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Update from the Capitol 1/18/2019

Friday, January 18, 2019 - Posted 9:20:52 AM by Rep. Tom Bennett

As always, you can contact me via webform at, 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.

Governor J.B. Pritzker sworn in

On Monday at noon, J.B. Pritzker took the oath of office to become the 43rd Governor of Illinois. Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton and Attorney General Kwame Raoul also began their terms in their new offices on Monday, as did our returning Secretary of State Jesse White, Treasurer Mike Frerichs and Comptroller Susana Mendoza. With the House and Senate taking office last week, we now have everyone in our new state government in place and can begin our work for the people of Illinois.

Jay Robert "J.B." Pritzker comes to state government from the business and philanthropy world, having been the managing partner of the Pritzker Group, which operates several different businesses. His family owns the Hyatt hotel chain, and his sister Penny served as Secretary of Commerce in the Obama administration. Governor Pritzker is a graduate of Duke University and Northwestern University Law School. He founded a company for digital startups in Chicago, called 1871, and served on Mayor Rahm Emanuel's ChicagoNEXT innovation and technology council. He has worked as a Capitol Hill staffer and in a handful of campaigns, but this is his first time in elected office.

The Governor and our new First Lady, Mary Kathryn, have been married since 1993. They have two children, Teddi and Donny.

States working together on flood prevention

My office has been working with Illinois and Indiana officials along with Christopher Burke Engineering on a study of the huge watershed that includes multiple counties over thousands of square miles in Indiana and Illinois. Rain in Indiana drains into Illinois and can create major flooding issues in towns like Watseka, Momence and other areas in Iroquois and Kankakee Counties.

Recently, County Board Chairs John Shure of Iroquois County and Andrew Wheeler from Kankakee County joined me and my legislative aide Angel Crawford to meet with several members of the Indiana Kankakee River Basin Commission and Christopher Burke Engineering to look at their Phase I study for Indiana. The study identified several practices that can be implemented to help reduce flooding impacts.

We had great turnout and conversations from members of the commission as well as many stakeholders. Not everyone was in agreement, but the discussion helped us identify several economic, agricultural and environmental issues which need to be resolved. We made a key point that actions taken (or not taken) in Indiana will have an impact on residents in Illinois. We are in this together!

The engineering firm hopes to begin the Phase I study of the Illinois side of this huge watershed in the next few months. My thanks to everyone involved for their important and invaluable leadership!

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $8,378,991,371 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $9.2 billion. 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.

State starts 2019 with some warning signs on revenue

Over the past few months, Illinois has taken in more revenue and started bringing down that large backlog of unpaid bills that we owe to our creditors. But in December, the growth in revenue seemed to slow down, possibly creating more problems farther down the road. The amount of personal income tax payments which the state received in December 2018 came in at $1.577 billion, an improvement over the previous December of only $7 million. I say "only" because this represents an annual growth rate of 0.4%. The sluggish growth rate is a symptom of a much larger problem: Illinois has not created enough new jobs and the tax revenue they produce. Other large states and many of our neighbors have done so, but we have not.

This is just one of the important findings in this month's revenue report from the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA), the General Assembly's nonpartisan budget monitoring office. The report did have some good news, as sales tax revenue was up by $60 million compared to a year earlier, helped along by a strong Christmas sales season. The collection of sales taxes on purchases made online was likely a factor as well. Federal money; such as grants to help Illinois pay Medicaid providers; increased by $89 million. It is factors like these that we will be taking into consideration as we begin the process of making the budget for the upcoming year.

Did You Know?

Springfield's Old State Capitol; which served as the heart of state government from 1839 to 1876; was restored in a unique way during the 1960s. To preserve the historic accuracy of the building's external appearance, it was carefully disassembled one piece at a time, with each brick being numbered, cataloged and stored, so that they could all be put back in their original place when the restoration was complete.