Week in Review for May 4, 2018

Revenue numbers published for April 2018. The numbers for State of Illinois revenues were published by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA), the nonpartisan budgeting arm of the Illinois General Assembly. COGFA works with the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) and other State agencies to track Illinois general funds revenues on a month-to-month basis. The data gathered by COGFA is reported to the General Assembly annually and is supposed to be used by the House and Senate to adopt a revenue estimate to control spending in the appropriations process.

COGFA’s most recent report to the General Assembly, which covers the month ended on Monday, April 30, was published on Wednesday, May 2. The report showed total general funds revenues from federal and state sources of $5.1 billion in the month of April 2018, which was marked by significant income tax payments. COGFA tracks trends not only in tax revenues but in other features of the Illinois and U.S. economy in order to establish precise estimates of how money will be paid to the State in FY19, beginning July 1, 2018. It will be necessary to restrict spending to numbers within this estimate in order to enact a balanced budget in line with the mandate imposed on the General Assembly by the state Constitution.

Illinois Republican leaders continue to call for the adoption of a revenue estimate for FY19. With the new fiscal year beginning in less than 2 months and the General Assembly scheduled to adjourn in less than 4 weeks’ time, the House and Senate should be using COGFA’s numbers to regain control over state spending and to ensure that the State does not appropriate or spend more money than it has. The ability to put forth an official revenue estimate and to match this estimate with state budget appropriations is, however, the responsibility of the General Assembly’s majority party. Previous acts of non-compliance by Illinois with the balanced-budget requirements laid upon it by the state Constitution have led to the State’s economy suffering under a mountain of debts, unpaid bills, and delinquent pension obligations.

House passes Bennett bill to alleviate local teacher shortages. For many Illinois school pupils and families, a shortage of teachers in elementary and secondary education has become a standard part of the school experience. Examples include special education teachers for pupils with individualized education programs (IEPs), logistics directors and schedulers for students with IEPs, and multilingual teachers for students who use English as a second language.

The House with bipartisan support has passed and sent to the Senate legislation to help alleviate these shortages. HB 5627 contains measures aimed at streamlining the process of affirming that out-of-state teacher credentials are in line with Illinois-mandated requirements for licensed teaching status. Other sections of the bill create a new, alternative substitute teacher re-certification process that targets retired teachers who want to continue teaching on a part-time basis.

Moving towards reciprocity with other states in the standing of Illinois teaching credentials and licenses is a longstanding goal of the Illinois school reform community. The lead sponsor of HB 5627, Rep. Tom Bennett, worked with sixteen House co-sponsors to gain unanimous House approval for the widely praised measure.

CDC finds 2,580 Illinois cases of mosquito-related disease in recent 13-year period. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks reports of mosquito-borne illnesses such as West Nile virus and Zika virus. As these insects like to bite humans, their incidence tends to be higher in states where there are more people. In a report published on Wednesday, May 2, the CDC reported that the top 5 states for mosquito-borne illness are California, Colorado, Florida, New York, and Texas, with Illinois coming in 6th. The CDC urges Americans to protect themselves against mosquito-borne illnesses by using appropriate insect repellent, wearing long-sleeved clothing wherever possible, and using screens and nets.

Illinois remembers sacrifices made by Illinois firefighters and first responders. International Firefighters’ Day, which is observed on Friday, May 4, is a day to remember firefighters throughout the world. The Illinois Firefighters’ Memorial in Springfield is our State’s place of firefighter remembrance. The annual observance at the Illinois Firefighter’s Memorial is always held on a Tuesday close to International Firefighters’ Day. It will be held this year on Tuesday, May 8.

House Democrats push for yet another tax increase. The Democrats’ thumbs-up approval for the concept of a “progressive” or graduate income tax was granted by the House Revenue Committee in a hearing and partisan vote on Wednesday, May 2. No House Republican committee members voted for the controversial proposal contained in HR 1025, sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan and a bevy of House Democrats.

While the “progressive income tax” approval was framed by its proponents as an abstract debate over the hypothetical desirability of amending the State Constitution to permit such a tax, proponents of higher taxes and greater spending were quick to respond to the appearance of HR 1025 as an opportunity to demand more money. In a white paper with a release date apparently timed to coincide with the vote on HR 1025, a liberal advocacy organization used the initiative to call for a net tax increase of $2 billion per year. Illinois House Republicans characterized the resolution as naked political partisanship.

The nonpartisan Tax Foundation led a response published on Thursday, May 3. The Foundation pointed out that the tax rates charged in Illinois, particularly taxes on Illinois income, sales, and real property, are already significantly higher than the total taxes charged by neighboring Midwestern states, and enactment of a new tax structure and higher taxes would worsen this disadvantage suffered by Illinois and its workers.

The total incomes earned by all Illinoisans, and the total amounts charged and collected by all of the units of our State and local governments, are both known numbers. In Illinois, state and local taxes take up 9.3% of our entire collective State income. For our six neighboring states – Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, and Wisconsin – this number is 8.0%. The Illinois public sector already charges 1.3% more than the public sectors of our six neighboring states for the privilege of residing in, working, and earning money in Illinois. By no coincidence, these six states are increasing the sizes of their populations, job count, and housing markets must faster than is Illinois at this time.

The House Revenue Committee action had no legislative content. The controversial measure approved this week, HR 1025, is a position-taking action called a “resolution.” Resolutions signal support for proposed law rather than enacting a law itself. In this case, HR 1025 was meant to signal Democrat support for the placement of a hypothetical constitutional amendment on the election ballot more than two years from now, in November 2020. House Republicans voiced skepticism of and opposition to the proposed resolution at the Chicago hearing at which it was presented.

Motorcycle Awareness Month begins. Governor Bruce Rauner, himself a motorcyclist, led the kickoff this week of Motorcycle Awareness Month, the annual period that starts up the summer driving season and urges Illinois drivers to “Start Seeing Motorcycles.” In an awareness appearance on Wednesday, May 2, Gov. Rauner was joined by officials from the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and by motorcycle citizen safety advocates.

Motorcycle Awareness Month activities include the wide distribution and posting of Start Seeing Motorcycles banners and yard signs. The Illinois Rules of the Road call upon all drivers to practice defensive driving, including being alert of any motorcycle that is close to a motor vehicle. The Awareness Month also includes outreach efforts from bikers to their riding kinfolk, urging them to wear appropriate protective gear, get regular bike maintenance checks and to take free Department of Transportation motorcycle safety courses. There were 162 motorcycle fatalities in Illinois in 2017, which accounted for 15% of all traffic fatalities.

Combined Veterans' Task Force submits final report to Governor and General Assembly. Task Force recommends building state-of-the art facility at Quincy Veterans Home.

The Combined Veterans' Capital Needs Task Force, created by Governor Bruce Rauner to analyze infrastructure needs and develop key strategies on how to improve the health and safety of residents at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy (IVHQ), has submitted a final report to the Governor and General Assembly.

"This report encompasses months of research and dialog around the needs facing our veterans of today and for generations to come," said Erica Jeffries, Director of the Illinois Department of Veteran's Affairs and Chair of the Task Force. "The recommendations offered will support residents at the home in Quincy and provide a template for veterans' housing across the state."

The Task Force provided four recommendations for continued remediation efforts at the home and notes that "anything less than complete reconstruction will fall short" of its full support. The recommendations include:
  • Building a new, state-of-the art skilled nursing care facility that could house up to 300 residents.
  • Constructing a new, underground water loop that feeds existing buildings and new construction.
  • Develop an alternate water source and make improvements to the existing water treatment facility as necessary. 
  • Purchase and renovate the closed, off-site nursing facility to provide a safe and comfortable temporary living environment for up to 180 IVHQ residents. The facility could hold up to 90 residents permanently. 
The estimated cost of complete reconstruction is between $202 and $245 million dollars, which requires the approval and appropriation of the General Assembly.

"Legislators from both sides of the aisle have promised to put financial support behind our efforts to rebuild this home and take care of the veterans who have served our country," Governor Rauner said. "Our number one goal is to protect our heroes. We've already taken significant steps to reduce the risks of Legionella at the home and we look forward to working with the General Assembly to put stronger protections in place."

The Task Force report also put forth the following legislative initiatives that will expedite the process on rebuilding the campus and protecting Illinois' heroes for generations to come.
  • Pass SB 3128, which will extend the sunset date for the Design Build Act (30 ILCS 537/5) and permit CDB to use the design-build delivery method on public projects. 
  • Pass SB 667, SB 3127, and SB 3144, which will allow the state to access federal reimbursement funding for capital projects. There is currently more than $12 million in the fund, with an additional $4 million expected in the near future. The bills have cleared the Senate and are currently awaiting action in the House. 
  • Increase thresholds for financial disclosures in the Illinois Procurement Code. Section 50-35 of the Procurement Code (30 ILCS 500/50-35) requires financial disclosures from all vendors and subcontractors with a contract over $50,000 prior to work beginning on a project. Waiting for compliance from vendors and subcontractors can slow the project start time. Increasing the threshold for financial disclosure requirements form $50,000 to $250,000 can help expedite the projects referenced in this report. 
  • Modify the Veterans Affairs Act, granting licensing and control of off campus buildings to ensure continuity of care for residents who are housed at the off-site nursing facility. 
"We are working with the General Assembly to draft language for the legislative initiatives and look forward to passage by the May 31st deadline," said Michael Hoffman, senior advisor to the governor.

Top 200 historic sites chosen in informal poll. TheIllinois Top 200 Project turned this week to top historic sites. Illinois residents were asked to choose a top Illinois site via an informal online poll. The winning choice was Lincoln’s New Salem, the open-air heritage site operated by the Historic Preservation Division of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). Located in Central Illinois, New Salem was the home of Abraham Lincoln during the formative years of the future president’s young manhood. Here he kept store, sorted mail, and studied law in preparation for his future career.

Other leading candidates included the Pullman National Monument on Chicago’s Far South Side. A reminder of Illinois’ industrial and railroad heritage, the Pullman Monument contains many buildings from the 1880s. In northern Illinois, the John Deere home and blacksmith shop in Grand Detour pays tribute to Illinois inventiveness and craftsmanship. Lincoln’s Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Southern Illinois, U.S. Route 66, the Old State Capitol, Fort de Chartres, Fort Massac, and the President Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home rounded out the top ten sites honored.

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.