The Wheeler 64 Report: September 6, 2016

Governor Nears Completion of 2016 Bill Signings
The General Assembly passed 443 bills in the first half of calendar year 2016, and more than 90% of these bills have now been signed into law. Of the forty bills vetoed by Governor Bruce Rauner, 30 are total vetoes and ten are amendatory vetoes. The Constitution of Illinois gives the General Assembly one shot at accepting the Governor’s amendatory vetoes or overriding his amendatory and/or total vetoes. Acceptance of an amendatory veto requires a simple majority in both houses, while overriding a Governor’s veto requires a three-fifths majority in both houses. Actions on vetoes are a traditional focus of the General Assembly’s fall veto session. The veto session will be held on the third and fifth weeks of November, straddling Thanksgiving. 

McHenry County Workforce Center Offers Programs and Assistance to Employers and Job Seekers
Last week a member of my staff attended an open house at the McHenry County Workforce Center in Woodstock as part of “Workforce Development Week” in McHenry County. Guests at the open house were able to tour the facility and learn about the variety of programs and services that are available to both employers and job seekers. In addition to their program offerings, the Workforce Center offers a Young Adult Internship Program that caters to individuals between the ages of 14-24, where opportunities for paid internships training and certifications are available. Guests at the event also learned about the McHenry County College Shah Center, which provides services to more than 600 businesses and 9,000 people each year. Those services range from one-on-one counseling for entrepreneurs to custom, on-site employee training classes. The McHenry County Workforce Center is a gem in our community. To learn more about this useful agency and the assistance they can provide, please visit www.mchenrycountyworkforce.com or call them at (815) 338-7100. You can learn more about the Shah Center programs at www.shahcenter.mchenry.edu or by calling (815) 479-7571.

Motorists Urged to be Aware of Sharp Penalties for Passing a Stopped School Bus
With the new school year underway for most Illinois school districts, school buses are once again a familiar sight in morning and afternoon hours. Significant penalties exist in law for the act of passing a stopped school bus with flashing lights and extended stop-sign arm. Traffic must remain stopped until the lights have stopped flashing and the stop-sign arm withdrawn. In addition to fines imposed by the local court, the Secretary of State is instructed by law to suspend, for three months, the driving privileges of a licensed driver who violates this law. A Secretary of State hearing officer may, but is not required to, grant restricted-driving privileges to a driver whose license is under suspension for this offense. These penalties apply to traffic going in both directions on any road narrower than four lanes. On a four-lane road with at least two lanes of traffic moving in the opposite direction to the bus, only motorists going with the bus are required to stop. 

New Concussion Guidelines Affect Coaches and Players in Contact Sports
The new guidelines, adopted by the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) according to State law, are aimed at reducing the frequency of concussions in contact sports. One key feature of the new guidelines is a requirement that student-athletes be tested and monitored during contact-sports activities. The oversight activities are meant to diagnose concussion events as fast as possible.

The guidelines also require that, once a student-athlete is found to have sustained a concussion or suspected concussion, they must undergo further monitoring and testing prior to being asked to resume their studies or authorized to return to a playing field. Once diagnosed, they will not be able to play again until a doctor has granted explicit permission for them to do so. The new concussion guidelines will be enforced, in each school, by the concussion oversight teams that each Illinois school that plays sports is now required to have. The guidelines followed passage of the Youth Sports Concussion Safety Act, a 2015 law that asked the IHSA, licensed Illinois athletic trainers, and other professionals and educators to come together to develop a new program for reduction of sports concussions starting in the 2016-17 school year.

LIHEAP to Accept Applications for Low Income Energy Assistance Program
The state’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) will begin accepting applications for winter heating assistance for seniors and people with disabilities on September 1. LIHEAP and the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) program are funded as part of the stopgap funding plan signed into law by Governor Rauner. LIHEAP is a state and federally funded energy assistance program for low-income families, in which heating bill payments are made on behalf of households. Applications are processed through a network of 35 local administering agencies around the state. These agencies will accept applications on a first-come, first-served basis. Residents must bring all required documentation when applying for assistance, including: 
  • Proof of gross income from all household members for the 30-day income period beginning with the date of the application. 
  • A copy of their current heat and electric bills issued within the last 30 days (if they pay for their energy directly). 
  • A copy of their rental agreement (if they are renting) showing that utilities are included, the monthly rental amount and landlord contact information. 
  • Proof of Social Security numbers for all household members. 
  • Proof that their household received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); Aid to the Aged, Blind, or Disabled (AABD); or other benefits, such as Medical Eligibility or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), if receiving assistance from the Illinois Department of Human Services. 
A single-person household can qualify with a monthly income of up to $1,485; a two-person household up to $2,003; a family of three can earn up to $2,520; and a family of four can earn up to $3,038. For a complete listing of LIHEAP’s local administering agencies and additional information about the program, go to www.liheapIllinois.com, or call the energy assistance toll-free hotline at (877) 411-WARM.

FBI Says Hackers, Possibly from Russia, Sought Entry into Illinois Election Databases
Access from abroad was to databases operated by the Illinois State Board of Elections (ISBE) to monitor and enforce Illinois election law and election results. The foreign incursion included the possible theft of voter-identification data, including parts of voter Social Security numbers, from as many as 90,000 Illinois voters. The ISBE currently does not believe the access changed any of the data within the database or moved the dials on any of the ways the Board tries to monitor and enforce election law. For example, the Election Code requires disclosure of a wide variety of contributions to campaign committees and the ISBE keeps databases of these disclosures. The foreign hacks were made public by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cyber Division on Monday, August 29. The office of the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security states that the Secretary has contacted state election officials, presumably including Illinois officials, to offer help in building or reinforcing “firewalls” around state election commission data.

Moody’s Investors Service Estimates that Illinois’ Bill Backlog Could Grow to $14 Billion
The bill backlog, for Illinois and its creditors, is the volume of monies represented by bills presented to Illinois and not yet paid. Major creditors include providers of health-care services, providers of services such as electricity to state offices, and providers of supplies such as food and clothing to state prisons. The current bill backlog is tracked and frequently updated by the office of Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger. This week, the backlog of unpaid bills hovered above $8 billion.

In a report published Wednesday, August 31, Moody’s analyzed signs that this bill backlog could soon grow even further in size. Chief among these reasons is the lack of a balanced State budget. The “stopgap” spending plan enacted by the General Assembly in June 2016 did not contain revenues to match the appropriated expenditures, and did not provide for many of the expenditures that the State is legally required under existing law to spend before the end of fiscal year 2017 (ends June 30, 2017).

A “structural deficit” exists when growing expenditure mandates, particularly the costs of medical care and pubic-sector worker pensions, are not matched by commensurate growth in any existing State tax or revenue stream; neither existing rates of income taxes, nor sales taxes, nor gambling taxes, nor any combination of the above will raise the required sums of money. Moody’s believes that, absent additional action to balance the budget, by the end of FY17 the State will be $14 billion or more in the red. The difference between the State’s current $8 billion in past-due bills and Moody’s projection of $14 billion at fiscal year’s end reflects the current $6 billion/year structural deficit being faced by Illinois.

Moody’s report included a warning that, absent action by the General Assembly to balance the budget as required by the Constitution, the firm may be forced to further lower the State’s already tottering credit rating. Currently rated at Baa2 by Moody’s, Illinois’ general obligation debt now hovers at only two steps above “junk bond” levels. In terms of its credit rating, Illinois is currently the lowest-ranked among the 50 states.

Twelve Human Service Agencies Discussing Medicaid Revamp
One of the causes of Illinois’ budget crisis is the compounding cost of the State’s Medicaid program. Medicaid, the family of programs that provides reimbursements for medical treatments provided to many persons with challenged personal or income standing, spends billions of dollars every year. It is an “entitlement” program, which means that the General Assembly cannot easily enact legislation to cut the cost of the program. Most of its beneficiaries have a right, under federal law, to many of the services that the Illinois Medicaid program provides to them.

Some, although by no means all, of the costs of Illinois Medicaid are covered by the federal government. One of the features identified by the Rauner administration are growing gaps between what Illinois could apply for in Medicaid aid and the reimbursements in fact received by the State. Next week, the Rauner administration will hold hearings in Springfield and Chicago on an interdepartmental proposal to close some of these gaps. Advocates believe that adoption of the Rauner plan could create standing for Illinois to apply for $2.7 billion in additional federal Medicaid funds over a five-year period. Features of the proposal include improved housing services for persons whose health concerns are deemed to put them at risk for becoming homeless and pre-release services for prisoners.

Implementation of the Rauner proposal will require proof of ongoing cooperation between many different state agencies. In many cases, the agencies will have to standardize their database software in order to share client data on a frictionless basis. The Rauner administration’s ongoing reorganization of Illinois’ data management capabilities is an integral part of this proposal. The General Assembly will, in many cases, have to sign off on individual parts of the proposal. At next week’s hearings on September 8 and 9, twelve separate State agencies will be called on to provide public testimony on their readiness to implement this proposal.