Illinois announces multi-billion-dollar road construction plan

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) announced a multi-year, $23.5 billion transportation construction program Oct. 21 that proposes to spend more than $3.7 billion in the current fiscal year alone.

The plan includes improvements, new construction, and repairs to more than 4,200 miles of roadways and nearly 700 bridges throughout the state.

It’s been about 10 years since the last significant capital construction program, and it shows, according to a 2018 study by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute. That report concluded the state’s backlog of deteriorating roadway miles increased from 1,700 in 2001 to 3,300 in 2015, and 20 percent of state roads were rated in “poor” condition compared to only eight percent in 2001.

Faced with these facts, the General Assembly created a plan that includes federal and local match dollars, bonding, and other sources of revenue to pay for the long-overdue work. I recognized the need for repairing and rebuilding our roads and bridge, but did not support the sources of revenue to pay for this huge plan, including the doubling of Illinois’ gas tax.

From that plan, the Illinois Department of Transportation has allocated more than $26.2 million for 16 local construction projects in the 45th Senate District during Fiscal Year 2020. The six-year plan also proposes additional funding of more than $301.8 million for 99 other local projects slated for FY 2021-2025.

I know that investing in transportation infrastructure will help attract businesses, create jobs, and revitalize the economy. I just don’t like that we funded this plan by placing such a huge burden on the backs of our citizens.

Combating Illinois’ opioid crisis

For nearly two years now, Illinois has been working to implement the State of Illinois Opioid Action Plan (SOAP) to reduce the number of opioid overdose deaths. The Senate’s Special Committee on Opioid Crisis Abatement learned during a hearing Oct. 21 that there is some improvement.

Jenny Epstein, Director of Strategic Opioid Initiatives at the Illinois Department of Public Health, told Senators that deaths from opioid overdoses decreased in 2018 for the first time in five years, from 2,202 in 2017 to 2,167 last year.

Epstein said there are three “pillars” to the SOAP program: Prevention, Treatment, and Response. Prevention includes safer prescribing and dispensing of prescription opioids and better access to information about the effects of opioid addiction. Treatment involves improved access to care for the addicted. The Response part of the plan involves increasing the number of first responders and community members who are trained and have access to naloxone, also known by the generic name of Narcan, an effective antidote that can immediately reverse the effects of an overdose.

The effort to address opioid addiction was begun in 2017 by then-Governor Bruce Rauner, who issued an Executive Order creating the Opioid Prevention and Intervention Task Force, which was asked to develop, approve, and implement a comprehensive Opioid Action Plan.

The latest edition of the SOAP report is available at http://www.dph.illinois.gov/sites/default/files/publications/final-soap-implementation-report.pdf.

Illinois offers dual credit endorsement for teachers, and students benefit too

In an effort to support the rapidly growing number of students earning college credit while in high school, the state is now offering opportunities for qualified high school dual credit teachers to seek a special endorsement on their Professional Educator License.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE), the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), and the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) announced Oct. 23 the endorsement will help meet the growing demand for dual credit teachers as more and more students seek to earn college credit while in high school.

Dual credit courses allow academically qualified high school students to enroll in a college-level course, and upon successful course completion, earn both college credit and high school credit at the same time.

According to the ISBE, participation in dual credit courses is growing. Illinois students in the 10th through 12th grades took more than 165,000 dual credit courses from 2016 to 2018. Enrollment in dual credit courses also increased by more than 3,000 courses between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years.

Teachers interested in applying for the endorsement can learn more at www.isbe.net/Pages/Dual-Credit-Endorsements.aspx.

Veto Session 2019

The first week of the two-week fall Veto Session is set for Oct. 28-30. There are a total of eight legislative measures, which received total or partial vetoes by the Governor following the spring legislative session. Issues include the Affordable Care Act, education, and gambling.

The second week of Veto Session is scheduled for Nov. 12-14.

If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, please visit my website at www.senatorstewart.com and use the form to send me an e-mail.