Legislative Update: December 7, 2015

Governor Rauner, Legislative Leaders Hold Budget Summit
On Tuesday, December 1, Governor Rauner and the four legislative leaders met in Springfield for the first time in months to discuss the budget impasse. There was a frank and full exchange of views on issues dividing the four caucuses, but unfortunately the summit did not lead to a comprehensive agreement on a Fiscal Year 2016 budget. The leaders did, however, agree to hold additional meetings to hopefully end the budget stalemate.

Motor Fuel Taxes, 9-1-1 and other Funding will Flow to Municipalities and Agencies Soon
On Wednesday, December 2, the House approved legislation that will allow Motor Fuel Tax receipts and funding for 9-1-1 service to flow to municipalities and townships. The language, which was presented as an amendment to SB 2039, also included funding for lottery winners and for programs that serve veterans and battered women, for low income energy assistance programs, and for mental health services for vulnerable citizens. The bill now awaits “concurrence” by the Senate, which is in Springfield today (December 7). Governor Rauner has already said he will sign it when it lands on his desk. The House almost unanimously approved many of the provisions included in the bill in November, but Speaker Madigan used his draconian House rules to block it from moving to the Senate at that time. While I would have preferred to see the funding released to our local governments sooner, I am pleased to know that municipalities, townships and valuable agencies will be receiving their funds soon.

Unemployment Insurance Reforms Receive Bipartisan House Support
In a showing of bipartisanship in Springfield, members of the House also gave final approval last Wednesday to sweeping reforms to the Illinois Unemployment Insurance Act. The reforms, agreed to jointly by the Governor, the business community, and labor organizations, represent a significant step forward to strengthen the backbone of our economy, innovators and entrepreneurs. HB 1285 received unanimous support by the 110 legislators in attendance on December 2. Specifically, HB 1285 prevents a $470 million tax increase on employers by eliminating a scheduled increase in employer contributions that would have taken effect in 2016. The legislation also eliminates the Social Security Offset to provide greater security to elderly and disabled workers, and strengthens the misconduct provisions to ensure greater protections to employers.

House Approves Resolution in Honor of Fallen Vermilion County Soldier
In honor of a Vermilion County resident who was killed in 2009 during service to his country in Afghanistan, a segment of Illinois Route 1 between Westville and Georgetown will now be known as Sgt. Kenneth R. Nichols Jr. Memorial Highway. HJR 99 was approved unanimously on December 2. Sgt. Nichols grew up in Chrisman and graduated from Georgetown-Ridge Farm High School. He died on December 1, 2009 when his unit was attacked by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. At the time of his death, Nichols had served for four years in the U.S. Army. HJR 99 provides much deserved recognition to a soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, and through this highway designation, his memory will live on forever and will serve as a reminder for us all that we have brave men and women who deserve our gratitude and respect for their decision to protect our freedoms.

University of Illinois Increases Financial Aid, Acceptance of Applicants from Illinois
An AP analysis of the Urbana-Champaign campus (UIUC) of Illinois’ largest state university indicates that admissions of students who gave an Illinois address as their home address recently increased by 11% over the previous year. The year-over-year increase used the 2014 UIUC fall term as the baseline and the 2015 fall term as the active population.

The UIUC admissions office had to make changes in other variables in order to achieve this significant change in the population of students who accepted their admission to UIUC. A slight drop was recorded in average figures posted by admittees on the primary test, the ACT, used by UIUC for admissions purposes. The university also offered slightly more generous packages of financial aid to many of its admitted students, with financial aid increasing by $5.4 million over the previous year. UIUC financial aid is concentrated among students from low-income families and under-represented identity groups.

The changes reported by UIUC and tabulated by the Associated Press represent a partial strategic turn away from the university’s previous “business model” of concentrating its recruiting efforts among international students. In many cases, international students have very high test scores and pay full or nearly-full tuition rate schedules. UIUC continues to conduct significant recruitment efforts overseas. Illinois’ flagship campus reports that 5,295 students with a Chinese home address are enrolled in Urbana-Champaign this fall, representing 12% of total campus enrollment.

Hays Takes Pledge to not Text while Driving
On November 30 I joined State Senator Scott Bennet and Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhaur in taking a voluntary pledge to not text while driving. The “It Can Wait” campaign encourages drivers to keep their eyes on the road and not on their phones, and to date 7.6 million people have signed the pledge. A recent survey revealed at nearly four in ten drivers admit to using social media on their phones while they are driving; an alarming statistic. I answered a challenge presented to the community by AT&T and high school students from Danville High School and First Baptist. You can take the pledge too by going to www.itcanwait.com. I would encourage everyone to make a personal pledge to stop this dangerous behavior. No message is worth risking one’s life.

Nativity Scene and Holiday Tree Now on Display at Illinois Capitol
On December 1, a dedication ceremony was held for the State Capitol’s Nativity Scene. The nativity scene joins a two-story holiday tree and other symbols of the holiday season in the Capitol rotunda. This marks the sixth year that the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee has brought the display to the Capitol. The display is open to the public during normal business hours throughout December, so if your holiday travels bring you near Springfield, please try to find time to see the display in the rotunda.

Key New York Debt-Rating Firm Issues Warning to Illinois
Citing Illinois’ continued budget crisis and unfunded State pension liabilities, Moody’s warned Springfield that the State’s credit rating could be lowered to junk-bond levels.

Moody’s, which publishes public credit ratings that are closely monitored by investors and investment fund managers, currently ranks Illinois’ general obligation debt at Baa1. Baa1 is three notches above non-investment grade, which in Moody’s terminology starts at “Ba1” and goes down from there. Many investors refuse to invest in non-investment-grade interest-bearing securities, or sharply underweight these holdings, because of the risk that the securities could fall into default or bankruptcy. Most of the 50 U.S. states have debts rated at Aaa or Aa1 by Moody’s, which are the two highest rankings granted by the firm. This is due to these states’ perceived solvency and prudence at handling their fiscal balances. In many cases, the taxpayers who are represented by higher-ranking states enjoy lower interest rates and lower tax burdens as a result of their states’ perceived fiscal prudence and sound management.

Illinois currently owes approximately $6.7 billion in unpaid State bills. These are obligations presented to the State by providers of goods and services awaiting payment. A typical unpaid bill is presented by a hospital or health care clinic for services provided under the State’s fast-growing Medicaid program. In its most recent solvency trough, suffered in November 2010, the State of Illinois owed $9.9 billion in unpaid bills for goods and services. Continued inability to pass a constitutionally balanced FY16 budget could cause the State to once again approach this record number.