STATE’S CREDIT RATING DROPS AGAIN
Illinois’ credit rating—already the second lowest in the country according to Standard & Poor’s—took another hit this week when Standard & Poor’s further lowered the state’s credit rating.
Governor Pat Quinn has lately been sounding alarms about the risk of a credit downgrade, but did little to avert nine previous credit downgrades during his first three years in office. The credit rating agency cited “the state’s weak pension funding levels and lack of action on reform measures intended to improve funding levels...”
The rating agency also echoed concerns that the state is not taking the steps necessary to plan for the expiration of the bulk of the 67 percent income tax increase enacted in 2011.
In the 24 years prior to 2003, Governors Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar and George Ryan saw a grand total of six credit downgrades from the three major credit rating agencies. In his six years in office, Rod Blagojevich presided over three credit downgrades.
Since Pat Quinn became Governor in 2009, Illinois has had 10 credit downgrades.
CORRECTIONS OFFICIALS DELAY CLOSURES
The Illinois Department of Corrections officials have decided to temporarily delay the impending closures of Dwight and Tamms correctional centers, which were slated for August 31.
The prison closure plan began in February, when Governor Quinn announced during his Budget Address his plan to shutter scores of state facilities.
Quinn spokespeople say that the closures are only being delayed and that to balance the state’s budget, the state must move forward with closing “outdated, half-full expensive facilities in order to save Illinois taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually.”
However, area leaders and facility employees from the communities of Dwight and Tamms say closing the prisons will be devastating to the region. In Dwight alone, the correctional center generates an estimated $23 million dollars and creates 470 jobs in the area.
Opponents of closing the prisons say they are concerned that shuttering two prisons at the same time Illinois correctional facilities are operating at 143 percent of rated capacity could be damaging to the state’s public safety network.
They also contend that Tamms Correctional Center serves as a deterrent against increased prison violence, and note the potential closure of Tamms could put correctional officers and other frontline workers in harm’s way.
GOVERNOR VETOES GAMING EXPANSION
In other news, the Governor vetoed legislation that would have greatly expanded gaming in Illinois.
Approved by the General Assembly in May, Senate Bill 1849 would have created new casinos in Chicago, its southern suburbs, Lake County, Rockford and Danville and allowed for slot machines at horse racing tracks.
Governor Quinn, a longtime opponent of expanded gaming, criticized the bill in his veto message for an “absence of strict ethical standards and comprehensive regulatory oversight” over the new casinos and said it failed to keep corruption “out of an industry that is susceptible to nefarious activity.”
Supporters of Senate Bill 1849 says the new gaming facilities would create up to $1 billion in new revenue and 100,000 jobs for the Illinois economy, while opponents say those numbers are inflated and the additional casinos would result in higher crime rates and social ills.
It is not known if the bill’s sponsors will attempt an override during the legislative Veto Session. Supporters would have to muster the three-fifths vote necessary to overturn the veto, an especially difficult task in the Senate, which narrowly passed the measure by a 30-26 vote.
UPDATING THE CRIMINAL CODE
On August 27, the Governor signed into law the final measures of the CLEAR Commission, which has been working for several years to update the state’s criminal code and eliminate duplicative or obsolete language. The goal has been to develop a criminal code that is easier to understand and apply consistently.
House Bill 2582/PA 97-1108 changes the “Criminal Code of 1961” to the “Criminal Code of 2012” among other technical changes, including adding cross-references, reorganizing definition sections, and restructuring sentences.
House Bill 3366/PA 97-1109 moves several current provisions of the Criminal Code and Chapter 720 Criminal Acts dealing with harm to children offenses into a new Article 12C Harms to Children.
NEW LAWS I SPONSORED
Two bills I was proud to sponsor were signed into law during the week.
House Bill 4692 allows the Secretary of State to adopt rules to establish informational restrictions that can be placed on the driver's license regarding specific conditions (such as medical conditions) of the licensee.
House Bill 5071 clarifies that electric vehicle charging stations must not be treated as public utilities or as an alternative retail electric supplier, which would make them subject to the same ICC regulation as utility companies.