Both houses of the Illinois Legislature met in Springfield this week for a rare fall session day, amid the ongoing budget impasse now well into its fourth month, according to State Senator Dave Syverson (R-Rockford).
Meanwhile, the real-world impact of that impasse – and the majority Democrats’ refusal to embrace pro-jobs reforms – are being seen more clearly every day. Two of the three credit rating agencies officially downgraded the state’s credit this week, and new jobs figures highlighted the vital importance of cutting through the logjam to get Illinois’ economy back on track.
The Oct. 20 Senate session was the first for State Sen. Chuck Weaver (R-Peoria), selected last month to replace former State Sen. Darin LaHood, who was elected to Congress. The Senate also unanimously approved the recommendation of State Rep. Frank Mautino as the state’s next Auditor General and hosted a speech by the Consul General of the Philippines.
The onset of fall means that Illinois’ farmers are wrapping up the 2015 harvest and preparing their fields for next year. When preparing for Halloween and Thanksgiving celebrations this year, Illinois residents should remember to thank a farmer: 90 percent of the pumpkins grown in the U.S. are raised in Illinois!
Illinois credit woes continue: Fitch and Moody’s downgrade
On Oct. 19, credit rating agency Fitch officially downgraded its rating on $26 billion in Illinois general obligation bonds from A- to BBB+, the worst rating of any state in the country. On Oct. 22, Moody’s followed suit, downgrading Illinois bonds from A3 to Baa1. Moody’s had warned earlier in the week that a skipped pension payment planned for November could affect their rating of Illinois’ debt further.
In downgrading the state’s debt, Fitch cited Illinois’ weak economic recovery compared to the rest of the country – long-term liabilities, ongoing budget gaps, and reduced flexibility as a result of the budget impasse. Fitch also lowered the rating from BBB+ to BBB for bonds on the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, McCormick Place, and Chicago’s motor fuel revenue bonds.
Moody’s also lowered its rating of sales-tax bonds from A3 to Baa1 and lowered the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority and Civics Center bonds from Baa1 to Baa2. Moody’s outlook for Illinois and each additional obligation remains negative.
Illinois economy continues to struggle: Change needed
Senator Syverson continues to push for much-needed reforms in Springfield, especially those that would improve Illinois’s struggling economy.
According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, Illinois lost nearly 7,000 jobs in the month of September, the fourth straight month of statewide job losses.
At this rate, Illinois will not fully recover from the recession until April 2017 – a year and a half from now – while our neighboring states have already surpassed their pre-recession jobs totals.
Compared to the pre-recession peak for employment, jobs nationwide are up 2.9 percent, but Illinois is still more than 3 percent below its peak.
In downgrading the state’s credit this week, Fitch specifically cited Illinois’ lagging economic performance:
“Employment growth has been well below the national average through the recovery/expansion period and has weakened relative to the U.S. in recent months. Non-farm employment grew at just a 0.5% year-over-year rate in August 2015. Through August 2015, the state has recovered only 71% of jobs lost in the downturn, among the weakest of the states at less than half the national recovery rate. Both GDP and personal income declined at a steeper rate in Illinois during the recession and have been increasing at a slower rate during the expansion.”
According to Senator Syverson, these aren’t just abstract numbers. These numbers represent people trying to find work, families struggling to make ends meet, and businesses coming to the conclusion that Illinois is not a place to grow.
Senate welcomes new members, visit from Philippines Consul General
New State Sen. Chuck Weaver (R-Peoria) gave his first speech on the floor of the Senate this week, pledging to put his personal experience as a small-businessman to work in the Legislature.
Weaver was joined on the other side of the aisle by another first-timer, State Sen. Laura Murphy (D-Des Plaines), who replaced State Sen. Dan Kotowski.
The Senate was also joined on Oct. 20 by D.G. Calonge, the Consul General of the Philippines in Chicago. The Consul General addressed the Senate with an update on the Philippines.
Senate approves Mautino as Auditor General
The Senate voted unanimously Oct. 20 to approve the appointment of State Rep. Frank Mautino to serve as the next Auditor General of Illinois. Mautino will replace Bill Holland, who has served as Auditor General since 1992, at the end of this year.
The Auditor General oversees state agency budgets and reviews the state’s financial records, issuing about 150 audits of targeted agencies every year. Holland oversaw the high-profile 2005 audit of the Department of Central Management Services that eventually led to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment, and the 2014 audit of former Gov. Pat Quinn’s controversial $54 million Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.
The bipartisan Legislative Audit Commission had recommended Mautino for the post after a nationwide search.
Farmers wrapping up 2015 harvest
Across Illinois, most farmers have now completed their 2015 harvest and are now performing tillage operations and preparing their fields for next year.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 85 percent of all corn acres have now been harvested, compared to a five-year average of 68 percent. Both current progress and the average are equal to corn, at 85 percent and 68 percent respectively.
Winter wheat planting, which often takes place after soybeans have been harvested, is now 63 percent complete, with 33 percent of the plants having emerged from the soil.
Many farmers are beginning to become more concerned with how dry the weather and soil have been: 53 percent of topsoil moisture is now rated as short or very short, with 41 percent of subsoil rated similarly.