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Update from the Capitol 9/22/2017

Friday, September 22, 2017 - Posted 9:44:12 AM by Rep. Tom Bennett
As always, you can contact me via webform at www.repbennett.com, or by phone at (815) 844-9179 (Pontiac) or (815) 432-0106 (Watseka).

Illinois Education Secretary Dr. Beth Purvis to join national nonprofit

Illinois' Secretary of Education Dr. Beth Purvis left the Office of the Governor at the end of last week. Dr. Purvis has joined the staff of a national nonprofit organization where she will oversee educational philanthropy.

During her time with the state of Illinois, Dr. Purvis was one of the co-chairs of the governor's education transition subcommittee. She first announced the state's goal of ensuring that all Illinois children, no matter where they live, have access to high-quality education throughout their years in school. This was a major part of the education funding reform legislation which we passed last month.

Over the last two-and-a-half years, Dr. Purvis' duties included working with the leaders of the different state agencies responsible for state education policy, chairing the P20 Council and co-chairing the Early Learning Council. Dr. Purvis also served as chair of the Illinois School Funding Commission which was charged with delivering on the governor's promise of a "children first" administration.

Emily Bastedo, a member of the governor's legal team who has also served as a senior adviser to the governor will take over the leadership of the governor's education policy team. Bastedo has been working alongside Dr. Purvis in preparation for the transition.

"Wagering in Illinois" gambling report released

The duties of the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability include monitoring all of state government's revenue streams, such as taxes and fees collected through gambling. Their annual report indicated recently that Illinois' tax revenues from gambling activities rose in the most recent fiscal year to $1.31 billion. This is an increase of 7.9% from the year before.

While tax revenues from gaming increased overall, the 2017 annual report showed a continuing trend of changes in the types of gambling that are providing the state with these increasing streams of tax revenue. Video gaming has kept growing as a share of overall state tax revenues, increasing from 9.1% of total gambling taxes three years ago to 22.6% now. Video gaming tax revenues are currently the second-largest component of overall Illinois gaming tax revenues, coming in behind the Illinois Lottery, which makes up a 56.3% share of the total. But the report also indicates that lottery ticket sales and state revenues were mostly flat, while the revenues from video gaming and the taxes it produces continue to increase. Some lottery games in Illinois were suspended for a few days over the summer because of the delay in passing a state budget to fund lottery prizes.

Changes in the gambling industry may be responsible for some of the declines in revenue streams. For example, state taxes on bets on horse races in Illinois and (through intertrack and off-track betting) out-of-state races, continue to decline. Last year, the $6 million in total taxes which Illinois collected from horse racing was less than 0.5% of the state's total gaming revenues. Illinois riverboats saw an across the board decline, including drops in admissions to boats, adjusted gross riverboat casino receipts, and taxes on riverboat receipts. Analysts attribute the decline to increased competition from video gaming, citing it as a major contributing factor to changes in the Illinois riverboat casino industry.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $15,462,731,795 in unpaid bills to state vendors. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is estimated to be more than $100 billion.

New blue signs appearing at Illinois railroad crossings

In an effort to boost safety at railroad crossings in Illinois, new Emergency Notification System (ENS) signs will provide the number for the Grade Crossing Hotline help desk, which is meant to handle reports from the public of stalled vehicles and other emergencies at railroad crossings. After years of having different, non-standardized signage at crossings, a standard blue sign format was approved in 2011 by the Federal Railroad Administration. Under this new process, a standard sign must now be posted at all active railroad crossings. As part of the new ENS system, every railroad crossing in the country has been coded with a unique identifier number which a caller can give as part of the emergency report. The numbers will be printed in a white box within the sign.

Fight against the opioid crisis continues

Last week I told you about the Governor's recent executive order directing state agencies to develop an Opioid Action Plan to increase coordination between state and local governments in the fight against opioid abuse. Opioid abuse is causing a disturbing increase in the number of overdose deaths here and nationwide. In Illinois alone, public health officials counted 1,889 people who died from opioid overdoses last year.

Among Illinois' efforts is the new Prescription Monitoring Program, which was created by legislation the General Assembly passed in 2015 to cut down and eliminate multiple prescriptions of opiates and other potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals to a single patient. Law enforcement is taking steps, coordinated by the Criminal Justice Information Authority, to reduce opioid use in Illinois and make police contacts into a gateway to abuse treatment.

Did You Know?

On September 30, 1917, the first Illinois National Guard units which had trained for World War I at Camp Grant, near Rockford, left for Texas to become part of the 33rd Division. Before they departed, they heard an inspirational speech from former President Theodore Roosevelt. In all, around one million soldiers passed through Camp Grant on their way to war or on their way home after the end of the fighting. Camp Grant was deactivated after the war, but was then brought back into service for World War II as a prisoner of war camp for captured German soldiers.