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.”
Taxes – Property Tax Burden
·         With one of the highest tax burdens in the nation, property tax relief must be priority.  Speaking at a press conference Tuesday at the Capitol, State Rep. Mark Batinick and his House Republican colleagues drew attention to the number one issue for many Illinois homeowners: the need for property tax relief.  

A recent poll from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute found that 47 percent of registered voters in Illinois say they want to move out, with 27 percent of them citing property taxes as their top reason. The Tax Foundation, the nation’s leading independent tax policy nonprofit, reported just this week that Illinois has one of the highest property tax burdens in the country (3rd), which contributes to the 5th highest overall tax burden in the nation.

“Families and seniors are being forced from their homes, not because they cannot afford their mortgage, but because they cannot afford their property taxes increasing each and every year,” Rep. Batinick said. “If we’re going to be asked to support a budget package, whatever that may end up looking like, we’re here to say there must be real, significant property tax relief for our constituents.”

The impact of property taxes is not limited to homeowners. Businesses are moving across state lines or closing entirely partially due to the high cost of property taxes in Illinois. The recent Tax Foundation analysis shows that Illinois’ property tax burden ranks as one of the least favorable for businesses, coming in at 46th in the nation.  
Rep. Keith Wheeler speaks in support of
redistricting reform at the Illinois Capitol.
Springfield, IL – Members of the House Republican Caucus today called on House Democrats to respect the wishes of Illinoisans by allowing redistricting reform, HJRCA17, to be called for a vote immediately.  

“This is one of the strongest statements we can make about reforming Illinois,” said State Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield). “This isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue, so it’s time for the Democrats to decide if they stand for the status quo or for a stronger, better Illinois for generations to come.”

HJRCA 17 would allow voters to decide, by statewide referendum, to amend the Illinois Constitution to create the Independent Redistricting Commission for the purpose of drawing legislative districts. A poll conducted by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute last fall found that 72% of voters, including a majority of both Republicans and Democrats, supported the creation of an independent commission to draw legislative district maps. 

Members noted that redistricting reform is directly tied to the state budget and the failure of having unbalanced budgets for more than 10 years.
In an effort to make state government and the legislative process more accessible to Illinois residents regardless of their national origin or spoken language, State Rep. Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego) is providing a link to translate the Illinois General Assembly website, www.ilga.gov, into any one of dozens of different languages.

The Illinois General Assembly website contains legislator profiles, full text of all legislation introduced in the House of Representatives and State Senate, live audio and video feeds of legislative session and committee hearings; and a wide variety of other legislative information and support services.

Please click any of the links below to translate the Illinois General Assembly website into your preferred language:

Spanish         Español
Arabic          عربي               
Hindi           हिन्दी      
Chinese (Simplified) 中文简体               
Chinese (Traditional) 中文繁體                
Japanese        日本語 
Korean          한국어             
Russian         Русский 
French          Français    
German        Deutsch             
Italian            Italiano           
Polish             Polski        
Greek             Ελληνικά            

You can translate the Illinois General Assembly website into as many as 57 different languages using any of the above links.

Budget – COGFA Report
·         COGFA reduces State revenue forecast by $657 million.  Many State tax revenues streams are earmarked for general funds used to fund key budget areas such as education, public safety, and social services.   The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, the General Assembly’s nonpartisan budget forecasting arm, reported to the legislature this week on trends in State revenues that will affect the reminder of FY17, ending June 30, 2017, as well as the approaching FY18 (starting July 1, 2017).  COGFA uncovered patterns of modest year-over-year gains, or even declines, in many categories of revenue that are closely tied to overall State economic activity.  Areas of weak or absent revenue growth included individual income taxes, corporate income taxes, sales taxes, public utility taxes, cigarette taxes, and corporate franchise taxes. 

All of these tax revenue streams showed modest growth, or absent growth, in the current FY17 from the patterns of money flow posted in the most recently concluded full fiscal year, FY16.  This cash flow picture has forced COGFA to reduce its FY17 Illinois tax revenue forecast by $657 million, worsening the State’s fiscal situation.  This pattern of revenue stagnation, while State spending continues to increase, underlies the current inability of the State to pay its bills on time.  The State’s ledger currently counts more than $12 billion in unpaid bills.  The COGFA revenue report was presented to the General Assembly on Tuesday, March 7. 
Governor Rauner – Medicaid Proposal
·         Gov. Bruce Rauner makes major Medicaid proposal.  The proposal to increase the percentage of Medicaid medical cases that move through “managed care” was unveiled on Monday, February 27.   The state’s chief executive called for expanding existing Medicaid managed care programs to cover 80% of Illinois’ three million Medicaid patients.  This would mark a major increase in managed care from the current percentage of nearly 67%.  In Medicaid managed care, private insurance firms serve as “gatekeepers” for treatments, performing a role similar to insurance firms that manage groups of families that receive employment-based health care.    

In his proposal, the Governor noted two large groups of Medicaid patients that have not yet been moved to managed care.  Many children under the supervision of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) have not yet been moved to managed care; their medical care is protected by legal case law, and the move has to be performed in a manner that complies with their legal standing.  Some rural Illinois counties do not yet have a Medicaid managed care provider network in place. 

Governor Rauner also announced a major push to turn what have, up to now, been notional savings to taxpayers from Medicaid managed care into real savings.  The effort will include rationalizing the managed-care network, better coordination of patient care, and moving reimbursement from a treatment-based model to a results-based model.