Week in Review for week ending November 4, 2016

Chicago Cubs – 2016 World Series Champions
Cubs win 2016 World Series. The 2016 Fall Classic took all 7 games to play, with Game 7 being an instant classic, fought out into a tiebreaking 10th inning. The Chicago Cubs came back from a 3 games to 1 deficit to become the world champions of baseball, beating Cleveland on the road and breaking a trophy drought that went all the way back to 1908. The Cubs will hold a victory parade and rally in Chicago on Friday, November 4. Illinoisans of all sports fandoms are now congratulating loyal Cub fans.

As “Week in Review” went to press, plans were being set in place to maximize the safety and security of the Cubs victory parade and rally. Downtown Chicago, which has seen celebrations in recent years for baseball’s White Sox, hockey’s Blackhawks, and basketball’s Bulls, will now have the chance to cheer for one of the best-loved teams that has ever taken the American diamond. Other Illinois celebrations are likely to follow as the Cubs display their World Series trophy to fans.

Budget – New Illinois Debt
State prepared to issue $480 million in bonds. The issuance is meant to fund the continuing capital spending obligations of the State of Illinois, including (but not limited to) the construction and repair of transportation infrastructure such as roads and bridges. The new, almost one-half-billion bond offering was presented to Wall Street at the beginning of the week of October 31, with the bonds actually to be sold later in the week on a day to be named later. Underwriters, who try to earn a profit for the process by which an issue of bonds is sold, often time the actual sale of bonds to match random ripples in market conditions.

The $480 million in bonds being sold do not constitute an increase in the State’s legal debt ceiling. The State has a statutory upper limit on the amount of debt it can borrow at any one time. However, more than $1.5 billion in Illinois general obligation (GO) debts are set to mature annually each year from 2016 through 2019, and whenever an old issue of bonds matures and is paid off the State quickly sells new debt to replace the old debt. The State of Illinois currently has more than $27.3 billion in GO debt outstanding. Although this is a heavy sum, it is less than one-quarter of the burden represented by the more than $110 billion in unfunded pension obligations also owed by the State and its taxpayers.

The State’s heavy load of debt has negatively affected Illinois’ bond and credit ratings. After recent downgrades by Fitch Ratings and Moody’s, the Illinois GO credit rating is now seen by many market analysts as being only two notches above “junk bond” level.

Budget – October Revenue Numbers
Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA) reports on October 2016 revenues. The report, made by the General Assembly’s budget watchdog office, is based on cash-flow numbers from the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) that describe inflows of money in October 2016 from general revenue sources such as the State’s income tax and sales tax. Net revenues to the State dropped by $316 million below the levels of revenue brought in during October 2015. Declining monies paid in income taxes and in transfers from the federal government accounted for the majority of the lost income, with the State receiving $133 million less in October 2016 income tax revenues and $119 million less in October 2016 federal funds transfers than in comparable income from these sources in October 2015.

Poor Illinois cash flow patterns are strongly implicated in the overall pattern of unpaid bills being piled up by the State of Illinois. As of Wednesday, November 2, the office of Comptroller Leslie Munger estimated that the State has not paid more than $9.07 billion in bills for goods and services rendered. A sizable percentage of these unpaid bills are monies due for health care services provided to state employees, with approximately $3.86 billion in unpaid bills for health care provided to state workers, educators at public colleges/universities, and retired teachers.

Criminal Law – Domestic Violence
Licensed hairdressers and beauty technicians to be trained to recognize signs of domestic violence. Illinois has become the first U.S. state to mandate that the training that must be undertaken by cosmetologists, estheticians, nail technicians, and hair braiders must include training on recognizing and reporting cases of suspected domestic violence and sexual assault. For example, hair stylists will be required to take a one-hour class every two years when they get their license renewed. The new law becomes effective on Jan. 1, 2017.

The Illinois law reflects understanding that a wide variety of licensed beauty professionals get close to their clients. To write this law, the General Assembly worked in close cooperation with law enforcement and with domestic violence and sexual assault policy advocates. The new law, HB 4264, was approved by the House in May 2016 by a vote of 115-2-0 and was signed into law as P.A. 99-766.

Education – Annual Report Card
Illinois school test results shows improving numbers, participation. The report card for 2015-2016 is based on numbers from 3,700 schools across Illinois. The controversial Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test, administered to school pupils in spring 2016, generated the numbers used to produce this Illinois Report Card.

More than 50 percent of Illinois schools were assessed as demonstrating better PARCC numbers in 2016 than in 2015. However, overall statewide numbers continued to be assessed as highly short of expectations. Illinois school districts, taken as a group, moved from a 33.0 “passing rate” in spring 2015 to a 33.4% “passing rate” in spring 2016, based on test number results in reading and mathematics. The PARCC “passing rate” is a consensus judgment, generated after a consultative process involving a wide variety of professional educators, on the level a school district and its pupils ought to achieve in order to demonstrate readiness for college and career learning. In a PARCC test results report, raw numbers are weighted by school districts in order to generate what is thought to be an objective measurement of how a school district is performing. Adjustments are made for student demographics, student household income, and a wide variety of additional factors.

Future results of the 2017 Illinois Report Card will not be directly comparable to the results released on Monday, October 31. The PARCC test is highly unpopular in Illinois high schools, with many college-exam-oriented teachers and students seeing it as redundant. The State Board of Education is phasing out use of the PARCC test in high schools for 2016-17. Future Illinois high school students will be gauged on the basis of a standardized college entrance exam, a class of exams that many of them already take.

Environment – Wood River Refinery
Major refinery allegedly released chemicals in Mississippi River watershed. The Wood River Refinery operates in the Metro-East region of southwestern Illinois. It can refine up to 157,000 barrels of crude oil per day into asphalt, petroleum coke, gasoline, and distilled oil products. About one-half of every barrel of oil piped into the refinery complex is refined into gasoline, with diesel fuel and petrochemical feedstocks also taking major shares of the refinery complex’s output. The refinery complex is operated by more than 1,100 employees and on-site contractors. Like other factories, the Wood River complex has the right to discharge wastewater into local drainage ditches. Typical Illinois factory wastewater streams are dominated by runoff from the rain and snow that falls on the factory complex.

Allegations have been made that the refinery has sometimes released chemicals into its wastewater stream. The Roxana, Illinois refinery is located adjacent to the shore of the Mississippi River. After legal negotiations, the State of Illinois this week announced a settlement with the corporate joint venture that owns the refinery complex. Under the Monday, October 31 settlement, the Wood River Refinery promises to install new wastewater control systems at the refinery. The refinery will also pay a small fine.

Healthcare – Mental Health
Illinois gets $1.3 million federal grant aimed at improving oversight of mental health coverage. The State of Illinois is currently undertaking a series of initiatives, including a request for a major Medicaid waiver, aimed at helping Illinois residents with behavioral and mental health challenges. The Illinois Department of Insurance announced on Wednesday, November 2, that they have received a favorable response on the Department’s request for a $1.3 million grant aimed at improving the Department’s computer software. The new software will generate data on how private-sector insurance firms are responding to the mental health needs of their policyholders, and will track consumer complaints and appeals.

Higher Education – Illinois State University
Illinois State University (ISU) to offer undergraduate degree in cybersecurity. The announcement by the university’s School of Information Technology followed action by the ISU board of trustees. The new program will help ISU graduates get jobs in one of the fastest-growing areas of the U.S. job market. Cybersecurity is the science of managing a changing database to maximize the security of its data and processes from outsiders, including hackers. Students will take specialized courses in computer science and information management. The School of Information Technology says their new program will have room to enroll about 125 students.

The ISU School of Information Technology offers several other training courses and programs in information science. They operate three bachelor’s degree programs, two programs offering undergraduate minors, a master’s degree program in Information Systems, and a multi-platform family of programs offering graduate certifications. Five separate certificates are offered. The ISU School’s offerings center on their physical campus in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois.

Supreme Court – Chief Justice Karmeier
Gavel handed over at state Supreme Court. The state’s highest court will be presided over by Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier. From the Downstate county seat of Nashville, Illinois, Justice Karmeier has experience as the Washington County State’s Attorney, and also worked for more than 20 years in private practice. On Monday, October 31, Justice Karmeier became the 120th chief justice of the state.

Handing over the gavel was Chief Justice Rita Garman. Justice Garman has completed her three-year term as chief justice, a standing which made her the senior judge of the court. The Illinois Supreme Court not only decides cases, but also operates the rules of procedure used by circuit courts all over Illinois. As a circuit judge for almost two decades, Chief Justice Karmeier has experience working with these rules; now, he will be the senior voice in modifying and maintaining them.

U.S.S. Illinois
Navy holds commissioning ceremony for submarine honoring Illinois. The U.S.S. Illinois, a nuclear-powered attack submarine, has completed its sea trials and is ready to enter active service. The U.S. Navy held a commissioning ceremony for the submarine on Saturday, October 29 in Groton, Connecticut. Now that the sub has received its commissioning pennant, it is able to call itself a “United States Ship” (U.S.S.).

377 feet in length, the U.S.S. Illinois is powered by a nuclear reactor. Like other attack submarines, the vessel is not designed to fire intercontinental ballistic missiles. It is armed with Tomahawk missiles and torpedoes. The torpedoes can be used against potential enemy ships, and Tomahawk missiles can be precision-guided to strike enemy land-based strongpoints. The submarine has a crew of 134 officers and personnel when on active service. The ship’s crest brings together a trident for the Sea Service and two broadaxes for the president from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln. The U.S.S. Illinois’s hull number is SSN-786.

The U.S. Navy has long named its capital ships after U.S. states. Many readers will know the state names of the battleships at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The surface dreadnaughts are all retired now, and the Navy has decided to use the 50 states to name its attack submarines. The submarine “Illinois” is almost exactly the same length as the last battleship named “Illinois” (377 feet versus 375 feet), but the 2016 submarine cost much more ($2.7 billion) to build than the 1901 battleship.

Fall in Illinois – Deer Harvest
Slow deer harvest so far. Tag numbers reported by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) indicate that the 2016 fall archery season is falling short of 2015 numbers. With the count updated through Sunday, October 30, Illinois bowhunters had taken 16,793 deer so far in 2016, down 14.3% from their numbers for the same period in 2015. Three-fifths (10,139) of the 2016 harvest was made up of doe deer. As with the county counts of previous years, the largest number of 2016 tags were returned from Pike County in west central Illinois. The county’s rolling hills, second-growth woodland, and abundant farm field browse have made Pike County a desirable location for deer.

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