Week in Review for 9/28/15 - 10/2/15

FY16 Budget
Secretary of State suspends mailing motor vehicle registration renewal reminders. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White announced Monday that his office will suspend mailing out vehicle registration renewal reminder notices to the public due to the lack of a state budget.

White noted that by suspending this service, which will save approximately $450,000 per month, his office will be able to prolong the ability to mail vehicle registration renewal stickers, titles and license plates to vehicle owners for a few months longer before the postage account is depleted.

“The lack of a Fiscal Year 2016 budget is adversely impacting the Secretary of State’s office, and threatens to jeopardize the services we provide to the public,” said White. “Without a state budget in place, we are doing what we can to manage so that we may serve the people of Illinois for as long as possible. As a result, difficult decisions like suspending renewal reminder notice mailings are decisions we are being forced to make.”

White encouraged vehicle owners to be mindful of their vehicle registration status to ensure they renew in a timely manner and avoid driving on expired vehicle stickers. He also emphasized that more vehicle owners will be forced to visit facilities to renew their vehicle registration stickers because without a reminder notice they will not have a pin number needed to renew online. However, people who have signed up to receive electronic reminder notices will continue to receive them by email. To sign up for this service, please visit www.cyberdriveillinois.com.

Hit by lack of FY16 budget agreement, Illinois State Museum facilities close to public. The closure became effective on Thursday, October 1. Like some other State programs and facilities, the State Museum as an institution is not protected by the network of consent decrees and court orders that have kept much of the State’s government operating for three months (July-September 2015) in the lack of an appropriated budget. State Museum personnel will continue to be paid, for now, but the Museum facilities will not be open to the public until further notice.

The Illinois State Museum is a network of educational institutions and facilities that serve adults, families and children throughout Illinois. The facilities celebrate and contain educational displays on Illinois’ natural history and culture. The State’s flagship museum is located in the Capitol Complex in downtown Springfield, with a major secondary museum at the Native American mound site of Dickson Mounds near Lewistown. Museum cultural centers and galleries are located in downtown Chicago; suburban Lockport; and southern Illinois’ Rend Lake.

College of DuPage 
“Clean Slate” trustees vote to reduce tuition, cut property tax levy. The newly-elected majority of the community college’s governing board voted for a revised FY16 budget that sharply changes the college’s fiscal stance. The $314.1 million spending plan will reduce tuition by $5 per credit hour and slice the school’s property tax levy by approximately 5 percent. The new budget was approved on Monday, September 28.

The “Clean Slate” property tax cut will benefit owners of real property throughout the College of DuPage’s taxing jurisdiction. The College’s jurisdiction follows the lines of high school and consolidated secondary-school districts in its western-suburban service area, and is not coterminous with DuPage County as a whole. Significant numbers of taxpayers in Cook and Will Counties will also benefit from this property tax cut. Students with bona fide residence within the district will see tuition dropping from $140 to $135 per credit hour.

Board chairwoman Kathy Hamilton stated that the cuts became possible after newly-elected trustees reduced unnecessary spending and administrative expenses. For example, the College’s former fine-cuisine restaurant, Waterleaf, was closed permanently on Aug. 29 after losing money continuously during its four-year span of operations.

Law enforcement intensifies probe of College of DuPage leadership team. Until 2015, the College was actively led by President Robert Breuder and his top aides. New personnel are transitioning into leadership roles at the College, with slots opening up as the former leadership team enters leave-of-absence status, pre-retirement status, or statuses reflecting legally contested actions of suspension and dismissal. Meanwhile, a DuPage County grand jury has issued a subpoena seeking records and data over certain policies carried out by the departing Breuder leadership team, especially policies relating to the relationship between the College’s top leadership and the Waterleaf restaurant. The subpoena appears to parallel press reports and allegations that members of the Breuder team used Waterleaf as a taxpayer-funded private eating club.

The county grand jury subpoena is not the only probe ongoing into the College of DuPage’s operations. Separate federal criminal probes are looking into President Breuder’s college-issued credit cards, reimbursements and house accounts, and into certain of the College’s video surveillance recordings. The State of Illinois issued three subpoenas earlier in 2015 to scrutinize records covering Breuder’s employment contract, personal expenses, and no-bid jobs awarded by the Breuder leadership team to a school fundraiser.

Downstate – Metro-East
New twice-weekly air service from Metro-East to Nevada begins in November. The scheduling decision by Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air benefits residents of the St. Louis area, who will have two separate airports to choose between when booking westward flights. Allegiant’s new twice-weekly flight from MidAmerica Airport to its primary hub city will offer competition to existing Las Vegas air service from St. Louis’s Missouri airport. Allegiant Air is a discount carrier that has been flying since 1997.

The MidAmerica Airport is located off Interstate 64 in eastern St. Clair County. It contains part of the footprint of Scott Air Force Base, airworthy land and airspace that has been reassigned for civilian use. The civilian airport began operations in 1997. Changing U.S. air travel patterns after 9/11 were one of the factors that led to MidAmerica Airport falling short of financial projections in its first two decades of operation. The new St. Clair County-Las Vegas service is set to begin on Thursday, November 5.

Economy – ConAgra
Food giant moving global headquarters to Chicago. ConAgra, historically based in Omaha, is a manufacturer of processed foodstuffs. The move was announced on Thursday, October 1. ConAgra, a member of the S&P 500, is a maker of Banquet and Marie Callender frozen foods, Hunt’s canned-tomato products and condiments, Orville Redenbacher’s and Poppycock popcorn and confections, Wesson oils, Slim Jim meat snacks, and many other brands. The firm sold more than $17.7 billion in goods in 2014.

ConAgra plans to place 700 jobs in downtown Chicago. The new Illinois headquarters functions will consolidate the firm’s current 400 positions located in a subsidiary management office in Naperville. ConAgra stated this week that they plan to reduce their current global office-based workforce by 30 percent, for a total reduction of 1,500 employees in Omaha and Naperville.

The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) negotiated with ConAgra top management for months to put Illinois at the top of the firm’s go-to list. Like other states, Illinois offers tax incentives to firms that pledge to move a certain number of jobs to the state. The Boeing Co. took advantage of incentives in this class when they moved their corporate headquarters from Seattle to Chicago in 2001.

Education – School Mandates
Support grows for school mandate relief. Many suburban and Downstate school superintendents are issuing statements of support for the push, led by Governor Rauner, to eliminate some of the more than 100 unfunded mandates imposed by Springfield on local school districts and their taxpayers. For example, last week St. Clair County Regional Superintendent of Schools Susan Sarfaty agreed that these unfunded mandates are costing her schools money not provided for in these districts’ property-tax-funded budgets.

Unfunded mandates targeted by the Rauner push include required drivers’ education, for which schools are supposed to be reimbursed by fees paid by pupils but often are not; daily physical education; and restrictions on school districts contracting out needed non-educational services, such as janitorial work, to the private sector. The Rauner “Turnaround Illinois” property tax relief measure, sponsored by House Republican leadership in the General Assembly as HB 4247, includes language specifically aimed at repealing barriers to use of third-party contractors for budget savings. House Democrats have so far failed to release HB 4247 from the Rules Committee for discussion and debate.

Illinois State Lottery
State lottery holds final broadcast drawing. The drawings of lottery numbers, a longtime staple of Illinois television, moved this week from over-the-air and cable broadcast to online. The move affects players with Pick 3, Pick 4, Lotto with Extra Shot, and Lucky Day Lotto tickets. The last electromechanical drawing was held on Wednesday, September 30, and the transition was effective on Thursday, October 1.

Traditional lottery drawings use an electromechanical system that utilizes a physical drum stuffed with balls bearing lucky numbers. The Illinois State Lottery’s move to an all-electronic draw includes moving to a computer software system, called a Random Number Generator, which generates random numbers by harvesting them from a mathematical algorithm. Many financial institutions use similar algorithms to encode the secure material they send over digital wires. State lotteries throughout the United States are moving from electromechanical lucky-number drawings to digital draw systems.

Autumn in Illinois
Chicago Blackhawks set to begin season. The defending Stanley Cup champions will host their first regular-season game at Chicago’s United Center on Wednesday, October 7. The team’s October games will mark the start of the 90th season for a National Hockey League (NHL) club that began operations in 1926-27. Returning players include team captain Jonathan Toews and alternate captain Duncan Keith, winner of the Conn Smythe trophy during the 2015 Cup playoffs. The Blackhawks have hoisted the NHL’s foremost trophy six times, in 1934, 1938, 1961, 2010, 2013, and 2015.

“Reboot Illinois” lists top 10 corn mazes in Illinois. The child-friendly fall attractions are located in Northern, Central and Southern Illinois. The top-rated mazes honor family, patriotic, and sports-related themes. Two fields (at separate ends of the State) have winding pathways this year to celebrate the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Blackhawks. Richardson Adventure Farm’s Blackhawks-themed 2015 Stanley Cup maze, located near Spring Grove, Ill. in northeastern McHenry County, was rated by design firm DesignCurial as the #2 corn maze worldwide this year. Landowners George and Wendy Richardson dedicate a 33-acre rectangle each year to the family-friendly layouts, turning their designs into the “world’s largest corn maze.” A typical corn maze offers visitors the chance to buy souvenirs and Illinois farm products. Some charge admission fees. The closing day for most corn mazes is the last day of the Halloween weekend.

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