Happy New Year! I remain committed in
2016 to passing a balanced and constitutional state budget and fundamental
reforms to move Illinois forward and put our state back on track for creating more
jobs, business investment, and economic prosperity.
A new legislative year is a good
time to renew a pledge for fiscal responsibility and end years of spending
beyond what taxpayers can afford. We need to continue pushing for reforms to
change the direction of the state from years of stagnation and economic loss to
an environment for progress and hope. This effort requires working closely with
the Governor’s office and colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
Other key legislative issues this
year include property tax relief; education funding and reforms that prepare
young people for careers; and workers’ compensation and regulation reforms that
encourage business growth and jobs.
Efficient and accountable
On January 4, Governor Bruce Rauner’s
task force on local government consolidation and unfunded mandates released its
final report. After 11 months of meetings, public hearings and study, the Task
Force’s report outlines more than two dozen recommendations for streamlining
local government, empowering communities and saving taxpayer dollars. The
recommendations could become legislative proposals during the spring session,
allowing lawmakers the time to give them a thorough review.
There are more local units of
government in Illinois than any other state in the nation at 6,963. The Rauner
Administration cites the layers of government as a reason for Illinois’
second-highest effective property tax rate in the nation.
The Task Force’s 27 recommendations
were the result of testimony during public hearings in 2015 from more than 30
experts representing government associations, nonprofit think tanks,
researchers, and state agencies. The 29-member panel of state and local elected
officials was chaired by Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti. The final report can be
found at http://www.illinois.gov.
Economic realities send people
A sluggish economy, a not
seasonally adjusted Illinois unemployment rate (5.8%) that lags behind the
national average (4.8%) – according to the most recent state analysis – and a consistent top
ranking for out-migration, are telltale
signs Illinois needs reforms to turn around its economic prospects.
United Van Lines, the nation’s largest moving company, recently
released its annual National Movers Study of customer state-to-state
moves over the past year. For a second year, Illinois ranks third highest among
the 50 states for 2015. According to the St. Louis-based company, Illinois
ranked in the top five for out-migration – more people moving out of Illinois
than are moving into the state – for the last seven years. Only New Jersey and
New York fared worse than Illinois for 2015.
Winter flood update
Although floodwaters are
beginning to recede, Illinois continues to be plagued by flooding triggered by
heavy rains during the last week of 2015. The Governor added 11 new counties to
the list of State Disaster Areas on January 5, bringing the total to 23 counties.
These counties are now eligible for state assistance to battle flood waters and
support their local communities. Resources include sandbags, sand, pumps,
trucks, inmate crews, and other assistance
to ensure public safety.
Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) is briefing local authorities on
the assistance available for public entities and individuals. IEMA is also in
the preliminary stages of disaster assessment with an eye toward eligibility
for federal assistance if flooding damages warrant assistance. Disaster
assessments are expected to continue over the next several weeks.
The State Emergency Operations
Center in Springfield remains in operation. It was first activated December 28 to
coordinate the state’s flood response. IEMA also manages a public website that
is a great resource for updates on severe weather situations across the state
and to find assistance and preparedness information. The Ready Illinois
website is www.ready.illinois.gov.
State tax refunds delayed
The Illinois Department of
Revenue (IDOR) announced January 4 a delay in state income tax refunds, citing
concerns about fraud and identity theft.
Tax filers submitting their
returns electronically before March 1 will be issued refunds within two
to three weeks of that date. Refunds for those filing returns on or after the
March 1 date will be issued within two to three weeks from the date the return
In an IDOR press release, Director
Connie Beard stated: “By delaying tax refunds by just a few weeks, we’ll be
able to better detect attempts at identity theft and ensure taxpayer refunds do
not fall needlessly into the hands of criminals.” Beard also commented that
fraud prevention measures helped the agency save nearly $5 million during last
year’s tax season. According to IDOR, tax refunds are not impacted by the
current budget impasse because they are not subject to budgetary