Children – Teenage Concussions
·         Health care providers report sharp increase in official diagnoses of concussions among many Illinois teenagers.  The diagnosis count increased 83% from 2010 to 2015 among a large subset of Illinois children aged 10 to 19.  The subset is made up of those children and young adults that are members of households insured by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois, Illinois’ largest health care insurer.  Blue Cross reports that more than 8 million of the 12.9 million people of Illinois are covered by their firm.  The numbers reflect diagnostic codings reached by health care professionals, used by them as a basis for follow-up treatments of their patients, and submitted to Blue Cross for requested reimbursement.
It is not known to what extent, if any, concussions are growing in Illinois.  Health care providers have worked hard in recent years to improve their screening for this diagnosis when a patient is presented for treatment.  Many older Illinoisans will remember incidents, especially on a sports field, when a young person would have reported that he was “feeling woozy” and, instead of being diagnosed and treated by trained medical personnel, would have been urged to sit down until he felt better.    

The General Assembly has taken significant actions in recent years to treat teenage concussions, particularly in high school sports.  The Youth Sports Concussion Safety Act, passed in spring 2015, has led to a series of new guidelines from the Illinois High School Association.  A principle guideline mandates that school coaches and officials undergo both first-time training and, as a follow-up, continuing education in the field diagnosis of concussions and other acute medical conditions.  Additional guidelines set forth pathways and markers for an affected student, his or her family and caregivers, and his or her athletic trainers to follow in returning a person diagnosed with a concussion to possible future sports activity.    

Budget – Unpaid Bills
·         Backlog of unpaid bill hits $8.6 billion.  The unpaid-bill count, tracked on a day-to-day basis by the office of Comptroller Leslie Munger, hit more than $8.6 billion this week.  The red-ink number is closely watched by holders of Illinois debt paper and by international credit rating agencies and firms that rank worldwide debtors by chances of insolvency.  For example Moody’s, the world’s largest credit-rating firm, currently ranks Illinois general obligation debt backed by general funds at Baa2, two ranks above “junk bond” level.  Moody’s adds that they have a “negative outlook” on Illinois’ current Baa2 rating.  Analysts at Moody’s report that Illinois’ “structural budget gap” currently equals at least 15% of Illinois general fund and pension expenditures.    

The backlog, counted as of Thursday, September 22, represents more than $8.6 billion in bills payable from Illinois general funds.  These bills have either been presented to the Illinois Comptroller for payment, or are known to be waiting in the coffers of various State agencies for presentation and payment.  Many of these bills are request for reimbursement to providers of supplies and services to the State and its clients, particularly medical and nursing care provided to Medicaid patients. 

The unpaid-bill ledger count reported weekly by Munger’s office is likely to continue to fluctuate in future weeks.  However, the overall red-ink trend is expected to continue to go upward, based on tax payments to the State continuing to fall short of monies obligated by continuing appropriations, court orders, and consent decrees.  Illinois’ unpaid-bill debt is only a small fraction of the total debts owed by the Illinois public sector.  One estimate indicates that the State of Illinois alone has compiled obligations, including future pension obligations, of more than $45,500 per taxpayer.
Jobs – Illinois labor force
·         Illinois payroll drops by 8,200 jobs in August.  The monthly jobs and unemployment report from the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) showed a 30-day drop of 8,200 in Illinois’ seasonally-adjusted nonfarm payroll jobs.  This key employment number declined from 6,016,900 in July 2016 to 6,008,700 in August. 

More than one-half, or 4,400, of the new job losses were posted by the manufacturing sector.  The making and supporting of goods assembled or packaged in factories now accounts for less than one-tenth of Illinois’ total nonfarm payroll jobs.  In August 2016, 568,400 workers labored in or around Illinois factories, less than 9.5% of Illinois’ total employment of 6.0 million.  Parts of the August job losses posted by Illinois in manufacturing, construction, mining and other sectors were made up by continued job growth in leisure, hospitality, professional services and business services.  These sectors have done well in past months in Illinois and continued to add new jobs in August 2016. 

The overall unemployment rate dropped in Illinois in August 2016 from 5.8% to 5.5%.  Much of the decline was attributed to “discouraged workers” dropping out of the labor force or leaving Illinois entirely.  Approximately 20,000 Illinois residents dropped out of the labor market in August 2016.  Illinois’ unemployment rate continued to be significantly higher than the nationwide unemployment rate of 4.9% for the same month. The IDES jobs report was released on Thursday, September 15.   
Chicago – Vista Tower Groundbreaking
·         Ground broken on residential skyscraper designed to be 1,186 feet tall.  When completed, Vista Tower will be the third tallest building in Chicago behind the Willis Tower (1,450 feet, plus antenna masts) and the Trump International Hotel and Tower (1,389 feet).   Although largely designed for residential use, the Chinese-financed tower will also contain luxury hotel space.  Designed by prizewinning architect Jeanne Gang, the Wacker Drive tower will be 95 stories tall.

The Vista Tower project is expected to take 3.5 years to complete.  The work will employ thousands of specialized construction jobs, in addition to the 500 personnel who will permanently staff the building upon the scheduled completion date of December 2019.   The project will cost its investors nearly $1.0 billion.
YORKVILLE – The Illinois Farm Bureau has presented their 2016 “Friend of Agriculture” award to State Representative Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego) in recognition of his voting record in support of pro-agriculture initiatives in the 99th General Assembly. Presenting the award to Representative Wheeler was Kendall County Farm Bureau President Bob Stewart. 

“As a sixth-generation resident of Kendall County, I am exceptionally humbled to accept this award from our friends at the Illinois Farm Bureau,” Representative Wheeler said. “The family farmers and agri-business industry of Kane and Kendall Counties are the backbone of our state and local economy, producing the corn and soybeans that feed Illinois and the world. I am proud to stand with them and remain committed to being a strong advocate for agriculture as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives.”
By Keith R. Wheeler
State Representative, 50th District

As public schools throughout the Fox Valley and the State of Illinois open on-time and students return to the classroom, it’s important to recognize that this only happened because of compromise.

Earlier this summer, the possibility of schools not opening on-time and teachers not getting paid was very real, due to the long state budget impasse in Springfield.  However, on June 30, legislators came together and voted to approve a six-month stopgap budget that included funding to ensure the new school year would start without delay.

The outcry from parents and teachers would have been deafening if we had failed to do this– and justifiably so. As the father of three, including one in high school and one who just started kindergarten, I shared the concern of many other parents about the impact on our schools if the politicians in Springfield did not get their act together this summer and pass a budget compromise.

My House Republican colleagues and I stood firm in our conviction that we could not stand by and allow our kids’ education to be held hostage in the Springfield budget battle. We were determined to take K-12 education out of the political crossfire, and we did. Yet this could not have been achieved if we had not stood together and kept pressure on the Democrats who hold a firm grasp on power in the Illinois House of Representatives.