Chesney’s Weekly Roundup- week ending January 18, 2020

TAXES

Property taxes create crushing burden for family farms.  Property taxes levy a tax based not on income generated by a piece of real property, but on the market value of the property.  In 2020, corporate-sized farms are bidding up land values, and are simultaneously demanding changes in the way farmland earns income.  Under the changes sought by corporate farms, farmland can only earn income if it is operated in units large enough to be able to deal with lenders, farm equipment manufacturers, supplier corporations, etc., on a more-or-less equal basis.  The burdens levied by schools and units of local government, on property owners through the property tax bills they mail out, are an integral part of this pressure. 

A nonpartisan January 2020 study, done by Pew Charitable Trusts and their Stateline reporting arm, shows that these property tax bills are creating an impossible burden for American family farmers.  Family farmland acreage is being assessed, and taxed, at rates per acre that corporate farms can pay, but which raise questions of survival for more and more family farms.  The Pew/Stateline study finds, for example, that family farms in Nebraska are billed an average of $16,200 per farm per year.  Based on farm prices in different years, the operating margins on 50,000 to 100,000 bushels of corn may have to be set aside just to pay a single farm’s annual tax bill.  Many observers believe that property tax reform is necessary in both urban and rural areas as a defense of institutions, such as family farms, that underlie American community life.

BUDGET

Illinois’ still-troubled interest rate spread improved slightly in calendar year 2019.  Illinois remains the state with the lowest-ranked general obligation debt among the 50 states, a consequence of the State’s $137 billion in estimated unfunded pension liabilities and other unpaid obligations.  However, in 2019 Wall Street saw Illinois is a slightly better light than in previous years.  The General Assembly’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) has been able to report good State revenue numbers through December 2019.  Investors have read COGFA’s reports and have responded to them.  In figures posted by Bloomberg News the 30-year “spread,” the premium interest rate that Illinois must pay on its 30-year general obligation bonds, has fallen in January 2020 to 1.19%.  This was the smallest spread since March 2015, signaling a lower Illinois borrowing penalty.  This is good news for Illinois taxpayers, who are ultimately responsible through their tax payments for this interest-rate burden.  The slightly improving numbers were attributed to actions by the Illinois House and Senate, which enacted a balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2020.

CRIME

Outreach effort fights against human trafficking.  In a volunteer effort supported and partly funded by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), distributors fanned out along Chicago’s Red Line on Saturday, January 11.  They handed out outreach and self-help resources to customers.  The resource packets included information, in a variety of languages, offering help lines and assistance to persons who are caught in the web of human trafficking. 

DCFS investigated 255 cases of human trafficking of children in fiscal year 2019 (ended June 30, 2019).  While all forms of human trafficking are banned criminal conduct in Illinois, State law prioritizes cases of child sex trafficking.  The Illinois Safe Children Act, a 2020 law enacted by the General Assembly, safeguards children and juveniles trapped in sex trafficking from criminal prosecution for the acts in which they were ensnared, and orders law enforcement to refer them to child welfare advocates rather than to a criminal court.   

DOWNSTATE

IEMA to co-host flood preparation outreach tour.  One of Illinois’ responses to the flood events of spring 2019, the free outreach events will concentrate on flood readiness, preparation tips and insurance coverage.  Life safety information, including how to receive emergency alerts and notifications, will be provided to all Illinois residents who attend.  Co-hosts include the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA), the Illinois Department of Insurance (DOI), and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR).  Tour stops will include placements in Alton on Wednesday, January 22, and in the Quad Cities on Wednesday, January 29. 

DRUGS

General Assembly law mandates that police cars carry naloxone in ready kits; survey shows law being successfully implemented.  The pharmaceutical, an opiate antagonist, can be administered to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose in a vulnerable patient.  Prompt administration of the drug can, in some life-threatening conditions, save a life.  From 2014 to 2017, a survey of death certificates shows that Illinois deaths from opioid overdoses have increased by 54%.  The General Assembly believes that putting naloxone in the hands of first responders is a way to reduce this growing death toll.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) has approved the use of naloxone as a safe and effective antidote to opioid overdose.

The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (CJIA) conducted a survey in late 2019 on the implementation of the police naloxone law and how Illinois law enforcement has responded to its implementation.  The survey was completed in December 2019 and was published this week.    

Implementation of the law has been successful.  Law enforcement personnel have been trained in how to administer the drug by involuntary injection, and the pharmaceutical is now deployed among police field service personnel throughout Illinois.

GUNS

New State rules add to onerousness of doing business as a licensed Illinois gun dealer.  The rules package includes regulations newly written and published by the Illinois State Police.  The State Police have promulgated the rules as part of their enforcement responsibilities under the Firearm Dealer License Certification Act, a 2019 law.  Under the rules, licensed Illinois-based firearms retailers must have had an alarm monitoring system in place prior to January 2, 2020.  They were also required, as of the same date, to have an electronic-based record system to keep track of inventory changes and sales.  These sections of the rules became operative on Friday, January 17, and are now in full effect.

The State Police’s January 2020 rules carefully delineate and define the records that each gun retailer must keep.  Additional rules are scheduled to become operative over the next 12 months.  By January 2, 2021, a retail gun outlet will have to have a video security system in place, with continuous video surveillance of its operational location and provision for securely storing and recalling the video footage.  These rules are described by their proponents as efforts to prevent gun theft and crack down on alleged illegal gun sales.  However, critics are pointing out many ambiguities in the new rules.  Furthermore, the rules were not enforced by the January 1, 2020 effective date of the underlying law, and when they were promulgated later in January 2020 the rules language contained provisions – such as the alarm monitoring mandate – that had been enforceable prior to the rules package’s overall publication and effectiveness date.  Many former gun dealers are pointing to the rules as factors that are leading them to lay off employees and even close their businesses.  Many Illinois House Republicans voted “no” against enactment of the Firearm Dealer License Certification Act.  The vote in the House was 65-49-0

JOBS

United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement ratified; will help create Illinois jobs.  The “USMCA” trade agreement, replaces the former North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  In contrast to NAFTA, the USMCA provides increased protection for American jobs and intellectual property.  The United States Senate ratified the agreement in January 2020, sending the measure to the White House for expected approval.  The ratification vote took place on Thursday, January 16.

Many Illinoisans are concerned about jobs and trade.  After studying the agreement, many Illinois House Republicans worked to organize support for it.  HR 527, sponsored by Representative Charles Meier, urged Congress to end a pattern of delays and ratify the agreement.  Many Illinois-based employer groups and economic advocates joined the HR 527 push.  Republican members of Illinois’ Congressional delegation helped ratify the agreement, which will cover most of the territory and people of North America. 

VETERANS

Community remembers Corporal William L. Brown, Korean War.  Corporal Brown, from Sesser, Illinois, was deployed by the U.S. Army to Korea. There, in December 1950, he fell in combat at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, “Frozen Chosin.”  After a recent summit meeting between President Donald Trump and the leader of North Korea, the North Korean government returned 55 boxes of Korean War remains to the U.S. Department of Defense (USDOD) for repatriation to their families and communities.  Forensic work by USDOD, starting in August 2018, enabled one of the sets of remains to be identified as Corporal Brown.  The challenging identification enabled USDOD to tell a close relative, Brown’s sister Clarice Burchell, that her brother had been found and would be coming home.  On April 3, Brown will be laid to rest at the Mound City National Cemetery in Southern Illinois.      

ILLINOIS HERITAGE

“Eternal Indian” restoration work completed with State and private funds.  Restoration work is complete on a northern Illinois landmark.  The Eternal Indian statue at Lowden State Park near Oregon has spent most of the past five years under plastic covering to protect it from the elements. Now a project to repair damaged concrete on the 109-year-old, 50-foot-tall structure has wrapped up. […]

After years of promises, the state recently chipped in about $350,000 dollars for the project, pushing forward the repairs.

“It’s so exciting to see Black Hawk unveiled again,” said state Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, who represents the area. “The statue is freshly patched and restored and looks better than ever.” […]

The Eternal Indian statue, also known as the Black Hawk statue, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“This restoration process was a long and rocky road,” Demmer said. “But when we came together at the local and state level, we were able to get the job done. I can’t wait to welcome back visitors from across the region to see the famous statue looking out over the Rock River again.”

A formal unveiling ceremony for the restored statue is being planned for the spring.