Week in Review for week ending July 13, 2019

GENERAL ASSEMBLY

Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens appointed to serve as 20th District State Rep.  At a public meeting on June 29, local, city and suburban leaders across the 20th legislative district unanimously selected Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens to serve as their state representative. On June 17th, longtime State Representative Michael McAuliffe announced his resignation, initiating a process set by state law that requires the appointment of a successor within thirty days to fill out the remainder of the term. State Representative Brad Stephens was surrounded by his family, friends and supporters and was sworn into office by former Democratic state senator now Cook County Judge John Mulroe. 

“It is an honor and a humbling experience to be selected to serve my neighbors as State Representative for the 20th legislative district,” Stephens said. “I intend to bring the same passion and results-oriented mission to this position that I have to every job I’ve ever held. With my experience and the bi-partisan relationships I’ve developed, I can hit the ground running in Springfield. As state representative, I’ll take those lessons and relationships that I’ve built as mayor and continue to champion fiscal responsibility, lower taxes, and vital services for our families and seniors. I will continue to fight for working men and women across the 20th district.”

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin welcomed Representative Stephens to the GOP caucus and said he would be a valuable addition. “Brad Stephens will be able to deliver for his district on day one. His deep knowledge of state policy and its impact on local communities will be valuable to the Illinois state legislature and a welcome addition to the House Republican Caucus,” said Durkin.  

As Rosemont’s Mayor for the last dozen years, Stephens’ track record of fiscal responsibility and economic development has resulted in balanced budgets, and fully funded pension funds. Under his leadership, Rosemont has become an economic development engine and destination for tourism and hundreds of businesses both large and small. Rosemont is also well known for delivering top-flight municipal services and great schools all while returning property tax dollars to homeowners every year.  

Before serving as mayor, Stephens began his career as a carpenter and remains a card-carrying member of that union. In addition, he is a member of Chicago Stagehands Local 2, a labor union representing technicians, artisans and craft persons working in Chicago’s entertainment industry. He worked in nearly every major department in the Village of Rosemont, served as Trustee and later as a supervisor of Leyden Township. In 2007, Stephens was sworn in as mayor following the passing of his father. He has subsequently been reelected three times to the post. 

Retiring State Rep. Mike McAuliffe whom Stephens replaces said his successor was well-equipped to step into the job. “In the 20th district, partnering with local officials, police and firemen, unions and business, is incredibly important. Brad Stephens understands effective leadership, and reaching across the aisle to benefit constituents. I am proud to support him as state representative for the 20th district,” said McAuliffe.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Extensive work to rebuild Illinois infrastructure this summer.  “Horizontal infrastructure” includes roads, bridges, railroad expenditures such as safety barriers, and docks and ports for river barges.  As a result of the new Rebuild Illinois Capital Plan, extensive work is beginning this summer on what will be the multi-year work of repairing and expanding Illinois’s concrete infrastructure.  Illinois’ location, close to the population center of the U.S. and our nation’s center of economic activity, creates hundreds of thousands of Illinois jobs.  This location, however, also creates substantial wear and tear on Illinois roads and bridges. 

The Illinois Department of Transportation has prepared an expandable online chart of major Illinois road and bridge closings, including projected dates for each project to be completed.  State and local police stand ready to enforce safety rules, including speed limits, in and around Illinois road work projects.  Work zone safety, including the life and health of Illinois’ tens of thousands of road construction workers, is one of our State’s highest priorities.

BUDGET

COGFA issues budget report to end FY19.  In an optimistic end to the fiscal year, which ended June 30, Illinois base receipts – the “cash flow” used to cover expenses classified as general funds – grew $750 million – year-over-year, in June 2019.  The nonpartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA), attributes the bulk of the overall increase to an increase in federally-funded reimbursements to Springfield.  Increases of this type are often connected with changes in the cash flows that fund the State’s Medicaid program.  Medicaid matching funds are the largest category of moneys that the State receives under the category of overall federal aid to Illinois.

The June 2019 COGFA numbers closed out FY19.  With State-sourced tax revenues of $38.0 billion, fee transfers of another $2.0 billion and non-state transfers-in of an additional $3.6 billion in federal aid, total general funds from all sources totaled more than $43.6 billion in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2019. This was an increase of $1.2 billion from the more than $42.4 billion brought in during FY18.  Individual income tax payments rose $1.8 billion in FY19, accounting for the overall annual increase.  Illinois has already begun FY20, in which appropriated spending is scheduled to come in below revenues to create a balanced budget.  The new fiscal year began on July 1, 2019. 

DOWNSTATE

Crop reporting deadline extended.  The decision was announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which coordinates relationships between farmers and crop insurers.  Farmers have been given until Monday, July 15 to report which fields they had been actively prevented from planting.  Some farmers have “prevented planting” policies that give them standing to file crop-insurance claims for fields in which weather conditions made it impossible for them to plant.    

The filing deadline extension came as wet conditions continued to affect Illinois corn and soybean fields.  In June 2019, Downstate Illinois counties averaged five inches of rainfall, well above average and a burden upon already-saturated farm fields.  Most Illinois fields have been planted, but crop progress is well behind average.  While Illinois corn silking was at 71% at this point in July 2018, this year’s corn silking rate is 4% as late-planted sprouts struggle to pull up out of the mud.

MEDICAID

State to expand work on Medicaid backlog.  About 100,000 patients have applied for Illinois Medicaid status and have not yet received it.  Many Medicaid applications are filed by senior citizens and their loved ones as part of the process of transitioning into life in group care.  The Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS) and the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) are responsible for large chunks of this application backlog.  The State now says they will hire more than 300 paperwork specialists to speed up work on the backlog. 

Medicaid is one of Illinois’ largest taxpayer-funded programs.  Nearly 3.0 million Illinois residents, almost one-quarter of the State’s total population, are eligible for Medicaid.  Federal matching funds cover some (but not all) of this Medicaid expense, and efforts to speed up the eligibility process could lead to flows of federal money with positive effects on the State’s budget. 

PUBLIC HEALTH

Push to expand number of children vaccinated for measles, allied diseases.  The measles outbreaks of 2018-2019 are leading to expanded efforts by public health professionals to universalize the practice of vaccinating all children for highly contagious, preventable viral diseases such as measles.  From January 1 through July 3, 2019, 1,109 individual cases of measles have been diagnosed and confirmed in 28 separate U.S. states, including Illinois. 

This number has shocked many doctors and teachers who thought that, because of the measles vaccine, American schools were safe places for children to learn and play.  The count of measles cases is moving back towards levels not seen since the first vaccination drive starting in 1966.  Prior to the invention of measles vaccine, each year saw an average 48,000 cases of U.S. measles hospitalization and 400 to 500 U.S. measles deaths.  Public health professionals strongly support measles vaccinations.

TOURISM

Two Illinois sites added to World Heritage list.  The sites, the Robie House in Chicago and the Unity Temple in Oak Park, are buildings designed as path-breaking structures by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.  The sites were honored by UNESCO, an international organization not affiliated with the U.S. government that keeps global list of sites of important human heritage.  In a move announced on Sunday, July 7, UNESCO has selected eight key Frank Lloyd Wright buildings for the World Heritage list.  

The Robie House and Unity Temple join Iconic Wright structures such as Fallingwater and the Guggenheim Museum on the global list.  Buildings, parklands, and sites of human interest and habitation on the World Heritage list can be in the public or the private sector.  Existing U.S. World Heritage sights include Yellowstone National Park, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site near Collinsville, Illinois.