Capitol Update - April 25

House and Senate back in session
The General Assembly returned to Springfield April 24 to begin the hectic final weeks of the legislative session before the scheduled May 31 adjournment date. House members have until the end of this week to get bills passed out of the House. After that, the House will begin consideration of legislation coming over from the Senate.

I am hoping to see a balanced, year-long budget agreed upon by both parties’ leaders and brought to the House floor for a vote sometime in these coming weeks. As yet, there has been no budget agreement reached either for the remainder of the current fiscal year, or for the new fiscal year which begins on July 1.

Illinois unemployment rate drops below 5 percent
The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) reported last week that Illinois’ jobless rate dropped in March, from 5.4% to 4.9%.  The new number marked the first time in 10 years that Illinois’ statewide unemployment rate dropped below the benchmark level of 5%.

The falling unemployment rate was not a sign of new jobs being created in Illinois.  Although the decline in unemployment was significant, Illinois once again saw a net loss in total nonfarm payroll positions tracked by the IDES.  Illinois' nonfarm payrolls dropped by 8,900 jobs from February 2017 to March 2017.  There were significant slowdowns in construction (down 7,100 jobs), professional and business services (down 3,600 jobs), and government (down 1,900 jobs).  The decline in unemployment was entirely accounted for by a net decrease of more than 70,000 workers in the Illinois labor force.

Illinois’s unemployment rate, at 4.9% for March 2017, remains higher than the jobless rate for the nation as a whole, which was 4.5% for the same month.  Many U.S. states have even lower unemployment rates.  For example, high-tech Massachusetts notched an unemployment rate of 3.6% in March.

State revenue tracking shows weak upturn in March 2017
Through more than half of Fiscal Year 2017 (which ends on June 30), many key elements of state general funds revenues have actually fallen short of the amounts raised from these sources in the previous fiscal year. Growing nationwide prosperity led, however, to a weak year-over-year upswing in income tax revenue in March 2017.  Taxpayers paid $1,689 million in income tax payments to the State in March 2016, which rose to $1,805 million in March 2017.  The numbers were gathered and published as part of the March revenue report issued by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA), the nonpartisan budget arm of the Illinois General Assembly.

Census finds increasing numbers of former Illinoisans have moved to Indiana
The U.S. Census Bureau has released information collected by its American Community Survey, which includes movements of former Illinoisans through calendar year 2015. The Census Bureau found that in 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available, 34,220 former Illinois residents moved across the border to Indiana.

Indiana currently possesses governing policies that increase its attractions relative to Illinois. Features of Indiana policy include a working state budget, an AAA credit rating, and a job-friendly business climate.  More Illinois residents can be expected to move to Indiana if we do not improve our jobs climate very soon.

New legislation would prevent involuntary eviction of ticketed passengers from planes
House Bill 4034, sponsored by Rep. Peter Breen, will create the Airline Passenger Protection Act.  If this bill becomes law, it will protect the rights of passengers on airplanes taking off from Illinois airports such as O’Hare International.  The measure bans any employee or contractor of the Illinois public sector (including airport police and security guards) from involuntarily removing a passenger from an aircraft by force when the passenger is seated in a seat confirmed by a valid ticket.  Various narrowly-crafted exceptions are included to cover circumstances where a passenger’s behavior violates the standard of conduct in public places; for example, a passenger can be evicted from a plane if he or she has committed a breach of the peace.

Analysts say Illinois poised for increase in railroad container traffic
Major increases in railroad shipments of containers – those long steel boxes loaded, often two-high, onto railroad flatcars, have become a familiar sight in Illinois.  Many of the international containers we see in Illinois have been shipped from ports on the West Coast.  Analysts say, however, that more of the westbound traffic coming to the Midwest from the East Coast will be shipped in containers as well.  Like West Coast traffic, these containers from the East Coast will include plenty of exports from Asia.  Ongoing work to widen the Panama Canal will make the venerable waterway and the East Coast ports it serves more accessible to international container shipping.

CSX, one of the dominant rail carriers in the eastern half of the U.S., is preparing to handle increased container shipments from the East Coast to Illinois.  They are deep into a planning process to construct a 1,000,000-containers-a-year intermodal terminal in eastern Will County south of Chicago.  The intermodal terminal would possess the technology necessary for the rapid shift of containers from tracks to truck flatbeds.  Large existing Chicago-area railroad yards, such as the three-railroad yard complex in Bedford Park south of Midway Airport, demonstrate mastery of this skill.  Construction could begin as soon as the first quarter of 2018.

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