Illinois Public Media News
A monthly gauge of the Illinois economy has backtracked after four months of improvement.
The University of Illinois Flash Index uses state tax revenue figures each month to measure economic performance. For April, the index was set at 91, down .08 from the month before. The index was still far from the 100 level that separates economic growth from contraction. It's also fallen back to its lowest level since last November, though it's still above the September figure that marked the low point of the current recession.
The index's author, U of I economist Fred Giertz, says Illinois's unemployment rate still hasn't followed signs of a national economic recovery. But he also thinks the April index may have been affected by an abnormal drop in the state's corporate tax intake in March, saying that might be a result of timing rather than a true drop.
More delays could be in store for a clean coal technology plant in eastern Illinois. The FutureGen Industrial Alliance is still negotiating finances with the state, dragging out a decision by the US Department of Energy on whether to build the plant in Mattoon.
Illinois Democratic US Senator Dick Durbin says the agency is extending its study of the experimental plant.
"I said that the Secretary of Energy had to decide this project on it's merits and I wanted him to do that," Durbin said over the weekend in Springfield. "I think we've made a good strong case, but we don't take anything more granted."
Durbin, the Majority Whip, says he's optimistic the plant will be built.
The Energy Department had planned to announce by now whether to go forward, but the agency has decided to keep studying the alliance's plans another 60 days.
If built, FutureGen would be the worlds' first zero emissions coal-fired power plant. Carbon dioxide created from burning coal would be stored underground. The project would create thousands of construction jobs.
Optimism remains that construction on the long-delayed FutureGen power plant will get the federal government's okay soon.
In the meantime, local officials can do little more than watch and wait for a decision from the Energy Department. It's in talks with corporate members of the FutureGen Alliance who want to get the $1.8 billion dollar coal-to-energy plant built and operating near Mattoon.
Angela Griffin heads the economic development group Coles Together. "As far as we know they're still in negotiations," Griffin said. "There's still a lot of details to be worked out with the agreement going forward, and they're not at liberty at this point to talk about those."
But Griffin says she and others in the Mattoon area are being kept up to date on the talks, even if she doesn't know the details. Griffin wouldn't estimate when the government and the Alliance can reach a conclusion.
She does say that once that agreement takes place, the construction phase will have a big impact on Mattoon. She says plant developers expect to keep cement plants within a 100-mile radius of FutureGen busy as they drill the initial wells for the plant's carbon-sequestration unit.
Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias says no one from the Democratic Party has suggested he step aside following the failure last week of his family's bank.
Giannoulias said Monday at the Courier Cafe in Urbana the failure of Broadway Bank on Friday gives him a better understanding of the economic struggles of many Americans. Giannoulias says a lack of regulation in the commercial real estate market can partially be blamed on the poor economic policies of his opponent, Republican Congressman Mark Kirk. "I'm not saying that mistakes weren't made in the private sector, of course there were." said Giannoulias. "That being said, what's taken place with community banks, with the seven community banks that failed on Friday, the four more that got consent agreements with FDIC, when you have a real estate market that just plummets the way it did over the last two years, you're going to be dealing with huge challenges."
Giannoulias was in Urbana Monday. Giannoulias says he looks forward to debating his opponent, and offering voters a departure from policies that allowed the national debt to double in the last decade under President George W. Bush. The Treasurer also says he plans on being in Quincy on Wednesday, when President Obama gives a speech on Wall Street reform. And The White House on Friday ended speculation about whether Obama would campaign for Giannoulias, saying the president would help all Illinois Democrats. At the Urbana cafe, Giannoulias listened to University of Illinois students talk about their doubts they'll be able to find jobs when they graduate.
Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias is mourning the collapse of his father's bank while trying not to let it hobble his campaign.
It's a familiar Friday afternoon ritual - federal regulators closing community banks. This week, seven more were taken over. One of them was a bit out of the ordinary. The unraveling of Broadway Bank has become one of the central issues in the fight for President Barack Obama's former Senate seat. Republican Mark Kirk has hammered Giannoulias over his role at the bank when bad loans were made. Giannoulias places most of the blame elsewhere.
"Wall Street greed coupled with lax oversight by Washington politicians led to a deep recession that leveled a crippling blow to the real estate market," said Giannoulias
Giannoulias says he does accept responsibility for the delinquent loans booked while he was a senior loan officer at the bank. He says they number less than 9% of the bank's bad loans overall. Chicago-based MB Financial Bank is taking over Broadway Bank.
Besides Broadway Bank, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. also took control of New Century Bank of Chicago, Citizens Bank & Trust Co. of Chicago and Amcore Bank of Rockford. The agency found institutions to assume the assets of all four banks, which will reopen Saturday. Deposits at all four banks will continue to be insured by the FDIC.
Illinois home foreclosure activity during the first quarter of 2010 fell 4.6 percent from the previous quarter, but was still higher than the first quarter of 2009.
A report released Thursday by Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac shows Illinois with 45,780 foreclosure filings in the first quarter of 2010. Filings include default notices, auction-sale notices and bank repossessions.
The filings represent one in every 115 housing units in the state. That rate is nearly 17.5 percent higher than in the first quarter of last year and 9th-highest nationally.
Nevada again had the nation's highest foreclosure rate _ one in every 33 housing units.
Other states with foreclosure rates higher than Illinois were: Arizona, Florida, California, Utah, Michigan, Georgia, Idaho and Colorado.
The Urbana City Council gave its unanimous endorsement Monday night to intergovernmental agreements that would launch the design engineering phase of the Olympian Road extension. If finalized next week, Urbana would be one step closer to using 5 million dollars in state funds to pay for the design work.
The vote came after Urbana council members heard from dozens of local residents. Some, including business and government leaders, say the extension would help spur commercial development on Urbana's north side, providing tax revenue and jobs. But a majority of speakers said they feared the road would encourage urban sprawl at the expense of farmland. Mayor Laurel Prussing says the city will consider their concerns during a public engagement process that will accompany the design engineering process.
"We will listen to what everybody has to say and we will redesign the plan as necessary", says Prussing. "But we are concerned that in order to have parks, in order to have schools, in order to have a decent way of life, you do have to have a healthy tax base."
But William Cope, one of the organizers of Olympian Drive opponents says lack of support on the Champaign County Board could stop the project from getting beyond the planning phase.
"You know, the project won't happen, without the county board's involvement and support", says Cope. "And therefore, they're against it at the moment. It's unlikely it will happen, so it could well be $5 million just wasted."
The $ 5 million is state funding that's been guaranteed for this phase of work on Olympian Drive. Part of it would pay for acquisition of land for the road --- which would need Champaign County Board approval. But county board support for Olympian Drive has been so weak that a vote on the issue has been delayed until next year.
Urbana Council members amended their Olympian Drive resolution to add in design work on North Lincoln Avenue. Those improvements would allow truck traffic between Olympian Drive and I-74. While North Lincoln is considered crucial to Olympian Drive's success, it's not actually part of the 27 million dollar project.
The newly-combined Carle Foundation Hospital and former Carle Clinic may have a deal with local governments over property taxes.
Up to now, Carle Clinic Association had been an independent for-profit firm. But now that it's been bought out by the Carle Foundation, it's got not-for-profit status under the name Carle Physician Group. That means it's no longer liable for property taxes at its clinic buildings - and that could cost government entities in Champaign County at least $2.4 million a year.
When the merger was announced last November, Carle CEO Dr. James Leonard was quoted as saying Carle would make payments to those government in lieu of taxes. Thursday, he said they're getting close to an agreement.
"We're not done with the discussions yet," Leonard said. "In terms of of their needs, they're very concerned -- particularly with the recession we've been in -- about the resources going forward. It's been an active, positive discussion."
Leonard wouldn't say when a final agreement on tax payments would come out. Meanwhile, he says the Carle Foundation would continue to challenge the state's decision to strip it of its tax-exempt status for some hospital properties. The hospital has put money into an escrow account as the case is still being challenged in court.
The regulators have been satisfied, and today's the day that Carle Foundation Hospital and Carle Clinic Association become one entity.
The two firms had been related but not unified until now - but starting Thursday, the former Carle Clinic has turned from a for-profit company to a wing of the not-for-profit Carle Foundation. It'll now be known as Carle Physician Group.
Carle Foundation president Dr. James Leonard says the combination will make for more efficiency, streamlining a patient's care. "When a patient is moved from one venue to another, they're moving throughout a continuum of care that recognizes their needs, their care, their financing so that we're all thinking about this as a single episode," said Leonard.
Dr. Bruce Wellman headed Carle Clinic and is now the CEO of Carle Physician Group. He says some last-minute approvals meant that merging the two groups' paperwork was delayed until now. "Planning was okay (before the merger), (but) not doing any actual work in changing things, such as the computers, until we had all of the approvals because it would not be legal or appropriate to do that," Wellman said. "So we have timing issues of literally thousands and thousands of things that have to happen, and bills are an excellent example."
Carle says billing will be merged over the next few months. They're asking people who encounter any billing issues to be patient, and patients may be asked to verify their insurance.
Unemployment in Illinois rose slightly from January to February.
The seasonally adjusted jobless rate for February was 11.4 percent. That compares to 11.3 percent in January. There were 900 fewer jobs in Illinois in February.
Illinois Department of Employment Security Director Maureen O'Donnell says she's encouraged that the job loss pace is slowing in the state. She says a few more months of data are needed before it's possible to assess the path of recovery.
Illinois' jobless rate is at its highest level since July 1983. Since the recession began in December 2007, the nation has lost 8.4 million jobs and Illinois has lost 403,600 jobs.
The national unemployment rate in February was 9.7 percent.
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