In the final hours of Fiscal Year 2016, Republican and Democrat lawmakers came together and approved a package of bills that funds K-12 education at record-high levels for all of FY17, and provides for six months of funding for all other key budget areas. In response to the approval of the bill package on Thursday, State Representative Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) has issued the following statement:

“As is the case with any negotiation, there are some good and some not-so-good elements of this budget package. I am very pleased to see a 12-month, clean education bill that funds our schools at the highest levels in Illinois history with 100% of the foundation level included. As budget negotiations for the second half of FY17 continue, it is reassuring to know that our school children will be removed from the crossfire.”

“Social service providers that limped by in FY16 due to the lack of a budget can now plan for FY17 knowing they have funding at least through the end of December. These agencies provide critical services to our most vulnerable citizens, and with the approval of SB 2047 they can now return to the wonderful work they do in our communities. As budget talks for the second half of the year continue, I will continue advocating for solid funding for these agencies.”

Speaker Madigan Once Again Cancels Session; General Assembly to Meet This Week
After the House and Senate failed to enact a budget bill for FY17 prior to the their May 31, 2016 adjournment, Speaker Madigan reassured his colleagues that they would be called upon to meet once a week on the Wednesdays of June to discuss the spending situation and debate alternatives. However, no public budget discussions have taken place and each of the three session days scheduled for June 8, June 15, and now June 22 have been cancelled.

The cancellations of these three scheduled session days have taken place as the June 30th deadline for the adoption of a spending plan for FY17 grows closer. Illinois has not appropriated any operating funds for State facilities such as prisons and residential homes since July 1, 2016, and has not spent any funds other than stopgap funds for Illinois institutions of higher education since the same date. Existing appropriations for Illinois school districts and institutions of elementary and secondary education will expire on June 30.

The Illinois House and Senate are both scheduled to return to Springfield for session next Wednesday, June 29, to consider possible education funding and stopgap budget measures.

State Education Funding to End June 30th; Republicans Offer Full Funding Bill
Year-round learning programs, known as “summer school” to many older Illinois residents, are put at special risk by the pending shutoff of State school aid funds on July 1, 2016. While many areas of State spending are not protected by court orders, consent decrees, and continuing appropriations and have already been cut off by the inability of the majority party in the Illinois General Assembly to enact a balanced budget, the State did pass a spending bill in FY16 just for schools. Illinois elementary and secondary schools, with the help of General State Aid and other school aid programs, operated on schedule during the 2015-16 school year. However, the school aid payments authorized by this FY16 bill will end on June 30 with the end of the fiscal year.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and his colleagues are fighting for action on HB 6583 to provide full funding for Illinois schools for the 2016-2017 school year. HB 6583 would allow every Illinois school district to be fully funded at 100 percent of the foundation level for the first time in seven years. Additionally, the bill holds harmless those school districts that would lose state funding in 2017 due to rising property values along with a decline in poverty. But most importantly, it removes K-12 schoolchildren from the crossfire of the larger budget impasse.

Governor Rauner has said he will sign the clean education funding bill and HB 6583 has the full support of House and Senate Republicans, who are urging Speaker Madigan and Senate President Cullerton to pass the bill next week.

With No Funding after June 30th, Road Projects Prepare for Shutdown
The announcement from the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) came on Tuesday, June 21, as the close of FY16 approached. IDOT’s lawyers have advised the Department and the Rauner administration that, as of the close of the current fiscal year, the State cannot count on having legal authority to spend money for ongoing capital projects in the absence of explicit appropriations authority encompassing the projects being worked on.

Most State operations have continued throughout FY16 in the absence of an enacted budget. This spending has continued and has been based upon court orders, consent decrees, and continuing appropriations. With the end of this fiscal year, with regards to most road projects and transportation capital spending, the ability to legally spend money in these areas is coming to an end. House Republicans have called upon their Democrat counterparts in the General Assembly to immediately enact a stopgap appropriations bill, HB 6585, to enable essential IDOT road project work to continue during the summer construction season. HB 6585 is fully funded from existing revenues sources and funding streams.
Illinois House Session Cancelled; Negotiations Continue to End Budget Impasse
House Republicans have been full participants in the continuing negotiations that are taking place to develop answers to the current questions that are affecting the Illinois budget. Talks are taking place on a variety of related issues that include school funding, higher education funding, funding for social services, labor/management reforms, and public-sector personnel expense issues.

House Speaker Michael Madigan cancelled the second of four scheduled Wednesday session days last week. Lawmakers would have met on June 15 to enable public discussion and debate on these issues, but as a result of the cancellation no meeting took place. The cancellation was criticized by Republicans, who want all sides to work together to end the current impasse.

Comptroller Munger Adds Voice to Calls for Balanced Budget Action
The Comptroller maintains a website and a Twitter feed that track the ongoing pileup of Illinois unpaid bills. As of Thursday, June 16, this number had passed $7.58 billion. These unpaid bills are owed to healthcare providers, providers of community social services, providers of essential supplies to residential facilities and prisons, and other involuntary creditors of the State.

The numbers tracked by Munger serve as a reminder that the Illinois General Assembly’s Democratic majorities failed to pass a constitutional balanced budget in spring 2015 for FY16, which began on July 1, 2015. This lack of a budget and of budgetary spending controls have choked off much of the cash flow needed by creditors dependent upon Illinois’ good name and prompt payments, while other areas of Illinois spending proceed unhindered because they are covered by court orders, consent decrees, and continuing appropriations.

School Districts Begin to Plan for Truncated 2016-17 School Year
A shortened school year could become a reality in Illinois if no State budget is enacted to appropriate money to public school districts. While education was funded in 2015-16 even in the absence of a state budget, this happened because the General Assembly passed a one-year spending bill that packaged together most of the usual line-items of State school aid. Democratic legislators last spring suspended what has become their overall refusal to appropriate money in a form tolerable to Governor Rauner and appropriated money for schools. However, the same lawmakers have so far refused to do the same thing this year.

School district spokespersons are telling the press that they are making plans for emergency budgets that will not include State school aid. Most school districts are dependent on both property tax revenue and State school aid, and will suffer if deprived of either source of funding. For example, the Monmouth-Roseville school board in west central Illinois is making preliminary plans to shut down operations and lay off teachers/other educational personnel after one semester of the 2016-17 school year. The plans include a proposal to hold an early graduation ceremony for the high school seniors of the district.

Rep. Anthony Resigns to Take Position with Department of Corrections
Republican Representative John Anthony of the 75th District, an Interstate 80-oriented district centering on Morris, Illinois, announced his resignation from the Illinois House last week in order to take on a new opportunity with the Illinois Department of Corrections. The lawmaker’s last full day in the Illinois House was Thursday, June 16.

Anthony, a former sheriff’s deputy, specialized in questions of criminal law and law enforcement in the House. Republican Leader Jim Durkin praised Rep. Anthony’s work in the General Assembly. “A former law enforcement officer, John quickly became a go-to guy on issues related to criminal justice and corrections. His expertise and insight on these matters will be missed,” Leader Durkin said.

During his time in the Illinois House, Anthony was the lead Republican co-sponsor of HB 1, the bipartisan 2015 measure to reform Illinois laws relating to heroin addiction, other opiate addictions and opiate-related deaths. HB 1 includes provisions to place opiate agonist drugs, such as Naloxone, in the hands of police officers and other first responders.

Moody’s Places Illinois Public Universities under Credit-Rating Review
The review process could result in Moody’s downgrading the outstanding public debt of seven public universities: the University of Illinois, Illinois State University, Southern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, Governors State University, Northeastern Illinois University, and Eastern Illinois University. All of these Illinois institutions of public higher education have extensive infrastructural needs that are supported by periodic recourse to the capital markets.

Moody’s stated that the schools are vulnerable to the State budget stalemate. The General Assembly’s Democratic majority did not enact a budget bill in May 2016 to provide operating funds for Illinois State universities in the 2016-17 school year. The U of I, ISU and SIU currently have investment-grade credit ratings that are actually better than those enjoyed by the State of Illinois as a whole; their revenue streams are backed up not only by political decisions, but by other monies coming in, such as tuition, student fees, and federal loans and grants.

New Skittles Production Line Opens near Chicago
The factory, located in the Kendall County seat of Yorkville, will produce Skittles candy for the William Wrigley Company. The confectioner, which has longtime ties to Illinois, has expanded its production of the colored candies outward from their existing Waco, Texas factory. Up to 75 new employees will be hired in Illinois.

William Wrigley credited incentives from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) for the decision to site the new production in Illinois. DCEO operates a package of workforce development programs that include job training and employment development for prospective employers in Illinois.

Rauner Administration Seeks Expedited Resolution of AFSCME Case
The labor negotiations between the Rauner administration and AFSCME, the labor union that represents 38,000 state workers, have not yet generated a contract. The Rauner administration has asked AFSCME to grant various concessions, including a wage freeze and a significant increase in AFSCME member and retiree health care co-payments and other forms of cost sharing, and AFSCME has so far refused.

Under state labor law, a series of procedures are laid out to follow in the case of an unresolved public-sector labor contract situation, including a recommendation by an administrative law judge. The Rauner administration has taken legal steps to expedite a resolution of the ongoing dispute. These steps included a move to legally bypass the administrative-judge step in the dispute resolution pathway.

The Rauner administration has stated that the health-care concessions they are seeking from AFSCME and its members could save taxpayers as much as $35 million to $40 million/month. These savings could be applied immediately to the cash-flow situation currently facing the State. The case is currently before the Illinois Labor Relations Board (ILRB), which could declare that talks are at an impasse. The administration’s move became public on Tuesday, June 14.
On Sunday, June 12, local residents and tourists were able to witness a rare site in Fox Lake, reminiscent of years gone by. An old steam engine and passenger cars traveled through Fox Lake on its way to Janesville, Wisconsin. The "765" locomotive was built in Ohio in 1944.The steam engine was named "The Varsity" and was retired by the railroad back in 1958.

Many tourists were lucky enough to grab a ticket on the nine-hour train ride to Wisconsin, which originated in Glenview. Several local officials were able to enjoy a wonderful lunch and were provided snacks. They told me the view from their antique dome car was wonderful. Some of the vintage passenger cars dated back to the 1930's.

With the cooler weather on Sunday, hundreds of people waited by the railroad tracks all the way from Glenview to Wisconsin with their cameras ready to photograph the historic trip. The site of the steam coming from the engine and the distinct sound of its horn was enjoyed by both young and old.
Last week State Representative Barb Wheeler was honored to host a luncheon meeting with community leaders and guest speaker Andrew Hamilton of the Upper Illinois River Valley Development Authority, also know as UIRVDA, to discuss how UIRVDA might be able to help. 

UIRVDA was created by the Illinois General Assembly in 1990 and is a general bonding agency for 9 Illinois counties, including both Lake and McHenry. UIRVDA offers tax free bonds, which are double tax exempt for economic development, senior housing, public works projects, affordable housing, not-for profits, universities and schools.

The interest rate on these loans are usually 2-3% lower than conventional financing. UIRVDA issues the bonds which are then purchased by investment banking firms that place them in an open market with mutual funds or insurance companies, but can also be purchased directly from a bank, and the bonds are backed with a letter of credit.