Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
May 21, 2018
In This Issue:
- Governor Announces Opportunity Zones
- Illinois Tourism’s Steady Growth
- Government Severance Payments to be Limited
- Legislation Seeks to Make Higher Education More Affordable
- More Graduates Achieve Their Goal
- Basic Skills Test Adds to Teacher Shortage
- Encouraging Youth Involvement in Government
Governor Announces Opportunity Zones
Our local area has been approved for 2 of the 327 Governor-selected, Illinois Opportunity Zones under the Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. All total, 1,305 qualifying low-income census tracts were available for selection in Illinois, of which only 25 percent could be nominated by the Governor for inclusion in the program to support economic growth and investment.
According to the federal legislation, Opportunity Zones present an opportunity for private, tax-free investment in low-income areas with economic need. The Zones selected in our area include southeast Ogle County and the communities of Hillcrest, Rochelle and Creston. The other area selected focuses on Northern Illinois University and extends west to Nelson Road and north to Rich Road.
Selection for the zones included such factors as the rates of poverty, crime and unemployment. The Governor’s selections included 85 counties and limited the number of zones per county. There is obviously a lot of poverty in large cities, but I hope this program will also help our rural areas and small towns increase economic activity, investment and job growth.
Illinois Tourism’s Steady Growth
You can find people wanting to leave Illinois but there is a growing number who find value from spending time here. Our state has a lot to offer, and tourists have noticed. Just last year The Illinois Office of Tourism reported that nearly 114 million people visited the State on vacation. This is a significant increase of over one million people from the number of tourists reported for the previous year.
The domestic leisure market makes up 83 percent of the visitors, compared to the 17 percent that traveled to Illinois for business. The increase in tourism has also given the State’s economy a boost. Domestic and international travelers spent $39.5 billion in Illinois in 2017. In DeKalb County alone nearly $100 million is spent by tourists.
In addition to added revenue, tourism has supported 335,500 jobs, a notable increase from years prior. These numbers make the success of the tourism industry a vital part of the State’s economy.
New marketing initiatives have helped show what Illinois has to offer and encourage Northern Illinois residents to travel in-state instead of heading to Wisconsin or Michigan for vacation. Illinois has great parks, lakes and rivers, museums and entertainment like offered at the Egyptian Theatre in DeKalb.
The website, EnjoyIllinois.com, has also been updated to help draw in interest. Looking ahead, the Bicentennial is expected to draw more visitors through the ongoing celebrations and events. There’s much to see and do in the Land of Lincoln.
Government Severance Payments to be Limited
A bill is moving through the House that would limit the ability of units of government to offer “golden parachutes” to employees. SB3604 responds to a number of cases in the last few years where colleges, universities and municipalities have provided generous employment packages, lavish spending accounts, and lucrative severance agreements. For example, in 2015, the Trustees at the College of DuPage approved a $763,000 severance package for their departing President.
The bill, which passed the Senate unanimously, states severance pay may not exceed more than 20 weeks of compensation, and prohibits severance pay when the employee in question has been fired for misconduct.
This bill makes sense to average workers who often receive little to no out-placement or transition compensation when released by an employer. In addition, several other states have already adopted such policies, including Minnesota, California, Florida and Idaho.
Among the opposition to the bill is the International City, County Management Association (ICMA). The group believes that limiting severance packages would undermine the ability of Illinois communities to attract and retain talented individuals for government positions. Appointed city managers, presidents and department heads serve at the pleasure of an elected body and are not always evaluated for their performance. Because of this, they could be terminated at any time a board meets or after an election when a new board is seated.
The ICMA argues that hiring someone under such “political” conditions requires additional compensation to cover time while the person finds another job. They feel it will be harder for units of government to hire the “best” person under the limitations proposed in the bill.
Legislation Seeks to Make Higher Education More Affordable
The Higher Education Working Group I referenced last week has filed 10 pieces of legislation that are intended to help make Illinois colleges and universities more cost competitive. The legislation is on a fast track for consideration with only 11 days left in the scheduled spring session.
I regret that the bills have been introduced with little time for study, refinement and debate but the group felt it was urgent to help colleges and universities attract students and encourage them to pursue an education in Illinois. There is declining student enrollment at most Illinois campuses and high cost seems to be a common reason.
The bills include 4-year Monetary Assistant Program (MAP) grants, tuition waivers, and a State-Institutional Match Program. They also help students with a common application form, advising, easier transfers from community college to university, and reverse degree program. Other bills help lower institution costs with easier procurement and bonding for construction.
Senate committee action on the bills is expected this week.
More Graduates Achieve Their Goal
There were many more graduation ceremonies over the weekend for both high school and college. It is an exciting time as individuals achieve an important milestone in their careers often with the help of family, teachers and mentors. Thank you to all who have helped a graduate reach their goal and improve their skills.
I attended the graduation ceremonies at Kishwaukee College where I received the John C. Roberts Community Service Award for my years of support of the college and higher education. It was a special honor as I worked with John Roberts at DeKalb Genetics before joining the legislature. John was a mentor for me and helped lead the college for 26 years as a member of the Board of Trustees.
Kishwaukee College President Laurie Borowicz and Chair of the Board of Trustees Bob Johnson present the John C. Roberts Community Service Award
Basic Skills Test Adds to Teacher Shortage
Most of us had problems with testing when we were in school but the Test of Basic Skills for individuals seeking to become teachers prevents many from that goal. The Test of Academic Proficiency (TAP) wasn’t always the barrier it is today; over 90 percent used to pass it on their way to pursuing an educator license.
Several years ago the State Board of Education (ISBE) not only made the test questions more difficult and confusing but also increased the score needed for passing. The result is fewer than 25 percent of the people wanting to become teachers pass the test on their first try today causing them to spend hundreds of dollars more for retesting, become frustrated and some even change career fields.
The decline in teacher candidates has become so severe, the State Board of Education called for a year-long study that is due in September. Not wanting to wait another year for changes to be made, I sponsored SB2693 in a House Committee last week. The bill delays giving the test until the potential teacher nears the end of their training.
While this may help, the best answer is to end the TAP test. Universities set their own academic standards for entry into their teacher training program and research has not found that the TAP test indicates who will be a good teacher.
Teachers certainly need to know the content they are teaching but what makes a good teacher goes beyond content.
Encouraging Youth Involvement in Government
Last week I had a 7th grade student from Sycamore Middle School visit the Capitol and serve as a Page for the House of Representatives (see top image). Ryan Howieson got to see government in action up close, hear various bills being debated and even pressed the voting button for me on several bills.
Ryan’s dad, Luke Howieson, was sitting in the balcony and was recognized for his service as a DeKalb Firefighter. I’m glad to see young people and their parents take an interest in state issues, understand how to influence policy and exercise their responsibilities as citizens.
Have a great week and call my District Office to share your opinions or if I can be of assistance.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to firstname.lastname@example.org