Week in Review for week of 10/26/15 – 10/30/15
FY16 Budget
  • Governor Rauner to chair public meeting with legislative leaders on Nov. 18.  The meeting is expected to examine the delayed FY16 budget process.  Although the FY16 fiscal year began on July 1, 2015, a constitutional balanced budget has not been enacted by the Democrat supermajorities in the Illinois House and Senate.  The State has continued to operate under consent decrees, court orders, continuing appropriations, and school appropriations, but this has created many operational problems.  Recipients of State services, and providers of goods and services to the State, have been affected by the lack of a legal budget document.  

Spokespersons for all four legislative leaders, including House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, expressed positive interest in the meeting.  The gathering was requested by a consortium of nonpartisan advocacy groups.  Sponsors of the request included the Better Government Association, the League of Women Voters, and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. 

Economy – Unemployment
·         September 2015 unemployment rate declines to 5.4%; few new jobs created statewide.  The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) reported this month that the statewide jobless percentage for September was 5.4%, down 0.2% from the August 2015 total of 5.6%.  However, this drop in the jobless rate was not caused by net new hiring.  Illinois seasonally adjusted non-farm payroll employment actually dropped by 6,900 jobs on a month-to-month basis in September, with sector weaknesses continuing in manufacturing, trade, transportation, and utilities.  Strong sectors included education services, health services, and government. 

Illinois unemployment rates remain higher than rates in neighboring states.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, seasonally adjusted jobless rates for September 2015 were 4.5% in Indiana, 3.6% in Iowa, 5.0% in Kentucky, 5.3% in Missouri, and 4.3% in Wisconsin.  In addition, these states (unlike Illinois) were producing net new jobs.  September 2015 unemployment was lower than the statewide average in greater Chicago (4.9%) and remained at above-6.0% recession levels in the three historically manufacturing-oriented Downstate cities of Danville (6.4%), Decatur (6.4%), and Rockford (6.2%).

Health Care – Affordable Care Act
·         Many providers of health care coverage under “Obamacare” announce significant rate hikes for 2016.  The Affordable Care Act, often called “Obamacare,” requires most U.S. adults who do not have employer-provided health care coverage to purchase health care coverage on the private market, and imposes tax penalties for the failure to make this purchase.  Private-sector providers of health care coverage are required to conform to a significant set of complex mandates, and many of them say these mandates drive up the prices they are required to charge.  Sharp increases are being seen in the costs of average Illinois health care policies offered across various tiers of coverage, with the average lowest cost Illinois silver plan going up 5.3% and the average lowest cost bronze plan increasing 11.3%. 

Mandated health care coverage can be expensive in Illinois.  According to the Illinois Department of Insurance, the price of a silver plan for a couple aged 55 can be as high as $1,033 in Sangamon County, which includes Illinois’ state capital of Springfield.  The ACA open enrollment deadline for 2016 coverage is set to begin to expire on December 15, 2015 (for coverage starting January 1, 2016), with the enrollment window completely closing on January 31, 2016.   

Higher Education
·         Moody’s reduces credit ratings for six State universities.  The downgrades reduced the credit ratings of, and increased the interest rates due and payable by, six Illinois universities.  The affected institutions were Eastern Illinois University (EIU), Governors State University (GSU), Northern Illinois University (NIU), Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU), Southern Illinois University (SIU), and Western Illinois University (WIU).  The New York-based credit rating firm attributed the decision to the budget turmoil facing Illinois.

Moody’s moved to cut Illinois state university credit ratings on Tuesday, October 27.  The move was a follow-up to its decision to cut the overall State of Illinois credit rating on Tuesday, October 22.  Moody’s did not downgrade the debt of the State’s flagship institutions, the University of Illinois (U of I) or Illinois State University (ISU), at this time.

·         State universities, students affected by lack of MAP grants.  The need-based, broadly awarded State of Illinois Monetary Award Program (MAP) financial aid grants are meant to supplement student loans, other scholarship money, and personal and family resources to help pay for the increasingly expensive cost of attending a public Illinois four-year institution of higher education or community college.  Because of the lack of a balanced budget for FY16, no MAP funding has been allocated for State universities or community colleges for the 2015-16 school year.  At this time, State universities and community colleges are accepting students with MAP grant awards, but cannot continue to do so indefinitely.

Northern Illinois University is one of the State universities affected by the lack of MAP grants and other State budgetary funding.  Approximately 5,000 MAP grant recipients are affected within the Northern Illinois University system.  The NIU Faculty Senate was prepared to move a resolution this week urging the General Assembly and Gov. Rauner to take budget action and fund MAP grants.   

Lucas Museum of Narrative Art
·         New art museum to be built south of Soldier Field.  The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, a $700-million museum and endowment spearheaded by filmmaker George Lucas, will specialize in narrative art and the art of visual storytelling.  The Lucas Collection, which is expected to be housed in the new Chicago museum, contains pieces by N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell and other well-known painters and illustrators, as well as rights to intellectual property connected with Lucasfilm Ltd.  Moving images, digital images, and movie memorabilia, including images from Hollywood, are expected to be featured.  The new museum will be built on landfill property reclaimed from Lake Michigan to build the Century of Progress world’s fair in 1933-34.  In more recent years, the space has been used as a surface parking lot for Soldier Field and McCormick Place.

Hurdles faced by the new museum included the need to win planning permission from the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago.  Illinois granted permission to construct the new museum with the enactment of HB 373 (P.A. 99-3) in May, and the Chicago City Council approved a rezoning designation for the museum on Wednesday, October 28.  The City Council action was seen as one of the final goals that developers of the 300,000-square-foot museum needed to meet before construction can begin.  


Pensions
·         Illinois’ State Employees Retirement System (SERS) asks to withdraw $225 million.  The withdrawals, which will be completed on December 10, will cover retiree benefits to be paid in November and December of this year.  SERS believes this is the largest cash withdrawal it has ever made.  Pension checks to existing beneficiaries are expected to go out on schedule.

The withdrawal was made necessary by the inability of the State of Illinois to meet its statutory obligation to SERS, and to parallel State-managed pension funds that cover the retirement needs of education professionals, for the payments of money in FY16 from general funds.  Payments by the State to the pension funds are one of the areas where, in the absence of specific appropriations authority, the money cannot flow.  In other areas of the State’s FY16 budget, money is flowing as a result of a cobbled-together combination of continuing appropriations, school appropriations, consent decrees, and court orders.  The Illinois General Assembly has still not passed a balanced budget for FY16.    

The withdrawal of money from SERS’s deposited investments is expected to further deplete its funds and add to its long-term unfunded liability.

Transportation – License Plates
·         New policy will change the way specialty license plates are displayed in Illinois.  By tradition, the advocacy and specialty license plates of Illinois are made from designs of stamped metal that are unique to each group identity and advocacy cause.  As the number of specialty license plate designs has passed 100, Illinois law enforcement has raised intensifying concerns about the use of license plates to identify and track motor vehicles. 

In response to these police concerns, the Illinois General Assembly passed a new law, HB 1081 (P.A. 99-483) to change the overall framework within which future Illinois specialty license plates will be designed and displayed.  In the new framework, which will affect most new specialty plates starting in 2016 and going forward, there will be one overall Illinois stamped-metal specialty license plate design.  Advocacy organizations and affinity groups that get permission from the General Assembly for their own license plate will have the right to work with the Secretary of State’s office on the design of a brightly-colored decal that will be attached to the license plate and which will be unique to each cause or group.  The bill was signed into law by Gov. Rauner on Friday, October 23.

Some new specialty stamped-metal plates will continue to be issued.  Illinois drivers who possess standing of honor, such as military service or receipt of a military medal or award, will continue to be eligible to apply for and receive specialty stamped-metal vehicle license plates.


Week in Review
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Credit Ratings – FY16 Budget Crisis
·         Fitch, Moody’s downgrade Illinois.  Fitch Ratings, whose credit ratings are closely watched by Wall Street and the global investment community, reduced Illinois’ “general obligation” (GO) bond rating from single-A-minus, the former ranking, to one notch closer to junk-bond status on Monday, October 19.  The new BBB+ rating is only two notches above the lowest investment-grade rating (BBB-) and is three notches above BB+, which signals non-investment-grade (“junk bond”) status.  Illinois’ GO bond rating is the lowest among the 50 states.

In their move, Fitch pointed to the “continued deterioration of the state’s financial flexibility during its extended budget impasse” and to Illinois’ act of continuing to “spend in most areas at the fiscal 2015 rate, which is expected to lead to a sizeable deficit.”  The Fitch move affects $26.8 billion in Illinois’ outstanding general obligation bonds.  Other Illinois-related debts, such as debts of the University of Illinois and other State universities, tend to move up and down in tandem with the benchmark Illinois GO rating.

Following Fitch’s downgrade, Moody’s Investor Services downgraded its ratings on Illinois bonds. Thursday, Moody’s downgraded Illinois outstanding $27 billion of GO bonds to Baa1 from A3, while also lowering ratings on the state’s sales-tax (Build Illinois) bonds to Baa1 from A3, and on the state’s subject to appropriation bonds to Baa2 from Baa1.  The outlook for all of these obligations remains negative.

“The downgrades reflect weakening of the state’s financial position during 2015 and our expectation that an ongoing budget stalemate will lead to further deterioration,” Moody’s said in a statement.  “Structural budget imbalance, accounts payable, and other fiscal metrics are back-tracking, despite a favorable economic climate, leaving the state more vulnerable to the next economic downturn, barring unexpectedly strong and swift corrective actions.”

James R. Thompson Center
·         Thompson Center sale could move major Chicago land parcel to private sector.  HB 4313, sponsored by House Republican Leader Jim Durkin with the support of Gov. Bruce Rauner, is aimed at moving the Loop city block bounded by Clark, Lake, LaSalle, and Randolph Streets to its highest and best economic use. 

The Thompson Center, the 17-story office building that currently occupies the site, contains 813,226 usable square feet of office space – considerably less than the square footage of comparable redeveloped Loop square blocks.  As State real property, it is exempt from city and county property taxes.  Moving the parcel to the private sector for redevelopment could increase Chicago assessment rolls and reduce burdens on other Chicago property owners.  Approximately 50 State agencies, employing almost 2,200 workers, currently occupy the Thompson Center.  New space will have to be found for these agencies and workers if the building were to be sold.

The Department of Central Management Services (CMS) is briefing lawmakers on the economic challenges of continuing to operate the Thompson Center as a State office building.  CMS reports that continued tight budgets have prevented the State, for more than a decade, from carrying out necessary continuous capital maintenance.  The building in its current form has built up an accumulated deficit of unperformed capital maintenance estimated at nearly $100 million.  This figure represents work on the buildings’ “systems” – electrical, furnishings and fittings, plumbing, security, HVAC, elevators, and other – that will have to be done in the next few years if the center is to remain habitable.  Alternatively, the site could be designated for redevelopment.             

Auditor General – Mautino
·         General Assembly approves appointment of Rep. Frank Mautino.  The Auditor General is a constitutional position created to supervise the audits periodically performed upon State agencies and other public-sector offices within Illinois.  The position supervises about 90 full-time employees and has a budget of $30 million, including funds earmarked for contract audit professionals.  On Tuesday, October 20, bipartisan majorities of the Illinois House and Senate approved SJR 35, appointing Rep. Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley) to be the new Illinois Auditor General.  His ten-year term will start on January 1, 2016.

The duties of the Auditor General are set forth in Section 3 of Article VIII of the Constitution of Illinois.  The Auditor General, and his or her office, conduct the audit of public funds of the State, and shall make additional reports and investigations as directed by the General Assembly.  Retiring Auditor General Bill Holland, who has served since 1992, carried out many high-stakes audits and investigations during his time in office.  Scrutiny from Holland’s office is credited with being one of the forces leading to the law enforcement investigation, arrest, impeachment, and conviction of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

FY16 Budget
·         Budget stalemate continues; Comptroller Munger issues financial update.   Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger told Illinoisans on Friday, October 16 that the State’s unpaid bills, in the absence of budgeted appropriations for FY16, have reached $6.9 billion.  Based on the assumption that no significant changes will alter current trends, the State’s backlog of unpaid bills will be about $8.5 billion by December 31, 2015.

While many subsets of the FY16 budget are being protected by at least 14 separate court orders, consent decrees, and continuing appropriations laws, not all of the budget is so protected.  A major November 2015 pension payment of approximately $560 million, required by certified actuarial projections, is expected to be delayed.  Payments due to many nonprofit socials service providers, Illinois university students and their institutions of higher education, counties, municipalities, 9-1-1 emergency call centers, and many other vendors are facing delay.  Layoffs are taking place due to the inability of the State of Illinois to enact a constitutionally balanced budget.    

  • Action once again delayed on State budget, other key issues.  The Illinois House and Senate met in fall session on Tuesday, October 20, but House Democrats did not take substantive action on the general funds portion of the FY16 budget.  As noted above, the General Assembly took action to select a new Auditor General.  Testimony on the budget was heard, and the Democrats moved amendments to a bill  to appropriate money from GRF and “other State funds” for various individual line items related to the testimony. 

This week’s General Assembly action did not replenish the exhausted State general funds balance that forms the heart of the current unbalanced-status of the State budget.  Nothing in this action was expected to affect the State’s declining debt and credit ratings.  The next General Assembly session day is scheduled for Tuesday, November 10.  

·         Ex-State superintendent of schools collected nearly $207,000 on way out the door.  An investigation by the Chicago Tribune showed a substantial transfer of public funds to ex-State Superintendent of Schools Christopher Koch earlier this year.  The payment was approved and made in conjunction with former Superintendent Koch’s agreement to leave office.  Governor Rauner appointed the current schools chief, Tony Smith, in Koch’s place.

The Illinois State Board of Education is the supervisory board over elementary, high school and K-12 school districts of Illinois.  It is a quasi-nonpartisan board whose members are appointed by the Governor.  It has the currently controversial duty of examining and enforcing local school district compliance with a wide variety of standardized test mandates, including mandates intended to enforce so-called “Common Core” standards.  ISBE oversees the certification and re-certification of teachers and other educator professionals, monitors the financial integrity of school district finances, and performs other mandated oversight tasks. 

Superintendent Koch, like previous superintendents, served a fixed term and left after his term expired.  The Board paid Koch $89,000 in formal severance pay, and an additional $118,000 for Koch’s 138.5 unused vacation days.  Koch has returned to the private sector.     
  
Education – Graduation Rates
·         Illinois high schools increase their graduation rates.  The increase, tallied for school year 2013-2014, reflects a higher number of high school graduates as a proportion of those entering high school.  For 2013-2014, the rate for Illinois was 86.0%, up 2.8% from the 83.2% reported in 2012-2013.  Higher graduation rates mean fewer dropouts.  The new numbers were reported by the U.S. Department of Education on Monday, October 19. 

Illinois has room for improvement in its high school graduation rates.  The 2013-2014 report shows 19 states scoring above Illinois.  All five neighboring states – Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, and Wisconsin – outscored Illinois on high school graduation rates in 2013-2014.  Iowa’s graduation rate, 90.5%, was #1 among the 50 states measured.

Environment
·         Firewood restrictions lifted.  The Illinois Department of Agriculture has lifted previous restrictions in place against the legal transport of firewood across Illinois.  The restrictions were meant to delay the spread of the emerald ash borer, a destructive pest beetle from East Asia that wounds and kills North American ash trees.  The quarantine has failed, and more than 250 million ash trees have died across the American Midwest.  Some ash trees, if they are continually treated with insecticides, may survive.  Campers and other users of firewood are still being told not to carry firewood across state lines.  The emerald ash borer was first caught near Detroit in 2002, and the now-lifted quarantine restrictions were imposed in 2007.  The change in State policy was announced on Wednesday, October 21.

Gambling – Fantasy Sports
·         Gaming Board to ask Attorney General for opinion on daily fantasy sports betting websites.  The Gaming Board’s intent was announced on Friday, October 16.  Daily fantasy sports betting websites, such as DraftKings and FanDuel, are under serious regulatory scrutiny in many U.S. states, headed by Nevada.  Critics say some of these sites have crossed the line and are offering online casino-like experiences.  Nevada has ordered several daily fantasy sports sites to be shut down.

Daily fantasy sports betting sites have some similarities to amateur fantasy sports wagering, in that wins are based on actual sporting events.  However, many gambling experts say that the timeframes within which daily sports-based betting sites take in and pay out money, and other factors, turns these games from being “games of skill” to “games of chance.”  This distinction between games of skill and games of chance is one of the key dividing lines that help to define a gambling transaction separately from a non-gambling transaction.  Unless specifically legalized, gambling is a Class A misdemeanor (up to 1 year in county jail) under state law.
  
State Government
·         Rauner Administration Reaches Agreements with Trade Unions.  After several months of good faith negotiations, Governor Bruce Rauner agreed to terms on new four-year collective bargaining agreements with the International Union of Operating Engineers, the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry, and the International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers.  The last set of agreements expired June 30, 2015.

The new contracts cover workers at the Departments of Agriculture, Central Management Services, Corrections, Historic Preservation, Human Services, Juvenile Justice, Military Affairs, Transportation, Veterans’ Affairs, and the Illinois State Police.  The employees are all professional tradesmen and women who work as stationary engineers and plant operators, plumbers and steamfitters, and machinists.

The tentative agreements are being submitted to the membership of the trade unions for a ratification vote.  The terms of the tentative agreements are confidential until the end of the ratification process.

As a continuation of the productive negotiating sessions, the trade unions and the Governor’s Office also pledged to form a long-term relationship to improve employer-labor relations in state government.

·         Remaining firearm lottery deer-hunting permits go on sale.  The lottery-drawing sale began on Wednesday, October 21.  Resident and non-resident deer permits are sold by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.  The first firearm deer season will begin on Friday, November 20, with shooting allowed starting one-half hour before sunrise on that day and ending one-half hour after sunset on Sunday, November 22.

·         Pumpkin season across Illinois.  Illinois is the #1 pumpkin-producing state in the U.S.  The vine has been grown in sandy, irrigated Illinois soil since Native American days.  Pumpkin-friendly soils can be found centered in Tazewell County east of Peoria, which is also the home of the only cannery plant in the U.S. that specializes in the processing of farm-grown pumpkins into pulp for pastries and pies.  Other Central Illinois counties that grow many pumpkins are Mason, Peoria, Stark, and McLean.  Unfortunately, heavy rain in the summer of 2015 has damaged production this year.  After the pumpkin season is over, however, Illinois-grown winter squash will be enjoyed for further months.   

Week in Review

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What started as an effort to reform the grant-making process for five of Illinois’ human services departments has grown into a statewide undertaking with far-reaching financial implications.
When the Grant Accountability and Transparency Act (GATA) received a final signature in July 2014, it opened the door for a much needed evaluation and overhaul of the state’s grant-making process throughout more than 50 agencies.
At the time, the Management Improvement Initiative Committee (MIIC) had already been tasked with the review and renovation of the handful of human services agencies. The new law expanded those duties tenfold and set the stage for solutions that would better protect tens of millions of dollars from mismanagement, fraud and abuse.
The widely publicized failure of the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative and the mismanagement of grant funds that accompanied it had, in part, prompted legislative action. But those close to ongoing efforts said reform was already in state officials' sights. Read the complete article by Eyragon Eidam, staff writer for Government Technology magazine, by clicking here.

Authorities are searching 18 counties in southern Illinois and Indiana for a missing piece of radioactive well logging equipment.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency says the well logging source holder is owned by Wayne County Well Surveys, Inc. of Fairfield. It was reported missing Friday after last being seen in a company vehicle. Please click here to read the full WSIL story by Amanda Robertson.




This morning, State Representative John Cavaletto (R-Salem) brought in the new Deputy Secretary of Transportation, Rich Brauer, to tour the 14th Street crossing in Centralia to see first-hand the safety concerns created with the slow moving trains through the area. When long cargo trains are forced to slow down to a 10 mph speed and create a blockage of traffic flow, the result can (and has been in the past) in emergency vehicles to be delayed in life-n-death situations.

Thank you to Centralia residents James Adams and Nathan Rothschild for their continuing efforts to keep this issue moving forward. Mr. Adams began working on this concern in 1998 and at 102 years of age, is still energized about solving this safety issue for the Centralia and Wamac communities.



Bradford National Bank, with locations in Greenville, Highland, and Marine, is sponsoring two free shredding and recycling days at the bank.
The first will be held on Saturday, October 17 from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. in Greenville at the Bradford Community Building, and again on Saturday, October 24 from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. at the Highland bank, located at 1100 Mercantile Drive. Read more about these events at WGEL Radio.
Federal energy regulators smell a rat in downstate Illinois.
Energy-regulators-investigate-Illinois-electricity-price-surge.jpgThe Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has taken the unusual step of ordering a formal investigation into the results of a power auction last spring that caused the energy price paid by Ameren Illinois customers to jump 31 percent beginning in June. After several months of informal probing, FERC, which oversees the functioning of wholesale power markets, gave its enforcement staff subpoena authority on Oct. 1.
The order says FERC investigators will probe any potential evidence of market manipulation or other rules violations.

The officials to be put under oath may well include executives with Houston-based Dynegy, which dominates the power generating market downstate and has acknowledged that a bid by one of its Illinois plants set the “capacity” price that caused downstate electric bills to surge.
At issue is the auction held in April by regional grid operator MISO Energy to determine the price consumers pay power plants for their promise to deliver during high-demand periods when they're most needed. Those capacity costs are embedded in the overall electricity price households and businesses pay.

In that auction, the cost of capacity in downstate Illinois in the year beginning June 1 spiked nearly 9 times to $150 per megawatt-day, from $16.75 the 12-month period before. That will cause the average Ameren Illinois household to pay more than $130 more for electricity this year.
After the price spike, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked FERC to overturn the result and conduct a formal investigation. FERC said no to reversing the outcome, but yes to the probe.
“We are pleased FERC has responded strongly on the MISO capacity markets as a result of our complaint,” Madigan's office said in a statement. “We will continue to actively pursue relief for Illinois consumers.”

Read the rest of the story by Steve Daniels in Crain's Chicago Business.




State Representative John Cavaletto, along with his colleagues Rep. David Reis and Rep. Charlie Meier hosted a meeting of local elected officials, economic development officers and business owners along the CSX Transporation rail line on upgrades and industrial development opportunities. Attendees included Marion County Board Chairman Erwin Hahn, Salem Mayor Rex Barbee, Salem Economic Development Director Jeanne Gustofson and Darren Dwyer, Member of the Southeastern Illinois Economic Development Authority.

The hope is that communities along the CSX line will be able to grow current businesses and attract new businesses and create jobs because of the access to the railroads to move products and natural resources like coal reserves in the southern Illinois area.
FY16 Budget
·         Legislature’s budget commission reports continued shortfall in State revenues.  A report for September 2015, compiled by the nonpartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA), shows that Illinois general funds receipts fell $382 million short of comparable figures for September 2015.  This change reflects reductions in personal and corporate income tax rates that took effect on January 1, 2015, and is one of the pieces of background that lie behind the current State of Illinois budget crisis.  Released on Thursday, October 1, the report can be found on page 6 of CGFA’s “September 2015 Monthly Briefing.”

The September numbers, which reflect ongoing receipts paid by taxpayers into the state Department of Revenue and other State agencies that take in general funds, follow up on similar numbers reported in July 2015 and August 2015.  CGFA’s three-month summary spreadsheet, also published in their September report, shows an accumulated cash flow shortfall of $1,137 million for the quarter-long period.  It is expected, furthermore, that a comparable shortfall will be posted during the fourth and final quarter of calendar year 2015.

Despite the ongoing fiscal shortfall, the Democrat majority in the Illinois General Assembly continues to insist that the State must operate a public sector that is almost exactly as large, and spends almost as much money from day to day, as it did in fiscal year 2015 before the changes in tax rates took effect.  Court decisions, continuing appropriations and consent decrees have kept the money flowing for a wide variety of budget line items.  The constitutional requirement  that Illinois enact and implement a balanced budget has been ignored. 

·         Budget impasse begins to affect funding for 9-1-1 centers.  On Monday, October 5, St. Clair County announced that it had commenced litigation against the State of Illinois.  At issue is money from a tax that Illinois extracts from the cellphone bills paid by millions of Illinoisans.  The Emergency Telephone tax is meant to support the 24/7 operation of 9-1-1 centers across Illinois, but money collected by this tax is not being distributed by the State to local 9-1-1 boards this fall because the money for the distribution has not been appropriated by agreement between the General Assembly and the Governor.  For St. Clair County, this lack of a budget means that $125,000 a month in essential operational funding is not being received.  The county includes Belleville, East St. Louis, and other diverse and working-class communities in southwestern Illinois.

Medical Marijuana
·         First Illinois cultivation centers begin to grow medical marijuana.  A reporter was allowed this week into the closely guarded, warehouse-like Ataraxia cultivation center  built adjacent to Albion in southeastern Illinois.  Ataraxia’s all-interior cultivation rooms are starting to grow cannabis buds from plant varieties that were chosen by Ataraxia owners for sale in licensed Illinois dispensaries.  Dispensary sales could start as soon as late October or early November.

The benefits of the Illinois medical cannabis program, which is administered by the Illinois Department of Public Health, will be accessible only to persons who have been diagnosed with any one of 39 specified medical conditions and diseases.  Eligibility conditions include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), cancer, multiple sclerosis, and neurological seizures.  The patient must apply for a medical cannabis card with the permission of his or her longtime medical care provider.  Approximately 3,100 patients from across Illinois have been approved for the cards, and additional applications are being considered for approval.  The application process can be started here: https://medicalcannabispatients.illinois.gov/

Medical marijuana remains on pilot-program status in Illinois.  The General Assembly is required, after the drug begins to actually be sold and used by patients, to look at how the program is being implemented and whether to make it permanent.  The pilot-program cultivation and sale of medical cannabis was legalized by the General Assembly in 2013.  The pilot program will automatically be repealed on January 1, 2018, unless its life is extended by law.

·         New health conditions may be added to medical marijuana eligibility list.   Under current law, a patient is only eligible for a medical cannabis card if he or she has been diagnosed with any one of 39 specified medical conditions.  Many patients who do not have any of these diagnoses, but who have chronic and intractable symptoms arising from other health conditions, have asked the Medical Cannabis Advisory Board to consider expanding the list of 39 medical conditions.

In a panel vote on Wednesday, October 7, the Advisory Board recommended that eight additional conditions, including autism, osteoarthritis, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), be added to the list.  The Advisory Board’s recommendation does not constitute final action; the vote will be forwarded to the Director of the Department of Public Health and the administration of Gov. Bruce Rauner.  

The Advisory Board’s recommendation follows a previous decision by the Rauner administration to hold off on expanding the medical marijuana diagnosis eligibility list for now.  In the previous round of denials, Gov. Rauner explained that he was reluctant to take precipitate action in the lack of operating evidence of the ability of the Illinois medical marijuana system to dispense small quantities of cannabis in a controlled, regulated manner under conditions of tight security.  The Advisory Board believes that the imminent time frame of actual medical marijuana dispensary sales in Illinois – which could start up as soon as late October or early November of this year – will provide the Rauner administration with the data and experience necessary to revisit this decision.    

Autumn in Illinois
·         First full week of bowhunting season.  The widely anticipated hunting season began on October 1 and will end on January 17, 2016.  Deer bowhunters reduce overpopulations of the browsing animals, which are widely blamed for Illinois road safety issues.  Bowhunting, like other forms of hunting that require a license, is overseen by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.  Bowhunting operations are plentiful throughout Illinois, with west-central Illinois known nationwide for archery trophy experiences.

·         Fall harvest in full swing.  The Illinois Department of Agriculture reported this week that the process of gathering in corn and soybeans from Illinois farm fields has passed the 50 percent mark.  More than half of the corn and beans harvested so far this year has been found to be in good or excellent condition when cut and stored, reflecting relatively dry, harvest-friendly weather conditions that have inhibited dampened grains and potential mold growth.  Illinois is expected to be the nation’s No. 1 state producer of beans this year, and our corn crop should come in as No. 2 behind Iowa.  

Week in Review
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State Representative John Cavaletto participated in the Effingham Chamber of Commerce Manufacturers Day on Friday to promote manufacturing jobs to more than 300 area high school students. Cavaletto toured the facilities of one of the highlighted local companies, Stevens Industries in Teutopolis, with Governor Bruce Rauner.
After the tour, Cavaletto joined a group of high school students and discussed the General Assembly and his job as a Member of the Illinois House.