Week in Review for 4/6/15 thru 4/10/15

Tornado Outbreak
Tornadoes lash north-central Illinois near Rochelle and Rockford. The twisters touched down late Thursday, April 9. They caused at least two fatalities and extensive property damage in Fairdale, located in northwest DeKalb County.

Governor Bruce Rauner activated the State Incident Response Center Thursday night. The emergency response center coordinates the efforts of local and community first responders to a disaster. It will, if necessary, supervise the deployment of non-community specialized response teams for further aid and assistance.

The Governor, along with Director James Joseph of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) and local officials, met Friday for a press briefing and to survey damage from the tornadoes that hit north central Illinois Thursday night.

For more information on ways to help the victims of this tornado outbreak, please visit The Caucus Blog.

Governor Rauner – Disaster Declaration
Governor Rauner declares DeKalb and Ogle counties state disaster areas. Governor Bruce Rauner declared DeKalb and Ogle counties state disaster areas Friday after severe storms and tornadoes ripped across Illinois. At least two people in DeKalb County are reported dead and roughly a dozen more injured. Dozens of homes and businesses have been damaged or destroyed.

“Our hearts and thoughts go out to those impacted by yesterday’s storms,” said Gov. Rauner. “The State will do everything it can to help these families and communities recover and heal, while providing response resources.”

The state disaster declaration makes available a wide variety of state resources that can help affected communities respond and recover from the storms. The State of Illinois has mobilized personnel and assets to help local government officials with disaster recovery, including conservation police officers, communication equipment and light towers.

More information about the State’s tornado response and tornado safety is available on the Ready Illinois website at www.Ready.Illinois.gov.

Governor Rauner – State Planes
Governor Rauner renews commitment to sell State planes. The commitment came in the wake of a largely failed auction of the State’s fleet of owned-and-operated airplanes, often used to shuttle executive-level employees to required locations throughout Illinois. The small Springfield-based fleet, made up largely of Cessnas, King Airs and helicopters, has often been noted as a symbol of unnecessary spending. Responding to criticism, former Gov. Quinn twice listed many of the air vehicles on the online auction site iBid. However, a press report published on Wednesday, April 1 indicates that the second iBid auction closed with only one Cessna meeting the auction reserve price. This indicates that the rest of the aircraft will not be sold through iBid.

A spokesman for the Department of Central Management Services told the Chicago Tribune that Gov. Rauner remains committed to selling the air fleet and will look at alternate ways to vend the unwanted planes. Grounding the State’s air fleet could reduce State operating expenses by as much as $7 million/year.

Governor Rauner – Local Government Consolidation Task Force
Task Force meets in Wheaton, looks at Illinois local government. Underneath the State of Illinois are almost 7,000 school districts, municipalities, townships, and other units of local government. All of these educational bodies and units of government have the right to charge fees by law, and most of them can levy property and other taxes from their residents. In many cases, Illinois residents are not fully aware of all of the different units of local government they help to support. Illinois law allows public-sector advocates to set up specialty units of local government, such as mosquito-abatement districts and drainage districts, whose taxes and assessment fees appear on residents’ tax bills.

Governor Bruce Rauner and Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti have made Illinois local government consolidation and the reduction of redundant public-sector work one of the focuses of their administration. Sanguinetti is the chairperson of the Local Government Consolidation Task Force, a panel asked to look at this issue. The DuPage-based Lieutenant Governor is familiar with the work of DuPage County Chairman Dan Cronin at fighting back against proliferating local governments in his county, and at their initial meeting the members of the newly-appointed Task Force expressed eagerness to look at local areas within Illinois, and at efficiency practices in other states, for guidance on how to craft recommendations to accomplish this task. Cronin offered testimony and guidance to the Task Force’s hearing in Wheaton, held on Wednesday, April 8.

Task force members agreed that Illinois, with 6,963 units of local government (#1 nationwide) has much to learn from other states. One of the commission’s top-priority tasks will be to examine numerous mandates imposed by Springfield upon Illinois educational units and units of local government.

Illinois – Budget
CGFA reports on March revenue numbers; sees receipts held back by tax changes, stronger U.S. dollar. The report for March 2015 by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA), the General Assembly’s non-partisan budget arm, calculates Illinois’ net general funds receipts in March 2015 as having fallen by $330 million from the same receipts in March 2014. The decline was paced by a cut in Illinois personal income receipts of $195 million (net of refunds) and by a comparative fall in State corporate income tax revenues of $76 million (net of refunds). These reductions were related to the rollback in State income tax rates that took effect on January 1, 2015; for example, the State personal income tax rate fell from 5.00% to 3.75% on that day.

In addition to lower tax revenues related to the rollback of part of the “temporary” tax increase, CGFA staff pointed to other structural changes affecting the Illinois economy. For example, jobs in the Illinois manufacturing sector, a traditional cornerstone of Illinois economic activity, continue to be held back by the soaring value of the U.S. dollar in the international marketplace. Illinois expects to export between $5 and $6 billion dollars in goods in calendar year 2015, but this figure has been flat since 2011 as U.S. manufactured goods continue to lose ground. Competitive manufacturers based in other countries can often offer cheaper labor and more competitive currency values.

The U.S. Department of Commerce counts 345,050 Illinois jobs as supported by exports in 2014. $68.2 billion of goods that originated in Illinois were exported to other countries, and these goods were assembled and shipped by part of the 345,000-person workforce. With their pay, the direct export-oriented workforce then purchased goods and services from other Illinoisans, making up the balance of the 345,000 figure. These workers also pay income and sales taxes to the Illinois public sector.

Illinois – Economy 
University of Illinois index shows significant improvement trend. The Illinois Flash Index, a tabular reduction of Illinois economic numbers and trends published by the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs, rose to 107 in March. The Institute’s Fred Giertz credited Illinois employers with reducing the State’s jobless rate to 6.0% in February. As a momentum indicator, the Flash Index often uses the most-recent figures from previous months to show the momentum of key sectors within Illinois’ economy.

Readings above 100 indicate an expanding Illinois economy. The Flash Index is a weighted average of Illinois year-over-year growth rates in corporate earnings, consumer spending, and personal income. The Index had stagnated in a range bounded by 106.0 and 106.8 throughout calendar years 2014, indicating continued slow growth, high unemployment, and low profit margins discouraging private-sector hiring decisions.

Representative Adam Brown
East Central Illinois lawmaker named to House Republican leadership team. Rep. Adam Brown (R-Champaign) will serve as the new House Republican Conference Chairman. The promotion was announced on Monday, March 30.

Brown has ties to both the Champaign-Urbana area, the location of his district office, and metro Decatur, where he first emerged in politics. At age 23, Brown was the youngest person ever elected to the Decatur City Council. After serving Decatur in 2009-10, Brown successfully ran for a seat in the Illinois House, and is currently in his third term as a representative of east-central Illinois. His advocacy played a key role in winning the decision of the Cronus Chemical consortium to locate their new, 175-job urea fertilizer near Tuscola, Illinois.

Civil War – Peace Sesquicentennial
Illinois observes 150th anniversary of end of Civil War. The final weeks of the Civil War began when Lee’s army, entrenched in defense of the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia, ran out of food and clothing. After a last-ditch effort to break the Federal siege lines, Lee ordered his men to abandon the Richmond area and retreat toward the hills and mountains of the Blue Ridge.

The lead Union general Ulysses S. Grant, who had been an Illinois civilian at the start of the Civil War, relentlessly pursued Lee. Grant’s men surrounded Lee’s army on April 8, 1865. Encamped around Appomattox Court House, Lee and his senior staff realized the end had come. On the following day, April 9, General Lee surrendered himself and his army to General Grant. Grant offered the defeated army parole, including the rights of the defeated Southern officers and men to retain their horses and officers’ side arms, as a mark of reconciliation and faith in the reunited country.

As a mark of reconciliation, Illinois government offices and private-sector entities, including churches, marked the 150th anniversary of surrender and reconciliation on Thursday, April 9, 2015. Many bells rang throughout Illinois to toll for the Civil War dead and celebrate a reunited people.

Civil War – Lincoln’s Death
Only five days after Lee’s surrender, President Lincoln was fatally shot on the night of April 14, 1865. He died the following day, April 15. Following these tragic events, the newly-reunited United States combined in an emotional event of mourning and national reconciliation that was encapsulated in the westward progress of Lincoln’s funeral train. The Springfield-based Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum has worked with other entities on a series of observances to mark the anniversary of the assassination.

After proceeding westward across the continent, Lincoln’s funeral train returned to Illinois, carrying his remains for interment in Springfield in accordance with the wishes of his widow, Mary Todd Lincoln. The Springfield-based Lincoln Funeral Coalition is in the final stages of planning a massive ceremony and observance to be held on Saturday, May 2, and Sunday, May 3, to re-enact the return of Mr. Lincoln to Springfield. The event will symbolize the reconciliation of the two halves of the country that had temporarily been driven apart by the Civil War. Rep. Dan Brady has introduced HJR 34 to recognize this anniversary and re-enactment.

College of DuPage – Inquiry 
Prosecutors, grand jury begin formal inquiry into college spending. Controversial executive-level budget and expenditure issues have already drawn the attention of local taxpayers and Illinois House members. On Tuesday, March 31, it was publicly disclosed that a DuPage County grand jury has issued subpoenas to the College, seeking records related to executive actions taken by lame-duck college President Robert Breuder. The subpoenas seek further information about the departing chief executive’s compensation contract and allowable expenses.

Data gathered from these subpoenas could uncover information about the relationship between President Breuder, the college’s board of trustees, and persons with alleged insider status in college affairs. For example, a lucrative contract for college signage was recently awarded on a non-bid basis to an individual identified as a key college fundraiser.

Many House Republicans have already taken the lead in calling for an intensified investigation into President Breuder and the fiscal affairs of the College of DuPage. HR 55, sponsored by Rep. Jeanne Ives and more than 55 colleagues, directs the Illinois Auditor General to conduct a four-year performance audit of the College’s spending patterns in fiscal years 2011 through 2014.
College of DuPage – New Trustees 
Three new trustees elected in contest that discussed college’s spending habits. All three newly-elected college trustees were members of a “Clean Slate” team that had worked with others to question ties between the existing trustees and lame-duck college President Robert Brueder. The three new trustees – Deanne Mazzochi, Frank Napolitano and Charles Bernstein – were elected to serve six-year terms.

Questions raised by Illinois House Republicans and other community leaders, which have been broadened in recent days into a formal criminal inquiry, led voters in the College’s taxing area to look for change. The election took place on Tuesday, April 7.

The College of DuPage is a historically two-year, community-college-oriented educational institution located in Glen Ellyn. It derives support from tuition payments and other fees paid by students and from property taxes paid by members of its community college district. The district covers most, but not all, of DuPage County, as well as segments of Cook and Will Counties. An increasing number of high school students in DuPage County and throughout Illinois are looking at community colleges as a launching pad toward four-year college studies.

Governor Rauner sets preliminary dates for voters to fill vacancy. The post of congressman from Illinois’ 18th congressional district became vacant on Tuesday, March 31. In writs of special election issued on Tuesday, Governor Bruce Rauner set dates of June 8 for the primary election to name two major-party candidates for the seat, and July 24 for the general election to allow voters to make a final selection. The governor’s office acknowledged that necessary time intervals, to allow for Illinois soldiers serving abroad to vote in both elections, could lead to significant changes in these dates.

After the census of 2010, Illinois was allocated 18 congressional districts. Twelve of the districts are based in the Chicago area, and six represent Downstate Illinois. Illinois’ 18th district covers much of central and western Illinois, including portions of the metropolitan regions of Bloomington-Normal, Peoria, and Springfield. Abraham Lincoln used a distant ancestor of this district as his springboard to serve one term in Congress in 1847-1849.

Fitness Campaign
Private-sector-led program for National Champion Schools. Governor Rauner joined with leaders of the National Foundation for Governor’s Fitness Councils to announce a new, private-sector physical fitness campaign aimed at elementary and middle-school children and educators. Rauner joined with fitness leader Jake Steinfeld on Monday, March 30, to announce the kickoff of this initiative in Illinois.

The campaign is aimed at selecting three schools from locations throughout the United States that will have taken advantage of potential private-sector donations and volunteer efforts to develop new paradigms of fitness education that improve the health of students without increasing costs to taxpayers. The three winning schools will be honored as National Champion Schools and will be awarded voucher-grants to set up Fitness Centers on site.

Illinois Enterprise Zones
Governor Rauner makes three appointments to Enterprise Zone Board. The board, operating as an independent arm of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, will scrutinize the applications and reapplications of Illinois communities for status as hosts of Enterprise Zones. An Illinois Enterprise Zone is a geographic zone, located within an economically challenged area, where firms that invest capital and create jobs have the right to enjoy relief from some of the taxes, fees and regulations imposed in the rest of the state.

There are almost 100 enterprise zones throughout Illinois, all of which will expire soon. If they choose to re-apply for their status, the newly-appointed Board will look at their applications and compare them with new applicants. The General Assembly has created a statutory schedule for the Board to complete its work this year.

Governor Rauner’s three appointments, announced on Tuesday, March 31, were Jovita Carranza, Lawrence Falbe, and Larry Ivory.

Prescription Drug Disposal
Bill sponsored by House Republican set to go into action. The Prescription Pill and Drug Disposal Fund is set to provide help to community law enforcement agencies to collect unwanted and unneeded prescription pharmaceuticals from Illinois households. In many cases, a patient’s health status changes, leaving pharmaceuticals on hand. Grants from the Fund will help local police collect, transport, and incinerate these pharmaceuticals under secure conditions.

While the Fund is not new, the circumstances under which it was set up and paid for meant that it took several years to gather moneys necessary to operate it. Former Illinois Representative JoAnn Osmond wrote the bill creating the Fund so that the money came not from taxes paid by taxpayers, but from a supplemental fine imposed on specific drug offenses. HB 2056 became law in 2011, and the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA) announced on Tuesday, March 31 that moneys in the Fund are now sufficient to start giving out grants to Illinois police forces. Implementation of the grant program will be affected by the current freeze on new State spending imposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Week in Review
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