Rep. Wheeler's Weekly Roundup: March 24

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.”

“I have secured 25 House Republican co-sponsors for this legislation. With our 26 votes the House Republicans have provided their pro-rata share of support for a structured roll call vote on this important issue. This means we will provide our fair share of votes. The Speaker needs to provide his 34 votes to move this legislation to the Senate. This legislation will earn the Governor’s signature. Speaker Madigan and I have worked in the past on pension reform and I am calling upon him to help secure passage of this legislation. This reform is a major piece of the puzzle for breaking the budget impasse,” said Durkin.

Budget – COGFA Projections
·         COGFA presents budget projections and revenue estimate.  The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) presented FY17 and preliminary FY18 budget projections to the House Revenue and Finance Committee this week.  COGFA presented a revised revenue estimate of $33.1 billion in FY17 general funds inflows, representing a significant reduction from the FY17 preliminary estimate of $33.9 billion published by COGFA in July 2016. 

COGFA’s report that revenues are falling short of projections by approximately $800 million adds to the fiscal burdens facing the State.  COGFA also warned House Revenue Committee members that further extensions of these fiscal trends could further worsen this picture in FY18, the fiscal year that starts on July 1, 2017.  Fiscal trends listed in this context include disappointing income tax receipts due to high unemployment and stagnant Illinois job growth, disappointing sales tax revenues, rising pension costs due to low interest rates and revisions to pension fund rates of annual return, and continued increases in the costs of Medicaid and health care for state employees.

Chicago – Population Trends
·         U.S. Census estimates that Chicago metropolitan area lost 19,570 in 2016 fiscal year.  The period from July 2015 through June 2016 showed a slight dip in the population of the counties that make up the Chicago metropolitan area, from 9.53 million to 9.51 million.  Although the decline during this twelve-month period was only 0.2%, it ran counter to the overall pattern of growth in the population of the United States.  The decline coincided with patterns of stagnant job creation in Illinois as a whole, with significant outmigration by many demographic categories of former Illinoisans to other states.  Groups leaving Illinois include young adults searching for employment elsewhere.    

The 9.5-million Chicago metropolitan area, as defined by the Census Bureau, is a 16-county region that includes small sections of Indiana and Wisconsin.  Centering on Cook County, the area is defined by the federal government for business and identity purposes.  Of the 10 largest metro areas in the United States, however, only the Chicago area lost residents.          

Economy – Tourism
·         Office of the Governor touts jobs through tourism to Illinois.  The Illinois Governor’s Conference on Travel and Tourism celebrated the second year of the “Illinois Made” program this week, which highlights products that are craft-made or were invented in Illinois.  Illinois products, such as Chicago-based Eli’s Cheesecake, are eligible to be designated “global brands” representing the Land of Lincoln to the rest of the nation and world.  

The program also showcases Illinois-experience goods and services, such as restaurants, craft wineries and breweries, and places of historical interest and experience, such as Lincoln’s Springfield, Nauvoo, the Illinois Amish country, and Cahokia Mounds.  The Illinois Governor’s Conference convened in Springfield on Monday, March 20.    

Education – School Accountability Plan
·         Plan retains reliance on standardized test metrics, but moves away from “No Child Left Behind.”  The new plan approved by the Illinois State Board of Education creates a revised grading system to assess public school districts on their performance.  While “No Child Left Behind” was widely criticized for its concentration on imposing proficiency guidelines on challenged school districts, the 2017 ISBE plan concentrates on academic growth metrics.  Schools and school districts will be positively reinforced for showing healthy movements, including movements from a challenged or low baseline.

The ISBE plan follows the replacement of No Child Left Behind by the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015.  Illinois, like other states, has been asked to adopt a plan that sets long-term goals, determine metrics for measuring progress towards these goals, and create a system to identify and support challenged schools and school districts.  By 2032, the ISBE plan looks forward to at least 90% of children and adolescents meeting a series of age-appropriate goals.  At least 90% of high school graduates should leave school in a state of readiness for college and career.  

The ISBE’s reliance on standardized tests will continue to be key factors in determining whether these age-appropriate goals are being met.  The ISBE will continue to use standardized tests to determine whether third graders are reading “at or above grade level” and fifth graders are “meeting or exceeding expectations” in math.      

Human Services – New ID Cards
·         New ID cards for persons with disabilities. The ID cards, which eligible persons can show to law enforcement, contain an official notification that the bearer is age 16 or older and has a medical condition that may impair his or her ability to communicate with others.  The new ID cards will be made available at all Drivers Services facilities operated by the Illinois Secretary of State. 

The ID card was developed by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS).  Approximately 100,000 of the cards have been printed for distribution, matching estimates of the number of Illinois residents who may face challenges if encountered by police officers and other first responders.  Persons who are eligible for the card include persons with physical, developmental, visual, hearing, or mental challenges and disabilities.  The card application must be cosigned by a physician.  An application for the specialty ID card can be found here.

Information Technology – Computer Literacy
·         Computer Banc teams with State on pilot program to improve children's digital literacy.  Computer Banc is teaming up with State Representative Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, other area lawmakers, and state officials and agencies to help improve children’s access to digital literacy tools. The pilot program aims to repurpose surplus government computers to provide children low cost learning tools for education readiness both at school and at home. Rep. Jimenez said she is excited to work with Computer Banc on its idea to get more computers to schools at a low cost and help children access vital technology.

“Our children need to be technologically savvy to be able to contribute and compete today. Computer Banc is doing a great job giving surplus computer equipment new life to provide very low cost access to technology for cash-strapped schools and families,” said Rep. Jimenez. “These repurposed computers are tailored to schools’ individual needs; and can also be sent home with students to continue their work, whether or not they have Wi-Fi in their home.”

“We’re pleased that CMS is able to play a part in supporting Illinois’ non-profit community by facilitating the transfer of these computers,” stated Acting Director Michael Hoffman of Illinois Central Management Services, the agency tasked with managing state and federal surplus property. 

Jobs
·         New jobs created; economists continue to point to Illinois’ lagging job growth. The Illinois Department of Employment Security’s February 2017 unemployment report, showed the Prairie State’s jobless rate dropping from 5.7% to 5.4%. The current number was measured by the widely-followed U-3 ratio; other methods of measuring unemployment and underemployment also count people in other categories, such as involuntary part-time employment.  These alternative metrics show much higher jobless numbers in Illinois.    

Illinois has not created nearly as many new jobs as have neighboring and other U.S. states.  In a pattern of lagging recovery from the severe recession of 2009-10, Illinois has created only 47,000 new nonfarm payroll jobs over the most recently measured twelve-month period – job growth of 0.8%.  Poor numbers are concentrated in many Downstate communities and metropolitan areas, with unemployment of 11.1% posted for January 2017 in greater Rockford, 7.7% in the Decatur area and 7.0% in Carbondale.  In fact, Illinois has virtually the same number of nonfarm payroll jobs as the number of employment positions that were posted and paid more than 16 years ago, during the previous job peak of September 2000.  

State Government – Cybersecurity
·         Governor, DoIT unveil cybersecurity strategy to protect services and information.  Governor Bruce Rauner and the Department of Innovation & Technology (DoIT) have announced a comprehensive state cybersecurity strategy as an important step toward the governor's vision for a cyber secure Illinois. The plan outlines five strategic goals with specific action plans to protect state operations and the personal information of Illinois residents. The goals include protecting state of Illinois information and systems, reducing cyber risk, best-in-class cybersecurity capabilities, enterprise approach to cybersecurity and a cyber secure Illinois.

"States are constantly targeted and security threats pose daily risks to our ability to serve taxpayers and protect critical and confidential information," said Governor Rauner. "When I came into office our computer systems were inefficient and broken. We are trying to change that and ensure a secure Illinois. Cybersecurity is not simply an IT issue, it is a public safety issue and we will do all we can to protect our state."

The newly released cybersecurity strategy provides a roadmap for building a more cyber secure Illinois. As a precursor to establishing the goals and action plans, DoIT completed comprehensive risk and cybersecurity capability assessments and an analysis of the current and emerging cyber-threat landscape. These assessments provided key insight and a clear understanding of the risks posed to confidential information, Illinois' critical infrastructure and the state's ability to provide life, health and safety services to Illinois citizens.

"DoIT is pleased to issue an unprecedented enterprise cybersecurity strategy for Illinois," said Hardik Bhatt, Chief Digital Officer of the State of Illinois and Secretary Designate for the Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT). "As we continue to empower Illinois through technology, it is vital that we keep cybersecurity at the center of all we do. DoIT's expansion into mobility for improved citizen engagement, unleashing the value of data analytics for more efficient services to our residents and efforts toward becoming the first "Smart State" in the nation are key initiatives to modernize technology in Illinois. It is crucial that these capabilities be explored and delivered securely."

Illinois' cybersecurity strategy was specifically designed to rapidly address any current gaps in operations, while simultaneously accelerating progress toward the establishment of best-in-class cybersecurity capabilities. The final plan was developed in partnership with stakeholders across state government, as well as other private and public sector contributors. The National Governors Association (NGA) provided significant support as part of its Policy Academy for State Cybersecurity, which facilitated collaboration across states. Illinois was one of only five states awarded an NGA Policy Academy for State Cybersecurity.

Transportation – Work Zone Safety Guide
·         With driving season here, Illinois motorists reminded of safety laws.  A one-page guide from the office of House Republican Leader Jim Durkin summarizes the safety laws to follow when in the presence of highway workers and work zones.  Increased fines can be imposed for speeding in a work zone, including during hours when workers are not present in the zone.  The fines for speeding in a construction zone/work zone start at $375 for a first offense.  Photo speed enforcement machinery may be used.  In addition, Scott’s Law requires a motorist to slow down and change lanes, if possible, to make way and create a zone of safety around emergency, construction, and maintenance vehicles.  Additional fines are imposed for violations of Scott’s Law.     

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