Winger's Weekly Wrap-up

Budget – FY17
Fitch Ratings cuts Illinois’ credit rating. The move by one of the “Big Three” debt rating agencies serves as further evidence of the dismal state of Illinois’ public finances. Fitch Ratings cut Illinois’ general obligation bond rating this week from BBB+ with a negative outlook to BBB with a negative outlook. The new rating is only one notch above the lowest possible rating (BBB-) that can be granted to an entity that is viewed as an investment-grade credit risk. Two other bond issues that are tied to the State of Illinois, the bond issued by the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority and the bonds issued by the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, also saw cuts in their ratings from Fitch. The New York-based credit rating house added that they believe that the failure of the State to deal with its fiscal challenges “has fundamentally weakened the state’s financial profile.”

The Southern Illinoisan looked this week at the Illinois budget impasse, including the fork in the spending road caused by the classification of some of the State’s spending streams as “mandated by law” while others are subject to appropriation. Examples of mandated spending include Medicaid, pension fund contributions and interest on state debts. Examples of non-mandated spending include expenditures for higher education, social services, and many state agencies’ operations.

The expiration on January 1, 2017 of the stopgap budget that provided appropriations for some of Illinois’ state government has created a serious cash flow situation in many Illinois offices and institutions. Hard-hit entities include public universities, community colleges, agencies that provide community mental health treatment, and agencies that provide attention to elderly persons who are not in residential care.

Chicago – Field Museum
Free admission in February for Illinois residents. The Field Museum of Natural History, in Chicago, announced the free admissions program on Wednesday, February 1. Proof of residency will be required. The basic free admission will not include special ticket exhibits or admission to any 3-D movies that may be screened. Persons given free admission will get the chance to upgrade to an all-access pass with additional payment at the door.

Basic free admission to the Field Museum will include the chance to see a selection of the more than 24 million human and scientific objects and specimens on display. The Museum has collections of cultural history, biology, and geology from all over the world.

Human Services – Developmental Disabilities
House Republicans respond to Chicago Tribune investigative report with package of House bills. The legislative package, numbered HB 737 through HB 742, would require the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) to sharply increase its oversight and monitoring of Illinois’ troubled system of group homes for persons with developmental disabilities. While many homes in this class provide good-quality care and residential services to their clients, investigative reporters for Chicago’s largest newspaper found that some do not. Serious cases of patient neglect were uncovered. The bills are meant to create a client-centered process when a DD group home gets its care license revoked.

The Chicago Tribune revelations were underlined when the state attempted to move 45 patients from one particular network of group homes (Disability Services of Illinois) to new locations that would provide a different quality of care. The process of legally moving these clients from one location to another is legally time-consuming and cumbersome, and while the moving process was taking place the first network of homes dispersed the patients. The Department of Human Services came under criticism when they were unable to share information to help law enforcement search for the missing Illinois residents, who were all eventually found and successfully relocated. HB 740, sponsored by Deputy Republican Leader Patti Bellock, will require the safe and secure storage of contact information and location information so that Illinois never again loses track of those of our residents who need help the most. Other bills in the reform package were sponsored by Rep. Terri Bryant and Rep. Charles Meier.

Winter in Illinois
American bald eagles winter in Illinois. After flying south from their nesting grounds, many “proud birds of freedom” find winter homes near open water in central and southern Illinois. A reporter recently saw many bald eagles in the area of Alton, Illinois, is southwestern Illinois. The inrushing waters of the Illinois River and the Missouri River, as they enter the Mississippi, add nutrients to the larger body of water and help encourage fish to spawn. The eagles then come to look for the fish. Pere Marquette State Park near Alton, operated by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, offers resources intended to help birdwatchers catch a glimpse of the iconic birds.

Week in Review
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