Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
February 20th, 2018
In This Issue:
- We Can’t Ignore Budget Pressures
- Economic Forecast Finds Bright Spots
- Another Tragedy as NIU Remembers
- Free Testing for High School Students
- Go Red For Women
- Legionnaire’s Disease Uncontrolled
- Planning for Art Contest
We Can’t Ignore Budget Pressures
If you were following the news about the Governor’s proposed FY2019 budget last week, you probably heard any number of legislators and citizens criticize the Governor’s plan. It seems a majority of my colleagues are content to keep spending the way we have, ignoring ways to stimulate the economy and accepting the out-migration of college students and taxpayers.
Anyone in business, a non-profit organization or financially responsible household knows they have to set priorities, control spending and grow revenue to achieve a balanced budget. Why not state government?
The Governor laid out his spending priorities, presented 19 structural reforms to change the status quo and proposed a path to restart Illinois’ powerful economic engine. He pointed out the reasons he sees for our state lagging behind our neighbors in job growth, economic activity, growing population and increased worker pay. You can read the full text of the Governor’s Budget Address here.
Now it’s the legislature’s turn to weigh-in on these issues, debate ways to growth the economy and revenue, and control spending. Normally this debate occurs in April and May. We cannot allow politics and the pressure of fall elections to delay passing a budget, making tough spending choices, and addressing reforms to stimulate economic growth. These goals should be bipartisan objectives.
Governor Rauner stated that reforms must begin with pensions and state employee healthcare. More money was spent for these items than on education last year. The Governor proposed having school districts and state universities pay more of their teachers’ pension costs, in an attempt to connect who sets the salaries with pension liability.
The new state school funding formula adjusts how much state support a district receives based on its needs (adequacy target) and local resources. It envisioned that schools would eventually be given responsibility for the pension cost.
As your state representative, I will be engaged in the debate over pension cost shifts, equitable health care benefits, a capital bill and funding important state services. Share your ideas with me.
Economic Forecast Finds Bright Spots
Despite the gloom that many businesses and individuals feel about Illinois right now, Moody’s Analytics found positives in their latest financial report. The company released an economic forecast for the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) last week that concluded the passage of a state budget for 2018 has already helped the economy.
For the first time in two years, no metro area in Illinois has been in a recession based on the state’s employment, factory output, homebuilding, and house prices according to the report. Reliable employment growth is expected, especially in the areas of finance, professional and business services.
Tourism will continue to be a big positive draw for our state’s economy, and in this area, Illinois actually exceeds the national level. Service based industries of education and healthcare are especially important to the long term economic stability of downstate Illinois. These sectors will continue to drive economic gains and are vital to future success. Another positive point made in the report involves Northern Illinois. This area remains the nation’s rail hub and will continue to benefit from this due to growth of online sales and increased transportation demand.
Nevertheless, the report noted that economic performance in Illinois still lags behind the rest of the country and especially the Midwest. Illinois must get control of its spending and address population declines. Illinois has declined in population for the fourth consecutive year, which goes against the national trend where states are annually gaining residents. The state must overcome its political disagreements, pass a budget this year and be more competitive.
Another Tragedy as NIU Remembers
As I stood on the House floor last week leading the body in a remembrance of the terrible tragedy that occurred at Northern Illinois University a decade ago, I said such events and even greater loss of life have become all too common. We did not know another school shooting was about to occur and take the lives of 17 innocent people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Yes, we shall not forget the promising lives and values of these victims. We remember NIU’s Ryanne Mace of Carpentersville, who was studying Psychology; Gayle Dubowski of Carol Stream, studying anthropology; Catalina Garcia of Cicero and Julianna Gehant of Mendota both studying elementary education; and Daniel Parmenter of Westchester, a student in finance. All were hard working, intelligent, engaged in their community and caring.
Over the past decade, NIU has turned its focus from questioning how and why something so terrible could happen, to affirming the importance of living bravely and meaningfully; and recognizing the power of love. The Forward Together Forward NIU scholarships recognize the values and promise of the five deceased students with financial help for 5 more students each year who possess the same qualities. Thank you to all the donors.
With the ever increasing frequency and magnitude of these tragedies we must do more to stop them. I told a constituent who asked what the legislature was going to do about these killings, that solutions are national and local. Comprehensive solutions involve more than gun control. We must create priorities to fund mental health services and allow officials to share information about ill people. We must write strong laws limiting violence in movies, videos and TV; punish those who promote killing of innocent people. Keep weapons out of the hands of troubled individuals. And we must find new ways to teach respect for life, show compassion for others and offer treatment to those in need.
Free Testing For High School Students
The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has moved to expand its testing service of high school students. The change will provide college-admissions-related exams to all ninth, tenth and eleventh graders.
These tests will be implemented starting in the spring of 2019, with freshman and sophomores taking the preliminary tests that will lead up to the nationally recognized college entrance exams as juniors. The tests will be administered to students to not only gauge academic progress and prepare students for college exams, but also allow ISBE to judge the achievement of our school learning standards.
While the new testing plan has been met with positive feedback from school superintendents state-wide, the program will put taxpayers on the hook for up to $75 million through 2024. That number is based on nearly 150,000 students tested per grade per year.
Go Red For Women
In an unusual show of unity last week, lawmakers united in Springfield to celebrate the national Go Red campaign of the American Heart Association. Almost every lawmaker wore the color red to help raise awareness about heart disease and strokes in women. February is American Heart Month, and the American Heart Association and Go Red movement encourage wearing the color red all month to raise awareness.
It has been found that nearly 795,000 Americans suffer a new or recurrent stroke each year–on average a stroke occurs every 40 seconds. In addition, cardiovascular disease kills approximately one woman every 80 seconds in the United States. Go Red For Women advocates for more research, education and swifter response for women’s heart health.
In the past, heart disease and heart attack have been predominantly associated with men. This movement seeks more attention for heart disease in women, as research has shown that only 55 percent of women realize heart disease is their number one killer and less than half know what are considered healthy levels for cardiovascular risk factors like blood pressure and cholesterol.
Heart disease is preventable. The Go Red Movement states on their website that a healthy diet and regular physical activity are the secret weapons to preventing heart disease. There are many more important tips for healthy living featured on the Go Red website here.
Legionnaires’ Disease Uncontrolled
In his State of the State Address, Governor Rauner recognized the ongoing tragedy affecting the Quincy Veterans Home and community due to the Legionnaires’ respiratory disease outbreak. He acknowledged that our veterans deserve more, and last week during his annual Budget Address, proposed $7.8 billion in new spending on a statewide construction program including $50 million to upgrade the veterans’ facility in Quincy and a new veterans’ home in Chicago.
The outbreak began in 2015, and since then has taken the lives of 13 residents. Yet while many steps were taken to help mitigate the risk of Legionnaires’ spreading, another case was reported last week.
Planning for Art Contest
Middle school artists should start preparing for my 2018 Legislative Art Contest! One winner and two runners up will be chosen, and their artwork will be displayed in the capitol building in Springfield.
Artistic expression plays an important role in education and personal development. Students learn to focus and concentrate, be creative and attentive to detail, problem solve and complete tasks. This is one effort to showcase youth and to celebrate our talented students.
Contest entries are due April 20th, and they can be sent or delivered to my district office in Sycamore. You can find the submission form, guidelines and more details about the contest here.
Have a great week and call my District Office to share your opinions or if I can be of assistance.