Springfield — As state government’s budget impasse continues eight weeks into the 2016 fiscal year, State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-Rockford) said the latest unemployment figures and economic assessment supports the Rauner Administration’s push for a better business climate as part of a budget deal with the legislative majority.
The budget impasse between the administration and Democrat majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives leaves Illinois government running mostly by court-imposed orders and agreements. Only state education spending and federal funding for programs have received legislative approval and were signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner. Sen. Syverson said at the root of the budget impasse is years of fiscal mismanagement that left Illinois with few resources.
Illinois Job Growth Lags Nation
The latest report from the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) shows the state ended July with an unemployment rate of 5.8 percent, down from 5.9 percent in June. Illinois also gained about 1,900 nonfarm payroll jobs, but job growth continues to trail behind other states. IDES Director Jeff Mays said if Illinois employment growth had matched the rest of the nation this year, “Illinois would have added 40,000 more jobs by now.”
That trend was confirmed by a corresponding report from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). According to the DOL, Illinois’s rate of job growth in the past year was both slower than surrounding states and last among neighboring states in per-capita job growth. So, while the report shows that Illinois gained 50,000 jobs over the past year, our neighboring state Indiana gained 64,000 – almost 30% more – despite having only half the population.
“F” doesn’t mean “Friendly” for small businesses
According to an annual survey released this month, Illinois gets an “F” on its small-businesses report card. The fourth annual Thumbtack.com Small Business Friendliness Survey, which polls nearly 18,000 small business owners across the country, gave Illinois its worst possible grade, tied with three other states: California, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Each of our neighboring states made out much better, ranging from a “C+” (Iowa and Kentucky) to a high of “B+” (Indiana).
Another report on Illinois’ economy indicates that thousands of Illinoisans found job opportunities, in other states. The Illinois Policy Institute (IPI), a public policy think tank, cites figures from the Internal Revenue Service. IPI reports, “…in 2012, Illinois lost more taxpayers and taxpayer wealth to a greater number of states than ever before.” The Institute’s analysis indicates that nearly 67,000 taxpayers and their dependents left Illinois taking with them $3.7 billion in annual income.
The reports are among many revealed in recent years and months that bolster the claim that Illinois must do more to improve its business/jobs climate. Numerous reforms to ease state regulations and lower the cost of hiring were proposed by Republican lawmakers in recent years and in 2015. The year began with hope that a new governor, elected on an argument that change was needed, would usher in a revitalized Illinois economy; however, most of the proposed changes ran into partisan opposition.
Regulation Reform = Economic Growth
Gov. Rauner signed legislation during the week that supporters said is an example of what can be accomplished when political parties and opposing interests work together for the benefit of the entire state.
Senate Bill 1672 creates a state process for Illinois companies seeking an air permit for a new or expanded facility. Currently, companies must go through the federal government to obtain the permits. It’s a process that can take years to complete, which can lead to delays in construction and hiring or decisions not to build. Under the new state permit process, companies will receive their regulatory decision within one year.
The World’s Best Schools Are in Illinois
One bright spot for Illinois’ future remains its institutions of higher learning. Illinois universities and colleges are among the best in the nation and the world, according to one newly-released report.
The Academic Ranking of World Universities recently released its annual rankings of the world’s top schools. The University of Chicago, Northwestern University in Evanston and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign were named to the list. The three schools achieved at least one Top 20 ranking in subject areas that included, Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Engineering/Technology and Computer Sciences, Life and Agriculture Sciences, Clinical Medicine and Pharmacy, and Social Sciences.
Disaster Recovery Assistance #2
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture granted the state’s request for official disaster designation covering 101 of Illinois’ 102 counties, resulting from the damage caused by heavy rainfall and flooding earlier this summer. Now, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is making federal economic injury disaster loans available.
The disaster loans are available to small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, and small businesses engaged in aquaculture, and private nonprofit organizations. The SBA can be contacted for applications and more information at 1-800-659-2955. Information about the Agriculture Disaster Declaration can still be obtained through county Farm Service Agency offices.
Farmers prepare for harvest
With both corn and soybean crops nearing maturity, farmers are prepping their combines to get ready for harvest 2015.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 88 percent of soybean plants have already set pods, with 55 percent of corn having reached the dent stage, and 3 percent of corn considered fully mature. Last week the state saw an average of 1.39 inches of rain, seven-tenths of an inch above normal, leaving 5.4 days suitable for fieldwork. Farmers continued to make progress baling hay, with 78 percent of the third cutting now complete, up from just 59 percent last week.
The Department reports crop quality is holding steady, with 56 percent of corn rated as good or excellent, and 52 percent of soybeans achieving similar grades. Heavy rains during May and June are still impacting many fields, including some that were completely flooded out. Due to plant biology, the actual damage to the corn from water was similar to what happens during a drought. Click here to learn more about the impact of heavy rainfall on this year’s crops: http://youtu.be/hC-3U54V0qM
Red-light Camera Scandal
Chicago’s red-light camera scandal that cost Illinoisans millions of dollars recently scored its second major conviction. On Aug. 20, 2015, a former executive for Redflex Traffic System Inc., Karen Finley, plead guilty to helping orchestrate a $2 million plan to bribe one of Chicago’s top transportation officials. The bribe involved a scheme to award the Arizona-based company the city’s red-light camera contracts. John Bills oversaw the awarding of contracts for the installation and operation of the red-light camera system. Bills’ trial is scheduled for Jan. 2016.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Bills was coerced by Martin O’Malley, Finley’s hired accomplice who was convicted last December for his involvement. The latest conviction underscores the ethical and effectiveness issues surrounding Illinois’ controversial red-light camera program raised by many Senate Republicans for years. Improving driver and pedestrian safety was the reason city officials justified the installation of red-light cameras in 2003. However, there is little evidence or research to prove that red-light cameras reduce the number of traffic light-related accidents.
After years of failed efforts to shut down the red-light program in Chicago and surrounding suburbs, two Senate Republicans sponsored legislation this spring prohibiting non-home rule units in the counties of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison, McHenry and St. Clair from enacting or enforcing existing automated red light camera systems. House Bill 173 passed the House, but failed to advance in the Senate.