Two-week veto session concludes; new figures on jobs, pension debt

Fall veto session concludes
The House and Senate adjourned Thursday without passing a budget. The stopgap budget passed back in June will expire on January 1, and the House stands adjourned. This is unacceptable. We have an opportunity for real reform and a balanced budget if people on all sides would just come together and put the best interests of Illinois first.

The lack of movement on a budget stands in stark contrast to a frenzy of activity on an energy bill over the last three days of session. The bill, which ultimately passed, saw hours of meetings and hundreds of pages of amendments as proponents worked to bring together people of many different perspectives. All that effort led up to a vote that was held Thursday evening. I wish legislators would apply that kind of urgency to our budget crisis.

Also during the week the House passed a proposed Constitutional amendment which would make it harder to raise taxes during a lame duck session. Currently, only 60 votes are needed to pass a tax increase out of the House in the January days before a newly-elected General Assembly takes office. The amendment would raise that threshold to 71. It now goes to the Senate for consideration. Efforts to override the Governor’s veto of automatic voter registration legislation were unsuccessful as we work to find an acceptable compromise which makes it easier to register and vote while protecting the rights of everyone involved.

The legislature is scheduled to reconvene on January 9 to close out the 99th General Assembly. The new House and Senate will be sworn in on January 11.

Jobless rate increased slightly in October
The latest Illinois unemployment report gives the state an unemployment rate of 5.6%, an increase of 0.1% from September. The Illinois number was 0.6% higher than the 4.9% national rate. Illinois continued to mark very little net new job creation, and payrolls remain below their all-time peak which was set in September 2000. Illinois has 32,500 fewer nonfarm payroll jobs than it did 16 years ago.

The numbers from the Department of Employment Security continue to show movement away from sectors like construction, trade, transportation, and utilities. These sectors of the economy lost a net total of 4,300 jobs in October. Gaining ground were professional services, business services, and government, which together added around 6,800 jobs.

After several rough years, manufacturing stabilized in October, gaining 1,600 jobs for the month. But there were 10,000 fewer payroll factory jobs this year than there had been one year ago.

Unfunded pension liability now set at $129.8 billion
The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) released new pension liability estimates, combining numbers from the five state-managed pension funds. The new calculation has reset Illinois’ unfunded pension liabilities at $129.8 billion.

The calculations show an increase of 17% in the unfunded pension bottom line as the systems approached the end of the year. The COGFA report further indicated that the trend is associated with very low interest rates on high-quality investments. This year, the near-zero-interest situation caused four of the five systems to lower their projection for long-term rates of return for the money already invested in the pension funds.

Farm Economics Summits coming up
The University of Illinois Extension is hosting a series of Farm Economic Summits around the state in December. Each summit will feature speakers on several important issues facing agriculture in the coming year including a price outlook, changes to farm leases, credit conditions and trends in weather and yields for the long term. In our area, summits are being held at the iHotel and Conference Center in Champaign on December 12 and the Par-A-Dice Casino in East Peoria on December 14. For more information, including registration prices, call 217-244-9687.

Statehouse Christmas tree honors fallen heroes
This week at the Capitol, Gold Star families participated in the dedication of the Fallen Heroes Tree of Honor, a Christmas tree placed in the rotunda of the Capitol in honor of those who gave their lives in service to our nation. The tree has dozens of hand-made ornaments, each one in memory of a member of our armed forces who died in defense of the nation. Monday’s ceremony was led by Patti Smith of Peoria, who is the president of America’s Gold Star Families. The group hopes to make the Tree of Honor a part of the Capitol’s holiday commemoration every year.

Did You Know?
Illinois became a state on December 3, 1818. President James Monroe signed the legislation making Illinois the 21st state to join the union. While Illinois today is the fifth-largest state in the United States, in 1818 it had just 34,600 residents, making it the least-populous state ever at the point of admission to the union.