Illinois Public Media News
A monthly gauge of the Illinois economy has backtracked after four months of improvement.
The University of Illinois Flash Index uses state tax revenue figures each month to measure economic performance. For April, the index was set at 91, down .08 from the month before. The index was still far from the 100 level that separates economic growth from contraction. It's also fallen back to its lowest level since last November, though it's still above the September figure that marked the low point of the current recession.
The index's author, U of I economist Fred Giertz, says Illinois's unemployment rate still hasn't followed signs of a national economic recovery. But he also thinks the April index may have been affected by an abnormal drop in the state's corporate tax intake in March, saying that might be a result of timing rather than a true drop.
The bicycling community in Champaign-Urbana hopes to start commuters on a new habit Tuesday morning.
"CU Bike to Work Day" has attracted about 500 people who have signed up to receive a t-shirt and pledge to ride their bike instead of drive. Rick Langlois of the group Champaign County Bikes says the group is now out of shirts, but it still expects lots of unregistered riders to take part too.
He says the goal of the event is to encourage more bicyclists to overcome their worries and take to the streets. Langlois says some are concerned about safety, which is why his group advocates bike lanes for a little more peace of mind.
"Bike lanes are very much an effort to assist those less comfortable or average adult riders feel more comfortable," said Langlois. "A bike lane is not a magic force field and it doesn't keep somerone from being struck by a vehicle, but it does designate a space where a bicyclist is expected to be."
But Langlois also reminds drivers that bicyclists also have the right to use a traffic lane in areas without bike lanes.
He says the bike group is also collecting information on bicycle use for planners in Champaign and Urbana as they consider infrastructure in the years ahead.
The city of Champaign isn't planning any major construction projects or improvements in the next budget year - but it doesn't plan any layoffs either.
However, the city still expects revenue to fall about $3.5 million short of needs, so it's cut about two and a half million dollars from the proposal for fiscal year 2011. That's not as deep as the six million dollars cut last year, but Champaign finance director Richard Schnuer says none of those cuts are being restored either.
"It's been a difficult year for us as well as for people in the community who are suffering the impacts," Schnuer said. "We've sure tried to continue to provide the services that contribute to the high quality of life in the city. And we hope that we did make those choices -- if not, we're happy to hear from people."
The proposed cuts in the $67 million general fund budget mainly involve jobs that won't be filled once current employees retire or leave.
The Champaign city council gets its first formal look at the budget Tuesday night - it'll also be available at the city building and the Champaign Public library.
Carle Foundation Hospital has been recognized for its ability to treat stroke victims - and achieving the best possible outcomes for those patients.
Physicians at the Urbana hospital say Advanced Certification from the Joint Commission shows that Carle has expanded its stroke program through personnel and the proper equipment. Neurosurgeon Dr. John Wang says a large part of the certification is the 24/7 coverage Carle provides in its emergency room, as well as specialized care the hospital offers from himself and Dr. Thomas Kim in the stroke center. "I have different things to bring on the table than a neuroradiologist, and likewise," said Wang. "So that combination you don't often find anywhere else actually - that I speak with all sincerity. Because of a lot of the stroke intervention team is composed of purely neuroradiologists, or purely neurosurgeons, or purely neurologists... this collaboration among two important subspecialities relevant to stroke care is very rare."
Wang says the certification itself serves as a validation of Carle's efforts, but the hospital does much more. The newer bi-planer x-ray equipment is capable of taking a 3-D image of a patient's head... resulting in a quicker diagnosis and treatment. Wang says the safety and the success of the procedure are both enhanced as a result. Carle Foundation Hospital partners with 16 other hospitals in the region to begin stroke patient care at those facilities before transferring them to Urbana.
Gov. Pat Quinn is proposing legislation that he says would offer tax relief to millions of Illinois property owners.
Quinn plans to present the Homeowner's Property Tax Relief Initiative of 2010 to the General Assembly this week.
The legislation would create a Taxpayer Action Board modeled after the statewide utility watchdog that Quinn helped start in the 1980s.
Quinn says the taxpayer board would be independent and nonpartisan. It would help property owners appeal their tax bills and assessments.
The legislation also looks to make it easier for property owners to get information about the assessment process, including comparable sales statistics.
The proposal would also extend a provision that reduces homeowners' taxable value by $20,000.
The candidate who won the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor only to pull out of the race amid scandal now says he wants to be Illinois' governor.
In a statement Monday, Scott Lee Cohen says he plans to get on the November ballot as an independent.
Cohen quit the lieutenant governor's race amid accusations of failure to pay child support and holding a knife to his girlfriend's throat.
He says he's running because he's tired of mismanagement in Illinois government.
Cohen says he isn't perfect but he's honest. And he says Illinois needs honesty more than it needs perfection right now.
To get on the Illinois ballot, Cohen would need to submit 25,000 signatures from registered voters on petitions by June 21. If Cohen succeeds, he'll face Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, Republican state Sen. Bill Brady and Green Party candidate Rich Whitney.
More delays could be in store for a clean coal technology plant in eastern Illinois. The FutureGen Industrial Alliance is still negotiating finances with the state, dragging out a decision by the US Department of Energy on whether to build the plant in Mattoon.
Illinois Democratic US Senator Dick Durbin says the agency is extending its study of the experimental plant.
"I said that the Secretary of Energy had to decide this project on it's merits and I wanted him to do that," Durbin said over the weekend in Springfield. "I think we've made a good strong case, but we don't take anything more granted."
Durbin, the Majority Whip, says he's optimistic the plant will be built.
The Energy Department had planned to announce by now whether to go forward, but the agency has decided to keep studying the alliance's plans another 60 days.
If built, FutureGen would be the worlds' first zero emissions coal-fired power plant. Carbon dioxide created from burning coal would be stored underground. The project would create thousands of construction jobs.
Optimism remains that construction on the long-delayed FutureGen power plant will get the federal government's okay soon.
In the meantime, local officials can do little more than watch and wait for a decision from the Energy Department. It's in talks with corporate members of the FutureGen Alliance who want to get the $1.8 billion dollar coal-to-energy plant built and operating near Mattoon.
Angela Griffin heads the economic development group Coles Together. "As far as we know they're still in negotiations," Griffin said. "There's still a lot of details to be worked out with the agreement going forward, and they're not at liberty at this point to talk about those."
But Griffin says she and others in the Mattoon area are being kept up to date on the talks, even if she doesn't know the details. Griffin wouldn't estimate when the government and the Alliance can reach a conclusion.
She does say that once that agreement takes place, the construction phase will have a big impact on Mattoon. She says plant developers expect to keep cement plants within a 100-mile radius of FutureGen busy as they drill the initial wells for the plant's carbon-sequestration unit.
A Champaign County judge has set bond at $1 million for a Marion County man accused in a collision that killed a Champaign woman.
Circuit Court Judge John Kennedy set bond Friday for 32-year-old Robert Eagan of Salem, who is charged with aggravated driving under the influence, driving under the influence, and driving while his license was revoked. Eagan was arrested after a collision in the central part of Champaign late Thursday night. Urbana Police had tried to stop Eagan at Lincoln and University Avenues, but he didn't stop after reaching city limits. The crash occurred moments later at Springfield and Elm streets. Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup has identified the victim as 40-year-old Kimberly Kueffler. Kueffler was driving a vehicle that was hit by a pickup truck. Eagen was being held under suicide watch last night. It was not known if he had an attorney.
Ameren says it will seek a rehearing of its rate case ... after the Illinois Commerce Commission granted the utility only a fraction of what it seeking in increases for gas and electricity delivery.
At the same time, Ameren is cutting budgets, instituting a hiring freeze, reducing its use of contractors, and delaying or canceling some projects and activities.
In an internal newsletter released by the company, Ameren Illinois president Scott Cisel calls the actions "regrettable but necessary".
Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris says their core commitment to delivery reliable energy won't be affected. But he says customers might notice some changes in service.
"This doesn't mean it would, but we could be talking about wait times for calls to customer service, wait times to have new service installed" says Morris. "It could have impacts like that. Those aren't reliability issues but those are service quality issues."
The I-C-C voted 3 to 2 Thursday to allow Ameren just $4.75 million of the $130 million it was seeking in additional revenue on delivery rates. Morris says the company was surprised by the ruling, and believes it had made a strong argument for the full increase. Ameren has 30 days to seek a rehearing of its rate request. There's no guarantee that the ICC will grant a rehearing.
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