Pritchard's Perspective for April 30th


Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to bob@pritchardstaterep.com

April 30, 2018
In This Issue:

·     Bond Sales Fund Capital Projects
·     Rush to Pass Legislation before Deadline
·     Use ComEd’s Energy Efficiency Program
·     Work Moves Slows Toward a Budget
·     Extending Property Tax Exemptions
·     Progressive Income Tax Proposed
·     Federal Grant to Help Fight Opioid Abuse
·     Increasing Support for Apprenticeship Opportunities

Bond Sales Fund Capital Projects
Last week the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget announced the sale of $500 million of General Obligation Bonds to fund some much needed projects.  The sale “rolled over” existing commitments to maintain capital infrastructure and conduct other essential long-term elements. 

The first $450 million will finance capital projects including roads, mass transit and deferred maintenance within state agencies.  The final $50 million will be used to finance information technology programs.

While Illinois’ debt is given a relatively low rating by international credit-measurement agencies, the obligations continue to be ranked as investment-grade securities.  For example, leading bond analytical firm Moody’s Investors Services ranks Illinois general obligation debt at Baa3 with a negative outlook. 

The bonds in Wednesday’s sale will mature over a variety of years.  The longest maturing bonds will expire in 2043 at an interest rate of 4.88 percent.  Interest rates on the bond package as a whole averaged 4.55 percent.

Rush to Pass Legislation before Deadline
Last week was the official deadline for passing legislation out of each chamber.  On Friday alone, the House acted on over 60 bills in 6 hours.  Here are some of the bills passed in the House.

HB4594:  Reforms the criminal court fee system comply with Supreme Court orders.  Further, it makes all fees consolidated to unified schedules and it allows for waivers for low income individuals who are unable to pay such fines.

HB4781: Ensures each university is making their best effort to hire a veteran as the Coordinator of Veterans and Military Personnel Student Services on each campus in Illinois.

HB5632:  Directs that an ambulance or rescue vehicle shall operate a siren and lamps only when it is reasonably necessary to warn pedestrians and other drivers of the approach.

HB5749:  IDOT and local authorities may issue special permits for trucks to carry heavier loads of agricultural commodities and limits the total fees for those permits to no more than $1,000.

HB4513: Requires that on public construction projects, to the extent practicable, at least 10 percent of the man-hours performing construction services be performed by individuals who reside in areas of poverty.

HB5309: Forbids state agencies from paying a bonus to their employees using tax revenue.

HB3479: Requires managed care community networks that contract with the Department of Healthcare and Family Services to establish, maintain, and provide a fair and reasonable reimbursement rate to pharmacy providers for pharmaceutical services and related products.

HB4858: Allows local school districts and community colleges to apply for and receive grants for purchases of land, construction of facilities, and equipment in order to improve teaching for jobs related to manufacturing. 

HB4799: Provides that, in every public school for grades K-8th, there shall be instruction, study, and discussion of safe bicycling and walking practices prevention traffic injuries.

HB4643:  Allows Physical Therapists to diagnose and treat patients for a limited time without the patient first receiving a "documented current and relevant diagnosis" from a physician, dentist, advanced practice registered nurse, physician assistant, or podiatric physician.

HB5551: Reinstates in law that the Office of the State Fire Marshall shall inspect Community-Integrated Living Arrangements (CILAs) so they may comply with licensing requirements.

HB4208: Establishes the Safe Schools and Healthy Learning Environments Program to offer additional ways to deal with student discipline beside school resource officers and making student arrests.

HB5136: Clarifies that meetings of school management and unions to discuss teacher evaluation plans and student growth are not covered under the Open Meetings Act.

HB4369: Directs the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to develop an online handbook to provide guidance on dyslexia and its challenges in an educational setting.


Use ComEd’s Energy Efficiency Program
ComEd is again offering free Home Energy Assessments as part of their Energy Efficiency Program.  This program is offered to consumers across Illinois to help save energy while also saving money. 

I recently participated in the free Home Energy Assessment and can attest to the helpfulness it provided to save energy and money.  As part of the assessment, an energy advisor checked the heating and cooling systems as well as water usage and faucets, and evaluated appliances and lighting.  After a thorough assessment, the advisor recommended the installation of water aerators for sinks and for showerheads to reduce water usage, insulation for hot water pipes, replacing existing incandescent light bulbs with more energy-efficient, longer lasting LEDs, and provided advanced power strips.  In addition, the team recommended upgrading to more energy-efficient ENERGY STAR® certified appliances like stoves and refrigerators; clean and replace furnace filters; and also install a smart thermostat. 

The free products installed during the Home Energy Assessment are estimated to save $239 of energy annually.  Anyone who undergoes a free Home Energy Assessment from ComEd will receive personalized savings recommendations, and may receive free and discounted energy savings products, including LEDs.  To schedule your own free Home Energy Assessment from ComEd, call 855-433-2700 or visit ComEd.com/Assessment.

Work Moves Slowly Toward a Budget
Joint resolutions were filed in both chambers of the General Assembly by Republican legislative leaders to adopt a revenue estimate in order to begin the budgeting process for fiscal year 2019.  The revenue estimate is required by the constitution so that a state budget can be adopted that does not spend beyond our means.  While this is law and a common sense approach, it has not been followed in recent years.

House Joint Resolution 124 adopts a revenue estimate of $37.672 billion for fiscal year 2019, based on the estimate provided by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA).  Such a number is insufficient to pay for current programs, the backlog of bills and our pension liability.

Operating government for two years without a budget and the spending restraints it normally imposes has created a lack of fiscal responsibilities among legislators and agencies.  One only has to look at the legislation passed out of the House in the past month that increases spending with no concern whether we have revenue to pay for it.  Even in the FY2018 budget we are providing programs with no appropriation authority costing about $54 million; some by court order, and some because there is little will to stop the programs.  As we reviewed the budget last week we saw there are around $10 million being spent on Medicaid services beyond what are reimbursed by the federal government. 

The result of this spending without authority and beyond our revenue is unpaid bills that have cost taxpayers $1.12 Billion in interest payments over the past two years according to the Comptroller.  As of March 31 there are $553 million in interest payments still owed venders.

As we return to session in May, the legislature will be challenged to control spending in the largest areas of the budget: pensions, Medicaid and healthcare insurance for current and former state workers.  I will fight efforts to cut the share of revenue intended for local units of governments so there is more money to spend on state programs.  This practice only results in higher property taxes.  Instead, I will be looking for ways to reduce payments that are constitutional and fair for both taxpayers and employees.

Extending Property Tax Exemptions
In an effort to reduce the number of Illinois students leaving the state to attend less expensive out of state colleges and universities, I filed legislation to reduce the cost of college housing.  This legislation, HB4914, was given a subject matter hearing in the Revenue and Finance Committee and brought the issue to light. 

Not only has the cost of college tuition been rising, but also housing costs due in part to rising property taxes.  This bill provides that nonprofit dormitory or residence halls—including fraternities and sororities—are exempt from property taxes just like university dormitories and religious institution housing.   Property tax costs at one of our state’s universities increased as much as $2,000 per student annually.  While university and some non-profit housing can be tax exempt, university regulated and non-profit owned Greek System housing on college campuses should be as well.

No action was taken on this bill but the concept may be included in an omnibus property tax bill yet this session.

Progressive Income Tax Proposed
Last week, Speaker Michael Madigan filed a resolution, House Resolution 1025, in support of a progressive income tax.  The action was meant to counter HR975, filed by House Republicans earlier this month, opposing a progressive income tax.

At the outset, the progressive income tax is promoted as a tax increase on just the wealthy, but a closer look at the ramifications of such a tax in other states paints quite a different picture.  In most of those states tax rates for middle income families are high as or higher than our current rate of 4.95 percent.  Under a progressive tax system, tax rates rise increasingly higher to generate the state revenue desired.  The progressive tax, as is being sold in Illinois, can’t possibly do enough to solve decades of overspending revenue and underfunding pensions. 

Taxpayers would be advised to ask for detailed rates and assurances that rates wouldn’t be increased after a year or two.  Would the new revenue be used to pay debts or just add new programs?  Would the middle class actually benefit? 
In the next month, we will be hearing more of this issue; be sure to ask questions and wait for details. 

Federal Grant to Help Fight Opioid Abuse
Last week Governor Rauner announced a $16 million federal grant to fight opioid abuse.  The grant money will be paid through the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) to medical service providers who help fight opioid abuse and provide treatments. 

The abuse of opioid drugs, including heroin and fentanyl, played a role in the deaths of an estimated 2,000 Illinois residents in 2017.  Much of the grant money is earmarked for new treatment and recovery services, including medication-assisted treatment.  Medication-assisted treatments for opioids include limited allocations to patients of medications that reduce withdrawal symptoms, such as methadone and buprenorphine.  Persons recently released from prison or county jail that are diagnosed as being at risk for recidivism will be offered treatment options.  Some of the grant money will be used to strengthen enforcement of the Illinois Prescription Monitoring Program for pain relieving drugs...

The grant will supplement efforts already underway to make universal the first responder access to naloxone, the opioid agonist that if administered in a timely manner can save the life of a victim who is in an overdose situation.  In its ongoing outreach to paramedic forces and other first responders, DHS has learned that funds like these have trained nearly 18,000 responders to administer naloxone.  

Increasing Support for Apprenticeship Opportunities
Governor Bruce Rauner and Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti recently toured Continental Tire’s world headquarters in Hanover, Germany and the firm’s Illinois tire-manufacturing plant in Mt. Vernon.  The Rauner administration is looking to expand our state’s infrastructure for apprenticeship opportunities; a pathway to work that is already in active use in many German-managed industrial firms. 

The state has been pushing toward leadership in apprenticeship opportunities.  Over the past four years, Illinois school funding has increased by more than $1.2 billion.  Some of these funds have been invested to expand apprenticeship programs in Illinois high schools.  Many Illinois community colleges have developed task forces with local employers to adjust their curricula in the direction of apprenticeship pathways and job-oriented work certification programs. 

Legislation that I sponsored and passed out of the House last week will make our education institutions eligible for grants and allow high schools to adjust their courses so students can participate in apprenticeship programs.  Future automated workplaces will demand a well-trained Illinois workforce.  Current numbers show that Illinois has enjoyed a net gain of 18,200 manufacturing jobs over the most-recently-reported 12-month period of employment in the Prairie State. 

Have a great week and call my District Office to share your opinions or if I can be of assistance.
-Bob


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