Illinois Public Media News
Christmas is often a paid holiday for many workers. But not all holidays are treated the same.
The Illinois Chamber of Commerce surveyed businesses and found a majority of employees are getting paid holidays on Christmas. The same goes for Thanksgiving and New year's. But when it comes to Jewish holidays... or ethnic ones... only a small fraction of businesses pay workers to take those days off.
Liz Kern with the state's Chamber says it's difficult for employers to maneuver myriad religious and secular holidays...
"As ethnicities, religion and even the calendar changes on an annual basis" says Kern, "Illinois employers have had a hard time keeping up with what holidays they should be observing and what trends are other employers seeing."
The Chamber's survey found New Year's Day is when most workers get a paid day off... followed closely by Memorial Day and Labor Day. Christmas is still near the top of the list but as for other religious holidays.. more workers get paid to take their birthdays off.
Many women are charged more for their health insurance than men, and a health care advocacy group says that's unfair discrimination.
The head of the Champaign County Health Care Consumers says her own experience with group health insurance for the six employees in her not-for-profit group revealed big differences in premium between male and female employees. Claudia Lennhoff says their provider, Personal Care, charges more than double for women in one certain age group than for similarly-aged men.
Lennhoff says ten other states have banned so-called gender rating for health insurance, but not Illinois. However, she says national health care legislation now in Congress could very well address the issue.
"Now if we can get it passed as a national law, as a part of national health reform, UI think that would obviously help everybody all over the country," Lennhoff said. "But if that doesn't happen I think we'll be among the first to champion such an effort in the state of Illinois."
Lennhoff acknowledges that insurers consider the health demands of female policyholders - including childbirth - in figuring their rates. But she claims profits are the main reason behind the different premiums. We've not been able to contact a representative of Personal Care for comment.
The Champaign City Council voted last night to extend the life of its East University Avenue Tax Increment Financing District for another year. That will give the city time to seek a 12-year extension from the state.
Enacted in the 1980s, the East University Avenue TIF District covers the commercial area east of the Canadian National tracks, including University Avenue and nearby sections of First and Second Streets. City officials say the TIF district has helped spur development --- but not as much as in downtown and Campustown. As the city makes plans to seek a long-term extension of the TIF district, City Councilwoman Marcie Dodds says she thinks flood control and beautification work done on the 2nd Street reach of the Boneyard Creek will spur development that can link downtown and Campustown together.
"It'll do it not only geographically and physically, but also psychologically", says Dodds. "For years, it was campus over here and Champaign over there and downtown far away. The two never met. It was even sometimes difficult to get to one from the other. And I hope that this changes that."
Property tax revenue above a certain level in a TIF District is spent within the district, focusing on building renovations, streetscape work and infrastructure improvements.
The author of the University of Illinois' Flash Economic Index says any noticeable recovery in unemployment may happen well after the statistics point to economic recovery.
In November the index measured 91, sell below the threshold for economic growth, but it's improved one whole percentage point in the last two months.
But U of I economist Fred Giertz says the state may not have seen its highest unemployment rate in the current recession just yet. Giertz says unemployment often lags behind economic improvement.
A monthly gauge of the Illinois economy has made a bit of a rebound.
But the University of Illinois Flash Index cautions about putting too much into an October reading that jumped seven tenths of a percent above the previous month. Economist Fred Giertz says the first substantial improvement in the index in two years is evidence of an improving economy. But he says future months may show a much slower recovery, especially if employment doesn't rebound as well.
"Productivity has been increasing even during the downturn, so when demand starts going up again and people start buying more things it's going to take awhile before we start hiring back a lot of people because firms have become more productive, more efficient in the interim," Giertz said. "They don't need as many people as they used to, so it takes a little bit longer."
The Flash Index measures tax revenue each month from corporations, income and sales. Any number over 100 indicates economic growth - the October index came in at 90.7.
In three weeks, a key vote takes place as a site that once contained much of the Army's chemical weapons supply reverts to civilian use.
An agency has put together a plan to reuse the Newport Chemical Depot as the Army lets go of the one-time nerve agent plant and storage site. It sits on 11 square miles in Vermillion County Indiana, just across the Illinois border.
Bill Laubrends is with the Newport Chemical Depot Reuse Authority. He says the plan is the end product of public meetings and input from a wide range of community leaders.
"We've had stakeholder interviews, which include local residents,property owners, business owners, elected officials, representatives of major employers, local and state economic development groups, representation of conservation groups, soil conservation districts, local civic organizations, school districts, et cetera," Laubrends said.
A five member board will vote on the plan November 19th. It recommends the Army set aside nearly 35-hundred acres for industrial or commercial redevelopment. Another 12-hundred acres would remain farmland, and 24-hundred acres would be left as natural areas and parkland.
The next generation of the nation's electricity backbone will need stronger systems to protect it from attacks.
That's why the federal government is setting up an institute dedicated to computer security as it puts more than three billion dollars into improving the electric grid. The University of Illinois' Information Trust Institute will be a part of that effort, helping design software that keeps the improved power network safe from hackers.
Institute director Bill Sanders says the threat exists because the so-called "smart grid" will involve much more computerization than the current system.
"There's much more computerization, both on the distribution side -- and the distribution side is the kind of equipment you might have in your house that actually delivers the power to your house and the feedback and control there -- and on the transmission side, a wide-area data network that supports power generation and transports that power to somewhere near your house," Sanders said.
Three other universities are taking part in the five year, $18.8 million research program. The smart grid is expected to be more efficient and help consumers track and adjust their own power usage.
A proposed combination of Carle Foundation Hospital and Carle Clinic Association may not settle ongoing tax issues surrounding health care facilities in Illinois - in fact, it may complicate them.
Carle Hospital - a not-for-profit company with tax exemptions - plans to purchase Carle Clinic Association, a separate, for-profit firm. The combination would be considered a not-for-profit company.
A University of Illinois law professor says the move makes good business sense. John Colombo says integrating the two organizations will help improve work flow, cost and the way patients get care. But he wonders what may happen if the combined Carle seeks tax exemptions for clinic buildings after paying taxes on them for years. Colombo says local governments will keep a very close eye on that.
"If I were the county assessor or on the county board of review, at this stage I'd demand a lot of evidence that there is serious charity care work going at these sites (Carle Clinic's facilities), and if couldn't get this evidence from Carle I'd recommend a denial of tax exemption and at this point let Carle litigate the issue, Colombo said.
Colombo says doctors who held an ownership stake in Carle Clinic would lose some autonomy under such a deal, but he says they may also get more job stability in return. Those doctors -- and state regulators -- still have to approve the deal. Carle is not granting interviews on the proposal.
Carle Hospital is challenging the loss of its tax-exempt status for property taxes. State and county officials ruled that Carle was not providing enough charity care to qualify.
A not-for-profit hospital and its sister organization, a for-profit clinic, propose integrating in to one not-for-profit group.
Carle Foundation Hospital and Carle Clinic Association have operated as separate entities, but now the Carle Foundation wants state approval for a 250 million dollar purchase of the clinic by the hospital organization. The deal would also involve Health Alliance Medical Plans, which would remain a for-profit organization.
Carle says in a press release that the merger would reduce costs and increase cooperation between the hospital and clinic. The physicians who have a piece of ownership in Carle Clinic would become Carle Foundation employees. They have yet to approve the merger, as do members of the state's Health Facilities and Services Review Board. They meet November 4th in Urbana to hear comments.
Urbana's economic development manager says two hotel operating groups are interested in the Historic Lincoln Hotel.
Tom Carrino didn't name the two companies during Monday night's Urbana City Council meeting. But he says both are interested in possibly bringing a major hotel brand to the facility --- while preserving the building's architectural integrity.
The Historic Lincoln was designed by local architect Joseph W. Royer. It opened in 1924 and closed last March --- about the same time it was acquired by Marine Bank of Springfield in a foreclosure. Its previous owners had struggled to compete with newer hotels located closer to interstate highways. Carrino says the Historic Lincoln's location in downtown Urbana may be a plus to the two hotel groups now considering the property.
"That means that it's relatively close to the University of Illinois", says Carrino. "It's close to some major employers in downtown Urbana. The fact that it was involved in a foreclosure, the bank is motivated to sell the property. That means that a good hotel group could get the property at a relatively reasonable price.
Carrino says he expects both companies will prepare competing offers to Marine Bank for the Historic Lincoln in the coming weeks. He says both companies have discussed possible tax incentives with city officials --- those incentives would be possible due to the hotel's location in a Tax Increment Finance District and a city Enterprise Zone.
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