Week in Review for week ending 12/09/16

Budget – FY17
Leaders meetings do not generate budget agreement. With the “stopgap” six-month budget for the first half of FY17 scheduled to expire on December 31, pressure is being placed on key Illinois officials to develop a budget agreement. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, Governor Bruce Rauner, and other leaders were meeting almost daily in Chicago. Key issues include cash flow for State spending areas covered in the “stopgap” budget. Renewed appropriations are required if these areas are to get funding in January 2017 and following months. However, no agreement has yet been reached.

Pressure for a budget deal is being driven by the deteriorating financial condition of the State. The Comptroller’s office indicated that Illinois had, as of Tuesday, December 6, piled up a backlog of unpaid bills totaling more than $10.6 billion. These include both bills that are actually in the Comptroller’s office awaiting payment and bills that are in the various State agencies and have not yet been forwarded to the Comptroller.

COGFA report shows Illinois earns mixed scores on various economic variables. The report from the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA), “Illinois’ National Rankings – 2016”, was released on Thursday, December 8. The December report looks at a variety of nonpartisan and nongovernmental measuring sticks that are used to gauge Illinois’ tax rates, tax revenues, government spending, employment trends, and business climate when compared with other U.S. states.

To summarize, the COGFA report confirms data from a wide variety of other sources. It draws a picture of extremely slow, underperforming job growth in Illinois relative to other states. As of October 2016, Illinois stands 43rd among the 50 states in terms of unemployment rates (5.6% as opposed to the national rate of 4.9%). This slow job growth, which has left Illinois with fewer nonfarm payroll jobs than were supported by Illinois employers sixteen years ago in 2000, has encouraged young Illinois residents to consider leaving the Land of Lincoln in search of better opportunities elsewhere. Illinois is 39th among the 50 states in terms of its job recovery/job growth following the so-called “dot.com” boom of the late 1990s. Our state ranks poorly (relative to other U.S. states) in terms of new jobs created over the past year, five-year period, ten-year period, and twenty-year period. Major changes in Illinois policy will be necessary to counter this trend.

Unfortunately, the report does not suggest easy or obvious answers to this policy dilemma. In particular, a picture of Illinois as a golden state for wasteful taxing and spending is muddied by this report. In 2015, Illinois extracted 6.2% of its residents’ $636.3 billion in personal income from their pockets in the form of more than $39.5 billion in state taxes, marking Illinois 24th in the nation in terms of state government tax revenue as a percentage of state personal income – close to the middle of the 50 states. Illinois’ reality as a high-tax state is closely tied to our exceptionally burdensome structure of local “home rule” and property taxes. These local levies are charged and collected by local governments and school districts, not the State of Illinois. This indicates that necessary policy changes will have to include actions affecting all facets of government here in Illinois.

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) is the nonpartisan budget watchdog office of the General Assembly. It monitors data points and trends, including economic variables, to guide the State Legislature in its budget and policy decisions.

Energy – Nuclear Power Plants
Exelon bill signed. SB 2814 includes funding to keep two Illinois nuclear reactor complexes operational for at least ten years to come. Affected are the Clinton nuclear power plant in central Illinois and the two-reactor Quad Cities plant in northwestern Illinois. Both plants are owned and operated by utility holding company Exelon. Small additional charges will be levied on monthly bills paid by users of Illinois electricity. Parts of the revenue streams will be allocated to energy-efficiency programs and assistance to low-income energy users. Sponsors of the measure point to the more than 1,500 jobs that would have been lost had these facilities been forced to close.

Governor Rauner signed the measure into law on Wednesday, December 7. Critics pointed to the burdens that the bill may create for Illinois electricity customers and job creators. Supporters of the bill respond that were the two affected nuclear power complexes to close, the effect of these closures on Illinois power bills (especially in times of peak power demand) could well be equivalent to or even higher than the additional charges to be levied in compliance with this measure. Changes made to SB 2814 under the supervision of Gov. Rauner and members of the General Assembly who supported the measure included protections for consumers and commercial energy users, and binding commitments made by Exelon and a wide variety of other interested parties.

Environment – Carbon Sequestration
U.S. Department of Energy grants $10.1 million to Illinois State Geological Survey. The Champaign-Urbana geological think tank will study and develop technologies to enable the continued burning of fossil fuels in Illinois and around the world. Concerns have been raised about the emission of carbon dioxide when oil, gas, coal, and other fuels are burned, but geologists have long known that it is possible to gather carbon dioxide generated by fixed sources of energy (such as power plants) and inject them deep into the earth. The technology, caused carbon “sequestration,” could be used to make it more attractive to burn coal and other fossil fuels for future energy.

The Illinois State Geological Survey has been asked to evaluate the feasibility of injecting more than 50 million metric tons of CO² into geological strata deep under Illinois. The study will build on previous core drillings and other empirical research that shows that much of central and southern Illinois lies on top of beds of impermeable shale. Hypothetically, carbon dioxide could be injected into or beneath the shale and would never come back to the earth’s surface.

General Assembly – 2017 Schedule
Illinois House posts schedule for 2017 spring session. The newly-elected and re-elected members of the Illinois House will convene in Springfield on Wednesday, January 11, to take the oath of office. House Speaker Michael Madigan’s office has posted a session calendar for the House to follow when its members introduce new bills next spring and debate them in committee and on the floor. The House will also consider bills sent over from the state Senate. The spring session is scheduled to end on Wednesday, May 31.

In addition to the session work of the new 100th General Assembly, the 99th General Assembly may well have a few last things to do in January. Two “lame duck” session days have been posted on the schedule for Monday, January 9, and Tuesday, January 10. It is not yet known for what purposes these days will be used.

General Assembly – New Members
Illinois House Republican Caucus welcomes 15 new members. Fifteen Republicans who were not on the November 2014 ballot will be taking their oaths of office in January 2017 as members of the 100th General Assembly. Of these new members, five took their seats in the soon-to-be-completed 99th General Assembly as appointees following the departures of their predecessors. All five of them were elected last month to full terms in their own right. These five are:

  • Avery Bourne (95th District, south-central Illinois). Representative Bourne is a law student and a specialist in issues of agriculture and rural law enforcement. She serves on Illinois House committees that deal with issues involving agriculture, consumers, counties, transportation, vehicle safety, and veterans.
  • Tim Butler (87th District, Springfield area). Representative Butler is an experienced hand at constituent issues from his services as district chief of staff to two members of the U.S. Congress. He serves on House committees that deal with issues involving the environment, tourism, roads, and vehicle safety.
  • David Olsen (81st District, central DuPage County). Representative Olsen is a skilled professional in financial investing and trading. He serves on House committees that deal with issues involving community colleges, schools, criminal law, public utilities, and renewable energy.
  • David Welter (75th District, northeastern Illinois). Representative Welter is the former chairman of the Grundy County Board. He serves on House committees that deal with issues involving agriculture, appropriations/public safety, schools, charter schools, energy, criminal law, restorative justice, and special needs services.
  • Sara Wojcicki Jimenez (99th District, Springfield area). Representative Wojcicki Jimenez is a former journalist and Statehouse spokesperson. She serves on House committees that deal with issues involving agriculture, State universities, business and occupational licenses, economic development, and international trade and commerce. 
In addition to these five now-experienced new members with committee assignments, ten completely new House Republican members – representing districts from McHenry County on the Wisconsin border to Williamson County in far southern Illinois – will ”hit the ground running” over the next few weeks as they celebrate their election to the Illinois House of Representatives.

Health Care – Illinois Hospitals
Ten Illinois hospitals acclaimed among top facilities in U.S. The ratings from Washington, D.C.-based Leapfrog were published on Tuesday, December 6. Chicago-based Illinois teaching hospitals included the University of Chicago Medical Center; top suburban hospitals included Elmhurst Memorial Hospital in Elmhurst and the Rush-Copley Medical Center in Aurora; and “Top Rural Hospitals” included Richland Memorial Hospital in downstate Olney, Illinois.

The Leapfrog Hospital Survey compared hospitals’ performance on national standards of patient safety, quality, efficiency, and management structures that reduce improper treatments and doctor-patient errors. The Survey ranked Illinois first in the U.S. Midwest in terms of the number of top hospitals within the state. California, the top-ranked state, had 25 top-ranked hospitals, and Florida had 11. All other states were ranked in single digits.

Jobs – 650 Layoffs Announced
Monthly layoff list shows major layoffs totaling 650 Illinois employees. The list is compiled by the State of Illinois in accordance with state and federal laws that require that employees be granted 60 days’ notice prior to major layoff events. In November 2016, the largest separation came at PrimeSource Health Care Systems in Buffalo Grove, which filed notice of intent to lay off 159 employees on December 31. Trucking firm Ryder will let go 142 workers from its Minooka, Illinois marshalling yard on February 4, and transport firm Megabus is implementing a major Chicago cutback and will lay off 108 Illinois employees.

Employee warnings are granted pursuant to the Illinois Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. This state law requires that if an employer of at least 75 employees knows ahead of time of their intent to conduct a major layoff, they must notify the affected workers and must also file notice with the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO).

Transportation – Winter Driving
Illinois Department of Transportation shares winter driving tips. A brief streaming video from IDOT includes warnings suitable for snow and ice conditions. Factors to keep in mind include the need to drive defensively when driving near snowplowing machinery, likely spots for road ice appearance and buildup, and items to be carried in a motor vehicle during winter. A standard winter survival-supply kit for winter driving will include blankets, a first-aid kit, reflectors, an ice scraper for windshields, jumper cables, and a cellphone. Motorists should keep in mind that not all sections of Illinois have continuous, seamless cellphone service.

Bicentennial Commission
Governor Rauner appoints members to Bicentennial Commission. The State of Illinois will observe its 200th birthday in 2018. To prepare for the celebration events, the Governor has created a 51-member unpaid Bicentennial Commission. Members of the Commission are local leaders who will work with their neighbors to develop each community’s observance of the year-long event. The approaching bicentennial is seen as a way for Illinoisans to show their pride in Illinois’ history and heritage.

Fall in Illinois – Deer Harvest
Firearm season deer harvest down 8.5% in 2016. Although the late-season harvest numbers have not come in, the main firearm weekends are over. Tag numbers reported by licensed hunters to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) indicate that the number of deer taken this fall was down significantly from 2015. IDNR reports that firearm-season tag numbers were down 8.5% in fall 2016, from 86,847 deer in 2015 to 79,429 this year. Late-season deer activities will include a muzzle-loading weekend in December, an antlerless-only season in specified counties in late December, and the archery deer season through mid-January.

Week in Review
Get the Week in Review emailed directly to your inbox! Sign up today to get a first-hand look at the continuing legislative and fiscal challenges facing policymakers in Springfield.