Illinois Public Media News
The income tax increase that took effect at the start of 2011 will give state legislators some buffer.
With a new General Assembly getting to work on Tuesday, the budget will be front and center. Democrats still hold a sizable majority, but Republicans gained enough seats that there must be at least some GOP support in both chambers for borrowing and other measures to pass.
The new makeup of the legislature could put a wrinkle in Democrats' efforts to erase the state's backlog of bills. Illinois' budget was so thin, the state has held off paying social service organizations, schools, and businesses with state contracts.
Democrats want to leverage the incoming revenue from the tax hike to borrow more than $8 billion to immediately make those vendors whole, but first they will have to convince Republicans ... who say they are withholding support until there are spending cuts and other changes.
Besides borrowing, a revamp of the workers' compensation system and reductions in current state employees' pension plans could be major topics this year at the capitol.
Employers posted fewer job openings in December, the second straight month of declines. That's a sign hiring is still weak even as the economy is gaining strength.
The Labor Department said Tuesday that employers advertised nearly 3.1 million jobs that month, a drop of almost 140,000 from November. That's the lowest total since September.
Openings have risen by more than 700,000 since they bottomed out in July 2009, one month after the recession ended. That's an increase of 31 percent.
But they are still far below the 4.4 million available jobs that were advertised in December 2007, when the recession began.
The figures follow a mixed jobs report released last week, which showed the unemployment rate fell sharply to 9 percent in January from 9.4 percent the previous month. But it also found that employers added a net total of only 36,000 jobs, far below what's needed to consistently reduce unemployment.
There are far more unemployed people than there are job openings. Nearly 14.5 million people were out of work in December. As a result, on average there were 4.7 people competing for each available job. That's below the ratio of 6.3, reached in November 2009, the highest since the department began tracking job openings in 2000.
But in a healthy economy, the ratio would fall to roughly 2, economists say.
The department's report, known as the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, or JOLTS, counts number of jobs advertised on the last business day of the month. The figures are for December, but economists say the report provides an indication of future hiring patterns because it can take several months to fill many jobs.
Job openings dropped sharply in professional and business services, a category that includes temporary help agencies. They also fell in construction, manufacturing, and in education and health services.
Job openings rose in trade, transportation and utilities, and in retail.
A bill meant to get more tax revenue from online retailers is on Governor Pat Quinn's desk. As Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows reports, it's a measure the governor probably would not be considering if people paid more attention to paying the state use tax.
(Photo courtesy of Maximum PC)
The manager at Willard Airport says commercial flights there won't be affected by the possible closure of the U of I's Institute of Aviation.
Steve Wanzek likely the biggest impact would be the downgrading of the airport's control tower, since 90-percent of the takeoffs and landings are pilots in training through the U of I. On Thursday, university administrators recommended that the Institute close once current students complete their degrees, or by the spring of 2014.
Wanzek said the Federal Aviation Administration could lose a few jobs at Willard, as well as training opportunities.
"A hundred-thousand activities in a non-O'Hare (International Airport) environment is a lot of activity, and they get a lot of exposure for trainees here," Wanzek said. "And that opportunity for the FAA will diminish as the institute slows down and if it goes away."
But Wanzek said the potential closing of Aviation won't affect Willard's efforts to construct a new tower, which he said should be finished by the end of next year. Meanwhile, the President at Flightstar hopes to make up for a loss of about $100-thousand in revenue that the Institute brings his facility each year - if it does close by 2014. Bill Giannetti said the loss is significant, but his business will survive. Flightstar does maintenance and charter flight service at the airport.
Giannetti said it is a shame that the Institute of Aviation and its deteriorating buildings have gone neglected by the U of I for years.
"My fear is the Institute will shut down, the FAA will build a new control tower, so we'll have a number of buildings that are going to be empty, going into a state of neglect, kind of like what we've seen with some of the buildings in Rantoul," Giannetti said. "These are old buildings. They really, at some point, needs to be demolished."
Gianetti said he had hoped the U of I would construct a new facility for Aviation, making it competitive with other schools that have better facilities.
Illinois' economy is not growing yet, but it's one point closer to doing so, according to the University of Illinois's Flash Index.
The monthly reading of the state economy was at 95.9 in January, up from 94.9 in December. Any number below 100 reflects economic contraction. But U of I Economist Fred Giertz said the Index has shown gradual improvement over the past eight months.
"This is one of the bigger jumps," Giertz said. "Any one month, you have to be careful about it - it could be an anomaly. But it's going in the direction that's expected, of a substantial increase, which is what's happening at the national level."
Giertz referred to national economic figures, which showed a sharp drop in the unemployment rate in January, even though job growth was weak. Illinois's 9.3% unemployment rate for December was slightly better than the national rate of 9.4% --- although Giertz said both were high, considering the improving economy. Now that the national rate has fallen to 9%, Giertz said he wants to see how the new state numbers stand in comparison, when they're released in about a week.
The Flash Index is based on Illinois tax revenues. Giertz said January's improvement was due to growth in state income and sales tax receipts, rather than corporate taxes.
The University of Illinois' Interim Chancellor and Provost have proposed that the Institute of Aviation be closed, following suit with recommendations made by a faculty committee.
In a letter distributed around campus this afternoon, Vice President and Interim Chancellor Robert Easter said, "As an institution, we must examine carefully our core missions and determine how to support and enhance those missions so that we may best serve our students, the state and society. We have arrived at the difficult conclusion that closing the Institute best serves those interests."
The letter was also signed by Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Interim Provost Richard Wheeler.
Administrators will ask that the Faculty Senate's Educational Policy Committee hold a public hearing on the proposal. After last September's 'Stewarding Excellence' review, the U of I's Illinois Business Consulting Group was asked to evaluate the marketability of a stand-alone and self-supporting flight certification program. The IBC concluded that there wasn't sufficient demand to support the expansion of such a program. Last year, Easter estimated the university could save up to $750,000 a year by closing the program.
The Interim Director of the Institute of Aviation, Tom Emanuel, said the news did not come as a surprise.
"There have been some restrictions to our enrollment, and the fact that all the faculty were taken from the program (and moved to other departments) by central administration a year or so ago," he said. "That left us in a pretty precarious situation, I mean, how can you have a program without a faculty base?"
The courses are now being taught by academic professionals and faculty from other departments. Aviation currently has about 160 students. Emanuel said he will suggest merging Aviation with another department when the Faculty Senate's committee meeting is held, which requires 30 days' notice. March 8th has been set as a tenative hearing date.. U of I administrators have guaranteed that current students would be allowed to complete the program, so the Institute of Aviation wouldn't be eliminated until the spring of 2014 at the earliest.
The president of the University of Illinois says if it were up to him, faculty and staff would get raises in the years to come.
Many U of I employees have had to deal with flat salaries for the past two years, and most also had to take unpaid furlough days last year. But U of I president Michael Hogan says an administrative review and restructuring program has already lead to five million dollars in savings, and it will pay off in the longer term.
"I feel confident, with the reforms we're putting in place and with other measures we've taken, that we'll begin to see enough of a kitty of money that we can begin certainly avoiding furlough days and begin reinvesting in our faculty, not just in raises but hopefully in new appointments and new hires," Hogan said in an interview and call-in show Wednesday night on Illinois Public Media.
Hogan frequently voiced his displeasure with the backlog in state funding. He says budgeting would be much more accurate without more than $400 million the state of Illinois owes the University, including $60 million in scholarship money through the Monetary Award Program, or MAP, the state- sponsored scholarship program for students in need.
Civil unions for gay and lesbian couples are now the law of the land in Illinois.
About a thousand people crowded into the Chicago Cultural Center on Monday afternoon to watch Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn sign the historic law. The state's General Assembly approved the legislation 61-52 in the House and 32-24 in the Senate.
"We believe in civil rights and we believe in civil unions," Quinn said before signing the bill.
"Illinois is taking an historic step forward in embracing fairness and extending basic dignity to all couples in our state," John Knight, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Project of the ACLU of Illinois, said in a written statement issued hours before the bill-signing.
The law, which takes effect June 1, gives gay and lesbian couples official recognition from the state and many of the rights that accompany traditional marriage, including the power to decide medical treatment for an ailing partner and the right to inherit a partner's property.
Five states already allow civil unions or their equivalent, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Five other states and Washington, D.C., let gay couples marry outright, as do some countries, including Canada, South Africa and the Netherlands.
Illinois law will continue to limit marriage to one man and one woman, and civil unions still are not recognized by the federal government.
Opponents argue the law could increase the cost of doing business in Illinois, while Quinn has said it will make the state more hospitable to businesses and convention planners.
The legislation, sent to Quinn in December, passed 61-52 in the Illinois House and 32-24 in the Senate.
Some hope civil unions are a step toward full marriage for gay and lesbian couples, although sponsors of the civil union bill have said they don't plan to push for legalizing same-sex marriages, which have limited support in the Legislature.
Curt McKay served from 1998-2008 as the first full-time director of the University of Illinois' Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Resource Center. McKay said the legislation is a huge victory, but he added that there is still more that can be done to provide equal opportunities for LGBT groups.
"A number of the opponents of civil unions in Illinois use as their reason for being opposed that the next thing we'll ask for is same sex marriage," McKay said. "I think providing for LGBT people full inclusion under the laws of the state of Illinois in terms of being equal in every way a straight person is accepted is the final goal."
Some conservative groups said the new law is a stepping stone toward legalized same-sex marriage.
"Marriage was not created by man or governments," David E. Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, said Monday. "It is an institution created by God. Governments merely recognize its nature and importance
Cardinal Francis George and other Catholic leaders also vigorously fought passage of the law. The measure doesn't require churches to recognize civil unions or perform any kind of ceremony, but critics fear it will lead to other requirements, such as including same-sex couples in adoption programs run by religious groups or granting benefits to employees' partners.
(With additional reporting from the Associated Press)
Post offices across the country are facing cuts to make up for an $8.5 billion loss in revenue, and Champaign is no exception.
The U.S. Postal Service has experienced a 20 percent decline in mail volume since 2007, which it attributes to an uptick in e-mails and online payments. It plans to start a three-month review, known as an Area Mail Processing (AMP) study, looking at operations at the Champaign Processing and Distribution Facility on North Mattis Avenue. Postal Service spokesman José Aguilar said a decision will be made in a few months on whether to move the facility's stamp cancellation services to Springfield and Bloomington.
"Right now we're looking at every operation we can to save on fuel, save on work hours, set ourselves up, so that the machinery is running at its optimal capacity," Aguilar said.
The post office employs 205 people, and Aguilar said there is a possibility that a portion of those employees could be re-located or lose their jobs. However, he noted that there are several vacant positions at the Champaign facility, and he said there could be opportunities for displaced workers to fill those jobs. After the review is complete, the U.S. Postal Service will gather input from employees and customers before making a decision.
Every two years during the last week of January, communities across the country try to answer a difficult question: How many people are living without permanent shelter? This point in time survey is the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development's effort to determine the number of homeless people nationwide and understand more about their characteristics. CU-CitizenAccess reporter Dan Petrella went along on this year's count in Champaign-Urbana.
(Photo by Acton Gorton/CU-CitizenAccess)
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