Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 16, 2011

Indiana Unemployment Creeps Higher in August

Indiana's unemployment rate inched higher in August but remains below the national average.

The state Department of Workforce Development said Friday that the Indiana jobless rate increased from 8.5 percent in July to 8.7 percent, with about 274,000 people seeking work last month. Workforce Development commissioner Mark Everson says that revised numbers from July helped offset some that downturn.

The national unemployment rate is 9.1 percent.

The state agency says growth in construction and government employment last month wasn't enough to offset job losses in manufacturing, transportation and other sectors.

Indiana's jobless rate is still significantly lower than a year ago, when it stood at 10 percent. Indiana's rate is also slightly lower than rates in neighboring Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 15, 2011

Governor Quinn Heads to China to Boost Exports

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is scheduled to depart for China on Friday to lead an delegation of Illinois business and educational leaders. The governor told reporters this week he hopes his eight day mission will help improve trade relations with the country - and boost Illinois' economy.

Quinn said an increase in exports will create more jobs in Illinois.

"I don't think any state in the union that really wants to get more jobs should miss the opportunity to interact with other countries that either want to invest in our state or want to buy our goods and services," Quinn said."That's part of the job of a governor nowadays, especially in the 21st century."

The delegation is scheduled to stop in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, where Illinois first opened a trade office in 1983.

Quinn said he plans to sign an agreement with China that would increase soybean exports. China, according to Quinn, is the third largest exporter for Illinois, behind Canada and Mexico.

According to the governor's office, Illinois exports to China have grown recently, totaling more than $3 billion last year. Key exports include machinery, electronics, chemicals and agricultural products.

During his time as mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley made several visits to China to promote business and tourism in the city. Quinn said he hopes his visit will further encourage Chinese tourism to Illinois, which grew to 97,000 visitors in 2010.

The governor also plans to visit Japan for a conference at the end of his trip to China. He is scheduled to return to Illinois on September 24. This is Quinn's second trip abroad this year -- he visited Israel in July.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 15, 2011

Plan to Merge Illinois Treasurer and Comptroller Stalled

The plan to merge the Illinois treasurer and comptroller's office is stuck in the state House of Representatives.

Combining the two offices that handle state finances could save Illinois an estimated $12 million, but the legislature hasn't signed off on the constitutional change.

State treasurer Dan Rutherford and comptroller Judy Baar Topinka both favor combining their offices into one. Topinka, a Republican, blames Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan for keeping it "bottled up" in that chamber.

Madigan's spokesman denies that claim, saying the Speaker does believe the two offices have dramatically different duties, and the public's funds are best safeguarded when they're kept separate.

Illinois used to have one fiscal office known as the state's auditor, but in the '50s Orville Hodge used the office to rob the state. Madigan was part of the constitutional drafters who in 1970 separated the office's duties to prevent future scandals. Topinka said she understands that history.

"But the oversight angle of splitting those offices is long gone," Topinka said. "We have other ways of doing it. So now it's time to bring them back and avoid at least 20 percent duplication. That's easy pickings. For gosh sake's what does it take to figure it out? There is honestly no downside. No downside."

The Speaker's spokesman said Madigan believes the consolidation proposal as is doesn't have enough safeguards.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 13, 2011

Quinn Adds New Wrinkle to Gambling Expansion

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is airing another concern about gambling expansion that would add a new Danville casino and four others in the state.

Quinn has repeatedly harped about insufficient regulation in the bill and on Tuesday he said he was worried it could shortchange education funding.

But Democratic Rep. Lou Lang of Skokie said Illinois would still get millions of new dollars if the expansion is approved, even with changes in the sliding scale for taxing casino revenues.

Quinn has talked down the expansion but the governor doesn't have the legislation yet to sign or veto. Lawmakers have held on to it since May to try to deal with Quinn's concerns.

Lang says Quinn has discussed items but not provided a specific list of changes to the bill.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 13, 2011

Champaign City Council to Revisit CVB Funding

At least two Champaign city council members believe the local convention and visitors bureau is a valuable asset.

But the level of the city's financial commitment to the Champaign County CVB will be weighed Tuesday night, two months after the city of Urbana chose to pull its $72 thousand in funding and use it instead for public safety. The Champaign County Board later provided a $15 thousand donation of its own.

City council member Tom Bruno calls the area a tourist attraction, but not a natural one that doesn't need the backing of promotions offered by the CVB. Fellow council member Marci Dodds also backs the agency, and sits on its board. But she questions if Champaign's CVB funding should benefit a community no longer supporting the agency.

"Do you want us to go out and say to the other people: 'you need to fully fund," Dodds said. "If you don't, you don't get the benefits of the CVB in quite the same way you did before. And I think that that's certainly something I'm comfortable with."

Dodds said it's a mistake long-term not to promote tourism in Champaign, since it will impact the region economically. She's also surveyed other council members, and says they also support funding the CVB at some level.

Bruno said supporting other communities, like Urbana, is unavoidable.

"It very well may be that it's difficult to attract people to the city of Champaign without having some of them choose to stay the night in Urbana," he said. "So because it's difficult to target that, it still may be in the city of Champaign's best interest to just generically attract people to this region."

Like the hiring of a new police officer, Bruno admits it's hard to track the benefits of what the Convention and Visitors Bureau funding does for the city.

The Champaign city council meets Tuesday night in a study session, beginning at 7. Bruno said he expects the council to take final action on CVB funding by October.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 13, 2011

Community Forum Provides New Input for Unit 4 Supt Search

A search firm has nearly completed collecting its criteria for what the Champaign community wants in a new school superintendent.

A forum Monday night brought out new input from parents and others who say Unit 4 needs someone with close tabs on the community, and puts the student first, regardless of race or socioeconomic status.

Jennifer Shelby will serve on a committee that will conduct the second round of interviews. She said she is concerned about low-income students that can fall through the cracks.

"The kids that go home hungry, and the level of poverty in the school district, which I think the community likes to keep under wraps," Shelby said. "I'd like to see that brought to the forefront."

The forum at Centennial High School brought out about 50 people, and lasted just over an hour. Parent Charles Schultz said he was surprised more didn't attend, but was happy to hear calls for fiscal discipline under a new superintendent, the hiring of more minority teachers, and better communication lines overall.

"They need to work with the board," Schultz said. "Because the (Unit 4) board is responsible to the community, and if there's no chain of command between the community and the board and the superintendent, then the community is not going to be very happy, and the board may not be very happy."

Others at the forum suggested improved school safety, working on a tight budget, and improving the district's school of choice system to add to what's already been compiled from nearly 900 on-line surveys. Laura Bleill says the lack of communication between the district and parents in that school of choice process is frustrating. The co-founder of the Chambana Moms.com web site also believes that Unit 4's next leader needs to open lines of communication that extend beyond the classroom.

"Interfacing with the community is key," Bleill said. "I think this district does a lot of things behind closed doors that should be opened up to the public, and that the public should have more input into how the schools are run and how the future is for our children."

Champaign City Council member Will Kyles said the new superintendent needs to bring about a change in culture within the classroom, noting that some teachers are afraid to talk to their students.

The search firm School Exec Connect will use the forum and surveys to form a profile for a new superintendent. Edward Olds with the search firm says the turnout was typical for such a forum. The comments from the event will be combined with input at smaller meetings Tuesday that include the local NAACP chapter, Champaign County's Chamber of Commerce, and a local teachers' union. The top replies on Unit 4 surveys included finding someone who had worked in a similar size district, and encouraged positive student behavior.

The firm will choose 12-to-15 candidates from more than one-thousand applicants, then narrow it to 5-to-7 finalists that the Unit 4 school board will interview in November. The new superintendent will be hired late this year, and start next July.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 12, 2011

Quinn Vetoes Bill to Raise Illinois Electric Rates

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has vetoed legislation to increase electric rates for consumers across the state.

The measure was part of a $3 billion, 10-year plan to give Commonwealth Edison and Ameren money for infrastructure improvements and a modern Smart Grid. The bill does not guarantee higher electricity prices, but any future hikes could take effect immediately - rather than first going through a lengthy review.

Quinn's action came as no surprise as he already pledged to veto it, saying the legislation didn't have enough consumer protections and would unfairly raise electric rates.

"It may be a dream come true for Commonwealth Edison, but it's a nightmare for consumers in Illinois," Quinn said. "I think we want to make it clear to the public that they should not be gauged with paying unfair rates for something that they don't really feel is delivering better service."

Quinn urged lawmakers Monday to let his veto stand and said everyone should go back to the bargaining table. He said the starting point should be a plan put forth by the Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates utility rate increases.

ComEd said opponents were off base about the legislation known as Senate Bill 1652 or SB1652.

"Despite the rhetoric of the legislation opponents, SB1652 does not guarantee profits, will not result in automatic rates increases and does not strip the authority of the ICC," ComEd said in a statement. "Illinois customers want more than the status quo. We look forward to working with members of the General Assembly to help make grid modernization and economic growth a reality in Illinois."

Ameren Illinois spokesman Leigh Morris said he is disappointed with the governor's decision to veto the legislation.

Morris said among the changes tied to modernizing the state's electrical distribution system would be fewer power outages, an additional 700 thousand smart meters, and improved energy efficiency.

"Because of the regulatory process that we would have to follow without this legislation, it would take at least 30 years to archive what we could do in 10 years with this legislation," he said.

Morris said Ameren is optimistic that there will be enough support in the General Assembly to override the governor's veto.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 12, 2011

Eatery Inspection Reports Are Tough to Get

About one in 10 restaurants in Champaign County failed a health inspection from April 2007 through April 2011, according to a review of inspection records by CU-CitizenAccess.org. But customers have no easy way of knowing just how sanitary the places at which they eat really are. Dan Petrella reports.

(With additional reporting by University of Illinois journalism alumna Jennifer Wheeler, CU-CitizenAccess reporter Pam Dempsey and UI journalism alumnus Steve Contorno)

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Categories: Business, Economics, Health

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 09, 2011

Is Casino Legislation Losing Momentum?

Despite delays and debunked predictions-and a never-ending wait for Gov. Pat Quinn's decision on a gambling expansion bill-supporters of expanded gambling in Illinois say they expect to find common ground by Oct. 25, the first day of the fall veto session.

The bill, stalled for months due to policy differences, political infighting and Quinn's reluctance to increase gambling venues, remains a top priority.

But the waiting game may be ending soon. Unless Quinn outlines his concerns "in short order," legislative leaders will present him with their own version of a clean-up gaming bill, known as a trailer bill, that will tighten control over the proposed Chicago-owned casino, according to State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), House sponsor of the bill. Other revisions may be coming as well, Lang said.

The options will be limited: Any change risks losing a vote on a bill that was a delicate balance of interests among Chicago, struggling cities such as Danville and Rockford that want new casinos, the horse racing industry and places like Joliet and Aurora where existing casinos fought the increased competition.

An amendatory veto, which would allow Quinn to change the bill and send it back to lawmakers for a re-vote, would be an unwise choice, Lang said.

"Substantial changes would put the speaker in a position of weighing compliance with the (Illinois) constitution on the amendatory veto," said Lang, who is House Speaker Michael Madigan's floor leader. "That's not a good way to go. If the governor thinks we're going to have substantial changes by way of amendatory veto, I think he's mistaken."

Whether lawmakers' power play will work remains to be seen. Quinn is occupied by daily state budget pressures. He announced Thursday a series of employee layoffs and facility closings that also will be a top item of negotiation during the fall veto session.

For now, the gambling bill that narrowly passed the legislature in May is not on Quinn's desk. In an unusual legislative gambit, Senate President John Cullerton is holding the bill in his chamber, even though it passed, for fear the governor will veto it. And by delaying, he is buying time for an ongoing negotiation. Once the bill reaches Quinn, he must act within 60 days or it becomes law.

Lang, along withSenate sponsor Terry Link, a Democrat from Waukegan, and Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, have been waiting for more specifics from the governor on which parts of the bill make him uncomfortable, but so far the governor has not been forthcoming. Lang and other proponents of the gambling expansion bill spent months crafting legislation with the right ingredients to win approval from a diverse General Assembly. The bill passed the House with only five votes to spare. It passed the Senate with the minimum 30 votes. If Quinn vetoes the bill, lawmakers would need to override his action with supermajorities in both chambers. Supporters would need six more votes in the House and six more in the Senate-likely an impossible threshold on such a controversial piece of legislation..

The more realistic option is to craft a trailer bill that addresses Quinn's concerns while keeping the original bill's vote intact. Starting over, bill sponsors said, is not an option. Many lawmakers who voted against the bill opposed it on moral grounds or voted "no" to protect existing casinos in their districts, which would be hurt by the competition. Ten casinos already exist in Illinois in Elgin, Aurora, East Peoria, East St. Louis, Metropolis, Rock Island, Alton and two in Joliet. The newest casino opened in July in Des Plaines.

Other lawmakers who voted against the bill feared more gambling would not play well in their districts. Those minds would be difficult to change, especially in an election year when they are running in new territories. The boundaries of all House and Senate districts will change for the 2012 election cycle because of redistricting.

When lawmakers return to Springfield this fall for a two-week veto session, some of them may not know whether they are facing competition next year.

"During the periods of time we'll be in Springfield for veto session, the time to circulate nominating petitions (to get on the ballot) will still be going on. So some legislators will be a little nervous about that," Lang said.

Even a follow-up gambling bill addressing Quinn's concerns could be tricky. Just a few cold feet would topple the coalition Lang and Link created last spring to pass the original bill.

For example, Link was able to bring reluctant Republicans on board, including state Sen. Larry Bomke of Springfield, by adding a year-round horse-racing component at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Lang pulled House colleague Luis Arroyo, Democrat of Chicago, into the "yes" column by promising a stream of casino revenue to a fund that would help homeowners facing foreclosure.

They convinced downstate representatives who would not benefit directly from expanded gambling to support it anyway by committing new money to county fairs, a source of pride for farming communities. They included a Danville casino to the bill, which added one senator and two state representatives as supporters.

As a result, the bill is a delicate pyramid of political trades. Any significant changes from Quinn would be a major setback.

"The timeframe is veto session or game over, right?" said Tony Somone, executive director of the Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association, who says the bill is the last hope to save his industry. "I think we've showed the governor how our industry is on life support and we need him to sign the bill as is."

In addition to policy differences-Quinn said from the beginning the bill was too big-political infighting has slowed it down.

Quinn and Cullerton share a mutual lack of trust. One flare-up in May prompted Cullerton to call the governor "irrelevant" during state budget negotiations. Cullerton has refused to send Quinn the gambling bill until they reach a compromise, fearing Quinn might remind the legislature of his relevance by vetoing it outright. The bill is trapped in limbo between Cullerton's desk and Quinn's indecision.

The legislation would create the nation's first city-owned casino in Chicago, along with four others around the state. The measure also would allow the state's five horseracing tracks and Chicago's two airports to add slot machines, and it would allow existing casinos to expand.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who wants the bill, cranked up the pressure on Quinn several times already and is planning more. The Chicago City Council on Thursday approved a resolution supporting a new casino. In mid-summer, Emanuel publicly unveiledthe projects a new casino would fund and organized a news conference of minority aldermen who called on Quinn to sign the bill. Emanuel also is expected to drum up more publicity by working with downstate groups who want Quinn to sign the bill.

Last week, Emanuel hosted a tour for General Assembly members, bringing them on Chicago Transit Authority buses to the National Teachers Academy to meet with Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, followed by a visit to the 911 Emergency Communications Center. They ended the visit at a Millennium Park reception. The Chicago casino wasn't an explicit topic of conversation, but the tour gave Emanuel a chance to outline the city's needs.

Like all of Emanuel's moves, the timing was strategic. Lawmakers next month will be addressing the casino bill, however it plays out. Emanuel desperately wants it. The projected revenue boost for the city alone is an estimated $650 million annually, a huge cash cow for a city facing its own budget pressures.


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