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SPRINGFIELD – Illinois’ budget impasse is heading toward its sixth month, as a Nov. 18 meeting between the governor and other legislative leaders was postponed to allow House Speaker Michael Madigan time to attend a family funeral out of state.

Gov. Bruce Rauner announced that the budget meeting will be moved to early December.

Meanwhile, the Rauner administration continued to work collaboratively with Illinois labor unions, and the administration announced that new collective bargaining agreements have been reached with several unions.

People across the nation are gearing up for the holiday season. The state of Illinois is partnering with the USO to bring some holiday cheer to the troops, and small businesses are encouraging holiday shoppers to support their local business community. And with Thanksgiving coming up, drivers are urged to travel carefully: AAA is anticipating high volumes of travelers on the road this year.

Budget meeting postponed

The previously announced budget meeting between the four legislative leaders and Gov. Rauner, scheduled for Nov. 18, was postponed.

Speaker Madigan was unable to attend the meeting because of a family funeral in another state. To allow the speaker time with his family and to ensure that all legislative leaders are represented during budget discussions, Gov. Rauner rescheduled the meeting for Dec. 1.

Syrian refugees

In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Gov. Rauner has joined dozens of governors across the country in temporarily suspending the process of accepting Syrian refugees into Illinois.

Citing the importance of homeland security and citizen safety, the governor has called for a review of the federal acceptance process used by the Department of Homeland Security before any action is taken.

In a statement to the people of Illinois, Rauner said, “Our nation and our state have a shared history of providing safe haven for those displaced by conflict, but the news surrounding the Paris terror attacks reminds us of the all-too-real security threats facing America. We must find a way to balance our tradition as a state welcoming of refugees while ensuring the safety and security of our citizens. Therefore, the state of Illinois will temporarily suspend accepting new Syrian refugees and consider all of our legal options pending a full review of our country’s acceptance and security processes by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.”

Budget blackout

The consequences of the ongoing budget impasse continued to spread last week, with yet another vendor threatening to cut off services due to the state’s inability to pay its bills on time.

Southwestern Electric Cooperative Inc., located in the southern part of the state, has issued the state a final notice letter, saying disconnections will begin if the company does not see payment by Dec. 1. Southwestern notes they are a not-for-profit utility service, and without payment from members, they cannot meet their bill demands.

Their pleas for payment echo those of City Water, Light & Power (CWLP) of Springfield, which is reportedly owed almost $3 million by the state. However, CWLP has not indicated they will act upon their disconnection notices.

As more and more vendors continue to cut ties with the state or threaten to cut off services to the state due to lack of payment, Senate Republicans continue their call for passing a balanced budget tied with structural reforms needed to right the state’s fiscal ship and move Illinois forward.

Union contracts

The governor announced this week that new four-year collective bargaining agreements have been reached with a number of labor unions, including Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 1 Chicago, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Mid-Central Illinois Regional Council of Carpenters and several others.

Emphasizing the administration’s willingness to work with labor, Gov. Rauner has now negotiated new collective bargaining contracts with 17 different bargaining units, representing more than 5,000 state employees.

Under the terms of the most recent agreements, the state will expand the existing group health insurance program by offering employees a variety of new options.

The agreements also include a new performance incentive program to reward employees with bonuses for cost-saving measures and meeting or exceeding performance standards. They also include a new, collaborative managed competition program that allows management and the unions to work together to provide low-cost alternatives to outsourcing.

In addition, the contracts include a reduction in the payout for accumulated unused vacation from 75 to 45 days for employees hired after Jan. 1, 2016; a continuation of a 40-hour workweek with overtime earned after 40 hours; a program to enable the state of Illinois to address minority underutilization in state government; increased training and certification opportunities for employees; and a continuation of the prevailing rate system administered by the Illinois Department of Labor.

Small Business Saturday

With the holidays fast approaching, consumers are encouraged to support small businesses by shopping locally during Small Business Saturday on Nov. 28.

First launched in 2010 as a call for shoppers to patronize local, community merchants, Small Business Saturday has since grown. In 2014, 88 million consumers spent an estimated $14.3 billion at small independent businesses.

It’s estimated 45 cents of every dollar spent at a small or independent locally owned business stays in the local community.

Letters for the troops

The state of Illinois is partnering with the United Service Organizations (USO) of Illinois to sponsor this year’s Holiday Card Drive for the Military.

Gov. Rauner and the USO are encouraging citizens to take some time to write a holiday letter to support, encourage and thank service members. Letters are being accepted now until Nov. 30.

Letters should be sent to USO of Illinois, 333 S. Wabash Ave., 16th Floor, Chicago, IL 60604.


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