Task force holds first meeting on possible new 4-lane highway
The Southwest Illinois Connector Task Force held its first meeting on March 1st at the World Shooting Complex in Sparta. The panel was created by legislation from Senator Schimpf with the goal of studying the feasibility, cost , and route for a potential 4-lane highway between the Metro East area and Carbondale. The first gathering was an organizational meeting to elect a chairman, Marc Kiehna, and set future meeting dates.The next meeting is scheduled for April 12.
Senator Schimpf recently had the opportunity to meet with Colonel Leslie Maher, the commander of 375th Air Mobility Wing at Scott Air Force Base. Many residents of the 58th Senate District work at Scott AFB. Col. Maher and Senator Schimpf discussed the need for reciprocity of professional licenses for active duty military and their spouses. Schimpf has filed legislation to offer that reciprocity.
Gov. J. B. Pritzker delivered his first Budget Address Feb. 20 to a joint session of legislators in the House of Representatives Chamber.
The Governor’s proposed budget represents a starting point for further negotiations; however, there are concerns about references to more spending, more tax increases and budgeting gimmicks that tried and failed in the past. Although lawmakers will have time to analyze the fiscal details, many have already expressed their concerns about proposals to address the pension system, the Governor’s calls for a graduated income tax and other revenues from such actions as legalizing medical marijuana and sports gambling.
“While appreciate the Governor’s stated commitment to provide funding for schools, universities, and infrastructure projects, much of his plan seems to rely on many of the same budgetary gimmicks that got us into the dire financial circumstances that we are in today. I believe Illinois needs to live within its means, and practice responsible budgeting. We should be looking to trim expenses to match revenue instead of missing pension payments and raising taxes," said Senator Schimpf. "The budget address is, however, the first major step in the budget making process, and nothing is set in stone yet. I am hopeful that negotiations can lead us to a responsible, fair, balanced budget, if all sides are at the table.”
Fiscal Year 2020 runs from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020.
Ratings agencies give Pritzker budget, pension plan cold shoulder
Several ratings agencies tasked with monitoring the fiscal health of Illinois have given poor marks to Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s budget proposal, noting a dependence on one-shot revenues, an uncertain pension proposal and punting on real fiscal progress.
S&P Global Ratings issued a statement saying the plan’s reliance on nearly $1.3 billion in new revenue “precariously balances the current budget, but punts measures to address fiscal progress to future years.”
Fitch Ratings warned the proposed budget could lead to yet another downgrade for Illinois, saying “The fiscal 2020 executive budget plan recently introduced by Illinois’ governor would not materially address the state’s structural budget issues in the current fiscal year or the next.”
Fitch advised that the plan, “relies heavily on non-recurring revenues and large savings from an uncertain pension proposal that poses risks for the state.” An analyst also noted about one-third of the new revenue sources contained in the budget are one-shot revenues.
S&P raised concerns that the Governor’s plan for long-term stability “hinges largely on a tough campaign to pass a progressive income tax that requires a constitutional amendment.” A progressive income tax is a non-starter for many Senate Republican lawmakers who view plans to implement such a structure as a tax hike on middle-class families.
“This revenue stream is far from certain, and there is no detail yet on rates, brackets, or the amount of revenue it is supposed to generate,” S&P cautioned. “Despite the potential for a more collaborative budget process with single-party control of state government, Illinois has yet to prove its ability to make politically difficult decisions in favor of structural balance and sustainability. If it adopts the budget in its current form, it remains at risk of repeating a pattern of putting off hard choices while eroding pension funding.”
Illinois property taxes remain among the highest in nation
Illinois has once again ranked among the most expensive states for property owners in a new report from WalletHub. According to WalletHub’s latest analysis of state property taxes, Illinoisans pay the second-highest rates in the nation.
In Illinois, property taxes ring in at around $4,476, nearly double the national average of $2,280. The Prairie State’s property tax rates are in stark contrast with neighbors like Iowa, Indiana and Missouri where the averages paid are $2,960, $1,679 and $1,910, respectively.
Governor signs controversial minimum wage hike
Less than a week after Democrat legislative leaders forced through a minimum wage hike, Gov. Pritzker signed Senate Bill 1 into law on Feb. 19. The controversial legislation was advanced by the Senate and House on party-line votes, despite economic concerns from employers and public groups.
The plan would raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour over six years, and to $13 per hour during the same period for those employees younger than 18.
Opponents of the plan noted the vast differences in the cost of living across Illinois. They also raised concerns that the incremental increase could have far-reaching implications for employers across the board, including an increase in annual costs for state agencies, local school districts, human service providers and hospitals.
Greater protections from ethylene oxide
A package of legislation unveiled recently will address the public health crisis caused by Sterigenics and their release of ethylene oxide into surrounding communities.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issued a seal order Feb. 15 against Sterigenics, which forced them to cease operations. The legislation will also ensure the proper policies and protections are in place to safeguard Willowbrook and all Illinois communities from the impact of this public health hazard.
Senate Bill 1852 requires:
- A facility to notify all affected property owners and local governments within 2,500 feet when an ethylene oxide leak has occurred.
Senate Bill 1853 provides that:
- The IEPA shall reevaluate the current CAAPP (Clean Air Act Permit Program) permit of any facility emitting ethylene oxide, and conduct a 90-day public hearing process on such permits.
- No permit shall be renewed if the facility is in violation of any federal or state standards or current studies pertaining to ethylene oxide.
- A facility emitting ethylene oxide at levels higher than federal or state standards must cease operations until the level of emissions are reduced below the federal and state standards.
Senate Bill 1854 provides that:
- No facility shall have fugitive emissions of ethylene oxide above zero.
- Each facility is subject to regular and frequent inspections and testing to ensure that no fugitive emissions of ethylene oxide exist. Inspections shall be unannounced and conducted by a third party chosen by the municipality in which the facility operates.
· Each facility is subject to fence line ambient air testing, at random, once within every 90-120 days for a duration of 24-hour samples of no less than six consecutive days. Testing is done by a third party chosen by the municipality.