Illinois Public Media News
Two Republican lawmakers who represent Mattoon are angry about a deadline over the future of that city's role in the FutureGen project.
They include 15th district Congressman Tim Johnson, who says he plans to question the U-S Department of Energy about the government's decision to change the scope of the clean-coal experiment. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin told Mattoon government and economic development officials that they have a week to decide whether to continue their participation - last week Durbin announced that FutureGen would not include a coal-burning power plant in Mattoon, but the site would hold carbon dioxide piped in from existing power plants.
Durbin says federal funding needs to be ironed out soon. But Johnson calls the deadline insulting, saying the original plan was the result of arduous scientific examination. He says selecting another site would ignore the science that went into the selection. State representative Chapin Rose also questions how long Durbin knew of the change in plans before alerting Mattoon officials.
Illinois' back-to-school sales tax holiday started Friday Through August 15th, shoppers can buy clothing, shoes and school supplies --- priced up to $100 --- without having to pay the state's 5%sales tax.
Susan Hofer of the Illinois Department of Revenue says the chief reason for the tax holiday is to help families during a tight economy.
"Governor Quinn and the General Assembly felt that this year above all, we wanted to do what we could to give parents struggling financially a break on what they have to spend", says Hofer.
The sales tax holiday is also welcomed by retailers, many of which are promoting the temporary tax break in their advertising. But Mark Robyn of the Washington D-C based Tax Foundation says the savings to consumers are modest, in part because some merchants use the tax holidays to mask their own price increases. Robyn says retailers don't gain either, because shoppers just shift their buying to the tax holiday period, instead of buying more. He calls tax holidays a gimmick.
"If a state needs to offer a holiday from their sales tax", said Robyn during a news conference, "it may be a good indication that there are bigger problems with their sales tax."
Robyn's arguments are disputed by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, which lobbied for the bill creating the sales tax holiday. The group's president, David Vite, says competition will push merchants to cut prices even more.
"I'm aware of some who are going to be having 15-20% additional-off sales", says Vite. "This 5% is the icing. It's the gravy on the very good meal. It's what makes this an important economic stimulus package. It's what makes a great economic package. And retailers are going to take advantage of it by increased sales, not by increased prices."
The Illinois Retail Merchants Association lobbied for the tax holiday. Illinois joins 16 other states with tax holidays, including Missouri and Iowa. Their tax holidays also started Friday, but only run for the weekend, while the Illinois tax holiday runs through August 15th.
A spokeswoman for an Indiana-based coal company says she wants to set some minds at ease as its officials evaluate land in Champaign and Vermilion Counties for a possible underground mine.
Suzanne Jaworowski with Terre Haute-based Sunrise Coal says the mining technique they would use if they open a coal mine on the Champaign-Vermilion county border would not damage farmland. She says the company plans to use a room-and-pillar approach, which leaves the surface area intact and sustains it by only removing a certain portion of the coal undernearth. Farmers in the affected area south of Homer have been concerned that Sunrise would use what's called 'longwall' mining. Jaworowski says that technique carries the potential for damaging the land by removing large portions of coal at once.
Jaworoski says Sunrise plans to pursue a permit for work that would not result in subsidence or ground sinking as a result of building the underground mine. She says the company will release more information on its plans in the next week.
Sunrise Coal operates a coal mine in Carlisle, Indiana. the company is a subsidiary of Hallador Energy.
On Tuesday night... Champaign County Board members tabled discussion on zoning regulations for the mine. Board members say they first want to research how other counties have handled zoning for coal mines.
A newspaper article in the Chicago area has leaders in Decatur worrying about the status of a major employer.
British company Tate & Lyle can trace its roots in Decatur back to 1909 and the A. E. Staley Company. Its US headquarters is in one of the city's tallest buildings, next to its factory on Decatur's east side. But Crain's Chicago Business reported yesterday that Tate & Lyle has taken interest in an office building in suburban Hoffman Estates.
A Tate and Lyle spokeswoman has told media outlets that no decision has been made on a headquarters move. But Decatur city manager Ryan McCrady says economic development leaders need to keep in touch with the company to press the argument for staying where it is.
"Tate and Lyle would at this point not confirm that they were looking at any buildings in Hoffman Estates, just that they are looking at all of their business functions," McCrady said. "So I imagine that time is of the essence, and we're going to move as fast as possible."
McCrady says that includes reminding the company of Decatur's quality-of-life benefits for employees. But he says there may not be many economic incentives for the city to offer if Tate and Lyle moves within the state of Illinois.
Tate and Lyle employs up to 800 people in Decatur, but McCrady says that includes both the headquarters and the factory, and the factory location is not in question.
Workers rights advocates are praising an Illinois bill that promises to speed up the process of how wage theft claims are processed.
Gov. Pat Quinn is set to sign the bill into law Friday. It stiffens penalties for employers who shortchange or don't pay workers.
The law also gives the Illinois Department of Labor have more oversight in dealing with the 10,000-plus wage theft claims it gets annually.
The agency will have a designated division and fund to deal directly with claims of $3,000 or less.
Chris Williams is director of Chicago's Working Hands Legal Clinic. He says the changes speed up the process, particularly for those who need it most.
Experts say wage theft is an increasing problem in the downturned economy, particularly for low wage and immigrant workers.
A long-troubled resort inside Shelby County's Eagle Creek State Park is now in the hands of a new manager which promises an extensive makeover.
The state-owned hotel, conference center and golf course were closed last summer after years of declining business - mold had crept into the hotel, making it a significant challenge for the next manager. But the winner of the contract, Mike Ballinger of Decatur-based BMDD Resorts, says his firm will invest in Eagle Creek and try to make it profitable.
"It's going to be a 3.8 million dollar project," Ballinger said. "It's going to be more obviously if something unforeseen pops up. There's a mold remediation. The roof needs to be repaired. Drywall needs to be removed in some areas. Major cleaning."
Ballinger says it will take about a year to reopen the conference center, but the golf course could be open as soon as next month.
Ballinger's firm won the contract over four other bidders last winter - one of the losing bidders, nearby marina owner Dennis Fayhee, unsuccessfully challenged the state's decision claiming BMDD had a conflict of interest. Fayhee and his attorney have not been available to say whether they plan to further challenge the contract.
An airline's decision to leave the Champaign area's Willard Airport leaves only one airline serving the facility.
It also leaves Willard's manager wondering why Delta Air Lines plans to end its three daily flights to and from Detroit August 31. Steve Wanzek says he was shocked at Delta's phone call Wednesday afternoon mentioning the decision.
"It's been three weeks since they replaced the Saab turboprops with regional jets and added an extra flight," Wanzek said, hours after the call. "I thought we were headed in the right direction, and the feedback we were getting from the Delta desk people downstairs was that they were excited because passenger count had gone up."
Northwest Airlink flights between Willard and Detroit were rebadged with the Delta Express name last year as the two airlines merged. Mesaba Airlines operated the planes. The exit will leave only American Eagle at Willard, but Wanzek says American is a much more stable presence because Willard hosts a maintenance hub for their regional jets.
The oil spill along the Gulf of Mexico is spreading. It's already crept to the coastlines of Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, and Alabama, and it's continuing to move forward. A group of young kids in Savoy met last week to talk about the spill as part of a week-long Green Camp. They took part in a simulation of the oil spill, and shared their ideas about containing the spill. Then John Warren Kindt, a professor of business and legal policy at the University of Illinois, talks about the future of offshore drilling. Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports.
The Subway restaurant chain has issued an apology for a salmonella outbreak that has sickened 80 people across 26 Illinois counties.
As state health investigators continue working to pinpoint the cause of the outbreak, Subway corporate spokesman Kevin Kane said Wednesday the company was sorry for the problems.
The Illinois Department of Public Health says people began getting sick after eating in Subway restaurants beginning May 11.
Kane noted that all the cases cited by the health department are in people who ate at the restaurants before June 3. He said that since then, the chain has discarded and replaced lettuce, green peppers, red onion and tomatoes.
The 26 Illinois counties that were affected includes Champaign, Vermilion, DeWitt, McLean, Macon, Coles and Moultrie.
State banking regulators closed the Arcola Homestead Savings Bank Friday, and turned it over to the federal regulators. But unlike many failed banks, Arcola Homestead will not be opening under a new name.
FDIC spokesman David Barr says Arcola Homestead Savings Bank will be closing for good.
"More than nine out of ten bank failures result in a transition over to a new ownership group", says Barr. "However, in this case, Homestead was one of the four or five percent of the bank failures we've seen, where we haven't been able to find a buyer."
But Barr says Homestead depositors will still be getting their money back. He says checks for all insured deposits will be mailed to account owners, starting on Monday. In addition, Homestead depositors have the option of transferring the checking and NOW accounts over to the First Mid-Illinois Bank in Arcola. Barr warns that account holders will have to go over to the First Mid-Illinois branch in Arcola to make the switch --- and that checks from their Homestead checkbooks are no longer valid.
The FDIC says 81 federally insured banks have failed so far this year. Arcola Homestead Savings Bank 12th Illinois bank to fail.The federal agency says the bank had about $17 million in assets and $18.1 million in deposits, as of March 31st.
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