Pension Talks Continue
Senator Brady and the special Conference Committee, which has been tasked with developing a compromise on pension reform, continues to work discussing and fine tuning proposals.
In a related development, the state’s largest public employee retirement system revised its estimate of how much an earlier proposal would save the state.
The Teachers Retirement System – the largest of Illinois’ five pension systems – said it overestimated by about $24 billion the savings from a pension proposal which passed the Illinois House earlier this year. The lowered estimate would bring the total savings for all retirement systems under the proposed Senate Bill 1 to about $153 billion over 30 years, instead of the original estimate of $187 billion.
The changes did not affect the estimates of a competing plan backed by the state’s unions that would save roughly $47 billion over the same time period.
FARM PROGRESS SHOW
This week Senator Brady joined fellow legislators at the Farm Progress show to see the latest innovations in agriculture at work in Illinois.
The Farm Progress Show also serves as a reminder of the critical importance of agriculture to Illinois’ economy.
According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, about 1.5 million people in Illinois are employed in agricultural related jobs. That means agriculture makes up about 27% of jobs in the state. In addition to farming, Illinois is a leading state in ag industries, such as soybean processing, meat packing, dairy production, feed milling, machinery manufacturing and others.
Although Illinois has only four percent of the farms in the U.S., the state’s farmers produce 16% of the corn in the nation, 14% of the soybeans and 7% of the pigs. Corn and soybeans account for the bulk of Illinois crops – 81% of all crops.
Farming has become significantly more efficient over the past 50 years. In 1960, Illinois farmers harvested 68 bushels of corn per acre. By 2010, each acre was producing 157 bushels. While corn and soybeans dominate Illinois crops, the state produces a wide diversity of other farm products, including nearly two million pounds of milk, 43 million pounds of apples and 7,500 tons of peaches.
Fighting State Grant Abuse
Under a pair of companion laws state grants will be subject to additional scrutiny and restricted from political use according to Senator Brady.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, Senate Bill 2380 will restrict state grant dollars from being used for prohibited political activities. To more easily track state grants, Senate Bill 2381 requires the state’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) to develop a system to collect state financial data, including information specific to the management and administration of grant funds, and make the information available on www.data.illinois.gov for public review.
The new laws were in response to a four-month 2012 CNN investigation that revealed millions of taxpayer-financed grant dollars had been used by Gov. Pat Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative grant program to finance a variety of questionable activities. The money was used to pay teenagers to march in a parade with the Governor, hand out flyers promoting inner peace, take field trips to museums, and attend a yoga class. The Neighborhood Recovery Initiative program is now being audited by the state’s Auditor General.
Opening Up the Budget Process
A measure signed in to law on August 27 creating the Governmental Transparency Task Force strives to makes Illinois’ budgeting process the most transparent and publicly accessible in the nation.
The Task Force will be comprised of members from the Budgeting for Results Commission. The Director of Revenue, the Treasurer and the Comptroller may be consulted by the Task Force. The Task Force will report its findings to the Governor and General Assembly by no later than January 1, 2015.
Labor Day’s Illinois Roots
While for many, the first Monday in September is an opportunity to enjoy a day off from work and perhaps a barbeque with friends and family, it is also an important American holiday. Labor Day celebrates the economic, social, and historical contributions of the workers who helped to build America. It is also a holiday with roots right here in Illinois.
Although the U.S. Dept. of Labor (DOL) reports the very first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, the recognition of the day as a national holiday took place 12 years later and has strong Illinois ties.
In 1894, Congress formally declared Labor Day a federal holiday. The action came just six days after the end of the famous Pullman Strike, which began in Chicago in May. George Pullman had built a model community to house workers near his railroad car company on the south side of Chicago.
The community was named after Pullman and he envisioned it as a safe, healthy and affordable environment for his workers. However, in the financial Panic of 1893, Pullman cut wages at his plant, but did not adjust rent or other costs in Pullman. Workers protested and began a wildcat strike that spread across the nation as members of the American Railway Union refused to operate trains that carried Pullman cars.
The Railroad Brotherhoods and the American Federation of Labor opposed the strike and President Grover Cleveland used federal troops to break the strike, arguing that it interfered with the U.S. Mail – which at the time was distributed primarily by rail.
Many in Congress viewed the declaration of a federal Labor Day as one way to help heal the wounds of the divisive strike and also recognize the contributions of workers.
The last Pullman car, an Amtrak sleeping car, came off the factory line in 1981. The Pullman neighborhood outlived the man and the company and many of the homes built in the 19th Century remain today. For more information on the history and on visiting the Pullman neighborhood visit the Historic Pullman Foundation website and the Pullman State Historic Site website.