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Rep. Keith Wheeler
SPRINGFIELD – House Democrats this week pushed through poorly-written legislation that would put the State of Illinois into the worker’s compensation insurance business. State Representative Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego) issued the following statement in response to the party line vote approving House Bill 2622:

Specifically, House Bill 2622 would create a state-run nonprofit corporation to offer workers compensation insurance to employers; this despite the fact that Illinois already has the most competitive workers’ compensation insurance market in the nation, with over 330 private companies already operating in the state.

“HB 2622 would put the taxpayers of Illinois on the hook for an initial $10 million start-up loan for the creation of a not-for-profit workers’ compensation insurance company; $3 million of which comes right off the top to cover overhead costs. The bill sponsor presented no business plan and no information for how they would seek paying clients. Our state’s inability to pass a balanced budget and live within its means is well documented. There is absolutely nothing to indicate that this $10 million investment would deliver the results for Illinois’ jobs climate promised by the sponsor.”

“We need real reforms that drive down the actual cost of workers’ compensation insurance for Illinois job creators; beginning with stronger causation standards that curb fraud and abuse of the system. This alone would go far in moving the needle to reduce the astronomical costs our businesses pay.”

SPRINGFIELD – State Representative Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego) took action on Tuesday to make a state budget agreement possible by filing three different versions of legislation to adopt a bipartisan revenue estimate on which to base a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. State law requires the General Assembly to adopt a revenue estimate each year as the first step toward passing a state budget. The State of Illinois is currently mired in a 22-month long budget impasse.
Economy – Unemployment Rate
·         Illinois unemployment rate drops below 5.0 percent.  The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) reported this week that the jobless rate dropped 50 basis points in March, from 5.4% to 4.9%.  The new number marked the first time in 10 years that Illinois’ statewide unemployment rate dropped below the benchmark level of 5.0%.  

The falling unemployment rate was not a sign of new jobs being created in Illinois.  Although the decline in unemployment was significant, Illinois once again saw a net loss in total nonfarm payroll positions tracked by the IDES.  Illinois nonfarm payrolls dropped by 8,900 jobs from February 2017 to March 2017.  There were significant slowdowns in construction (down 7,100 jobs), professional and business services (down 3,600 jobs), and government (down 1,900 jobs).  The decline in unemployment was entirely accounted for by a net decrease of more than 70,000 workers in the Illinois labor force.

Illinois’s unemployment rate, at 4.9% for March 2017, remains higher than the jobless rate for the nation as a whole, which was 4.5% for the same month.  Many U.S. states have even lower unemployment rates.  For example, high-tech Massachusetts notched an unemployment rate of 3.6% in March.      
Budget – Stopgap
·         House Democrats advance irresponsible stopgap spending plan.  It is disappointing, but not surprising, that Democrats once again rammed another stopgap spending plan through the House – it’s precisely why Democrats have been unwilling to negotiate with House Republicans on a full, balanced budget. 

We have said all along that it was the plan of the Speaker and the majority party to only pass stopgap spending plans and allow our state to simply limp along to get to the next election – and their most recent actions prove that.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen all of this before. Typically, right before a break or deadline, the majority party decides it’s best to play politics and passes a spending plan that never balances or fails to address the real issues of our state so that they can go home and pretend that they’ve done their job.

Our students, community colleges and universities and social services providers deserve long-term certainty.  The House Democrat plan does nothing to address their long term problems and concerns and simply strings them along.
Budget – Lack of progress
·         No progress on Illinois budget; Moody’s warns Illinois of further downgrades.  While the Illinois House has held a series of “pro forma” hearings on the budgetary requests and needs of Illinois state agencies, there are no State budget numbers for FY17 or FY18.  FY17 is ending on June 30, 2017, without a written budget, and FY18 will start on July 1, 2018.  Under State law and the Constitution of Illinois, the General Assembly is mandated to approve a balanced budget that will guide State spending for the approaching fiscal year.  The Constitution requires that this budget not commit to spend more money than is expected to come in during the fiscal year.  The legislature did not fulfill this mandate for FY17, and is not making progress to do this for FY18.  As March 2017 ended, Illinois had more than $12 billion in unpaid bills on file with or under the supervision of the Office of the Comptroller of Illinois.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, and members of the House Republican Caucus and leadership team, joined this week to call for the House to take action on the State budget in fulfillment of its responsibilities.  Durkin and his team pointed out that progress toward a budget is still possible if the public sector undertakes serious structural reforms, including pension reform, to reduce its long-term commitments.  Moody’s Investors Service warned this week that continued non-action by Illinois on the current budget situation risks further downgrades of our State’s credit rating, possibly down to or below “junk bond” level.  The warning was issued on Thursday, March 30.

Continued decline in Illinois’s demographic standing relative to other states, continued cuts in the credit rating that governs the interest rates paid by State institutions, and concerns in the worldwide business community about Illinois’ future make immediate action necessary.  “The Spring legislative session is now almost half over, with no movement toward a budget resolution,” said freshman Representative Ryan Spain.  “Little in the way of meaningful reforms have been debated, and there is dwindling time for substantive action on behalf of those we serve.”
By Rep. Keith Wheeler
State Representative, 50th District

This week, the Governor and the Department of Innovation & Technology (DoIT) announced a comprehensive state cybersecurity strategy for Illinois. As a small businessman myself, owner of an IT services company for over 25 years, I understand the growing challenges in this field and what it will take for the State to meet them.

One recent cyber data breach illustrates how real this threat is to Illinois residents. Last August, Illinois State Board of Elections officials revealed that personal information from fewer than 200,000 voters was hacked through a cyberattack of possible foreign origin. It is possible that some voter personal information, including drivers' license numbers and the last four digits of Social Security numbers, could have been accessed of voters who entered that information when they registered to vote online.

The 2017 Identity Fraud Study, released by Javelin Strategy & Research, found that $16 billion was stolen from 15.4 million U.S. consumers in 2016, an increase over the $15.3 billion and 13.1 million victims a year earlier. Clearly, the State of Illinois must act in the face of this growing threat.
Budget – Pension Reform
·         House Republicans offer comprehensive pension reform proposal and CPS relief.  House Republican Leader Jim Durkin today called on Speaker Michael Madigan and the House Democrats to join the House Republicans in passing comprehensive pension reform that would provide significant savings for taxpayers and $215 million to the Chicago Public Schools for a one time pension parity payment.   

According to Durkin, the legislation is modeled after legislation introduced in a bipartisan manner in the Senate. Specifically, HB 4027 includes:
o   Senate President John Cullerton’s “consideration model” that would require members of TRS, SURS, SERS, GARS, and CTPF to exchange their Tier 1 COLA for the right to have future raises to be counted as pensionable, or keep their COLA and sacrifice future raises as pensionable.  This concept previously received union support by the We Are One Coalition
o   Provides a one-time normal cost payment to the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund of $215.2 million for FY 17
o   Closes new member participation in GARS
o   Offers Tier 1 TRS, SURS, SERS and GARS employees the option to participate in a defined contribution (DC) plan 
o   Creates a voluntary Tier 3 Hybrid defined benefit/defined contribution plan for new Tier 2 employees under  TRS, SURS, and certain SERS members who do not participate in Social Security

“With this legislation, we estimate the State of Illinois will realize short-term savings of $2.25 billion dollars from the general funds and a substantial step towards closing the deficit gap. This is a significant step towards achieving a balanced budget but also saving our pension systems.”