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State Representative Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) filed legislation this week that would make Illinois the 25th state that allows municipalities to seek bankruptcy protections under Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

Chapter 9 allows for bankruptcy protection, but includes a provision that requires a municipality to gain state authorization as part of the filing. Currently, Illinois statutes do not allow for such authorization for municipal governments.

House Bill 298 would allow desolate and debt-ridden municipalities in Illinois to seek bankruptcy protections through the federal bankruptcy law,” said Sandack. “As more and more municipalities are looking for relief and ways to deal with rising pension liabilities and other costs, this is a tool that can help them stabilize and reorganize financial affairs in ways that benefit taxpayers.”

According to Sandack, bankruptcy through Chapter 9 would operate much like personal or business bankruptcy. “Similar to the types of bankruptcy we see in the courts today, a municipality would have to file a plan according to a court-ordered schedule that divides creditors into classes and proposes treatment for each class,” said Sandack. “Creditors would get to vote on the plan and the court would approve the plan that has been accepted and is in the best interest of the creditors.

High profile municipal bankruptcy filings that have occurred in the United States include Detroit, Michigan, and the California municipalities of Stockton, Vallejo and San Bernardino. Since 1937, approximately 660 American municipalities have filed for Chapter 9 protection.

“I hear regularly from municipal leaders who worry about their ability to pay their bills and meet other debt requirements,” said Sandack. “This bill would provide one more tool that municipalities could have at their disposal to address their financial futures in a reasonable and taxpayer-friendly manner.”

To listen to audio of Sandack's thoughts about the bill, click here.

Rauner Takes Oath of Office; Issues Executive Orders 
Bruce Rauner, sworn in as Illinois’ 42rd Governor on Monday, January 12, wasted no time at all diving into his duties of addressing the State’s financial crisis. Last week Governor Rauner issued a series of executive orders to freeze all nonessential State spending, including spending on infrastructure projects. Announcing that he will serve without pay, the new Governor also said he would impose a new code of ethics on himself and his office as part of a dramatic shift in the State political culture.

Governor Rauner has made budget reform, job creation, economic growth, and educational reform four of the top priorities of his new administration. He and his staff have signaled their readiness to use additional executive orders to reorganize State agencies, abolish redundant and unnecessary offices, and reduce State spending. The new Governor is deeply concerned about Illinois’ economic standing in relation to comparable and neighboring states, and believes that genuine sacrifices will be necessary for the State to regain its standing and provide opportunities for young workers and families.

Governor’s Inaugural Address Asks Illinois to Return to Growth Pathway
In his inaugural address, on January 12, Governor Rauner asked his fellow Illinoisans to work with him to reverse the anti-growth policies of Illinois’ recent past. Pointing out that “our local businesses look in every direction and see states that are more appealing” for job creation and growth than Illinois, the new chief executive demanded that existing stakeholders recognize the danger and work with him on a cooperative path toward new policies. Reboot Illinois has reprinted the text of Rauner’s address.

Governor Orders Spending Freeze
One of Governor Bruce Rauner’s first acts was to order State agencies to freeze all nonessential spending. Executive Order 15-08 was an immediate follow-up to Rauner’s inaugural address, which pointed to Illinois’ history of poor fiscal management. The governor and his top team are aware that Illinois currently has the lowest credit rating among the 50 states. The spending freeze order is described here.

Some forms of spending are expected to continue. For example, ongoing State-financed infrastructure projects may continue if construction has started or equipment has been purchased. This exemption does not apply to major State programs that are currently in the planning stage, such as the proposed Illiana Tollway. Programs funded by federal grants will be allowed to continue to spend new money from Washington. State agencies, community colleges, and State universities will be allocated limited funds to continue their essential activities. State agencies will be barred from awarding new contracts or grants during a review period to be supervised by the Governor’s office, which is expected to continue until July 1, 2015. Exceptions are provided for rolling over or amending contracts that State agencies are required to fulfill by law.

The spending freeze is expected to set the stage for negotiations to govern State budget actions during the second half of FY15. In the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2015, the State’s general funds are expected to run hundreds of millions of dollars short of expected spending, based upon the spending trajectory established by former governor Quinn before he left office. Negotiations are also set to begin on the FY16 budget, which must be passed by both houses and signed by Rauner before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, 2015. The Rauner budget review is expected to generate data that will play a key role in these negotiations.

Rauner Executive Order Stops Revolving Door’s Spin
Governor Rauner’s Executive Order 15-09, issued on Tuesday, January 13, placed new requirements and prohibitions upon Executive Branch employees of the State.

The Rauner order is aimed at stopping the revolving door and banning such conduct by persons leaving the State’s executive branch. The order bans executive branch employees and appointees from negotiating for employment with a lobbyist or lobbying firm. It creates a one-year-long barrier between the act of leaving an executive-branch position and accepting any compensation for lobbying. The order also sharply reduces, to a “de minimis” level, the amount of food and beverages that an advocate or lobbyist can buy for a member of the executive branch.

The Rauner order sharply increases the scope of the required annual filing of annual Statements of Economic Interest by State employees. Current law requires executive-branch employees in relatively high pay classifications, and ones with supervisory responsibilities, to disclose their holdings and interests. Under the expanded disclosure requirement, mandated disclosures will include additional information about each filer’s outside work, volunteer work, legal status, and property holdings. The Rauner order imposes this mandate upon all employees of the Executive Branch. The Rauner executive order is covered by Springfield public radio station WUIS/91.9 here.

Executive Order Calls for Increased Transparency
Under current law, a small number of high-level positions in State government are exempt from civil service protection. Designated as positions essential to the making and shaping of public policy, these are the positions within State government hired by the Governor and his leadership team. On Thursday, January 15, Governor Rauner filed a new executive order pledging transparency in all of these hires.

Under Executive Order 15-10, all of these policy hires will be published on the existing Illinois Transparency and Accountability Portal. They will be sorted by name of employee, name of employing agency, division within the employing agency, and the job title for which the person was hired.

The Rauner executive order was described as a response to a recent scandal involving the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). The Better Government Association (BGA), a private-sector organization, studied IDOT hiring in 2013. The BGA investigation found widespread use of a legal loophole to evade civil-service laws and rules during the Quinn administration years. The study found that an unknown number of IDOT positions had been classified as executive-level, policymaking positions and exempted from civil service. Questions of possible patronage hiring, raised by the BGA investigation, helped lead to the departure of the Secretary of Transportation in the middle of the 2014 election season.

99th General Assembly Commences with Swearing in of House and Senate
On January 12, members of the House and Senate took their oaths of office, signaling the beginning of the 99th General Assembly and new opportunities for bipartisanship in Springfield. Democrat supermajorities remain in the House and Senate, but leaders will now be working with Republican Governor Bruce Rauner. This new era of two-party rule will be of great benefit to Illinois because a layer of checks and balances that has been absent since 2003 now exists. While the supermajorities remain in both legislative chambers, in the House every single vote will be needed by the Democrat majority to override a veto. On the controversial issues, that is a tough task that will undoubtedly create an environment for compromise.
In the opening days of the 99th General Assembly, State Representative Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) filed eight pieces of legislation that seek to change the culture of how government operates in Illinois.

“My 2015 legislative agenda includes bills that protect taxpayers, improve transparency, close loopholes in existing laws and improve accountability,” said Sandack, who was sworn in on January 14 to his second full term in the House. “I also plan to file additional bills that will further improve operations within our mass transit system and permit local units of government to obtain protections available under the Federal Bankruptcy Code."

Leading the Sandack legislative agenda for 2015 is HB135, which would close a loophole in existing law which allows for the issuance of “no-bid” contracts through intergovernmental agreements. According to Sandack, the bill was filed in response to an agreement penned in 2013 by former Governor Pat Quinn at the request of former Department of Healthcare and Family Services Director Julie Hamos. “That Quinn-Hamos agreement completely circumvented our normal bidding process, which was put in place specifically to ensure transparency in the awarding of state contracts,” said Sandack. “Quinn signed off on an intergovernmental agreement with the State of Michigan, which had an existing contract with a Maryland-based information technology company, so that Illinois could utilize the company’s services to manage important elements of Illinois’ Medicaid program. A contract of that magnitude should have been subject to our bidding process.”

Other recently filed Sandack bills include:

Property Taxpayer Protections During Times of Declining Home Values
HB136: Eliminates a public body’s ability to increase its levy in years when the total value of all taxable property in the district is lower than the value during the previous levy year, and allows for a three-year average to be used during periods of recovery.

HB137: Eliminates a public body’s ability to increase its levy in years when the total value of all taxable property in the district is lower than the value during the previous levy year, and addresses public body timing of tax increase referenda during time periods of declining property values.

Pensions for Lawmakers
HB138: Essentially closes the General Assembly Retirement System to new members as of January 1, 2016 (Sandack has already declined to participate in the pension system).

HB139: Requires the General Assembly Pension System to become a self-directed and self-sustainable retirement plan.

Protecting Veterans
HB171: Reduces the amount of any fee imposed by the Limited Liability Company (LLC) Act by 50% when the majority of the membership interests are held by honorably discharged veterans of the armed forces of the United States.

Education Funding Fairness
HR09: Creates the House Education Funding Advisory Committee to conduct a thorough review of the existing distribution methods and expenditures of education funding and recommend reforms to the education funding system.

Constitutional Amendments that Protect Illinoisans
HJRCA01: Creates term limits of 10 years for State Representatives and Senators or for any individual who has held both offices.

HJRCA02: Proposes a fair mapping process for the drawing of legislative district boundaries by requiring that a computer program create boundaries based solely upon population rather than having the controlling party draw the maps.

HJRCA03: Eliminates the Offices of the Comptroller and Treasurer and combines the functions into one Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury.

“All of these bills seek to set Illinois on a better path while protecting its citizens,” said Sandack. “Especially with the Constitutional Amendments regarding term limits and fair maps, Governor Rauner has been a vocal supporter of initiatives that change the culture of government and insert layers of fairness and common sense to the legislative process.”

Progress of Sandack’s bills can be tracked here.
New Law Allows Citizens to Record Law Enforcement Officers
In March of 2014, the Illinois Supreme Court threw out an eavesdropping law that protected Illinoisans from having their private conversations recorded. As a result of that ruling, there were absolutely no protections in place for anyone in Illinois against being recorded against their wishes. On December 30, Gov. Quinn signed SB 1342 into law as P.A. 98-1142. This new law responded to the March ruling, and put new eavesdropping restrictions in place.

In spite of widespread confusion and misinformation online, this new law incorporates provisions that DO IN FACT allow citizens to record police in an open and public manner.  In addition, in situations that are in public, even if a person is concealing what he or she is doing, the courts have found there is no expectation of privacy for law enforcement.  SB 1342 only prohibits a person from secretly recording law enforcement in situations where there is an expectation of privacy (e.g. two police officers discussing a case at the station).

“Tax Rollback Day” Approaches in Illinois 
 Under the terms of Illinois’ largest-ever tax increase law, P.A. 96-1496 (SB 2505), Illinois income taxes paid by individuals and corporations were partly (not completely) rolled back on January 1, 2015.  Under the terms of the tax-hike law, passed by legislative Democrats and signed by Gov. Quinn, the income tax paid by Illinois residents on their individual income rolls back from 5.00% in calendar year 2014 to 3.75% in calendar year 2015 and following years.  The corporate income tax rate partly rolls back from 7.00% to 5.25% at the same time.  The new rates created by this rollback are supposed to remain in place for 10 years, until December 31, 2024, when a second rollback cycle is supposed to take place.  For more on the tax rollback, please visit The Caucus Blog.

More than 200 New Laws Take Effect on January 1, 2015
On January 1st, more than 200 new laws took effect in Illinois. Several of the new laws affect drivers, while others affect children, their rights and their safety. Several other new laws pertain to the general welfare of Illinois citizens, to veterans and their families, and to business owners. Click here to read about ten of the more noteworthy new laws that just hit the books or to see a complete summary of all 200+ laws.

Illinois' history of over-regulating businesses continued in 2014, with a whole slew of new rules and regulations that will hit the books on January 1, 2015. While some of the approved legislation below makes sense, most of the business bills approved by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Quinn this year further define our state as being very "business-unfriendly." The new business-related laws that will take effect on January 1 include:

PA 98-0776 (SB 1098) Corporate Liability post dissolution
Allows for a corporation that has been dissolved to continue to be liable up to five years after the dissolution.  Any legitimate claim against the corporation could be from any period before, during, or after dissolution up to five years.  The law reverses a decision made by the Illinois Supreme Court.

PA 98-0774 (HB 5701) ‘Ban the Box’ bill
Prohibits employers from seeking information regarding a potential employee’s criminal history until after an invitation to interview or a conditional offer of employment has been extended.  Intended to allow job seekers with criminal history to be considered on their merits and experience rather than being dismissed out of hand for an offense

PA 98-0862 (HB 5622) Payroll cards
This law establishes requirements and regulations for the use of payroll cards by employers - stored value cards offered by some companies to their employees as an alternative to payroll checks or direct deposit. Payroll cards are similar to debit cards and can be used to make purchases or withdraw cash at ATMs. Regulations include prohibiting the employer from forcing an employee to accept a payroll card in lieu of other payment, and ensuring the employer provides a complete written explanation of the terms and conditions of the payroll card account including any fees that may be involved.

PA 98-0911 (HB 4790) Hair braiding licensure standards
Provides that an individual licensed as a hair braider teacher may practice hair braiding without being licensed as a hair braider.  The purpose of this change is to bring the same standards to barber oversight as is done with cosmetology.

PA 98-1037 (HB 4157) Employee status for interns
Adopts the federal definition of “intern” to the Illinois Human Rights Act, giving employee status to unpaid interns at Illinois businesses for the purpose of sexual harassment claims.  An “intern” is considered an employee if:   the employer & intern agree to no wages; employer is not committed to hiring the person; and the closely supervised work provides experience for the benefit of the person performing the work, but does not displace regular employees.

PA 98-1119 (SB 3405) Protecting small businesses from patent trolls
Any person sending demand letters about patent infringement must have an actual legal claim that is valid. Offenders will be subject to sanctions for engaging in a deceptive business practice.

PA 98-1051 (HB 5563)   Equal pay investigations
Allows Departments of Labor (DOL) and Human Rights (DHR) to combine Equal Pay and Sex Discrimination investigations and investigate an equal pay violation when a sex discrimination violation is also alleged, so that employers do not have to undergo TWO investigations.

PA 98-1050 (HB 8) Workplace pregnancy accommodations 
Provides that it is a civil rights violation for employers: to not to make reasonable accommodations for employees with conditions commonly related to childbirth or pregnancy; to require a job applicant or employee to accept accommodations; to require an employee to take leave for a medical condition related to childbirth or pregnancy; or to retaliate against a person who has requested, attempted to request, used, or attempted to use a reasonable accommodation.

PA 98-0838 (SB 2999) Licensing of roofing contractors
An applicant for licensure must submit to IDFPR evidence that they have an unemployment insurance employer account number issued by IDES, and that there is not a delinquency in payment under the Unemployment Insurance Act.  All persons performing roofing services under the Act shall be licensed as roofing contractors, except for persons who are deemed to be employees of a licensed roofing contractor.

PA 98-0874 (SB 1103) Occupational Safety and Health Act
This new Act, like the two Acts it replaces, applies only to public employers (the federal OSHA Act governs occupational health and safety in the private sector). One new change in the combined Act allows the Attorney General to bring an action in a circuit court to enforce the collection of any civil penalty assessed under the Act.

PA 98-1096 (SB 1778) Resale Dealers Act
The act requires that a resale dealer maintain a standard record book that has been approved by local law enforcement. It provides that the resale dealer shall record a detailed account of each transaction in the record book and establishes additional requirements concerning record books. Further provides that every resale dealer shall require that ID be shown by each person selling any goods, articles, or other things to the resale dealer and establishes additional requirements concerning acceptable forms of ID. It establishes criminal offenses that a person may be charged with for violating the Act, and amends the Pawnbroker Regulation Act to repeal a provision concerning requirements for unregistered buyers conducting business at temporary buying locations. Defines resale dealer.

In the list of new laws that will take effect on January 1, 2015, many will affect drivers and the transportation industry. The new laws include:

PA 98-1074 (HB 5326) Public transportation registration fees
There is an annual $8 registration fee for all PACE vehicles.  This law changes the annual fee to a one-time $8 fee.

PA 98-1103 (SB 2802) Proof of online license plate renewal
Allows a printed receipt of online license plate renewal to serve as proof of renewal until the sticker is received in the mail.

PA 98-0726 (HB 4422) Secretary of State omnibus bill
The omnibus bill for the Secretary of State makes the following changes: under the Illinois Identification Card Act, expands the definition of “disability” to include “oncological impairments” within Class 1A and Class 2A disabilities. It also amended the Illinois Vehicle Code concerning the Secretary of State’s discretionary authority to suspend or revoke the driver’s license or permit of military personnel. It removes the “J48 restriction” from statute. This restriction limits a driver to operating only a school bus and no other type of commercial motor vehicle.

PA 98-0870 (SB 2583) “Sign and drive” in Illinois
This new law institutes “sign and drive” in Illinois by prohibiting the confiscation of a motorist’s driver’s license as bail when stopped and cited for a minor (no jail time) traffic offense.  Since 9/11, the need for appropriate, state-issued photo identification has become a necessity in order to travel, obtain health-care, renting vehicles, etc. The driver’s license is still the standard, accepted form of photo identification.

PA 98-0746 (HB 5895) Nighttime BiOptic driving permits
Allows persons using non-traditional visual aid instruments, such as BiOptics, to apply for a special, restricted driver’s training permit. Currently, no process exists for drivers who wear bioptic lenses to practice driving prior to taking the nighttime road test. The permit would allow the applicant to drive from sunset to 10:00 p.m. for six months as long as the applicant is accompanied by a person who has a valid driver’s license with no nighttime driving restrictions. BiOptic glasses are vision enhanced lenses with extreme magnification.

PA 98-0747 (HB 5897) BiOptic driving license renewal 
Allows people who utilize BiOptics (vision enhanced lenses with extreme magnification) for nighttime driving to take a behind-the-wheel road renewal test every 4 years instead of annually. Maintains provisions in current law that require all BiOptic lens wearers to submit a Vision Specialist Report each year. Specifies that the Secretary of State may cancel a special restricted license for nighttime driving if the licensee violates any provision of the Illinois Vehicle Code during nighttime hours or is involved in a motor vehicle accident during nighttime hours for which the license holder is at fault.

PA 98-0737 (HB 5468) Window tinting certificate renewal
Permits a person who has been issued medical certificates allowing tinted windows on their vehicle to renew their medical certificate every 4 years rather than annually.

PA 98-0734 (HB 4743) County procedures for release of impounded vehicles
Counties, in addition to municipalities, may adopt administrative procedures for the release of impounded vehicles. This legislation is intended to be a source of income for counties on impounded vehicles that were used in commission of specified offenses and for the imposition of a reasonable administrative fee related to the county’s administrative and processing costs associate with the removal, impoundment, storage, and release of the vehicle.

PA 98-0884 (HB 3685) Waivers for licenses for certain bus drivers
Drivers of buses for religious organizations, senior citizen transportation services and for-profit ridesharing arrangement services are required to hold a valid drivers’ license for three years prior to the date of their application. This law allows an applicant to remain eligible if their license lapsed for less than 30 days during that time, and to apply for a waiver from the Secretary of State if the lapse was longer.

PA 98-0971 (SB 3402) Vehicular Dealer Plates & Repair
Provides that dealer plates issued by another state shall exempt a vehicle from the registration requirements of the Illinois Vehicle Code only while it is being transported to a repair facility within this State as evidenced by a work order or contract with the repair facility, and is displayed to a law enforcement officer upon request.

PA 98-0847 (SB 3290) Noise exemptions at off-road riding facilities
In a Section concerning off-road riding facilities, exempts owners or operators from civil and criminal liability arising out of or as a consequence of noise or sound emissions resulting from the use (instead of "normal use") of the off-road riding facility.

PA 98-0728 (HB 4687) Fees for shipping radioactive material 
For truck shipments of less than 100 miles in Illinois that consist entirely of cobalt-60 or other medical isotopes or both, the $2,500 per truck fee shall be reduced to $1,500 for the first truck and $750 for each additional truck in the same shipment.

The General Assembly approved several new laws in 2014 that will have an impact on local and state governments. The approved bills include:

PA 98-0894 (HB 4208) Ethics laws for county appointees
Current law states that a member of a governmental entity appointed by a county board president or chairperson shall abide by certain ethics laws. This new statute extends that requirement to include persons appointed by any member or members of the county board.

PA 98-1116 (SB 3294) Labeling recycling bins
Municipalities and counties may require household good recycling bins to be labeled with the contact information of the owning or operating entity and whether they are a not-for-profit or for-profit entity.

PA 98-1118 (SB 3314) Municipal clerk training institute membership makeup
Deputy clerks are now permitted to sit on the Municipal Clerk Training Institute Committee while eight of the committee’s nine ex-officio positions were eliminated.

PA 98-1108 (SB 2980) Copies of township financial statement
This law permits townships to distribute copies of the financial statement to the electors at the annual meeting, instead of reading it.

PA 98-0779 (SB 3552) Collar Counties code of conduct
This law allows for Lake, Kane, Will, McHenry, and DuPage Counties to establish a code of conduct by ordinance for appointees appointed by the county board chairman or county executive. It permits removal of appointees for the violation of a code of conduct with 2/3’s vote of the county board.

PA 98-0930 (HB 5623) Local government email
Local officials will be required to each maintain an email address accessible to members of the public. The law does allow for the use of uniform single email addresses (for multiple officials) or individual email addresses. The addresses don’t have to be searchable but available through a hyperlink on the website.

PA 98-0942 (SB 2620) Weight limit standards for emergency repair vehicles
During an emergency, such as flooding, sewer trucks may need to operate with heavier loads to facilitate completion of emergency work. The current maximum weight limit for sewer trucks is 40,000 pounds. This law allows these trucks to operate up to 66,000 pounds when they are operated or hired by a municipality and executing the emergency repair of sewers. These vehicles may not operate on interstate highways or bridges, and the law only applies to Cook, Lake, McHenry, Kane, DuPage, and Will Counties.

PA 98-1083 (HB 5812) Guidelines for county officials serving on not-for-profit board
Provides under certain circumstances, an elected county official may hold a position on a board of a not-for-profit conducting business in the same county.

PA 98-1085 (HB 5889) Judicial fee increase for Will County judicial facility
Allows the Will County Board to collect new judicial facilities fees, to a maximum of $30, charged in both civil and criminal cases at the time of a judgment. Includes felonies, misdemeanors, local or county ordinances, traffic violations, and conservation cases. The fees collected will help the County pay for a new judicial facility.

PA 98-1078 (HB 5592) Reversionary annuities
This law allows members of the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund to make an irrevocable election of a reversionary annuity before retirement.

PA 98-0854 (SB 499) Expands America’s Central Port District
This initiative of the Tri-City Regional Port District expands its authority, adds portions of Jersey County to the district, increases the board’s size from 7 to 9 members, and changes the name to create the new America's Central Port District. Under the new law the District will be also be able to acquire and maintain aquariums, sports facilities, museums and also factories or residential buildings. It also expands the District's ability to borrow money from banks by lengthening the repayment period from 3 years to 20 years.

PA 98-1087 (SB 229) Boards and commissions membership demographic data
Requires the Governor's Office of Boards and Commissions to establish and maintain on the Internet a uniform application that includes a data field where an applicant shall disclose his or her ethnicity, gender, and disability status for reporting purposes. Beginning October 1, 2015 and every year after, the Governor shall file a report with the General Assembly outlining the demographics.

PA 98-1084 (HB 5853) Government agencies online phonebook
Requires the Illinois Transparency & Accountability Portal web site to include a link to a website maintained by CMS that contains a list of contact information for each State agency, including a telephone number and a link to the Agency's website. Further clarifies that each State agency shall be responsible for providing and updating CMS with its contact information.

PA 98-1076 (HB 5491) Procurement efficiency
This law requires the Procurement Policy Board to create efficiency reviews. This simply provides greater efficiency and transparency in the Procurement Code.

PA 98-1027 (SB 3056) RTA reform omnibus bill
This legislation is intended to enhance transparency of the operations and financial expenditures of RTA, CTA, PACE and METRA. It is intended to provide services for areas that currently lack service, but are geographically located in the RTA service area. Changes include a requirement that RTA shall cooperate with other governmental and private agencies in bikeway and trail programs, and a requirement that RTA must consult with IDOT’s division of Programming and Planning when developing RTA’s strategic plan.