Red flags on budget proposal; preparing for severe weather season

Ratings agencies give negative response to Pritzker budget proposal

Illinois’ low credit rating has been a fixture in the news for too many years now. Unfortunately, after reviewing the budget proposal offered by Governor Pritzker, two of the nation’s three major credit-rating agencies warned that the plan was unlikely to convince them to raise Illinois’ standing, which is currently the worst of any state in the nation.

Both agencies were skeptical of the governor’s reliance on temporary, one-time-only fixes rather than long-term solutions. Some examples include the proposed sale of the Thompson Center in Chicago and the sale of licenses for legalized marijuana and sports betting. Standard and Poor’s said the proposal was “dubious” and warned that enacting the governor’s proposed budget could “weaken the state’s credit trajectory.” Fitch Ratings went a step farther and said that if Pritzker’s budget is enacted it might lead to yet another credit downgrade.

The problem with these one-time solutions is that while they might patch the budget hole for the coming fiscal year, their proceeds would be used up when the same expenses; things like Medicaid, pension payments and other annual spending items; present themselves in the next fiscal year. In other words, the money will be gone and the budget hole will still be there.

We are in the early stages of the appropriations process in the General Assembly. I hope we take advantage of this time to come together on a serious, balanced budget agreement that sets our state on a better course.

Severe Weather Preparedness Week

March 3-9 is Severe Weather Preparedness Week in Illinois. Each year, the National Weather Service (NWS) and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency partner to make Illinoisans aware of the steps they need to take to prepare for the kinds of severe weather that we typically see in the spring.

Everyone is advised to know where to go in the event of a tornado, whether at home, at work or at school. Each shelter within a building should have an emergency kit which includes a flashlight, portable radio with batteries, bottled water and non-perishable food, medications/first aid kit and other emergency supplies. There are other preparedness steps you can take, such as getting re-acquainted with how to use a fire extinguisher, how to administer CPR and how to turn off the electricity, gas and water lines to your house or other building. The NWS also recommends inspecting the areas around your home for weak or damaged trees or tree limbs, as well as cracks in your windows or worn-out shingles and roofing.

Safety while on the road during severe weather is another priority of this year’s awareness campaign. The NWS reminds drivers to get off the road and into a safe room in a sturdy building, and NOT to seek refuge beneath a highway overpass or a tree as these are not safe locations and could increase your risk of being injured by wind-blown debris. More information is available at www.weather.gov/lincoln.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $8,496,384,348 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $9.2 billion. 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 subject to a wide range of factors and has been estimated to be approximately $130 billion.

Pontiac Mayor testifies in committee

On Tuesday I was honored to have Pontiac Mayor Bob Russell join me in the House Committee on Transportation Regulation Roads and Bridges to testify in favor of House Bill 2589. Mayor Russell and I both spoke in support of this legislation, which could potentially save transportation funds for cities like Pontiac that have historic areas where parking was allowed near intersections and traffic signs when the parking spaces and roads were built. A state law which was approved years after these parking spaces were built prohibits them within a certain distance from intersections and traffic signs. The cost of re-configuring an existing parking pattern to comply with that requirement would be both costly and disruptive to many historic communities. Our bill would allow those communities keep existing parking spaces.

The bill passed out of committee unanimously, and will now be considered by the full House of Representatives.

State Police to increase enforcement of ‘Move Over’ law

Illinois law requires drivers to change lanes if they see a first-responder vehicle parked on the side of multi-lane highway. In spite of the law, however, there have already been eleven accidents this year involving State Police vehicles hit by motorists. Another occurred last weekend just south of Springfield, and a crash on Interstate 294 on January 12 took the life of Illinois State Trooper Christopher Lambert.

The State Police have announced an increase in the enforcement of the law, also known as “Scott’s Law” after a Chicago Fire Department lieutenant who was struck and killed on an expressway in 2000. Drivers must change lanes away from a parked emergency vehicle if it is safe do so. If it is not safe to change lanes, the driver is expected to slow down and pass the parked vehicle at a safe rate of speed. Violators of the law are subject to suspension of their driver’s license, and a fine of up to $10,000.

Did You Know?

Illinois averages 50 tornadoes each year, and we are 5th in the nation in the number of tornadoes per square mile. While the busiest time of year for tornadoes in Illinois is from April to June, tornadoes have struck on every single day on the calendar. On average, Illinois has 550 incidents of wind or hail damage each year. In June 2015, a hailstone 4.75 inches in diameter (larger than a grapefruit) was found in Minooka, Illinois. It was one of the largest hailstones ever reported in the state.