MONTGOMERY - Local residents interested in learning how to save money on their gas, electric and phone bills are invited to attend a free clinic sponsored by State Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego and the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, August 23 at Montgomery Village Hall, located at 200 N. River Street in Montgomery.

Attendees are encouraged to bring their gas, electric and phone bills for a free one-on-one consultation with a consumer expert from CUB, who will give tips on how to reduce costs. At clinics across Illinois, CUB has shown consumers how to trim their bills by an average of more than $200 per year.

At the Utility Bill Clinic, guests will also be able to:

Learn how to spot billing errors and avoid common pitfalls and scams.
Hear about consumer choices in the gas, electric, and phone markets.
Find out about utility rebates, programs, and other incentives.

“Helping local residents save money on their utility bills is one of the many ways my office is pleased to serve our community,” Rep. Wheeler said. “I encourage everyone to attend and learn how to apply simple tips to get more for less on every dollar you spend on gas, electric and phone service.”

STATE GOVERNMENT
·        New law brings hundreds of state jobs back to Sangamon County.  Gov. Bruce Rauner followed through with his promise to bring state jobs back to the capital city with the signing of House Bill 4295 Thursday. The legislation moves hundreds of state jobs to Springfield. 

“It is a matter of state pride,” Rauner said. “This bill preserves the heritage of Springfield as Illinois’ capital city while boosting our local economy. It promotes Lincoln’s hometown and his vision as one of the original lawmakers who advocated for making Springfield the capital of Illinois.”

The bill codifies into law that Sangamon County is the default location for most state jobs, unless there is a specific reason the job needs to be in a different location.

LAW ENFORCEMENT
·        New lottery game to benefit families of fallen police officers.  Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill this week to create a new Illinois Lottery scratch-off game from which proceeds will fund police memorials, support for the families of officers killed or severely injured in the line of duty, and protective vest replacements for officers. 

“Our police officers stand in the face of danger every day to keep us safe. We are proud to stand with them and support their families when they are faced with a devastating loss,” Rauner said. “This new ticket will help fund scholarships for their children and honor their bravery at memorial parks across the state.”


NORTH AURORA - State Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego, was appointed to the post of House Republican Conference Chairman today, a nearly unprecedented recognition for a sophomore lawmaker just completing their second term in the Illinois General Assembly. Wheeler, a 27-year small business owner and sixth generation Kendall County resident, was first elected in 2014 and reelected in November 2016 to represent the 50th District, which includes portions of Kane and Kendall Counties.  

Rep. Wheeler's appointment was announced by House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, on Tuesday. "During his time in the General Assembly, Rep. Wheeler has exemplified his commitment to our caucus and to the principles we fight for every day. It is an honor to have him serve on our Leadership team and I look forward to working with him as we continue to fight for what's best for Illinois."
GENERAL ASSEMBLY
·        Deanne Mazzochi Sworn In as State Representative.  Surrounded by family, friends and colleagues, Deanne Mazzochi of Elmhurst was sworn into office Tuesday as the new State Representative for Illinois’ 47th Legislative House District. She took her oath of office outside of Elmhurst College’s Hammerschmidt Chapel, a mere four miles from where she was raised in Villa Park, and six blocks from her Elmhurst home. 
 
Elmhurst College Trustee and 4th Ward Alderman Kevin York welcomed guests, and the Honorable Liam Brennan, 18th Judicial Circuit Court Judge, administered the oath of office. Mazzochi was introduced by State Senator Chris Nybo.
CHICAGO – The Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT), formed by Executive Order in 2016, is now officially recognized as a state agency.  Gov. Bruce Rauner signed HB 5611 today, which passed unanimously in the Illinois General Assembly this spring, codifying the agency into law. The bill’s Chief Co-Sponsor was Representative Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego.

Bipartisan support for the legislation reflects the state's commitment to improve cybersecurity, enhance employee work processes, and provide better services to Illinois citizens.

Rep. Wheeler (standing, second from left) watches as the
Governor signs HB 5611 in Chicago.
"When we first came into office, we discovered that our technology systems had been grossly neglected. Employees at multiple agencies relied on manual, paper processes for much of their work. That was extremely inefficient," Rauner said. "We created DoIT, put a team of experts in place and developed a comprehensive approach to modernize our technology. Now, I'm proud to say we are among the nation's leaders when it comes to using smart technology and making sure our citizens' personal information is secure."

"Improving government operations, increasing transparency, and saving taxpayer money are all goals being achieved by DoIT. This is important legislation to ensure we provide a modern and efficient government to our citizens," said Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego.
GENERAL ASSEMBLY

·        Patti Bellock named DHFS director.  Gov. Rauner announced last week that Patricia R. “Patti” Bellock has been named director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS). Bellock has served in the General Assembly since 1999 and is recognized as one of the body’s leading advocates for Medicaid, health care and social services, areas she will oversee in her new role.

“Illinois is so fortunate to have an advocate for health and human services as dedicated and talented as Patti Bellock,” said Rauner in announcing the appointment. “She has been instrumental in virtually every health advancement our state has made in the last two decades and I am looking forward to her leadership of the state’s ongoing effort to reform our delivery systems and improve our outcomes.”
U.S. SUPREME COURT
Nation’s highest court issues decision in Janus case.  In a blow to public employee labor unions, the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday overturned a 41-year-old precedent and ruled in favor of an Illinois state employee who said he should not be forced to pay fair share fees to the union that represents his job.

In a 5-4 decision, the court sided with Mark Janus, who contended his free speech rights were violated by being forced to pay fair share dues to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Janus works as a child support specialist for the Department of Healthcare and Family Services. The job is a union position represented by AFSCME.

AGRICULTURE
·        $16 million in grants will help foster future of Illinois agriculture.  Gov. Bruce Rauner joined the Director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture Raymond Poe, local officials, and the Stremsterfer family at Stremsterfer Farms in Pleasant Plains last week to announce the release of $16 million in agriculture grants. The funds being released from the fiscal year 2018 budget will fund soil & water districts, county fairs and agriculture societies, and the University of Illinois Extension services. 

“These three entities provide services that are vital for the future of Illinois agriculture,” Rauner said. “From protecting our farmland for future generations to fostering agriculture careers and educating consumers, these organizations support Illinois agriculture, the backbone of our state’s economy.”

“Funding for these organizations comes at a critical time,” said Ag Director Raymond Poe. “We must continue to fund these organizations in order to sustain their key programs. I want to thank our agricultural partners for commitment to Illinois agriculture and for their cooperation in these fiscally challenging times.”

BUDGET
·        Moody's cites 'positive' moves in new Illinois budget.  The fiscal 2019 Illinois budget enacted last week includes a voluntary pension buyout plan and a boost in school funding, which are credit-positive moves for the relatively low-rated state and its school districts, Moody’s Investors Service said on Monday.

The $38.5 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1 incorporates $423 million in savings that would be generated by current or former public-sector workers choosing to accept a buyout of their pensions or a retirement benefit in exchange for cash raised by the sale of up to $1 billion of state general obligation bonds.

“The state’s buyout offer is credit positive because it will generate significant pension liability savings to the extent that employees accept the offer,” Moody’s said, adding that actual savings could fall short if participation fails to meet targets of 22 percent of vested former workers and 25 percent of retiring current workers.
Read the rest of the story.

BUDGET
·        FY19 budget passed with bipartisan support and signed into law.  On Monday, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law a $38.5 billion bipartisan compromise budget that holds the line on taxes, increases funding for education, curbs spending, and creates a new adoption tax credit that will make it less costly for Illinois parents to adopt children.

“For the first time in years, we have an opportunity to manage our way into balance, and we don’t have to dip into the pockets of overtaxed Illinoisans to do it,” Rauner said. “Balance is in reach because we were able to accomplish $445 million of pension reform and the economy is stronger thanks to federal tax reform, and we are benefiting from an unexpected boost in tax receipts.”

“I’m signing this legislation because it is a step in the right direction, but it is not perfect,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do before we fully restore the state’s fiscal integrity. We still need to enact reforms that bring down the cost of government, make the state friendlier to job creators, and ignite our state economy so it grows faster than government spending.”
SPRINGFIELD – State Representative Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego, issued the following statement in response to final passage of a state budget for Fiscal Year 2019 today by the Illinois General Assembly:

"This budget fails to enforce a spending cap, which is a needed backstop protection for taxpayers to ensure the state lives within its means during the entire year. While I am grateful that Illinois has approved a budget on-time this year, it is disappointing that the budget process did not allow for collaboration amongst all legislators through the normal committee process, which would have allowed each of us to advocate for families, taxpayers and service providers in our districts, including those right here in the Fox Valley. What we got instead was a top-down process, which unfortunately does not serve the best interests of Illinois families or our local communities. For that reason, I was compelled to vote No.”


State Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego, speaks during debate in opposition to HR 1025, a resolution calling for Illinois to implement a Progressive Income Tax system.

 

Rep. Keith Wheeler
SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois House of Representatives approved legislation Wednesday, House Bill 4100, aimed at protecting nurses and other health care workers in Illinois hospitals, clinics, veterans homes and correctional facilities from violent acts committed by patients or inmates. State Representative Keith R. Wheeler, R-Oswego, is Chief Co-sponsor of the legislation which now heads to the State Senate for approval.

Specifically, Representative Wheeler’s legislation would mandate that all health care employers implement workplace violence programs. It also includes protections for whistleblowers who file a complaint, report allegations of misconduct, or provides information or testimony in any investigation, hearing, or inquiry with regard to a violation of the law at any licensed health care facility; including hospitals, any facility licensed under the MC/DD Act* or ID/DD Community Care Act**, or an Illinois  veterans home.

“Our hardworking and dedicated nurses and other health care workers put themselves at physical risk each and every day treating patients either in a hospital setting or in an Illinois correctional or juvenile justice facility,” Representative Wheeler said. “These men and women deserve to work in an environment that looks out for their physical well-being and ensures protections for those who report lapses within the system.”

CRIMINAL LAW
·        Governor Rauner proposes major public safety package to reinstate death penalty and extend 72-hour wait to all guns.  Gov. Bruce Rauner has asked the Illinois General Assembly to reinstate the death penalty for mass murderers and those who kill law enforcement officers.

The proposal is part of a precedent-setting public safety initiative that the Governor unveiled in an amendatory veto (AV) of House Bill 1468 which also urges legislators to:

o   Extend the 72-hour waiting period for delivery of all gun purchases in Illinois.
o   Ban bump stocks and trigger cranks.
o   Authorize restraining orders to disarm dangerous individuals.
o   Make judges and prosecutors more accountable by making them explain – on the record – why charges are reduced in plea agreements for violent offenders in gun cases.
o   Free up local revenue to hire resource officers and mental health workers to help intervene and prevent student violence before it occurs.

“Gun violence has rocked the nation and our state,” Rauner said. “This is a responsible, bipartisan approach to the problem that will help ensure the safety and security of our children, our peacekeepers, our families, and our communities in Illinois.”

PUBLIC HEALTH
·        Better Care Illinois Behavioral Health Initiative announced.  Gov. Bruce Rauner announced this week that Illinois has received federal approval to launch a sweeping $2 billion behavioral health initiative designed to deliver better outcomes for Medicaid beneficiaries suffering from mental health and substance abuse disorders. 

The Better Care Illinois Behavioral Health Initiative is the culmination of a 30-month long Rauner administration effort to involve state health agencies, legislators and behavioral health organizations in a coordinated plan to help people with disorders that require treatment of the whole person.

BUDGET
·        Revenue numbers published for April 2018.  The numbers for State of Illinois revenues were published by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA), the nonpartisan budgeting arm of the Illinois General Assembly.  COGFA works with the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) and other State agencies to track Illinois general funds revenues on a month-to-month basis.  The data gathered by COGFA is reported to the General Assembly annually and is supposed to be used by the House and Senate to adopt a revenue estimate to control spending in the appropriations process. 

BUDGET
·        Leaders Durkin, Brady Call For Adoption Of Revenue Estimate.  Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and Illinois Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady filed joint resolutions Thursday to adopt a revenue estimate in order to begin the budgeting process for fiscal year 2019. 

“It is our constitutional duty to taxpayers across Illinois to spend within our means – something we have not done in decades here at the Capitol,” Durkin said. “The rejection of certifying a revenue estimate in Springfield is not acceptable and is legislative malpractice. We owe it to Illinois taxpayers to take this first step in finally balancing the state’s checkbook and putting Illinois on the right track towards fiscal stability.”

Legislation would put Illinois workers back on the job and is supported by labor and business 


State Rep. Keith Wheeler speaks at press conference
Springfield, IL – State Rep. Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego) today introduced House Bill 5864, the Blue Collar Jobs Act, to incentivize construction projects in the state of Illinois and create jobs for the middle class.

“’Helping the middle class’ is a pretty common talking point for elected officials across the country,” said Rep. Wheeler. “While there are a lot of proposals that claim to do that, nothing helps the middle class more than creating good paying jobs. That’s precisely what the Blue Collar Jobs Act does. It sends a message that Illinois is open for business by putting our highly-skilled construction workers to work. It’s a win for the state of Illinois, Illinois businesses, Illinois construction workers and for the permanent workers that would be hired after a new facility is completed.”

General Assembly – House committees
·        With full start of 2018 spring session, Illinois House committees convene and begin to hear bills.  Following the State of the State address on Wednesday, January 31, the Illinois House and Senate began committee action for the spring 2018 session.  The House will have five full weeks of committee action prior to the deadline for substantive committee action on April 13.  Most of the work of presenting a bill, hearing witness testimony on the measure and developing amendments to perfect the measure are done in committees rather than on the floor of the full House.  The House schedules for spring 2018 can be found here.  The General Assembly’s website also includes a type-in box to track each individual bill under consideration in Springfield by bill number. 
Rep. Keith Wheeler
SPRINGFIELD – State Representative Keith R. Wheeler, R-Oswego, was one of only 15 legislators voting “No” on House Bill 4237 on Wednesday, legislation aimed at skirting the 2017 federal tax reform law that caps deductions of state and local property taxes at $10,000. Specifically, the bill would allow Illinois residents to make “charitable” contributions to a new state-run nonprofit program in exchange for a credit that would offset their state tax burden.  While classifying the payments as charitable contributions rather than local taxes would help individual taxpayers avoid hitting the cap, Representative Wheeler stressed that fact that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) could nix the plan with a ruling that such contributions are subject to the state-and-local-tax (SALT) deduction cap. 

“It is reckless and unwise for Illinois to move forward with passing a plan to circumvent the state and local tax deduction cap under the new federal law until we see how the IRS rules on it,” Representative Wheeler said. “If we pass this bill now and it becomes law, taxpayers who take advantage of it may well end up having made contributions to this program for nothing, because the IRS could step in and rule that these payments are indeed subject to the cap. The IRS is well aware what states like Illinois, California, New York and New Jersey are trying to do by considering similar proposals. We should not subject Illinois taxpayers to this risky scheme.”

TAXES
·        House Republicans oppose progressive income tax.   Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, along with members of the House Republican Caucus, filed House Resolution 975 Tuesday to state their opposition to a proposed progressive income tax on Illinois residents. 

“The General Assembly cannot continue spending money frivolously and expect Illinois taxpayers to pick up the tab with more tax increases like this progressive income tax proposal from the Democrat party,” Durkin said. “It is our constitutional duty to protect our constituents, and we will remain firm as a caucus on blocking any progressive tax measures.”

Illinois already has the highest effective state and local tax burden in the nation, according to a report by WalletHub. Studies have shown that states with progressive income taxes create even more of a tax burden on the middle class and dissuade economic prosperity.

ECONOMY
·        ADM, Deere, Caterpillar honored as top Illinois firms.  The honor was published in “Illinois Top 200,” a series of online surveys enabling Illinois respondents to honor local leadership activities, institutions, and experiences.  Illinois respondents were asked to honor their favorite “homegrown companies,” in a list that also included McDonald’s, Walgreens, Rand McNally, DeKalb AgResearch, Sears, State Farm, and Dairy Queen.  

The three named firms – ADM, Deere, and Caterpillar – all share a historic orientation toward Illinois agriculture and heavy-industry engineering.  ADM helped make Illinois corn oil and soy-based protein into global commodities, while Deere & Co. helped invent the machines that grow the corn and soybean crops that are used to grind or press out the oil and protein meal that Illinois crops produce.  Like Deere, Caterpillar makes heavy off-road machinery used around the world.

Illinois Top 200” is now welcoming votes for top inventions and innovations.  Candidates include farm silos, blood banks, plasma display screens, and pinball entertainment machines.  Votes will be accepted until Friday, March 30.

Jobs – February 2018 unemployment
·        Illinois notches new all-time high in payroll jobs.  The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), which compiles Illinois nonfarm payroll job numbers in cooperation with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, announced this week that revised employment numbers for January 2018 show that Illinois has notched a new peak employment level.  The revised statistics show that nearly 6.1 million men and women were employed on Illinois-based nonfarm payroll jobs in January 2018.  The new high was achieved as the result of net new jobs that had been created in calendar year 2017 within Illinois. 

Budget – COGFA report
·        Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) releases February 2018 report.  February 2018 State general funds receipts grew significantly over similar figures posted in February 2017.  However, as with previous months in FY18, this healthy year-over-year performance was significantly affected by an income tax increase enacted in July 2017.  During the year-over-year period that spanned February 2017 and February 2018, sales tax receipts grew by 13%, individual income tax receipts grew 50%, and corporate income tax receipts increased by 378%. 

Education – Scholarships
·        Tax credit scholarship clearinghouse announces more than 33,000 applications.  The benchmark news came from Empower Illinois, one of the nonprofit entities overseeing implementation of the Illinois tax credit scholarship program created by the Illinois General Assembly in 2017.  Under this new tax credit, Illinois income taxpayers are authorized to donate moneys to an approved scholarship clearinghouse.  The moneys will be used to pay for scholarships to be awarded to enable children to attend fee-charging schools.  Scholarships that will cover 50 to 100 percent of a student’s tuition and school-related expenses will be awarded to children from income-eligible households.

Empower Illinois’ announcement followed the nonprofit’s previous announcement of a glitch on January 31.  When the Empower office first tried to roll out their online scholarship application window, so many applications were submitted that the website broke down.   The 33,000 valid applications submitted in the second process, which generated totals announced on Wednesday, February 28, reflect emergency repairs made to the application website.  Empower Illinois reported receiving $45 million in pledged donations from Illinois taxpayers.  The taxpayers will receive individual income tax credits to cover up to 80 percent of the cost of their donations.  Applicant households who do not get into the program this year may choose to reapply again in early 2019.    
Rep. Keith Wheeler (left) discusses school safety with SD308
Superintendent John Sparlin and OHS Principal Mike Wayne.
SPRINGFIELD – State Representative Keith R. Wheeler joined Oswego School District 308 Superintendent John Sparlin and Oswego High School Principal Mike Wayne for an active shooter response drill at Oswego High School Thursday morning.  This was Oswego High School’s second active shooter lockdown drill and the fourth drill involved in locking down and responding to emergencies during this school year.

As part of the lockdown procedure, Oswego schools have implemented the nationally-recognized ALICE active shooter response training program. ALICE is the acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate.

“I believe this type of response training is an important, non-controversial first step in securing our schools here in Illinois,” Representative Wheeler said. “The administration, staff, and students displayed a number of techniques and responses that will be vital to saving lives should an active shooter situation occur.  Continued collaboration between our school, government, and law enforcement leaders is an important component in protecting our children and I’m glad to see that is underway locally.” 
BUDGET
·        Governor Rauner delivers budget address to General Assembly.  Gov. Bruce Rauner delivered his Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Address to a joint session of the Illinois General Assembly Wednesday.  The Governor renewed his call for a $1 billion tax cut for all Illinois taxpayers.  He also called for “structural reforms” to Illinois laws that underlie the current patterns of Illinois public-sector taxes and spending. 

Assailing what he called “unsustainable growth in our pension and healthcare costs,” Gov. Rauner stated that more than 25 cents of every dollar the State spends goes to these facets of public-sector employee benefits.  These benefits far exceed the benefits paid to workers in the private sector, and the cost of these benefits is driving job growth from Illinois to other states.  Rauner pointed to job trends, including manufacturing job growth, in Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin.    
General Assembly – House committees
·        With full start of 2018 spring session, Illinois House committees convene and begin to hear bills.  Following the State of the State address on Wednesday, January 31, the Illinois House and Senate began committee action for the spring 2018 session.  The House will have five full weeks of committee action prior to the deadline for substantive committee action on April 13.  Most of the work of presenting a bill, hearing witness testimony on the measure and developing amendments to perfect the measure are done in committees rather than on the floor of the full House.  The House schedules for spring 2018 can be found here.  The General Assembly’s website also includes a type-in box to track each individual bill under consideration in Springfield by bill number. 
SPRINGFIELD – State Representative Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego) has been appointed to serve as the point person for House Republicans in working with the Governor’s Office and the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) to fulfill the constitutional mandate of generating a revenue estimate on which to base the state budget for FY 2019 this spring. The announcement was made Wednesday in a letter to House Speaker Michael Madigan from House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs). 

Illinois currently has nearly $8.3 billion in unpaid bills and a structural FY18 budget deficit of $1.7 billion. The Illinois Constitution requires the General Assembly to adopt a revenue estimate on which to pass a balanced state budget, based on projected tax revenue and funds owed to Illinois from the federal government.

“Agreeing on a bipartisan revenue estimate is the first and most important step in the budget process,” said Representative Wheeler. “Unfortunately, the General Assembly has failed to meet this fundamental responsibility each year since before I first came to Springfield. We have an opportunity to not repeat that same mistake again this year; and instead demonstrate to Illinois families our commitment to work together to pass a state budget that lives within our means and respect taxpayers.”
Rep. Keith Wheeler speaks, joined by Rep.
Peter Breen
In an effort to put more money in the pockets of Illinois taxpayers and infuse funds into the Illinois economy, State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) has launched the Illinois Tax Reform Plan, joined at a press conference in Springfield today by Representative Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego). The plan, consisting of three taxpayer-friendly bills, has the potential of lowering taxes on Illinoisans and Illinois businesses.

The cornerstone of Breen’s package is HB 4563, which expands Illinois’ current Invest in Kids Act tax credit model to allow Illinoisans to make fully deductible charitable contributions to 501(c)(3) foundations supporting public school districts, while receiving tax credits to reduce their partially deductible state and local income tax (SALT) payments. The new federal tax law provided a $10,000 limit on deductions for SALT payments, while placing no limit on charitable deductions. “While changes to the federal tax code are providing many opportunities for taxpayers to keep more of their hard-earned money in their own pockets, folks in states where property taxes and income taxes are too high need relief. The Congress left intact the full deduction for charitable contributions, and my Illinois workaround to the new SALT deduction cap relies on the very successful education tax credit model upheld by the Tax Court and IRS, and used by states across the country. This plan has the potential to put over $1 billion every year back into Illinois taxpayers’ wallets. Rather than sending this money to Washington bureaucrats, these dollars can be pumped into the Illinois economy, to help our state grow and prosper.”
General Assembly – Spring session
·        Lawmakers convene for 2018 spring session.  The first day of the spring session was Tuesday, January 30.  In addition to considering appropriation bills to make up the FY19 State of Illinois budget (for the fiscal year which starts on July 1, 2018), the Illinois House and Senate will consider many substantive bills.  With Amazon.com considering Chicago as one possible location as the site for its second headquarters, the lawmakers will be eager to prioritize measures to improve Illinois as a place for job creation and enterprise.  Continuing competition from other Midwestern states, especially Indiana, Missouri and Wisconsin, is expected to be a major theme of the session’s substantive bill work.  

The spring session will continue through May; the lawmakers are constitutionally required to attempt to wrap up their spring 2018 work by May 31.  The Illinois House posts its schedules on the public Illinois General Assembly webpage; the schedules can be found here.
Jobs
·        Illinois unemployment rate drops.  The Illinois unemployment rate dropped from 4.9% to 4.8% in December 2017.  The declining jobless rate to close out calendar year 2017 was another sign of a stable employment picture in the Land of Lincoln, with Illinois employers supporting an estimated 6,050,900 nonfarm payroll jobs.  This marked an increase of 1,500 jobs from the previous month, and an increase of almost 30,000 jobs from December 2016.  The new figures were published by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), which tracks and monitors Illinois employment and unemployment. 

IDES looks at the Illinois job picture to see where new jobs are being created or lost.  During the twelve-month period of calendar year 2017, job growth was concentrated in manufacturing and financial activities.  The Illinois financial sector has been strong in previous years that have marked a recovery from the 2008-09 economic downturn, but the net growth in Illinois manufacturing jobs marks a reversal after many years of declining activity in this sector.  More than one-half of the 29,600 net new jobs created were hired by these two sectors.  One area of weakness was the Illinois public sector, with Illinois units of government employing 4,100 fewer workers at year’s end than at the beginning of the year. 

MONTGOMERY – State Representative Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego) lauded the announcement made by Carl Buddig & Co. on Monday that they will be expanding their operations within Illinois with the purchase of the former Butterball facility in Montgomery. The facility has been vacant since prior operations ceased in July 2017. Buddig will utilize the 280,000 square foot facility to grow its manufacturing footprint for lunch meats and specialty meats production.

The project will create 250 jobs within the first two years of operations and then ramp up to 350 jobs by year five. Buddig employs over 1,200 people within Illinois. The Governor, the Department of Commerce and Intersect Illinois worked with State Senator Jim Oberweis, State Representative Keith Wheeler, local government officials, local economic development organizations and other key stakeholders to ensure this project’s success.

“This is a great day for the Village of Montgomery,” said Representative Wheeler. “An investment of this magnitude will offer not only relief for this resilient community, but tremendous opportunity in the years to come. I am thrilled to welcome Buddig into the 50th District and look forward to seeing this facility filled once again. Moving forward as we head back to Springfield, we must keep working to improve the employment climate in our state to create even more Illinois jobs for Illinois families.”
JOBS
·        Chicago makes the cut to 20 in Amazon’s HQ2 search.  Amazon.com and its owner-CEO, Jeff Bezos, have announced their intent to create a second headquarters in addition to Amazon’s current headquarters in Seattle.  In late 2017, the firm asked cities in North America to submit plans and proposals for the global marketing firm to initiate a major expansion.  Amazon’s stated criteria for selecting their location for potential expansion included a city within an urban area with more than 1 million people and within 45 minutes of an international airport.  The presence of mass-transit infrastructure was described as strongly desirable but not essential.  The firm stated that it was their intent to create a research, development, and logistics management complex that could support as many as 50,000 jobs. 

On Thursday, January 18, Amazon released a list of 20 cities and metro areas, including Chicago, that meet the criteria set forth by the company.  Other major cities on the list included Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City and northern New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. and the Capital Beltway.  Several applicants, including St. Louis, did not meet all of the points sought by the firm.  Amazon will continue negotiations and develop a short list of remaining contenders at a time to be announced.