Road construction in jeopardy; working groups still working

As always, you can contact me via webform at www.repbennett.com, or by phone at (815) 844-9179 (Pontiac) or (815) 432-0106 (Watseka).

Continuing budget stalemate threatens road and bridge maintenance
Illinois’ lack of a general funds budget has led to problems in other areas where money is available, particularly capital spending for roads and bridges.  In these capital-spending areas, money from taxes other than income and sales taxes are set aside for specific uses defined by law. The largest of these set-asides is money from the per-gallon tax on motor fuel, which is put into the Road Fund and used to rebuild state-maintained roads and bridges.

Governor Rauner and House Republican leaders are calling for the immediate enactment of a “stopgap” road construction bill to maintain the state’s transportation program.  Contracting crews go out to many locations every summer to perform needed road maintenance.  This work continued even after the budget process came to a halt last year.  However, the state’s legal counsel and accounting staff have now advised that this cannot continue on into FY17.  The director of the Illinois Department of Transportation, Randy Blankenhorn, warned at a news conference that his department will be forced to suspend the IDOT construction program at month’s end unless money is released before then by law for transfer to contractors.

While Illinois borrowed $550 million on June 16 to meet immediate portions of the capital-infrastructure needs covered by this warning, none of this money can legally be spent without an authorization from the General Assembly.

Another session day cancelled as working groups keep at it
The House was scheduled to be in session on Wednesday June 22, but just like the previous two scheduled Wednesday session days, the Speaker’s office announced that session had been cancelled. The House has not met since May 31.

The reason given for the cancellation was that the bipartisan working groups; which are meeting to hammer out agreements on a state budget and several other legislative issues; are still at work. The members of the working groups have been tight-lipped about the ongoing negotiations, but I hope that we will see some of these issues resolved soon.

It is unclear if we will see a full budget or just a short-term one to keep services going while the full-year budget is worked out. There is also a bill to fund K-12 education for the entire 2016-2017 school year, even if the rest of the state budget is still being negotiated. Neither is an ideal solution – a complete, balanced, full-year budget would be the best option. But if we can take action to make sure schools open on time and important state services continue uninterrupted while the eventual budget is worked out, then we should do so.

The new fiscal year begins on July 1: whether temporary or full-year, we need to have some kind of a budget in place by then.

Assistance for those hit by Wednesday night’s storm
There is help available for those who were affected by the severe storms that moved through the Pontiac area on Wednesday night. The Central Illinois chapter of the American Red Cross can be reached at (309) 677-7272 or (309) 662-0500. You can also contact the Livingston County Emergency Management Agency at 844-7741. I want to thank the first responders and community volunteers who sprang into action to help their neighbors right after the storm. We appreciate your service!

Slight decline in Illinois unemployment rate last month
In May, the jobless rate declined from 6.6% to 6.4%. The Department of Employment Security did not say that the decline was the result of any special strength in Illinois job creation. The unemployment rate remained significantly higher than one year earlier (from 5.9% to 6.4%) and only 46,400 net new jobs have been created in Illinois during this twelve-month period, an increase of less than 0.8%.

Illinois continues to support fewer total jobs than were paid during the most recent period of peak employment, a benchmark reached in September 2000.  The drop in the month-by-month unemployment rate was attributed, by IDES Director Jeff Mays, to an overall decline in the Illinois workforce as Illinoisans leave the state or drop out of the employment picture.

This continued sluggishness is just another reason why we need to work together to get a budget passed and remove the looming uncertainty that is holding Illinois back.

State Treasurer is Illinois’ banker, runs several programs for Illinoisans
The Office of the Illinois State Treasurer was established in the very first Illinois Constitution back in 1818 and has been with us ever since. The current State Treasurer is Michael Frerichs. Among its many duties, the State Treasurer’s office manages the state’s portfolio and seeks to invest the state’s funds in such a way as to generate the best returns possible.

In addition, the office maintains several programs for Illinois residents, including the Bright Start college savings program and the Secure Choice retirement savings program. Starting in 1983, the Treasurer’s Ag Invest program has loaned over $1 billion to Illinois farmers for new or growing farms. Another popular program is I-Cash, which helps Illinoisans re-connect with their unclaimed property.

Did You Know?
The State Capitol building in Springfield is the sixth Illinois State Capitol building. The first was a small house in Kaskaskia, which served as the capitol for barely a year. The second, in Vandalia, was destroyed by fire. A third, also in Vandalia, was torn down by local residents to build the more stately-looking fourth capitol building, which still stands today. In 1837 the capital moved to Springfield, and a fifth capitol building was constructed in downtown Springfield. It too still stands. Construction on the current capitol building began in 1868 and the legislature moved into the building in 1877. The building was finished on July 2, 1888, at a cost of $4.3 million.