New opioid helpline; revenue goes up

New hotline to help those affected by opioid crisis
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is now operating a new telephone service line, 1-833-2-FINDHELP (1-833-234-6343) to provide information about services for those dealing with the opioid crisis. The helpline connects callers with counselors who can refer persons with challenges, and their families, to local treatment and recovery-support services.

The opioid crisis has hit Illinois hard. Last year, there were 1,946 Illinoisans killed: that means that more Illinoisans die from opioid drug overdoses than from homicides or motor vehicle crashes. Nationwide it is estimated that 1.9 million Americans suffer from substance abuse challenges related to prescription opioid pain relievers. More than 400,000 Americans are believed to be addicted to heroin, including many thousands here in Illinois. Findings from a study published by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, report that almost a third of all heroin users experience an overdose event in any given 12-month period.

Leading state government’s efforts against the crisis are Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti and IDPH Director Nirav Shah, who co-chair the Illinois Opioid Overdose Prevention Task Force. Created through an executive order by Governor Rauner, the Task Force has been holding hearings and gathering testimony from public-health professionals and law enforcement leaders on the dimensions of the crisis. The Task Force began a statewide listening tour in October.

State tax revenue was up in November

Last week, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) issued its “Monthly Briefing” covering revenue facts and trends for the month of November. COGFA reports stable trends in both state revenues and the overall economy. With the higher income tax rates now in place, November income tax revenues were up $394 million compared to last November. Sales tax revenues were also up, growing by $54 million compared with this time last year.

While the higher revenue figure appears good on paper, it comes with some warnings. The revenue increase appears to have come from higher taxes on existing jobs rather than the creation of new jobs. In other words, working Illinoisans are paying more of their hard-earned money into the state treasury, but there are not many new jobs being created. The Illinois labor force has declined by approximately 80,000 job-age-ready adults during the past year, due to many Illinois residents leaving the state, moving to disability status or dropping out of the labor force.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $9,444,559,606 in unpaid bills to state vendors. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is estimated to be more than $100 billion.

Earlier this fall, the state sold $6 billion in bonds to help pay down the backlog. According to figures from the Comptroller’s office, that sale helped the state to pay 73,000 vouchers during the three week period that followed. Among those vouchers were overdue medical bills amounting to over $4.6 billion. By paying those bills, the state became eligible to receive over $2 billion in federal reimbursements. In total, Illinois was able to pay down $8.8 billion in overdue bills during those three weeks.

DAR honors Mike Freed for 33rd Division  Highway efforts
Earlier this year I had the honor of standing with Mike Freed for the unveiling of signage along Illinois Route 54 which recognized the highway in honor of the U.S. Army’s 33rd Division. The 33rd was created during World War I and was made up mostly of Illinois National Guard soldiers. It saw intense action during the Meuse-Argonne offensive in France in 1918. The 33rd continued to serve our nation during World War II and long afterwards.

Years ago, Route 54 was officially re-named in honor of the soldiers of the 33rd, but the appropriate signage was missing. Mike worked intently to give these soldiers the recognition they deserve, and his efforts bore fruit earlier this year with the new signs along Route 54, which crosses through Ford and Iroquois Counties on its way to Springfield.

The Daughters of the American Revolution honored Mike Freed for his efforts, which included the creation of an informational stop between Roberts and Thawville to tell the story of the 33rd. It was a privilege to work with Mike during this effort and to see him acknowledged for his hard work. We are all glad to see the work of those brave Illinoisans who have defended our nation be recognized.

Second weekend of firearm deer season shows harvest improvement numbers

With shotgun deer season now concluded for 2017, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reports a preliminary total tag count of 80,021 deer for the seven day season. This represents a slight increase from the 79,559 deer taken last year.

DNR reports a strong harvest in the second firearm weekend, in which hunters took more than 3,600 additional deer compared to the second weekend of last year’s shotgun season. This enabled the overall season to exceed last year, despite a slow statewide start during the first shotgun weekend.

The shotgun season is now over, but additional seasons remain. While the muzzleloader-only season was last weekend; two antlerless-only/CWD deer seasons will follow in certain Illinois counties, running through January 14. Bowhunters will be able to use their bows until January 14 as well.

Did You Know?

After World War II, Illinois put together a plan for building what became interstate highways. But the plan was put on hold for a decade until the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act was signed by President Eisenhower in 1956. The first section of the post-war Illinois interstate plan to be built was a portion of I-74 near Champaign. The federal Act created additional interstate miles, the first of which in Illinois became part of I-57 near Kankakee in 1957. The last segment to be built under the Act was Interstate 255 in the St. Louis area, completed in 1988. Under the original program signed by Eisenhower, Illinois built 1884 miles of freeway at a cost of more than $5 billion.