Thought this might be of interest:
Budget – Pensions
In bipartisan action, House passes ground-breaking reform bill to reduce State’s total pension liabilities by approximately $100 billion by 2045. HB 1165, approved by the House on Thursday, March 21 by a vote of 66-50-0, adjusts the COLA benefits otherwise due to existing and future “Tier 1” State retirees.
These individuals would, under current law, have enjoyed an automatic annual 3 percent upward adjustment in their retirement annuities throughout the course of their retirement and the retirement of their spouses.
Should HB 1165 become law, these COLA changes would themselves be adjusted downward based upon three variables, including (a) the age of the annuitant, (b) the number of years since the annuitant’s retirement, and (c) the size of each annuitant’s annuity and other retirement benefits provided by law.
As approved by the House, HB 1165 would substantially reduce the unfunded liabilities of four of the five major State pension systems, including the system that provides pensions to members of the Illinois General Assembly.
All five major State leaders, including the President of the Senate, have called for significant reform to the unfunded liabilities of State-managed pensions.
Budget – Constitutional amendment
House Republicans call for balanced budget amendment. While Illinois’ Constitution of 1970 contains a nominal pledge to taxpayers and voters that Illinois’ annual spending policies and budgets will be balanced, the pledge is legally unenforceable and has been repeatedly ignored by State budget-makers in numerous recent fiscal years. Since 2003, the State has paid for its day-to-day operations by borrowing money and by slow-paying bills and invoices. The fiscal situation facing the State of Illinois has deteriorated so severely that on March 11, 2013, the federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), stating that the information included on the mandatory disclosures provided by the State to investors in State bonds severely misstated its actual borrower’s risk profile, charged Illinois with financial fraud. In response to this event, many House Republicans joined together on Thursday, March 22 to introduce HJRCA 32. Sponsors of the amendment included Bill Mitchell, Ed Sullivan, Tom Demmer, John Cabello, and Pam Roth. The constitutional amendment, which would have to be approved by both houses of the General Assembly and ratified by popular vote to be adopted into law, creates an enforceability mechanism for the balanced-budget promise of the Constitution. Two statewide officials, the Comptroller and the nonpolitical Auditor General, would be required to sign off on the financial status of the State’s budgets. Should any State budget be imbalanced or become imbalanced, the General Assembly would be called back into emergency session to stand up and fix the debt, and the legislators’ paychecks would be stopped until they succeeded in achieving this goal.
Chicago Public Schools announces plans to close 53 under-attended city schools
The closure announcement, made Thursday, March 21, will affect 61 separate school buildings. The move responded to a growing budget crisis facing the nation’s third-largest public school system. Up to 129 schools had been placed at risk by criteria used by CPS to consider the closure process. The closure decision looked closely at schools, including several schools that operate in more than one building, located in inner-city Chicago neighborhoods. Many schools and school buildings located in these neighborhoods have suffered from sharp downturns in eligible child population in recent years, with challenges exacerbated by poor educational performance. The parents of children attending schools affected by the closure announcement will be advised to transfer their pupils to other schools located nearby. Parents of children enrolled in targeted schools responded to CPS’ announcement by accusing the city system of under-investing resources in challenged inner-city schools. Concerns were raised that school closures and consolidations could force children to cross unwritten “turf” boundaries enforced by various Chicago organized gangs. CPS, which is attempting to address a $1 billion deficit, currently operates approximately 600 elementary and secondary schools throughout the city.
House passes bill to ban visits by children and younger adolescents to tanning beds
The vote on HB 188 was 67-49-0. As approved by the House on Thursday, March 21, the bill says that a place that rents up space under the lights of a tanning bed will not be allowed to do so to children under the age of 18 after December 31, 2013. Nothing in this bill affects adults who are age 18 or older. Phototherapy machinery operated by health care professionals is not subject to this ban. Advocates for this bill told the House Consumer Protection Committee of new scientific evidence describing the increased vulnerability of children and young adults to damage their skin through ultraviolet (UV) light. UV damage to human skin is explicitly associated and correlated with various serious health concerns, including melanoma. HB 188 now goes to the Senate for further consideration.
Critics say Quinn administration botched lottery privatization; Northstar Lottery Group told it will receive $20 million hit in compensation
Northstar, the firm selected by the Department of the Lottery to perform the day-to-day administration of the state-owned family of games of chance, had projected the that Lottery would bring in $823 million in net income during its first 12 months of privatized operation. In disappointing results for State revenues required for schools and capital infrastructure, the 12-month profits were $757 million. Northstar, as the private contractor, is compensated by a complicated formula worked out by the State and the contractor in precontract negotiations. The formula is supposed to authorize the State to reduce the sliding-scale fees it pays Northstar in case of failure to meet preset sales and profit goals, but a Northstar spokesman disclaimed responsibility for the disappointing results. Under existing law, both Department of the Lottery and the Illinois General Assembly can set policies that may interfere with factors that Northstar may have believed would be necessary for it to reach its contractual targets. The Lottery announced the projected penalty against Northstar on Friday, March 15.
Illinois pension and debt crisis spills over into status of Illinois-branded universities
Moody’s Investors Service, the nationally-known credit rating firm, reduced the debt ratings of Northern Illinois University, Eastern Illinois University, Governors State University, and Northeastern Illinois University. Although these four State universities, which offer learning space to more than 54,000 students, have made strides in the 2010s to reduce their financial dependence upon troubled State budgets, Moody’s took action on Tuesday, March 19 in response to overall declines in the perceived creditworthiness of most or all institutions that share a public-sector identity with the State of Illinois.
Illinois unemployment rate worsens
The Department of Employment Security (DES) reported on Thursday, March 21 that the Illinois jobless rate is continuing to move back toward double digits. From 8.7 percent in December 2012 and 9.0 percent in January 2013, the rate rose to 9.5 percent in February 2013. While much of the United States has enjoyed declines in unemployment rates, this 9.5 percent rate marks a new peak jobless “achieved” during the current downturn. The previous peak was 9.1 percent in January 2012. High unemployment reduces the economic prospects of Illinoisans and reduces tax revenues to carry out essential public enterprises. Illinois House Republicans have proposed various bills that respond directly to increasing unemployment rates, such as Representative Dwight Kay’s HB 2890. This measure, filed in February 2013, would lower employers’ tax rates during periods of rising monthly unemployment as an incentive for them to return hiring to Illinois. The DES report counted 629,400 jobless Illinoisans in February 2013. The February Illinois unemployment rate was 1.8 percent higher than the nationwide 7.7 percent rate for the same month, signaling the Prairie State’s continued status as an un-favored state for investment, job creation, and economic recovery.
Cities, counties respond with concern to Quinn budget cut of $68 to $148 million. The budget presented to the General Assembly by Gov. Pat Quinn contains a statutory change to the percent of State income tax receipts that “flow through” the Department of Revenue to the counties and municipal governments of Illinois to help them with their operating expenses. Defenders of the proposed budget say that this will help the troubled State meet the constitutional requirement that the budget be “balanced”. Current law requires that 6.00 percent of all individual income tax net proceeds, and 6.86 of all corporate income tax net proceeds, be redistributed to eligible local governments through the Local Government Distributive Fund.
American Society of Civil Engineers rates Illinois transportation infrastructure at “D-plus”. The ASCE is made up of specialized professionals who are familiar with the methodology used to monitor and grade the status of bridges, roads, and other elements of Illinois transportation infrastructure. The Society ranked 73 percent of Illinois roads as being in “poor” or “mediocre” shape, and inventoried the annual cost of this status at $2.4 billion in additional annual costs to Illinois motorists. This collective cost is equivalent to $292 per motorist. Illinois currently has 26,500 public-way bridges, and the Civil Engineers rank 2,300 of them as “structurally deficient.” The engineers put a similar grade on the civil infrastructure of many other U.S. states. The ASCE report was issued on Tuesday, March 19.