SPRINGFIELD - Lawmakers will return to the Capitol this week, although a deal on passing a balanced budget is not expected. The one-day session will be another in a series of meetings that haven’t yielded much progress in reaching a deal on the now five-month budget impasse.
Additionally, as Gov. Bruce Rauner and the four legislative leaders are scheduled to meet Nov. 18, Senate Republican lawmakers are tamping down expectations for a quick fix to the budgetary stalemate.
Last week, a Reuters News Service report found that Illinois’ low bond ratings are having a negative impact on local governments’ ability to build or expand facilities; two state fiscal reports showed very bleak economic results; the state mourned the passing of retired Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald; and Illinois’ harvest continued to come in at a healthy clip as farmers hope for more moisture to relieve slightly depleted water reserves.
Nov. 10 and 18 are two key dates that legislative observers will be watching closely, as Illinoisans await a final resolution to the state’s ongoing budget impasse. Legislators return to the Capitol Nov. 10 for what would normally be a fall veto session, but the “continuous” session has produced a very abnormal working climate in Springfield. Senate Republicans continue their call for the state to enact a balanced budget and pass critical reforms needed to boost Illinois’ economy and create more jobs.
The spring legislative session yielded few vetoed pieces of legislation, and as a result, most of the legislation has been acted on, with many of Gov. Rauner’s vetoes standing.
The Nov. 10 session will feature a handful of House of Representatives Committees and another full House Committee of the Whole, which will hear testimony from Illinois’ higher education stakeholders. The Senate is expected to take action on some legislation.
Meanwhile, the governor is inviting the leaders of the four legislative caucuses to discuss the best way forward for Illinois at a meeting Nov. 18.
Senate Republican members are hoping the Democrat legislative majorities will begin to negotiate in good faith, so progress can be made on reforms needed to right the state’s fiscal ship and move Illinois forward.
Illinois fiscal woes
Illinois’ bond rating, which hovers slightly above “junk” status, is now being credited for stalling out local government work. Multiple school districts across the state are feeling the effects of Illinois’ failure to follow through on promises of state construction monies. The Reuters report highlights Algonquin District 300’s inability to finish its construction on the unit’s new facilities.
Additionally, the region’s Metra system is also having problems keeping up with their expansion and maintenance schedules because of bonding issues. The report notes that Illinois has not placed bonds for sale since May 2014, which places even more strenuous restrictions on the state’s now 11-year old school construction list.
The state’s fiscal woes also extend to the 2009 Illinois Jobs Now! construction plan, which is on schedule to leave more than $4 billion in bonding authority on the table.
First quarter report
Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger’s office issued its fiscal year 2016 first quarter report.
In the report, the general fund payables increased by more than $825 million versus the same quarter for the previous fiscal year. More importantly, Illinois started the new fiscal year with a checking account deficit of $3.013 billion, which does not bode well for the remainder of the fiscal year which ends in June.
Overall income tax revenues are down 22 percent for individuals and 24.5 percent for corporate revenues compared to the first quarter of FY 2015. Sales tax revenues showed a positive trend by ticking up 0.9 percent. Additionally, revenue shares from the federal government were up 9.9 percent.
Illinois has also increased spending on its Medicaid program by 74 percent during the first quarter of FY 2016.
Mixed economic signals
The legislative Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability produced its October report, and the results are mixed. Illinois’ economic expansion was slowed during the month, and as a result, the percentage of growth in the gross domestic product fell to 2 percent for the year. During the summer months, Illinois’ economic output was hovering just shy of a healthy 4 percent.
September’s economic results showed an 11.5 percent decline in home sales, but economists stressed that Illinois home sales are still strong. That’s due to an uptick of 2.1 percent for the first nine months of 2015. Gas and fuel receipts are down by 19.7 percent due to the downturn in fuel prices. Conversely, it appears that Illinoisans are investing more money into higher expenditures for automobiles, furniture and home furnishings.
Former chief justice passes
The Illinois Supreme Court and the legal community are mourning the passing of retired Chief Justice Robert Fitzgerald, who passed away Nov. 1 at the age of 74.
Chief Justice Fitzgerald was most recently known for presiding over the Illinois Senate’s trial of impeached former Governor Rod Blagojevich. His supervision of the Senate trial led to the removal of Blagojevich on Jan. 29, 2009, and thus banning the former governor from ever seeking office in Illinois again.
Fitzgerald served on the state’s highest bench for 10 years, following his 2000 election. Before his Supreme Court service, he served as a Cook County judge dealing with a wide variety of cases.
Former Justice Fitzgerald was known as a model jurist for his fairness, impartiality and his ability to be above reproach. He was especially famous for his ethical standards after he was placed in charge of the Cook County Traffic Division, following the now-infamous Greylord scandal, which sent 15 judges to federal prison in the 1980s.
Farmers welcome rainfall
Multiple days of precipitation slowed the harvesting of the last few remaining acres of corn and soybeans, though most producers were grateful for the additional moisture.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, statewide precipitation averaged more than 1 inch last week. The rain had an immediate impact on soil moisture, with 62 percent of soil now rated as adequate or surplus moisture, compared to just 41 percent the week before.
Central Illinois agricultural producers will likely keep their eyes on the sky as 23 counties are trying to emerge from a moderate drought, and they hope area water tables are replenished.
Farmers continue to wrap up their 2015 harvest, with 93 percent of corn and bean acres now complete. During the same time in 2014, 57 percent of corn and 59 percent of soybeans had been harvested.
Many farmers are now tilling fields and waiting for soil temperatures to drop before applying fall nitrogen fertilizer. Across the state, soil temperatures ranged from 45.6 in the north to 56.6 in the south.