Rep. Wheeler's Weekly Roundup: October 28

Budget – Unpaid Bills
·         State of Illinois’ backlog of unpaid bills hovers above $9 billion.  As of Wednesday, October 26, the State was in possession of more than $9.1 billion in unpaid bills payable from general funds.  Unpaid obligations of the State of Illinois include money due to a wide variety of medical service and social service providers.  These are entities, most but not all of which are part of the private sector, which provide services to Illinois residents under state and federal laws (such as Medicaid) and have the right to be paid for them.

A wide variety of local government agencies are also hard hit by the State’s poor cash flow.  For example, Downstate public transportation districts offer van rides to persons who request transportation assistance, and often offer local bus services.  These local bus-and-van agencies cannot hope to cover their operating expenses from fare box collections, and depend on supplemental money from the State, which is currently not being paid.  Several Downstate transit systems have shut down operations due to the lack of state funding.  

Agriculture – Harvest Time
·         Illinois farmers have harvested more than three-quarters of corn, soybeans.  The bumper crop numbers were reported on Tuesday, October 25 by the National Agriculture Statistics Service.  Relatively dry conditions have made it possible for heavy farm equipment to repeatedly enter mature crop fields in most sections of Illinois.  Warm weather has further helped with harvest conditions. 

Damp fields affect some portions of the State. The Illinois Department of Agriculture reported at the start of this week that the corn harvest was 83% complete, compared to 91% last year, and the bean harvest was 76% done, compared to 77% for the 5-year average.  Large quantities of winter wheat are planted in some parts of Illinois, especially the southeastern counties.  This fall-sown crop had been 68% planted as of this week. 

Children – Lead Poisoning
·         Cabinet on Children and Youth leads initiative against lead poisoning.  Governor Bruce Rauner’s Cabinet on Children and Youth recently announced a statewide, cross-agency initiative to reduce children’s exposure to lead.  Lead poisoning is one of the most prevalent, preventable, environmental health hazards and is known to contribute to learning disabilities, developmental delays, and violent behavior.

“There is no safe level of lead in the body.  Children exposed to high lead levels tend to suffer from life-long complications that affect their ability to think, learn, or behave,” said 
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Nirav D. Shah, M.D., J.D.  “Reducing blood lead levels among all Illinois children six years of age or younger would reduce crime and increase on-time high school graduation rates later in life.”

Compared to other states, Illinois remains among the highest for percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels.  Out of approximately 270,000 Illinois children tested in 2014, more than 18,000 had blood lead levels at the federal public health intervention level.

As one focus of the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet, lead exposure has an impact on all of the other Cabinet subgroups.  Reducing lead exposure and decreasing the level at which children are eligible for public health services would have a positive impact on educational achievement.  There are opportunities to connect home visiting programs and other social service initiatives with expanded lead-related activities, creating more robust services and a more integrated social service delivery system.

Deteriorating lead-based paint remains the primary source of lead exposure to children.  Approximately 66 percent of Illinois housing units were built prior to the residential lead paint ban of 1978.

The primary goals of the Illinois Lead Program include lead poisoning prevention through community education and public awareness campaigns, identifying lead-poisoned children, and providing prompt interventions to reduce blood lead levels and improve health and developmental outcomes.

For more information about lead poisoning prevention, visit the IDPH 
website.

Education – High-Tech Training
·         Illinois Manufacturing Association (IMA) chief expresses support for Illinois schools.  With Illinois manufacturing in transition from an assembly-line model to a ‘smart manufacturing’ model, IMA president Greg Baise spoke out this week in support of Illinois schools as places to train high-tech workers. 

Even as production processes become more automated, Illinois factories will continue to need increasing numbers of manufacturing engineers and production technicians.  The IMA’s figures project annual Illinois personnel retirement rates of 30,000 men and women with these qualifications, who must be replaced.  Baise warns prospective manufacturing workers that more and more of them will be expected to understand and oversee the work being done by computer-programmed machines.  High schools and community colleges will be asked to work with local employers to generate workers with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) certifications.         

Health Care – ACA Premium Hikes
·         New data confirms sharp price hikes in Obamacare premiums in Illinois.  A limited number of health insurance providers are allowed to sell policies on the Illinois Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange, “Get Covered Illinois.”  The complex mandates placed on insurance providers by current federal law have helped lead to a situation where only a few firms’ offerings are judged adequate to meet the standards required to be classified as an ACA-compliant healthcare plan.  These mandates are especially strict upon policies classified as “Silver” or “Gold” plans. 

Many families find that they have to buy a “Silver” or “Gold” plan in order to meet the healthcare needs of their families.  However, the prices posted for 2017 ACA Illinois healthcare coverage, particularly “Silver” plans, have shot up significantly from the prices charged in 2016.  New summaries provide statistical evidence of the price hikes already being seen by Illinois consumers, and display the weight of the challenge facing affected Illinoisans – especially young families – as they try to navigate the increasingly unfriendly waters of the Affordable Care Act.

These challenges are not confined to Illinois.  New data released from Washington indicates that the cost of health insurance purchased under the umbrella of the Affordable Care Act has shot up by 22% for calendar year 2017.        

Higher Education – University of Illinois
·         University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will create Illinois Athletic Hall of Fame.  The organized celebration of UIUC’s athletic heritage will hold its first induction ceremony on the weekend of September 29-30, 2017, to mark the football team’s Big Ten opener.  The inaugural member of the UIUC Illinois Athletic Hall of Fame, announced on Thursday, October 27, will be famed linebacker Dick Butkus.  Other members of the inaugural Hall of Fame class are expected to be announced in February 2017.  

Dick Butkus, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame, is renowned as the foremost linebacker of his generation.  He played for the Fighting Illini in the seasons of 1962, 1963, and 1964.  In his final years he was short-listed for the Heisman Trophy; his third-place finish in the 1964 Heisman balloting was one of the highest honors ever granted by college football to a defensive lineman.  A native Chicagoan, Butkus went on to play for nine seasons for George Halas’s Chicago Bears.  The Fighting Illini have previously honored Butkus by retiring his uniform number 50.  The size of college football teams means that it is a serious matter to retire a number, and the U of I squad has retired only two numbers over a period of more than 100 years.  Butkus shares this honor with the late Harold “Red” Grange, the legendary 1920s running back.  

Jobs – Baxter International
·         Chicago-area firm describes round of layoffs.  Baxter International, the Lake County-based maker of medical supplies and services told equity analysts that they have spent or written off $101 million as the accounting cost of their current round of layoffs.  The announcement was made in a Wall Street conference call on Tuesday, October 25.  The conference call was made as part of the firm’s overall “earnings guidance” to Wall Street as to how much money they expect to make in the fourth quarter of 2016.  

Baxter International is a global leader in the supplies used to filter and transfuse human blood, particularly in cases of renal dialysis, infusions to fight back against diseases such as cancer, and intravenous solutions dripped into patients in hospitals and in nursing care.  Like other large health-care firms, Baxter International faces relatively stable demands for many of its products and is working hard to automate some of its logistics management.   

Fall in Illinois
·         Halloween health and safety checklist.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued their annual checklist of safety tips for Halloween and other community-oriented children’s gatherings.  Simple rules include encouraging children to go trick-or-treating in groups, chaperoning groups of children from a safe distance, issuing a flashlight to the senior member of each group, and encouraging the treat-gatherers to include reflective materials on their clothes or costumes for reasons of traffic safety. 

·         Bumper crop of pumpkins for Halloween.  A University of Illinois plant pathologist explains this year’s crop of pumpkins by pointing to good growing conditions and a lack of diseases that this year that affected the plant vine.  About 90% of the U.S. pumpkins meant for canning or processing are grown within a 90-mile radius of Peoria, and this geographic concentration makes the Illinois plants potentially vulnerable to epidemic disease outbreaks.  However, this year’s report confirms that outbreaks of downy mildew and other pumpkin scourges were geographically confined this year.  Pumpkin consumption traditionally peaks during a period starting Halloween weekend, when pumpkins are often used for decoration.  The consumption of processed dessert pumpkin pulp peaks on Thanksgiving weekend.

Week in Review

·         Get the Week in Review emailed directly to your inbox!  Sign up today to get a first-hand look at the continuing legislative and fiscal challenges facing policymakers in Springfield.