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After voting on Tuesday to provide Governor Bruce Rauner with flexibility to bring into balance the FY15 budget he inherited in January from former Governor Quinn, State Representative Chad Hays spoke about the importance of the votes and how they relate to the upcoming budget process for FY16.

In response to the Illinois House approval today of House Bills 317 and 318, State Representative Chad Hays (R-Catlin) has issued the following statement:

“In a true showing of bipartisanship in the Illinois House today, lawmakers took steps to close the $1.6 billion budget hole that Governor Bruce Rauner inherited when he took office in January. The two votes taken today were difficult, but they were a necessary step in preventing devastating service disruptions for our most vulnerable citizens and important assistance programs.”

“The current budget was unbalanced by $1.6 billion when Governor Quinn signed it last year. The bold action taken by members of the Illinois House today corrects that irresponsible budget and will allow the State to end the current fiscal year whole.”

“By approving these two bills, we have granted Governor Rauner the flexibility he needs to divert a true funding crisis. He will be able to bring balance back to the budget and ensure that key budget areas are funded through the remainder of the fiscal year.”
Governor Celebrates National Agriculture Day; New Ag Director Confirmed
The Illinois Department of Agriculture is the State agency that oversees Illinois’ production of food and fiber.  This week, the appointment of Philip Nelson as new Director of the Department was confirmed.  A fourth-generation grain and livestock producer, Nelson is a past president of the Illinois Farm Bureau and past president of the Illinois Soybean Association.  The confirmation vote by the state Senate came on Thursday, March 19.

With Director Philip Nelson, Governor Bruce Rauner celebrated National Agriculture Day on Wednesday, March 18 and called for continued support for family farms throughout Illinois.  Farm advocates point out that Illinois’ 74,000 farms, which occupy more than four-fifths of the Prairie State, accounted for 9.6% of Illinois’ total economic product in 2012.  These numbers indicate that each Illinois farm generates more than seven Illinois jobs, including positions physically located off the farmstead. Jobs created by farms include positions in transport, retail, financial trading, and the processing of farm products.

Local Groups Visit Capitol
On St. Patrick's Day last Tuesday, I was visited in Springfield by students from Rantoul (photo at right) and Danville (photo at left),
who are studying Technology and Engineering. These bright students proudly displayed their projects in the rotunda of the Capitol. Their projects were very impressive!

Negotiations Continue to Fill Budget Hole
Many questions are being asked about the current status of the FY15 budget, featuring spending commitments by the State of Illinois for the fiscal period ending June 30, 2015.  Funds need to be shifted around in this budget in order for the State to keep certain commitments to prison guards, court reporters, providers of subsidized child care services that are mandated to be available, and other essential State services. 

Governor Rauner has outlined a proposal to enact emergency fix-up measures to plug these holes in the FY15 budget.  These holes became inevitable when former Gov. Quinn signed a Democrat-passed budget that was deliberately unbalanced.  Check out the House Republican Caucus Blog for updates on this ongoing story.   

Department of Employment Security Issues Monthly Report on Illinois Joblessness in Metro Areas
The report, which counted the jobless in January 2015, covers unemployment in fourteen areas defined by the U.S. Census.  The Department found that for the eleventh month in a row, unemployment areas fell in each major Illinois metro area compared to year-earlier levels.  However, joblessness remained very severe in significant manufacturing-oriented metro areas in Downstate Illinois.  For example, pink slips remained a fact of life in hard-hit Decatur, with joblessness counted at 8.0% in January. 

The report followed the Department’s report on March 12 that Illinois statewide unemployment, before seasonal adjustments, had fallen to 6.9%.  This level signaled continued slow recovery from severe recession conditions.  Economic experts continue to report that joblessness is not falling fast enough in Illinois to enable wage levels to increase under current market conditions. 

Metro areas with lower-than-statewide-average unemployment in January 2015 included Bloomington-Normal (5.4%), Springfield (6.0%), and Lake County (6.5%).  With local economies oriented toward specialty health care and health products, higher education, agriculture support, and the service sector, some Illinois metro areas continue to move towards recovery. 

State Police Open Internet Window to Online Concealed Carry Applicants
Up until this month, the Illinois State Police have required Illinois firearms owners to submit paper applications for a concealed carry permits.  However, starting this month, the State Police have begun to accept concealed carry permit applications online.  This follows up on the startup period of the Firearm Concealed Carry Act, in which more than 91,000 Illinois residents have earned permits that enable them to carry concealed firearms.  The Act became state law in July 2013 as Public Act 98-0063.

The Firearm Concealed Carry Act, which made Illinois the 50th and final state to have a concealed carry law on the books, was enacted as the result of a strong push from members of the Illinois State Rifle Association, which held their annual lobby day this week at the Illinois State Capitol.  Gun owners gathered in Springfield on Wednesday, March 18 to push to defend and expand the law.  Illinois residents continue to be subjected to time-consuming requirements as elements of the concealed-carry permit application process under current law.  

The State Police, which also operate the familiar FOID Card system for firearm owner’s identification (FOID) cards, took this March 2015 changeover opportunity to also make changes in the way they accept FOID applications.  As of March 9, they no longer accept FOID paper applications.

Firearms dealers also contact the FOID database when firearms are being transferred from seller to buyer.  The State Police, as part of their movement online, is encouraging dealers to use the access-restricted website when making a firearm transfer inquiry.   

Governor Issues Compulsory Union Payment Orders
Continuing his fight to remove union dues from the paychecks of non-union members, Governor Bruce Rauner has instructed State departments under his control to refrain from withholding compulsory union payments from nonunion employee paychecks until the issue can be further adjudicated.  Under State practice prior to 2015, nonunion State employees in offices that had been organized by labor unions have been required to submit to withholding payments made over to the unions that have been recognized as representing their offices.  These moneys are then paid to the unions.  Labor calls these payments “fair share” payments, and says they should be turned over to cover what is described, by the unions, as the cost of being prepared to represent the nonmembers in labor-management disputes.  Unions called the Governor’s moves non-contractual and unauthorized.     

Minimum Wage Bill Clears Committee
HB 3345 would raise the Illinois minimum wage from $8.25/hour to $9.00/hour, starting in July 2015.  Most Republicans, led by Governor Rauner, support examination of comprehensive reform of the State’s business climate laws and laws governing labor-management relations and practices.  Areas ripe for discussion include issues of tort reform, workers’ compensation, and local worker freedom, seen by the Governor and many Republicans as necessary moves that must be included with an increase in the minimum wage. HB 3345 would further raise the Illinois minimum wage to $10.00/hour in July 2016.  A separate increase in the Chicago minimum wage would not be affected by HB 3345.  The measure moved this week from the House Labor and Commerce Committee to the Illinois House floor for further discussion.  

Hearing Held on Municipal Bankruptcy Bill
As fiscal pressures grow on Illinois local governments, residents and lenders are starting to look at ways that challenged units may be allowed to use in the future to reorganize their obligations.  HB 298 (Sandack) would amend the Municipal Code to allow cities, towns, and villages to file petitions and exercise powers pursuant to applicable federal bankruptcy law. 

Some municipalities in other regions of the U.S., such as Central Falls, Rhode Island, and Detroit, Michigan, have declared bankruptcy through the laws of their states.  HB 298 was this week posted for subject-matter hearing and a separate full hearing by the House Committee on Judiciary – Civil Law on Friday, March 20 in Chicago.

Before leaving office, former Governor Pat Quinn signed off on a FY15 budget he admitted was not balanced. New Governor Bruce Rauner has inherited the current year fiscal crisis, with many State agencies facing serious shortfalls in promised budget funds.

State Representative Chad Hays spoke recently with Dave & Elizabeth from WDWS-AM1400 about the budget crisis that exists for the remainder of this current budget year and about the difficult decisions that will lead to a balanced budget for next year. You can listen to is radio interview here.

Agencies to Offer Free Mental Health First Aid Certification
The Human Resources Center of Edgar and Clark Counties and the Vermilion County 708 Board, in cooperation with the IL Department of Human Services’ Division of Mental Health are offering a free certification course in Mental Health First Aid on March 31. The 8:00-5:00 course will take place at the Housing Authority Administration Building, 1607 Clyman Lane, in Danville, and a $10 lunch option is available when registering. Those who attend will learn what initial help should be provided to a person showing symptoms of mental illness or a mental health crisis until appropriate professional help arrives at the scene. Enrollment is limited and registration is required. For additional information, please contact Ken at or at 217-465-4118.

Slow Economic Growth continues in Illinois

The staff of the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) presented their FY16 Economic Forecast  in Springfield on Wednesday, March 10.  COGFA is the nonpartisan economic think tank of the Illinois General Assembly, and their Revenue Update for FY15 and numbers for FY16 will be key background data to be used by the General Assembly as they modify the State’s FY15 budget and craft a FY16 budget to meet the urgent fiscal needs of the State. 

COGFA’s numbers confirm that the post-2009 Illinois “recovery” has been the slowest economic expansion of the post-World War II period.  In each previous recession, not only were the rates of decline in economic output less severe, but the ensuing recoveries were faster and steeper.  Illinois economic trend lines, starting in 2010, show steady but very shallow, palely upward-trending movements.  New jobs are created in relatively low numbers and are being created, in Illinois, in insufficient numbers to force increases in median overall wage rates.    

The pale post-2009 “recovery,” combined with the pushdown of State income tax rates in January 2015 are two forces that continue to combine to create a worsening State of Illinois budget crisis.  A spreadsheet presented to staff by the Commission shows net income tax revenues dropping more than $4 billion in FY16, below what would have been paid to the State under the tax rates in effect in FY14.  Growth rates in tax revenues attributable to underlying rates of growth in the Illinois private-sector economy are expected to make up only $500 million of the lost income, leading to a structural deficit of $3.5 billion in FY16.  To this number is supplemented accumulated past-year deficits and unpaid State bills of many billions of additional dollars, plus the spending pressures created by many “entitlement” lines within the State’s budget.   

Unemployment Remains Higher than U.S. as a Whole, but Drops another 0.1%
The figures for January 2015, reported on Thursday, March 12 by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), show that Illinois’s jobless rate fell from 6.2% to 6.1% in January 2015.  The same number was 8.2% in January 2014, down 2.1% over the 12-month period.

Soft spots in the statewide economic picture complicated the continued trend toward lower unemployment. Illinois employment – the number of Illinois residents with nonfarm payroll jobs – also dropped by 7,100 jobs in the same month.  The declining employment and unemployment numbers reflected a stagnating Illinois population and the continued movement of many Illinois residents out of the labor force altogether. 

Tourism Group Visits State Capitol
Last week I had an opportunity in Springfield to sit down and talk with a group promoting tourism and the hospitality industry in Champaign County. We discussed their interest in getting the IHSA State Basketball Tournament to move back to Champaign’s Assembly Hall, and plans for a new 104-room hotel on Neil Street in Champaign. We also discussed several other tourism opportunities that could bring travelers to the County.

Last week I also had the opportunity to attend a Cable TV & Communications Association Event, where I met five-time Olympic gold medalist Bonnie Blair. Originally from Champaign, Bonnie is a hometown hero for her success as a speed skater in four different Olympic Games. In addition to her five gold medals, she also won one bronze medal, and she remains one the most decorated athletes in Olympic history.

Clock is Ticking on FY15 Budget Crisis Situation
The decision by the General Assembly and former Gov. Quinn to pass and sign an unbalanced FY15 budget in spring 2014 continues to endanger many Illinois residents.  These are persons who are paid from, or dependent on, budget lines in the FY15 State budget where the amounts set aside were not enough to fully fund the expense item until the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2015. 

Examples of groups affected by unfunded FY15 budget expense lines include providers of subsidized Illinois child care, Illinois prison guards and circuit court reporters.  These are individuals and contractors who have been told of a fast-approaching date when Illinois must find more money to pay them.  Gov. Bruce Rauner has presented a proposal to the Illinois General Assembly to move money around within the budget to cover these anticipated urgent needs, but factions in the General Assembly who are politically opposed to the Governor have so far refused to allow this plan to come to the House floor for a vote.       

Many Parents Call for Allowing their Children to Opt Out of PARCC Tests
PARCC standardized tests, which utilize an online platform that students are expected to interact with as they take the test (rather than the format, familiar to their parents, of filling in bubbles on a piece of paper) began to be administered throughout Illinois on Monday, March 9.  The testing cycle is expected to continue for approximately four weeks.  Data from the test will be used to evaluate Illinois public and charter school students, teachers, schools and school systems.

Many parents are concerned about the new PARCC system, which from their point of view was sprung on their children without recourse and without sufficient warning.  No current law allows parents to withdraw their children from the PARCC test, which is supposed to be given to every eligible child in order to generate statistically significant results that can be used to gauge everyone’s performance.  Furthermore, the federal government has sent warning letters to Illinois’ State Board of Education to remind educators of the nexus between federal school aid and compliance with the order that students all take the test.

Attitudes by parents toward the PARCC mandate is becoming increasingly coordinated with resistance toward other mandates imposed by schools upon children, such as mandated sex education and compliance with certain health benchmarks.  Bills have been introduced in the Illinois General Assembly to discuss the issue.  The “Chicago Sun-Times” describes the issue from the standpoint of concerned parents.  

Comptroller Munger Urges Illinois Individual Income Taxpayers to Register
The Illinois Tax Refund Alert system, rolled out this spring by new Illinois Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger, allows taxpayers to monitor the status of their Illinois tax returns, including an automated text-messaging system.  Similar to the familiar warnings that many of us get when our phone or cable bill is due, the test message will tell eligible taxpayers of their payment notifications.   Registration is free through the portal.

Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Pension Case
The Illinois pension reform law enacted in December 2013 faced questions before the Illinois Supreme Court at oral arguments on Wednesday, March 11.  The Illinois Solicitor General, advocating for the law, stated that the controversial law had been enacted to solve a fiscal emergency.  Established constitutional law authorizes a state, in furtherance of its constitutional duty, to exercise what are called “police powers” that potentially override other considerations.  Plaintiffs seeking to strike down the law say that it improperly violates a section of the state Constitution.  Illinois has the worst-funded pension system of the 50 states.  A decision by the state Supreme Court, which is expected later this spring, could affect budget and pension law policies that will be before the General Assembly as it approaches the May 31 adjournment date.         

U of I Moves Forward with Plans for New Medical School at Champaign-Urbana Campus 
The facility for specialized medical education would be physically separate, and separate in its mission statement, from the existing “U of I” school on the Medical Campus of the West Side of Chicago.  University President Robert Easter announced on Wednesday, March 11 that he would recommend that the Board of Trustees approve the Champaign-Urbana medical school project.

Under the proposal, the University of Illinois’ Downstate hub campus will become the center of a cooperative center of medical education and bioengineering research and development.  The proposed medical school will leverage the University’s established Champaign-Urbana presence in engineering sciences.  The medical school is expected to work in financial and clinical affiliation with the Urbana-based Carle Foundation Hospital System.  The Carle alliance could create a platform to test new medical devices and therapies in a clinical setting.  This potential Champaign-Urbana operating model contrasts with the traditional teaching-hospital role of the Chicago-based University of Illinois-Chicago medical school and hospital. 

President Easter’s staff and consultants will present a spreadsheet binder to the trustees that will indicate that the injection of additional Illinois taxpayer funding to operate the new medical school will not be required.  The new (2014) Western Michigan University medical school in Kalamazoo offers a financial model for a bioengineering-driven, self-supporting medical school complex.  The trustees will be asked on Thursday, March 12, to approve the University of Illinois proposal. 
Concerns Continue as No Agreement Reached on Growing Spending Crisis
With the current budget more than $1.6 billion out of balance, more and more subsectors of the Illinois economy were affected this week.  House Republicans reaffirmed their commitment to solving issues related to immediate funding issues faced by child care, corrections, and court reporter sectors of the economy. 

“The unbalanced FY15 budget needs to be corrected immediately and brought into balance,” asserted House Republican Leader Jim Durkin on Tuesday, March 3.  Pointing to the State’s failure under former Gov. Pat Quinn to meet its constitutional responsibility to enact a balanced budget, Durkin and his leadership team pledged to help “clean up the mess Governor Rauner inherited on January 12, 2015.”

Local “Exemplary Youth” Visits Springfield
On Wednesday, I had an opportunity to sit down with Elijah Williams, who was in Springfield being honored as an Exemplary Youth from the Boys & Girls Clubs in Illinois. He was representing the Boys & Girls Club of Danville. Elijah is a terrific young man and a role model for young people everywhere. For more than 60 years the Boys & Girls Clubs of Illinois have accomplished goals of opening doors and transforming lives by providing safe places where young people can be themselves, be proud, and experience opportunities never thought possible. Through programs that expand horizons, the Clubs challenge youth to experience the world outside their doorsteps and gives them the tools to succeed.   

This week I also was visited by a group from the Jamaica Flatlanders 4-H group in my District office in Danville.  We discussed the details of how a bill becomes a law, the pressing issues of the day in Springfield and how they as young people can be engage and remain involved.

I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to speak to these terrific students at length about the legislative process.

Prairie State Continues to Grow Slower than Most of U.S. 
Last week the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA), the economic think-tank arm of the Illinois General Assembly, issued their monthly report on the current state of the Illinois economy.  The February 2015 “Monthly Briefing” melded together Illinois’ December 2014 unemployment rate of 6.2%, its current 5.88 million-person labor force, and current rates of change in job growth and joblessness to develop a comprehensive picture of the current state of the Illinois economy as it compares to other states, especially states that neighbor Illinois.

CGFA’s nonpartisan staff finds that the rates of Illinois job growth and change in joblessness lag well behind national averages.  For example, although Illinois’ job totals are marginally higher (up 3.2%) from where they were 36 months ago, this marginal growth ranks Illinois 38th among the 50 states.  Illinois has 6.6% more employer-employee relationships than it had 20 years ago, which ranks 48th.  Over the twenty-year period that began in 1995, few states have performed worse than Illinois. 

Illinois’ anemic job growth continues to cause poor tax collections.  Much of Illinois’ income tax is paid directly by employers through monies withheld from employee paychecks, and when jobs are not created, income tax receipts lag.  This problem, in the first half of calendar 2015, is exacerbated by the rate change in the individual income tax rate on January 1, 2015 from 5.0% to 3.75%.  CGFA staff estimates that State individual income tax collections will, in February 2015, fall $219 million below receipts taken in during February 2014.  This individual income tax shortfall is by far the biggest ongoing driver affecting the ongoing shortage in State general funds receipts, which are expected in February 2015 to fall $174 million behind comparable general funds receipt figures for February 2014.   

Ongoing debate on the FY15 and FY16 State of Illinois budget is driven by several factors.  The pattern of slow private-sector economic growth and the ongoing and steepening downturn in Illinois tax receipts are two of these factors.         

Filing Deadline Sees 4,140 Bills Submitted for House Consideration
The filing deadline was Friday, February 27, and by the close of business House members had turned in 4,140 substantive and appropriations bills for their colleagues to review.  Not all of these bills will get out of committee for full House consideration.  Some filings, such as appropriations bills and resolutions, will continue after the deadline. 

House committees have three more weeks, until March 27, to look at the bills filed before the deadline.  Bills that fail to meet this deadline can be worked on by their sponsors and other interested parties for possible future action in the 2016 spring session.  In many cases, a bill needs to be carefully looked at before it becomes a law.  The status of bills filed in the Illinois House and Senate can be found on the Illinois General Assembly website.

Butler Welcomed to House as Representative of Central Illinois House District
Timothy J. Butler took the oath of office on Tuesday, March 3 in the State Capitol.  Butler is now serving the 87th Illinois House district, a district that covers all or part of Logan, Menard, Sangamon and Tazewell Counties.

Prior to his service in the Illinois House, Tim Butler was district chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville) and previously served in the same role for former U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Peoria). He was director of marketing for St. John’s Hospital in Springfield for three years. Butler and his wife Wendy have lived in Sangamon County since 1998, residing in Logan County for three years prior to that. He has family in Menard and Tazewell Counties as well. Butler is on the Boards of Directors of Downtown Springfield, Inc. and the Everett Dirksen Congressional Center.

FFA Week Celebrates Downstate Illinois Heritage
The members of Illinois FFA are looking forward to careers in agriculture, agriculture-related trades, and a wide variety of professions related to life in a region that is a net exporter of agricultural products. More than 25,000 students are enrolled in 321 ag-ed programs across Illinois. FFA Week culminated with Legislative Awareness Day on Thursday, March 5 as more than 1,000 members came together in Springfield to visit their lawmakers.

I had the pleasure on Thursday of meeting and talking with FFA groups from Rantoul (small group photo) and Oakwood (large group photo) High Schools. Illinois FFA, formerly the Illinois chapter of Future Farmers of America, was founded in 1929 to mark the transition in U.S. agriculture from horse-drawn plows to capital-intensive machinery. As technology continues its march, a widening variety of career pathways are associated with life in a region that exports farm-grown products. Approximately 1.5 million Illinois jobs are part of, or dependent upon, Illinois crops and agriculture.

The Human Resources Center of Edgar and Clark Counties and the Vermilion County 708 Board, in cooperation with the IL Department of Human Services' Division of Mental Health are offering a free certification course in Mental Health First Aid on March 31.

The 8:00AM-5:00PM course will take place at the Housing Authority Administration Building, 1607 Clyman Lane, in Danville, and a $10 lunch option is available when registering. Those who attend will learn what initial help should be provided to a person showing symptoms of mental illness or a mental health crisis until appropriate professional help arrives at the scene.

Enrollment is limited to 30 and registration is required. Please see the flyer below for additional details. If further information is needed, please contact Ken at, or at 217-465-4118.