Update from the Capitol 10/26/2018
Friday, October 26, 2018 - Posted 9:27:40 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). Thank you for the honor of serving as our district's representative in Springfield.
Illinois' ACT scores improved this year
Illinois high schoolers showed a dramatic increase in 2018 in their scores on the ACT exam, one of the nation's two major college-preparedness tests. Illinois students who took the exam in 2018 averaged a 23.9 score on the test, out of a possible 36. That is an improvement of 2.5 points from the previous year, and puts Illinois students well ahead of the national average, which stands at 20.8.
In Illinois, the universal standardized test for evaluating district-by-district performance is the ACT's primary competitor, the SAT. The ACT is now primarily a test taken in Illinois by tens of thousands of college-bound students. This year, 43% of Illinois students took the ACT as an effort to demonstrate their readiness for college. The better the students perform on the ACT, they increase their likelihood of admission to colleges and universities and possibly become eligible for more financial aid.
Recognizing fallen officers
Monday morning we recognized, recalled, and gave thanks for the lives of four heroes who stood in harm's way and were killed or wounded during a traffic stop and subsequent shootout along Interstate 57 near Paxton on April 7, 1979. More than 200 people gathered at the Paxton firehouse for the ceremony.
Trooper Michael McCarter, Patrolman William Caisse, and Trooper McCarter's brother in-law Donald Vice lost their lives. Officer Larry Hale was wounded twice. Two suspects were killed and a third was wounded.
We came together in support of each other on this day of remembrance and gratefulness for these good men. I hope that this ceremony, this resolution, and the sign that is now in place marking the bridge as the McCarter-Caisse-Vice-Hale Overpass might in some small way help bring some sense of closure to the families from a grateful community and state of Illinois.
Let us not forget the sacrifice that all four men gave for their community and our state on April 7, 1979. May God bless them, their families and their community.
How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $7,117,406,439 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 subject to a wide range of factors and has been estimated to be approximately $130 billion.
More of state government is now online
The cost of creating, maintaining, transporting and storing voluminous paper records was something state policymakers looked at when considering ways to use technology to cut spending. Our state's efforts to digitize more of these documents has helped improve our budget picture and has made Illinois a model for the nation.
According to some figures from the Illinois Department of Information and Technology, 81% of the public offices of state agencies have moved their online presence to the state's website at Illinois.gov. One of the leading agencies in this progress toward online interactions is the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR), the state agency in charge of professional licensing. IDFPR now has 90% of its licensing activities online, making this process much more convenient for small businesses and others who interact with the agency.
In total, 45% of all Illinois state services can now be accessed online.
Illinois harvest is now half completed
With the weather turning colder and the days getting shorter, the Illinois harvest is now moving toward completion. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Illinois crop report indicates that more than half of Illinois' corn and soybeans had been cut and harvested by mid-October. USDA's mid-month figures indicated 71% completion for the corn harvest and 60% completion for beans. Overall statewide field conditions have been more favorable for early harvest this year compared with last year, meaning that Illinois farmers are far ahead of where they were at this point in 2017, when only 46% of the corn harvest was completed.
In some areas of the state, farmers are now looking at cultivating winter wheat. By mid-October, just over a third of the expected winter wheat crop had been planted statewide. Winter wheat is primarily a southern Illinois crop, as more than half of it is grown south of U.S. highway 50.
$250 million in Build Illinois bonds sold this month
Earlier this month Illinois sold $250 million in Build Illinois bonds to help finance improvements to the state's infrastructure. Money from the issuance of these bonds will go to finance long-term capital investments such as school buildings, roads and bridges. The law which governs the bond sales, the Build Illinois Bond Act, directs that a portion of the revenue collected from the existing state sales tax be set aside in order to service the bonds, meaning that no new taxes will be necessary to pay them off.
Despite the state's well-known fiscal difficulties, the bonds received ratings several significant steps above "junk bond" status. S&P Global Ratings set the rating level at AA-, and Fitch Ratings came in at A-. The bonds will mature from 2019 to 2043.
Did You Know?
O'Hare International Airport, Illinois' largest gateway to the world, opened on October 29, 1955. The facility is among the busiest airports in the world. It is named for Navy pilot and Medal of Honor recipient Butch O'Hare, who was one of the early heroes of World War II. Tens of millions of visitors use O'Hare every year, creating millions in revenue and thousands of jobs.