Capitol Update – May 16

Fresh thinking will fix Illinois
A column by House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno

For too long, Springfield politicians have been stuck in the past. They think the pressing issues of our day — large budget deficits, unfunded public pensions, and dangerously high out-migration — are similar to the ones Illinois has faced in eras past.

Have a problem? Look to the glory days of state government, they say. Just cut a little spending here and there, do a massive tax hike, and another short-term pension fix to top it off. Just remember to keep the overall system intact. They swear it’ll do the trick for a few years, maybe even a decade.

Current and former elected officials may deny it, but the old ways of doing business have been anything but glorious for the people of Illinois. For the past 15 years, state government has been operating with budgets in structural deficit. That’s 15 years of complete and total failure. Fifteen years of the General Assembly failing to meet its most basic constitutional obligation — to pass a balanced budget for the governor to sign into law. Read the rest of the editorial in the Springfield State Journal-Register.

Governor Kicks Off National Travel & Tourism Week
Governor Bruce Rauner kicked off National Travel & Tourism Week and released domestic Illinois tourism figures that show robust growth in visitor spending in 2016.

"Illinois welcomed 110 million visitors from around the country in 2016 and last year, tourism revenue grew three percent across the state," Governor Rauner said. "This is another example that in areas where we can improve the economy, our administration is moving forward. Illinois is the greatest state in the nation. We have so much to be proud of and so many reasons to invite our out-of-state friends to visit the Land of Lincoln."

Governor Rauner and the Illinois Office of Tourism announced that in the first quarter of 2017 there has been a seven percent increase in tourism revenue in Chicago and a four percent revenue increase downstate. Since the administration took office, tourism has grown three percent every year. Visitors to Illinois invested $35 billion in the state's economy in 2016. In the last two years, Illinois has created 20,000 tourism-related jobs.

At Monday's kick off, the Illinois Office of Tourism announced a new Illinois Made series to feature four new small businesses and artisans based in Illinois. New Illinois Made features include the host Optimo Hats. It is in a former Chicago fire house based in Chicago's Beverly neighborhood. Owner Graham Thompson is Chicago's last true hat maker known for handcrafting custom hats. Other Illinois Made artisans are Eshelman Pottery in Elizabeth, Heritage Bikes in Chicago and Blaum Brothers Distilling Company in Galena.

"This year's National Travel and Tourism Week theme recognizes ‘Faces of Travel,' saluting the amazing people behind the travel industry. Here in Illinois we want to recognize and promote more of our Illinois Made artisans who are small businesses and job creators helping to drive the state's economy," said Cory Jobe, Director of the Illinois Office of Tourism. "The expanded Illinois Made program will attract new visitors to explore our state, while supporting local businesses and generating important tourism spending for our communities."

Heavy rains lead to delays in spring fieldwork
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which tracks farm fieldwork throughout the U.S., is reporting problems in Illinois.  In its May 8 “Crop Progress” report, which followed a period of heavy precipitation throughout Illinois, the USDA reported that there were only 0.6 days suitable for spring fieldwork.  Precipitation averaged 1.89 inches across the state, 0.92 inches above normal.  Heavier rains fell in many areas.

Spring fieldwork centers on preparing the fields, planting the crops, and waiting for crop emergence.  As of May 8, 65% of the corn had been planted, but only 14% of soybeans.  29% of the corn had emerged out of the ground, but only 1% of beans.  Low soil temperatures were cited as one reason for sprouting delays.  The average soil temperature was 51.4 degrees Fahrenheit, 6.5 degrees below normal.

Investigation finds massive data mining in Illinois
The Illinois State Board of Elections (ISBEL) contains duplicate files of the identifying information presented by voters to local election boards.  Senior ISBEL officers have testified to a General Assembly panel that an unknown party made their way around the firewalls used to guard this information and viewed files containing the names of thousands of Illinoisans.  Information that the intrusive program could see include names, birth dates, addresses, drivers’ license numbers, and the last four digits of a voter’s social security number.

Apparently by chance, the compromised section of the ISBEL database included many voters from Galesburg.  14,121 Galesburg residents have received letters informing them of the intrusion. The ISBEL voter database is physically separated from the individual voter lists contained within the vaults of each local election authority.  Because each local authority tabulates and counts votes separately, this activity with respect to the statewide voter database could not affect any election outcome.  The investigation continues.  No one knows who was behind the intrusion activity.

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