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Ridge Farm Veterans Memorial Dedicated
On Veterans Day I was truly honored to speak at the dedication of the Ridge Farm Veterans Memorial. The large granite memorial honors those who have served and are serving. It was great to see such a large turnout and such a great showing of community support for our local heroes. My thanks go out to all whose hands and deeds culminated in this fabulous recognition and remembrance. 

I’m shown in the photo with Charlie Dukes, WWII Veteran and POW. He was just one of many veterans with ties to Ridge Farm who attended the November 11 dedication ceremony.

Motor Fuel Tax Legislation Passes, but Madigan Puts a Hold on it
With Illinois now in the fifth month of Fiscal Year 2016 without an approved budget in place, many important appropriations have been left in limbo. HB 4305 authorizes the distribution of motor fuel tax (MFT) receipts to local governments. These funds are vitally important to municipalities and townships for local road projects and public safety. House Republicans successfully persuaded the Governor to join us in our support for providing this essential funding for MFT, 9-1-1 services and additional public safety funds.

After reaching an agreement to pass HB 4305, the legislation was overwhelmingly approved by the House on November 10. However, Speaker Madigan used his draconian House Rules to put a hold on forwarding the bill to the Senate, with Majority Leader Currie filing a motion to reconsider the vote. This parliamentary hold means MFT receipts and 9-1-1 funds will not be distributed until the Speaker removes his blockage and the bill can be passed by the Senate.

Legislative Leaders to Meet with Rauner on December 1
The Republican and Democrat Leaders of the House and Senate will sit down for the first time in months on December 1 to get budget discussions back on track. While I consider this meeting a great step toward the creation of a budget, my first thought is, “What took you so long?” I have made repeated calls in Springfield for the end of the shenanigans and have said the door keepers for the House and Senate should lock the doors and keep us in our respective chambers until a budget deal is finalized. Still, I am hopeful that this December 1 meeting will mark the beginning of the end of the budget stalemate. The meeting will take place in Governor Rauner’s Springfield office at 8:30 AM on the 1st and will include both public and closed portions.

Governor Rauner, General Assembly Reach Agreement on Reforms to Illinois’ Unemployment Insurance Law
This important statute, which will be amended by HB 1285 and/or SB 1941, covers the procedures that take place when a worker is laid off or otherwise subjected to no-fault unemployment. Many of the benefits created by the Illinois unemployment insurance (UI) statute were scheduled to sunset at the end of 2015, creating an incentive for Illinois business and labor to come to the negotiating table. Away from press scrutiny, and meeting under the guidance of a team headed by Rauner cabinet member Jeff Mays, longtime advocates for both sides described some of their concerns with current law. Relief for some of these concerns was contained in the agreed language of this week’s legislation. Governor Rauner’s announcement that an agreement had been reached was made on Monday, November 9. Key members of the General Assembly participated in the meetings on behalf of both political parties and all four caucuses.

In Illinois, most people in this position are granted the right to receive UI for up to 26 weeks in any one-year period after they are laid off. UI payments are overseen by the Illinois Department of Employment Security, which provided staff support for the agreement. Under an important provision of the agreement, the new UI law will explicitly protect the interests of employers that terminate an employee who has demonstrated grossly negligent conduct and thereby engaged self or co-workers, or damaged an employer’s property. Under the revised UI law, these individuals will not be eligible to receive UI payments. There is an appeal process that provides administrative review, upon separation, to former workers who believe they were improperly treated.

In a key facet of the agreement, recently separated workers who are also eligible for Social Security will now be eligible to both collect Social Security and receive a full Illinois UI benefit. Under current Illinois law, Social Security recipients could only receive UI half-benefits. Moving to full UI benefits will lead to an addition $25 million/year being paid to Illinois senior citizens who have suffered layoffs.

HB 1285, with the UI amendment attached, unanimously passed the Senate on November 10 and is expected to be passed by the House when it returns on December 2.

University and College Presidents Testify in Springfield
On November 10, Leaders from Illinois institutions of higher education attended a committee of the whole hearing where they outlined their concerns about the lack of a state budget and the impact that the budget impasse is having on their funding. Higher Education is one of the few areas of State spending that does not fall under the existing court orders, consent decrees or continuing appropriation measures, and as a result, our colleges and universities have not received any of their funding since July 1. In the photo above, Dr. Alice Jacobs (far left) testifies before the House of Representatives and explains the importance of State funding and the critical role that community colleges play in the economic vitality of our communities.

Governor Agrees to Compromise on Child Care Eligibility
A spokesperson for Governor Rauner issued a statement on Monday, November 9, announcing the Governor’s decision to amend his emergency rule from earlier this year which raised the eligibility threshold for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). In the statement, the Governor said, “As a result of bipartisan discussions with legislators concerning the future of the Child Care Assistance Program, the Rauner administration today plans to amend the emergency rule it filed at the beginning of the fiscal year. Under the amended rule, income eligibility will rise to 162% of the federal poverty level while current co-pays will remain intact. Other eligibility and restrictions will also be lifted pending further review and legislative consultation. Additionally, the governor's office will establish a bipartisan, bicameral task force aimed at ensuring the long-term stability of the program.”

After legislators in both parties urged Governor Rauner to compromise, the Governor acted in good faith to restore eligibility for the overwhelming majority of families receiving child care assistance. Compromise language supported by the Governor brings CCAP eligibility up to 162% of the federal poverty level (FPL), which is higher than most of Illinois’ neighboring states. This is a reasonable compromise that protects child care for the working poor, while at the same time holding the line on spending.

Even though there was an agreed compromise, House Democrats forged ahead with a veto override vote on SB 570, legislation to keep CCAP eligibility at 185% of FPL. Their vote failed to garner the required 71 votes needed, with the final vote tally recorded as 70-35-4. In my comments on the House floor prior to the vote, I pointed out the ludicrous nature of even discussing SB 570 since an agreement had been reached and a revised rule had been filed. You can watch my remarks here.

Despite Agreement on DON Score, Democrats Pursue Override
Earlier this year, Governor Rauner responded to budget shortfalls by issuing rules to raise the Determination of Need (DON) score used to establish eligibility for long-term care.

Democrats subsequently passed legislation that would return the DON score threshold to the original number of 29. Last week, Governor Rauner issued an amendatory veto of that bill and explained that while well-intentioned, HB 2482 would lock into statute a provision that would allow qualifying individuals to be eligible for both institutional and home and community-based care services, thus driving up costs and eliminating the possibility of cost efficiencies.

Last week, the Rauner administration announced that it will not be increasing the DON score used to determine eligibility for long-term care. Instead, the State will use the existing DON score of 29 to ensure Illinois’ elderly and most vulnerable citizens receive appropriate care. In spite of this compromise, Democrats brought the bill to the House floor on November 10 for an override vote. Once again, the Democrats’ move against a negotiated solution failed on a vote of 70-38-1.

Illinois Commerce Commission Approves Grain Belt Express Transmission Line
Last week, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) approved Grain Belt Express Clean Line LLC’s application for a certificate of public convenience and necessity to construct, operate and maintain a 600 kV, 4,000 MW capacity, high voltage electric transmission line.

The 780-mile Grain Belt Express Clean Line transmission line will span from Kansas to Indiana. The proposed line spans much of south-central Illinois, including right-of-way in Pike, Scott, Greene, Macoupin, Montgomery, Christian, Shelby, Cumberland, and Clark Counties. The project will provide direct access for high capacity wind generation to the electricity markets.

The ICC’s order requires that Grain Belt Clean Line secure funds to cover total project costs before construction commences, prohibits project expansion without Commission approval, and requires further Commission approval prior to recovery of any project costs from Illinois retail ratepayers through regional cost allocation. The ICC also directed Grain Belt Clean Line to take specific actions to address landowner concerns that included potential impacts from the construction of the line on irrigation operations, soil compaction and erosion, wetland areas, and timber land.

All documents related to the case, including the Commission’s Final Order, can be viewed under docket number 15-0277 via the ICC’s e-docket system at

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Reports Fall Soybean Harvest Numbers; Illinois takes #1 Position Again
The USDA reported this week that American farmers are expected to bring in a record soybean crop for 2015. The bean harvest, much of which is used for animal feed and soybean oil, is expected to total 3.98 billion bushels. More than 550 million of these bushels will have been cut and harvested in Illinois, which will once again be the nation’s #1 soybean producing state. The nation’s third-largest corn crop ever counted, 13.7 billion bushels, will further swell Midwestern grain elevators and harvest bins. At least 93% of both crops had been harvested nationwide as of this week.
This week in Springfield the House and Senate were in session for the conclusion of the fall veto session. One bill that came up for an override vote in the House was SB 570, which sets eligibility threshold levels for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). During the floor debate, State Representative Chad Hays (R-Catlin) called the veto override attempt "nonsense," because an bipartisan compromise was agreed to over the weekend, making the bill unnecessary.

The veto override vote failed. You can listen to Rep. Hays' floor comments at the link above.
Action Delayed Again on State Budget
The Illinois House and Senate met in fall session on Tuesday, October 20, but once again lawmakers took no substantive action on the FY16 budget. Testimony on specific areas of the budget was heard in another Committee of the Whole, and leaders from the majority party moved amendments to a bill as they continue their efforts to cherry-pick which programs and services should be funded. This week’s activity did nothing to bring us closer to agreement on a budget. The next General Assembly session day is scheduled for Tuesday, November 10, which I find completely unacceptable. Prior to adjournment on Tuesday I renewed my call for an end to the budget stalemate by suggesting that the doorkeeper lock the doors and keep us there until an agreed budget is approved. You can watch my floor comments here.

Rauner Administration Reaches Agreements with Trade Unions
After several months of good faith negotiations, Governor Bruce Rauner agreed to terms on new four-year collective bargaining agreements with the International Union of Operating Engineers, the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry, and the International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers. The last set of agreements expired June 30, 2015.

The new contracts cover workers at the Departments of Agriculture, Central Management Services, Corrections, Historic Preservation, Human Services, Juvenile Justice, Military Affairs, Transportation, Veterans’ Affairs, and the Illinois State Police. The employees are all professional tradesmen and women who work as stationary engineers and plant operators, plumbers and steamfitters, and machinists.

The tentative agreements are being submitted to the membership of the trade unions for a ratification vote. The terms of the tentative agreements are confidential until the end of the ratification process.

As a continuation of the productive negotiating sessions, the trade unions and the Governor’s Office also pledged to form a long-term relationship to improve employer-labor relations in state government.

Fitch, Moody’s Downgrade Illinois
Fitch Ratings, whose credit ratings are closely watched by Wall Street and the global investment community, reduced Illinois’ “general obligation” (GO) bond rating from single-A-minus, the former ranking, to one notch closer to junk-bond status on Monday, October 19. The new BBB+ rating is only two notches above the lowest investment-grade rating (BBB-) and is three notches above BB+, which signals non-investment-grade (“junk bond”) status. Illinois’ GO bond rating is the lowest among the 50 states.

Following Fitch’s downgrade, Moody’s Investor Services downgraded its ratings on Illinois bonds. Thursday, Moody’s downgraded Illinois outstanding $27 billion of GO bonds to Baa1 from A3, while also lowering ratings on the state’s sales-tax (Build Illinois) bonds to Baa1 from A3, and on the state’s subject to appropriation bonds to Baa2 from Baa1. The outlook for all of these obligations remains negative.

Budget Stalemate Continues; Comptroller Munger Issues Financial Update
Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger told Illinoisans on Friday, October 16 that the State’s unpaid bills, in the absence of budgeted appropriations for FY16, have reached $6.9 billion. Based on the assumption that no significant changes will alter current trends, the State’s backlog of unpaid bills will be about $8.5 billion by December 31, 2015.

While many subsets of the FY16 budget are being protected by at least 14 separate court orders, consent decrees, and continuing appropriations laws, not all of the budget is so protected. A major November 2015 pension payment of approximately $560 million, required by certified actuarial projections, is expected to be delayed. Payments due to many nonprofit socials service providers, Illinois university students and their institutions of higher education, counties, municipalities, 9-1-1 emergency call centers, and many other vendors are facing delay. Layoffs are taking place due to the inability of the State of Illinois to enact a constitutionally balanced budget.

First Gig Rock-N-Roll Camp for Kids Receives $2,000 Grant
In partnership with AT&T’s Investing in Illinois Awards Program, this week I had the pleasure of presenting leaders from the First Gig Rock-N-Roll Camp for Kids with a $2,000 grant. AT&T’s Investing in Illinois Award provides resources and recognition to organizations and programs in Illinois that are improving lives in their communities and the state by advancing education, economic growth, new technologies and other essential community services. I was proud to nominate “First Gig” for this grant. The hard-working and dedicated camp directors work tirelessly to nurture children’s love of music.

Illinois High Schools Increase their Graduation Rates
The increase, tallied for school year 2013-2014, reflects a higher number of high school graduates as a proportion of those entering high school. For 2013-2014, the rate for Illinois was 86.0%, up 2.8% from the 83.2% reported in 2012-2013. Higher graduation rates mean fewer dropouts. The new numbers were reported by the U.S. Department of Education on Monday, October 19.

Illinois has room for improvement in its high school graduation rates. The 2013-2014 report shows 19 states scoring above Illinois. All five neighboring states – Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, and Wisconsin – outscored Illinois on high school graduation rates in 2013-2014. Iowa’s graduation rate, 90.5%, was #1 among the 50 states measured.
Yesterday in Springfield, the House and Senate were in session and Governor Rauner was in the Capitol Building. State Representative Chad Hays renewed his call for an end to the budget stalemate and suggested that the doorkeepers for the House and Senate lock the doors and not open them until an agreed budget is approved. You can watch Representative Hays’ floor comments here.
Legislature’s Budget Commission Reports Continued Shortfall in State Revenues
A report for September 2015, compiled by the nonpartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA), shows that Illinois general funds receipts fell $382 million short of comparable figures for September 2015. This change reflects reductions in personal and corporate income tax rates that took effect on January 1, 2015, and is one of the pieces of background that lie behind the current State of Illinois budget crisis. Released on Thursday, October 1, the report can be found on page 6 of CGFA’s “September 2015 Monthly Briefing.”

The September numbers, which reflect ongoing receipts paid by taxpayers into the state Department of Revenue and other State agencies that take in general funds, follow up on similar numbers reported in July 2015 and August 2015. CGFA’s three-month summary spreadsheet, also published in their September report, shows an accumulated cash flow shortfall of $1,137 million for the quarter-long period. It is expected, furthermore, that a comparable shortfall will be posted during the fourth and final quarter of calendar year 2015.

Despite the ongoing fiscal shortfall, the Democrat majority in the Illinois General Assembly continues to insist that the State must operate a public sector that is almost exactly as large, and spends almost as much money from day to day, as it did in fiscal year 2015 before the changes in tax rates took effect. Court decisions, continuing appropriations and consent decrees have kept the money flowing for a wide variety of budget line items. The constitutional requirement that Illinois enact and implement a balanced budget has been ignored.

Local Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Honored at Veterans Event
I recently had the distinct privilege of visiting with Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Drew Dix, one of only 78 living Medal of Honor recipients. He was honored at the UNITED-Honoring Our Veterans event at Turtle Run. He is a decorated United States military veteran and retired Major in the United States Army.

Drew Dennis Dix received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Vietnam War, and he was the first enlisted Special Forces soldier to receive the medal. An author and founder of the Center for American Values, Drew is a true American hero. His remarkable story of returning again and again on his own volition to save American lives under heavy fire and extraordinary circumstances is truly awe-inspiring.

Hays Attends Accreditation Celebration for ThyssenKrupp Camshaft
Danville’s Thyssenkrupp Presta Camshafts recently earned a certificate of accreditation by the U.S. Department of Labor for its Mechatronics Apprenticeship program, and earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending a celebration ceremony to mark the achievement. Developed in cooperation with Danville Area Community College and Vermilion Advantange, the four-year apprenticeship program is designed to develop multi-craft technicians with industry skills training. The program enables students interested in a manufacturing career to gain valuable hands-on shop floor skills such as learning how 
to design and build a mechanical prototype. The new program is the second phase of ThyssenKrupp’s apprenticeship strategy to design programs based on the German apprenticeship model and develop future talent.

ThyssenKrupp employees more than 155,000 people in 80 countries, and in North America the company oversees more than 40 companies in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Budget Impasse Begins to Affect Funding for 9-1-1 Centers
On Monday, October 5, St. Clair County announced that it had commenced litigation against the State of Illinois. At issue is money from a tax that Illinois extracts from the cellphone bills paid by millions of Illinoisans. The Emergency Telephone tax is meant to support the 24/7 operation of 9-1-1 centers across Illinois, but money collected by this tax is not being distributed by the State to local 9-1-1 boards this fall because the money for the distribution has not been appropriated by agreement between the General Assembly and the Governor. For St. Clair County, this lack of a budget means that $125,000 a month in essential operational funding is not being received. The county includes Belleville, East St. Louis, and other diverse and working-class communities in southwestern Illinois.
This week I had the pleasure of speaking with approximately 30 business leaders at a Rantoul Area Chamber of Commerce and Champaign County Chamber of Commerce breakfast event. I provided an update on the IL budget stalemate, and discussed other legislative issues of importance to the business community. It was a wonderful event and I enjoyed connecting with the business leaders from this area.
On September 22 I had the distinct privilege of visiting with Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Drew Dix. Dix, one of only 78 living Medal of Honor recipients, was honored at the UNITED-Honoring Our Veterans event at Turtle Run. He is a decorated United States military veteran and retired Major in the United States Army.

Drew Dennis Dix received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Vietnam War, and he was the first enlisted Special Forces soldier to receive the medal. An author and founder of the Center for American Values, Drew is a true American hero. His remarkable story of returning again and again on his own volition to save American lives under heavy fire and extraordinary circumstances is truly awe-inspiring.