Winger's Weekly Wrap-up

Budget – Unpaid Bills
Backlog of unpaid bill hits $8.6 billion. The unpaid-bill count, tracked on a day-to-day basis by the office of Comptroller Leslie Munger, hit more than $8.6 billion this week. The red-ink number is closely watched by holders of Illinois debt paper and by international credit rating agencies and firms that rank worldwide debtors by chances of insolvency. For example Moody’s, the world’s largest credit-rating firm, currently ranks Illinois general obligation debt backed by general funds at Baa2, two ranks above “junk bond” level. Moody’s adds that they have a “negative outlook” on Illinois’ current Baa2 rating. Analysts at Moody’s report that Illinois’ “structural budget gap” currently equals at least 15% of Illinois general fund and pension expenditures.

Rep. Winger met new friends at CS Barks, Carol Stream's
annual dog festival, last weekend.
The backlog, counted as of Thursday, September 22, represents more than $8.6 billion in bills payable from Illinois general funds. These bills have either been presented to the Illinois Comptroller for payment, or are known to be waiting in the coffers of various State agencies for presentation and payment. Many of these bills are request for reimbursement to providers of supplies and services to the State and its clients, particularly medical and nursing care provided to Medicaid patients.

The unpaid-bill ledger count reported weekly by Munger’s office is likely to continue to fluctuate in future weeks. However, the overall red-ink trend is expected to continue to go upward, based on tax payments to the State continuing to fall short of monies obligated by continuing appropriations, court orders, and consent decrees.
Illinois’ unpaid-bill debt is only a small fraction of the total debts owed by the Illinois public sector. One estimate indicates that the State of Illinois alone has compiled obligations, including future pension obligations, of more than $45,500 per taxpayer.

Education – High School Baseall
IHSA proposes pitch-count limit. The proposal by the Illinois High School Association, if approved by the IHSA’s board at their October 12 meeting, will impose a series of guidelines on high school baseball game officials. One key ceiling within the overall guidelines will limit high school pitchers to 115 competition pitches in a game. As with professional games, “competition pitches” will not include warmup or pickoff throws. The coaching staffs will be responsible for keeping the counts, which the game’s supervising official will reconcile after each even-numbered inning.

Additional ceilings in the IHSA proposal will create mandatory rotations for high school starting pitchers. If a pitcher throws between 76 and 115 pitches during a game, he must rest for four days before again taking the mound; and if his second stint comes within days 5, 6, or 7 after game 1, the second game’s ceiling is lowered from 115 competition pitches to 90. The series of guidelines is aimed at reducing elbow, shoulder, and ligament damage to high school pitchers.

Gambling – Video Gaming
COGFA tracks continued growth in Illinois video gaming. The Illinois Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA), the nonpartisan budget-analysis arm of the General Assembly, annually tracks and reports on revenues from Illinois-based wagering activities. Due to changes in law and technology, our gaming industries are shifting in identity. Illinois gaming taxes are deposited into either general funds or into other, earmarked State budget funds, depending on which type of gambling the tax was imposed on.

COGFA’s 2016 “Wagering in Illinois” report, released on Monday, September 19, details a continued shift in Illinois gaming activity in FY16 away from other forms of gambling toward video gaming. Video gaming was approved in the Video Gaming Act, enacted in 2009, and the first video gaming machines were approved in 2012. Video gaming is now four years old in Illinois. From every dollar taken in by Illinois in taxes imposed on gambling during the recently-concluded fiscal year, 20.5 cents was paid by the video gaming industry. This was an increase from 16.5% in FY15 and 9.1% in FY14. There are now more than 24,000 licensed video games in operation in more than 5,600 locations throughout Illinois.

Medical Cannabis – Chronic Pain
Circuit court judge issues order favoring patients with chronic pain conditions. The decision, if allowed to stand, would add “chronic pain” to the list of 34 conditions that qualify a patient to seek a cannabis dispensary card. Under the Illinois medical cannabis pilot program, a patient must be diagnosed with an eligible health condition and receive a go-ahead from that patient’s longtime health care provider before the patient can apply to the Department of Public Health for a medical cannabis registry identification card.

Patients with cannabis cards have the right to enter an Illinois dispensary and purchase medical cannabis. Health conditions that make a patient eligible to apply for a medical cannabis card include cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), rheumatoid arthritis, severe fibromyalgia, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A small number of growers’ permits and dispensary permits have been distributed to the private sector to operate highly secure facilities throughout Illinois. The Cook County circuit decision, handed down on Wednesday, September 21, is subject to appeal by the Attorney General and is not yet law.

Bicentennial Commission
Governor Rauner jump-starts preparations for Illinois’ 200th birthday celebration in 2018. By Executive Order 2016-11, Rauner created the Governor’s Office of the Illinois Bicentennial and named new members of the Illinois Bicentennial Commission. The new Commission, which is intended to represent the private sector, will work together with the Office of the Illinois Bicentennial in the run-up to Illinois’s 200th birthday, which will be December 3, 2018.

When Illinois was admitted to the Union, its population had just crossed the 30,000 level that was the standard minimum required for Congress to consider a territory’s application for statehood. In 1818, almost all of these 30,000 people were huddled along the southern and southwestern edges of Illinois Territory, along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Illinois was one of the territories north of the Ohio River that entered the Union as a free state.

The Office of the Illinois Bicentennial, working in cooperation with the Illinois Bicentennial Commission, will raise funds and organize local community celebrations of the landmark date.

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