This week in Illinois

Here's a snapshot of what happened in Illinois this week.

FY15 Budget Solution
Governor Rauner & General Assembly take steps to resolve FY15 budget shortfall. Faced with a $1.6 billion FY15 budget deficit upon taking office, Governor Bruce Rauner almost immediately asked for executive powers to reorganize spending and enable the State to get through the fiscal year, which covers spending needs through June 30, 2015.

Without immediate action, the State would have been unable to make payroll at Illinois prisons, low-income working families would lose their child care assistance, court reporters would be laid off and money for services for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled would run out. In addition, inaction would have further delayed and perhaps jeopardized critical categorical school funding and State aid payments.

After negotiations in which House Republicans were full participants, the General Assembly agreed this week to language contained in HB 317 and HB 318. HB 317, an appropriations bill, made cuts and transfers in State spending. HB 318, a budget implementation bill, granted the Governor the legal authority to carry out and implement the cuts in spending and spending transfers made in HB 317. Together, these bills work to fill critical holes in the deliberately unbalanced FY15 budget passed by majority Democrats and signed by former Governor Quinn.

Approximately $1.3 billion of the moves occurred in the form of budget transfers from various funds, and approximately $400 million was in the form of an across-the-board budget cut. The HB 317-HB 318 package created $97 million in budgetary flexibility that can be used to respond to specific challenges, including the challenge of school districts that have run out of reserves.

The House vote on HB 317 was 72-45-0 and the House vote on HB 318 was 69-48-0, with all House Republicans voting in favor of the measures. The Senate followed up by approving both bills on Thursday, March 26, sending the measures to Governor Rauner for final action. Rauner, who pushed for and signed both bills into law, expressed a readiness to follow up on this work in alliance with House Republicans. The two bills became law as Public Acts 99-0001 and 99-0002, the first bills signed into law by the new Governor.

Illinois Economy – Unemployment
Jobless rate falls to 6.0% in February. The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) announced on Tuesday, March 24 that the unemployment rate for February 2015 fell to 6.0% from 6.1% in January. While an estimated 391,100 workers remained jobless in February, the overall numbers indicated that Illinois could be coming out of recession-scale unemployment numbers for the first time since the 2000s. 13,800 net new jobs were created in February, all in the private sector.

Illinois’ jobless numbers remained higher than the national average, which was 5.5% in February. However, the new Prairie State figures represented an improvement of almost two full percentage points from the deep-recession figure of 7.9% posted twelve months earlier in February 2014. Economists and commentators often use “year-over-year” unemployment figures, particularly for specific states and metropolitan areas, as a tactic to reduce false signals resulting from random fluctuations in the overall numbers.

Most areas of Illinois employment showed strength in February, with two key sectors – trade, transportation and utilities, and professional and business services – each adding more than 5,000 net new paid positions statewide. Three areas of weakness were statewide manufacturing, which lost 800 jobs statewide, educational and health services, which gave up 1,400 positions, and government, which yielded 1,600 positions.

IDES has rolled out a new, automated database for the use of Illinois residents seeking jobs and in possession of vital skill sets. Illinois Job Link offers a wide variety of positions and opportunities.

College of DuPage
House Republicans continue push for audit of troubled expense accounts. After the story of mammoth expense-account spending by senior executives of the College of DuPage broke earlier this year, House Republican taxpayer advocates began calling for a deeper inquiry into the financial reality behind the troubled college management team’s books. The College’s board recently approved a severance package of benefits totaling $763,000 for the college’s president.

DuPage County lawmakers have made this a key focus area in 2015. HR 55, a resolution requesting that the Illinois Auditor General conduct a performance audit of the College of DuPage to cover fiscal years 2011 through 2014, was unanimously approved in House committee on Wednesday, March 25. HR 55’s lead co-sponsors are Representatives Jeanne Ives, Jim Durkin, Patti Bellock, Peter Breen, and Ron Sandack.

Fair Share
State employees file lawsuit, seek clarification. Three Illinois state employees filed a lawsuit on Monday, March 23 to seek legal clarification of their right to not make mandatory payments to labor unions in lieu of union dues. Called “fair share” payments, the funds raised by their mandatory payments are supposed to recompense public-sector labor unions for the administrative burden of representing all of the members of a unionized State office or workforce. Governor Bruce Rauner has publicly called for granting freedom to Illinois State workers to decide whether or not to belong to a union and pay dues.

Submarine “Illinois” – launch date nears
Illinois helps U.S. Navy prepare for launch of new submarine. The capital ship, which will be called the “U.S.S. Illinois” when it enters commissioned service, is in the final stages of being fitted out on the East Coast and is expected to be launched later in 2015. Chicago business leaders are helping train two key members of the crew – the culinary specialists who will man the submersible boat’s tiny galley.

Physically slightly smaller and with smaller crews than the armored battleships that were once the backbone of the U.S. Navy, an attack submarine like the “U.S.S. Illinois” is in some ways even more heavily armed. A crew of 145 to 150 men will sail on a six-month tour of duty, much of which will be spent submerged. Modern technology even allows submarines to communicate with naval headquarters while deep under water. Although the “Illinois” is only 370 feet long, the “silent service” believes that American submarines serve as the ultimate deterrent to potential enemy action.

The “Illinois” will be the first U.S. Navy capital ship to bear this name since an obsolete battleship commissioned in 1897. Efforts to build a new American super-battleship in the 1940s to carry on the heritage of the Prairie State did not survive the end of World War II in 1945. The Aurora-based U.S.S. Illinois Commissioning Committee is leading fundraising efforts to properly celebrate two separate events: the new vessel’s approaching launch and its commission.

University of Illinois 
Champaign-Urbana medical school plans approved by board of trustees. Seeking to utilize its globally-ranked standing in materials research and development, the University of Illinois this month finalized plans to oversee the construction of a new medical school adjacent to its primary Champaign-Urbana campus. The plans were described on Sunday, March 22 by the USA Today.

Responding to researchers who see increasing challenges and opportunities in biomedicine, the University of Illinois sees the new medical school as a way to bring together the College of Engineering and the clinical resources of the nearby Carle hospital-and-health-system. The University’s trustees repeatedly assured staff and affiliated professionals at their existing medical school, the University of Illinois College of Medicine, that the decision did not signal any diminution of their support level for the existing UIC school, which is organized around a traditional urban teaching-hospital model and is affiliated with the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The new medical school will be located in Champaign-Urbana, at Carle’s flagship hospital and at campus locations to be determined. It will be the first medical school opened in Downstate Illinois since the creation in 1970 of the SIU School of Medicine in Springfield. The first Champaign-Urbana medical school students will begin class work in fall 2017.

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