Rep. Wheeler's Weekly Roundup: December 1

JOBS
·         Unemployment rate drops in every Illinois metropolitan area.  Statistics published by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) showed a year-over-year unemployment rate cut in each of Illinois’ 102 counties.  The state gained 18,200 new nonfarm payroll jobs between October 2016 and October 2017, strengthening Illinois prosperity and consumer behavior.  The new numbers are based upon data compiled by state employers and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

As in previous months, new job creation was concentrated in local metropolitan areas that are economically oriented towards health care, health care research and development, financial services, and higher education.  The lowest rates of October 2017 joblessness were found in Bloomington-Normal (Illinois State University, State Farm), with 3.8%, and Lake County (Abbott Labs, Takeda Pharmaceuticals), with 3.9%.  Higher jobless rates were once again posted in traditionally manufacturing-oriented municipal areas, such as Danville (6.0%) and Decatur (5.2%).  

Many Downstate municipal areas have still not recovered from the so-called ‘Great Recession” that began in 2008-2009.  New job creation continues to be concentrated in the Chicago area.  While the State as a whole has generated 18,300 new payroll jobs over the most-recently-reported 12-month period, 26,100 new jobs were created during this time-span in greater Chicago including Lake County.  There continued to be a net loss of new jobs in Downstate Illinois during this period, with low unemployment numbers reflecting migration out of the region rather than the creation of a substantial number of net new jobs.  

TAXES
·         Cook County soda pop tax repeal takes effect.  The sweetened beverages were sold for the first time without the tax on Friday, December 1.  The controversial tax had been imposed on Cook County consumers by Democrats on the Cook County Board, led by Board President Toni Preckwinkle.  Republicans opposed the soda pop tax, with Rep. Mike McAuliffe leading the charge to enact legislation in Springfield to prevent local county governments from using this angle to extract more money from Illinois consumers.  After widespread public opposition and derision against the complex and onerous tax law, Cook County was compelled to repeal its own ordinance.

Despite the repeal of the soda pop tax, residents of Cook County continue to live under one of the highest-taxed local governments in the United States.  County residents who live within Chicago are compelled to pay separate sales taxes to the state of Illinois, Cook County, the city of Chicago, and the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA).      

BUDGET
·         State of Illinois sells $750 million in bonds.  The General Obligation bond issuance was announced on Wednesday, November 29.  $655 million in Series 2017A bonds were issued for major capital construction projects that include road repair, bridge renewal, and school construction.  Illinois is continually issuing new capital construction bonds for transportation and infrastructure upkeep.  The 2017A bond package will have a final maturity of 2042 and will bear a true interest cost of 4.33%.  The nominal interest cost sometimes differs from the true interest cost, as in this case, when the bonds are priced to market as a slight discount or premium. 

$95 million in Series 2017B bonds were issued to finance information technology projects.  The Illinois Department of Information Technology, created by executive order issued by Gov. Rauner, has begun a multiyear process to move the State’s information technology (IT) platforms from an obsolescent platform of incompatible mainframes, which is what Rauner’s team found in Springfield when they came into office in January 2015, to a new platform of secure cloud-based data storage and processing.  The 2017B bond package will have a final maturity date of 2027 and will carry a true interest cost of 3.71%.        

The relatively low interest rates reflect the stabilization of Illinois’ credit ratings.  The bonds are rated Baa3 by Moody’s Investors Service, BBB- by S&P Global, and BBB by Fitch Ratings.  Illinois’ underwriter was able to show bond buyers that the State has not been marked down to “junk bond” credit rating status.  However, Illinois’ continuing pattern of overspending and budget woes meant that the State and its taxpayers still have to pay higher interest rates than other American public-sector borrowers.      

CRIMINAL LAW
·         Illinois agency publishes research report on needs of crime victims.  The November 2017 “Victim Need Report,” by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (CJIA), centered on policy challenges related to victims of violent crimes in Illinois.  The victim service provider community of Illinois was surveyed to determine needs and priorities in the area of victim services; 235 provider groups were surveyed.  Twenty-eight of the provider organizations also participated in focus groups to further the compiling of the information contained in the report.

The Report identified six key areas of service need for victims of Illinois violent crimes.  These areas were (a) counseling, (b) mental health treatment, (c) medical care, (d) housing, (e) civil legal assistance, and (f) help for victims with substance-abuse challenges.  It should be noted that many crime victims fall into two or more categories.   For example, a victim of domestic violence may include a mother and a child.  If they have been deprived of housing by another parent of the child, they may require immediate shelter space and also need civil legal assistance to pursue a claim for child support and apply for child support services.   

The CJIA is Illinois’ chief clearinghouse of standardized information on criminal law and crime-related judicial patterns and trends throughout the state.  It also serves as the State’s distributor of aid payments granted by the federal government to local law enforcement entities throughout Illinois.

DRUGS
·         Gov. Rauner, Illinois State Police inaugurate new high-tech mail sensors.  The detection systems, installed at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, are meant to intercept illegal drugs shipped into Illinois by U.S. mail.  The machines are specifically targeting opioid medications, such as fentanyl, that are sent into the U.S. from abroad, but this sensing technology could be used for a wide variety of mail-stream detection purposes. 

Nearly 2,000 Illinois residents died in 2016 after consuming overdoses of opioids.  In some cases, patients are prescribed opium-based medications for legitimate medical reasons.  After developing patterns of addiction, some of them turn to non-legal and even non-U.S. sources to try to buy the substances.  Opium-based pharmaceuticals are highly-regulated substances under U.S. drug schedules, and should not be taken without a doctor’s prescription and frequent supervision.  Overdoses, including overdoses that could cause serious medical complications, are common when opioids are taken outside of close medical supervision.

The new sensing systems were inaugurated on Tuesday, November 28.  They are being operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, a division of the federal Department of Homeland Security, in partnership with the U.S. Postal Service.

HIGHER EDUCATION
·         Illinois notched 40,400 STEM graduates in 2016.  The Illinois Science and Technology Coalition, utilizing data from LinkedIn, tracks Illinois higher education graduation choices and numbers.  In the Fall 2017 “Talent Index” report, the Coalition reports a record number of Illinois higher education graduates in fields relating to high-tech economic growth.

STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) study fields are often treated as proxies for the ability of a recent graduate of higher education to contribute to the evolving high-tech economy.  The 40,400 STEM degrees awarded in Illinois in 2016 represent 31.8% of all Illinois graduates, which compares favorably with the parallel ratio of 28.3% posted by U.S. 2016 graduates as a national group.  Illinois’ numbers indicate that Prairie State institutions of higher education are outpacing the higher education infrastructure of the U.S. as a whole in the encouragement of growth-oriented educational pathways.

Within this overall STEM graduation population, 3,300 degrees were awarded in computer science.  This record number of Illinois computer science degrees made Illinois second only to California in the number of degrees awarded.  Illinois institutions of higher education awarded 4.4% of total U.S. degrees awarded in 2016, but 9.9% of total U.S. computer science degrees.    

ILLINOIS BICENTENNIAL
·         Rep. Tim Butler leads countdown to Illinois bicentennial in December 2018.  The twelve-month period to observe Illinois’ 200th birthday as a state begins on December 3, 2017, when Illinois turns 199.  Bicentennial commission member Tim Butler calls for celebrating historic U.S. Route 66, the “Mother Road” that ties together Chicago and Downstate.  The Illinois Bicentennial will commemorate the technologies that have helped to create the modern state, including Route 66, Illinois railroads, and the Illinois and Michigan Canal.   

The Illinois Bicentennial Commission is coordinating a program of events in locations throughout Illinois to celebrate the milestone.  More events are expected to be added as Illinois approaches the actual birthday on December 3, 2018.  This birthday commemorates passage by Congress of the law that admitted Illinois to the Union as the 21st state.  Illinois was one of the states planned by President Thomas Jefferson as his proposal for the future of what had been the frontier “Northwest Territory.”  By 1818 Jefferson had left office, but his friend and successor President James Monroe led the actual admission of Illinois into the national union of states.    

TRANSPORTATION
  • “Winter Weather – Get It Together” winter driving preparation push begins.  The Illinois State Police, Illinois Department of Transportation, and the Illinois Tollway have opened a joint initiative to help concerned drivers and families prepare for winter driving conditions.  Called “Winter Weather – Get it Together”, the effort includes videos and a checkoff sheet for motorists to view and get ready. 

Helpful tips include the desirability of having an emergency car care kit for cold conditions.  The kit could contain jumper cables, flares or reflectors, windshield washer fluid, an ice scraper, traction material, blankets, non-perishable food, and a first aid kit.  Many drivers will already have one of the most important items of all: a fully charged cell phone and car charger. 

Illinois drivers are preparing for snow and ice conditions by watching out for road ice, especially on bridges, ramps, and shaded areas.  Standard warnings concerning seat belt usage, no driving while using a handheld device, and avoiding stopped first-responder and construction vehicles are repeated and intensified for winter driving conditions. 

FALL IN ILLINOIS
·         First firearm deer hunt weekend yields 51,365 tagged deer.  The shotgun-season harvest numbers reported by hunters in November 17 through 19, 2017, marked a 5.7% drop from the 54,452 taken during the comparable weekend last year.  While the first firearm weekend is the traditional peak of the Illinois deer season, an increasing percentage of deer are taken by archery and in the nonstandard seasons. 

The second weekend of firearm deer hunting will be November 30 through December 3.  In addition, there will be a muzzleloader-only deer season on Dec. 8-10 and two late-winter antlerless-only and CWD seasons starting December 28 and January 12, and the archery season will resume on December 4 after the conclusion of the second firearm weekend and continue until January 14.  

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