Week in Review for week ending March 3, 2017

Governor Rauner – Medicaid Proposal
Gov. Bruce Rauner makes major Medicaid proposal. The proposal to increase the percentage of Medicaid medical cases that move through “managed care” was unveiled on Monday, February 27. The state’s chief executive called for expanding existing Medicaid managed care programs to cover 80% of Illinois’ three million Medicaid patients. This would mark a major increase in managed care from the current percentage of nearly 67%. In Medicaid managed care, private insurance firms serve as “gatekeepers” for treatments, performing a role similar to insurance firms that manage groups of families that receive employment-based health care.

In his proposal, the Governor noted two large groups of Medicaid patients that have not yet been moved to managed care. Many children under the supervision of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) have not yet been moved to managed care; their medical care is protected by legal case law, and the move has to be performed in a manner that complies with their legal standing. Some rural Illinois counties do not yet have a Medicaid managed care provider network in place.

Governor Rauner also announced a major push to turn what have, up to now, been notional savings to taxpayers from Medicaid managed care into real savings. The effort will include rationalizing the managed-care network, better coordination of patient care, and moving reimbursement from a treatment-based model to a results-based model.

Budget – FY17
State Senate passes five “grand bargain” bills. The measures were passed on Tuesday, February 28. House consideration could be delayed, however, by the insistence of many proponents that the bills be discussed as part of an overall package of spending and budget reforms. The Senate has not approved several of the key elements of the “grand bargain” reform package, including changes to future public-sector pension plans and benefits. Senate President John Cullerton, as the keeper of the Senate clerk’s desk, may choose to exercise his right to delay moving the bills over to the House for further action.

The Senate bills, if enacted into law, would appropriate some emergency spending lines for the second half of FY17, ending June 30, 2017. The bills are intended to raise money for these spending needs through various means, including a major expansion in legal gambling in Illinois. SB 7 would allow for the licensure of major new casino operations in Chicago and various locations in Downstate Illinois and Chicago’s suburbs. The familiar “video gaming” machines installed in many Illinois taverns and restaurants would be allowed to make jackpot payouts.

Budget challenges continue to affect the State of Illinois. The February 2017 monthly revenue report and estimate released by the nonpartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) indicated a continued decline in State general funds tax revenues in February 2017. Personal income tax revenues decreased in February 2017 by $129 million from the same levels of taxes paid in one year earlier. Illinois corporate income tax revenues have practically dried up, with only $9 million (down 81%) received from this source in February 2017.

Downstate – Tornado Strikes
Emergency crews respond to damaging storms. The powerful storms roared through Illinois late Tuesday, February 28. Several EF-3 tornadoes generated by the line of storms hit Illinois. The current Illinois death toll from these storms and associated tornadoes is 3 persons. At least 14 people were injured, and severe property damage was reported in and around Ottawa-Naplate in northern Illinois, near Christopher and Crossville in southern Illinois, and in other communities.

Governor Bruce Rauner toured the Ottawa area on Wednesday, March 1, and thanked the tornado first responders. The Illinois Emergency Management Authority continues to coordinate the State’s response to the storms.

Downstate – Volunteer Firefighters
Rep. Terri Bryant passes legislation to assist volunteer firefighters. Bryant’s bill, passed by the House on Thursday, February 23, will allow volunteer firefighters to sign on to their fire district’s joint purchasing agreement (JPA) and use the JPA when they need to replace a set of motor vehicle tires. Fire district JPAs often create a substantial discount in tire prices, and a volunteer firefighter’s private motor vehicle is part of the firefighting infrastructure of his community. In the cellphone age, volunteer firefighters often get a call and then drive to meet their crew’s emergency response vehicle at the point of the fire or where their emergency medical response team is needed to help.

HB 771 will allow volunteer firefighters to purchase a new set of tires, using the JPA discount, once every three years. They are expected to use the tires for the motor vehicle they use for rapid-response calls. The unanimous House vote sent the measure to the Senate for further discussion and debate.

Economy – Site Selection
Site Selection magazine honors Illinois as potential location for job creation. A magazine aimed at CEOs and corporate executives has honored Illinois as one of the top states in the U.S. with the most qualifying new and expanded facilities per capita. A total of 434 new job-creating projects of the types tracked by Site Selection were announced in 2016. In the eyes of the magazine, this made Illinois the No. 3 “site selection” state in the U.S. in 2016, with Texas and Ohio as #1 and #2.

Projects tracked by Site Selection include corporate headquarters, manufacturing plants, R&D operations, and logistics sites. They must involve a capital investment off at least $1 million, create at least 20 new jobs, or add at least 20,000 square feet of new floor area. Illinois House Republicans have made a specialty in recent years of pushing for new logistics sites, with the General Assembly enacting changes to Illinois tax law to encourage this class of investment and job-creating activity. Rep. Christine Winger’s HB 3245, scheduled for a hearing in the House Revenue Committee next week, is one of the bills that continues this push.

Site Selection noted that almost all of the private-sector investment activities they tracked in 2016 were concentrated in the Chicago area. Of the new Tier 1 job-creating projects noted by the magazine, 424 were located in the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin expanded Chicagoland metropolitan area.

Education – Advanced Placement Test Results
College Board reports Illinois ranks 4th in U.S. for increasing the percentage of students who take and pass AP exams. Advanced placement courses and exams, which are familiar to Illinois honors high school students, are courses that are meant to signal the ability of a student to master collegiate-level education in a variety of fields. Many colleges and universities will accept AP test results as a partial substitute for hours of course instruction. AP test results can make the difference, for some students, between graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in four years versus requiring five years or more to complete the required course work for a degree.

State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith announced Illinois’ AP numbers and national standing on Friday, February 24. Almost 40% of Illinois’ 2016 high school graduating class took AP tests prior to graduation, with 64% of this subset passing their test. This success rate meant that an unprecedented one-quarter of the 2016 Illinois graduating class earned potential college credits from this pathway. This 25% number was a sharp increase from 14% for ten years earlier. School districts throughout Illinois are encouraging their pupils to take AP courses and exams. Superintendent Smith’s announcement was based on new nationwide Class of 2016 information from the College Board, the consortium that operates and oversees the Advanced Placement system.

Suburbs – Illinois Tollways
Illinois Toll Highway Authority plans to eliminate plastic coin-collection buckets. In another move intended to discourage the payment of tolls in cash, the Illinois tollway authority plans to remove the familiar plastic bucket cones into which motorists can throw coins. The cones, which are posted on tollway cash pay lanes, feed coins into electromechanical coin-counting machines. They will be replaced by new electronic touch screens that will accept credit cards, bills, and coins.

The new pay screens will be more convenient for many users than former pay lanes that required exact change in coins. However, many Tollway users have mounted small I-PASS transponders in their cars and they no longer pay cash tolls to the highway agency. This switchover will not affect I-PASS users. The Tollway Authority prefers I-PASS use because of administrative costs of handling cash as opposed to electronic payments. On Monday, February 27, the Authority told the press that they still had 100 coin-counting cones deployed on their network of highways, mostly at unmanned tollway exit ramps.

Spring in Illinois – Illinois Products Expo
19th annual Illinois Products Expo on March 4 and 5 in Springfield. The exposition of Illinois food, beverage, and agricultural products will open on 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 4 at the Orr Building at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. With the theme of “Taste of Illinois Agriculture,” the products expo and fair will feature fresh meats, pizza, sauces, jellies/jams, ice cream, gourmet seasonings and condiments, and nonfood products such as soaps, candles and craft toiletries. Illinois’ $186-billion food industry is a key economic driver in Illinois, with 2,400 food-processing companies employing approximately 71,000 workers. In addition, tens of thousands of farmers, farm suppliers, logistics personnel, wholesalers, and retailers are also engaged in the industry.

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