Week in Review for March 10, 2018

Budget – COGFA report
Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) releases February 2018 report. February 2018 State general funds receipts grew significantly over similar figures posted in February 2017. However, as with previous months in FY18, this healthy year-over-year performance was significantly affected by an income tax increase enacted in July 2017. During the year-over-year period that spanned February 2017 and February 2018, sales tax receipts grew by 13%, individual income tax receipts grew 50%, and corporate income tax receipts increased by 378%.

Some other key general funds categories did not show year-over-year growth in February 2018. Lottery revenues and proceeds from the State excise tax on alcoholic beverages were virtually flat. Cigarette tax revenues continued to decline sharply, in line with overall changes in Illinois tobacco consumption activity.

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA), the nonpartisan accounting and State budget-forecasting arm of the Illinois General Assembly, has published its initial estimate of Illinois general revenues for FY19. For the fiscal year that will start on July 1, 2018, the current forecast is for receipts to continue to increase over FY18 levels, albeit at a slower pace than the increase enjoyed in FY17. General funds revenues are expected to increase by approximately 3.0% in FY19 over FY18, exclusive of transfer lines. This equates to an increase of $1,029 million in FY19 general funds revenues, from an expected $34,804 million in FY18 to $35,833 million in FY19. While this is a healthy increase, it is once again not sufficient for the State of Illinois to pay its mandated share of the ever-rising cost of medical care for Medicaid line items, cover actuarially required pension cost increases, and pay back old bills in FY19.

Children – football
Illinois House to consider youth tackle football. The Illinois House Mental Health Committee has advanced HB 4341 to the House floor for further discussion and debate. The bill would outlaw any child under the age of 12 from participating in organized youth sports tackle football. As passed by committee, the measure is explicitly limited to tackle football and does not cover any other sports. Furthermore, it does not cover “pickup games” that children organize themselves. However, concerns were expressed in committee that this policy change could also be applied, in future years, to other recreational activities and ways that adults help kids organize themselves for sports.

The House Mental Health committee posted 21 statements of support for the bill, and 369 statements of opposition to the measure. Many of the statements of support came from health advocates, and many of the statements of opposition came from youth football programs and their members. Similar bills have been introduced in the legislatures of California, Maryland, and New York.

Downstate – Granite City jobs
Granite City steel mill will recall 500 workers, restart key operations. Located in southwestern Illinois, the U.S. Steel mill specializes in pouring metal for products that include seamless pipe, used extensively in drilling for and transporting oil and natural gas. A blast furnace at the heart of the mill closed down, due to poor business conditions, in late 2015. Some 500 jobs remained in the Granite City mill complex, located south of Alton, to service and shape steel products from steel poured elsewhere. However, most of the U.S. Steel mill workers – a job total that had once numbered 2,000 men and women – had to be laid off.

In good news this week for the Metro-East metropolitan region, U.S. Steel announced this week that it plans to reopen the Granite City blast furnace within weeks. The restart will make it possible for Granite City to pour out its own metal and to recall approximately 500 Metro-East workers from indefinite layoff. One segment of the mill complex, the hot strip mill that makes sheet steel, has already reopened and rehired its workforce.

Downstate – Jerseyville jobs
Major new railroad yard will create, over time, as many as 2,000 jobs in and around Jersey County. The southwestern Illinois county is served by the Kansas City Southern (KCS), a Class 1 railroad that is one of the main carriers of freight between the United States and Mexico. KCS has announced their intent to develop a railroad-based logistics center in Jerseyville, north of Alton, to transfer cargo from rail to truck and vice-versa. The logistics center and railroad yard complex will enable the siting of a wide variety of goods distribution positions in and around Jerseyville.

When associated with the spinoff effect of these jobs on other economic activity in the Jersey County area, the new logistics center is expected to create at least 1,000 jobs in the relatively near future. Another 1,000 jobs are expected to follow them. The development of a similar logistics center on the opposite end of Illinois, in the town of Rochelle, has led to the concentration of a significant quantity of light manufacturing activity in and around Rochelle. Goods brought to northern Illinois by a logistics network centered on a rival railroad, Union Pacific, are reformulated in Rochelle into packaged products for consumers. It is expected and hoped that Jerseyville will see similar activity. House Republican Representative C.D. Davidsmeyer represents the area to be served by the new railroad yard and logistics center.

Drugs – Opioid crisis
Emergency rooms log 66% increase in Illinois opioid-related ER visits in recent period. The figures, compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), use July 2016 as a base and September 2017 as an endpoint. The numbers, based on surveys of emergency room (ER) personnel nationwide, were compiled nationwide and broken out by state. During this 14-month period, more than 142,000 patients came or were brought to ERs nationwide for emergency treatment of opiate overdoses.

Overdose drugs include heroin, fentanyl, OxyContin, and other dangerous medications that utilize the painkilling powers of opium. Patients who take opiates are in serious danger of overdosing because of the known tendency of the human neurological system to build up resistance, called “tolerance,” to opiate pain relievers. As time goes by the patient must take more and more opiates to achieve the same outcome. The Illinois General Assembly has taken many steps in recent years to make it more difficult to buy opiate painkillers through prescription pharmacies; however, some patients are responding to these policy changes by increasing their demands for opiates through the illegal drug market. The Controlled Substances Act is the State statute that tries to help law enforcement stamp out illegal opium-based drugs in Illinois.

Recent data shows that nearly 1,950 Illinois residents died from opioid overdoses in Illinois during the period studied by the CDC. Other U.S. states are also seeing sharp increases in opioid incidents and opioid-related deaths.

Jobs – “Site Selection” magazine
Illinois praised as good location for future job creation. The rating was bestowed by “Site Selection” Magazine, a CEO-oriented periodical and database that compiles information on the relative activities of U.S. locations for business relocation and job growth. Illinois ranked third in the number of new and expanded facilities per capital tracked by the periodical database, in a ranking called the “Governor’s Cup” by the magazine.

Commentators said Illinois was honored for its transportation infrastructure and relatively affordable real estate. More than 400 new and expanded facilities were tracked moving to or expanding in greater Chicago, exclusive of Lake County, in the 2017 Governor’s Cup rankings. This benchmark, which made greater Chicago the #1 U.S. metropolitan area tracked by “Site Selection” with a population of 1 million or more, powered Illinois’ overall standings. However, Illinois’ strength was not limited to greater Chicago. Three Illinois areas defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as “micropolitan areas,” population centers in predominantly rural environments with a population between 10,000 and 50,000, also scored highly. Strong Illinois micropolitan areas were Ottawa-Peru, Effingham, and Rochelle. All three regions are places where transcontinental railroad service comes together with two or more U.S. Interstate highways.

Veterans – National Guard preferences
House Republican member sponsors bill to expand National Guard preferences for State of Illinois jobs. Rep. Norine Hammond (R-Macomb) is sponsoring HB 4288, a bill to add qualifying members of the National Guard from any state to the Veterans Preference Act if they now live in Illinois.

The Veterans Preference Act is already on the books. It grants preferential points in State of Illinois hiring to Illinois veterans. However, the with respect to the National Guard, the Veterans Preference Act currently applies only to veterans of the Illinois National Guard. Veterans of the National Guards of other states do not currently qualify. It is this loophole that Hammond seeks to close with her sponsorship of HB 4288. On Thursday, March 8, HB 4288 was approved by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and sent to the House floor for further discussion and debate. The committee vote was 11-0-0.

Illinois Bicentennial
Commemorative stamp released. The U.S. commemorative postage stamp had its “First Day of Issue” on Monday, March 5. Sold for 50 cents, the stamp shares the white, yellow, blue, and green colors of the Illinois state flag and the words “Illinois 1818.” It features an outline map of Illinois with the sun rising from the State’s southern tip. Twenty stars in the stamp’s corners reflect the U.S. states that entered the union before 1818, with the rising sun of Illinois being the twenty-first star of the National Union.

Special Olympics, founded in Illinois Sesquicentennial, will be celebrated with monument. The first International Summer Games festival held by the Special Olympics movement for challenged athletes was celebrated in Chicago in 1968. Nearly 1,000 athletes, from twenty-six U.S. states, participated in these first Games. Over the past 50 years, the movement has radiated outwards from the South Side’s Soldier Field and now encompasses organizers in 172 countries and territories around the world. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), which rarely grants out the use of its intellectual property to any other body, allows the Special Olympics to share the Olympic name and torch symbol.

The Special Olympics were founded in Illinois’ sesquicentennial year of 1968. On Friday, March 2, Special Olympics officials joined fundraisers and well-wishers for the groundbreaking ceremony of the “Eternal Flame of Hope.” The 30-foot sculptural installation, to be located on the lakefront at Chicago’s Soldier Field, will celebrate the heritage of these Games and point towards further Special Olympics growth over the next half-century.

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.