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SPRINGFIELD - Gov. Bruce Rauner and legislative leaders–minus House Speaker Michael Madigan–continued negotiations during the previous week regarding the state’s ongoing budget impasse, and while a budget deal wasn’t reached, it was described as a “good” meeting.

Meanwhile, a recent report shows Illinois’ unfunded pension liability continues to grow, now at $111 billion.

The state received good news regarding high school graduation rates and the overall health and well-being of its citizens. And, for those hitting the road or flying this holiday season, a record number of travelers and lower gas prices are expected.

Madigan doesn’t attend latest budget meeting with legislative leaders, Gov. Rauner

Democrat House Speaker Madigan did not attend the latest budget meeting with legislative leaders and Gov. Rauner. The closed-door meeting took place in Chicago Dec. 17.

In a meeting that was described as “good,” the other three legislative leaders and the Governor also touched on public pension reform, workers’ compensation reform, redistricting reform, term limits for lawmakers, and the school funding formula.

Both the Senate and House of Representatives are scheduled to return to Springfield Jan. 13.

Illinois’ unfunded pension liability grows

A recent report from the General Assembly's Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability shows Illinois’ unfunded pension liability has now reached $111 billion. The newest figure is up from about $105 billion in 2014 and about $98 billion in 2013. The Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System alone accounts for $62 billion of the overall unfunded liability.

Earlier this year, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down a pension reform law.

Higher rate of Illinois high school students receiving their diplomas

Illinois schools are performing better than 30 other states when it comes to high school students receiving a diploma. A report from the U.S. Department of Education says Illinois ranks 20th in the country in its high school graduation rate at 86 percent. That’s four percentage points higher than the national average at 82 percent.

While the national average is the highest on record since the U.S. Department of Education started using a new, uniform measure in 2010, nearly one in five high school students still are not receiving a diploma.

Illinois’ neighbor, Iowa, recorded the best high school graduation rate at 90.5 percent.

Report: Illinois’ health and well-being improving

Illinois is trending in the right direction when it comes to the overall health and well-being of the state’s citizens, compared to the rest of the country. The 2015 America’s Health Rankings report shows Illinois jumped two spots to 28th place.

The good news for Illinois, according to the report, is the state has seen a 30 percent decrease in violent crime over the last 10 years. The state’s infant mortality rate has also dropped considerably–48 percent since 1990. In the past 10 years, premature deaths have decreased 13 percent as well.

On the other hand, Illinois does have several areas its citizens could improve their health and overall well-being. Among the biggest problems are excessive drinking, high levels of air pollution, and a high rate of preventable hospitalizations. In addition, in the past two years, children in poverty has increased 11 percent from 18.5 percent to 20.5 percent of children.

The last time Illinois ranked this well was in 2007, when it also ranked 28th.

AAA: Record number of holiday travelers and cheaper gas prices/airfares expected for travelers

This holiday season, 100.5 million Americans will take a trip 50 miles or more, according to AAA. It’s the first time AAA has projected at least 100 million travelers during the holiday season. The projection represents an increase of 1.4 percent over 2014, the seventh year in a row holiday travel increased.

AAA says 91 million Americans will drive to their destination during the holidays. Those drivers should anticipate the lowest New Year’s gas prices in seven years, with AAA reporting the national average price for a gallon of gas could fall below $2-per-gallon by Christmas.

AAA expects nearly 6 million people will fly to their destinations for the holidays, and many of those will enjoy lower fares. According to AAA’s Leisure Travel Index, airfares are 6 percent lower this year for the top 40 domestic flight routes. That’s an average of $174 roundtrip.

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