Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 02, 2011

Governor Expected to Sign Measure Restoring Prairie Center Detox

It's now up to Governor Pat Quinn to restore nearly $30-million to substance abuse treatment programs around the state.

Funds approved by the Senate this week include $450-thousand for Urbana-based Prairie Center Health Systems. CEO Bruce Suardini says the facility has been without that money since July, when it cut both the detox program and staff.

Provided the governor signs the measure, Suardini says it would take about a month after that before Prairie Center would get a revised contract. And when that money is restored, he says it will take some time to ramp up staff that was laid off when the fiscal year started.

"It's not a light switch. Just because the governor passes this, then a contract has to come to you, then it's specific as to how you can spend it," Suardini said. "Then you have to hire and train a staff to get it all back up and going, and try to expend the money before it all runs out by June. So, that's why I'm saying it's so schizophrenic is that it really puts the client in a bad situation."

The bill now before the governor would include nearly $17-million for addiction treatment services, and $7-point-6 million for related treatment for Medicaid patients. Suardini says Quinn is expected to sign the measure.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - December 01, 2011

Flash Index Reaches Second Highest Point Since Recession Ended

The University of Illinois' flash index went up to 98.7 percent in November, its second highest point since the end of the recession.

Economist Fred Giertz said the results are higher compared to a year ago. While the state has added more than 30,000 jobs, Giertz said the unemployment rate is not going down fast enough.

"It's very difficult to get the unemployment rate down because when we add new jobs, there are always people coming forward to fill them, and that's been the challenge," Giertz said. "I'm optimistic, but in a modified or qualified sense."

Illinois' unemployment rate continues to hover above 10 percent. Meanwhile, Giertz noted that strong holiday sales may have had an impact on the most recent flash index, and he said those figures will be fully reflected in the December reading.

The Flash Index is based on income, corporate and sales tax receipts in Illinois.

Categories: Economics, Education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - December 01, 2011

Caterpillar: Tax Vote Sign of Illinois Dysfunction

Caterpillar Inc. says this week's vote by Illinois lawmakers that killed a package of tax breaks for several companies was a bad signal to send. Illinois is trying to convince the heavy-equipment maker to build a new factory in the state.

Caterpillar's Jim Dugan told The Associated Press that Tuesday's vote was a product of the state's "rudderless, dysfunctional business climate.''

The tax package was intended to hold onto Sears and several financial exchanges that have threatened to leave Illinois.

Peoria-based Caterpillar plans to move about 1,000 jobs from Japan to a North American location still to be decided.

Illinois officials have said they've talked to the company about possibly building the plant in the state. They did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 30, 2011

Budget Deal Keeps State Facilities Open

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

A budget deal reached among Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and lawmakers will keep seven state facilities open and preserve nearly 2,000 jobs at those locations, at least for now.

The agreement saves the Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, the Jacksonville Developmental Center and other facilities.

The plan won General Assembly approval Tuesday. Gov. Quinn had targeted a handful of developmental centers, prisons and psychiatric hospitals for shutdown after the legislature failed to provide enough money to keep them operating. Quinn's budget director, David Vaught said layoffs were only considered as a last resort.

"It's very important in a time of recession," Vaught said. "We've lost 20 percent of our state employees over the last eight or nine years. We have the lowest state employee ratio to population of virtually any state. I think one may be tied with us. We are right down at the bottom. We are not overstaffed in state employees."

The plan involves shifting money, although no additional spending was added to the overall budget. The deal will prevent shutdowns and layoffs through the end of the fiscal year in June. Vaught noted that some positions could be lost through attrition.

Vaught said the agreement also calls for reducing state payments to a variety of special-purpose funds. The state's $55 million contribution to the workers' compensation fund, for instance, would be cut by $10 million. About $95 million that ordinarily would go to pension systems would instead be diverted to preventing the closures.

There would be enough reductions that some services in the Department of Human Services could get some additional money, Vaught said. The biggest beneficiaries would be community mental health services, which would get $30 million, and substance abuse programs, which would get $28 million.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 29, 2011

ADM Asks Employees to Stay Home Because of Broken Water Main

The Archer Daniels Midland Company is asking all non-essential employees who work in the company's Decatur office to work from home on Wednesday, Nov. 30.

The company's trading floor will be open, and all trading floor employees should report to work in the office.

Other ADM employees are being asked to report to the corporate office building only on an as-needed basis.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 29, 2011

Illinois House Rejects Business Tax Incentives

The Illinois House overwhelmingly rejected a $250 million package of tax breaks meant to help businesses and keep several major companies from leaving the state.

Only eight people voted for the package, while 99 opposed it Tuesday. It's still possible another version of the tax breaks could be considered.

The financial exchange company CME Group Inc. and Sears Holdings Corp. have threatened to leave if they don't get some tax relief.

Other companies across the state could benefit from an array of smaller tax credits in the bill. It also includes relief for individual taxpayers and low-income workers.

The measure passed the Senate earlier.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 29, 2011

Lawmakers Return to Springfield to Consider Tax Break Bill

State lawmakers are back in Springfield on Tuesday to try to pass legislation that will keep a pair of major corporations happy enough to stay in Illinois while also doing something for smaller businesses and everyday taxpayers.

A scaled-back tax package is before the General Assembly after it became clear earlier this month during the regularly scheduled veto session that there wasn't enough support for a larger and more expensive version. However, there is still no telling if the new plan will succeed.

What's now the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group cites its namesake city as its birthplace when in 1848 the world's first futures exchange was created.

Sears came to the city not long after in 1887. The company is now in suburban Hoffman Estates.

Despite their long histories in Illinois, both fixtures are threatening to leave. They are being lured by other states with bids of tax breaks and incentives.

Illinois legislators fearful of losing all of those jobs are back at the capitol crafting a counter offer.

Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion), who chairs the House Revenue Committee, has pushed a plan that creates, extends and increases a smattering of other taxes to the benefit of other businesses, and to individuals.

Bradley's proposal has an annual price tag of $250 million, which is $850 million less compared to an earlier proposal. It would include $85 million in relief for Chicago-based financial exchanges that are threatening to leave the state. It also includes $15 million in tax credits for Hoffman-Estates based Sears, which says it may also move.

"We're trying to create fairness, we're trying to create balance, we're trying to spend the money we have as wisely as possible and we're trying to do it in a sustainable manner," Bradley said. "I wish we had more, I wish we could do more. But the reality is that we need to pay bills, we need to keep these companies in Illinois, we need to provide as much relief as we can small businesses and working men and women."

At about $600 million less than the earlier package, Bradley said the plan he is sponsoring is what Illinois can afford.

Businesses groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Manufactures Association say they are pleased with the proposal. They like that it no longer retroactively reverses a tax break that lets companies delay paying taxes on big machinery purchases. They also like that it extends a research and development tax credit, that it partially reverses a suspension of the net operating loss deduction, and it provides relief on the estate tax.

The GOP's negotiator, Rep. David Harris (R-Arlington Heights), said the plan is designed to benefit small and medium businesses.

"The objective is to key in, for business proposes, to show that it's not just the big guess, but small and medium businesses that we want to help as well," Harris said.

There's even a live theater production tax credit, after Broadway in Chicago has continually testified it will help bring acts to the city.

That wide range is why House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) gets miffed.

"I think there are serious questions about the top heavy nature about this proposition," Currie said. "I think there are serious questions about the issue of whether we ought to just jump when some other state says 'we're going to steal your businesses away from you.'"

Currie suggests the General Assembly consider narrow measures targeted solely at the Mercantile Exchange and Sears. The package has blossomed because legislators will be attracted to the various components. Especially when they are hearing protests like that of Toby Chow, with the Make Wall Street Pay Illinois coalition.

"Let me tell you what fairness really means," Chow said. "It means saying no to further budget cuts, which will pile misery upon misery for the 99 percent, and it means saying no to tax breaks which will pile idle wealth upon idle wealth for those in the 1 percent. It means standing up to their extortion and blackmail and threats to leave Chicago."

In the spirit of appeasing some of those concerns, the package breaks not just for businesses but also to individual taxpayers. It increases the earned income tax credit, to the benefit of the working poor. But the credit's significantly smaller in this new, scaled back version of the package.

Gov. Pat Quinn's budget director David Vaught said the administration wants more.

"That makes a huge difference to that single mother, and it also makes a huge difference to our economy," Vaught said. "So, it makes a huge difference out there for those folks who are not happy with government."

That's not to mention critics who argue the package does nothing for the middle class. The standard tax exemption gets a one-time raise, but going forward it will not be tied to inflation as originally proposed.

House sponsor John Bradley said there is pressure to add here, subtract there, but he said he will continue negotiating in an attempt to get enough votes. But at some point, he said, it will be time to move forward.

If getting a package through the General Assembly is being done to please the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, time is nearly up. Its chairman was upset earlier this month because the legislature couldn't get it done during its regularly scheduled veto session. That's why lawmakers hurried back.

To the consternation of some legislators, nobody from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange present at the committee was wiling to testify how long it'll wait.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 29, 2011

Quinn Announces Plan to Save Facilities Marked for Closure

Gov. Pat Quinn says he's reached a deal to keep seven state facilities he'd planned to close open through the fiscal year.

Quinn's office announced the deal Monday. State budget director David Vaught tells The Associated Press that the estimated $200 million cost of keeping the seven centers open through the current fiscal year, which ends in June, will be covered by moving funds from other parts of the budget.

Vaught says Quinn's veto of $376 million from the $33.2 billion budget passed by the legislature this year made the deal possible.

Earlier this year, Quinn said the state needed to close seven centers, including a prison and centers for the developmentally disabled and mentally ill. The closures would have resulted in nearly 2,000 layoffs.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - November 27, 2011

Zook Reflects, Athletic Director Thomas Begins Search For New Coach

Ron Zook's first time addressing the media as the University of Illinois' former football coach was not about what went wrong this season or the future of his career. Instead, he recognized some of the people who backed him over his seven-year stint at the U of I.

In a Sunday afternoon press conference in the U of I football squad room, Zook didn't take questions. Rather, he simply said thank you to many, including former athletic director Ron Guenther for giving him a chance, current AD Mike Thomas, and U of I President Michael Hogan. Zook says sometimes, their jobs include making difficult decisions, and he respects that.

But the now-former coach says there's a lot to look forward to in the football program's future.

"I see our facilities - team - the foundation in place - two terrific bowl trips, and hopefully a third this year," said Zook. "If it falls right, our fifth year seniors will get their third bowl trip. And our players can become the first at our school with two bowl victories. I think our program is very close, I really do. We just didn't quite finish a few games here and there, and I'm proud of how close we are."

If the Illini are selected for a bowl game, it would mark their first back to back bowl appearances since 1991 and 92. Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning will serve as interim coach.

Zook got a bit emotional, pausing when thanking his players, some of them who were in the press conference, calling the team a family. Zook says he wants to make sure the players are ok, and "for that reason, it's not the time to entertain questions, after I've had some time to digest and reflect, I think will be a better time for that, I hope you all understand. Thank you."

With that, Zook left the podium following a 2 and a half minute statement.

U of I Athletic Director Mike Thomas says the search for a new football coach begins immediately. But he wouldn't name specific candidates, or give a timeline for that search. And Thomas says he wouldn't rule out someone without head coaching experience, noting that academics and recruiting are also important.

He says another key factor for coaching at Illinois is success within the Big Ten conference, where the winning percentage was about 30-percent under Zook.

"So I think when you look at us first of all in a conference, are we competitive in a very good football conference?," said Thomas. "But when you're competing at the highest level, as you see with the other teams that are doing that right, that's when your name is in the national picture, they're talking about you for BCS Bowl games, and you're traditionally thought of a Top 25 team."

Thomas says he made the decision to dismiss Zook after Saturday's 27-to-7 defeat at Minnesota. He says it's easy to use the economy as an excuse for lighter attendance at Illini games, but he notes other schools are finding ways to fill the stadium. Thomas says that comes down to the quality of play on the field.

"This program - you need to feel like there's hope around it, and that people are getting excited, and that people are selling tickets," he said. "And when an Ohio State or a Wisconsin shows up, that the stadium is being sold. As a matter of fact, demand exceeds the capacity, and that's not really where we're at right now, but the hope is that someday we get there."

Zook is 34-51 at Illinois. He took the 2007 team to the Rose Bowl and lost to USC. Last season's squad beat Baylor in the Texas Bowl.

Ron Zook talks to the media on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011 hours after being fired as the University of Illinois' football coach

Categories: Economics, Education, Sports

AP - Illinois Public Media News - November 23, 2011

Tax Incentive Bill May Have Something for Everyone

A bill with tax incentives for big companies and working families is expected to come before the Illinois legislature next week. It's been dubbed a "Christmas Tree" bill because it's got a little something for everyone.

The bill started out as tax incentive to persuade corporations like Sears and CME to stay in Illinois. But Democrats want to add tax incentives for individuals and working class families. Republicans want to add tax incentives for small businesses. Meantime, Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn wants to make sure it all passes.

"You know it has to be a reasonable bill - it can't be overloaded. So we'll sit down over the next few days and hopefully come up with a good proposal to get some majority support," Quinn said in a news conference on Tuesday.

Sears has threatened to leave the state if a new tax package isn't passed soon. If the legislature can't pass a bill next week, it'll have to wait until lawmakers return in January.


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