Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 20, 2009

Report: Governor’s Pension Plan Could Cost More Than Current Setup

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to reform the public pension system to save money would actually cost $95 billion extra over the next three decades.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show Quinn would cut in half the amount of money the state would put into retirement systems for state employees in the next five years. But those short-term savings would be accompanied by much larger long-term costs.

The total cost would be $532 billion through 2045, up from $437 billion under the current pension plan.

Representatives of employees' unions and a legislative finance commission criticized the idea.

Quinn is trying to close an $11.6 billion deficit by raising income taxes and cutting spending. He has proposed lowering pension benefits for new employees to save money.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - May 19, 2009

After the Gateway Studios Evictions: What About Next Time?

Last week's sudden closure of a residential hotel in Champaign forced dozens of people to look for a place to live on short notice. It also forced the City of Champaign into action - not just to condemn the Gateway Studios for lack of utilities, but to help arrange housing for those residents, most of them low-income. Housing advocates see the evictions - and a similar incident at the Autumn Glen apartment Complex in Rantoul - to call for changes in housing policy in Champaign and Urbana. Former Urbana alderman Danielle Chynoweth has brought a proposal to the Champaign and Urbana city councils to offer cash assistance for relocation to people left homeless by condemnation - the landlord would be held responsible for that money. She spoke with AM 580's Tom Rogers.

The head of Champaign's Neighborhood Services department, Kevin Jackson, told AM 580's Jim Meadows last week that while rental help is available from agencies, some of it is based on the applicant's background. Jackson says the city is open to discussion on permanent policy changes.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - May 14, 2009

Local Chrysler Dealers Find Out Their Potential Fate

Chrysler is closing one out of every four of its dealerships, and the effect will be felt in central Illinois.

O'Brien Auto Group's Chrysler dealership in Urbana is on a list of nearly 800 closures, as are the Chrysler and Jeep franchises at Danville's Carmack Car Capitol and all Chrysler brands at Tuscola's Four Seasons Auto Plaza. Decatur-based Bob Ridings is losing Chrysler brands at its main dealership as well as those in Taylorville and Jacksonville. The owner of the Carmack firm in Danville, Gary Knight, said he was not expecting to see the notice from Chrysler but had no further comment - neither did a spokesman for Four Seasons.

Chrysler has about 3,200 dealers, but the bankrupt automaker says that's too many. It wants to have stronger, more profitable dealers with better facilities.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 20, 2009

Money Smart Week” Focuses on Financial Literacy

A week full of classes and events in Champaign County is aimed at helping people guide their personal finances through the tough economy.

The Chicago Federal Reserve is kicking off Money Smart Week this week in several Illinois communities. It's meant to boost financial literacy in a time when it's more important than ever.

One of the advisory committee members in Champaign County is Parkland College president Tom Ramage, who says students and their families can use the courses to chart their immediate and long-term financial futures.

"This gives students the opportunity to get direct answers to specific questions they might have in a short, free -- which is a key word -- experience where they can spend a couple hours, or a couple days, on a specific topic that's relevant, timely to them," Ramage said.

Nearly 25 community agencies, banks, schools and other groups are putting on classes and seminars ranging from basic saving and investing to making budgets and preventing against identity theft.

You can find a schedule of events at the Chicago Fed's website, moneysmartweek.org.

Categories: Business, Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 16, 2009

Shopping Mall Powerhouse Files for Bankruptcy Protection

General Growth Properties Inc., the nation's second-largest mall operator, says it has filed for bankruptcy protection after failing to convince its debt holders to give it more time to refinance its crushing debt.

The Chicago-based real estate investment trust said early Thursday it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in a New York court. Some 158 regional shopping centers under its control also filed for bankruptcy protection.

The company owns Champaign's Market Place Mall.

General Growth says it received a financing commitment from Pershing Square Capital Management LP of about $375 million and expects it will be able to continue operating its malls as it reorganizes.

The operator of jewelry store in Market Place says most changes coming out of the bankruptcy announcement won't impact the common shopper.

Eric Connery... whose family owns Bauble's.... says he knew this news was coming for the past several months. But he believes having a lease intact makes his store an asset instead of a liability. Connery recently renewed the lease for another year.

He says other than some possible changes in management... it should be business as usual at the mall:

"Their financial problems are so far beyond the mall level they wouldn't affect us," Connery said. "I don't foreseeing anything changing for the negative. The only thing I'd see happening is maybe you'll have some different people in different positions, and change isn't always a bad thing."

Connery says General Growth Properties is just a company that needs time to get its finances restructured... and he expects its ownership of the Champaign mall to remain intact.

(from AM 580 and The Associated Press)

Categories: Business, Economics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 07, 2009

Health Care Advocacy Groups Call for Insurance Reform

Backers of health insurance reform in Illinois say companies need to put care for their recipients ahead of executive bonuses.

The AARP and state Public Interest Research Group, or PIRG, are among those urging state senators to follow the example of the Illinois House, and pass the Health Insurance Consumer Protection Act.

The measure would require insurance companies to spend at least 75% of premium dollars on medical care instead of executive salaries, marketing, or profits. 76-year old Felicia Boss of Champaign says her monthly premium went up more than 60 dollars from one year to the next without any explanation. "You have to accept it, you can't live without it," says Boss. "I know many residents where I live are looking into new plans, if they can find something. And so if there was full disclosure out there for us from the companies, at least we'd be able to choose for ourselves what would best fit our budget." The bill would also allow the Office of Consumer Health Insurance to function as a watchdog group to ensure companies aren't denying claims or hiking premiums. The measure passed the Illinois House last week. Lawmakers, including senators, are currently on break, and return two weeks from today.

A spokeswoman for Urbana-based Health Alliance Medical Plans says 90-percent of the company's premiums are going to medical care. But Jane Hayes says Health Alliance is concerned that the bill as currently written doesn't allow insurance providers to provide input to help determine company standards.

Categories: Economics, Health
Tags: economy, health

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 02, 2009

The Uncertain Fate of Champaign’s Art Theatre and Art Movies

The operator of Boardman's Art Theatre in Champaign is apparently looking to relocate as the building's owner looks for either a new tenant, or to sell the facility for another use.

Owner David Kraft says the rent of 4 dollars a square foot he's charging isn't near the market rate... and he can't afford to charge that little when factoring in expenses like real estate tax, water, trash, and sewer rates. Kraft says he's made operator Greg Boardman an offer of just under 9-dollars a square foot.

"If he won't pay that and no one will pay that, then I think everybody needs to look and determine if there's demand for this, if there's sufficient interest," Kraft said. "If no one is willing to pay near market rent, then maybe we do have to look at different ideas."

Kraft suggests there may not be room for a movie theater anymore when considering what other downtown businesses are paying for first floor retail space. He's looking to sell the Church Street building for just over $1 million.

Kraft says he's drawn interest for other theater operators, but nothing concrete.

Boardman's lease on the Church Street location expires in December. He couldn't be reached for comment, but the co-owner of a building across the street... Bill Capel... confirms Boardman toured his facility last month. That building houses the old Rialto Theater. Capel says any talk of moving Boardman's there would include extensive talk about renovations.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 02, 2009

Sagging Numbers in Illinois Economic Index

A University of Illinois economist doesn't see a bottom yet in the latest economic slowdown.

The monthly U of I Flash Index authored by Fred Giertz fell for a seventh straight month in March. It now stands at 95.6 - with any number below 100 showing economic contraction. It's been five months since the index showed growth in the Illinois economy. The Flash Index takes the state's economic pulse by examining state tax receipts for the previous month. Giertz expects further declines ahead for the index. It still hasn't reached the level seem in the last two slowdowns, in 1990 and 2001 - and Giertz believes this latest recession is deeper.

Categories: Business, Economics, Education

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 27, 2009

Urbana’s Mayoral Candidates Lay Out Economic Plans

Economic development was a key plank in Laurel Prussing's platform when she first ran for mayor of Urbana. Prussing narrowly defeated Tod Sattherthwaite with the argument that the incumbent hadn't done enough to attract business to the city. Now Prussing faces three challengers who each say they could do a better job, in spite of a recession. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.

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AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 25, 2009

Quinn: Historic Sites Will Open, Possibly This Summer

Governor Pat Quinn says shuttered historic sites could reopen by summer.

The Chicago Democrat says he is committed to opening them by June 30, even though his proposed budget calls for leaving them closed.

We've got to get a little more money. We've made some reorganization, so the historic sites are going to get done as quickly as possible," the governor said at a stop in Savoy yesterday.

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich closed a dozen historic sites and state parks last year to help fill a budget deficit. After Quinn became governor, he reopened the parks and said he would do the same for the historic sites, including the farm owned by Abraham Lincoln's family in Coles County.

Quinn now says money for reopening them will come from merging the agencies that oversee natural resources and historic sites.


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