Representative Pritchard recently sat down with WNIJ to discuss his letter to the editor and the state of education in Illinois:


"Five years ago,  the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) created its Public Agenda for College and Career Success, which sets a goal of having 60 percent of Illinois citizens obtain some education beyond high school.  
The ten-year initiative is reaching its halfway point, and Illinois State Rep. Bob Pritchard, a Republican who serves Illinois's 70th district, talked about what's in store..." 
Listen to the interview here
Springfield, IL...The Legislature is finally discussing the “budget”, but we are doing so with both eyes closed. A family or business couldn’t create a budget this way: spending to your heart’s content and not worrying if you had any money in the bank. However our legislative leaders and majority of members have built a spending plan from the bottom up and in the process ignored the constitutional requirement that the General Assembly pass a budget that does not spend more than it takes in. From my calculations we are approving spending of nearly $4 billion more than the state will collect from citizens.     

A budget is supposed to start with anticipated revenue and then prioritize the spending.  Legislators say an education is key to a good paying job, a livable family income, buying a home, and keeping people out of prison, yet that is not what is being prioritized.  Higher education funding is cut from last year and K-12 education funding is still below what is minimally needed.

The Governor was elected by a majority of our citizens to shake-up the way state government is operated, but legislative leaders are refusing to discuss any reforms.  They just want to continue doing business the way they have for the past 15 years and expect different results. This debate is not over; the Governor will get to weigh-in on this spending plan.  A real budget can still be crafted in the months ahead.    
Springfield, IL… A bill aimed at helping veterans find work has passed both chambers. House Bill 3122, filed by Representative Bob Pritchard (R-Sycamore), creates the Illinois Veteran’s Preference in Private Employment Act. The bill was an initiative of Representative Pritchard in conjunction with the US Department of Defense.

“Those that put their lives on the line and serve their country shouldn’t be forgotten when they take off their uniform” Rep. Pritchard said. 

The act allows a private employer to adopt and apply a voluntary veterans' preference employment policy if the policy is in writing, publicly posted with employment information, informs all applicants about the policy, and the policy is implemented uniformly for all employment decisions regarding the hiring, promotion, or reduction of force. Current Illinois law already has a veteran’s preference act for the public sector. 

“This is by no means a mandate,” Pritchard continued, “it simply gives the right to private employers, should they so choose, to adopt a pro-veterans’ hiring policy.”

Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard. District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to bob@pritchardstaterep.com 
May 26, 2015
In This Issue:
➢ Did You Take Time to Remember?
➢ IDOT’s 6-Year Plan
➢ Madigan’s Millionaire Tax
➢ Continued Battle of Leadership
➢ A Tough Budget Solution
➢ A Closer Look at the Lives of U.S. Presidents

Did you Take Time to Remember?
       Memorial Day has been turned into a three-day holiday often considered the unofficial start to summer, outdoor cooking, and lawn parties. Until 1971, this holiday was always on May 30. It was intended as a solemn time to honor those who died in the service of their country and to decorate their graves. Communities in our area still offer parades, organize ceremonies and place flags on the military graves to help us remember.
       In a democracy we are taught that each person has an obligation to protect and preserve the freedoms we enjoy. Many people have historically done that through military service, but today a growing number of citizens are unable to join the military. The Defense Department estimates that 71 percent of young Americans ages 17-24 wouldn’t qualify for the military. Obesity is the single biggest reason that potential recruits are being turned away; 31 percent of young adults are too overweight to qualify.
       Education is another factor with 14 percent of Illinois applicants not graduating from high school and a quarter of Illinois high-school graduates unable to pass the military’s entrance exam. Other reasons for rejection include tattoos in highly visible places, drug use, or felony convictions.
       For these reasons, those charged with our national security are focusing on preschool classrooms. There is growing evidence that kids who participate in high quality preschool are more likely to graduate from high school, are less likely to commit crimes, and are less overweight.

IDOT’s 6-Year Plan
       The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has announced a six year proposed Multi-Modal Transportation Improvement Program. The program has an anticipated spending level of just over $8 billion dollars with $5 billion going to improvements to the state highway system and $3 billion to the local highway system. The majority of the money will be used for road and bridge maintenance. The money is being provided mostly by federal highway funds, but also through Illinois gas taxes, vehicle registration fees, and the consolidation of transportation programs.
       The plan allocates just over $23 million to the 70th district, impacting 42 miles of road. 
     Today, 83 percent of Illinois’ state highway system and 93 percent of its bridges are in acceptable condition. However, IDOT estimates that by FY 2021 those percentages will drop to 62 percent and 86 percent, respectively.



Madigan’s Millionaire Tax
       This past week the House debated HJRCA 26, a constitutional amendment to add a 3 percent surcharge on income earned over $1 million dollars. I take issue with the specific proposal we were given for a number of reasons.
      The amendment was promoted as a measure to help our schools just like how the state lottery law was promoted. Nothing in the amendment assures that tax revenue for education will be in addition to what the state already spends. As we now know, revenue from the lottery was added to the common school fund, but the legislature reduced the amount of money it had been putting into schools so it could fund other state programs.
      Further, the amendment proposes to distribute the revenue on a per pupil basis, not on a basis of student need. The legislature has been talking for years about changing the way school funding is distributed to help those districts with the greatest student needs and lowest local property wealth to fund education. Some districts invest well over $25,000 per student while other districts invest less than $7,000 per student; this amendment would just continue that disparity.
       Finally, I believe that stating a specific income level in the constitution that seems high today may be a middle income over time due to inflation. An income of $164,000 in 1970, when the constitution was adopted, is the equivalent of $1 million today due to inflation. The tax would also apply to 71 percent of small businesses who file their taxes as individuals.
       While studies do not clearly show that higher taxes drive out businesses and the jobs with them, we should consider what happened in New Jersey. When that state raised taxes on the “rich” in 2004, over the next 7 years they saw a cumulative loss of 20,000 taxpayers and $2.5 billion drop in annual state income. We shouldn’t be trying to solve our fiscal problems by starting class warfare; collectively we have created a problem and together we should be fixing it.

Continued Battle of Leadership
       As I have previously mentioned, our state is witnessing not gridlock in Springfield, but rather a battle of leadership between the new Governor and long-time Speaker of the House. Citizens elected Governor Rauner to “turnaround” our state fiscally and create more job opportunities. Faced with a legislature controlled by the other political party, Governor Rauner proposed broad ideas and chose to negotiate detailed legislation with the legislature.
       The Governor formed “working groups” of members in the House and Senate who have been meeting for weeks, but it became crystal clear last week that Speaker Madigan was having nothing to do with changing the direction of our state. All of the Governor’s ideas were being rejected by Speaker Madigan.
        Consequently, Governor Rauner on Friday filed several pieces of legislation relating to his Turnaround Agenda. The five bills reflect compromises and concerns raised in the working groups. One of the bills includes reforms to tort laws limiting venue shopping by lawyers. There are reforms to workers compensation for injuries. One bill freezes property taxes on all units of government including home rule units. Two bills are amendments to the constitution instituting term limits and how the state is redistricted, and another bill allows a unit of local government to seek Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection after attempting to find a solution through a neutrally guided process.
       The Speaker has the next move in this chess game of politics and I expect him to block the bills from receiving any serious committee hearings or legislative action. 
      New Republican members of the legislature held a press conference on Thursday calling for term limits. House Republicans have filed four separate constitutional amendments aimed at imposing term limits of varying degrees. On Friday, Governor Rauner filed his own amendment limiting legislators to a total of 10 years and executive officials to 8 years.

A Tough Budget Solution
       The Civic Federation of Chicago was yet another group testifying in the House last week with budget recommendations from their FY2016 Budget Roadmap released a month ago. They were very clear that both political parties need to stop budgeting with savings that are unlikely to be achieved and unrealistically low cost estimates. The group encouraged urgent action by the legislature to avoid dropping off the fiscal cliff.
       Their recommendations included controlling spending growth to the rate of inflation, avoiding additional borrowing, and putting an end to unethical fund sweeps. They too said the state will only get out of its fiscal hole with new revenue. The Civic Federation proposed expanding the sales tax base to include services, bringing the income tax up to 4.25% and 6% for individuals and corporations respectively, and taxing some retirement income. Other proposals included a temporary elimination of the sales tax exemption for food and non-prescription drugs, and expanding the earned income tax credit to help low income residents.
        I fully expect the Speaker to introduce appropriation bills this week ignoring a bipartisan process and the suggestions of the various groups who have testified. We should look to see if the budget reflects estimates of real revenue and expenses or, like past budgets, continues to overspend available revenue.
        Governor Rauner is proposing legislation that would put Illinois on a path to eliminate its backlog of overdue bills over the next few years. He is also proposing to close the loophole that allows the state to pay bills from one fiscal year in the next fiscal year.

A Closer Look at the Lives of U.S. Presidents
     
        The Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield opened a new exhibit last week featuring the lives of U.S. Presidents. The display runs through July 7 and would make a great stop on a quick vacation. The static exhibit was taken from a series of TV documentaries produced by C-Span cable network. 
       I had a chance to visit with Robert Kennedy (left), Vice President of C-Span and a native of Springfield. As one of the individuals responsible for producing the series he explained that each program in the series drew upon local historians and experts on each President. C-Span is planning a follow-up series on each of the First Ladies. You can still view the TV series on the Lives of U.S. Presidents online at CSPAN.



As always you are invited to share your views with me. Have a great week.

Bob 
Springfield, IL... Senate Bill 740, sponsored in the House by Representative Pritchard, amends the Fire Hydrant Act to permit fire districts and municipalities to recover the costs for correcting a violation or non-compliance of the Act. This includes attorney’s fees and legal expenses. The bill was initiated to address instances where utility companies have placed boxes, landscaping, or trees in close proximity of a hydrant and have complicated access for firefighters. The bill permits fire departments/districts to contract for the removal of the obstruction and bill the responsible parties for the cost of the work.

Citizens can, by referendum, vote to dissolve a fire district. Senate Bill 781, also sponsored by Representative Pritchard, amends the Fire Protection District Act to provide that a Board of Trustees of a Fire Protection District must agree before taking on the responsibility to assume the fire protection services of a municipality after it has dissolved its fire department. This bill would help ensure that a district can successfully fulfill the additional duties when a municipal fire department dissolves with the intent of transferring its fire service to an adjacent fire district.

Both bills had no opponents and passed unanimously from the House today. They now head to the Governor for his signature. 
Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to bob@pritchardstaterep.com
May 18, 2015
In This Issue:
  •  Don’t be Distracted
  •  Budget Update
  •  House Praises Tornado Response
  •  Retiring Sheriff Honored
  •  Madigan’s Empowerment Zone Legislation Fails
  •  Freezing Property Taxes Not the Answer to Relief

Don’t be Distracted       
        If you’ve ever attended a magic show you have experienced the art of distraction. We are seeing the same sort of “show” in Springfield this year as week after week the House is distracted from dealing with the real issues and discussion of real solutions by the consummate magician, Speaker Madigan.
        This past week the Speaker choreographed a Committee of the Whole meeting that lasted nearly the entire day with testimony from victims of medical malpractice. Those testifying from other states said that caps on damages in their states didn’t allow them to receive what a judge and jury had awarded them. Incidentally, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that limits on damages awarded to victims of medical negligence are unconstitutional in Illinois. So what was the point?
        By distracting the legislature to just think about caps on damages, there was no discussion on real solutions to lower malpractice insurance rates like limiting shopping for court venues, restricting medical expense calculations to include amounts actually paid rather than billed, and allowing defendants to spread their liability to other parties.
        Not only is the Speaker directing the discussion, but he is also wearing down legislators in endless meetings and preventing debate on real legislation.

Budget Update 
       With just 14 days remaining before the legislature is scheduled to adjourn, we are seeing a real battle over who will shape the FY2016 budget—the Speaker of the House or the Governor. The Senate continues to watch the battle and adjourned early again on Thursday.
       Battles between the Speaker and Governor are not new; Speaker Madigan has perfected his powers and control over the last 15 years as he managed two rather ineffective Governors. This is a new day and Governor Rauner has a clear fiscal goal of balancing our budget and wants to participate in the process. While he proposed an austere budget, the Governor is open to compromise on both spending levels and new revenue.
       The Speaker, on the other hand, is resisting the “shared” governance model and any reductions in state spending. Each of the House Budget groups he controls will only discuss the impact of program cuts, not a prioritization for spending. He also refuses to even agree on how much revenue the state has to spend next year.
       The House did debate more amendments to HB4141 last week in an effort to build a human services budget from the bottom up. It appears even this is just an exercise and not a real attempt to draft a workable budget.

House Praises Tornado Response
        House Resolution 467 was approved this past week formally thanking the fire, police, and emergency medical providers from across our region who responded quickly and efficiently to the tornadoes on April 9th in Ogle and DeKalb Counties. The House further praised the efforts of individuals, businesses, organizations, and relief agencies for their generosity, supplies, and assistance in the recovery efforts.
        The House recognized the Long Term Recovery Committees in each county and their efforts to help the victims rebuild and recover. Donations and prayers are still needed for these families in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

Retiring Sheriff Honored
Pritchard_and_sheriff.png       Retired Boone County Sheriff Duane Wirth (in the suit between Representative Brian Stewart and me) was recognized in the House last week for his 44 years of service and 36 as Sheriff. He is the second longest serving sheriff in Illinois and during his term saw the department grow from 12 deputies to over 100 employees, reserve volunteers and explorer scouts. Congratulations Duane!

Madigan’s Empowerment Zone Legislation Fails
        Speaker Madigan filed legislation last week to allow local voters, through the petition process and referendums, to decide if they wanted to see union membership in their community become voluntary. An “empowerment zone,” would make it unlawful to condition employment on the obligation to join a union or pay union-related dues within that zone. After a long debate—with singing, chanting and weeping—the bill failed with no “yes” votes. The Governor has often spoken of allowing local areas to determine for themselves whether they would like to create such employee empowerment zones, or right to work zones, as a part of his Turnaround Agenda. He has not meant this as a stand-alone concept, and instead combined it with workers compensation reform, lawsuit reform and other tools for economic growth.
        I certainly don’t question the value of unions and instead feel we should be discussing the real goal which is to create more good paying private sector jobs. This is a goal on which unions and businesses can agree. Certainly union skill training programs are state-of-the-art and they have helped greatly to improve job safety and worker productivity. 

Freezing Property Taxes Not the Answer to Relief
       HB695 was one of four property tax freeze bills that appeared on the House calendar last week without any real public hearing or committee debate. No one denies that government relies too much on property taxes to pay for services, but a freeze is not the answer for real property tax reduction as was revealed in the floor debate.
       Imposing a freeze on property tax increases sounds desirable, but taxes would still be allowed to increase under these plans due to new construction, bond repayment, and legal obligations. These bills did nothing to shift any of the cost of education back to the state where it belongs according to the constitution. Education makes up about 60 percent of most property tax bills. Nor did these bills encourage consolidation of units of government or agreements to improve efficiency in their operations.
       The bills did nothing to relieve local units of government from state unfunded mandates that have been driving up the cost of local government. In addition, a freeze would require a local referendum every time there needed to be a tax increase for example to pay for storm damage or increases in salaries to teachers, firemen, or other government workers.
       Missing in these bills were the tools that Governor Rauner has been mentioning that would reduce the cost of local government and therefore allow property taxes to decrease not just be frozen. The Governor’s ideas are actually being blocked by those who want to continue the high cost of property taxes and government operations.
        The tax freeze amendment to HB 695 received only 37 “yes” votes out of 118, but was adopted. This was just another exercise to create campaign mailers telling how some legislators aren’t interested in property tax relief.

I will continue working for real property tax relief and solutions that will help rebuild Illinois.  Have a great week.
Once again the Democrat-controlled House brought sham legislation to a vote for the sole purpose of putting Republican lawmakers in a trick bag and embarrassing the new Governor.

House Republicans have long worked to provide Illinoisans with much needed and deserved property tax relief. Each year members of the House Republican Caucus introduce legislation that would deliver property tax relief and each year the Democrats block those measures. The real roadblock to property tax relief has been the Democrat-controlled legislature...

Read more on the Illinois House Republicans Caucus Blog




School is almost over, which means its time for another year of Representative Pritchard's summer reading club for elementary school students. Reading keeps children's minds active during the summer months and helps jump start their imagination! This year the theme is 'Read to the Rythm'. Participants who read 8 books over the summer break are invited to an ice cream party in August where there will be drawings for prizes. Local libraries and schools have all been given a copy of the brochure with the appropriate form, so make sure your child gets theirs! Contact the office if you have any questions about the club or how to participate. The deadline is July 20th, so start reading!



Springfield, IL.... House Resolution 467 was approved by the House today. The House formally thanks the fire, police, and emergency medical providers from across the region who responded quickly and efficiently to the tornadoes on April 9th. It further commends the individuals, businesses, organizations, and relief agencies for their for their generosity, supplies, and assistance in the recovery efforts.

"I saw firsthand the damage that occurred, but I also saw firsthand the valiant work being done by first responders and people from around the state and country" Representative Pritchard said. "This is just one small token of the appreciation my district, the Illinois government, and the entire state feels."

The House resolves to keep the victims and community members in our hearts, minds, and prayers in the weeks, months, and years ahead as they recover and rebuild their communities and their lives.

Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to bob@pritchardstaterep.com 
May 11, 2015
What a Week!
  • Budget Update
  • Court To Legislature: do your Job
  • Worker’s Compensation Reform
  • Play Ball!
  • Advice on Helping Wild Animals
  • Youth Demonstrate Technology
Budget Update
        While it may not appear that the legislature is moving very quickly to craft a budget for FY2016, there are a number of working groups hammering out proposed reforms and items in the budget. However, that process was bypassed entirely on Wednesday morning when 16 budget amendments were unexpectedly introduced to House Bill 4141 dealing with human services. House Speaker Madigan reverted to his old style of introducing budget amendments that had not been vetted in appropriate committees where legislators and the public could read the proposals. Then within hours the amendments were called for votes. This is an example of bottom up budgeting, where you start with a list of the things you want to do and then add the costs to get the total budget. With a legislature that has an appetite for spending taxpayers’ money, this is not a method to reach a balanced budget. Most likely this was just a political message to tell the Governor that his reforms and budget cuts were not going to pass. House Republicans voted ‘Present’ to highlight this irregular and purely partisan disruption of the budget process and a waste of valuable time.

Court to Legislature: Do Your Job
       The Supreme Court ruling Friday on the unconstitutionality of the 2013 public pension changes was no surprise to many. The court had given signals of its opinion in earlier rulings on health benefits. The ruling in protecting the benefits promised to workers blew a bigger hole in the FY2016 budget and slapped the hands of legislators for making promises and then not providing the funding to pay for them.
       While agreeing that the pension issue was a crisis, the courts held that the legislature had other solutions to solve the funding issue and should do it in a constitutional manner. The court denied that the state could use its “police powers” in an emergency to change pension benefits protected in the constitution. In so many words, the court said if the legislature breaks the law in this instance, we cease to be a state governed by law.
        Now the legislature will be forced to look at other means to address the pension underfunding which is estimated to be over $104 billion. Perhaps the parties will come together to make changes in the pension contract to protect it from bankruptcy. Perhaps the pension debt can be amortized over a longer period of time to lower annual payments. Perhaps more revenue will be raised from taxpayers to pay for the missed annual payments of the past. Perhaps other services will be cut further to make the pension payments now estimated to be a quarter of general fund spending.
        These are all tough choices by themselves but certainly exacerbate the budget and policy debates between the Governor and legislature.

Worker’s Compensation Reform
        One of the chief reforms promoted by the Governor, and thought to be achievable this session, are changes to reduce the cost of Illinois worker’s compensation insurance. The Speaker of the House made it clear this week that he was not in favor of any changes. He convened a ‘Committee of the Whole’ that ran over seven hours and was dominated by injured workers and people opposing any changes to our law.
        Illinois’ Worker’s Compensation System was reformed back in 2011, but businesses were promised much greater savings than have actually materialized which has prompted calls for further reform. Worker Compensation is considered by businesses in and outside of Illinois to be the number one barrier to doing business here and is the seventh costliest system in the country (a drop from 3rd before the 2011 reforms).
       There were seven panels of witnesses who talked about cuts to worker’s compensation in other states that aren't even being proposed here in Illinois. Only three speakers really got to address the problems in Illinois but by that time many weary representatives had left the chambers. Many considered the hearing to be merely a political move by the Speaker to discourage any reforms and to put faces on the need for worker’s compensation.
        Among the real issues we should address to our compensation system are the often lengthy process that awards damages, the unnecessarily costly litigation, and the causes for injuries. There are serious issues that need to be addressed with Illinois’ system and businesses need to be consulted while ensuring that worker’s do not lose benefits and are treated with proper compassion. More of the best practices to prevent injuries should also be incorporated at some businesses.

Play Ball!
softball_2.jpg
         After a long session on Wednesday, the House and the Senate let off steam by playing in their annual softball game. The game was tied for a bit until the House ran away with it in the 3rd inning and never looked back. The House won the game 16-10 and took the trophy back from the Senate. The competition proved again that baseball is a young person sport.

Advice on Helping Wild Animals
       Recently, a man was put on trial for taking possession of two young bald eagles against the advice of conservation officers. The case raised the question of what should citizens do when we come upon wildlife and when to be a Good Samaritan. The House passed HR367 last week to encourage the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to provide more public education on the issue and awareness for wild animal rehabilitators in the state. I cosponsored the resolution and provide some wildlife tips on my website.

Youth Demonstrate Technology
        The Capitol was filled with young innovators last week as they participated in Tech 2015. Sponsored by a not-for-profit organization the event raises awareness of the critical role technology plays in preparing students to succeed in today’s world and to show the need for increased funding for classroom technology. Students from Hampshire and DeKalb were among the hundreds demonstrating different technology. Here I am learning about Powtoons from Clinton Rosette Middle School students Grace Flemming and Alondra Gamez with their teachers Katie Schnabel and Amanda Baum. Powtoons are animated video presentations used to explain steps for mathematical algorithms.
tech_2015.png

Thank you to all the Mothers who hopefully were honored this past weekend.

Bob 
A resolution I sponsored, which expresses support for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources' public education campaign that informs the public about the exact steps to take if a sick, injured, or orphaned animal is encountered in the wild, was adopted by the House yesterday. Here is some important information to know: 
In This Issue:

  • Rolling Up Our Sleeves
  • Some Budget Cuts Restored
  • U.S.S. Illinois Readied for Commission
  • DeKalb a ‘Best Community’ Finalist
  • Advocacy in the Capitol
  • Graduation and Assessing Education Progress

Rolling Up Our Sleeves
         There’s an old expression we used on the farm that if you had a hard job, you should roll up your sleeves and get at it.  That’s exactly what has been going on in Springfield this past week as bipartisan legislative working groups have begun meeting to discuss reforms proposed by the Governor’s ‘Turnaround Agenda’.  The groups have met several times to negotiate things like tighter ethics laws, term limits, and workers’ compensation in injuries.  
        I’ve been involved in several layers of budget working groups from bicameral budget chairs meeting with the governor’s budget staff to ones with just House budget chairs and finally the topic specific full appropriation committees in the House.
       Like the tough negotiations that occur between countries or over labor issues where the sides are far apart, progress must be measured in words and identifying the most basic areas where there is agreement.  It’s a slow process when you consider the legislature is scheduled to adjourn on May 31 and the state’s fiscal year begins July 1.  
      Meanwhile legislators continue to be “schooled” in various appropriation meetings about the effects of cutting the budgets of specific programs and clients.  The latest “schooling” will be the House Committee of the Whole on Tuesday to discuss worker compensation reform.  I am concerned that this too will be an exercise to point out the reasons not to change rather than look at improvements that can be achieved.
      Since the 2011 worker compensation reform law was passed, workers’ compensation rates in Illinois have fallen, leading to an overall reduction in insurance premiums paid by businesses.  Some have argued that Illinois workers’ compensation must be reduced even further for businesses to be competitive.  Our insurance rates are still among the highest in the nation.

Some Budget Cuts Restored
      As I’ve mentioned before, the budget passed by last year’s General Assembly which ends on June 30th spent over $1.6 billion more than anticipated revenue.  Governor Rauner upon taking office took immediate steps to cut spending to that level.  Many of the cuts were very unpopular, but the only ones where money had not been spent this late in the fiscal year.
      Among the cuts were $26 million for grants which support epilepsy and autism programs, after school Teen Reach, indigent burials, the Illinois Tobacco Quitline, and other human services.  These programs got good news last week as the bipartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability released a report showing $300 million to 500 million more tax revenue than was anticipated.  Hearing the news, the governor moved quickly to restore the $26 million in funding to these worthwhile programs. 
     The Governor’s Budget Director also announced that the 2015 budget is balanced and no further cuts will be necessary as some had feared.  We were also told that any excess revenue at the end of the year will be used to pay down the $6 to 7 billion pile of unpaid bills. 

U.S.S. Illinois Readied for Commission
     
 The U.S. Navy is preparing to commission the most advanced nuclear powered submarine in the world with the name U.S.S. Illinois.  The sub has been under construction for over a year in Connecticut and is expected to be christened in October and officially commissioned in December.  Sailors were in the capitol this past Wednesday to ask lawmakers to sponsor a voluntary income tax check-off to help fund the ceremonies surrounding the sub’s launch. 
     Friends of the “Illinois” have set up a committee to support the vessel and the personnel that have built and will man it.  By custom, civilian committees like this one are responsible for much of the financial support necessary to celebrate the vessel’s launch and entry into active service.  The last ship to be named after our state was a battleship commissioned in 1901. 

DeKalb a ‘Best Community’ Finalist 
       DeKalb has been selected as a quarterfinalist in America’s Best Communities Contest, which is sponsored by Frontier Communications and DISH Network for communities with from 9,500 to 80,000 inhabitants.  The 3 year campaign awards grants of over $10 million to support and encourages the transformation of communities and their long term growth.  
       By becoming a quarterfinalist, DeKalb will receive $50,000 and mentoring by a major national corporation to further develop their comprehensive community revitalization plan.  Eight semi-finalists will be named next year and in 2017 three finalists will share $6 million after they have had time to implement their visions and plans.
      Congratulations and best wishes to DeKalb as it works to keep the American Dream alive—demonstrating that with hard work and determination, it can deliver a better tomorrow for its citizens. 

Advocacy in the Capitol
       A number of organizations were in the capitol last week to renew acquaintances with legislators, talk about the budget for 2016, and review how they have used state funding.  Participating in the Illinois Municipal League lobby day from the area were delegations from DeKalb, Campton Hills, Cortland, Hinckley and Kirkland.  In the picture I am seen talking with Hinckley’s Police Chief Gregg Waitkus, Office Manager Dawn Grivetti, Trustee John Marsh and Mayor Jim Roderick.
DeKalb Park District President Phil Young and Executive Director Jason Mangum were in Springfield as well last week to talk about the value of parks and the role they play in quality of life and attraction to a community.  They noted that in a survey 83 percent of residents say they have used a park program or visited a park or forest preserve in the past year. 
        Park districts also have a better public image than many other units of government and 7 in 10 people believe the portion of property taxes going to support parks represents a good or excellent value.  Sycamore Park District is moving forward with its improvement and building plan after voters approved a tax rate referendum last November to support the plan, known as ‘Action 20/20’.  The district is looking for citizen involvement in implementing the plan.

Graduation and Assessing Education Progress
        Graduation ceremonies will be occurring over the next month with one of the first being at Northern Illinois University this coming weekend.  Whether from high school or college, graduation marks a significant accomplishment that according to statistics will return huge financial dividends and societal benefits.  Congratulations to all the graduates and their families. 
        This is the fifth graduation class since Illinois adopted its Public Agenda for College and Career Success and it’s time to review the progress we have made toward our goal of 60 percent of citizens with some education beyond high school.  The Illinois Board of Higher Education recently completed its assessment and while finding that Illinois has made improvements, we remain far behind best performing states at each step.  
       Illinois is closing the high school diploma gap between whites and minorities, especially in Chicago.  The gap between the races is widening, however, when it comes to education beyond high school.  Illinois is making strides in increasing the education level of its young adults.  For older adults, and especially low income students, the improvement remains behind the national average and most other states. 
       If citizens in Illinois are to compete for the types of good paying jobs available in the next decade, we must redouble our efforts toward achieving the public agenda (which can be found the website, www.ibhe.org).  More of us--at all ages--must be graduating from a postsecondary education program.

Bob