Rep. Wheeler's Weekly Roundup: December 8

Budget – COGFA report
·        Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) issues monthly report on State tax revenues.  The nonpartisan arm of the Illinois General Assembly works with the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) and other State departments to monitor ongoing revenues and maintain an information flow to State legislators on the current budget situation. 

In their “Monthly Briefing” which covers revenue facts and trends for November 2017, COGFA reports stable trends in both State revenues and the overall economy.  Pushed by higher income tax rates, November 2017 income tax revenues are up $394 million on a year-over-year basis when compared with parallel revenue numbers in November 2016.   Sales tax revenues rose by $54 million year-over-year.


These revenue increases appear to have been drawn out of higher taxes on existing jobs rather than the creation of new jobs.   In the most-recently-reported employment month, October 2017, Illinois’s 6,040,000 nonfarm payroll jobs marked an increase of only 17,800 paychecks from numbers posted in October 2016.  The Illinois labor force actually declined by approximately 80,000 job-age-ready adults during this twelve-month period, with tens of thousands of Illinois residents leaving the State, moving to disability status, or dropping out of the labor force.   

Drugs – Opioid hotline
·        Gov. Bruce Rauner announces open hotline for persons affected by opioid crisis.  The telephone service line, 1-833-2-FINDHELP (1-833-234-6343), will be operated through the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).  Helpline specialists are trained switchboard counselors who can refer persons with challenges, and their families, to local treatment and recovery-support services.  The hotline launch was announced on Tuesday, December 5.   

The opioid crisis has caused serious consequences in Illinois.  With 1,946 killed in this state in 2016, opioid drug overdoses kill more Illinoisans than homicides.  They have a higher Illinois death rate than motor vehicle crashes.  Throughout the United States, an estimated 1.9 million Americans suffer from substance abuse challenges related to prescription opioid pain relievers. 435,000 Americans are believed to be addicted to heroin.  Tens of thousands of these patients live in Illinois.  A recent study, published on Wednesday, December 6 by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, indicates that more than 30% of all heroin users experience an overdose event in any given 12-month period.

Active in learning more about this crisis have been Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti and IDPH Director Nirav Shah, co-chairpersons of the Illinois Opioid Overdose Prevention Task Force.  Created by Gov. Rauner’s executive order, the Task Force has been holding hearings and gathering testimony from public-health professionals and law enforcement leaders on the dimensions of the crisis.  The Task Force began a statewide listening tour in October.

Energy – Wind, solar
·        Illinois Power Agency develops new wind, solar power rules.  Under Illinois law, part of the electricity placed in high-tension wires for sale to Illinois customers must be generated from renewable sources, chiefly wind power and solar power.  Responsibility for drafting the complex rules to govern this mandate has been given to the Illinois Power Agency, an appointed quasi-government panel.  The Power Agency’s staff has drafted a Long-Term Renewable Resources Procurement Plan and sent it to the Illinois Commerce Commission for approval or modification.  The ICC has 120 days to scrutinize the plan and take action on it.  

Engineering facts, on the ground and on towers and rooftops, govern many of the features discussed in the new Plan.  Most of the wind power generated and sold in Illinois comes from “wind farms,” large complexes of tower-mounted turbines that can generate hundreds of megawatts of electricity.  Although the power that wind farms can turn out is not predictable – the wires burn, or fall silent, depending on whether or not the wind is blowing – the power capacities of these wind farms fits in with traditional U.S. electric utility engineering based upon turbines fired by coal or natural gas.

In sharp contrast, power generated by solar panels does not have to come in large units.  Solar panel arrays can be of literally any size.  The challenge of handling solar “net metering,” power that comes in from a wide variety of different directions from a wide variety of different electrical capacities, is a continual headache for utility engineers and grid operators.  A key point of discussion within the new Plan is the extent to which Illinois should encourage power to be generated by what are called “community solar” and “distributed generation solar” facilities.  These are solar arrays with capacities up to 2,000 kilowatts (2 mW).  Some advocates believe small panel arrays like these can help save the planet, and others see them as more trouble than they are worth.   Parties interested in these rules can file comments with the Illinois Commerce Commission.

Jobs – Brandt Industries
·        Farm machinery-maker chooses Illinois; more than 300 jobs to be createdBrandt Industries makes, and distributes for third parties, a wide variety of heavy mobile equipment and work units.  Examples of goods manufactured and distributed by the firm include specialty construction equipment and off-road machinery. Brandt-branded truck trailers are familiar sights throughout North America’s highways.

Brandt has announced, as a public statement of intent, the public acquisition of a 200,000-square-foot manufacturing plant located in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois.  The plant and its tooling will be used to assemble farm machinery for U.S. cash-crop farmers, especially in the production of corn and soybeans.  The acquisition deal is scheduled to close on or before Friday, December 15.

The deal was announced on Friday, December 1 by Brandt chairman Gavin Semple and Gov. Bruce Rauner.  House Republican Rep. Dan Brady, who was present for the announcement, welcomed the plant to the 105th House District.  The plant is expected, once it goes into full operation under its new owners, to directly create and maintain from 300 to 500 manufacturing jobs.   

Outdoor sports – Deer
·        Second weekend of firearm deer season shows harvest improvement numbers.  The preliminary total tag count is 80,021 deer for the seven days that hunters were allowed to hunt with shotguns in Illinois.  This marks an increase of 462 animals from the 79,559 deer harvested in the comparable 2016 season.

Key to the successful season numbers was a strong harvest in the second firearm weekend ending December 3, in which hunters were able to drop and tag more than 3,600 additional deer compared with the second weekend of 2016.  This enabled the overall season to end up in the black despite a slow statewide start during the first shotgun weekend.    

While the shotgun season is now over, additional seasons remain.  The muzzleloader-only season is December 8-10; two antlerless-only/CWD deer seasons will follow the muzzleloader season in certain Illinois counties, concluding on January 14, 2018; and deer bowhunters will be able to use their bows until Jan. 14 as well.

Taxes – Income
·        Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) sets ‘blended rate’ for persons filing 2017 individual and corporate income taxes.  The exercise was made necessary when Illinois increased its income tax rates in July 2017.  The individual rate increased from 3.75% to 4.95%, and the corporate rate for firms organized as corporations (other than pass-through Subchapter S corporations) increased from 5.25% to 7.00%.  The nominal corporate income tax rate does not include the income tax surcharge imposed as a ‘corporate personal property replacement tax.’ 

The “blended” rate for taxpayers who file using calendar years will be 4.35% for individuals. This rate will be printed on IL1040 tax forms for calendar year 2017, but will not be used again in 2018 as the new income tax rates are permanent.  For taxpayers who file using alternate year-end periods other than December 31, guidance for filing 2017 estimated income tax payments can be found here.  The guidance includes a blended rate schedule on page 4 for taxpayers with years that conclude during different months of calendar year 2016. The final 2017 estimated tax payment is due on January 16, 2018.

Workers’ compensation – Cost in Illinois
·        Multi-state study shows costs to economy of workers’ comp insurance are higher in Illinois.  The study, by the Workers’ Compensation Research Institute, looked at claim experience in 18 states.  Eight of the ten largest U.S states by population (all but New York and Ohio) were included in the study.  The Institute found that surgery-related workers’ comp claims, including both facilities bills paid to hospitals and clinics and professional payments billed by the surgical team, were higher in Illinois than in other states.

The Illinois General Assembly majority party enacted what they called “workers’ comp reform” in 2011, but the Institute’s multi-year study showed that the burden on the Illinois of workers’ comp costs steadily increased for at least the following four years even after enactment of the “reforms.” House Republicans have been at the forefront of the fight against exponential increases in Illinois workers’ comp costs.  HB 4068, filed during the 2017 spring session by House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, contains real workers’ comp eligibility reforms.  HB 4068, which changes workers’ comp prices and reforms case eligibility processes, was referred to the House Rules Committee.

Bicentennial in Illinois
·        Illinois kicks off bicentennial festival year.  The observance, which began on December 3, 2017, marks Illinois’ Bicentennial Year as a state.  The year will conclude with a statewide celebration on December 3, 2018, our 200th birthday. Kickoff events took place in communities across Illinois.  Leaders pointed to heritage items such as the Kaskaskia Bell, the “Liberty Bell of the West” used to rally local supporters of George Rogers Clark and the Stars and Stripes side in the American Revolution.  Like the real Liberty Bell, the Kaskaskia Bell is now cracked and silent, but is carefully preserved in a small shrine, the Kaskaskia Bell Memorial, in Randolph County in southwestern Illinois.

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