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Hot Air Balloons Light Up Skies at “Balloons Over Vermilion” Event
A hot air balloon festival that had been on a 15-year hiatus returned to Vermilion County over the weekend for “Balloons Over Vermilion” on July 15-16. Thirty-three colorful balloons were a part of the two-day festival which was held on the grounds of the Vermilion Regional Airport north of Danville. In addition to the hot air balloons, visitors to the festival enjoyed live music from several bands (including my own band, the Boat Drink Caucus), an antique car show and other activities. It was my privilege to co-sponsor one of the balloons featured at the festival.

My most sincere gratitude and appreciation goes out to the Julius W. Gegeler II Foundation, which graciously stepped forward and donated $100,000 as the title sponsor of the event. A great time was had by all, and I certainly look forward to Balloons Over Vermilion becoming an annual summer event in this part of Illinois.

State of Illinois Completes Rollout of New Job Opportunity for Unemployed Illinoisans
Illinois JobLink is a resume-posting platform operated by the Department of Employment Security (IDES) that is open to persons seeking employment in Illinois. Under a new policy going into effect on Sunday, July 17, persons filing for Illinois unemployment benefits after being laid off are going to be asked to fill out and post their resumes on Illinois Job Link as a condition of completing their application for benefits.

The Department is aware that some of the people who need to file for benefits will have some questions about how to complete the JobLink process and complete a resume. The JobLink home page can be found here. In past years, nearly 60% of Illinois unemployment benefit filings did not include a work history or resume, despite the importance of these documents to potential employers. IDES believes that linking JobLink resume filing with unemployment benefits will speed up the hiring of unemployed persons who may have work experience and credentials of which they are not fully aware, and will reduce unemployment by increasing publicly posted information about the Illinois residents who are motivated to find a job.

New I-Refi Program from IHDA will Help Some Under-Water Homeowners
The program, from the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA), is aimed at homeowners who owe more on their mortgages than the home itself is worth. Eligible homeowners, starting August 1, will be invited to apply for admission to the “Hardest Hit” program. Residents and families helped by the program could see a reduction in the amount of unpaid equity remaining on their mortgages. A mortgage financing data tracker, CoreLogic, reports that approximately 14% of all Illinois home mortgages are currently underwater.

The Illinois program is being backed by $45.7 million in U.S. Treasury funding. It is projected that 1,800 homeowner applicants will successfully apply for admission to the program and will get debt-reduction assistance of approximately $25,000 per home. Applicants to the program, which is targeted towards modest and middle-class home in challenged geographic areas, will be granted a maximum of $50,000 in debt-reduction assistance. The assistance will be credited towards the debt owed on a new, private-sector 30-year mortgage. A list of 25 participating mortgage-finance lenders has been mobilized by IHDA. These firms will refinance the homes of participating mortgagors at market rates.

To qualify, applicants must owe at least 10% more than the value of their home, up to $50,000. Despite being under water, they must have been current on making mortgage payments for at least the past 12 months and must live in the home. Household income eligibility is determined by a sliding scale keyed towards the number of persons in the household and the geographic location of the household. The maximum purchase price of the home is also one of the variables used to gauge overall potential eligibility for admission to the program.

High School Students to Stop Taking PARCC Tests
The State Board of Education announced on Monday, July 11 that beginning in the spring of 2017, high school students would no longer have to take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Instead, the State will subsidize and supervise the administration of a statewide SAT college entrance exam in spring 2017. Students in 11th grade will take the SAT. The SAT is administered according to an established nationwide protocol and its results are published in numbers that are relatively accessible and familiar to students and educators. SAT tests will be administered in compliance with the State law evaluating high school student body performance and progress. Students in grades 3 through 8 will continue to take separate PARCC tests geared to their age groups.

Representative David Welter Appointed to Serve Northern Illinois Legislative House District
Republican leaders in the 75th District have appointed David Welter to represent the district in the Illinois House of Representatives. The district centers along communities close to Interstate 80, including Morris and Seneca, comprising portions of Kendall, Grundy, LaSalle and Will Counties. Welter’s appointment came after former 75th District Rep. John Anthony resigned in June to accept a new job as executive assistant to the Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Under State law, the appointment was made by the four GOP chairpersons from the counties located within the 75th District. The chairpersons cast a weighted vote by population of their counties within the vacant district. The selection of Welter, the current Grundy County Board Chairman, was unanimous. Welter will maintain a district office in Morris, Illinois to serve his constituents. Committee assignments are pending. Welter, who had served on the Grundy County Board since 2010, will also run for a full term as state representative on the November 2016 ballot. Welter was appointed State Representative on Saturday, July 9.
The stopgap State budget, enacted and signed into law on Thursday, June 30 in Springfield provides a full 12 months of funding for Illinois K-12 public schools. This plan will fully fund the foundation level for the first time in many years, ending the unfair practice of proration and will ensure that all school districts get at least as much funding from the State as they received last year. Every school district within the boundaries of District 104 will see an increase in funding.

The school aid includes both general State aid (GSA) and a series of categorical grants provided to many school districts to cover parts of the costs of mandates imposed by the State and other costs of school district operation. In addition, the FY17 K-12 education bill appropriated $361 million over what was distributed last year in FY16 for the 2015-16 school year. It also allocates $250 million for a new statewide equity grant that will be distributed to school districts based on the State Board of Education’s low income grant formula. The plan also includes a $75 million increase for early childhood education. It does not include a state bailout of Chicago Public Schools.

This chart illustrates the estimated increase in funding that District 104 schools will receive for 2016-2017:


New FY17 Spending Bills will Enable Full K-12 School Operations for Entire School Year
The General Assembly took action on June 30 to fund K-12 Education for Fiscal Year 2017 at record-high funding levels. By contrast, however, the legislation funds most other State operations only through December 2016. The “stopgap” bills do not balance the budget and do not solve Illinois’ fiscal woes. The State’s leaders believe that the current Springfield policy gap has achieved dimensions great enough that only the voters of Illinois, in the November election, can choose which path the State should follow. The key bill that actually appropriated money for FY16 and FY17 was SB 2047. Some elements of the package appropriated money so that it could be legally used to match spending/spending commitments made in FY16, which ended on Thursday. Other bills in the package contained “substantive” legislation, effective starting on Friday, intended to implement the FY17 portion of the package and match State law to appropriated spending.

The stopgap budget package was signed by Governor Bruce Rauner before the end of the day and prior to the start of FY17. The measures include funding to ensure that Illinois schools, including the troubled Chicago public school system, will reopen on time. Money is included to resume or maintain operations at Illinois state universities and other essential public facilities. Funds are earmarked to enable the fulfillment of this summer’s construction schedule for the repair and maintenance of State roads, bridges, and mass transit facilities. Some money is provided for community social services. The House vote on SB 2047 was 105-4-1. After unanimous approval in the Senate, the appropriation bill became law as P.A. 99-524.

District 104 Schools to Receive Record-High Funding in FY17
One key element of the funding package approved on June 30 allows every Illinois School District to open on time in the fall with record-high levels of funding. In fact, for the first time in seven years, funding sent through the state aid formula will not be prorated. Every District 104 School District will see an increase in funding for the 2016-2017 school year. The chart below shows an estimate of how each of my school districts will benefit:



Comptroller’s Count Shows Illinois Now Owes More Than $7.8 Billion in Past-Due Bills
The running count, which is frequently updated, is included in the public website operated by Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger. As Illinois’ cash-flow superintendent, Munger is informed daily of the due-bill situation facing the State. The total of $7.81 billion, counted as of Wednesday, June 29, counts vouchers tabulated by the Comptroller’s office and payable from Illinois general funds that are classified as “backlogged” – vouchers on file for significant periods of time without State payment. The Comptroller’s office currently counts 66,971 backlogged State vouchers. These numbers are constantly changing as funds move in and out of various State coffers.

The $7.8 billion figure does not represent the totality of debts owed by Illinois and its taxpayers. Additional debts owed by Illinois included monies obligated by ongoing State programs but not yet billed to the State. In addition, pension actuaries warn that Illinois’ unfunded pension debts now total more than $110 billion. Illinois Republicans, led by House Republican leader Jim Durkin and Governor Bruce Rauner, point to these mushrooming debts and obligations. They continue to insist that the State enact structural reforms to its laws governing job creation and public-sector labor relations.

Chicago Board of Education Could Approve Massive Property Tax Hike for Owners of Chicago Real Property
The Chicago school board move, expected to raise $250 million annually, was authorized as part of SB 318. This measure, which was amended with the tax-hike language and passed by the Illinois House on Thursday, June 30, was part of the end-of-fiscal-year package to enact spending measures for FY17 and enable Illinois schools to open on time. The Chicago Public Schools budget gap necessitated action to enable the city to raise an additional $250 million/year from local resources.

If the School Board adopts this property tax increase, statewide taxpayers outside Chicago will not be responsible for this $250 million. Rejecting a “bailout” of the troubled Chicago system, House Republicans took the lead in rejecting the push by Chicago lawmakers to impose this burden upon the suburbs and Downstate. Part of the budget gap comes from a massive increase in the level of unfunded pension liabilities borne by Chicago Public Schools, and the Illinois House enacted the amendment in such a way as to require that the money raised by the tax hike must be deposited directly into the pension fund and cannot be diverted or used for any other purpose. Chicago Public Schools currently owes a $669 million pension payment to the teachers’ pension fund. The House vote to enact SB 318 was 82-29-0. Senate approval by a vote of 40-14-0 allowed Gov. Rauner to sign the measure into law as P.A. 99-521.

House, Senate Vote to Waive Vehicle Sticker Delinquent Registration Renewal Supplemental Late Fees if No Warning Mailed
The waiver is only effective if the Secretary of State has not previously mailed a motor vehicle license sticker-renewal notification to the affected motor vehicle owner. These notification letters, which had been familiar elements in the mailboxes of Illinois drivers, were suspended in 2015 due to Illinois’ budget situation. Many Illinois residents have complained about no longer getting the letters and then facing penalties for late sticker-renewal actions. In addition, police are authorized to stop motor vehicles with expired stickers.

The supplemental late-fee waiver bill was approved by the House on Thursday, June 30. The House vote on HB 4334, as amended, was 111-0-0. As the Senate had previously approved the final language of the bill, the House vote marked the final legislative step necessary to send the measure to the desk of Gov. Bruce Rauner for final action.
In the final hours of Fiscal Year 2016 on Thursday, Democrat and Republican lawmakers came together to approve a clean, 12-month K-12 Education bill, and a six-month temporary budget for other budget areas, including higher education, human and social services, prisons and road/bridge construction projects. State Representative Chad Hays (R-Catlin) joined the bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in approving the budget and stopgap package.

“Today’s action ensures that every Illinois school will open on time in the fall and will be funded at 100% of the foundation level for the first time in seven years,” said Hays. “It also sends vital funds to our colleges, community colleges and universities, to our prisons and human/social service agencies, and ensures that important road project work will continue this summer and fall uninterrupted.”

SB 2047, approved in a 105-4-1 vote, includes:
  • The largest 12-month allocation toward K-12 education in Illinois history
  • Six-month bridge funding
    • $1 billion for higher education, including Monetary Assistance Program grants (on top of the $600 million already approved for higher education through a stopgap measure in the spring)
    • $729 million for critical State government operations (IL Department of Transportation, mental health centers, prisons, veterans homes)
    • $701 million for critical human services not currently paid through consent decrees or court orders
    • $8.4 billion to allow Illinois to take full advantage of matching federal funds
    • $53.7 billion for the continuation of road/bridge projects, school construction grants and local water/sewer improvements, debt service payments and lottery payouts
“From day one I have advocated for a responsible compromise,” said Hays. “This package has elements I like and elements I do not like. But as is the case with any good negotiation, we will all walk away with some, but not all, of what we were hoping to see. This is what real compromise looks like.”

According to Hays, the budget and reform working groups will continue to meet as they work toward a balanced full-year budget with reforms.
In a passionate speech on the floor of the House on Friday, State Representative Chad Hays (R-Catilin) told members of the House Democrat Caucus that the time has come for them to stand up to their leader, House Speaker Mike Madigan, and continue working with Republicans in a bipartisan manner toward a compromise budget. "Sometimes its OK to speak truth to power in your own party," said Hays. "Sometimes its OK when groups from your side of the aisle say Mr. Speaker, it's time to cut the deal.'"

To watch Rep. Hays' plea to the Democrats, click here.
House Republicans held a press conference today immediately following the vote of an appropriation plan that spends $7 billion more in revenue than the state has coming into its coffers.

House Republicans were denied a vote verification for a 500-page bill that was introduced a mere 90-minutes before it was called for debate on the House Floor. Democrats then limited the debate to less than an hour with a parliamentarian move.

SB2048 appropriates $14 billion - that with court orders, continuing appropriations and consent decrees would push state spending over $40 billion.

State Representative Chad Hays (R-Catlin) spoke on behalf of the House Republican Caucus and expressed their disgust with the process that had just taken place on the House floor. You may listen to his press interview by clicking on the image above.
State Representative Chad Hays (R-Catlin) applauded a strong showing of bipartisanship today that will allow $700 million in dedicated funds to be sent to human service agencies that have been caught in the middle of a budget battle between the Speaker of the House and the Governor.

“Two weeks ago Republicans and Democrats came together to find $600 million in available revenue that could be used as emergency funding for our community colleges and universities, and today we again worked collaboratively to allocate $700 million for human service agencies that are at risk of closing their doors,” said Hays. “It was not a perfect bill, but it matched expenditures with available revenue. These agencies that provide critical services will now be able to continue with the delivery of services through the end of the fiscal year.”

Through SB 2038, the following funds are allocated:
  • Department of Human Services: $247,989,000
  • Healthcare and Family Services: $5,400,000 
  • Department of Public Health: $17,988,300
  • Department on Aging: $243,492,100
  • Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority: $9,098,600
  • Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity: $458,000
  • Department of Military Affairs: $1,266,500
  • Department of Transportation: $343,500
  • Department of Revenue: $170,500,000
“As a General Assembly, we can do a great deal when we set partisan politics aside and actually work toward shared goals that benefit our constituents,” said Hays. “While I wish this bill could have done more, the give-and-take and compromise that created SB 2038 will provide a lifeline to agencies that are really struggling.”

SB 2038 now heads back to the Senate for their concurrence and then to the Governor’s desk.