Illinois Public Media News
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
(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.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn says Illinois could be a leader in creating start-up companies.
On Friday, Quinn announced the "Illinois Innovation Network" in an invite-only event for leaders of high-tech firms.
The network is designed to help entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground. The idea is to connect them to free or discounted advice in areas like legal matters, real estate and business development.
"The best way to fight poverty, the best way to fight crime, the best way to keep families together is a J.O.B. - a job," Quinn said. "We want to work together as a team as a family to make things happen in Illinois."
Brad Keywell, founder of Chicago-based Groupon, is chairing the network. Keywell said that in the past 25 years, the single largest creator of new jobs in the Midwest has been businesses 5 years old or less.
The website for the Illinois Innovation Network is expected to be launched Friday afternoon.
During the same event, Quinn also announced that Illinois will be the first state to partner with Startup America - a national effort to promote innovation and entrepreneurship.
Some young radio producers are organizing for control of the Chicago area's only noncommercial Latino broadcast outlet.
They're upset about plans by the National Museum of Mexican Art to sell the building and license of WRTE-FM Chicago (90.5), a youth-run station known as Radio Arte that airs music and public affairs content in English and Spanish.
Transmitting at 73 watts from Little Village, Radio Arte reaches several other Latino neighborhoods of the city's Southwest Side and some nearby suburbs.
The station also trains hundreds of volunteers a year and puts dozens on the air each week. Some have formed a group to try to keep the station in their community's hands.
Many of these volunteers share a bond: They don't have papers to be living in the United States.
"Radio Arte helped me learn to fight back," said volunteer Adriana Velázquez, 20, who arrived in the Back of the Yards neighborhood from Mexico at age 11.
Velázquez graduated from Benito Juárez Community Academy in nearby Pilsen and dreamed of going to college. But her immigration status disqualified her from most financing.
"So I felt like all I had done all these years in high school - being a good student, a good member of the community - was not worth [anything] to people," she said Thursday.
Velázquez said her life changed in 2008, when she started working on a Radio Arte show, Salud: Healing Through the Arts. "That summer was when I started really talking about my status and sharing that with other students who were also going through my situation," she said.
"It was kind of a relief to feel [at] home somewhere, not feeling ashamed that I was undocumented," said Velázquez, now a music-performance student at Northeastern Illinois University.
Velázquez and the other volunteers want control of Radio Arte's name, license and transmitter. But they haven't won over museum officials.
President Carlos Tortolero said the volunteers were making too much of the museum's plans. "Radio, to a lot of funders, is old school," he said. "And we can still do radio classes without a radio station. A lot of people are streaming now online and podcasting."
Tortolero said selling the building and radio license would free up resources for projects in other media such as video and computer graphics.
The Radio Arte volunteers counter that terrestrial radio signals still reach much bigger audiences than web streaming and podcasting do. "That's especially true in immigrant and low-income communities," Velázquez said.
The license's value is not clear. Radio Arte staffers say the museum paid $12,000 for it in 1996.
Tortolero said the museum hasn't received any offers yet but adds he's talking with potential buyers, including DePaul University and California-based Radio Bilingüe. He's also met twice with Torey Malatia, chief of Chicago Public Media, the parent of WBEZ.
Interviewed Wednesday, Malatia said his organization would not have cash for the license at this point. But Chicago Public Media is preparing a proposal to "help with operations and costs," he said.
"We deeply respect Radio Arte's mission," Malatia said. "If we get involved, we would keep the tradition alive."
Malatia said Chicago Public Media would connect Radio Arte to WBEW-FM (89.5), a youth-oriented station known as Vocalo that transmits from Chesterton, Indiana. Vocalo Managing Director Silvia Rivera worked at Radio Arte for more than a decade, including three years as general manager.
If the Chicago Public Media proposal were accepted, Radio Arte likely would continue broadcasting student- and volunteer-run shows, while "primetime blocks would be simulcast" with Vocalo, according to Malatia.
"As this story gets out," Malatia added, "it puts pressure on DePaul and [Radio Bilingüe] to close the deal, and probably will pull some religious buyers into the mix."
The building, 1401 W. 18th St., houses Radio Arte's offices and studios as well as Yollocalli Arts Reach, another youth program of the museum. The wedge-shaped structure has two stories and a partly finished basement. Tortolero said the space totals about 11,000 square feet.
The museum had a real-estate appraiser look it over this month but Tortolero said his team has not set the asking price yet.
The building stands on the corner of Blue Island Avenue and 18th Street. The intersection, which includes a Mexican-themed plaza, is an anchor of Pilsen, a neighborhood whose Latino population has been shrinking.
The volunteers say they won't try to buy the building.
(Photo by Chip Mitchell/IPR)
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