Rep. Wheeler's Weekly Roundup: November 17

JOBS
·         Illinois Jobs Up in October - Unemployment Rate Declines.  The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) announced this week that the unemployment rate dipped by 0.1 percentage points to 4.9 percent in October and nonfarm payrolls increased by +3,400 jobs over-the-month, based on preliminary data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and released by IDES. September job growth was revised up to show a smaller decline (-7,900 jobs) than initially reported (-10,800 jobs). 

October’s monthly payroll drop kept over-the-year job growth well below the national average. While Illinois job growth has had its ups and downs since the beginning of the year, the 3-month trend shows average declines of -2,300 jobs per month from August to October, while the six-month trend shows an increase of +1,900 average monthly job gains from May to October. Both the 3-month and the 6-month changes are better than reported last month.

“Month-to-month changes sometimes obscure important trends.” said IDES Director Jeff Mays. “Illinois’ unemployment rate remained at 5.0 percent or lower for eight months – the last time that happened was in mid-2007.”

“The Department continues to see a steady flow of interest from businesses to relocate and grow in Illinois,” said Illinois Department of Commerce Director Sean McCarthy. “With our world-class assets, Illinois should be leading the pack not lagging behind the national average. We’re seeing results and winning projects, but we still have work to do.”

The state’s unemployment rate is +0.8 percentage points higher than the national unemployment rate reported for October 2017, which decreased to 4.1 percent. The Illinois unemployment rate is down -0.9 percentage points from a year ago when it was 5.8 percent. At 4.9 percent, the Illinois jobless rate is -0.8 percentage points lower than January 2017. 

·         Nation’s largest steelmaker announces plans for major expansion of Illinois millNucor Corporation announced Wednesday that it will build a full-range merchant bar quality (MBQ) mill at its existing bar steel mill located in Bourbonnais, Illinois. The MBQ mill will have an annual capacity of 500,000 tons and is expected to cost $180 million. The project will take approximately two years to complete.

“This new MBQ mill is right in line with our long-term strategy for profitable growth. It takes advantage of our position as a low-cost producer to displace tons currently being supplied by competitors outside the region. It also builds on our market leadership position by further enhancing our product offerings of merchant bar, light shapes and structural angle and channel in markets in the central U.S.,” said John Ferriola, Chairman, CEO & President of Nucor. “Combined with our other full-range bar mills, we are now strategically located to supply all markets with high-quality bar products and exceptional service.”

The Midwest region is one of the largest markets for MBQ products, and Nucor is ideally situated to take advantage of existing operating and commercial capabilities to meet this regional demand. This project will allow Nucor to fully utilize the Company’s existing bar mill by optimizing its melt capacity and infrastructure that is already in place. It will also take advantage of an abundant scrap supply in the region, as well as the Company’s commercial footprint in the central United States. Nucor Steel Kankakee, Inc. will continue to be a supplier of quality reinforcing bar products.

Representative Lindsay Parkhurst released the following statement on the announcement the Bourbonnais Nucor Plant will receive the $180 million merchant bar expansion project:

“It is satisfying and exciting to see our efforts effectively assist our area in receiving the Nucor merchant bar expansion. The expansion will add up to 100 new jobs and represents an investment of $180 million. This is huge for the 79th District. I was proud to lead this coordinated, multifaceted effort between Nucor, Governor Rauner, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) to garner support for and ultimately the selection of Bourbonnais Nucor for this expansion. Utility partners ComEd and Nicor Gas are commended for working to ensure this investment came to fruition. I thank Nucor for its commitment to their team members, our community, and our state.”

CHICAGO
·         Mayor opens door to CTA fare increase.  Chicago’s largest public transportation service operates buses and trains within the city, including the busy “L” trains.  Asked about the Chicago Transportation Authority’s (CTA’s) budget situation this week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel refused to rule out an increase in the bus and train fares charged for rides by the system.  The CTA is the nation’s second busiest public transportation system, offering 1.64 million rides in an average weekday.  The current CTA fare schedule was made effective in January 2013.  The standard CTA fare rate is $2.25 for “L” trains and $2.00 for buses, with various supplements charged and discounts offered on different routes and passengers. 

The CTA’s budget challenges are also shared by its two Chicago-area partners under the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA).  The CTA’s two partners are Metra and PACE.  Metra runs diesel-powered passenger train services, and operates train service in the electrically-operated Metra Electric District corridor.  PACE runs suburban bus services, and operates district-wide transportation services for persons with mobility challenges.  Continued expense increases are associated with pay increases mandated by organized-labor contracts.  Pension and employee health costs, including health costs associated with retirees, are a continuing challenge for the CTA as well as for other entities that are part of the Illinois public sector.  The RTA systems serve approximately 2 million customers in an average working day throughout the Chicago area.  

GENERAL ASSEMBLY
·         Governor signs sexual harassment bill, creates reporting hotline requested by House Republican Leader Jim Durkin.  The new law creates a telephone hotline for persons seeking relief in cases of sexual harassment.  Examples of help that the hotline could provide includes not only assistance in filing a sexual harassment complaint, but also referral of a victim to counseling or protective services.  The new hotline was initiated by House Republican Leader Jim Durkin.

The new hotline will be created under SB 402, the omnibus sexual harassment bill signed this week by Governor Bruce Rauner.  Other sections of SB 402 provide for annual sexual harassment training sessions for State officers and employees.  Penalties are created for State officers and employees who violate the policies set forth in the training. The training sessions will include information to recipients of sexual harassment on how to report this conduct. Reporting may be done through the hotline or by other means.  The House Republican Caucus held an internal training session for its members on Wednesday, November 8, during the second week of veto session.  SB 402 became law as P.A. 100-554.

·         New Legislative Inspector General authorized to scrutinize pending reported cases.  Reports of sexual harassment should be read by enforcement officers in a way that guarantees due process for both the accused and the accuser.  Elements of this due process include a statute-of-limitations-like expiration time for all complaints, and scrutiny of each complaint by a duly appointed Inspector General.  With respect to the Illinois General Assembly, there was a period of time when the office of Legislative Inspector General was vacant, and some complaints fell into abeyance.  Concerns have been raised about this gap period, and House Republicans have helped pass and enact a law to grant the newly-appointed Legislative Inspector General the right to scrutinize a reported twenty-eight complaints that had fallen into abeyance.        

The enactment of this bill does not mean that the complaints covered by the bill, possibly including some cases of sexual harassment, are valid or invalid.  This was a precautionary measure to ensure that all parties to these complaints receive due process and fair treatment.  Governor Bruce Rauner signed the scrutiny bill, HB 137, into law this week as P.A. 100-553.   

RECREATION
·         Federal grant of $1.2 million to fund 26-mile trail system at wildlife area near Harrisburg.  A new project will make southern Illinois a destination for off-road riders, Gov. Rauner said while announcing development of a 26-mile off-highway vehicle trail system at Sahara Woods State Fish and Wildlife Area.

"Demand is growing for off-highway vehicle recreation, and this state-of-the-art facility will give riders from across the Midwest a place to enjoy the outdoors," Rauner said.  "Not only will this trail bring additional resources to southern Illinois, it'll also put Illinois on the map when it comes to offering diverse outdoor experience for riders of all ages."

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources received a $1.2 million grant from the federal Recreational Trails Program (RTP), which allows the state agency to move forward with the project. IDNR will pitch in an additional $303,000 from its state parks fund to complete the trail.

This will be the first state-owned off-highway vehicle trail facility.

IDNR will oversee design and development of the project. The setting is ideal, agency Director Wayne Rosenthal said.

"There used to be a coal mine at Sahara Woods," Rosenthal said of the location, which is just west of Harrisburg. "The topography of the reclaimed, strip-mined land will allow us to develop some challenging trails that should attract a lot of interest from OHV enthusiasts."

TAXES
·         Governor signs tax credit bill to help property owners affected by July floods.  Gov. Bruce Rauner has signed into law a tax credit worth up to $750 for property owners in 18 Illinois counties where flood damages were sustained in July.

Senate Bill 403, signed at the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago Thursday morning, creates a natural disaster credit that eligible, affected property owners may apply to their 2017 Illinois income taxes.

Included counties are Cook, Lake, Kane, McHenry, Alexander, Clinton, Jackson, Marshall, Union, Woodford, Carroll, Henry, Jo Daviess, Lee, Ogle, Rock Island, Stephenson and Whiteside — all of which were declared state disaster areas by the governor last summer.

“July’s severe storms pushed rivers and lakes over their banks across a wide swath of Illinois,” Rauner said. “Many home and business owners are still working to restore their properties after the inundation of water, debris and mud they suffered through, in some cases for weeks. In northeastern Illinois counties, the flooding was unprecedented. This tax credit offers a measure of much-needed relief.”

State Rep. Barbara Wheeler said the tax credit will be welcome news.

“Unfortunately for many families impacted by this type of disaster, once the initial shock wears off, the reality of financial hardship caused by the devastation can be just as traumatic as the event itself,” said Wheeler. “In the past, state government has not always responded quickly enough to provide the relief needed for this financial stress. However, this time the governor and legislature acted quickly, and I know many of the families still trying to recover are grateful.”

State Rep. Tony McCombie agreed.

“I appreciate the governor taking quick action to sign the Flood Victims Tax Credit into law,” McCombie said. “Victims of the floods this year did not receive federal assistance, so this incentive is a small measure we can take to help and be good neighbors.”

Qualified properties include a taxpayer’s principle residence or land owned by a small business, but not a rental or leasing business. The allowable income tax credit will be the lesser of $750 or the deduction allowed under the Internal Revenue Code for each taxpayer who owns qualified property in a county declared a state disaster area.

The bill provides that township assessors shall issue eligibility certificates for appropriately requesting property owners, and that assessors shall certify to the Illinois Department of Revenue listings of flood-damaged properties.

The fiscal impact to the state is estimated at $4.6 million, based on damages previously reported to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

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