Budget talks put on hold; clemency backlog eliminated

Budget talks suspended
The six-month stopgap budget that was passed at the end of June will expire on December 31, leaving no budget in place to authorize much of the state’s spending during the second half of the fiscal year. Therefore, many aspects of state spending are hanging in limbo right now awaiting some kind of budget agreement to continue state funding. The stopgap budget was intended to be a bridge to cover the first half of the new fiscal year while the negotiations for a full year budget continued. However, budget talks amongst the Governor and legislative leaders have been suspended. Governor Rauner stated last week that based on his conversations with leading Democrats, negotiations are not being productive at this time.

Under the short-term state budget which is currently in place, not all areas of state spending are tied to the stopgap budget. Some aspects of state spending will not be affected if the temporary budget expires on December 31. For example, major spending programs, such as Medicaid and state employee pay, are under court orders, consent decrees, and continuing appropriations. Some other programs are continuing through December 31 in accordance with the stopgap budget. K-12 education was funded for the entire year, so it is not affected by the December 31 deadline. Other areas are not covered by any spending authorization at all, and therefore money for these programs is not being spent. Many agencies and programs that are not receiving necessary funding, including community colleges and those that carry out many social programs, are in need of help soon.

I am hopeful that negotiations can resume and an agreement can be reached as soon as possible. Many residents of the 106th district have contacted me with their concerns about the budget, and I appreciate hearing from you. I hope that you will also talk with your friends and family in other parts of the state and encourage them to contact their legislators as well. If we can work together, we can break this deadlock.

Backlog of clemency applications has been eliminated
Under the state Constitution, persons who have criminal convictions (including, but not limited to, those in state prisons) have the right to petition the Governor for clemency. However, the Constitution does not give the Governor a timeline for responding, and previous Governors had let a backlog of more than 2,300 clemency petitions build up over several years in the Governor’s office without taking final action.

When he took office just under two years ago, Governor Rauner said he would work with his staff to review these requests and eliminate this massive backlog. Included in the stack of applications was at least one unanswered request that was found to have been filed all the way back in 2003. After reviewing the more than 2,300 petitions, Governor Rauner granted pardons in fewer than 4% of the applications. Approximately 80 pardons were approved. The existing backlog has been cleared out, which will enable new requests to be reviewed and acted upon in a timely manner.

State Fair taking suggestions
Attendance at the 2016 Illinois State Fair declined by more than 13% from the previous year. While severe weather was a factor – including a flash flood on the night of a major concert – many issues were to blame for the attendance shortfall. The overall numbers indicate growing problems with attracting paying customers and exhibitors to the fair. In total, fair attendance dropped from 411,547 in 2015 to 357,409 in 2016.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture, which puts on the State Fair every year, has set in motion an 80,000-recipient survey. A variety of selected Fair attendees will receive online questionnaires intended to collect data about their State Fair visit. The survey includes requests for data on potentially controversial subjects, such as the increase in State Fair admission prices. Those who get the survey will be requested to rate various parts of the State Fair experience; such things as exhibits, entertainment, and food. Respondents will also be asked to help the State Fair get a feel for how many miles people travelled to visit the Fair, how many tickets each household or group bought, and whether a ticketholder also visited the Fair on more than one day.

Results may be used to help shape future decisions about revitalizing the State Fair. One of the biggest long-term challenges the Fair faces is the deteriorating infrastructure of the buildings and grounds that house most of the activities. The new State Fair foundation board, which is set to govern a new private-sector body that is seeking 501-c-3 status, met for the first time last month. If and when the new foundation receives its designation from the federal government as a nonprofit, it can begin actively raising funds for the goal of rebuilding the Fairgrounds.  Donations could include large gifts that would grant naming rights over buildings or other parts of the Fairgrounds.

Possible buyer for former Mitsubishi plant
A buyer is negotiating to purchase the former Mitsubishi Motors plant in Bloomington-Normal.  Closure of the facility, which was home to 3,000 jobs at one point, was announced back in January as part of a reduction by Mitsubishi in the U.S. market.

Mitsubishi was at one time one of the largest employers in all of Central Illinois. On top of the thousands of employees who worked at the plant, thousands more Illinoisans worked for the facility’s suppliers and contractors. The would-be purchaser of the Bloomington-Normal plant is Rivian Automotive, a Michigan-based startup firm that intends to make self-driving electric cars. If the purchase does go through, and if Rivian is able to raise enough capital, the company’s goal is to invest as much as $175 million in the factory between 2017 and 2024.

There are still some issues to be finalized regarding the purchase of the plant and the beginning of production, but I was relieved to hear that this large facility could be back in service in the near future.

Did You Know?
The Illinois State Flag is made up of eight very specific colors (and very specific shades of those colors) from the Standard Color Card of America: Old Glory Red number 70180, Old Glory Blue number 70075, Midnight Black number 70090, Nickel Grey number 70152, Hunter Green number 70069, Spanish Yellow number 70068, Orange number 70069 and Brown number 70119.