Winger's Weekly Wrap-up

Winger host free kids fair on Saturday
Rep. Christine Winger is hosting a kids health & safety fair this weekend. The event will be held on Saturday, August 6th from 9 AM to 12:30 PM at Westfield Middle School, 149 S. Fairfield Way in Bloomingdale. The first demonstration starts at 9:30 AM with the Bloomingdale Beamers. Other demonstrations to follow will include the Traveling World of Reptiles Show. The Touch-A-Truck portion of the event will feature police squads, a 14-ton Wrecker, a Dump Truck, and more—giving kids the opportunity to get an up close look at each. Click here for more info.

Budget – FY17 – COGFA report
Report shows continued bleak State revenue picture. The report, one of a monthly series presented to members of the Illinois General Assembly by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, examines the revenue side of the State’s spending picture for FY17. The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) is the nonpartisan budget office of the General Assembly, responsible for gathering (or in the case of FY17, gathering and recreating) the money estimates needed to generate and enact a constitutional balanced budget.

For FY17, this goal remains as far from reach as it was in FY16. The first month of the fiscal year, July 2016, is now completed. Revenue numbers gathered by COGFA from the Illinois Department of Revenue and allied State agencies continue to chow declining cash flows to the State from the private sector, with overall general funds down $109 million (-4.8%) from July 2015, the first month of FY16. As in earlier months in calendar year 2016, the decline was attributed to shortfalls in income taxes declared and transmitted from Illinois residents and business firms to the State, with personal income tax revenues dropping $77 million and corporate income tax revenues dropping $35 million on a year-by-year basis.

COGFA’s economic team pointed to several key indicators pointing to nearly flat business activity nationwide in the U.S. private sector, including a reduction in inventories and declining business spending on nonresidential fixed investment. Hit by downturns in China, in the global market for crude oil and in many other key areas, the nationwide U.S. economy’s gross domestic product grew by only 1.2% in the second quarter of calendar year 2016 (the final quarter of State of Illinois FY16) on an inflation-adjusted basis. Under these conditions, COGFA economists do not expect the State’s revenue picture to turn upward any time soon.

Drugs – Cannabis penalties
Gov. Rauner signs bill to reduce penalties for small-scale cannabis possession. The measure, SB 2228, applies to possession of marijuana (cannabis) in amounts less than 10 grams (about 0.35 oz.). Not a decriminalization measure, the new State law will reduce the penalty for possession of small amounts of cannabis from a criminal offense to a civil offense. Civil offenses can, under constitutional law, be dealt with by court in a much more summary manner and with a completely different procedure than criminal cases.

In a typical civil offense, a defendant will be subject to orders by the court, such as mandatory attendance at a substance-abuse treatment center that charges fees on attendees. In return for fulfilling all the conditions of civil court supervision, the court will typically expunge or seal the records of the case against the defendant. The defendant will also be required to pay a fine at a level set by laws and local ordinances.

Under the new Illinois law, the State fine for possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana will be $200. In addition to this fine, each individual court will impose substantial fees as they are allowed to by law. Court fees traditionally cover the operating costs of the circuit court system, but a wide variety of fees have been added onto the civil offense fee structure in recent years as quasi-taxes to raise revenue for a variety of people, places and offices.

Under previous law, possession of small amounts of marijuana could be charged as a Class B criminal misdemeanor. Persons convicted of this offense could be sentenced to serve up to six months in county jail, although by 2016 few defendants were given the maximum penalty. The new State law was signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday, July 29.

Economy – Global location trends
IBM annual report indicates Chicago a leader in foreign investment. The computing service firm’s annual investment report, “Global Location Trends 2016,” places greater Chicago 7th in the world as an attractive location for foreign investment. The East Coast-based firm depicts Chicago as the only North American metropolitan area to appear in the global top 20. IBM, historically a manufacturer of computer hardware, has deemphasized this business in recent years in favor of data service management software and solutions. The firm tracks 18,000 non-U.S.-based firms accountable for more than $100 billion in direct Chicago-area investment.

Chicago’s status in the most recent IBM report indicates an ongoing transition in the infrastructure advantages of the Chicago area. The “Windy City,” which has traditionally specialized in infrastructure oriented toward the physical movement of goods, has supplemented this asset with an increased focus on electronic broadband ties to other locations in the United States and throughout the world. These cables are, in many cases, tied to data centers throughout the Chicago area, including centers oriented toward cloud computing. The “top 10” metro areas flagged by IBM are London, Paris, Amsterdam, Dubai, Bangkok, Singapore, Chicago, Berlin, Manchester-Liverpool, and Brussels.

Environment – Asian carps
Traditional North American fish may be potential predator for Asian carps. Several varieties of carps have established dominance in the Illinois River and many of its tributaries in recent years. Asian carps, in typical rivers throughout eastern North America, establish dominance because they have no predators in some rivers, or because exiting predators in other rivers are inadequate to catch them and eat them in large numbers.

Biologists are hoping that reestablishing the alligator gar, a historic Southern fish once viewed as a trashy predator and extirpated from Illinois waters in the 20th century, may be a way to find a fish that will eat the voracious carps. The alligator gar, so-called because of its reptile-like teeth and jaws, has never gone extinct in the far U.S. South. The last alligator gar in Illinois was, however, caught near Cairo in far southern Illinois in 1966. The fish was officially declared extinct in Illinois in the 1990s.

Predator-species reintroduction has worked in some other parts of North America. For example, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995. The alligator gar will be able to outsize its potential prey. The new-redeemed superfish can grow to a weight of more than 300 pounds and can stretch more than 9 feet long. Fish biologists caution that the alligator gar may have the wrong shape of jaw to eat adult Asian carps, and may want other fish in its diet. Historically, the big fish was a predator upon gizzard shad.

In 2016, both houses of the Illinois General Assembly unanimously adopted HJR 141, a joint resolution of support for efforts by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to reintroduce the alligator gar in Illinois.

Health care – Land of Lincoln re-enrollment
60-day re-enrollment period opens for health care customers affected by Land of Lincoln insolvency. The financial failure of Land of Lincoln Health, an Affordable Care Act co-operative that had been oriented towards helping Illinois residents find affordable coverage in compliance with federal mandates, has made it necessary for former Land of Lincoln policyholders to find a new ACA insurer after they lose their coverage on September 30. The federal government is overseeing a new, special 60-day enrollment period for former Land of Lincoln policyholders only. During this 60-day period, these policyholders will have the chance to re-enter the insurance marketplace and find new insurance coverage for the period starting October 1, 2016.

The Special Enrollment period created as a result of this insurance co-op shutdown began on August 2 and will end on September 30. During this period of time, Land of Lincoln policyholders who are facing the imminent loss of their minimum essential coverage (MEC) under ACA will have the chance to report their imminent loss of coverage. If these enrollees report their imminent loss of coverage prior to the deadline and complete a valid enrollment process to join a new healthcare plan, they should not face a potential interruption in their healthcare services.

In some cases, former Land of Lincoln policyholders who join new plans will have to change their doctors or make other changes in their established healthcare activities. In addition, the new plans who may make offers to enroll Land of Lincoln policyholders are not likely to grant standing to arrangements made by these patients with Land of Lincoln with respect to health care deductibles and copayments; any health care payment clocks a patient may have been on are likely to be re-set by the act of moving from one insurer to another.

In addition to exercising their Special Enrollment rights, Illinois residents looking for ACA coverage will also need to continue to monitor opportunities and deadlines surrounding the Open Enrollment period for full-year 2017 coverage. The calendar year 2017 ACA enrollment period will start on November 1, 2016 and will close on January 31, 2017.

Transportation – Vehicle registration reminders
Secretary of State’s office to resume mailing annual vehicle registration reminders. Owners of the 10.4 million motor vehicles in Illinois must renew their license plate registrations annually. In return for paying $101, they get a colored decal to apply to their license plate as a signal that the plate is good for one more year. Some motorists choose to pay slightly more money to get a specialty license plate and decal. Additional revenues raised from specialty palates are distributed to causes that include Illinois open space and violence prevention. The plates and decals are overseen by the Illinois Secretary of State’s office and the money raised by the plates and decals are used to operate the office and maintain the system.

Until October 2015, the Office would send out a mass-market reminder to owners of vehicles with soon-to-expire license plates, as a nudge to the motorist to make the required payment and receive the required decal sticker. Starting in fall 2015, however, the Secretary of State’s office stopped sending out these letters, lacking explicit appropriations authority to spend money for this purpose. Prior to this interruption, the reminder-letter program cost $450,000/month in postage and mailing costs to operate.

In late June, the General Assembly enacted new legislation authorizing the Secretary of State to resume the mailings. The authority was contained in the so-called ‘stopgap budget’ enacted for FY17. The Secretary of State’s office will also seek legislative authority to recompense itself for part or all of the cost of the mass mailing by including advertising in the registration renewal reminder warning. In an announcement made on Monday, August 1, Secretary of State White announced that his office had resumed the transmission of vehicle registration reminder notices to Illinois motor vehicle owners. White’s office will also continue to operate an alternative warning system in which motorists nearing their registration deadline will receive a warning notice by email.

Veterans – Channahon State Park
State Park installation will honor veterans who struggled with PTSD. The monument, to be called the Forgotten Warrior Memorial Wall, will pay tribute to the sacrifices paid by U.S. veterans who contracted PTSD and then ended their lives. The wall itself will be made of granite and will be ground-framed by concrete pavement bricks. Sponsors of the Memorial Wall will be able to work through the project’s organizing agency, K9s for Warriors, to install individual name-etched bricks in the pavement.

Channahon State Park is located southwest of Joliet near Interstate 55. The memorial wall is slated to be dedicated on or around Veterans Day, November 11, 2016.