State IT upgrade; unpaid bill backlog update

Illinois improving its information technology systems
The nonpartisan Center for Digital Government recently surveyed all 50 states and rated their status on digital technology issues. In this year’s survey, Illinois improved from a C+ in 2014 to a B+ in 2016. The Center’s publication, Government Technology, gave the new Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology (IDIT) credit for sparking much of the improvement.  In the past, each department of state government had its own information technology division, which sometimes used non-compatible or even unique software. In some cases, the software programs were decades old. The new IDIT, which was created this year, is working on changing all that.

In creating the new Department, Governor Rauner directed state agencies to begin shifting their data processing functions to IDIT. That agency was instructed to develop compatible software which would improve the ability of systems in different agencies to communicate, and move the state’s data processing from 20th-century mainframe-type systems to the more modern, cloud-based, dispersed data processing technology. According to Government Technology, Illinois’ has improved its reliance on cloud-based data processing from near 0% last year to 3% this year. Projections are that the state could reach more than a quarter by the end of next year, and almost three-quarters by the end of 2018.

Backlog of unpaid bills reaches $8.6 billion
The backlog of unpaid bills, monitored and reported by the Illinois Comptroller, now stands at more than $8.6 billion in bills payable from Illinois general funds. This figure includes bills that have been presented to the Comptroller for payment, or that are working their way through the pipelines of various state agencies for presentation and payment. Many of the bills are reimbursements to service providers, particularly those providing medical and nursing care to Medicaid patients.

An analysis published in Crain’s calculated that Illinois’ total unfunded liability is equal to $45,500 per taxpayer. Climbing out of this hole will not happen overnight, nor will it be easy. But it is something we need to start on right away. A good place to begin would be for us to come together and start working toward a responsible, balanced budget now.

Independent Maps amendment ruled unconstitutional
In a 4-3 ruling, the Illinois Supreme Court determined that the Independent Map ballot initiative was unconstitutional. Every ten years, the boundaries of the state’s House and Senate districts are redrawn to reflect shifts in population following the most recent census. The proposed amendment would have put the redistricting process in the hands of an independent commission instead of the legislature.

During the spring 2016 session, I supported similar legislation, HJRCA 58, which passed the House but did not get a vote in the Senate. I expect that this issue will come up again in next year’s session.

School funding reform panel continues its work
The bipartisan commission appointed to look at ideas to reform the way Illinois funds schools is continuing to meet this fall to develop a recommendation to the General Assembly. The group has been meeting bi-weekly to collect information on the current system and its flaws. Going forward, members of the panel expect to look at three key issues: property taxes, funding for teacher pensions, and finding a way to put more money into education to ensure that any change in the funding formula does not help one district while harming another.

The commission will continue its meetings through the fall and winter. They have a February 1 deadline to come up with a plan to present to legislators.

Planning for Illinois’ bicentennial birthday in 2018
Governor Rauner signed an executive order last week which creates the 51-member Illinois Bicentennial Commission to coordinate plans for the state’s 200th birthday in 2018. The commission is charged with planning and implementing the state’s bicentennial commemoration in cooperation with state agencies and local entities, while developing partnerships to help fund the celebration. The Governor named marketing executive Stuart Layne of Evanston as the executive director of the commission.

The executive order states in part that “the bicentennial of our statehood is an opportunity to recognize and celebrate the many cultural, economic, academic and political contributions that Illinois and its residents have made to the nation and the world.” Members will serve without compensation or reimbursement, and the commission will disband at the conclusion of the bicentennial on December 31, 2018.

As the commission gets to work, more information will be available at http://www.illinois200.com.

Looking ahead
The House and Senate will be back in session starting November 15. This is the fall veto session, when the legislature will meet to consider further action on any bills that were vetoed by the Governor. This year there are a few dozen bills that were vetoed either entirely or in part. The House and Senate will meet to decide whether to override the vetoes, or to accept the changes that were made to those bills on which the Governor used his Amendatory Veto power.

Both houses are scheduled to be in session for three days, followed by another three day session later in the month.

Did You Know?
According to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, Illinois exports $8.2 billion in agricultural commodities to other countries, ranking us third in the nation. Overall, Illinois is the source of 6% of the total agricultural exports from the United States. We are second in exporting soybeans and feed grains, and nearly 44% of Illinois’ grain is exported.