Spring Session Well Underway in Springfield
The General Assembly is fast-approaching the midway point of the 2015 Spring Session. The bill filing deadline was Friday, February 27, and by the close of business that day, 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 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. The status of bills filed in the Illinois House and Senate can be found on the Illinois General Assembly website
Last week I was honored to be joined in Springfield by Dave Parulo, President of Woodfield Chicago Northwest Convention Bureau, and Rolling Meadows constituent Andy-John Kalkounos.
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.
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 agency 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%
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.
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. I have co-sponsored HB306
, legislation that would give parents the ability to opt their children out of the tests.
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. 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
As always, please do not ever hesitate to call me or write to me about issues that are important to you. You may reach my Palatine District office at (847) 202-6584 and my Springfield office at (217) 782-8026. You may send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are ever planning a trip to Springfield, please let my Springfield secretary know so that I may adjust my schedule and meet with you. It is a pleasure to serve you.