Week In Review: May 1

Budget – FY15 – Social Services Restored
·         Revenue estimate up; $26 million in State grants to be restored.  The State of Illinois has faced continuous challenges in “keeping the lights on” during the final months of FY15.  When the Governor’s office changed hands in January, Governor Bruce Rauner found that the FY15 budget passed by Democrat majorities and signed by former Governor Pat Quinn was drastically unbalanced.  The General Assembly and the Rauner administration have worked together since that time to shift funds around to cover shortfalls.  In some cases, additional cuts were imposed on some agencies and their spending programs. 

Citing an improving economy, Governor Rauner announced Thursday that he would restore $26 million to social service and public health grants that were frozen earlier this year because of budget constraints.  Grants for autism, addiction prevention, assistance for homeless, teen REACH and other programs were impacted by the freeze. The Governor was able to restore funding to these programs because of better than expected revenues projections.  The bipartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability expects an additional $300 million to $500 million in tax revenue because of an improving economy in Illinois.

It must be noted that this restoration is only for the current fiscal year that ends June 30, 2015. Appropriation hearings have just begun for fiscal year 2016.

Please see The Caucus Blog for more information on this developing budget news story.         

Revenue – CGFA Estimate
·         General Assembly budget arm reports uptick in April 2015 tax revenues.  The increase in State revenue, reported by Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA) executive director Dan Long to the Senate Revenue Committee on Wednesday, April 29, showed up in checks paid to the Illinois Department of Revenue as part of year-end tax reconciliation payments by individual taxpayers.  The Department of Revenue has reported an increase in capital gains and other income lines reported by individual taxpayers.  The increase could be correlated by recent superior performance by worldwide equity markets, with many widely quoted indices reaching record highs. 

As FY15 moves into its final two months, the revenue picture for the year as a whole continues to clarify.  Both CGFA and the State’s other principal budget-control office, the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB), are converging on an FY15 general funds revenue estimate of $34.1 billion, net of refunds.  Additional monies of $1.318 billion were provided to general funds through the FY15 “budget fix”, approved by the General Assembly in late March, to generate $35.4 billion in general funds revenues for the year. 

This slightly improving revenue pattern for FY15 will not solve Illinois’ spending problems for FY16.  The continued year-over-year impact of the income tax rate rollback of January 1, 2015 is expected to reduce Illinois FY16 general funds receipts below the $35.4 billion number mentioned above for FY15.  Continued urgent actions will be required on Illinois’ ongoing budget crisis.      

Elections – Remapping Process
·         Petition drive launched to change process used to draw state legislative maps.  The process used to draw maps for members of the Illinois House and Senate is credited by many observers with a key role in the outcome of legislative elections.  Mapmaker can predict voting patterns and draw “safe” districts for incumbent lawmakers of either political party.   

On Tuesday, April 28, a bipartisan Illinois remap coalition announced the launching of a petition drive to change the process under which Illinois legislative-district maps are drawn.  Supporters say the proposed amendment could get on the ballot in a future Illinois election if 290,216 Illinois voters sign a petition to request that the question be placed on the ballot. 

Infrastructure – Listening Tour
·         Department of Transportation officials, Governor Rauner combine on 40-stop listening tour.  Many Illinoisans, especially representatives of local Illinois businesses and government, have expressed repeated disappointment with Springfield’s inability to fully fund the road and bridge needs of the State.  The month-long “listening tour” announced on Saturday, April 25 is giving local leaders the chance to show their support for additional State capital funds aimed at reducing a growing list of stalled and delayed State infrastructure projects.

Energy – Keystone Pipeline
·         Rep. David Reis speaks out in favor of energy infrastructure. HR 243, adopted on Wednesday, April 29, urges the Obama administration to speed up the process of granting final permits to enable construction to begin on a length of crude oil pipeline that will cross the U.S.-Canadian border.  Many other sectors of the Keystone XL pipeline network are entirely located within the United States; these domestic pipeline segments do not require adherence to a complex permitting process and are already being built or have been built. 

Users of gasoline, gasohol, diesel fuel, and jet fuel understand the importance of developing a flexible, redundant infrastructure to maximize the quantities of these vital fuels that can be delivered anywhere at any time.  The Keystone XL pipeline has the aim of further integrating the energy supplies of the United States and Canada.  The pipeline has also been designed to serve the fast-growing Bakken Reserves oilfields of Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota.  

Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline will enable 700,000 barrels of North American liquid fuel to be carried to U.S. refinery centers on the Gulf Coast.  It is expected to not only increase the accessibility of liquid-fuel supplies sourced in non-Middle East countries, but will also create an estimated 120,000 U.S. jobs and $20 billion in economic growth. 

Lincoln Funeral – Springfield
·         Legacy of 16th President remembered in Springfield.  The Lincoln Funeral Coalition has organized a series of events to mark the 150th anniversary of the return of President Abraham Lincoln’s remains to Illinois.  Scheduled for May 2 and May 3, the event will include ceremonies, lectures, workshops, and two one-day ceremonial processions featuring costumed reenactors.  Saturday’s procession represents the delivery of the remains from the original railroad line to the Old State Capitol (where Lincoln was viewed on May 3-4, 1865), and on Sunday reenactors will pay homage to Lincoln’s memory as they proceed from the Old State Capitol to Oak Ridge Cemetery.  Their destinations, the Old State Capitol and Lincoln’s Tomb, are State of Illinois historic sites open to the public.   

Obama Library – Chicago
·         President Obama selects Chicago South Side site for presidential library.  Many press reports, released Thursday April 30, concur that a location near Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood has been selected for the presidential library and museum of President Barack Obama.  The library is expected to be built with private funds, and will be operated with a combination of federal and private funds.  The U.S. National Archives helps operate 13 presidential libraries across America.  No State taxpayer funds are expected to be required to operate the library or museum.  

The library and museum are expected to become a substantial tourism asset to Illinois.  The Reagan Library, one of the most-seen presidential libraries in the U.S., is visited by approximately 400,000 annual travelers to Simi Valley, California.   Other recently-opened libraries honor President Clinton in Arkansas and President George W. Bush in Texas.

U.S.S. Illinois
·         Submarine “Illinois” will soon be “U.S.S. Illinois.”  The future U.S. Navy fast-attack submarine, built as a member of the “Virginia” class, will soon go through two milestones in its service life.  The vessel, which will operate as SSN 786, is approaching its launch date on the East Coast.  Following launch, the submersible will be carefully fueled and fitted out for service; when the fitting-out process is complete, the vessel will enjoy a second ceremony, that of being commissioned as an active warship on the rolls of the Navy.  At that time the vessel will be entitled to the full name of “U.S.S. Illinois.”

Friends of the “Illinois” have set up a committee to support the vessel and the personnel that have built and will man it.  By custom, civilian committees like this one are responsible for much of the financial support necessary to celebrate the vessel’s launch and entry into active service.   Representative Keith Wheeler, sponsor of HR 200  applauding the approaching entry of the “Illinois” into service, welcomed members of the Support Committee to Springfield on Wednesday, April 29. 

The Committee told House members they will not only help organize and raise money for events surrounding the launching and commissioning, but also provide ongoing support for the ship and its crew after commissioning. As a nuclear-powered submarine, the vessel will be available for three-month tours of duty, during which time the vessel may not touch the surface of the water.     

Gov. Dan Walker
·         92-year-old former Governor of Illinois passes away.  Walker’s death was announced on Wednesday, April 29.  Noted for his folksy 1,000-mile “walk” through many Illinois communities in his successful 1972 campaign, the Democrat served a four-year term (January 1973 – January 1977) as Illinois’ chief executive.   His leadership was marked by enactment of the Illinois State Lottery law; the first tickets were sold in summer 1974.  Walker also signed the State law that created the Chicago-area Regional Transportation Authority (RTA).

After his time in office, Walker attempted to lead a Chicago-area savings and loan financial institution.  Questionable activities led to his trial and conviction on federal charges.  After being released from imprisonment, Walker moved to the San Diego area, where he spent much of the remainder of his life. 

The Flag Display Act is the flag code for the display of flags in Illinois public buildings.  Governor Rauner has asked that all flags flown at State of Illinois public buildings be flown at half-staff through Sunday, May 3 in remembrance of the former Governor.

World Trade Center – Mark Kirk
  •          House Republicans stand with Senator Mark Kirk, 9/11 survivors.  HR 414, sponsored by House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, supports the fight of 9/11 first responders to move needed legislation through Congress to continue the operation of existing federal programs that provide for their health care and compensation. 

Approximately 63,000 first responders, including trained police officers and firefighters, converged at the World Trade Center site on and soon after September 11, 2015 to perform emergency work under almost unimaginable conditions.  The James Zadroga Act has overseen the diagnosis of more than half of these individuals, 33,000, with medical conditions related to their emergency work.  However, the components of this federal Act will start to sunset in October, and Congress must act if the life of the program is to be extended.  Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois has joined his two New York State colleagues as lead sponsors of a bill to reauthorize this Act.   Senator Kirk was an original cosponsor of the James Zadroga Act in 2010, which provides two critical programs, the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund – set to expire in October 2015 and October 2016, respectively.

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