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By Kevin Riggs Consultant to the St. Louis Regional Chamber

Kevin-Riggs-mugILLINOIS

Pension Reform

   Ten members of the pension conference committee continued meeting in an effort to devise a pension reform proposal that can pass muster with the General Assembly. The Illinois House, earlier in the session, passed pension reform estimated to reduce the immediate pension debt by $21 billion while reducing pension costs by $187 billion over the next 30 years. Members of the Illinois Senate crafted pension reform in concert with labor unions that would cut the state’s pension debt by $6 billion to $9 billion with long-term savings of $45 billion. With both chambers wed to their respective plans, a conference committee was created with five members from each chamber participating. At press time, the pension reform group was close to agreeing on a necessary cost savings that would total nearly $120 billion over the next three decades. They are working on how to achieve that level of savings and will likely cap cost-of-living-adjustment increases at a maximum level, refinance the current pension debt and increase employee contributions as part of the plan.

Infrastructure

   Gov. Pat Quinn announced an investment of $1.5 million to build an ultra-high-speed broadband network in Southern Illinois. The partnership between Frontier North Inc., the city of Carbondale, Southern Illinois University and Connect SI will use the funding to build a gigabit network that will serve residents, businesses and institutions in Southern Illinois.

   The $1.5 million investment is supported by the governor’s Illinois Jobs Now! capital construction program. It provides funding for Frontier to build a high-speed, fiber optic network to link Carbondale’s businesses, schools, hospitals and neighborhoods. The gigabit broadband, up to 100 times faster than speeds currently available, will help recruit new business to the region and enable Southern Illinois University’s scholars, innovators and entrepreneurs to connect globally. Capabilities for telemedicine and telehealth through the university’s School of Medicine will also impact citizens in underserved areas in Southern Illinois and allow for faster transmission of medical records and vital information.

Transportation

   The governor enacted a law to increase the speed limit from 65 to 70 miles per hour on rural four-lane highways, and to lower the limit by 5 mph for excessive speeding. The law will bring Illinois’ speed limit in line with 36 other states that have speed limits of 70 mph or higher on some portion of their roadways - including other large states such as California, Florida, Texas and Ohio - and neighboring states such as Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Iowa and Michigan.
   The bill passed with significant bipartisan support in both chambers. The new law also includes an additional safety provision, which lowers the limit by 5 mph at which drivers may be charged by law enforcement with excessive speeding. Currently, the threshold for penalties is 31 mph over the limit. The new law lowers that threshold to 26 mph over the limit to increase safety on Illinois roads. The law is effective Jan. 1, 2014.