Senator Barickman’s Week in Review: January 19 – 23, 2015

New Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner orders a freeze on discretionary spending just days before a University report offers a bleak outlook for the state’s finances, said State Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington).

The Governor’s administration also begins to focus on job creation, and a new effort is proposed to take statewide a successful local program to combat heroin overdoses.

Trying to Turn the Tide

One of Governor Bruce Rauner’s first steps in office was to issue an executive order halting all discretionary spending. The move also halts the awarding of contracts and grants, and instructs the sale of surplus property. According to Senator Barickman, the order won’t fix the state’s massive budget hole, but it is a good opening effort to move in the right direction. 

The order comes just days before the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs released a report on the state’s sad fiscal condition. According to the report, the FY2015 budget deficit may be closer to $6 billion, and could balloon to $14 billion by 2026.

Governor’s Opening Act on Jobs

According to Senator Barickman, the new Rauner administration has made job creation one of its top priorities. While the Legislature won’t begin actual law-making until February, the Governor is already taking action where and when he can to address the issue, including obtaining the information he said he needs to craft a successful jobs program.

Rauner signed an Executive Order Jan. 19 to increase hiring opportunities for minorities and veterans by first evaluating the existing level of job opportunities. The order instructs labor groups, contractors or subcontractors doing business with state government to report the number of minorities and veterans participating in any currently offered training program. The Governor said the order is designed “to ensure jobs and business opportunities are open to everyone, but especially those who serve our country or are underrepresented in the economy.”

Illinois Energy: Job Creation Awaits

According to a study conducted for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, the potential benefits of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to extract oil and natural gas resources from deep underground could mean up to 47,000 jobs and more than $9 billion in economic impact for Illinois.

The Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources reports, to-date only one company Strata-X, Inc. of Denver, Colorado has registered and been approved for the work. Fracking involves using a mixture of water, chemicals and sand to crack rock formations deep underground and release trapped oil and gas. The process has been a boon to job creation and economic development in other states. However, as the State Journal Register recently reported, there are concerns the nearly year-and-a-half delay between the signing of the Fracking Law and final approval of rules governing the process may have slowed interest and pushed back decisions by other companies to get involved.

The Senate Republican Caucus was united in its support of the legislation when it passed during the spring 2013 legislative session because of its potential to create good-paying jobs and the contribution it would make to economic growth resulting in an increase in revenues for a debt-laden state government.

Preparing for New Energy Jobs

Meanwhile, one downstate Illinois community college says it will offer a degree program beginning this fall to educate workers in preparation for the new job opportunities in the state’s growing oil and gas industry.

Lincoln Trail College (LTC) announced the new program this month, which was developed with input from local industry leaders. The Petroleum Drilling Technology program offers students an Associate in Applied Science Degree. The College said in a news release that the program includes, “the planning, development and operation of oil and natural gas extraction and processing facilities.”

LTC said the Illinois Department of Employment Security predicts a job increase of 23.2 percent for oil and gas laborers, 23.6 percent for oil and gas rotary drill operators and 24.1 percent for oil and gas derrick operators over the next seven years.

Efforts to expand job creation and put Illinoisans to work are critical to reducing the sky-rocketing number of Illinoisans relying on state assistance. A new report on Illinois’ long-suffering economy reveals a sobering fact: dependence on the food stamp program is at an all-time high in Illinois.

More Food Stamps; Fewer Jobs

According to the Illinois Policy Institute, an independent research organization, Illinois ranked last among the 12 Midwest states in job creation during 2014. The IPI report also revealed that the number of Illinois households receiving food stamps last year hit a record high of 1,073,279.

Citing figures from the Illinois Department of Human Services, IPI reported “The total number of Illinoisans on food stamps jumped by 37,500 in December.” The Institute’s report stated that in 2014, “An additional 60,000 Illinoisans were added to the food-stamp rolls against a mere 27,600 new jobs created in the state.”

Reducing Heroin Fatalities

Republican State Senator Michael Connelly is sponsoring legislation this spring to expand a suburban Chicago program that provides emergency medical care to prevent heroin drug overdoses.

Under Sen. Connelly’s proposal, school nursing personnel across the state would be allowed to administer the life-saving NARCAN antidote (drug name: Naloxone) that reverses the effects of an overdose. Similar to a current law allowing school personnel to administer “epi-pens,” which help reverse anaphylactic shock, the new legislation would make school districts and authorized personnel immune from civil liabilities if NARCAN is administered in “good faith.” 

Reports of heroin addiction and deaths from overdose have been widely reported across the state in recent years. Legislative activity by the Senate and House in 2014 included hearings at the Capitol and in communities struggling with a huge increase in the use of the drug.

Sen. Connelly said DuPage County law enforcement officials recorded 32 lives saved during 2014 using the NARCAN antidote.

According to the group “Stop Overdose IL,” the use of NARCAN has reduced overdose deaths by 50 percent through blocking the effects of heroin and other opiates on the brain.

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