Week in Review for 3/2/15 to 3/6/15

Illinois Budget
Concerns continue as no agreement reached on growing spending crisis. With the FY15 budget more than $1.6 billion out of balance, more and more subsectors of the Illinois economy were affected this week. House Republicans reaffirmed their commitment to solving issues related to immediate funding issues faced by child care, corrections, and court reporter sectors of the economy.

“The unbalanced FY15 budget needs to be corrected immediately and brought into balance,” asserted House Republican Leader Jim Durkin on Tuesday, March 3. Pointing to the State’s failure under former Gov. Pat Quinn to meet its constitutional responsibility to enact a balanced budget, Durkin and his leadership team pledged to help “clean up the mess Governor Rauner inherited on January 12, 2015.”

Illinois Economy – CGFA 
Prairie State continues to grow slower than most of U.S.; tax numbers show dramatic widening of so-called “structural deficit.” This week the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA), the economic think-tank arm of the Illinois General Assembly, issued their monthly report on the current state of the Illinois economy. The February 2015 “Monthly Briefing” melded together Illinois’ December 2014 unemployment rate of 6.2%, its current 5.88 million-person labor force, and current rates of change in job growth and joblessness to develop a comprehensive picture of the current state of the Illinois economy as it compares to other states, especially states that neighbor Illinois.

CGFA’s nonpartisan staff finds that the rates of Illinois job growth and change in joblessness lag well behind national averages. For example, although Illinois’ job totals are marginally higher (up 3.2%) from where they were 36 months ago, this marginal growth ranks Illinois 38th among the 50 states. Illinois has 6.6% more employer-employee relationships than it had 20 years ago, which ranks 48th. Over the twenty-year period that began in 1995, few states have performed worse than Illinois.

Illinois’ anemic job growth continues to cause poor tax collections. Much of Illinois’ income tax is paid directly by employers through monies withheld from employee paychecks, and when jobs are not created, income tax receipts lag. This problem, in the first half of calendar 2015, is exacerbated by the rate change in the individual income tax rate on January 1, 2015 from 5.0% to 3.75%. CGFA staff estimates that State individual income tax collections will, in February 2015, fall $219 million below receipts taken in during February 2014. This individual income tax shortfall is by far the biggest ongoing driver affecting the ongoing shortage in State general funds receipts, which are expected in February 2015 to fall $174 million behind comparable general funds receipt figures for February 2014.

Ongoing debate on the FY15 and FY16 State of Illinois budget is driven by several factors. The pattern of slow private-sector economic growth and the ongoing and steepening downturn in Illinois tax receipts are two of these factors.

General Assembly 
Filing deadline sees 4,140 bills submitted for House consideration. The filing deadline was Friday, February 27, and by the close of business House members had turned in 4,140 substantive and appropriations bills for their colleagues to look at. Not all of these bills will get out of committee for full House consideration. Some filings, such as appropriations bills and resolutions, will continue after the deadline.

House committees have three more weeks, until March 27, to look at the bills filed before the deadline. Bills that fail to meet this deadline can be worked on by their sponsors and other interested parties for possible future action in the 2016 spring session. In many cases, a bill needs to be carefully looked at before it becomes a law. The status of bills filed in the Illinois House and Senate can be found on the Illinois General Assembly website.

Bikers – ABATE
ABATE, the motorcyclists’ safety, education, and advocacy group, met in Springfield. Outreach by the bikers’ group climaxed with their Legislative Day on Wednesday, March 4. Items on ABATE’s 2015 agenda center support for bills that will make biking safer across Illinois, and encourage group biking events. Key bills include HB 3538 (Wheeler) to encourage and further authorize community groups to operate locally licensed, supervised poker run fundraisers, and HB 3944 (Bennett) to authorize new forms of safety lighting on motorcycles operating at night.

ABATE and the Illinois Department of Transportation encouraged further participation in the Illinois Ride Smart program, a volunteer bikers’ education program to improve biker safety. This cooperative awareness program encourages bikers and public-response teams to learn more about bike safety checks, biker high-visibility clothing, and free motorcycle training classes offered throughout Illinois with the cooperation of the Illinois Motorcycle Dealers Association.

Representative Tim Butler (R-Springfield)
Butler welcomed to House as representative of Central Illinois House district. Timothy J. Butler took the oath of office on Tuesday, March 3 in the State Capitol. Butler is now serving the 87th Illinois House district, a district that covers all or part of Logan, Menard, Sangamon and Tazewell Counties.

Prior to his service in the Illinois House, Tim Butler was district chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville) and previously served in the same role for former U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Peoria). He was director of marketing for St. John’s Hospital in Springfield for three years. Butler and his wife Wendy have lived in Sangamon County since 1998, residing in Logan County for three years prior to that. He has family in Menard and Tazewell Counties as well. Butler is on the Boards of Directors of Downtown Springfield, Inc. and the Everett Dirksen Congressional Center.

State Rep. Tim Butler replaces former State Rep. Rich Brauer, who has accepted appointment as Assistant Secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation. A sixth-generation farmer from Menard County, Brauer was elected to seven terms in the Illinois House. He served the 87th Representative District from January 2003 until February 2015.

Chicago – Debt Rating
Moody’s cuts debt rating of Illinois’ largest municipality to two notches above “junk bond” level. The reduction pushed Chicago’s debt down to Baa2. Within Moody’s widely-watched classification system, the overall “Baa” category is the lowest-ranked category within which a security can be classified as “investment-grade.” Securities downgraded below the “Baa” level are widely classified as “junk bonds.” Moody’s, which has cut Chicago’s debt rating five times from the Aa3 level enjoyed in 2010, believes that Chicago’s accounts are in poorer shape than any of the other 30 largest cities in the U.S.

The Moody’s move was blamed on a series of factors, including the underfunded status of Chicago’s pension funds, which have an unfunded liability of approximately $20 billion. Under current state law, $1.1 billion of this underfunding must be paid in 2016. Making this payment would be on top of the city’s other budgetary shortfalls, which are combining into an annual city structural deficit of approximately $300 million per year. The Chicago Tribune has the story.

College of DuPage
The Chicago Tribune uncovers massive losses at vocational college eatery. The Waterleaf Restaurant, part of the College of DuPage, describes itself as “a sophisticated yet relaxed atmosphere” of fine dining. “We offer you,” the restaurant promises its customers, “a culinary experience that is second to none.”

An expose published by the Chicago newspaper on Friday, March 6 indicates that college officials have eaten meals at Waterleaf approximately 500 times, charging taxpayers almost $190,000 for these meals. Senior executive spending at the College of DuPage has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks. A retirement payment of $763,000 has been offered to the college’s president, Robert Breuder.

House Republican members have taken the lead in organizing a citizen inquiry into current College of DuPage management practices and demanding a fuller financial investigation. HJR 171, sponsored by Rep. Jeanne Ives, directs the Illinois Auditor General to conduct a performance audit of the troubled college.

Criminal Law Commission
Governor appoints members of Criminal Justice Reform Commission. Representatives John Cabello and Brian Stewart, two members of the Illinois House Republican Caucus with experience in law enforcement, were appointed to the 28-member panel.

“The current prison system is costly, overcrowded and ineffective,” stated Governor Bruce Rauner as he announced the appointments on Tuesday, March 3. “We need to reform the system to stop the vicious and costly cycle of recidivism and help those who’ve left prison get the help they need to become productive members of society. This will ultimately save taxpayers money and protect the safety of the public.”

The Commission has been asked to look at ways to reduce Illinois’ prison population by 25% over a 10-year period. It is expected to look at further differentiating between repeat violent criminals on the one hand, and first-time perpetrators of nonviolent offenses on the other. The Commission may hold hearings in any location throughout the State. The Commission will receive staff support from the Office of the Governor and from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, the State think tank that has gathered information since the 1980s on Illinois criminal justice issues.

Crowdfunding – Rep. Tom Demmer
Demmer bill could make equity crowdfunding a reality in Illinois. Current technology allows small businesses to solicit investments and raise capital from friends and acquaintances over the Internet, but Illinois law does not currently allow this activity. Cumbersome laws and regulations require the seller of equity in a firm to follow complex Wall Street-style safety requirements intended to prevent large-scale investment swindles. These regulations are not closely matched to the needs of a small community that hopes to raise money for a neighborhood-oriented commercial enterprise such as a coffee shop, craft store, or small movie theater.

Ironically, it is easier under current law in Illinois to get people to donate charity funds online through a social-media aggregator, such as Kickstarter, than it is to raise equity funds through crowdfunding. This is true even though a typical investor in an equity crowdfunding network is often not looking to “strike it rich” or earn a substantial return on his or her “investment.” Typical crowdfunded enterprises tend to be small-scale enterprises that thicken the social bonds of a community. They tend to be startups and small businesses.

Representative Tom Demmer has introduced HB 3091 to legalize some crowdfunding in Illinois. To be eligible to solicit an investment through HB 3091-style crowdfunding, a small enterprise will have to do substantially all of its business here in Illinois; firms that do transactions that cross state lines will continue to have to follow federal law. HB 3091 was filed on Wednesday, February 25, and was referred to the House Rules Committee.

Energy – Electric Generation 
Push for low-carbon electricity and enhanced renewable energy use. Several bills presented to the Illinois House this spring, including HB 2607 and HB 3293, look at advocacy points raised by groups and electric utilities that are looking at ways to transition part of the electrical generating infrastructure of Illinois.

Electricity generated in Illinois comes from a combination of nuclear power, coal-fired generation, natural gas-fired generation, and wind power. In addition, some of the electricity consumed in Illinois is generated in other states. One of Illinois’ largest utility companies, Exelon, has said that it is looking at the long-term viability of at least three of the six nuclear reactor complexes it operates.

Several features being discussed include the creation of a low carbon portfolio standard for larger utilities, an energy efficiency incentive program, so-called “targets” for the generation of electric power from renewable sources, and caps on carbon dioxide emissions. Many of the features of these bills are expected to face sharp scrutiny during the 2015 spring session. Illinois electric utilities are regulated by the Illinois Commerce Commission, a bipartisan panel appointed by the Governor of Illinois.

Fair Share – Labor Unions
Governor fights back against labor unions. Governor Bruce Rauner has begun his responses to Illinois’ budget crisis. Executive Order 1513 calls upon labor unions that represent State workers to join in the sacrifice. Key unions have responded with a lawsuit against the Governor and a demand that they be allowed to continue deducting sums from each State worker’s paycheck, including workers that have stated they do not wish to join the union.

“We always expected the government union bosses to fight to keep their stranglehold over Illinois taxpayers,” said Rauner’s chief spokesperson Lance Trover on Thursday, March 5. “These forced union dues are a critical cog in the corrupt bargain that is crushing taxpayers, and the government unions will do anything to keep the broken status quo.”

FFA Week
Young adults celebrate Downstate Illinois heritage. The members of Illinois FFA are looking forward to careers in agriculture, agriculture-related trades, and a wide variety of professions related to life in a region that is a net exporter of agricultural products. More than 25,000 students are enrolled in 321 ag-ed programs across Illinois. FFA Week culminated with Legislative Awareness Day on Thursday, March 5 as more than 1,000 members came together in Springfield to visit their lawmakers.

Illinois FFA, formerly the Illinois chapter of Future Farmers of America, was founded in 1929 to mark the transition in U.S. agriculture from horse-drawn plows to capital-intensive machinery. As technology continues its march, a widening variety of career pathways are associated with life in a region that exports farm-grown products. Approximately 1.5 million Illinois jobs are part of, or dependent upon, Illinois crops and agriculture.

Heroin and Opiate Drugs – Rep. John Anthony
Retired sheriff’s deputy is partner in 2015 anti-opiate bill. HB 1, as amended by HA 1, contains language to push back against soaring overdose rates of heroin and prescription opiates being seen by law enforcement and medical professionals. Representative John Anthony is a lead co-sponsor of the bipartisan measure. A key element of the bill is a series of measures intended to make it more difficult for patients to present large prescriptions of opiate painkillers to a pharmacy. Current research indicates that vials of prescription opiates, after being dispensed in good faith by a pharmacy, are sometimes resold on the street to addicts. One way to discourage this conduct is to further scrutinize the medical care granted to patients, to move towards objective pain assessments, divert eligible patients into other pain-management pathways, and to dispense only a few pills at a time to patients with treatment-resistant pain conditions.

House Bill 1 contains measures to authorize pharmacists to dispense an opioid antidote and appropriate administration device without a prescription. Several states, such as Minnesota and Vermont, have distributed injector kits of anti-overdose opioid antagonists, such as Naloxone, and fatality rates from opioid overdoses have dropped in these states. Should HB 1 become law and the requisite kits purchased, advocates say lives could be saved in Illinois. The amendment was filed on Monday, March 2 and assigned to the House Special Committee on Substance Abuse. Anthony and his colleagues have led hearings in which emergency room health care providers, other health care providers, law enforcement professionals, public health experts, and survivors of drug-overdose tragedies have called upon the State to take further action against the scourge of opiate addictions and opiate overdoses in Illinois. A hearing has been set on the bill to be held on Tuesday, March 10 with an expectation that negotiations will continue in the coming weeks on a final package of anti-opiate provisions.

Minnie Minoso
White Sox pioneer remembered. “No. 9,” the Chicago White Sox’s Minnie Minoso, died on Sunday, March 1. With fellow Chicago baseball veteran Ernie Banks (who also passed away earlier this year), the 89-year-old ex-outfielder was one of the last living players from the integration era of Major League Baseball. As a player for the New York Cubans, he signed with the Cleveland MLB club in 1948. It was with the White Sox organization, however, that he enjoyed the great majority of his career honors and achievements. The team, then owned by Grace Comiskey, traded for Minoso in April 1951; he was the club’s first black player. Minoso’s sensational 1951 season, in which he barely missed Rookie of the Year honors, was followed by continued high-level play through the 1950s. Selected to nine All-Star teams, Minoso was awarded a Gold Glove three times.

Called “Mr. White Sox,” Minoso continued to enjoy lifelong ties with South Side baseball fans, the club, and the club’s owners, especially the Bill Veeck family. Mutual ties between the Veecks, the White Sox, and Minoso led to the ageless left fielder briefly putting on a baseball uniform again for diamond play in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. He is believed to be the only player in baseball history to have been penciled into lineups that took the field in seven separate decades.

A statue of Minoso was erected at U.S. Cellular Field in September 2004. Rep. Patti Bellock sponsored HR 227 to honor Minoso; the resolution was introduced on Tuesday, March 3.

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