Week in Review for 7/1315 - 7/17/15

FY16 Budget Crisis
Democrats send unbalanced partial-month budget to the Governor. As the State of Illinois entered the third week of the new fiscal year without a balanced budget in place, the Democrat majority continued to take a piece-meal approach to the budget crisis.

On Wednesday, the Illinois Senate concurred with House changes to SB 2040, an unbalanced partial month budget set to expire on August 1. The Democrats’ plan passed the House by the bare minimum of 71 partisan Democrat votes in the House the previous week. SB 2040 does not contain one-month spending levels based on the projected FY16 revenue estimate of $32 billion.

In the House, Democrats again backed a temporary budget to fund certain services at a level that is not sustainable over the course of the entire fiscal year. House Amendment 1 to HB 4142 was adopted by a narrow majority of Democrats, but did not receive enough votes to be passed on Third Reading and was therefore held for future consideration.

The Democrat majority continues to insist on spending levels that are unsustainable. The Governor’s Office of Management and Budget believes this plan will ultimately require the expenditure of over $36 billion of GRF taxpayer resources for FY16. The Democrats’ bills march the taxpayers of Illinois toward a $4 billion unbalanced budget one month at a time.

House Republicans continue to stand united in our support for a truly balanced budget that protects the interests of taxpayers, working families and seniors.

State Employee Pay Update
Illinois state workers’ paychecks go out as court fight continues. Comptroller Leslie Munger forged ahead with plans to send out full paychecks to state workers Wednesday, despite an ongoing court battle over whether public employees can be paid while state government operates without a budget.

Checks went out to 6,800 employees who were due to be paid Wednesday for work performed in the first two weeks of the state's budget year. Others in Illinois' roughly 60,000-person state government workforce are on different pay schedules, and their checks aren't due until later this month. The Chicago Tribune has more here.

Following Comptroller Munger’s decision to issue paychecks to state employees, Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed an emergency motion for direct appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court on Monday. Madigan requested a consolidation of the two conflicting matters pending on Cook County and St. Clair County.

The direct question for which the Attorney General seeks clarity is “when the State can expend public funds in the absence of a constitutionally required appropriations statute.” The Cook County circuit court agreed that an appropriation is necessary to expend funds (see People v. Munger) and barred employee payroll save for the federal minimum wage. A week later, the St. Clair County circuit court allowed for paychecks to be cut (see AFSCME, et al. v. State). The Attorney General argues that AFSCME v. Netsch (1991) settled the issue but with conflicting court opinions, the Supreme Court should provide the final word regarding the Appropriations Clause.

Late on Monday, July 13, the Supreme Court announced that all parties will have until July 20 to file motions objecting to the Attorney General’s motion.

Cook County Sales Tax Increase
Sales tax hiked 1 percent, making Chicago among highest in nation. As Democrat powerbrokers across Illinois consider raising taxes, the Cook County Board approved a 1-percent sales hike tax to help fund the county's pension shortfall, effective on January 1, 2016.

Proposed by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the hike is expected to generate $450 million. It was approved with a 9-7 vote.

The Cook County sales tax is currently .75 percent, but next year it will hit 1.75 percent. That would make Chicago's total sales tax 10.25-percent, which would be among the highest in the nation. ABC-7 has the story.

Bobcat Hunting
Governor Rauner signs bobcat hunting law. The Governor signed HB 352 (P.A. 99-033) into law Tuesday, which creates a two-week bobcat hunting season in Illinois.

Previous law prohibited hunters from taking bobcats at any time in this state. Bobcats were protected by a continuous closed season in 1972, and the species was listed as a state threatened species in 1977. Bobcats were de-listed as a threatened species in 1999, and even though the bobcat population has continued to increase, their harvest had continued to be prohibited.

Illinois was one of only eight states that did not have a bobcat season. In 2011-2012, 4,199 bobcats were taken in Missouri, 2,417 were taken in Kentucky, 391 in Iowa and357 in Wisconsin. According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, bobcats are found statewide and their population is growing 4-9% per year. Approximately 3,000 bobcats are in southern Illinois and they are common on other areas of the state, particularly west-central Illinois.

Edgar Fellows Program
Congratulations to 2015 Edgar Fellows. Forty emerging leaders from throughout Illinois have been selected as 2015 Edgar Fellows in the fourth year of an initiative to inspire bipartisan, inter-regional cooperation in addressing major challenges for the state in the years and decades ahead. Among the leaders selected are Representatives Tim Butler, Tom Demmer, Sheri Jesiel and Grant Wehrli from the House Republican Caucus.

The Edgar Fellows Program is an initiative of the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs. It focuses on developing leadership and governing capacity in Illinois. It emphasizes the need to forthrightly address major policy issues without permitting partisan, ethnic and regional rivalries to trump statesmanship. It is designed to influence attitudes and foster mutual understanding. It holds the promise of facilitating bipartisan and cross-regional cooperation as class participants assume more influential public leadership roles.

“Since we launched this initiative in 2012, we have seen Democrats, Republicans and independents, from the neighborhoods in Chicago to the rural areas of deep southern Illinois, discover they have much in common even as they develop an appreciation for other viewpoints,” former Gov. Jim Edgar said. "I am confident this class of fellows also will form bonds that will serve them and our state well as they climb the leadership ladder.”

Appeals court upholds Illinois fracking rules. An Illinois appeals court has upheld the state's rules for the high-volume oil and gas drilling technique known as fracking. The appellate court sided with a Madison County judge who rejected an environmental group's legal challenge.

The 5th District Appellate Court on Friday issued an opinion agreeing with a November ruling in favor of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources' rules on hydraulic fracturing. The State Journal-Register has more here.

Happy Hour
“Happy Hour” is legal again in Illinois. On Wednesday, Governor Rauner signed SB 398 into law as P.A. 99-046. The Culinary and Hospitality Modernization Act restores “Happy Hour” in Illinois.

The law allows for discounts for up to 4 hours a day and up to 15 hours a week as long as they are promoted a week in advance. There are limitations to the Happy Hour Law including serving two or more drinks to one person for consumption by that person, increasing the volume of alcoholic liquor contained in a drink or the size of a drink, without proportionally increasing the price regularly charged for that drink on that given day, and more.

Severe Weather
Tornado hits Cameron in western Illinois. A tornado hit the small, rural Illinois town of Cameron just before dusk on Thursday, causing extensive damage but no significant injuries, state police said. Search and rescue operations were continuing through the night in the town of about 600 people that's roughly 200 miles southwest of Chicago. No one except first responders was being allowed into the town. The tornado touched down around 7:30 p.m. as a line of storms swept through an area stretching from Galesburg in western Illinois to the western suburbs of Chicago. The Associated Press has more here.

Governor Rauner activates State Emergency Operations Center. Governor Rauner activated the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) in Springfield Thursday evening to ensure state personnel and equipment are ready to be quickly deployed if needed to help local emergency responders with public safety issues following reports of at least one tornado touchdown in northwest Illinois and the potential for more severe weather.

“I activated the State Emergency Operations Center to ensure we’re ready to act quickly if any local responders need our assistance,” said Governor Rauner. “Illinois State Police is already at the scene and we have staff from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency enroute to the area to support local response efforts.”

Representatives from several state agencies are reporting to the SEOC. State officials are assessing the storm’s impact and communicating with local response officials to determine if state resources are needed to ensure citizen safety. The SEOC will remain activated as long as necessary. For updates on the current situation, visit the Ready Illinois website http://www.illinois.gov/ready/Pages/default.aspx.

Adams County hit with major storm damage. Adams County residents were dealing with major storm damage Tuesday morning as thousands of residents were still without power after severe storms hit Monday night. Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore declared a State of Emergency Monday night after 70 mph winds ripped through Quincy, downing power lines and damaging homes.

Alongside Mayor Moore and Adams County Emergency Management Director John Simon, State Rep. Randy Frese was fielding calls with emergency teams and encouraging homeowners to report damage to their home and the surrounding area. For more on the Adams County storm damage, please click here.

Flooding continues across Illinois. Flooding halted Illinois River barge traffic earlier this week. The U.S Coast Guard closed a 50-mile stretch of the Illinois River to all traffic on Tuesday as persistent heavy rains following the state’s wettest June on record swelled the waterway to within two feet of all-time highs in some areas. The Coast Guard reopened a flood-swollen section of the Illinois River to commercial traffic on Thursday after the key grain shipping waterway began to drop from near record-high crests hit earlier this week. Reuters has more here.

And in flooded Watseka, a disaster emergency was declared and a one-week curfew was instituted. State Rep. Tom Bennett, who represents Watseka, was on hand to assist with relief efforts and has provided regular flood relief updates via his official website.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
SIDS education enhancement becomes law. New parents in Illinois will be ensured to leave the hospital with good, updated information on how to protect their newborn from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) under a new law spearheaded by State Representative Tom Bennett.

Bennett’s measure, signed into law Thursday as PA 99-0048, ensures that the materials on SIDS prevention new parents receive at the hospital will include information developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics or a statewide or nationally recognized SIDS or medical association.

“Each year we learn more about SIDS, including how best to prevent it. It’s crucial that new parents leave the hospital armed with the most up-to-date and reliable information available on how they can protect their newborns,” Representative Bennett said. “I’m very happy that my first bill signed into law may help save a baby’s life.”

Sweet Corn
Sweet corn named official state vegetable. Just in time for the 42nd Annual Chatham Sweet Corn Festival, Governor Rauner signed legislation Thursday designating sweet corn as the official state vegetable of Illinois. SB 800 was sponsored in the House by State Rep. Raymond Poe and State Sen. Sam McCann in the Senate. It was brought about through the efforts of the 4th grade students at Chatham Elementary School.

“Sweet corn has been an important part of Illinois agriculture throughout the state’s history,” Poe said. “I am glad to see it get this much-deserved recognition, and am glad to see the hard work of the students from Chatham Elementary pay off.”

A group of Chatham students testified in support of the bill before the House Agriculture and Conservation committee in May. They were on hand in the House chamber when the bill passed 115-0 in May. The students had previously joined Senators for the debate on the bill in that chamber.

Illinois' new state vegetable joins such other state symbols as the state animal (white-tailed deer), state flower (violet) and state insect (monarch butterfly).