Week in Review for October 5-9, 2015: Budget Impasse, Medical Marijuana, Bow-Hunting...

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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