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President Trump | Year One
U.S. economy: Is it Trump? Or something else? Local experts weigh in.

CARBONDALE — The economy has been on a upswing.

That fact can’t be disputed, but what can be disputed is whether or not President Donald Trump is the cause of the nation’s good financial fortunes or if his administration has so far been at the right place at the right time.

Kevin Sylwester, a Southern Illinois University Carbondale professor in the economics department, said it depends on what side of the filter a person is looking at it. He said those who support the president will point to 2.1 million jobs created and an unemployment rate that went from 4.9 percent at the beginning of Trump’s term to about 4.1 percent currently.

“Most people didn’t predict that was going to happen,” he said.

On the other side of the coin, Sylwester said those who aren’t supportive of Trump will say 2.1 million jobs were created under Trump, but 2.2 million jobs were created in 2016. Additionally, employment is lower today than it was at the beginning of 2017, but the same could be said at the end of 2016 than at the beginning, he said. 

The fact is the country has seen two straight quarters of more than 3 percent gross domestic product growth, Sylwester said. GDP is the total value of everything produced by all the people and companies in the country. It doesn't matter if they are citizens or foreign-owned companies. If they are located within the country, the government counts their production as GDP.

Since the Great Recession, the country has seen two consecutive quarters of 3 percent GDP growth but never three, he said. “Even though the fourth-quarter numbers are not out yet — that won’t be out until February — but they look good.”

Sylwester said those in favor of the president might cite factors such as the rollback of several regulations to businesses, creating less hoops to jump through.

“You might say that if it wasn’t the regulations themselves hampering the economy, businesses were always scared of more regulations coming down the road,” he said. “And it's that uncertainty that prevents businesses from expanding.”

“One thing that President Trump did was roll back some of these regulations and make it harder for new regulations to come into effect. A Trump supporter would say that is taking the shackles off the businesses.”

Sylwester said the alternative theory to GDP growth is that the economy was already improving before Trump entered the White House. He said those opposing Trump could say that even though the recovery after the Great Recession ended was disappointing, and people were expecting a more robust recovery, perhaps it was just delayed. Trump didn’t cause it, but could be benefiting from it now.

Sylwester said what economists would love to be able to do, to study the effects of any economic policy, is to go back in time and somehow prevent the policy from going into effect and see what the outcome would be.

“But we can’t do that,” he said. “The key question is what would the economy look like today if Hillary Clinton was president? We will never know.”

He said that is what makes it difficult to determine the president’s impact on the economy — the data on whether or not somebody else could do it better under the exact conditions is unavailable.

“Fairly or unfairly, presidents get too much blame or credit for what is happening in the economy. In terms of correlation, when the economy is good, presidents will get credit for it and when the economy is bad, presidents will get blamed,” Sylwester said. “It is hard to imagine the economy doing better than it has done.”

He said many economists would argue that the Federal Reserve is more important in terms of guiding the economy than the president and Congress, because it can more actively engage in policy.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the Southern Illinois unemployment rate jumped up and down over the past two years. In January 2016, the rate was at 6.8 percent and continued to decline to 5.9 percent until July, where it remained stagnant for a month and then dropped to 5.2 percent in November. In January 2017, the month of Trump’s inauguration, unemployment stood at 7.1 percent in Southern Illinois and dropped to 4.3 percent in April, according to labor statistics. There was a slight uptick in June to 5.2 percent, and then they fell again to 4.3 percent in September. The most recent numbers available through the Department of Labor are preliminary November numbers, which show the unemployment rate at 4.5 percent in Southern Illinois. 

Leon McClerren, Frankin County president of the Illinois Farm Bureau, told The Southern Illinoisan that production has been increasing, but overseas sales are down from what they once were.

He said he didn't think just one thing is contributing to the issue and trading should be addressed.

“I think we are still up in the air. I think (the North American Free Trade Agreement) being renegotiated and possibly being let go, that’s a concern for farmers, of course,” McClerren said in an interview this past week. 

As for the strides made in the stock market, David O. England, a financial expert, said all the top eight global economies in the world are up since Nov. 9, 2016.

“They said the market would be in economic shambles and be in a bear market, but that did not happen,” England said. “After the election, buying came into that market from all over the world. A large part of that had to do with value of the U.S. dollar dropping, which meant it was a better buy internationally to bring your money into the United States.”

He said the most recent corporate tax bill passed in December is a large part of why the stock market is still doing well.

“We are getting money that is held overseas brought back into the U.S. to be put to work,” England said. “The jury is still out to see what is going to be the true effect of that. We are having lower tax rates so many companies as of Jan. 4 are giving bonuses or increased wages back to their employees.”

So, in England’s mind, the economy is doing better at the current state, but will it continue?

“That’s the $64 million question,” he said. “The big gamble is that the increased business that will be generated … will more than surpass and raise more revenues in taxes than what they are losing by dropping the tax rates. It’ll take a while for that jury to be out.”

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Federal employees in Southern Illinois furloughed Monday in wake of government shutdown

CARBONDALE — A sign in the Social Security Administration office in the Paul Simon Federal Building on Monday listed what services were and were not available during the federal government shutdown, which began shortly after midnight Saturday when legislators could not agree on an appropriations bill.

The shutdown ended Monday evening after the House and Senate approved a measure to fund the federal government through Feb. 8. President Donald Trump signed the bill, meaning agencies can now begin the process of recalling employees and opening as usual. 

Visitors to the office could apply for benefits, request an appeal, change an address or direct deposit information, report a death, verify or change citizenship status, replace a missing Social Security payment, get a critical payment or process a change in living arrangements or income.

Social Security could not issue new or replacement Social Security or Medicare cards, issue a proof of income letter or update or correct earnings record.

For offices are not regularly open weekends, federal employees reported to work Monday only to be furloughed and sent home.

Lt. Col. Brad Leighty, public affairs director for Illinois National Guard, said 1,000 of the guard’s employees statewide were sent home Monday morning. Most of them were military technicians who are paid full-time Army employees.

“It’s definitely been disruptive. Before we can bring them back, we need to have a signed appropriation. If we get a signed bill, we can bring them back tomorrow,” Leighty said.

But that was not the only disruption for Illinois National Guard. They had to curtail a number of training events over the weekend and send soldiers home, including soldiers from Marion.

“We sent about 1,000 home over the weekend from basic training at weekend drills. It is important that we train,” Leighty said. “We are talking about a significant number of soldiers.”

He added that the training events canceled by the government shutdown will be rescheduled. During a government shutdown, they do not have authority to spend money.

Other soldiers were scheduled for yearly physical exams, and they were able to continue as planned due to the contracts for those exams.

Leighty said some contracts had to be canceled, which will result in about $8,000 in cancellation fees.

A call to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Service was picked up by an answering machine.

“You have reached U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. We are not in the office due to the current lapse in federal appropriations” the recorded voice said, adding that the latest information is available at

For the Shawnee National Forest, only essential employees, such as police officers and firefighters and personnel needed to shut down and secure its facilities would be working during the shutdown.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Rend Lake sent a news release Monday saying that they were affected by a government-wide shutdown beginning Saturday. As a result, many areas managed by ACE at Rend Lake were closed until further notice, including the project office and visitor center and all gated day use areas (Jackie Branch, Turnip Patch, Ina Boat Ramp, South Marcum and North Marcum).

The water portion of Rend Lake remains open. Access to the lake is available in Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park, Sailboat Harbor and Rend Lake Conservancy District Boat Ramp off Illinois 154. Rend Lake Bike Trails all remains open for use. Rend Lake Marina is not affected by the shutdown and will be open regular winter hours.

U.S. District Court in Benton remained open Monday. A news release from the court said most proceedings and deadlines will continue as scheduled, but advised said they could operate about three weeks using existing funds.

Debt Transparency Report
Illinois governor: Cut taxes, 'wasteful spending' to curb deficit

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner said Monday that he will propose rolling back last year's income tax increase in a "step-down" process over several years while also tackling a continuing deficit of billions of dollars.

The Republican, who will propose a budget outline next month, revealed his plan to pare down the tax increase — a $5 billion-a-year revenue boost — in response to a report that the state spent $2 billion that lawmakers never approved.

Comptroller Susana Mendoza's first-of-its-kind monthly review Monday detailed Illinois' $9 billion in overdue bills. Mendoza, a Democrat, pointed out that in addition to that pile, the state has $2.3 billion that it's obligated to pay, but which the General Assembly never appropriated.

Rauner, who's facing a tough re-election campaign this year, was asked about the deficit after a visit to a Skokie high school.

"It's going to take a few years, but we're going to step down the income tax increase and put more money in education, shrink the wasteful spending in government and close this deficit," he said. "We've had a deficit now for years and even after a tax hike, there are deficits."

Mendoza's review results from a law adopted in November. It also pointed out that the backlogged spending, which hit $16.7 billion in November before borrowing paid off a portion of it, carries with it a $1 billion late-payment surcharge run up since mid-2015, the beginning of a two-year budget deadlock between Rauner and Democrats who control the Legislature.

It ended last summer when several House Republicans helped Democrats override Rauner's veto of an increase in the income tax from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent.

Rauner to borrow up to $6B to pay off late bills

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner acknowledged Thursday that Illinois has no choice but to borrow up to $6 billion to tackle a financial crisis largely caused by excessive borrowing, reversing earlier declarations that the state with the nation's worst credit rating wouldn't take on more debt under his watch.

Democrats have claimed that much of the unappropriated spending came from Rauner, who continued during the impasse to sign contracts with providers of good and services without a guarantee that the money would be approved to pay the bills.

Of the backlog — which stood at $8.8 billion Monday — Mendoza's report said $2.5 billion had not yet been sent to the comptroller for processing by the agencies that incurred them. Before now, agencies weren't required to report the amounts they were still holding. But knowing what is coming from the agencies is part of why Mendoza wanted the law.

"This report will be an effective cash-management tool for my office and provides a much greater level of transparency for taxpayers and policymakers," Mendoza said in a statement.

Eighty of 84 agencies complied on time, Mendoza's office said. The biggest of the four who failed is the Department of Children and Family Services. A spokesman for DCFS did not respond to a question as to why.