Rep. Wheeler's Weekly Roundup: May 5

Budget – Thompson Center
·         Selling the JRTC a win-win for Illinois taxpayers and Chicago schools.  Governor Bruce Rauner announced today that Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin have filed legislation that will direct all future property tax receipts from the redevelopment of the James R. Thompson Center (JRTC) to Chicago Public Schools. The bill numbers are SB 2209 and HB 4044.

"The JRTC is sucking up valuable space, time, and money," Governor Rauner said. "No one likes working here. It's expensive to maintain and it's a drain on taxpayer resources. The legislation introduced today gives us yet another reason to move swiftly in selling this building. Every day of delay just postpones Chicago's ability to earn millions in property taxes."

The JRTC currently occupies an entire city block in Chicago's Loop and presents a unique redevelopment opportunity for the city. By selling the building, Illinois taxpayers could earn hundreds of millions in a sale and Chicago could generate up to $45 million annually in property taxes. Under Leaders Radogno and Durkin's legislation, CPS could see an additional $1 billion in dedicated revenue by 2040.

“Selling the JRTC and directing all of the future property tax proceeds to the Chicago Public Schools would benefit both Illinois and Chicago taxpayers," Leader Durkin said. "The legislation would provide CPS with a stable source of additional revenue for years to come, and would let Illinois off the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs and maintenance costs on a dilapidated building we can no longer afford."

“This is a win-win, which will provide savings for the taxpayers of Illinois while at the same time providing a much needed economic boost to the City of Chicago,” Leader Radogno said.

In order to get the best deal for taxpayers, the General Assembly needs to pass legislation to sell the building. Additionally, Central Management Services (CMS), which manages the JRTC, has been working cooperatively with the City of Chicago and other stakeholders to position taxpayers to get the largest return on investment.

"The JRTC has always been costly to operate, and when combined with the millions in needed repairs, it's worth less than it would cost to fix," Acting CMS Director Mike Hoffman said. "We have pledged to be a partner with Chicago to ensure state and city taxpayers get what they deserve."

CMS estimates deferred maintenance on the building is more than $326 million. Among the repairs needed are: the HVAC system, the fire and sprinkler system, and the elevator system.

"This sale has been talked about for way too long. It’s time to get something done," Governor Rauner added. "With the cooperation and partnership of city and state leaders, we can make this a reality."

Video of the press conference can be found here.

Budget – “Lifeline” Plan 
·         Democrats’ “lifeline” budget would cover less than one-third of human service needs.  The analysis, by the nonpartisan Civic Federation’s Institute for Fiscal Sustainability, contained severe criticism of HB 109.  The emergency appropriations bill, pushed through the House earlier this spring session on a partisan roll call, was touted by its sponsors as a “lifeline” to stretched providers of human services.  The bill was supposed to substitute for a full-year, constitutionally balanced budget.  Analysts for the Civic Federation, however, discovered that the Democrats’ bill would provide only 27.1 cents on the dollar for the human-services funding shortfall based on FY16 spending numbers. 

The majority party’s “lifeline” plan has been proclaimed as providing rescue money to Illinois institutions of higher education.  The Institute’s analysts, after running the numbers, stated that the plan would provide only 56.2 cents of the dollars previously allocated by higher education and not paid in FY16.  House Republicans opposed the so-called “lifeline” plan as being both ludicrously inadequate to meet its proclaimed purposes and a distraction from the hard work of generating progress toward government reform and a constitutional balanced budget.        

Children – Illinois Family Connects
·         First Lady Diana Rauner launches Illinois Family Connects program.  The new program aims to create home-visiting opportunities for newborn babies and their families.  The first support visits implemented by the pilot program will be carried out by the Stephenson County Health Department, which is based on the northwestern Illinois city of Freeport. 

Home visits are a way to help children remain healthy and thrive by providing personal contacts between a mother and a trained professional who can answer questions.  The program, which is being coordinated by the Illinois Home Visiting Task Force and by FHN Memorial Hospital in Freeport, will be implemented by community nurses.  Visitation times will be as soon after birth as possible, to enable these questions to be rapidly asked and answered.  Illinois Family Connects also plans to create wellness checks for the baby and family, and to put the family in touch with any supportive resources that may be helpful.     

Computers – Phishing
·         Nationwide warnings posted as phishing messages transmitted virally.  The phishing message, from someone on a target’s email list, announces that the target is being sent a document via the search engine firm Google.  Opening the document activates the virus and enables it to be spread to additional targets.  Illinois school districts are among the targets.

The viral activity was continuing to grow in intensity as of Wednesday, May 3.  Illinois computer users are being urged not to open unsolicited email documents, including documents that may not appear suspicious.  Cybersecurity firms are scrambling to install additional controls and enterprise software to prevent the mal-formed viral programs from getting into the servers operated for the benefits of their employees and contractors.     

Illinois State Fair – Foundation Push
·         Private foundation drive set to begin.  The multiyear State Fair fundraising project will push to renew Illinois’ summer while minimizing taxpayer commitments.  The State owns fairgrounds in Springfield and in DuQuoin, in southern Illinois.  Taken together, both fairgrounds have compiled $185 million in unmet infrastructure needs at the two festival centers, including public safety, rebuilding, and building maintenance.  The main fairgrounds’ historic Coliseum, a 115-year-old structure used for arena events including horse shows, is no longer safe for public access and requires $3.7 million in urgent ceiling-beam and roof repairs.

The Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation expects that a significant portion of the funds to be raised will be derived from public-private partnerships.  The Fairgrounds may be able to earn financial commitments from donors through package deals that will include specific buildings and locations within the Fairgrounds sharing their identity.  Governor Rauner, who is currently living at the Fairgrounds during the renovation work being performed on the State’s 162-year-old Governor’s Mansion, will be able to use his presence to spur the fundraising kickoff.

Suburbs – South Suburban Airport
·         Push to build third airport continues.  The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) announced this week that six firms have responded to their request for information on who would be interested in developing an airfield in southeastern Will County.  The initiative, which was not a formal Request for Proposals (RFP) process, was explained as a way for IDOT to gauge continuing interest in the project.  Since 2001, the State of Illinois has acquired more than 4,454 acres of land northeast of Peotone, Illinois.  Most, but not all, of the land needed to build a modern airport has been acquired at a cost of $95 million.

While development proponents have long dreamed of reducing Illinois’ air traffic congestion through the construction of a third Chicago-area airport, hopes have faded somewhat during the sixteen years that the “Peotone airport” has been under development.  The airline industry has sharply reduced its positive attitudes toward new U.S. airport development.  Major passenger carriers operating in Illinois have moved their focuses toward more efficient usages of existing runways and gates at Chicago’s Midway and O’Hare International Airports.    

IDOT continues to believe that it is possible to develop a thriving Will County commercial airport by predevelopment agreement with an experienced airport developer.  The private-sector firm would be responsible for a feasibility analysis, followed by finance and business plans and then actual financing.  Implicit in this series of goals is the probability that the developer would be given the chance to finance, design, build, maintain, and operate the airport for a significant length of time after development.  A private operator would operate an airport under the supervision of IDOT, just as O’Hare and Midway are operated by the city of Chicago under IDOT’s supervision.  

Tourism – WalletHub
·         WalletHub declares Illinois 16th of 50 states for leisure-time opportunities. The “fun state” gauge used aggregated data on the availability of options for entertainment, nightlife, restaurants, and other leisure-time activities, adjusted for population.  Tourism-oriented states such as Nevada (ranked #1 of 50) and New York (#5 of 50) tended to do well.  Illinois outdid all of the states that border it, with the nearest nearby rival, Wisconsin, scoring 21st.  The Prairie State’s overall 16th slot was an aggregate of its score on “entertainment and recreation” (10th of 50) and its score on nightlife (24th of 50).  By contrast, Indiana scored 47th in entertainment and recreation, and 45th overall.  Numbers were released on Tuesday, May 2.   

Transportation – Motorcycle Awareness Month
·         As summer biking season approaches, Illinois observes Motorcycle Awareness Month.  The observance, sponsored by the bikers’ group ABATE of Illinois, urges motorists to “Start Seeing Motorcycles.”  Governor Bruce Rauner recognized the push for biker safety on Wednesday, May 3.  Motorcycle Awareness Month activities also encourages bikers to take steps aimed at increasing cycle safety, including taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation safety courses sponsored by the Illinois Department of Transportation.  Plans are in place for the annual “Freedom Rally” in Springfield, held each May during the legislative session.  The bikers’ gathering, aimed at increasing the profile of motorcyclists and social networks and users of Illinois roads and highways, will take place on Monday, May 8.

Veterans
·         Illinois House honors veterans.  With the success of the inaugural Veterans Honor Flight of southern Illinois, the Illinois House of Representatives declared April 25th Veterans Honor Flight Day for the State of Illinois.

Representative Dave Severin of the 117th District introduced the resolution. WSIL-TV has more here.

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