This Week in Illinois - March 13, 2015

Governor Rauner – Department of Agriculture
Governor celebrates National Agriculture Day; new Ag Director confirmed. The Illinois Department of Agriculture is the State agency that oversees Illinois’ production of food and fiber. This week, the appointment of Philip Nelson as new Director of the Department was confirmed. A fourth-generation grain and livestock producer, Nelson is a past president of the Illinois Farm Bureau and past president of the Illinois Soybean Association. The confirmation vote by the state Senate came on Thursday, March 19.

Illinois Budget – FY15
Negotiations continue to fill budget hole. Many questions are being asked about the current status of the FY15 budget, featuring spending commitments by the State of Illinois for the fiscal period ending June 30, 2015. Funds need to be shifted around in this budget in order for the State to keep certain commitments to prison guards, court reporters, providers of subsidized child care services that are mandated to be available, and other essential State services.

Governor Rauner has outlined a proposal to enact emergency fix-up measures to plug these holes in the FY15 budget. These holes became inevitable when former Gov. Quinn signed a Democrat-passed budget that was deliberately unbalanced. Check out the House Republican Caucus Blog for updates on this and other stories.

Illinois Economy – Metro Unemployment
Department of Employment Security issues monthly report on Illinois joblessness in metro areas. The report, which counted the jobless in January 2015, covers unemployment in fourteen areas defined by the U.S. Census. The Department found that for the eleventh month in a row, unemployment areas fell in each major Illinois metro area compared to year-earlier levels.

Lottery
Controversial head leaves Illinois State Lottery. Mike Jones, director of the Illinois State Lottery, has told staff he is stepping down. Jones’ last day is expected to be Friday, March 20. Jones led the Illinois Lottery office during a tumultuous period that included a failed attempt to privatize many of the Lottery’s operations. Jones, which took the Lottery’s helm in 2011, oversaw the agency’s transfer of many of its day-to-day tasks to the Northstar Lottery Group, a private-sector consortium of lottery professionals.

Privatizations of this type often produce good results for both sides. The Illinois State Lottery reorganization under former Gov. Quinn, however, led to disappointing results. Expected increases in State money for education fell far short of targets and the State was forced to partially reverse the privatization in 2014. Under new management, the Illinois State Lottery may be looking at new pathways toward public-private partnership. The Lottery continues to offer a variety of individual ticket and scratch-off-games over the counter and online, including the popular Mega Millions jackpot game.

Supreme Court
State’s highest court holds unusual evening hearing. Oral arguments in the case of “People vs. Richardson” were presented to the Illinois Supreme Court at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 17. Governor Bruce Rauner and members of the Illinois General Assembly were invited to attend the unusual event, which the Court’s staff believes was the first evening proceeding by the State’s highest bench in more than a century. Oral arguments, in cases of appeal and final appeal, serve as the last opportunity for lawyers for both sides to make their cases before the bench. They will already have submitted written briefs to the court, and the oral argument offers an opportunity for the judges to question the advocates about the arguments already presented in written form and demand answers.


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