Illinois Public Media News
The University of Illinois' monthly gauge of economic performance has hit its lowest point since it was established 14 years ago.
But the author of the Flash Index says the current recession still hasn't reached the depths of the early 1980's economic slowdown. Economist Fred Giertz also says there are promising signs that the recession may be approaching an end, perhaps by the end of the year. Even so, Giertz says statistics before then are bound to get slightly worse.
"Some of the things that go into the Index don't turn around very rapidly," says Giertz, "in particular, employment, which has a lot to do with the individual income tax collections. So this is not a surprise. I think the only surprise would be that it went down a little bit more than might be expected."
The U of I Flash Index measures Illinois tax proceeds to evaluate the state of the economy. With any number above 100 suggesting economic growth, the June rate checked in at only 92. That's more than two points lower than May.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has quickly signed into law a new two-year state budget that lawmakers approved just hours before the current spending plan was to expire.
Daniels signed the bill Tuesday night in his Statehouse office about an hour after the Senate adjourned. The Republican governor says the budget has some flaws but does limit spending to preserve Indiana's reserves. The Republican-controlled Senate voted 34-16 in favor of the plan, which the Democrat-led House had passed on a 62-37 vote amid impassioned debate earlier in the day.
Lawmakers had faced a midnight deadline to pass a new budget or stopgap funding measure to prevent most of state government from shutting down.
Wednesday marks the start of the new state government fiscal year. But there's no budget agreement and no indication when one might happen.
The state will keep operating for at least a while... even though it has no spending authority. Lawmakers have approved a budget that includes heavy cuts to social services, which Governor Pat Quinn announced he won't sign. It all adds up to an ongoing stalemate that threatens to drag well into the summer or longer. Quinn spoke before a joint session of the House and Senate just hours before lawmakers left the Capitol. "We must not put off decisions until later in the summer or the fall or next winter... that's not what adults do," Quinn told lawmakers in the House chamber.
Quinn is still trying for an income tax increase, but so far he lacks the votes to get it passed. A gubernatorial veto would force lawmakers back to the Capitol, but there's no timetable yet for their return. The Governor says the state has a budget deficit of more than nine billion dollars, but there's even disagreement if that's an accurate amount.
The initial groundwork has already been laid for a high-speed rail line between Chicago and St. Louis, with trains traveling 110 miles an hour.
Now the authors of a new study of even faster trains want to include Champaign on such a route. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association is advocating for 220 mile an hour trains that would connect Champaign to Chicago in 45 minutes.
Association Executive Director Rick Harnish says competitors in Asia and Europe have gained an edge on their ability to compete in a global economy. He says China's trains will cover the distance of Chicago to New York down to four hours by the year 2013:
"If you could get on a train here and be in Chicago and transfer to another train and be in New York in 5 hours, you can't do that by plane today. It does have an impact," Harnish said. "We're spending more on our infrastructure than our competitors are, we're spending more per-trip, per-person than our competitors are, and we're making fewer trips than our competitors are because it's so much more expensive to travel here than over there."
Illinois is in the running to receive 8-billion dollars in federal stimulus money to begin building initial high-speed rail lines. Meanwhile, Governor Pat Quinn is asking lawmakers to add 400-million dollars for high-speed rail in a capital construction program. Harnish estimates the state would need to find another 10-million for a market study of the faster trains.
Illinois Senate Transportation Committee Chair Martin Sandoval says Illinois is no longer looking at theories and believes the state will make the investment.
Ameren is planning a summer of public input as it proposes a new high-voltage electric transmission line around Champaign's western and southern outskirts.
The 138-thousand volt line would link substations in Bondville and Champaign's south side and would bring more capacity to the area around the University of Illinois campus, including the future Blue Waters petascale computer project.
Marty Hipple is supervising the planning for the line. "It provides capacity to serve that future load that's forecasted, and it provides a loop in network transmission to improve the reliability of existing transmission," Hipple said.
Doni Murphy, a planning consultant working with Ameren, says lists of "sensitivities" will be drawn up so that those planning the route of the new line can watch out for them. "Existing developments, proposed developments, whether they be residential, commercial or what have you," Murphy said. "And often times you'll see the traditional environmental considerations like wetlands, archaeological and cultural sites, protected species habitats, things of that nature."
Ameren says it will hold open houses and meetings with local officials to find three recommended routes for the line. The utility would submit those proposals this winter to the Illinois Commerce Commission, which would decide if and where the line would be built. Ameren hopes to finish it by 2014.
Starting Thursday, Champaign-Urbana will have two farmers markets.
The parking lot just north of Champaign Police headquarters will be the site of the North First Street Farmers Market every Thursday afternoon and early evening. Its coordinator, Wendy Langacker says it's not meant to compete with Urbana's long-running Market on the Square Saturday mornings - instead, it's meant to put fresh food within walking distance of a neighborhood where it's been hard to find in the past.
"For a lot of people in this neighborhood it might be difficult," Langacker said. "Even for people who live across the (CN) tracks, in downtown condos and apartments, it's still a ways away. So it's a nice way to bring fresh food to people in this downtown area."
Langacker says 26 vendors expect to have booths at the market, including a few merchants from the North First Street area. The farmers market will also include entertainment each week. Its 11-week run wraps up at the end of August.
The Department of Energy has decided to move forward on a stalled futuristic coal-burning power plant in central Illinois that languished under the previous administration.
The project known as FutureGen would burn coal for power but store emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide underground. It was slated to be built in Mattoon but was canceled after a faulty cost analysis put the price of the project higher than it should have been.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a Friday morning statement that reviving FutureGen is an important step that shows the Obama Administration's commitment to carbon capture technology.
Gov. Pat Quinn is eager to build support for his proposed income tax increase, so he chided lawmakers yesterday Tuesday for not raising taxes to help fix a budget deficit of at least $11.6 billion.
Quinn didn't offer up any new cost-cutting suggestions but he said he would be willing to listen to anyone. The Democratic governor remained optimistic he could get a budget paid for by a tax increase in place by July 1 when the new fiscal year begins.
Quinn wants the income tax increase to stave off cuts he says will decimate state human services programs.
In response, Quinn is pressuring lawmakers by pledging not to sign the $28 billion statewide construction program they want until they give him a balanced budget.
Michael Madigan's spokesman Steve Brown says the House speaker would continue to meet and work cooperatively with Quinn.
Area General Motors dealers are looking at the automaker's bankruptcy from different perspectives.
Most dealers in east-central Illinois expect to keep selling cars despite GM's decision to cut hundreds of dealers. Bill Abbott owns a GM dealership in Monticello -- he says his company didn't receive a contract cancellation notice, and they are looking forward to being there for a long time.
Hoopeston dealership owner Dave McFadden says he's also not worried about the future of Anthem Chevrolet Buick Pontiac, and he's optimistic about what a new GM will look like.
"I'm looking forward to a new GM emerging, being more competitive with less liabilities and returning to the giant automotive manufacturer that it has been for almost a hundred years," McFadden said.
But a small Chevrolet dealer in Iroquois County may not be a part of GM's future. Still, Rust Chevrolet doesn't plan on closing anytime soon, despite receiving a letter ending its franchise agreement with GM.
Co-owner Karen Rust Walder says the family-owned operation in Cissna Park will continue offering parts and service and plans to keep selling used vehicles when their agreement with GM ends in 2010.
Walder says she knows that some dealerships plan to fight the contract termination, but as for Rust Chevrolet, she says they don't really know what their next step will be.
The Rust family has sold Chevrolet vehicles since her grandfather signed on with the car company in 1915. Walder is the only salesperson at the dealership.
Illinois lawmakers have approved a state budget that only provides about six months of funding for agencies and programs. Governor Pat Quinn says that won't do.
Quinn is calling a summit with legislative leaders today at the Capitol in the hopes of breaking a logjam over raising taxes. Quinn says the state needs an income tax hike to help dig out of a huge deficit.
Quinn says he has no plans to act on what's been termed a "lights on" budget, designed to keep government operating if no compromise is reached by the start of the new fiscal year July first. Lawmakers left Springfield early this morning but could be called back to town in the future. Quinn downplays speculation of a long, drawn out budget battle.
"I happen to be a repair man," Quinn said. "I understand in a bad situation, find the hole in the roof and repair it."
But Quinn had little success in working with fellow Democrats who control the legislature, and Republicans are refusing to climb on board with a tax increase. More votes will now be needed to pass a tax hike. Quinn won't say what he'll do if his talks with legislative leaders fails to result in a break through. He says the budget lawmakers approved would result in severe cuts to services and calls that unacceptable.
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