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Mendoza and Manar introduce “Truth in Hiring Act”

Thomas Clatterbuck

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How big is the governor’s staff? That question is more complicated than you might think. Officially, the governor has 44 staffers and a budget of $4.9 million. However, according to Comptroller Susana Mendoza (D), the real number is much higher. A new info graphic put out by her office states the real size of the office is more than twice that size with 102 staffers and a budget of over $10 million.

The discrepancy is due to a practice called “offshoring.” Many people who work for the governor are paid through other offices. Because they are paid by other agencies, the governor’s staff looks smaller than it actually is. Not only does this hide how large the governor’s office is, it also distorts how much money the other agencies actually have. Mendoza made it clear that this is not a new practice. In her press release she said, “It was wrong when Governor Quinn did it. It was wrong when Governor Blagojevich did it. It was wrong when Governor Ryan did it. And it’s still wrong when Governor Rauner does it.”

In response, a bipartisan group of legislators, including Sen. Andy Manar (D-48) have proposed bills in the House and Senate to address this issue. The bills would prohibit paying employees of the Governor’s office out of any funds except those established for that purpose. This does not fire any of the employees who are currently offshored, but it would require paying them through the appropriate office. Often, employees are not even aware they have been offshored.

To learn more about the Acts, you can check out Mendoza’s press release. The two bills are HB5121 and SB3233.

Senior strategist, statehouse reporter and political correspondent for Springfield Daily. Graduate of District 117 and UIS. Thomas covers stories in both Morgan and Sangamon Counties, as well as statewide politics.

Business

Court upholds Illinois nuclear power subsidy law

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A federal appellate court ruling upheld Illinois’ law directing hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to nuclear plants and other green energy incentives.

The ruling from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals says that Illinois’ Future Energy Jobs Act, a 2016 law providing Zero Emissions Credits to Exelon, the owner of several nuclear plants in the state, doesn’t unfairly manipulate the multi-state energy market that establishes rates.

The challenge was brought by the Electric Power Supply Association, a trade group for power plant owners that includes Dynegy, which has since been acquired by Vistra Energy. Vistra owns coal-fired plants in Illinois. Vistra wasn’t immediately available to respond to the ruling or say whether it will appeal the decision.

In Vistra’s lawsuit, the company claimed the subsidies allowed Exelon to submit unfairly low rates in the wholesale auction.

The panel ruled that “the Commerce Clause does not cut the states off from legislating on all subjects relating to the health, life, and safety of their citizens…”

Exelon released a statement Friday saying the company was “pleased to see that the Seventh Circuit Court affirmed dismissal of the ZEC complaint, thus supporting the continued operation of Illinois’ ZEC program and the clean, resilient and affordable electricity nuclear power provides.”

State Rep. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, who has two nuclear plants in her district, said it was good for clean and renewable energy.

“Many states are trying to figure out what to do to keep the nuclear plants online,” she said. “This opinion that just came out sounds like a step in the right direction.”

Both sides had said Illinois jobs were on the line as they looked to influence lawmakers.

Exelon warned in 2016 that it would likely have to close two Illinois plants, one near Clinton and another near the Quad Cities, and cut 1,500 jobs if the subsidies weren’t signed into law.

Dynegy said its Illinois-based plants face an uncertain future if the courts upheld the FEJA. This would mean 1,000 jobs in southern Illinois, an area facing a dearth of higher-paying jobs.

The Future Energy Jobs Act will charge utility customers an average of $2 per month over the next decade, sending $236 million to Exelon annually. In turn for the credits, ComEd, Exelon’s energy retailer, would invest in green jobs training and provide discounts to needy ratepayers.

Article by Cole Lauterbach with Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org

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News

S&P: Growing pension costs to force cities to raise taxes, cut services

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S&P Global Ratings is warning that growing public retirement debt is likely going to continue to eat up public funds that would otherwise go to providing services to taxpayers.

In an annual report on America’s 15 largest cities and their public debt, S&P said major cities like Chicago are going to have to cut services as they shift more money to pay down legacy retirement costs. Analysts also expect cities to continue to raise taxes, with all of that new tax revenue going to pay for pensions.

“As we expect these costs to continue to rise in the near term, we likewise expect to see growing pressure on other priority services such as public safety and public works, absent revenue growth from tax hikes or the identification of new revenue streams,” the report said.

Growing pension costs could even make it more difficult for cities to come up with money for infrastructure projects, such as road improvements.

“Any of the major cities that currently face a backlog of deferred capital will only find it more difficult to keep pace with demand for new infrastructure investment, as mounting legacy costs command an ever greater share of budgets,” the report said.

The report describes Chicago as an “outlier” in terms of its 26 percent pension funding levels. The city has raised property taxes multiple times in recent years, most of that money going to pensions. The city is considering borrowing $10 billion to essentially refinance its pension debt using portions of future income as leverage to get better rates.

S&P Analyst Scott Nees expects it to become more pronounced as required contributions increase.

“Those cities that are on the low end of the distribution in terms of pension funding levels will continue to see these costs increase in the future,” he said.

Similar budgetary pressure is apparent in cities across Illinois. The city of Peoria announced more than two dozen layoffs last month. Its annual budget report noted that pension payments are crowding out services. Many more municipalities are raising taxes to pay into the funds.

“I think it ends up being a little bit of a mixture raising new revenue streams and then maybe curbing cost growth that otherwise wouldn’t have emerged if it weren’t for the fact that they didn’t have to cover rising pension costs,” Nees said, adding that Chicago still benefits from its solidly diverse economy.

Article by Cole Lauterbach with Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org

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Rauner declares harvest emergency as stopgap until higher haul limits take effect next year

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Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed an emergency declaration Friday to allow increased weight limits for Illinois agriculture haulers on Illinois roads.

Last month Rauner signed a law allowing permanently increased haul limits for permitted vehicles during harvest season, but that doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1. He said the declaration he signed Friday in Auburn at The Ladage Farm doesn’t have as much to do with the weather as it does with making Illinois farmers more competitive.

“The right answer for the permanent competitiveness of Illinois farmers is to make sure that our truckers and our commodities haulers and our farmers can get their product to market, fast, efficient, cost effectively,” Rauner said. “And 10 percent more weight now here in the fall can be on our commodities truckers going in.”

“That means every ten loads we’d have another load to haul so that’s gonna save us time and wear and tear and makes our harvest much quicker,” Ladage farm operator Brent Ladage said. “It adds up a lot, too.”

Illinois Farm Bureau’s Mark Reichert said the order and new law means trucks won’t have to vary their weights going from Illinois to neighboring states.

“So we’ve kind of mirrored now all of the states around, so there’s kind of an equilibrium now,” Reichert said.

Asked if possible increased wear and tear on local roads is an unfunded mandate on local taxpayers who pay to maintain the roads, Rauner he didn’t see that way.

“No, this is regulatory relief,” Rauner said. “This is cutting mandates, cutting regulations, which I’m all about. Eliminate as many regulations. This is freeing it up. There’s less regulatory restrictions now on our farmers.”

Rauner said fewer trucks on the road also diminishes wear and tear to roads that local taxpayers would have to maintain.

State Rep. Dave Severin, R-Benton, said increased haul limits also is about safety.

“Less vehicles on the road which is very important with school season now going and schools are back in session,” Severin said.

Starting Monday, haulers can request permits for increased limits from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Article by Greg Bishop, Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org 

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