Session gets underway; State of the State

General Assembly back in Springfield
The House and Senate reconvened for the first two days of the spring session this week. A brief session on Tuesday was followed by a handful of committee hearings – the first of many to come over the next few months. On Wednesday we overrode an amendatory veto by the Governor of a bill to implement last summer’s reforms to education funding. Fortunately, an agreement was worked out to address the concerns of all the interested parties. We will be back in session next Tuesday.

With the beginning of the second year of this two-year General Assembly, hundreds of new bills have been introduced, while hundreds of bills from the first year still remain. Between now and the May 31 scheduled adjournment we must put together a state budget for the next fiscal year, address some concerns that have come to light with the recent education funding bill, and find ways to make Illinois more competitive with our neighbors in creating jobs (more on that below).

We also still face the matter of the unpaid back wages owed to many of our state employees. I am one of the sponsors of House Bill 754, a stand-alone appropriation bill which would make available the funds to make these court-ordered payments to state employees. I hope we can see action on that bill or another one just like it without any political games or budget gimmicks.

Governor delivers State of the State Address
The main event of the week was Governor Bruce Rauner’s State of the State address on Wednesday. The Governor struck an optimistic tone, expressing his belief that Illinois can recover from the bad economic times we have had over the past several years.

As he spoke, I found myself wondering what might have happened if we had enacted some pro-jobs reforms three years ago, instead of being trapped in partisan gridlock for all that time. But even though we have had so many missed opportunities over the past few years, the Governor made clear that he still believes we can get Illinois moving in the right direction.

There were other elements of the speech which I enjoyed. One of them was the renewed commitment to fighting opioid abuse, and another was the continued support for agricultural education in our schools. I was glad to hear him say that he will be submitting a balanced budget proposal in two weeks, and I also liked what he had to say about the need for term limits and pension reform.

How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $8,368,751,213 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.

Illinois unemployment rate drops
Unemployment in Illinois fell from a rate of 4.9% in November down to 4.8% in December. The decline in the jobless rate at the end of 2017 was a sign of a stable employment picture in the state. Illinois is the home to an estimated 6,050,900 nonfarm payroll jobs. These figures indicate an increase of 1,500 jobs from November, and a gain of close to 30,000 jobs over the past year. The new figures were released by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), the state agency charged with tracking and monitoring Illinois employment and unemployment.

IDES looks at the statewide job picture to analyze where new jobs are being created or where existing jobs are being lost. During 2017, job growth occurred mostly in manufacturing and financial activities. The net growth in the state’s manufacturing jobs marks a reversal after many years of declining activity in this sector. Over half of the 29,600 net new jobs created last year were hired by the financial and manufacturing sectors. One area of weakness was the public sector, as the various units of government throughout the state now employ 4,100 fewer workers at year’s end than at the beginning of the year. Illinois’ unemployment rate continues to lag behind most of our neighboring states and the nation as a whole.

Opposing the Illinois mileage tax
I have joined with chief sponsor Representative Charlie Meier and about a dozen other co-sponsors in filing legislation opposing any potential tax on the number of miles driven by Illinois motorists. Such a mileage tax to be placed upon Illinois drivers continues to be a topic of discussion in the state legislature.

There are several different mileage tax proposals; all of which offer Illinois drivers a variety of bad options. One proposal calls for a fee of 1.5 cents per mile driven on public, non-tolled Illinois roads using GPS tracking technology. The GPS tracking would be in a smartphone app or a tracking device similar to the I-Pass (or EZ-Pass) and would monitor the location of each driver to calculate how many miles were driven in Illinois each month. Another plan would impose a fee of 1.5 cents per mile driven, but based on monthly odometer readings instead of GPS tracking technology. Yet another idea calls for a flat rate plan of an annual fee of $450.

Each of these is a bad idea that should not be enacted. Not only do they create serious privacy concerns, but as we are just a few months after last summer’s large income tax increase the last thing we should be doing is raising taxes on Illinoisans yet again.

Thanks to Nash Middle School
Thank you, Mr. Kohn, for the opportunity to visit with approximately 50 8th graders at the John L. Nash Middle School in Clifton this week to talk about state government, the Illinois Constitution and our greatest President. It was a good conversation with a great group of students and future leaders.

Did You Know
February 3, 1809, is the birthday of the Illinois Territory. While we will celebrate the bicentennial of Illinois statehood later this year, the first boundaries of what would become Illinois were established in 1809 when the Illinois Territory was split off from Indiana. The territory was between the Mississippi, Ohio and Wabash Rivers, and then a straight line drawn north from the Wabash to Lake Michigan. The northern border we are familiar with now was drawn a few years later.