Rep. Wheeler's Weekly Roundup: August 24


GENERAL ASSEMBLY
·        Rep. Helene Miller Walsh appointed to 51st House District seat.  With her business experience, passion for public service, and commitment to fighting for her community, Representative Helene Miller Walsh brings a valued perspective and unique skill set to the governing process. Rep. Miller Walsh graduated from Occidental College in Los Angeles with a B.A. in Diplomacy and World Affairs with an emphasis on Middle Eastern Affairs, and a minor in Economics.

Representative Miller Walsh was sworn in to office on Saturday August 18th. She is currently the Chief Operating Officer of Leenie Productions, LLC, a multi-media production company. Helene has been involved with several successful philanthropic endeavors, and she has held leadership positions on several campaigns for Northwestern’s Prentice Women’s Hospital. 

Currently, Helene serves on the Board of Advisors to Project H.O.O.D., an organization dedicated to ending gang violence in the city of Chicago and developing economic opportunities. Helene is also on the Board of Advisors to the Haym Salomon Center, dedicated to providing pro-Western, pro-democracy viewpoints for publication in mainstream and new media outlets to combat anti-Semitism, Islamic terrorism and defense of Western values.

A lifelong Chicagoland resident, Helene resides in Mundelein with her husband, former Congressman Joe Walsh. Between them they have five adult children.

JOBS
·        Unemployment rate falls in all metro areas.  Unemployment rates decreased over-the-year in July in all of Illinois’ metropolitan areas, according to preliminary data released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES). Data also show nonfarm jobs increased in ten of the metropolitan areas.

“The number of employed people increased in all metro areas, which contributed to the decrease in the unemployment rate,” said IDES Director Jeff Mays. “This has driven the unemployment rate down to near record lows across the state. In fact, the Chicago metro area had its lowest July unemployment rate on record.”

Illinois businesses added jobs in ten metro areas, with the largest increases in: Kankakee (+5.9 percent, +2,700), Elgin (+2.0 percent, +5,100), and Champaign-Urbana (+1.5 percent, +1,600). Total nonfarm jobs in the Chicago-Naperville- Arlington Heights Metro Division increased (+1.2 percent or +46,500). Illinois businesses lost jobs in three metro areas: Carbondale-Marion (-0.7 percent, -400), Danville (-0.4 percent, -100), and Bloomington (-0.3 percent, -300).

The industry sectors recording job growth in the majority of metro areas included Leisure and Hospitality (12 of 14), Manufacturing (10 of 14), Transportation, Warehousing and Utilities (10 of 14), Professional and Business Services (10 of 14), and Education and Health Services (8 of 14).

Not seasonally adjusted data compares July 2018 with July 2017. The not seasonally adjusted Illinois rate was 4.3 percent in July 2018 and stood at 12.2 percent at its peak in this economic cycle in January 2010. Nationally, the not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 4.1 percent in July 2018 and 10.6 percent in January 2010 at its peak. The unemployment rate identifies those who are out of work and looking for work, and is not tied to collecting unemployment insurance benefits.​

BUDGET
·        State of Illinois sells $965 million in bonds.  On Wednesday, the State of Illinois sold $965,770,000 in General Obligation Refunding Bonds, Series A and Series B of September 2018. The $641,160,000 Series A of September 2018 were a takeout of the State’s $600 million in 2003B variable rate bonds and the termination of five swaps associated with those bonds. 

The refunding will eliminate all the variable rate exposure and remove the highest-cost debt from the State’s capital market programs. Proceeds from the $324,610,000 Series B Bonds of September 2018 will be used to refund several series of previously issued general obligation bonds of the State. Total debt service savings of $33,643,047, or 5.89 percent of present-value savings were derived from the Series B Bonds, and each individual bond selected for refunding in this series had in excess of 3 percent present-value savings to the State. The State received bids from 87 institutional investors totaling $4,166,070,000 in orders, or a 4.3 times subscription for the bonds.

This bond issue has an all-in borrowing cost for the combined series of 4.19 percent. The bonds are being issued as fully exempt from federal taxation and are rated BBB by Fitch Ratings, Baa3 by Moody’s Investor Service and BBB- by S&P Global.

“We are very pleased with the strong investor response to today’s bond sale. By refunding the $600 million in variable-rate debt, the State eliminates its highest-cost debt and replaces it with traditional fixed-rate bonds carrying a much lower overall rate of interest,” said Hans Zigmund, budget director for the State. “By refunding other outstanding bonds with higher fixed rates as part of the same bond sale, we maximized savings and minimized the costs of the sale. Taxpayers will realize these savings for years to come.”

Du Quoin State Fair
·        Annual State Fair in Southern Illinois opens Friday.  The Du Quoin State Fairgrounds has been “home” to many events in its 96-year-old lifetime. Huge camping rallies, national car shows and races, horse events of all kinds, rodeos, livestock shows, reunions, motorcycle races, weddings, tractor pulls. You name it, it’s probably been held at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds. The most popular? By far, the best-known event has been “The Du Quoin State Fair”, now in its 33rd year under the ownership of the State of Illinois.

It all started back in the spring of 1923 when a group of successful and ambitious Du Quoin business leaders came up with an idea to sponsor an event that hopefully would attract people from all over Southern Illinois. Too, several owned horses and needed a convenient place for them to compete. Not shy about making big claims, even from the very start, the group called it “The Du Quoin State Fair” because they wanted it to become as nice, as attractive, as well accepted in the area as the Illinois State Fair in Springfield. It didn’t happen over-night. Crowds were somewhat modest in the beginning, in the roarin’ twenties. Nevertheless the Fair did attract crowds of 50,000 or so, at least as reported by probably biased area sources.

Now, with its sights set on reaching the century mark in the not-too-distant future, the Du Quoin State Fair can accurately make many impressive claims. Millions, yes millions, have passed through its gates down through the years as more than an estimated 300,000 do so each year for the Fair itself. For many years -- 1957 through 1980 -- it was “Home of the Hamiltonian”, harness racing’s “Kentucky Derby.” Almost equally as important, auto racing has been an attraction for years. Other than “Elvis”, Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand, one would have difficulty in naming a prominent entertainer who has not appeared on stage at the Du Quoin State Fair. It proudly has become Southern Illinois’ most popular attraction as it has appeal to all ages and fans of all type events. This year’s dates are Aug. 24 – Sept. 3.

HIGHER EDUCATION
·        Governor signs legislation to help keep Illinois students in Illinois.  Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation Tuesday creating a merit-based scholarship program for Illinois students and a task force to help share college and career interest data between high schools and higher education institutions. Both initiatives are products of the Higher Education Working Group focused on making the state’s colleges and universities more affordable and accessible for Illinois students.

“Our future as a state is dependent upon people wanting to live, work and attend school here in Illinois,” Rauner said. “We want to create a place where our young people want to learn and put what they have learned into practice through careers that enrich our economy and make Illinois a better place to live.”

From 1991 to 2014, enrollment at Illinois public universities and community colleges declined by 50,000 students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. From 2011 to 2016, undergraduate enrollment at Illinois public universities fell 5,127 students, a decline of more than 8 percent.

Senate Bill 2927 creates the AIM HIGH Grant Pilot Program, a merit-based scholarship for Illinois students who attend college in-state.   

“We’ve enacted $25 million in state funds from the FY19 budget for the program that will then be matched by universities for a total scholarship pool of at least $50 million in merit-based aid,” Rauner said.

The funds will be disbursed by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission to Illinois’ public universities in proportion to their enrollment of undergraduate, in-state students.

“We have world-class institutions here in Illinois,” Rauner said. “AIM High will make them more affordable for Illinois families and allow us to better compete with out-of-state institutions offering robust financial aid packages.”


“An initiative of our Higher Education Working Group, this pilot program is another way to encourage those furthering their education to stay here in Illinois attending our public universities,” said Rep. Norine Hammond. “In this program, participating universities will match the amount of funds received by the state with their institutional financial aid.”

Institutions will have discretion over the metrics used to award merit-based scholarships to students to meet the individual needs of their campus populations.

“The AIM High grant program is one of several new initiatives designed to slow the out-migration of Illinois students,” said Illinois Board of Higher Education Executive Director Al Bowman. “It makes sense, given competition from out-of-state schools, to offer additional merit-based scholarships so that more families see our universities as affordable. This will also help us attract some of the state’s high school graduates who are contemplating not going to college at all because of cost.”

No mechanism is currently in place to easily share information about students’ college or career interests between high schools and higher education systems in Illinois.

House Bill 4781 creates a task force to study how students’ college or career interest data can be collected and shared between high schools and higher education institutions.

“Our state has long been the second largest exporter of high school students in the country, and when Illinois high school students leave us for college, they seldom return,” said Rep. Dan Brady, the legislation’s chief House sponsor. “This is an important improvement that will bring together educational institutions and interest groups to determine how Illinois can better share information on students’ needs and goals so we can keep our brightest here.”

This data will also allow colleges and universities to enhance their programs and services to support the specific needs of their incoming student cohort through more targeted degree advising and counseling for students.

“When students attend schools that support their interests, they are more likely to persist and earn credentials or degrees,” Rauner said. “We don’t want them to have to go out-of-state because they couldn’t find an Illinois program that fits their goals and interests. Sharing this data will better prepare our Illinois institutions for our new enrollees.”

The task force is required to submit the findings of the study to the General Assembly on or before Jan. 30, 2019, and will be dissolved following the submittal.

Both bills are products of the bipartisan Higher Education Working Group, whose work includes legislation signed by Rauner earlier this month that gives priority to returning MAP grant students and streamlines licensing for teachers.

HUNTING
·        Governor Rauner signs “blaze pink” legislation to improve hunting safety.  On Park District Conservation Day at the Illinois State Fair, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation legalizing blaze pink hunting gear.

House Bill 4231 permits hunters to wear blaze pink clothing in addition to blaze orange. Both colors of clothing are equally visible to the human eye, however, deer are believed to be color blind to red and can see very little orange or pink.

"We want to make sure that Illinoisans are able to hunt and enjoy the outdoors safely," Rauner said. "The new legislation provides more variety in hunting gear while preventing tragic hunting accidents in Illinois."

Blaze orange clothing has been credited for a reduction in hunting-related injuries and deaths. Wisconsin, Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, New York and Virginia have also authorized fluorescent pink as an alternative color to orange.

"Blaze pink laws have already passed in several other states, so this change in the law sends the message that our hunting laws put safety first," said Rep. Dave Severin, lead House sponsor of the bill. "This action gives the consumer a choice, and though I'm no fashion expert, I believe blaze pink will look good on sportsmen and women in Southern Illinois."

"As a lifelong hunter and supporter of the Second Amendment, I was proud to help sponsor this important safety measure," said Rep. Terri Bryant, House co-sponsor of the bill. "Though I am quite partial to the color pink, the scientific research I have seen shows that people see the color pink better than the color orange. I am grateful that the governor recognizes the importance of hunting safety and that hunting is an important part of the culture and a tourism driver for Southern Illinois."

The initiative is supported by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Illinois Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus. The new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2019.

TRANSPORTATION
·        Rauner signs bill to transition to multi-year vehicle registration opportunity.  Illinois law previously required owners of motor vehicles plated in Illinois to register and re-register their vehicles every year.  Rep. Mark Batinick sees this as a potentially onerous mandate upon busy Illinois households.  He sponsored an innovative proposal to allow (but not require) Illinois residents the option to buy a two-year license sticker.

The Office of the Secretary of State (the agency that registers Illinois motor vehicles) asked Batinick and the Senate sponsor to amend their bill to create a 2-year transition program into the new multi-year registration cycle.  Therefore, multi-year registration stickers will be available no later than January 1, 2021.  Nothing in the new State law will require motorists to buy a multi-year sticker; this is meant to be a voluntary option for Illinoisans.  HB 4259 was unanimously approved by the House and was signed into law as P.A. 100-986 on Monday, August 20.

VETERANS
·        “Honor 200” deadline approaching for nominating an Illinois veteran for community service honors.  Eligible are all persons who live in Illinois and have received an honorable discharge from the U.S. military.  Their family and friends are invited to submit the names of eligible Illinois veterans who have accomplished significant things for their communities.  The nomination form, due Friday August 31, 2018, gives the person submitting the nomination the chance to write down a list of: (a) the prospective honorees’ dates of military service; (b) his or her military service commendations, awards, and decorations; and (c) his or her significant community accomplishments.

Both military commendations and community service will be taken into account in selecting a final group of honorees.  The goal of the “Honor 200” campaign is to demonstrate a straight line of correlation between the abilities of Illinois service personnel to work as members of their military units and their ability and desire to use these life patterns of teamwork on behalf of the Illinois communities in which they live.  “Honor 200” nominations should be sent to the Chicago office of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs.  The nomination may be submitted online.  “Honor 200” veterans will be recognized at Illinois’ Bicentennial Birthday Party and Gala to be held on December 3, 2018.

ILLINOIS BICENTENNIAL
·        Constitution Day to be celebrated this Sunday.  A series of events will take place throughout Illinois on Sunday, August 26, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the adoption of the first Constitution of Illinois.  The 1818 document was approved by a convention of pioneer delegates, meeting in the old territorial capital of Kaskaskia near Chester, Illinois, to set forth how the new government of a proposed State of Illinois would be set up.  Constitution Day thus marks the start of the final run-up to the State’s actual birthday – December 3, 1818.

As a permanent reminder of Illinois’ 200th Year, private-sector supporters have worked with the local government of the state capital city, Springfield, to create the Bicentennial Plaza.  A new open space for tourist gatherings, adjacent to the Governor’s Mansion and Square, offers good views of the State Capitol and is only two blocks away from the Abraham Lincoln Home National Historic Site.  Active support from the Illinois REALTORS made the plaza possible.  Donors have enriched the open space with many historical markers and displays that celebrate Illinois’ diverse history and heritage.  Gov. Bruce Rauner will lead the dedication of the Bicentennial Plaza on Constitution Day, August 26.  

WEEK IN REVIEW
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