Week in Review for 9/26/16 - 9/30/16

Chicago – Teachers’ Strike Possible
95% of eligible Chicago teachers vote to strike. The strike authorization vote was announced by the Chicago Teachers Union on Monday, September 26. The financially troubled Chicago Public Schools district (CPS) employs approximately 25,000 teachers and union-eligible ancillary personnel. CPS observers said that the union is taking a series of legal steps that could result in a strike as soon at October 11, although CPS has several potential legal steps they could take to try to prevent or delay the strike. CPS, in its opposition to the proposed strike, points to an 8.75% pay hike that it is offering to teachers and educators over a four-year period.

The potential strike adds to the challenges facing CPS in the 2016-17 school year. The cash-strapped school district was forced to borrow money in 2015-16 to cover immediate operating expenses and its credit rating has dropped below “junk bond” levels. Major Chicago property tax increases have not yet yielded sufficient revenue to halt a downward spiral in CPS’s perceived operating status and the long-term solvency of its pension funds.

Children – Teenage Concussions
Health care providers report sharp increase in official diagnoses of concussions among many Illinois teenagers. The diagnosis count increased 83% from 2010 to 2015 among a large subset of Illinois children aged 10 to 19. The subset is made up of those children and young adults that are members of households insured by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, Illinois’ largest health care insurer. Blue Cross reports that more than 8 million of the 12.9 million people of Illinois are covered by their firm. The numbers reflect diagnostic codings reached by health care professionals, used by them as a basis for follow-up treatments of their patients, and submitted to Blue Cross for requested reimbursement.

It is not known to what extent, if any, concussions are growing in Illinois. Health care providers have worked hard in recent years to improve their screening for this diagnosis when a patient is presented for treatment. Many older Illinoisans will remember incidents, especially on a sports field, when a young person would have reported that he was “feeling woozy” and, instead of being diagnosed and treated by trained medical personnel, would have been urged to sit down until he felt better.

The General Assembly has taken significant actions in recent years to treat teenage concussions, particularly in high school sports. The Youth Sports Concussion Safety Act, passed in spring 2015, has led to a series of new guidelines from the Illinois High School Association. A principle guideline mandates that school coaches and officials undergo both first-time training and, as a follow-up, continuing education in the field diagnosis of concussions and other acute medical conditions. Additional guidelines set forth pathways and markers for an affected student, his or her family and caregivers, and his or her athletic trainers to follow in returning a person diagnosed with a concussion to possible future sports activity.

Downstate – Fall Harvest Continues
Corn harvest 24% complete as of Monday, Sept. 26. Dry weather across much of Illinois was making it possible for farm equipment to enter Illinois cornfields. The Illinois Crop Progress and Condition Report harvesting estimate was released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The federal report continued to show good conditions in Illinois cash crops, with 83% of corn fields enjoying conditions that were good-to-excellent, and 80% of soybean fields rated good-to-excellent. Only 6% of Illinois bean fields have been harvested as of the start of this week, but 88% of Illinois’ beans have yellowed out and harvesting work will continue on this crop as well. Corn and soybean crop prices are reflecting the projected belief of agricultural observers that substantial supplies of these crops will come to market from across North America.

Gambling – Video Gaming
Study says video gaming has yielded $785 million in tax revenue so far. The study covers the first four years of video gaming in Illinois. The first 60 video gaming machines went online in September 2012. With a steady increase in license applications and licenses granted, there are now about 24,000 gaming machines available for Illinois play. The study, performed by the Illinois Gaming Machine Operators Association, is based on monthly reports from the Illinois Gaming Board, the entity that oversees the gaming machines and collects the taxes. Taxes paid from video gaming machines to the State are deposited in the state’s Capital Projects Fund; taxes allocated by law to local governments are transferred from the Gaming Board to each local government.

Under the Video Gaming Act, state tax revenues from the tavern-and-meeting-place-based machines cannot be used for state operating expenses. They must be used to pay back the interest and principal on bonds sold to rebuild Illinois infrastructure, particularly roads, bridges, and transportation assets. Local tax revenues from video gaming can be used in a variety of ways by the communities that allow video machines within their jurisdictions. State law allows communities to “opt out” of video gaming; and a list of Illinois counties and municipalities, headed by Chicago, have chosen to opt out. The municipalities that allow video gaming now include approximately 5,600 locations with operating game machines. Many, but not all, of these game locations are small businesses. Gaming Board data shows that the industry continues to grow in fall 2016 as a share of the overall Illinois economy.

Video gaming continues to win market share from older segments of the betting industry, such as horse racing. While the Illinois Racing Board this week once again set up 2017 racing dates for three Illinois racetracks, they did so after hearing testimony about continued declines in Illinois horse race purses and the perception of a long-term threat to the viability of live horse racing. The three Illinois racetracks are Arlington International, Fairmount Park, and Hawthorne Racecourse. Only one racetrack, Hawthorne, is scheduled to host Standardbred harness horses in Illinois next year.

Higher Education – Chicago State University
Additional numbers come in for Chicago State. Chicago State University, located in the Chicago neighborhood of Rosseland, has been hard-hit by the ongoing state budget crisis. As a university oriented towards teaching rather than research, it traditionally gets a large percentage of its budget from state aid payments, including MAP student aid payments and direct appropriations from state general funds. The current budget crisis has slowed or eliminated parts of these funding streams.

As a result of its cash flow problem, the university sent potential layoff notices to all of its employees in February 2016. This layoff has since been implemented for one-third of the staff, 300 of the former total of 900. New enrollment numbers indicate that student headcounts have been dropping in close proportion to the drop in teachers and full-time personnel. As of September 2016, total enrollment is down by 25%, to 3,578 students enrolled. Undergraduate enrollment has dropped by 32%. Much of this decline has manifested in a decision by new students entering their college years to seek opportunities at other institutions. Only 86 freshmen entered CSU in the fall 2016 semester.

Higher Education – University of Illinois
Illinois’ flagship university gets relatively high credit grade from Moody’s. Issuing a report on the University of Illinois’ revenue stream in September 2016, Moody’s Investors Services granted the public university a sharply higher grade than most other public-sector institutions in Illinois. Moody’s noted recent state budget cuts to the U of I, but praised the three-campus institution for its underlying liquidity and diverse revenue streams. These cash flows lower the University’s dependence on state tax funding.

In particular, Moody’s noted the University of Illinois’ comparative success in attracting full-tuition-paying students from international backgrounds. The analytical service praised the U of I for enrolling “the most international students of any university in the U.S.,” but noted the threat to its three campuses should the federal government restrict future supplies of student visas. Moody’s also noted that the University continues to be tied to the State Universities Retirement System (SURS), one of the State’s underfunded pension systems.

Jobs – National Manufacturing Day
Illinois identified as leader in vocational education. Part of the leadership role is being carried by the Illinois Consortium for Advanced Technical Training (ICATT), an alliance of high-tech manufacturers and educators that is working to improve the credentialed skill sets of young people entering the manufacturing sector. Educators in the consortium include Illinois teachers and administrators on the community college level and high school levels. ICATT was cited in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Sept. 27 for its work in developing standardized apprenticeship training programs.

Specialists in Illinois advanced technical training report they have accepted the ongoing changes in U.S. manufacturing toward what are expected to be the highly automated production lines of the future. Factory workers will, in some cases, possess credentials equivalent to those of engineer’s aides. They will get dual training in apprenticeship skill sets and a standardized post-secondary education indented to maximize their future employability. When they complete their training they will get an associates’ degree that will be supplemented by certification in their apprenticeship skill set. The economic performance of modern Germany indicates that workers with production-engineer training certificates will have an upper hand in future job markets.

The Illinois Manufacturers Association and Palatine’s Harper College have played key roles in fostering the growth of the Consortium. Harper College will celebrate National Manufacturing Day on Thursday, October 6 with a lab open house, which will give Chicago-area job creators and the College’s manufacturing lab the opportunity to publicly demonstrate their functions in the alliance.

Military Services – Gold Star Family Day
Illinois observes first Gold Star Family Day. Ceremonies were held at the Illinois State Capitol on Monday, Sept. 26. Gold Star Family Day honors the families of U.S. service personnel who have died in combat or as a result of combat-related action. The first annual Gold Star Family Day was created by HB 4389, sponsored by Rep. Steve Andersson. The bill was signed into law in August 2016 by Gov. Bruce Rauner, becoming P.A. 99-803.

At the ceremony, Andersson spoke about the importance of this day for Illinois and thanked the families of the fallen servicemen and women for all that they have given.

“Today is all about the families,” said Andersson. “We stood in the Capitol Rotunda to recognize and thank all of our fallen servicemen and women and especially today, their families. On this special day we remember all of the contributions, commitments, and sacrifices made by Gold Star Families. I was honored to be a part of the ceremony for our state’s first official Gold Star Family Day.”

Suburbs – Zurich North America
Global insurance firm opens North American headquarters in Schaumberg. The Swiss-based global firm, which specializes in industry-oriented property/casualty insurance, chose Chicago’s northwest suburbs as its 783,800-square-foot headquarters location. Zurich North America marked the official opening of its headquarters campus on Wednesday, Sept. 28 with a photographic tour of the new facility. The new headquarters will be located less than 15 miles from O’Hare International Airport.

The firm states that they currently insure at least part of the operations of 90% of all of the Fortune 500 companies, generating nearly $1.3 billion in positive economic impact for Illinois. Their new Zurich site is opening at a time of substantial changes in the traditionally staid property/casualty insurance industry, with a substantial shift in focus toward multi-faceted risk engineering, risk management, and alternative logistics solutions.

Supreme Court – Jury Sizes
Six-member civil jury law overturned. A law enacted in late 2014, reduced the maximum size of Illinois civil juries from 12 to 6. Approved by largely partisan roll calls in the General Assembly and signed by former Gov. Quinn, the law was described as a way to make the civil courts more efficient. Part of the money saved by reducing the sizes of juries would have been allocated to a pay increase for jurors, but even after the increase the maximum pay for each juror under this new law would have been only $50/day.

Opponents of the controversial measure, including most Republicans, pointed out concerns that the Constitution does not allow the sizes of juries to be changed by statute. They also shared concerns that the measure had been advocated by powerful trial attorneys who were using the law as an additional opportunity to enlarge their control over Illinois circuit courts. The Illinois Supreme Court struck down P.A. 98-1132 last week, ruling it unconstitutional. The high court’s vote was 5-0, with two judges recusing themselves. The decision was handed down on Thursday, Sept. 22.

Transportation – Traffic Stop Education
Police work with new state law, produce instructional video for drivers’ education. A new law passed by the General Assembly in spring 2016 asks students taking drivers’ education courses to learn safe procedures to follow during traffic stops. The new law will by fully implemented in the 2017-18 school year. Many school districts are already including safe-police-stop procedures in their instructions to young and probationary drivers.

The Central Illinois Film Commission is working on a new instructional video demonstrating safe and unsafe police/driver interactions. After production and post-production work, the video is expected to be distributed to high schools before the end of calendar year 2016. The video, which is being produced in Springfield, is being supported by the FBI, local NAACP leaders, and representatives of local law enforcement.

The 23-minute video will describe and demonstrate the importance of remaining calm, keeping one’s hands in view at all times (usually by putting them on the steering wheel), and pre-notifying the officer when moving one’s hands (typically to uncover documentation such as a driver’s license or insurance card). The video will also describe the rights that citizens have when in the presence of law enforcement.

In 2015, two million traffic stops were reported by police to the Illinois Department of Transportation – approximately 1 stop for every 6 Illinoisans. The new 2016 traffic-stop-education law, HB 6131, was approved unanimously by both houses of the General Assembly and signed into law as P.A. 99-720.

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