Week in Review 9-25-2015: Budget, School Mandates, & Mumps Outbreak

FY16 Budget
·         Democrat majority continues piecemeal budget strategy.  Although Illinois is close to ending its third month without a spending plan for the fiscal year that began on July 1, 2015, the House session this week did not show any signs of progress.  On Thursday, Democrats on the House Executive Committee passed a $3.8 billion spending bill without specifying a funding source for the monies pledged by the committee to be spent. 

While the House committee’s action cleared SB 2046 for further action on the House floor, the lack of real negotiations on the State budget mean that spending bills of this type are seen by close observers of Springfield as less than serious.  The full House did not take up SB 2046 for debate this week, and did not discuss an overall spending plan or budget agreement.  Gov. Rauner has stated his intent to veto this and other piecemeal budget bills that would overspend anticipated revenues by billions of dollars.          

·         Other states with budget challenges make progress.  The Pew Charitable Trusts has conducted a nonpartisan survey of states with ongoing challenges in crafting a budget for fiscal year 2016.  They have found that, in states other than Illinois, substantial progress has been made.  Alabama and Massachusetts, after extensive wrangling, have achieved compromise budgets for the 2016 fiscal year.  The budgets of New Hampshire and North Carolina, after being caught in policy-related impasses, have been signed into law.  In Illinois’ neighboring state of Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker has signed a two-year budget.

The Pew Charitable Trusts pointed to two states, Illinois and Pennsylvania, as examples of ongoing budget showdowns “with no end in sight.”
Economy – Job Creation
·         Reboot Illinois points out Illinois’ lagging record in job creation.  The report, issued on Monday, September 21, responds to and provides background for Illinois’ slow recovery from the 2008-14 economic downturn. 

The Reboot Illinois report traced job creation over a five-year period covering much of the downturn, from June 2009 through June 2014.  During this 5-year span, the Prairie State ranked 42nd among the 50 states for job creation since June 2009.  Illinois increased its job positions by 3.0% during this recession-affected time period.  During the same span of time, jobs in Wisconsin increased by 4.4%, the same numbers in Iowa increased by 5.0%, Kentuckians saw 5.1% more positions during the five-year period, and the number of jobs during the same period in Indiana increased by 7.8%. 

Education – School Mandates
·         Key association of school districts supports Rauner push to eliminate burdensome State mandates.  The push to eliminate many of the day-to-day operational mandates upon Illinois local school districts is a major component of Governor Rauner’s “Turnaround Illinois” agenda.  The Large Unit District Association, which represents many of the school districts of Illinois that have the largest pupil enrollments, has swung behind the Governor’s proposal and has joined his call that it be brought before the General Assembly for discussion and debate. 

Mandates are imposed by State law through the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), an independent State board appointed by the Governor.  Mandates seen by local school districts as unduly burdensome include mandatory drivers’ education, including behind-the-wheel training; mandatory daily physical education; and a hard bar on third-party contracting, or outsourcing, for essential operating services such as janitorial work.  Rauner’s platform is pushing to allow local school districts, on a district-by-district basis, to lift the ban on school district third-party essential-operating-service contracts.  Proponents believe that lifting this ban will reduce upward pressure on school budgets and school-related property taxes.  The Rauner platform calls for returning much of the monies saved through this pathway to taxpayers by freezing property tax extensions.

Current law allows individual school districts to apply to the General Assembly for waivers from some, but not all, of the school mandates imposed by the State.  The school district must undergo an administratively burdensome process to make the waiver request and get it approved.  School districts may apply for waivers from the daily physical education mandate, and may apply for relief from some fee-related provisions of the driver’s education mandate.  Many ISBE mandates cannot be waived under any circumstances. 

Illinois State Lottery
·         Gov. Rauner announces termination of Illinois State Lottery’s private-sector operating partner.  The decision to sever ties with the Northstar Lottery Group was announced on Friday, September 18.

The move, which will become fully effective on January 1, 2016, closely followed the public disclosure of findings by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.  The legislature’s nonpartisan budget office found last week that the State Lottery had transferred $125 million less to State coffers in FY15 (ended June 30, 2015) than it had in FY14.  The decline in Lottery profits occurred while the Northstar Group was operating as the State Lottery’s private partner.  The findings were summarized in the CGFA report “Wagering in Illinois: 2015,” which was released on Thursday, September 17. 

Governor Rauner’s general counsel, Jason Barclay, reported that the termination move will save Illinois taxpayers an immediate $22 million.  A previous termination deal, negotiated by Rauner’s predecessor Pat Quinn, had committed Illinois to pay $22 million to Northstar as a separation fee.  By contrast, the January 1, 2016 Rauner termination agreement includes no fee to be paid by the State to Northstar.     

Infectious Disease – Mumps
·         Mumps cases reported in Bloomington-Normal high schools.  The secondary schools, Normal West and University High, are now classified as outbreak locations of the infectious illness, which is transmitted by virus.  The Bloomington-Normal outbreak followed appearances of the virus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and Eastern Illinois University, both located in east-central Illinois.  Twenty-one cases of mumps had been confirmed in McLean County as of Friday, September 18.  More than 200 cases of mumps have been reported so far in Illinois in calendar year 2015.  

Many Illinois residents have been vaccinated with measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and are less likely to get the disease.  The illness is highly contagious, however.  Mumps is characterized by severe, flu-like symptoms and by swollen glands, ovaries, and testicles.  The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) further describe mumps here.

Outdoor Sports – Hunting and Fishing
·         House celebrates Illinois outdoor sports.  On Thursday, September 24, the Illinois House recognized National Hunting and Fishing Day, which will be observed on Saturday, September 26.  In Southern Illinois, observances will center at the Southern Illinois Celebration of National Hunting and Fishing Days at John A. Logan Community College in Carterville. 

The Prairie State is known throughout the United States as a center for trophy deer hunting. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) supervises deer hunting throughout Illinois and grants licenses to sportsmen.  The license application season is active in preparation for the first Illinois firearm deer season, starting on Friday, November 20.  

State Government – Agriculture
·         Illinois’ top agriculture leaders resign.  Governor Bruce Rauner Thursday accepted the resignation of Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Phil Nelson.  Nelson will remain employed with the Department for the next 30 days to help with the transition.  State Fair Director Patrick Buchen has also stepped down.

“I appreciate Director Nelson’s commitment to agriculture and his service to the people of Illinois,” Governor Rauner said. “I wish him all the best.”

Rauner appointed current Department of Agriculture Chief of Staff Warren Goetsch as Acting Director.  A search for a permanent replacement is underway.

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