Rep. Wheeler's Weekly Roundup: October 6

BUDGET 
·         COGFA: September Income Tax Gains Reflect Rate Changes, Federal Sources Unable to Maintain Momentum.  A monthly State of Illinois revenue report for September was published this week by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA). The commission, a nonpartisan arm of the General Assembly, tracks State revenues coming in through the Department of Revenue and other departments, and compares these revenue flows to national and worldwide economic trends.  Their goal is to help lawmakers develop an objective picture of future tax-based cash flows during the remainder of FY18 and in future Illinois fiscal years. 

In July 2017, the General Assembly enacted a major hike in State personal and corporate income taxes.  COGFA’s numbers show that in September 2017 this tax hike generated $477 million in net new revenue, on a year-over-year basis, as compared with revenues in September 2016.  However, other sources of State general funds dropped or were stagnant.  With changes in federal budget policies, moneys paid by Washington to Illinois general funds dropped $55 million in September 2017 as compared to the year-earlier period.  All other State general-funds revenue sources collectively decreased by $22 million in September 2017, as compared with twelve months earlier.  The flat-to-negative revenue picture was a response to flat-to-negative demand for many goods and services on which supplemental and excise taxes are charged, such as cigarettes, liquor, and casino riverboat experiences.  Lottery ticket sales were flat.

The added revenues enjoyed by Illinois general funds in September 2017 had to be spent immediately to pay for increased required funding for medical care, pensions, school aid, and other mandated line items within the State budget.  The State is currently reporting that it has almost $15.2 billion in unpaid bills.    

AGRICULTURE
·         Good pumpkin harvest this year; corn, beans coming in from fields.  In contrast to the crop failure of 2015, the Illinois pumpkin crop is good this year, leading to the prospect of fat orange supplies for Halloween and Thanksgiving.  Most of the global supply of canning pumpkins and frozen pumpkin pulp, a key ingredient in pumpkin pie, is grown within 40 miles of Peoria, Illinois.  Well-drained Illinois River soils are used to grow the big vines.  

A long spell of relatively dry weather across much of Illinois has encouraged farm operators to take steps to bring in their corn and soybeans.  Drought or near-drought conditions during the second half of the growing year are expected to cut down on yields in many regions of the state.   Pests such as soybean mold could also have an impact.  When combined with the decline in corn rows planted, 2017 Illinois yields may drop a bit from the bumper-crop levels seen in 2016.  However, September’s dusty soil welcomed the fat-tired machinery needed to pull the crops. 

Wetter weather may delay remaining harvesting activity.  Corn and beans, if they are standing in muddy fields, often have to stay out there for a while.  A renewed wet spell could even force some corn farmers to purchase propane for supplemental drying in a heated bin.  Dry conditions reduce moisture in the corn kernels, and can air-dry much of the grain down to near-elevator storage quality.       

DISASTER RELIEF – HURRICANE MARIA
·         First responders to Puerto Rico; Illinois National Guard personnel on alert.  First responders from the Chicago Fire Department have been sent to Puerto Rico with emergency medical response equipment.  The assistance follows reports of major health challenges following the landfall of the Category 4 Hurricane Maria, whose rain and winds causes significant damage to the island’s infrastructure.  Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth, was badly hit by Hurricane Maria. 

Illinois National Guard disaster-recovery personnel, who come from various units, have also been placed on alert.  The 550 Guard personnel on alert are skilled in community relief efforts.  The Illinois National Guard has already deployed personnel and equipment this year to Texas, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, and to Florida after Hurricane Irvin.

HEALTH CARE
·         Illinois observes Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Carcinoma of the breast is an illness that responds with dramatic intensity to prompt, rapid diagnosis and treatment.  Cancer doctors, public health leaders, and the nonprofit community have come together to create Breast Cancer Awareness Month to recognize and appreciate the role of self-care, prompt reporting, and scheduled scans and checkups in the fight against cancer.  

Many Illinois residents face financial stress when dealing with health care.   The Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program has, since 1995, offered free mammograms, breast exams, pelvic exams, and pap tests to eligible women.  The program also offers treatment options if a cancer is diagnosed.  The Women’s Health Line, which contains more information about this program, can be reached toll-free at 1-888-522-1282.  

ILLINOIS
·         Illinois flags at half-staff this week in honor of victims of Las Vegas tragedy.  At the request of President Trump and Governor Rauner, flags at all State buildings were lowered to half-staff throughout the week that ended on Friday, October 6.  The display honored the victims of the tragedy in Las Vegas, Nevada.  The half-staff observance was carried out under the provisions of the Illinois Flag Display Act.  Official flags are lowered to half-staff in Illinois under a variety of circumstances, including the death on duty of a member of the U.S. armed forces from Illinois or the death on duty of a first responder from Illinois.  Nationwide half-staff observances include Memorial Day in May and Patriot Day in September.   

OPIOID CRISIS
·         Overdose drug Naloxone to be made more available.  Under the State law that applies to almost all pharmaceuticals listed as prescription drugs under the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, a person who wants to buy a listed drug has to go to a pharmacist and present a prescription to be allowed to take possession of it.  State and federal laws allow a limited number of standing-order exceptions to this overall law in cases of public health emergency.  

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has issued a statewide standing order covering naloxone, the short-term opioid antagonist marketed as “Narcan.”  Naloxone can be administered as a potentially life-saving emergency treatment to persons found suffering from drug overdoses.  The Illinois General Assembly has already enacted legislation to give immediate legal access to nonprescription naloxone to law enforcement personnel and medical first responders.  The IDPH standing order will, in addition, grant nonprescription access to naloxone to individuals at risk of an overdose as well as their family and friends.  Pharmacists who distribute naloxone without a prescription will be required to give training on how to administer it. 

Opioid overdoses, including heroin overdoses, are a growing problem in Illinois.  IDPH counted nearly 1,900 fatal opioid overdoses in Illinois in 2016.  The fastest rates of increase in incident counts were mapped in Downstate Illinois, which is afflicted with economic challenges and a growing population of residents classified as persons with disabilities.  Public health experts point not only to heroin but also to prescription opioids such as OxyContin and Percocet, as well as opioid drugs that are usually obtained through non-legal channels such as fentanyl.   

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