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.
Budget – Taxpayer’s Fiscal Charter
·        House Republican lawmaker files bill to create Illinois Taxpayer’s Fiscal Charter.  If enacted into law the new bill, filed by Representative C.D. Davidsmeyer, will impose controls on the currently out-of-control Illinois budget process.  It will freeze all discretionary, taxpayer-paid State of Illinois spending until the State gets its payment cycle to vendors below 30 days.  The bill bans enactment of new State programs until a full pension payment, based on actuarial requirements, is made.  It will move the State of Illinois towards Pay as you Go budgeting, prohibit the imposition of unfunded mandates, and create a sunshine procedure for future State budgets. 

Rep. Davidsmeyer calls for all legislators who file legislation that creates new spending to file, as part of their bill to create the new program, legal language to raise taxes or cut spending to pay for the new program.  The lawmaker represents a west-central Illinois district centering on Jacksonville.  The Taxpayer’s Fiscal Charter bill was filed on Tuesday, January 9, as HB 4229.
Rep. Wheeler was honored to participate in the 10th anniversary celebration at Heritage Woods of Yorkville on Thursday with residents and staff. Rep. Wheeler noted how Heritage Woods exudes a sense of family and community.

BUDGET
·        Revenues up, but overall budget picture clouded by poor retail spending numbers.  The December 2017 State revenue report by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) shows that State revenues rose by $438 million over comparable levels in December 2016, an increase of 15.4%.  This increase is helping to pay off some of the $8.7 billion backlog of unpaid State bills. 

However, the Commission’s economic team has called the General Assembly’s attention to areas of weakness within the revenue numbers.  Sales tax receipts declined by 4%, or $34 million, on a year-over-year basis within the overall revenue increase.  The poor sales tax numbers were attributed by economists to the continuing challenges faces by participants in the U.S. retail sector.