Update from the Capitol 3/21/16

As Illinois’ fiscal condition continues downhill, unpaid bill total nears $9 billion

The Ledger, a spreadsheet summary posted online by Comptroller Leslie Munger, now shows Illinois with almost $7.5 billion in unpaid bills.  This includes not only the $3.68 billion in unpaid bills actually forwarded to the Comptroller for payment, but also an estimated $3.80 billion in past-due bills and invoices held at state agencies and not yet forwarded to the Comptroller. 

Comptroller Munger told the Senate Appropriations I committee on Thursday, March 17 that there is also an additional $1.3 billion owed  for statutory programs not covered by judicial process, such as  higher education and providers of social services. 

The $7.5 billion in conventional bills represent state programs, such as Medicaid, that are seen as legally essential and so continue to operate automatically under continuing appropriations, consent decrees, and court orders.  Additional bills of more than $1 billion represent programs that are dependent upon appropriated funding.  Unpaid promises by the State, such as the college-oriented Monetary Assistance Program (MAP) grant program, fall into this category.  In many cases, providers of services under these programs, such as providers of social services and universities, have continued to operate the past nine months in the hopes that appropriations measures will be passed at some point and signed into law.   
When asked to add both categories of debt together, Comptroller Munger projected that the cumulative total budget deficit would top $10 billion by June 30, 2016; yet rather than working on getting the bills paid, Speaker Madigan has adjourned the House for the entire month of March. It’s mind-boggling.

Mahomet Aquifer monitoring to increase

In response to concerns raised by Central Illinois families, water authorities, and Republican lawmakers, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has announced plans to increase the ongoing and continuous monitoring of the Mahomet Aquifer, which serves a wide variety of rural and small-town residents here in Central Illinois. The traditionally clean water of the aquifer could be affected by increasing uses of the soil above it for landfill and chemical usage, including PCB chemicals. 

HB 1326, signed into law in August 2015, represents work by the General Assembly to protect the Mahomet Aquifer from potential landfill pollution. Test wells will be drilled and samplings will be taken adjacent to existing, operating landfills.  Champaign, DeWitt, Ford, Iroquois, Logan, McLean, Mason, Piatt, Tazewell, and Vermilion Counties are among the counties whose residents get their drinking water from the aquifer.

Gas prices on the rise again in Illinois

 As the spring driving season gets underway, gas prices are back on the rise in Illinois.
The average price per gallon charged for motor fuel increased 18 cents during the week ending Monday, March 14.  Statistics compiled by the motor fuel website GasBuddy.com indicated that during this period the price of gas rose from $1.88 per gallon to $2.06 per gallon, marking the second highest increase for the week among the 50 states.

Illinois gas prices were 12 cents per gallon higher than the nationwide average of $1.94 per gallon, due in large part to our relatively high tax rates. The State of Illinois charges separate taxes on motor fuel by the gallon (Road Fund excise tax) and by the dollar (General Funds sales tax).  As recently as August 2012, gas cost an average of $4.31 per gallon in Chicago. 

Students begin taking state-mandated achievement test for 2015-2016 school year

Its PARCC time in Illinois schools. The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is a standardized test of English language arts and math that is given to students in Illinois public school districts.  The assessment is designed to measure student performance under the Common Core Standards, and students and test supervisors must undergo the testing procedure during a state-mandated “window” of time.  This year’s PARCC testing window began on March 7 and will end on June 10.  Numbers generated by the test results will be reported to Springfield and, after scrutiny, will be re-released to each Illinois school district and each school as an assessment of the school’s overall performance.

The 2015-2016 school year is the second annual cycle in which the controversial assessment test has been administered statewide.  One reason for the unpopularity of the PARCC assessment test in some quarters has been the relatively high level of poor results released by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to many Illinois school districts following implementation last year, as well as the number of hours students were required to dedicate to the test.  On a statewide level, test results were deemed to indicate that only one-third (33%) of Illinois public school students taking the test were “meeting or exceeding expectations.”  The ISBE has stated that this year’s protocol will include a shorter, simplified test taking format, which may allow some students to show results that indicate greater functionality than was demonstrated last year.

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