Week in Review for February 17, 2018

Governor Rauner delivers budget address to General Assembly. Gov. Bruce Rauner delivered his Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Address to a joint session of the Illinois General Assembly Wednesday. The Governor renewed his call for a $1 billion tax cut for all Illinois taxpayers. He also called for “structural reforms” to Illinois laws that underlie the current patterns of Illinois public-sector taxes and spending.

Assailing what he called “unsustainable growth in our pension and healthcare costs,” Gov. Rauner stated that more than 25 cents of every dollar the State spends goes to these facets of public-sector employee benefits. These benefits far exceed the benefits paid to workers in the private sector, and the cost of these benefits is driving job growth from Illinois to other states. Rauner pointed to job trends, including manufacturing job growth, in Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Governor Rauner also asked the General Assembly to look at the unpaid bills that Illinois owes to entities, mostly in the private sector, that have provided goods and services to the State of Illinois. Illinois is expected to owe $7.7 billion to these creditors on June 30, 2018, the final day of FY18. In response to these spending patterns and unpaid bills, Rauner called for better prioritization of the State’s goals and burdens. He called for increased prioritization of education, including early child education, and public safety, including increasing State Police personnel.

Rauner declared that the State is ready to participate in a national infrastructure plan that will raise critical new capital, without raising taxes, to build new highway lanes and bridges. Rauner especially called out the need for additional lanes on Interstate 55 in and around Chicago.

Commander Paul Bauer killed in downtown Chicago. The fatal shots were fired at the State-owned James R. Thompson Center. A suspect, confronted by police on a downtown sidewalk, had fled into the public building. When followed into the Thompson Center, the suspect allegedly opened fire. Commander Bauer, a 31-year officer with the Chicago Police Department, assisted the tactical officers in pursuit of the suspect and was fatally injured. The suspect has been arrested.

Chicago law enforcement officers gave Bauer a spontaneous escort of duty and remembrance as his remains were taken to the office of the Cook County Medical Examiner. His fellow officers of Chicago’s 18th Police District are mourning his loss. Gov. Rauner ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff throughout Illinois through Saturday, February 17, in honor of the fallen police commander.

A statewide memorial for fallen Illinois police officers stands on the grounds of the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, and an annual ceremony is held in the first week of May to honor the existing and new names that have been engraved on the memorial of remembrance. The next ceremony will be held in May 2018.

State Board of Education looks toward potential expanded use of college admissions tests. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) is currently considering taking a major step that could be seen as simplifying the student testing regimen that is now imposed on Illinois high school students. This could be done through the relatively straightforward pathway of identifying an existing standardized test for college aptitude, such as the SAT exam, and using it as the standard test to be administered to all students in 9th grade, 10th grade, and 11th grade.

The goal of this exercise from ISBE’s point of view would not be to demonstrate that a young high school undergraduate is ready to go to college, but to further utilize what is already a significant data set compiled by the SAT’s administration to Illinois 11th-graders to gather additional information about Illinois school performance and student academic growth. From the point of view of Illinois students and their families, the incentive would be that the students could take the additional aptitude tests for free. There is substantial belief that performances on college aptitude tests may, under some circumstances, improve upon retesting. The proposal would allow this retesting to be done at no cost to the student or the student’s family. This aptitude test proposal is being considered by ISBE and has not yet been approved as State policy.

Rep. Parkhurst files legislation to bring transparency to park districts and local governments. State Rep. Lindsay Parkhurst this week filed two pieces of legislation to bring greater transparency to park districts and local units of government in Illinois.

The first, HB 4803, creates the Local Government Transparency Act stating any appointed or elected mayor, president, vice president, director, chairman, or other executive may not be appointed, elected, or otherwise be the treasurer of that local government.

HB 4827 amends the park district code stating any elected or appointed president, vice president, or director of a park district cannot also be the treasurer of that park district.

“After what happened to the Kankakee Valley Park District, we must work to restore the people’s faith in government by rooting out corruption and protecting taxpayers,” Rep. Parkhurst stated. “With this legislation, we will increase transparency in park districts and local governments across Illinois and restore checks and balances to ensure taxpayer dollars aren't misused by corrupt public officials.”

Rep. Parkhurst introduced HB 4803 and HB 4827 on February 14th in response to the federal fraud charges against former Kankakee Valley Park District executive director Roy Collins who acted as both the executive director and the treasurer. Both bills are currently in the House Rules Committee.

Increasing penalties for attacking DCFS employees. All too often the jobs of state employees require them to put themselves at risk to protect Illinois residents. It was the case with Pamela Knight, a Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) investigator who was brutally beaten last September while trying to take a 2 year-old child into protective custody. She died last week from injuries sustained in the attack. Her accused assailant is facing multiple charges and is awaiting trial.

In response to this senseless act of violence against a state employee, State Reps Brian Stewart, Tony McCombie and Tom Demmer introduced HB 4147, legislation that would enhance the penalties for attacking a DCFS worker in the performance of their duties, making it an aggravated felony. Ultimately it would provide DCFS employees the same protections as law enforcement officers and firefighters who put themselves in harm’s way.

The job DCFS investigators perform can be dangerous and it is important that the state does all it can to protect them and penalize those who do them harm.

Representative McCombie honored slain DCFS employee Pamela Knight earlier this week as the House held a moment of silence in Knight’s memory.

President’s Day and the Bicentennial. With an eye towards the Prairie State’s history in the White House, Illinois prepared to celebrate President’s Day on Monday, February 19. General Washington’s victories at Yorktown and other battlefields helped force Britain to officially cede Illinois Territory to the new United States in the 1783 Treaty of Paris, making it possible to create the future state of Illinois thirty-five years later. Washington’s birthday is the ancestor of what is now President’s Day, and 2018 marks the first President’s 286th birthday. One of Washington’s veterans, James Monroe, as President signed the bill in 1818 that made Illinois the 21st state.

The first President who lived in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, was elected in 1869 when Illinois as a state was only 42 years old. Lincoln, whose 209th birthday was observed last week on February 12, has become a symbol of the State’s bicentennial celebration. The most recent President who lived in Illinois, Barack Obama, returned to Springfield in February 2016 to deliver remarks to a joint session of the General Assembly. A historical plaque was unveiled this week in the Illinois House chamber to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the address.

Thirteen Chicago-area athletes join U.S. team at Winter Olympics. The Winter Olympics in South Korea, which conclude on Sunday, February 25, are the focus of attention for the friends and families of 13 Illinois residents who were chosen to help America compete in sports such as ski jumping and figure skating. Seven separate sports, played on skis, skates, or sleds, are represented by these Prairie State athletes. Winfield, Ill. native and Carpentersville, Ill. resident Bradie Tennell, who has already won a bronze medal as a member of the figure-skating team, will be closely watched in the women’s figure skating singles event.

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