No budget agreement yet; new state Comptroller

Still no budget deal, Governor calls for term limits, property tax freeze
Legislative leaders and the Governor met early in the week to discuss the state budget and other legislative items, but no agreement was reached. Large parts of the Illinois state budget are scheduled to expire with the sunset of the so-called "stopgap” budget that we passed back in June and which is in effect until December 31. Additional action will be necessary to keep funds flowing to those agencies after the end of the year. Unfortunately, the meetings between Governor Rauner and the four legislative leaders, including House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, have not produced the level of agreement necessary for a budget bill to start moving.

Many Republicans contend that structural reforms to state government are necessary in order to justify calling for additional taxpayer money. Governor Rauner has called for term limits on legislators and a freeze on property tax extensions as part of any deal. Representative Mark Batinick introduced a property tax extension freeze bill in the House on December 1.

New State Comptroller takes office
Last month, Illinoisans elected Susana Mendoza to be our next state Comptroller. The Comptroller is usually elected every four years along with the other statewide constitutional officers, but because of the death of Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, a special election was held in November to fill out the unexpired term. Because it was a special election, the winner may take office as soon as the results are certified, rather than waiting until January as under normal circumstances. Comptroller Mendoza was sworn in as the 9th Illinois State Comptroller on December 5.

The Comptroller is the statewide official who is responsible for managing the state’s checkbook. The Comptroller pays the state’s bills and maintains the records about state funds and expenditures. Comptroller Mendoza, a Democrat, is a former member of the Illinois House and was most recently the Chicago City Clerk.

November tax revenue did not keep up with expenditures
The nonpartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) reports on Illinois general funds revenues on a monthly basis. As in previous months of this fiscal year, Illinois brought in less general-revenue money during November than was needed to cover expenses. Last month, the state brought in $1.9 billion in general funds tax revenues. Once again, a weak spot was the cash flow from corporate income taxes. However, overall tax revenues for the month rose by $111 million from last year. A big part of the rise was an increase of $75 million over last year in personal income taxes paid by households and individuals.

The report also touched on the state’s bond rating. Two major rating agencies, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, both lowered the state’s credit rating two times in 2016. In 2016, S & P twice reduced the rating it gave Illinois general-obligation bonds: it now stands at BBB (with a “negative outlook”). If the rating were to be cut twice more, Illinois’ general-obligation credit rating would be in junk bond territory.  That possibility is already leading investors to demand that Illinois pay higher interest rates. A November sale of $480 million in bonds forced Illinois taxpayers to pay a 4.245% interest rate: a spread of 2.00% over the rate paid by AAA-rated states such as Indiana.

State Board of Education seeking comments on latest ESSA draft
The Illinois State Board of Education has released its second draft of the state’s plan for its role in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Earlier this year, the Board held a series of public meetings around the state to collect input from interested parties as it developed this plan. In November, the Board released its latest draft and has made it publicly available on its website for comments.

The State Board is requesting comments by December 27, 2016. They can be e-mailed to essa@isbe.net.

First weekend of deer season produces mixed results
Firearm deer season opened November 18-20, and the first numbers were mixed. The opening weekend’s report of electronic check-ins by licensed deer hunters suggested different results throughout the state. Hunters in counties with reports of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) have been encouraged to conduct physical check-ins with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Deer hunters in these counties, which include Woodford, McLean, Kankakee and LaSalle, were requested to bring their harvest to the check-in stations, where trained crews could ask for permission to extract samples from older animals for disease testing. Those who had their deer tested may obtain test results from the DNR website.

Did You Know?
The first Illinois State Seal was created after the General Assembly passed legislation in February 1819, just two months after statehood, directing the Secretary of State to produce an official seal for state documents. The seal was redesigned in 1839 and again in 1868 – which is why “1868” appears on both the state seal and state flag. Some details of the original state seal were thought to have been lost to history until 2002 when researchers at the Illinois State Archives discovered some old court records from Madison County dated November 1819 which contained the original seal.