pushed it a little, tilted it a little."

But, he added: "If this didn't make economic sense to GE and their bottom line they wouldn't have done it. ... You're not going to do this as a favor."

Chicago's projected budget deficit for next year has been estimated at between $500 million and $700 million.

One GE executive said that Emanuel's "economic platform" helped prompt the company to bring more jobs to the city, saying Chicago was the right place to expand.

"There is a wealth of financial services and banking talent available to us in the city of Chicago at a very good value," said Daniel Henson, President and CEO of GE Capital, Americas.

The Connecticut-based GE currently has 4,000 employees across Illinois, according to a news release.

Categories: Business, Economics, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 20, 2011

Quinn Rules Out Casino in Danville

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn says he is willing to talk about adding a casino in Chicago, but he stated on Friday that he is opposed to a larger expansion of gambling.

"If it's done the right way, it's worth looking at," Quinn said, referring to the possibility of starting a casino in Chicago. "It's very important where the money goes that is derived from this."

Quinn wants help to fund areas of the budget like education. A Chicago casino would be much larger than any currently in operation in Illinois. Gaming supporters have also pushed for slot machines at horse tracks.

New Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel supports a casino in the city to help generate revenue. Many Chicagoans now make the short drive over the Indiana border to gamble at casinos there.

When asked what he thinks about the prospect of Danville getting a casino, Quinn said Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer should not "hold his breath." Quinn said he doesn't want the state to be the "Las Vegas of the Midwest."

Eisenhauer said a casino would be a huge boost to Danville's economy, bringing in millions of dollars in additional tax revenue and resulting in up to 1,200 permanent jobs. He said if a casino works in Chicago, there is no reason other communities shouldn't get one.

"I think we can certainly make the case that there are other communities in the state of Illinois who could also benefit from such a license," Eisenhauer said. "Danville being the poster child of that."

House Republican Chad Hays of Catlin echoed Eisenhauer's sentiment, saying downstate border communities are just as worthy of a gaming license.

"I find that kind of statement by the Governor to be very unfortunate," Hays said. "I certainly would hold out hope that if there's going to be an expansion, people south of I-80 would not be left out. I don't think the people south of I-80 would be appreciative, and I certainly don't think they would forget."

Danville's immediate dreams for a casino were dashed earlier this year when a gaming expansion bill failed to make it out of the Illinois House. That effort included five communities poised to get a casino, which Quinn called top heavy.

"We're not going to do that," he said. "I will never support that. It's way too much. I told all the legislators, Democrat and Republican, House and Senate, that having the doors wide open and anything goes, that's just not the way to go."

Skokie Democrat Lou Lang said he plans to introduce a gaming expansion measure next week in the Illinois House of Representatives that includes Danville.

Categories: Business, Government, Politics

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