Senate lawmakers return to Springfield February 28
With state debt rising and Illinois’ bill backlog growing each
day, the pressure of operating without a budget continues to build.
light of some of Illinois’ ongoing challenges, it is no surprise that the state
fell short in overall well-being in a recent report from the Boston Consulting
Group. However, the report underscored some key points reinforcing
Republicans calls for job-creating reforms.
Meanwhile, the state’s largest employee union, AFSCME,
announced that its members have voted to give their union bargaining committee
the authority to call for a strike. Also, farmers are hoping to see some
relief from Illinois’ unusually dry and warm winter weather. Ice cream
makers love the warm winter weather.
Senate lawmakers are preparing to return to Springfield February 28, hoping to make progress toward ending Illinois’ ongoing budget impasse.
Senate Republicans look toward budget progress
In the days following Governor Bruce Rauner’s annual budget
address, Senate lawmakers once again returned their attention to negotiating a
resolution to Illinois’ ongoing budget crisis. Senate leaders and lawmakers
from both parties have been negotiating for weeks, working to craft a
bipartisan budget framework and associated reform package that would finally
bring stability and relief to the people of Illinois.
Senate GOP legislators have stressed that cuts to state and
local government targeting inefficiency and waste must be the first
priority. They are also emphasizing that structural reforms to state
government are also critical to maintain the state’s fiscal health, economic
growth and financial stability moving forward.
With state debt rising by $11 million per day, and facing a
projected budget deficit of $13.5 billion by the end of Fiscal Year 2017,
Senate Republican lawmakers acknowledge an urgency to act. Senate leaders
aim to finalize a comprehensive budget package and bring the framework for a
Senate vote in order to move the proposal to the House of Representatives for
their consideration and input. However, so far the “grand bargain” could
more aptly be named the “bad bargain.” It represents a lot of tax
increases with little in the way of spending cuts and little in meaningful
reforms. Hopefully, that will change before it can become law.
Illinois falls short in overall well-being
Finding itself falling to the bottom of yet another state comparison
ranking, Illinois ranked 34th nationally in well-being in a recently
released report published by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).
However, the report stressed that there was “cause for optimism,” praising the
state’s “tremendous assets” and successes of neighboring states.
Using the BCG’s Sustainable Economic Development Assessment,
Illinois was compared nationally based on four categories: economics,
investments, sustainability and equality. Illinois’ strongest score was
in investments, ranking 17th overall when considering health,
education and infrastructure factors. The report praised the state’s
investment in health and education, underscoring this reflects “a solid
commitment to supporting the well-being of its residents.”
Upon comparison, Illinois ranked in the bottom 15 in three
of the four categories, earning the 44th spot in economics “despite
its significant wealth,” 38th in sustainability due to factors like
“violent crime, low voter turnout and poor air quality,” and the 39th
position in equality. The report stressed that Illinois “fairs poorly” in
both racial and income equality, allowing some residents to prosper while
others struggle to get by.
Despite the challenges facing Illinois, the report
emphasized there is “a strong foundation on which to build”— pointing to the
state’s large and diverse economic base, a well-educated workforce, and
abundant human capital. As Senate GOP lawmakers and the Governor have
stressed, these benefits will only be further boosted by reforms to attract
employers to Illinois, boost the economy and stem the tide of exiting jobs and
residents from the state.
AFSCME announces members vote to authorize future
On February 23, the American Federation of State, County and
Municipal Employees (AFSCME) announced the highly anticipated outcome of a
member-wide vote on strike authorization. Members of the state’s largest
employee union, representing approximately 38,000 public service workers in
Illinois state government, voted to give their union bargaining committee the
authority to call a future strike. However, the ballot outcome does not
mean a strike is imminent. A union representative emphasized that state
workers do not want to strike, and that AFSCME is still open to compromise.
Though the Governor has renegotiated contracts with 20 other
labor organizations, a compromise with AFSCME remains elusive. Governor
Rauner is seeking needed changes that he emphasizes would streamline government
and save taxpayer dollars. AFSCME representatives maintain the Governor’s
terms are unreasonable.
The call for strike authorization came after years of failed
negotiations between AFSCME and the Governor. The Rauner
Administration has sought to implement a contract with AFSCME to replace the
contract that expired in 2015; however, discussions between the two parties
stalled more than a year ago after the Governor declared they had reached an impasse
in the contract talks. A state labor panel later agreed with the
Governor, but a temporary court order secured by AFSCME has prevented the
Rauner Administration from moving forward with implementation of the Governor’s
Farmers consider effect of mild temperatures
While many across the state are enjoying putting away their
mittens and scarves, farmers are considering what Illinois’ mild winter means
for this year’s farming prospects. This winter, Illinois reportedly
received less than half-an-inch of precipitation and 60 percent less snow fall
than average, causing concern that Illinois’ warm winter may have unintended
consequences for farmers and moisture levels of soil.
Not only is Illinois lacking the usual wet, rainy and snowy
winter typical in the Midwest, but the warm temperatures may also pose a
problem for farmers who typically expect freezing temperatures to eliminate
insects and disease. However, most of us non-farmers are enjoying the
unusually mild winter weather.