The Morrison Memo: March 21, 2016

Record Number of Illinois Voters Participate in Primary Election
Illinoisans came out in large numbers last Tuesday to have their voices heard in the March 15 Primary Election. Early voting records were shattered across the state, as voters cast their ballots, and the Election Day numbers were equally as impressive. Thank you to all candidates who chose to put themselves out there and run for public office. It is not an easy task. Whether they won or lost on Tuesday, all candidates are to be commended for giving Illinois voters a choice at the ballot box.

Illinois’ Unpaid Bill Total Nears $9 Billion
The Ledger, a spreadsheet summary posted online by Comptroller Leslie Munger, now shows Illinois with almost $7.5 billion in unpaid bills. This includes not only the $3.68 billion in unpaid bills actually forwarded to the Comptroller for payment, but also an estimated $3.80 billion in past-due bills and invoices held at state agencies and not yet forwarded to the Comptroller. However, in testimony presented by the Comptroller to the Senate Appropriations I committee on Thursday, March 17, Munger described an additional $1.3 billion owed to vendors for statutory programs not covered by judicial process. Much of this additional debt is due to participants in state higher education and providers of social services.

The $7.5 billion in conventional bills represent state programs, such as Medicaid, that are seen as legally essential and which continue to operate automatically under conditions of current continuing appropriations, consent decrees, and court orders. Additional bills of more than $1 billion represent programs that are dependent upon appropriated funding. Unpaid promises by the State, such as the college-oriented Monetary Assistance Program (MAP) grant program, fall into this category. In many cases, providers of services under these programs, such as providers of social services and institutions of higher education, have continued to operate through the first three-quarters of FY16 in the hopes that appropriations measures will be passed at some point and signed into law.

When asked to add both categories of debt together, Comptroller Munger projected that the cumulative total budget deficit would top $10 billion by June 30, 2016.

Harper College Students Visit Springfield
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of visiting with some students from Palatine’s Harper College. The group was in Springfield learning about state government and talking with lawmakers about issues of importance, including the lack of a budget and the impact it is having on higher education. I had a very nice discussion with these bright students and I hope they enjoyed their time in Springfield.

Personnel & Pension Committee Hears Testimony about New Pension Reform Bill
With Illinois facing increasing challenges to fund existing pension commitments, the House’ Personnel & Pensions Committee is holding subject matter hearings into a new pension proposal that could reduce current costs and future unfunded pension liabilities borne by Illinois’ five state-managed pension systems. I am the Republican Spokesperson of this committee.

Because HB 4427 offers pension system participants a choice rather than a mandate, it appears to be constitutional. The bill, sponsored by State Rep. Mark Batnick (R-Plainfield), would offer existing public-sector employees with vested pension status the option of a buyout of some or all of their future benefits. Employees who take a buyout would be given a one-time payout of funds, and would enjoy the opportunity to invest them for a payout that would match their future life plans.

Previous subject matter hearings for HB 4427 have been held in Springfield and Chicago, and this week on Wednesday another hearing will be held in Chicago. Because the hearing is subject matter only, no decisions will be made.

Rep. Morrison Attends Town Hall Meeting in Palatine
Recently I joined Palatine Trustee Scott Lammerand for a Town Hall Meeting he held in District 2. I spoke to an engaged audience, and was able to give an account of what is happening in Springfield with the budget impasse.

General Electric Announces Creation of New Jobs in Greater Chicagoland
One hundred tech workers will staff GE’s new Digital Solutions office in central Chicago, and 60 additional positions will be created at the existing GE digital healthcare office in northwest suburban Barrington. Up to 160 new Chicago-area jobs are expected to be created as a result of the pair of moves by the global business firm, which is undergoing a series of administrative changes as it moves its overall world headquarters from Connecticut to Boston.

General Electric has previously announced that it will move its overall healthcare headquarters from London to Chicago. The global business firm has many ties to Chicago, including its Chicago-based Transportation division; GE Transportation specializes in railroad locomotives and other transport solutions.

As Spring Driving Season Approaches, Gas Prices Soar in Illinois
The average price per gallon charged for motor fuel increased 18 cents during the week ended Monday, March 14. Statistics compiled by the motor fuel website GasBuddy.com indicated that during this period the price of gas rose from $1.88 per gallon to $2.06 per gallon. This marked the second highest increase for the week among the 50 states, with prices rising 19 cents per gallon in neighboring Missouri.

Illinois gas prices were 12 cents per gallon higher than the nationwide average of $1.94 per gallon. Gas prices tend to be higher than the national average in Illinois because of relatively high tax rates, particularly in the Chicago area. People who buy gas within Chicago city limits must pay separate slices of tax to the federal government, the State of Illinois, the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), Cook County, and the city of Chicago. The State of Illinois charges separate taxes upon motor fuel by the gallon (Road Fund excise tax) and by the dollar (General Funds sales tax). As recently as August 2012, gas cost an average of $4.31 per gallon in Chicago.

As State Fiscal Crisis Worsens, Procurement Reform could Save more than $670 Million
The savings from modifications to the Illinois Procurement Code, the law that governs how Illinois and its state universities are required to purchase goods and non-specialty services, would come from speeding up the process and creating a new class of pre-cleared bidders who could compete in future Requests for Proposals (RFPs) without time-consuming verifications.

After studying the operation of the existing Procurement Code, the Rauner Administration released the results of a preliminary study in February, which indicated that the enactment of a package of reforms could generate as much as $514 million in procurement savings to be enjoyed directly by the State of Illinois, with additional savings of $159 by state universities. Reforms advocated by the Governor include a preclearance process and the creation of a new position of state chief purchasing officer (CPO) in a personnel move that would mirror the organizational table of many large private-sector enterprises and firms. A key bill in this package is House Bill 4644.