The Pritchard Perspective for September 19, 2014

Want a Job?
A recent article in State Legislatures magazine focused on the inability of companies to fill many of their jobs even in a slow economy and despite high unemployment. The Wall Street Journal found 43 percent of small businesses struggling to expand because of job vacancies and in another study, 79 percent of manufacturers told a consulting firm they had trouble filling skilled positions.

This so-called “skills gap” is affecting many sectors of the economy such as health care and manufacturing, and primarily hits jobs which require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree.  According to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce these “middle skill” jobs will make up one third of all U.S. jobs by 2020.

Some companies are partnering with community colleges and technical schools to prepare future workers for jobs in those companies.  We have several examples of this in my legislative district.  The goal is to give the potential employee the precise training they need while still in high school so they graduate ready to move immediately into not just the general workforce, but into a specific job.

As part of this effort, some state governments have started creating programs to revamp their workforces and better target training for employees in these fields.  In Tennessee, the state created the Labor and Education Alignment Program to do just that.  Tennessee’s program was made that much more urgent when a major manufacturer brought 400 new jobs to the state and received thousands of applications for them, but found very few qualified applicants.

Maryland, Oregon and Michigan have taken similar approaches.  Maryland introduced a series of programs to help properly train workers, including a “manufacturing boot camp” and a program which helps match up aspiring computer code writers with paid IT internships in writing mobile health apps for hospitals.

In our area we have the examples of Custom Aluminum Products in Genoa and South Elgin and an initiative of the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation in working with high school students to understand the job opportunities and skills necessary for local employment.  Then too there are many examples of community colleges working with local businesses to train and retrain workers for changing job skills.

I attended a recent ceremony at Custom Aluminum Products where they recognized 8 individuals who had completed their Custom University training program.  The courses were specifically focused on skills necessary in their business and would provide advancement opportunities.  Several Genoa-Kingston high school students participated as part of a unique paid internship program the company has with the school.

Senator Dave Syverson and I presented Custom Aluminum President Steve Dillett with a check for $13,909 from an Illinois program which reimburses companies for up to half the cost of training workers. We also witnessed a demonstration of a 3-D printer the company was donating to the local school.

What brings all these programs together is that they are collaborative efforts usually between government, community colleges and private business to help improve skills and create jobs. You can read the full magazine story here.

Helping residents avoid foreclosure
Next Saturday, September 27th, several state agencies will have representatives in DeKalb to counsel homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages. Senator Dave Syverson and Representative Joe Sosnowski are joining me in hosting this free mortgage relief program which includes seminars and one-on-one counseling from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Community Outreach Building, 2500 North Annie Glidden Road, DeKalb.

The Mortgage Relief Project is a program designed to provide information about ways to lower your mortgage payments, avoid foreclosure and keep your home. Important facts about avoiding fraud will also be available to those who attend. Participating will be representatives from the Illinois Housing Development Authority, Illinois Department of Employment Security, Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, and the Illinois Attorney General.

Far too many Northern Illinois families are still being affected by the mortgage crisis and are struggling to make mortgage payments and keep their homes. The Illinois Foreclosure Prevention team will provide counselors, explain the foreclosure process, offer information about state programs and give suggestions on avoiding costly foreclosure.

Those attending are encouraged to bring their mortgage statement, tax returns for the past two years, two months of recent pay stubs and bank statements, documentation of other income, recent utility bills and your budget of household expenses. Even if you do not have all of these documents on hand, the counselors can still help you get the process started.

Governor fails to correct legislative error
Last month, Governor Quinn signed legislation (SB 3324) which the Illinois Department of Insurance now says will raise taxes on Illinois job creators by an estimated $100 million. Neither the sponsor of the legislation nor the legislature had any idea that the department would use the legislation to close so-called “loopholes” to increase tax revenue.

When the General Assembly unanimously passed this legislation in the spring, it did so on the understanding that it was a mere technical change to existing law. The Department of Insurance’s own fact sheet about the bill made no mention of a tax increase or closing loopholes. When the potential for a tax increase became clear, the sponsor of the bill tried to persuade the Governor to veto the bill, especially since the tax only applied to Illinois businesses.

Instead of working with the sponsors on an amendatory veto, Governor Quinn signed a law which increases the cost of doing business in Illinois thus making it harder for companies to succeed, expand and hire more people. With unemployment in Illinois of around seven percent, this is the last thing state government should be doing.

The bill applies to companies who in their business have unusual or very high risks like manufacturers and even nursing homes. These companies self-insure for some of the risk and then buy insurance policies for the balance of the potential risk. The Department of Insurance already taxes the insurance policies but now proposes to tax the amount companies are self-insuring. This could amount to millions of dollars of additional taxes for our larger manufacturers like John Deere and Boeing. I have joined with dozens of my colleagues in drafting legislation to repeal this latest tax on the hard-working businesses of Illinois.

In previous newsletters I discussed what can happen when state governments create a climate that is friendly to job creators: that state’s economy grows and jobs are created. We have seen this in neighboring states but not Illinois. The policies promoted by the Speaker and Governor take the opposite approach: higher taxes, unreasonable regulations and delays that have resulted in economic stagnation and jobs fleeing to those neighboring states.

Ask any Illinoisan who is looking for work or hoping that their children and grandchildren will not have to leave the state to find jobs; they will tell you that our state is following the wrong track.

Recognizing our agricultural heritage
Hybrid corn has been called one of the most amazing advancements of the last century, if not of all time. Hybrid corn breeding revolutionized the farm economy around the world and dramatically increased the farmer’s ability to feed a growing world population.

The commercial success of hybrid corn has its roots in DeKalb County and the DeKalb Agricultural Association. In 1925, Tom Roberts Sr. and Charlie Gunn began work to develop hybrid corn on a plot west of DeKalb. The exact location of the plot was forgotten until recently when the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association researched the location and erected a road-side marker on Nelson Road just north of U.S. Route 38.

The DEKALB brand of hybrids is still being developed today on research fields in DeKalb County just north of Waterman. The winged-ear of corn logo with the word DEKALB can be seen by fields of DEKALB corn.

The Heritage Association is planning other markers to commemorate significant developments in agriculture including the first Illinois county Farm Bureau and the home of the first county “farm advisor.” You can learn more about the agricultural innovations that occurred in the DeKalb area at the Heritage Association’s museum located at 111 South Second Street, DeKalb.

Research is critical to innovation and we in Illinois have benefited from the public investment in research at such institutions as the University of Illinois. It is one of our nation’s Land Grant Universities created by Congress and signed into law by Abraham Lincoln in 1862. It is disconcerting that public policies in recent years have decreased research investments dramatically, especially in Illinois.

Fracking rules delayed, again
Last year when a tough law permitting hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Illinois was passed, many thought the rules would be written quickly and exploring for oil and gas would begin by this year. Environmental groups and businesses agreed to the bill. Since then not only did the Department of Natural Resources take nearly a year to write the rules, post them for public comment and then to analyze the thousands of responses, but it has also written final rules that nobody likes. The legislative oversight committee now wants more time to get the parties to some agreement.

Southern Illinois holds a large area, called the New Albany Shale formation, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas. Companies are ready to explore the potential when the rules are written. The rest of the state stands to benefit from industrial production for fracking firms and the additional tax revenue such production would create.

Proponents of fracking claim that the new rules impose limitations which are not included in the law, and that the rules might actually serve as a deterrent to such drilling. The current opponents have never wanted fracking in Illinois so when they failed to stop the legislation they now focus on the rule making.

New legislation helps cooperatives
Legislation which loosens controls on the amount of money individuals can invest in cooperatives was signed into law last month. Senate Bill 3438 makes it easier to raise the startup funds needed to organize a new cooperative in Illinois.

The legislation was focused on food-related consumer cooperatives which, for example, could buy a small piece of land, erect a chicken house or plant a garden, hire a few workers, and provide eggs or produce to members.

State revenues fall despite heavy tax burden
The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) reports that state revenues for the first two-months of the fiscal year are down $279 million compared to a year ago. Federal payments are down $95 million, gross corporate income taxes are down $17 million, personal income taxes declined $14 million, and even riverboat gambling transfers are down $19 million.

These reductions in revenue come at the same time as another COGFA report found that Illinois residents pay some of the highest income taxes in the nation. According to COGFA, Illinois’ income tax revenues on a per person basis are the 10th highest in the nation. Illinois collects $1,284 in income tax for every man, woman and child in the state. All five of our neighboring states impose a lower income tax burden on their residents.

More laws, vetoes
In the spring session of the 98th General Assembly, the House and Senate passed 511 bills–-268 originating in the House and 243 originating in the Senate. Exactly 500 of these bills were approved by the Governor over the summer, the last one just a few weeks ago. They now become law on the effective date in each bill, usually either immediately or on January 1.

Eleven bills were vetoed by the Governor. Unlike the U.S. President, an Illinois Governor has a variety of veto options. He can issue a total veto, which rejects a bill in its entirety; he can make an amendatory veto, which allows him to cross out certain lines of the bill and sign the remaining parts into law; or he can submit a reduction veto, a tactic employed in spending bills to reduce a certain item of spending. This year, the Governor issued six total vetoes, four amendatory vetoes and one reduction veto.

The fate of those eleven bills is not fully decided just yet. Under our state constitution, the lead sponsor of each of those bills has the option of moving to have the vetoed bill reconsidered when the legislature convenes for the fall session on November 19.

Throughout the summer I have told you about some of the 31 bills which I sponsored or cosponsored as they were signed into law. Some other new laws which I sponsored or co-sponsored included legislation to help dislocated workers obtain MAP grants for higher education, a bill which speeds up transfers of funds from the state to local governments, a requirement that students complete more math and computer science classes before graduating high school, and legislation to fight underage drinking.

The full list of new laws can be found on the Illinois General Assembly’s website at www.ilga.gov. The new laws are Public Acts 98-626 through 98-1125.

Upcoming events
Besides the Mortgage relief program on September 27 that I mentioned earlier, circle your calendar on October 15-16. I am joining with the DeKalb County Farm Bureau and Country Companies Insurance in hosting a defensive driving course at the Center for Agriculture at 1350 West Prairie Drive in Sycamore. For more information, contact the Farm Bureau at 815-756-6361.

September 22 marks the official beginning of fall. Crop harvest is starting across the district so be alert for slow moving equipment and vehicles pulling out of fields.

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