Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - August 01, 2011

Treasurer: Illinois Investment Funds Remain Safe

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

As lawmakers in Washington scramble to vote on a debt ceiling compromise, Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford says he is keeping a close eye on the state's finances.

Rutherford said rising interest rates are helping the state earn more than expected in investments.

President Barack Obama and Congress reached a tentative deal Sunday. The Senate and House still need to vote on a plan by August 2nd, or risk defaulting on its loan obligations.

Rutherford said Monday the state earned $22,000 in interest more than typical for such a trading day. The Republican noted that interest rates have been increasing since early last week amid concerns about the debt-ceiling debate in Washington.

Rutherford said the state will have about $7 billion to invest over the next month.

"The worst case scenario is we would move that $7 billion into zero interest, meaning we gain no interest, but it would be FDIC secured," he said.

Rutherford said if if the debt ceiling isn't raised in time, he is ready to move the state's investment portfolio to 'no interest' accounts. Doing so he said could ensure that the General Assembly has the funds it needs for certain programs.

"The General Assembly has appropriated moneys, and whatever cash they have is what they use to pay the bills," Rutherford said. "Where we come in at is making sure it's secure and that if we can draw additional interest. We have benefit to try to add more into the treasury because of those interests."

Rutherford's staff had about $3 billion that was liquid and available for investment Monday, including $1 billion from the state's portfolio. He joined his investment staff for trading Monday morning.

Rutherford said Illinois is getting about a 50 percent reduction in federal dollars compared to last year. He wouldn't comment on whether he supports the deficit-cutting plan unveiled Sunday, but he said he is anxious to see the debt ceiling raised so that billions of federal dollars continue flowing to the state.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 01, 2011

Asset Sales Raise $7 Million for Victims of Decatur Ponzi Scheme

Sales of homes, jewelry and other assets that once belonged to a former Decatur resident convicted of investment fraud have raised more than $7 million. But that's less than a third of the money William Huber was convicted of stealing.

The (Decatur) Herald & Review reports (http://bit.ly/pVqG6C) that court documents indicate most of Huber's former assets have been found and sold.

That includes homes in Florida and California as well as cars and clothes. One of the more recent sales was $39,000 worth of jewelry.

Huber was sentenced to 20 years in prison in December after he pleaded guilty to running a Ponzi scheme that stole $23 million from investors.

Huber is now 62 and in prison in California. He's appealing his sentence claiming it's too long.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - August 01, 2011

Judge Sets Blagojevich Sentencing Date

A federal judge has set an Oct. 6 sentencing date for ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Judge James Zagel set the date during a status hearing Monday. Blagojevich didn't attend the hearing.

Legal observers say Zagel is likely to sentence Blagojevich to about 10 years for a lone conviction at his first trial and convictions on 17 corruption counts at his retrial. The retrial convictions in June included trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat.

Blagojevich was last in court in July to sign papers putting up his home and another property as collateral for a $450,000 bond that lets him remain free while awaiting sentencing. The 54-year-old did appear last month to sign papers putting up his home and another property as collateral for a $450,000 bond that lets him remain free while awaiting sentencing.

(AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 30, 2011

A Decade After TeraGrid, U of I Heads Up Digital Network

The University of Illinois is the lead researcher for a $121 million digital network funded by the National Science Foundation. The Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment, or XSEDE for short, is seen as an expansion of the TeraGrid project, which started in the late 1990s.

Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert spoke with project leader John Towns about how the focus has shifted to a larger partnership with more top-research universities.

Download mp3 file
Categories: Education, Technology

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 30, 2011

Kirk, Durbin Question Airline Fare Increases

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk are questioning airline fare increases after a ticket tax holiday was created by the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration.

The two Illinois senators have sent a letter to the head of the Air Transport Association asking why most carriers aren't passing the savings along to customers.

Other senators also are putting pressure on the carriers about the fare increases, and so is U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The FAA shutdown eliminated the airlines' authority to collect ticket taxes, which funds the FAA and airport construction. But nearly all carriers raised fares equal to the taxes.

Kirk, a Republican, and Durbin, a Democrat, say they worry the recent price increase is "a collective effort to take advantage of federal inaction.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 29, 2011

Johnson, Walsh Vote Against Boehner Debt Bill

Rep. Tim Johnson of Urbana was one of only 22 Republicans to vote against a debt-reduction measure backed by GOP leadership.

In a release late Friday after the House floor vote, Johnson said the deal calls for spending cuts years into the future, but there are no promises they'd actually be made.

"This plan offers no concrete plan to reform entitlements, and perhaps most importantly, continues to protect our bloated defense spending, including funding of an illegal incursion into Libya," Johnson said in the release.

The Republican has also frequently voiced his opposition to continued US military involvement in Afghanistan.

Despite Johnson's no vote, Republicans muscled legislation to extend the government's borrowing authority and cutting spending through the House over solid Democratic opposition.

The 218-210 vote sets up a confrontation with the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Barack Obama, who say the GOP-written measure will die in the Senate. They say the bill would wreak economic havoc because it would force lawmakers to vote on another extension of the debt ceiling early next year, in the heat of presidential and congressional campaigns.

Administration officials say Congress must find a compromise to raise the debt ceiling by Tuesday or the government will run out of cash to pay its bills. That could prompt an unprecedented federal default, which could rattle the economy with shocks such as higher interest rates.

Johnson joined fellow Illinois Republican Rep. Joe Walsh in opposition -- Walsh has been vocally opposed to raising the debt ceiling, at one point accusing President Obama of lying about the severity of the consequences of missing the August 2 deadline.

(with help from The Associated Press)

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 29, 2011

Chicago-Based Groupon Faces Fierce New Competitor

Chicago-based Groupon is facing a fierce new competitor in the group discount market. Amazon.com is launching Amazon Local and promises to save consumers 50 percent or more on daily email deals.

Amazon Local has tip-toed into six markets around the US, and Chicago is its latest hold. With more than 140 million users across the globe, Amazon Local could become the industry's leader.

RJ Hottovy is a senior stock analyst with Morningstar. He said, "I think consumers may be more apt to open up the email or listen to the daily deal from Amazon, so it could have the potential to be a very disruptive force."

But at the same time, Hottovy thinks the scores of copy-cat deal sites could become a bad thing for featured businesses. "I feel like the market may be nearing saturation and it's going to be more and more difficult for rivals to have deals that stand out among consumers at this point," he said.

And in another nerve-wracking move for established internet companies, Amazon.com, Inc. announced Thursday that it reached an agreement with NBC Universal to license and stream movies.

So now online entertainment companies Hulu and Netflix are joining Groupon in the "what exactly does this mean for us?" waiting game.

Categories: Business, Technology

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - July 29, 2011

Illinois Mayors Call for Debt Ceiling Compromise

More than three dozen Illinois mayors signed a letter Friday urging President Obama and members of Congress to take action on the nation's debt ceiling crisis, or risk another recession.

They say if lawmakers don't reach an agreement on a debt-limit solution before the Aug. 2 deadline, basic city services that rely on federal funding may not get supported. At that time, the Treasury Department will be forced to prioritize its spending commitments.

St. Joseph Mayor B.J. Hackler said he is concerned about highway construction projects that could be put on hold in his town if the debt ceiling is not raised.

"So, if people can't get to your town, they're sure as hell ain't going to build anything," Hackler said. "It got to be resolved. They got to unite together in some fashion to solve this problem."

Hackler also expressed concern about funding for water and sewer projects in St. Joseph.

Meanwhile, Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said he is concerned about the impact on Social Security and Medicare payments. He said he is also worried federal funding for Danville's Mass Transit District could be jeopardized.

"Right now we are experiencing 50,000 riders a month," Eisenhauer explained. "If in fact that program were to be reduced or halted in any way, how will those individuals get to places where they need to be?"

Champaign Mayor Don Gerard said not raising the debt ceiling could put a damper on job growth and economic development in his city.

"You know, trying to get our job growth back up and our economic development, I think that's just one of the key factors," Gerard said. "It's hard to move forward with recruiting new business if we're not sure we can keep our roads and our infrastructure in shape."

Others mayors to sign the letter included Rahm Emanuel of Chicago and Laurel Prussing of Urbana.

In a statement, the Treasury Department did not provide details on the bills it would pay should the government default on its debt obligations. President Barack Obama on Friday urged Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to come together on a plan that can pass the House and that he can sign into law.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 29, 2011

Quinn to Sign Ill. Dream Act for Scholarship Money

A spokesman says Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn will sign a bill to allow the children of immigrants, both legal and illegal, to get private college scholarships and enroll in state college savings programs.

Quinn spokesman Grant Klinzman says the governor will sign the bill Monday.

Called the Illinois Dream Act, the measure creates a panel to raise private money for college scholarships. Supporters say this will help illegal immigrants who graduate from Illinois high schools go on to college because they may otherwise not be able to afford it.

Students must have at least one immigrant parent and must have attended school in Illinois for at least three years to qualify for scholarship money.

Opponents say the legislation wrongly helps people who violate immigration laws.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - July 28, 2011

Caterpillar to Pay $2.55 M for Air Act Violations

The U.S. Department of Justice says Caterpillar Inc. has agreed to pay $2.55 million to settle allegations that it violated the U.S. Clean Air Act.

The department said Thursday that it believed the Peoria-based heavy equipment-maker had shipped more than 590,000 engines that lacked proper emissions controls. The engines were for vehicles made for highway travel and for other purposes.

Engines lacking such controls can emit excess nitrogen oxides and other pollutants that can harm human health.

As part of a consent decree signed with the department, Caterpillar also must continue recalling the engines to make repairs.

Caterpillar spokeswoman Bridget Young says the company denies any wrongdoing and will comply with the decree.


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