New pension reform legislation; Sirens for emergency responders

New pension reform proposal introduced
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin has introduced legislation for comprehensive pension reform that would provide significant savings for taxpayers and $215 million to the Chicago Public Schools for a one time pension parity payment.

According to Durkin, the legislation is modeled after legislation introduced in a bipartisan manner in the Senate. Specifically, the bill includes Senate President John Cullerton’s “consideration model” that would require members of TRS, SURS, SERS, GARS, and CTPF to exchange their Tier 1 COLA for the right to have future raises to be counted as pensionable, or keep their COLA and sacrifice future raises as pensionable.  This concept previously received union support by the We Are One Coalition. The bill also provides a one-time normal cost payment to the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund of $215.2 million for FY 17, closes new member participation in the General Assembly Retirement System, offers Tier 1 employees the option to participate in a defined contribution (DC) plan and creates a voluntary Tier 3 Hybrid defined benefit/defined contribution plan for new Tier 2 employees under the Teachers Retirement System, State Universities Retirement System, and certain State Employee Retirement System members who do not participate in Social Security.

Durkin estimates that the state will realize short-term savings of $2.25 billion dollars from the general funds and take a substantial step towards closing the deficit gap.

The bill is House Bill 4027.

Sirens for emergency responders’ vehicles
In an emergency, every second counts. When it comes to answering calls in rural areas, like those found across the 106th district, emergency responders need every speed advantage they can get. I have introduced legislation which would allow fire chiefs and county emergency managers to put a siren, whistle or bell on their vehicle to alert other motorists when they are responding to a call.

The idea for this bill was presented to me by Kent McCanless, the Emergency Management Agency director in Woodford County. It would allow these key personnel to respond faster in an emergency. The legislation is House Bill 3469. The bill passed the House 110-0 on Thursday and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Illinois tourism jobs promoted
The Illinois Governor’s Conference on Travel and Tourism celebrated the second year of the “Illinois Made” program earlier this month. The program highlights products that are craft-made or were invented in Illinois. Illinois products, such as Chicago-based Eli’s Cheesecake, are eligible to be designated “global brands” representing the Land of Lincoln to the rest of the nation and world.

The program also showcases Illinois-experience goods and services, such as restaurants, craft wineries and breweries, and places of historical interest and experience, such as Lincoln’s Springfield, Nauvoo, the Illinois Amish country, and Cahokia Mounds.

New school accountability plan approved by ISBE
The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has approved a new school accountability plan which retains its reliance on standardized tests, but moves away from the federal No Child Left Behind system enacted in 2001. The new plan creates a revised grading system to assess public school districts on their performance. While No Child Left Behind was widely criticized for its concentration on imposing proficiency guidelines on challenged school districts, the 2017 ISBE plan concentrates on academic growth metrics.  Schools and school districts will be positively reinforced for showing healthy movements, including movements from a challenged or low baseline.

The ISBE plan follows the replacement of No Child Left Behind by the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015.Like other states, Illinois has been asked to adopt a plan that sets long-term goals, determines metrics for measuring progress towards these goals and create a system to identify and support challenged schools and school districts. By 2032, the ISBE plan looks forward to at least 90% of children and adolescents meeting a series of age-appropriate goals.  At least 90% of high school graduates should leave school in a state of readiness for college and career.

The ISBE’s reliance on standardized tests will continue to be key factors in determining whether these age-appropriate goals are being met.  The ISBE will continue to use standardized tests to determine whether third graders are reading “at or above grade level” and fifth graders are “meeting or exceeding expectations” in math.

Unemployment figure declines in February
The Illinois Department of Employment Security’s February 2017 unemployment report, showed Illinois’ unemployment rate dropping from 5.7% to 5.4%. Initial figures showed an increase of 25,600 jobs in the state during February. The report also revised January’s job-creation figure upward to 8100 jobs created that month.

These figures are good news, but we still have a long way to go. Illinois has not created nearly as many new jobs as have neighboring states. In a pattern of lagging recovery from the severe recession of 2009-10, Illinois has created only 47,000 new nonfarm payroll jobs over the most recently measured twelve-month period – job growth of 0.8%. Poor numbers are concentrated in many Downstate communities and metropolitan areas, with unemployment of 11.1% posted for January 2017 in greater Rockford, 7.7% in the Decatur area and 7.0% in Carbondale. In fact, Illinois has virtually the same number of nonfarm payroll jobs as the number of employment positions that were posted and paid more than 16 years ago, during the previous job peak of September 2000.

Did You Know?
One of the most prominent veterans’ organizations in American history was founded in Illinois. On April 6, 1866, veterans of the Union Army gathered in Decatur to form the Grand Army of the Republic. Within 25 years, more than 400,000 Union Army veterans had organized into 7000 posts throughout the United States. The GAR spun off a number of service groups such as the Women’s Relief Corps and the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. The last GAR member died in 1956 at the age of 109.