July 2023 State of Illinois revenues dropped significantly from moneys taken in one year earlier. The decline affected the State’s fiscal standing as it completed the first month of fiscal year 2024 (FY24). The news was reported to the General Assembly by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA), the nonpartisan spreadsheet watchdog office of the Illinois House and Senate. While Illinois took in $3,594 million in general funds revenues in July 2022, in July 2023 this intake dropped to $3,406 million, a decline of $188 million.
This July 2023 decline reflected something that many Illinois lawmakers had predicted: the end of the federal ARPA emergency aid program. Funded by the U.S. Congress from federal borrowed funds, during the coronavirus period ARPA made large transfers of newly-printed money to the American public sector, including Illinois. The Prairie State took in $584 million in ARPA “reimbursements” in July 2022, but this number dropped to zero twelve months later. This decline accounted for all of the overall July 2023 revenue loss.
Other facets of the State’s July 2023 revenue picture displayed positive numbers, but could not fully make up for the end of the ARPA program. Personal income tax revenues, corporate income tax revenues, and interest on State funds and investments all showed significant July gains year-over-year. Sales tax revenues were flat in July 2023, including a possible cooling in Illinois consumer spending activity. This facet of the Illinois economy should be watched closely as figures come out for August 2023 and September 2023, completing the first fiscal quarter of the 2024 State fiscal year.
Current crop report indicates drought worries lessening. Heavy rains have fallen over much of Illinois in recent weeks. The summer showers have saved some Illinois farm fields that had become dry and dusty. As of Sunday, August 6, 58% of Illinois’ 2023 corn was rated good-to-excellent, up from 49% one week earlier. In the same weekly report, 58% of Illinois’s 2023 soybeans were rated good to excellent, up from 46% from one week earlier.
The heavy summer rains have altered the current crop forecast. Illinois topsoil moisture supply had previously been measured as short. On August 6, however, moisture was measured as 59% “adequate,” while 11% of the fields reported “surplus” moisture with water standing in fields. The skies were generous over Central Illinois, while some parts of Northern Illinois continued to report drought conditions. The Illinois crop progress report, which is based on reports from participating farmers, is revised weekly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Major Illinois House-related corruption trial begins. A federal court began jury selection last week in the trial of Tim Mapes, the chief of staff of former Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan. Madigan delegated many significant powers to his aide Mapes, including the choice of committee to which many bills would be assigned and whether bills that got out of committee would be called for a vote. As a close aide of Madigan, Mapes is accused of being an integral part of the alleged pattern of corruption in Madigan’s office prior to the former Speaker’s resignation in 2021.
In pretrial proceedings, federal law enforcement has presented evidence that former chief of staff Mapes tried to cover up some of these alleged exchanges. As part of this cover-up, Mapes was called to testify before a grand jury in 2021. His statements, made under oath to the grand jury, are the basis of charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, which are federal felonies. The Chicago courtroom is scheduled to hear testimony about Mapes’s statements in the grand jury room, and the truth value of these statements.
The Mapes trial testimony could provide advance hints into the separate federal case against former Speaker Madigan. Charged with racketeering, bribery, and conspiracy, Madigan is currently scheduled to go on trial in 2024. This trial date could be pushed back as the case develops, including the appearance of possible additional witnesses against the former Speaker.
Illinois ranked 17th among the 50 states as a place to do business. The mid-level ranking, from finance channel CNBC, shows renewed appreciation for Illinois, combined with opportunities for further progress. Illinois’s comparable CNBC ranking in 2022 was 19th of 50 states, so Illinois has advanced by two notches over the past two months.
Key elements of Illinois’ strength set, according to CNBC, are access to capital, education, and especially infrastructure. The bipartisan “Rebuild Illinois” program is revitalizing key Illinois roads and bridges, including transportation links that will continue to put our State at the forefront of north American goods assembly and distribution.
By contrast, CNBC ranked Illinois’ cost of doing business and business friendliness as seriously below average. Cost of doing business was ranked 32nd, and business friendliness was ranked 39th, among the 50 states. High Illinois tax rates, including property taxes, may have been a factor in these metrics. In addition to the income taxes charged upon Illinois individuals, pass-through entities, and corporations, Illinois businesses also have to pay an income tax surcharge to the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR). Supplemental income tax money is paid into a fund that benefits local governments.
CRISIS PREGNANCY CENTERS
Federal court grants injunction against new Illinois pregnancy crisis center bill. The bill, which has been signed into law as P.A. 103-270, is stayed by the statewide injunction and cannot be enforced. The bill purports to regulate how crisis pregnancy centers operate in Illinois. A crisis pregnancy center is a free-standing facility that offers dual supports to expectant mothers and to their families, including their unborn children.
The district court, sitting in the Northern District of Illinois (Rockford), found that elements of the Illinois bill are what the judge called a “blatant example” of a unit of government taking steps to violate the freedom of speech and expression on the part of the persons who lead, staff, and provide financial support to pregnancy crisis centers of this type. The bill was drafted by the office of Attorney General Kwame Raoul.
The bill would have imposed numerous silences, and mandated warnings, upon Illinois crisis pregnancy centers. Parts of the law would have ordered these centers to say certain things to their visitors and to prospective recipients of crisis center counseling, and other parts would have told them there were other things they could not say. Violations of these orders would have been punishable as violations of the Consumer Fraud and Business Practices Act.
In the issuance of the preliminary injunction, the court found that the Illinois bill regulates speech in Illinois, and the restriction on the speech is based on the content of the speech being regulated. The court determined that the Illinois bill is unlikely to survive the constitutional challenge that has been filed against it, and must therefore be stayed in its entirety. The lawsuit to strike down the Illinois bill is National Institute of Family and Life Advocates vs. Raoul. The injunction was handed down by Judge Iain Johnston on Thursday, August 3. Litigation is expected to continue while the injunction remains in place.
New law will forbid videoconferencing while driving. Videoconference meetings, over broadband services such as Zoom, have become a part of working life for many Americans. While videoconferencing from home is appropriate under a wide variety of circumstances, some people have tried to “sign in” from a moving vehicle in which they are the driver. Law enforcement and driving-safety professionals asked the Illinois General Assembly for action, and the legislature responded. A new 2023 law, HB 2431, will make it illegal to participate in hands-on videoconference activities while driving.
The rationale for the new law is similar to the current law, familiar to all Illinois drivers, that forbids texting or the use of hands-on cell phones while driving. All three activities lead to “distracted driving” and motor vehicle crashes, including potentially deadly accidents. The exception in State law that allows hands-free/voice-activated phone work from the drivers’ seat will also apply to hands-free/voice-activated videoconferencing activities. Under the provisions of HB 2431, the driver is allowed to press a single button to start, and then to end, the videoconference. The other participants in the videoconference had better not expect to look into the drivers’ eyes, though. If he or she is driving a car or light truck, the driver will be watching the road.
A bipartisan bill, HB 2431 was approved by the Illinois House by a vote of 111-0-0. After Gov. Pritzker signed the measure, it became law as P.A. 103-310. The new law will go into effect on January 1, 2024.
FLAG OF ILLINOIS
Partisan study underway to look at possible new design for the Flag of Illinois. Like many U.S. states, Illinois has an official State flag with a complex emblem. The Illinois flag is a white banner that has a version of the Great Seal of Illinois sewn into it. The flag has an eagle, a rising sun, a scroll with the State motto, an olive branch, key dates of Illinois history, the word “Illinois,” and other elements. Many flag experts believe that a good flag design is one that has as few elements as possible and can be recognized from far away. Based on this principle, Illinois’s flag has gotten some ratings that indicate that Illinois could do better.
The Illinois General Assembly has enacted SB 1818, the Illinois Flag Commission Act. The Act creates a new, unpaid 22-member commission to guide public outreach for the possible creation of a new State of Illinois flag. After extensive public consultation, the Commission is directed to select a list of no more than 10 proposed flag designs. The list, and accompanying recommendations, shall be reported to the General Assembly on or before December 3, 2024.
A new Illinois flag, if it begins to fly, should represent all of Illinois. Unfortunately, the Flag Commission Act was set up in such a way as to give the Democrats majority control over the process of studying and selecting designs for a new flag. The Illinois Flag Commission Act was signed into law on Monday, August 7.
ILLINOIS STATE FAIR
Flagship summer festival kicks off. The week-and-a-half-long Illinois State Fair began its 2023 run in Springfield on Thursday, August 10. Featuring music, races, exhibits, carnival rides, and animal showings, the eleven-day gathering brings hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans together annually. A newly-carved 2023 butter cow will be an iconic symbol of the Fair.
Special tribute days include Veterans Day on Sunday, August 13; Senior Day on Monday, August 14; and First Responder/Health Care Worker Day on Friday, August 18. Free admissions are provided to all properly identified members of these groups on these days. The fair will continue until Sunday, August 20.
More than 100 licensed vendors are serving Illinois-based and exotic foods and drinks. Entertainment tents feature around-the-clock recorded and live music. Stage shows and installations feature circus-oriented and spine-chilling entertainment experiences for persons of all ages. A new State Fairgrounds feature, the “Route 66 Experience,” is a walk-through re-creation of America’s Mother Road as it was in the 20 years following World War II. The historic highway was authorized in 1926, and Illinoisans are getting ready to celebrate the Route 66 Centennial in 2026.