Week in Review for 6/15/15 - 6/19/15

Budget – FY16
As budget picture continues to show lack of progress, Comptroller Munger intensifies her warnings. House Republicans continue to demand that Speaker Madigan start negotiations for a real budget for Fiscal Year 2016, which begins on July 1. Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger has sharpened her warnings of the consequence to the State of not having an operating spending plan.

As Illinois’ chief financial officer, Munger will be in charge of maintaining the State’s remaining cash flow should Illinois not pass a budget. After meeting with her top staff and legal team, she published a warning on Sunday that the State of Illinois will be legally unable to make many of its payments on and after July 1 without specific legal authority to do so. Payments that must stop include many Medicaid reimbursements, paychecks for State employees starting July 15, general State aid (GSA) payments to school districts starting August 10, and payments to other State vendors and suppliers.

In her published warning, Munger expressed dismay at the widespread belief throughout Illinois that the State would simply be able to continue on its cash-flow path on automatic pilot. She pointed out that the spending plans currently demanded by Democrats include an assumption that $3.5 billion in imaginary money will somehow appear. Postponed paychecks and school aid payments, she stated, will have devastating impacts on many Illinois men, women, and children. Furthermore, these impacts are a tangible outcome of spending assumptions that have long been headed for a crisis because they are based upon hopes of hypothetical future revenue.

Illinois House – budget 
Illinois House meets, but does not discuss budget crisis. The Illinois House held a one-day session in Springfield on Tuesday, but the impending budget crisis was not debated. The Democratic majority spent most of Tuesday’s session time discussing and hearing testimony on the proposed reorganization of the powers and responsibilities of the State’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO). While DCEO is a significant State agency that is responsible for job creation and retention in a variety of industries throughout Illinois, the failure of the House and Senate to take action in the next to last full week prior to the expiration of the State’s existing budget was worthy of note.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and his Caucus continue to call for budget action, including a decision by the majority party to produce and defend a balanced budget in which revenues match expenditures. This budget should be accompanied by reforms in key Illinois laws so as to stimulate private-sector job creation, real growth, and the creation of economic conditions that will lead to adequate revenues for essential public-sector purposes such as schools and public safety. The FY15 budget will expire at the end of the month. The deadline to pass a budget for FY16 is June 30.

Illinois Senate – budget
Senate Democrats begin sending “budget” bills to Governor. In what commentators called a provocative move, the office of Senate President John Cullerton started sending appropriations bills representing part of the FY16 “budget” to Governor Rauner this week for his signature or veto. The “budget” was passed in the final days of May in the form of more than a dozen appropriations bills. Each bill contained money for a complex patchwork of State agencies. The speculation at the time, which continues today, was that the majority party had adopted a goal of playing political games by forcing Republicans to vote against, and the Governor to veto, bills containing money for popular State programs.

Taken as a whole, the House and Senate Democrats’ “budget” was more than $3.5 billion out of balance. It failed to meet the Constitutional mandate for a balanced budget. Recognizing that there were problems with their own budget, House and Senate leaders filed parliamentary motions in late May to lock their budget bills in their desk drawers and delay sending them to Governor Rauner. These bills began to be sent to the Governor on Wednesday. HB 3763, HB 4146, HB 4166, and SB 2030 were the first four bills to be sent. They cover K-12 education, higher education, and MAP grants.

Chicago – Blackhawks Stanley Cup
Chicago Blackhawks win 2015 Stanley Cup. The hockey team was presented with the Cup on Monday after winning Game 6 of the National Hockey League finals. Gov. Bruce Rauner proclaimed Thursday to be Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Championship Day throughout Illinois, and the trophy was carried from the Blackhawks’ United Center through downtown Chicago to Soldier Field for the traditional victory celebration and rally. An estimated 2 million fans and celebrants honored the winning team.

Downstate – floodwaters
Wet spring, early summer rains create floodwater dangers. While precipitation has been well above average across Illinois this year, rain has been especially heavy around Peoria and in the Illinois River watershed. On Monday, hydrologists reported that the Illinois River was running at 19.77 feet, more than 1.5 feet above the flood stage. The high water was topping levees and soaking bottomlands up and down the river and its principal tributaries. Evacuation orders have been posted for low-lying residential areas in the Illinois River riverfront town of Utica.

Key State agencies, headed by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA), the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), have put planning resources into place to prepare for further high waters and advise Illinoisans on responding to floodwater conditions. Drivers are warned not to try to use roadways to try to ford their vehicles through flowing or standing water. Special risks, including floating debris and unusual currents when water is washing over a levee, accompany going out in boats in floodwaters.

Along the Illinois River, many parcels of bottomland are used for camping and fishing. Farmers plant crops in the exceptionally fertile soil and hope that corn, beans, and other crops will not be washed out by weather conditions. Unpredictable weather patterns alter human plans in Illinois’ great river valley. Major floods in 1993, 2011 and 2013 are remembered vividly by those whose lives were affected.

Economy – Zurich North America
Global insurance giant picks Illinois for innovative new recruitment program. The Chicago-area-based subsidiary of Zurich Insurance Group has announced that it has formed a partnership with Harper Community College to provide enhanced business training for a small subset of students. The trainees will apprentice at Zurich North America’s operations in conjunction with their business training. Harper Community College already operates established public-private partnership training programs oriented toward manufacturing, health care, and skilled trades, adding to the innovative potential of this program.

Zurich’s apprenticeship program has operated successfully at the worldwide property/casualty firm’s Swiss headquarters, and has been successfully transplanted to the United Kingdom. Zurich believes this will be the first insurance technical-specialist apprenticeship program to be offered in the U.S. Classes are scheduled to start in early 2016.

General Assembly – Auditor General Bill Holland
Bill Holland announces retirement. The Illinois Auditor General, in office since 1992, is appointed on a nonpartisan basis by the Illinois General Assembly. Bill Holland told the press on Wednesday that he plans to step down in December.

Article VIII of the Illinois Constitution asks the Auditor General and his or her office to conduct the audit of public funds of the State of Illinois. He or she shall make additional reports and investigations as directed by the General Assembly. Investigative work led by Holland’s office into a former program of the Pat Quinn administration, the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, played a role in press coverage of Quinn and his unsuccessful campaign for re-election in 2014.

As news of Holland’s retirement spread, reporters and members of both political parties paid tribute to his office’s investigative work and watchdogging against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The Auditor General’s performance audit of Blagojevich’s Department of Central Management Services (CMS) played a role in starting up further inquiries that culminated in the former governor’s impeachment, conviction, and removal from office.

Public health – concussions
Illinois High School Association (IHSA) governing body announces new rule affecting 2015 football season. The rule instructs coaches of football programs affiliated with the IHSA to limit full-contact practice, a type of football practice repeatedly associated with concussions and other head trauma. Under the new rule, full-contact practices are limited to three days per week for a total of no more than 90 minutes.

The new rule comes as reports on concussions continue to be published. Reports and news stories describe what many physicians and medical care providers believe to be long-term neurological risks imposed upon young athletes who play contact sports, especially but not limited to football. The new IHSA rules are scheduled to go into effect on the Monday of the first week of the regular high school football season in late August.

Public safety – Department of Corrections (IDOC)
Governor Rauner appoints acting director. Gladyse C. Taylor, who had previously been a senior agency adviser, will head one of Illinois’ key agencies, the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), on a temporary basis. An expert on inmate treatment for controlled substances, Taylor has been a champion of programs that offer hope to inmates and their families. She has also served this year on the Governor’s Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform.

Taylor will head the agency during an exceptionally challenging time. The Department of Corrections is classified as a provider of essential State services and is thus expected to continue to operate even in the possible absence this summer of a State budget. However, operations may be compromised in various ways if paychecks are delayed and monies cannot be provided to vendors of essential correctional supplies and services.

Transportation – Illiana Toll Road
Construction of Illiana toll road could be fatally hampered by key court decision. The decision, released on Tuesday looked at legal questions surrounding the process used by the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Transportation, to grant planning approval for the road. Under federal law, road projects must fulfill a series of environmental mandates, including the filing of a valid environmental impact statement under conditions that include its submission for public comment, before FHA planning permission can be granted.

The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Jorge Alonso found that when FHA planning was taking place to build the proposed $1.3 billion toll road, several steps of this process had been improperly shorted or omitted. The decision raised speculation that Illinois road planners – including planners associated with the Pat Quinn-era Illinois Department of Transportation – may have collaborated to cut corners in the Illiana planning process.

Other, separate questions have also been raised about the traffic projections used by road advocates to develop a financial case for construction of the proposed 50-mile-long highway, scheduled to be built through southern Will County as a link between Interstates 55 and 65. While decisions by a district court judge can be appealed, insiders speculated that this week’s court decision could be a death blow to the controversial project. Illinois’ cash-strapped transportation capital budget could be looking for reasons to reallocate the planning resources allocated to this project in other directions. The Illinois Department of Transportation responded to the Alonso decision in a low-key manner that did not express support for the Illiana toll road project.

Veterans – Vietnam War
“The Wall That Heals” to visit Illinois this summer. The Wall is a portable commemoration and replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Like the permanent memorial in Washington, D.C., The Wall That Heals carries all 53,253 names incised as the list of the fallen. This summer, the Wall will be installed for public viewings in Hoffman Estates, Jacksonville, LeRoy, Rock Island, and Watseka. The travelling installation’s 2015 summer schedule is covered by Decatur-based WAND-TV.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund moves the 250-foot-long installation to local towns and cities that want to host it for brief periods. As the Wall is delivered to a locality, it is typically escorted by veterans and patriotic Americans. A typical Illinois stop will be in Kiwanis Park in LeRoy from July 23 until July 26. LeRoy is located in rural McLean County, near Bloomington-Normal.

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