Week in Review - April 7, 2018

COGFA releases March 2018 revenue report. The report covers Illinois revenue and fiscal trends for March 2018, with references to comparable numbers generated by the State and its taxpayers twelve months earlier in March 2017. The numbers were compiled by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA), the nonpartisan budget monitoring arm of the Illinois General Assembly, acting in cooperation with the Illinois Department of Revenue.

The March 2018 numbers continued to show a healthy increase in State revenues over the numbers generated in March 2017, with personal income tax revenues up $334 million (from $1.6 billion to almost $2.0 billion) and corporate income tax revenues up $64 million. Unfortunately, this increase largely reflects the continued impact of the July 2017 State income tax increase rather than underlying growth in Illinois jobs and economic productivity. More than four-fifths, $408 million, of the overall $482 million increase in State general revenues between March 2017 and March 2018 from federal and state revenue sources came from these two income tax revenue lines. While Illinois job numbers continue to slowly increase to new all-time record highs, from a 2016 calendar year average of 6.02 million jobs to a 2017 calendar year average of 6.06 million jobs, this job growth number amounts to less than one percentage point per year.

As with previous months in calendar year 2018 thus far, other State revenue lines showed mixed results. Sales tax revenues increased by $41 million year over year, while revenue from another key general funds source – taxes imposed by the State on Illinois public utility bills – declined by $31 million during the same period. Many Illinois tax revenue lines are flat or in decline, affected by ongoing changes in Illinois consumer spending patterns and behavior. Tax revenues from cigarettes, liquor, and riverboat gambling are examples of this overall picture.

Illinois State Police to begin providing prescription drug collection receptacles. The Illinois State Police (ISP) is teaming up with the Save a Star Drug Awareness Foundation to help decrease prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse.

Governor Bruce Rauner announced this week that five ISP District headquarters across the state will house receptacles for people to drop off their unused and unwanted prescription medications.

“Many people experiment with prescription drugs before turning to more dangerous, illegal drugs,” Rauner said. “These receptacles offer people a smart and safe way to get potentially addictive drugs out of their homes and off the streets.”

Save A Star Drug Awareness Foundation provided the receptacles for initiative. The foundation was created by David and Gail Katz, whose son died in 2007 from an overdose of prescription medication.

“Each day, about 2,500 teens use prescription drugs for non-medical use for the first time. Prescription pills are now killing more of our youth than cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine combined,” David Katz said. “Save A Star is pleased to partner with the Illinois State Police to help avoid future tragedies.”

ISP Director Leo P. Schmitz says the receptacles will be placed at their District headquarters in Des Plaines, Elgin, Joliet, Collinsville, and LaSalle.

“Prescription drug abuse is a real issue and unfortunately, it’s all too often the gateway to opioid drug addiction.” Schmitz said. “These receptacles will help us keep drugs out of the wrong hands and will reduce the odds for accidental overdoses and future drug dependency.”

People will be able to drop over-the-counter and prescription medications into the receptacles, including controlled substances, pet medications, drug samples, vitamins, liquids and creams. For safety reasons, needles, thermometers, IV Bags, bloody waste and hydrogen peroxide cannot be accepted and should not be deposited into the receptacles.

The initiative is another step in the state’s effort to reduce opioid-related deaths in Illinois by 33-percent in three years.

“Our teams are working hard to combat the opioid crisis and get people the help they need,” said Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti who co-chairs the Governor's Opioid Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force. “Members of our Opioid Task Force have toured this state and listened to people who are impacted by these dangerous drugs. More than 2,200 people have called our Opioid Helpline since its launch in December, and our Prescription Monitoring Program is limiting peoples’ ability to get access to more prescription medicine than they need.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid use disorder, call Illinois’ Opioid Helpline at 1-833-2FINDHELP.

First responders issue harsh warning against synthetic cannabis in Illinois. As of Thursday, April 5, 81 cases of severe health complications have been reported in Illinois from ingesting synthetic cannabis substances. Complications include severe bleeding. Cases have been reported from the Chicago area and from central Illinois. Two of the cases have resulted in deaths.

The synthetic cannabis products are sold or transferred to victims under various names that include “spice,” “K2,” and “fake weed.” The products are mind-altering chemicals that are meant to be consumed through smoking or vaping. In some cases a chemical is soaked into or sprayed onto dried, shredded plant materials that have the appearance of marijuana. In some cases, these mind-altering “fake weed” chemicals are further adulterated by the inclusion of anticoagulants, which are dangerous drugs that prevent blood from clotting. Anticoagulant drugs make up one of the extensively-used family of chemicals used to kill rats and mice.

All forms of synthetic cannabis, if they contain THC or other cannabinol derivatives, are banned in Illinois under Section 3 of the Cannabis Control Act. An exception is provided for validly certified medical patients who have been approved to purchase cannabis extracts from approved dispensaries under the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act.

Illinois 2018 spring trout season opens. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) reports that the widely sought fish can be caught and kept starting on Saturday, April 7. Catch-and-release fly fishing began two weeks earlier on March 24. The spring season will be followed by a fall season in late October 2018.

Illinois trout fishermen who use public waters are asked to purchase Inland Trout stamps. The stamps currently cost $6.50 and are available online. The spring trout season is undergirded by the annual stocking by IDNR of 80,000 rainbow trout. The stocking activities have been carried out in 54 locations in northern, central, and southern Illinois in spring 2018. The IDNR spring trout notice lists the locations.

Ongoing action continues against sexual harassment and sexual assault in Illinois. Members of the Illinois General Assembly, especially female legislators, have begun several separate actions intended to reduce sexual harassment in the Illinois legislature, in Illinois state government, and in the Illinois private sector. Their work thus far is summarized by NPR Illinois in a report published on Thursday, April 5.

Both the House and the Senate have formed bipartisan Task Forces on Sexual Harassment and Discrimination. The Task Forces have begun holding hearings and listening to complaints about cultures of sexual harassment. In one such culture, identified with an Illinois assembly plant owned by the Ford Motor Company, United Auto Workers (UAW) shop stewards have been accused of being sexual harassers and protectors of sexual harassment. House Republican Rep. Barbara Wheeler has taken the lead in filing HR 783, which urges a full investigation of the Ford-related allegations.

New laws have been passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner. Police officers are now required to undergo training to improve sensitivity towards victims of sexual assault. The law requires law enforcement officers to take reports for each allegation of sexual assault without reference to the time that took place since an alleged incident or in which police jurisdiction the alleged incident took place.

Plans to build Illinois Basketball Museum in Pontiac. Plans, being led by the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association (IBCA), were announced on Thursday, April 5 by Rep. Thomas Bennett. The proposed new museum will celebrate the heritage of Illinois basketball teams throughout the State, including high school teams and champions. Neighboring states such as Indiana and Iowa have already put together similar shrines, making it clear that a similar institution can be created for Illinois.

Five-year spending plan sees $194 million to be spent on railroad crossing safety. The estimate comes from the Transportation Bureau Rail Safety Division at the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC). As the State’s chief regulatory agency over railroads in Illinois, the ICC works with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and Illinois railroads to maintain and improve safety at the over 7,000 public railroad crossings in Illinois. Approximately 700 of these crossings will enjoy major improvement work during the five-year planning period.

Pointing to the need for action, an ICC spokesperson counted up 86 reported collision incidents at Illinois railroad crossings in 2017. The incidents led to 26 known fatalities. Illinois public railroad crossings are protected by crossing gates, lights, and warning signs. Funding for Illinois railroad crossing safety improvements comes from a variety of sources that include the Grade Crossing Protection Fund, a dedicated State fund that is replenished by moneys from the State tax on motor fuel sold in Illinois. The ICC released its five-year grade crossing plan on Monday, April 2.

Preliminary report calls for major rebuilding of Quincy Veterans Home. The century-old facility provides quality-of-life residential care, including specialize nursing care, for Illinois residents who are veterans of the U.S. armed services. A task force is looking into the long-term future of the home, which has a plumbing system that is at the end of or nearing the end of its usefulness. Preliminary findings by the task force ask the State to consider a complete rebuild of the historic facility for $278 million. The sum set forth will construct state-of-the-art nursing facility space for a diverse resident population. Future residents are expected to be living with multiple chronic conditions and disabilities. The preliminary findings were released on Tuesday, April 3. The task force will finalize its findings and recommendations no later than Tuesday, May 1.

Voters choose top inventions created in Illinois. An open-access poll operated by Illinois bicentennial organizers chose innovations from different centuries of Illinois’ 200-year life. The steel moldboard plow, invented by John Deere, represented the 19th century. The cellphone represents more recent generations of Illinois innovations. Results of the survey were released on Wednesday, April 4.

Many of Illinois’ top inventions have been created or developed at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). The world’s first computer-assisted learning system was developed at UIUC in 1960. Fans of classic movies will recognize Urbana-Champaign’s artificial intelligence occupying a key fictional character HAL 9000 in the classic sci-fi film “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

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