SPRINGFIELD – More than three weeks into a new fiscal year, the budget stalemate has revealed stark differences in the way reform-minded Republicans and status-quo Democrats envision Illinois’ future, according to State Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington).
Gov. Bruce Rauner and Republican lawmakers are seeking a constitutional 12-month budget anchored on solid governmental and business reforms to improve the state’s economy, freeze property taxes, and implement term limits and take “politics” out of the process of drawing legislative boundaries.
Democrat leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives have settled for an unbalanced, one-month budget, and are advocating for a continuation of failed fiscal policies and unstable business practices that have left Illinois with the third-worst business climate, the second-highest property taxes, and the worst credit ratings of any state.
The Illinois Constitution requires the General Assembly to pass a balanced 12-month budget. In May, Democrat leaders pushed through a plan based on expected revenues of $32 billion and proposed spending of $36 billion. That budget has been vetoed by Gov. Rauner, but Democrat lawmakers last week voted to override several of his vetoes, further complicating budget negotiations.
Both House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Cullerton have repeatedly said that their number-one issue is the budget deficit – not the economy or the taxpayers – and have resisted nearly every effort toward reform. Senator Barickman said it’s tough to take them at their word because they voted to pass a budget with a $4 billion deficit, and they have introduced no proposals to cut enough or raise taxes to cover the shortfall.
Need for compromise
House lawmakers returned to Springfield July 21 for hearings that Democrat legislative leaders said showed the perils of adopting Rauner’s pro-business agenda. The Senate has its next session days scheduled for Aug. 4 and 5.
Senator Barickman said the General Assembly’s Democrat leaders need to stop the public relations gimmicks like the Committee of the Whole political theater, and make more attempts at compromise. Gov. Rauner has already offered to come more than halfway by scaling his policy agenda down from more than 40 items in his Turnaround Agenda to only a handful, and backing away from right-to-work legislation. He has also offered movement on tax reform to find additional revenues to help balance the budget.
Higher education subcommittee
On July 20, a Senate Higher Education Subcommittee discussed excessive compensatory practices and abuses that have been occurring within public post-secondary education.
The committee heard testimony from public universities and community colleges about their “normal” benefit packages, which include housing and vehicle allowances and, in some cases, exorbitant fringe benefits.
State Sen. Michael Connelly (R-Wheaton) has strongly opposed such packages, which have allowed some administrators to make more than $250,000 as a base for their contracts. He has sponsored a series of bills to help rein in these practices in the wake of the recent scandal regarding the College of DuPage’s now-removed President Robert Brueder.
The abuses at the College of DuPage are now the subject of a federal investigation.
Audit Commission accepting applications for Auditor General post
The Legislative Audit Commission will be accepting applications through Aug. 19 from persons interested in appointment as State Auditor General.
The Auditor General is a constitutional officer charged with the audit of Illinois’ public funds. Currently, the Auditor General oversees a staff of 90 and administers a $30.7 million budget. State law requires that each state agency be audited at least biennially. The Auditor General also performs investigations, and efficiency, management or program audits at the direction of the Legislature or the Audit Commission.
Persons interested in the appointment can get more information from the Legislative Audit Commission’s Website at http://ilga.gov/commission/lac/lac_home.html.
Law could help save millions
A new law that would end state payments to benefit recipients who are deceased could save taxpayers millions of dollars.
Sponsored by State Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) and signed by the Governor July 21, House Bill 3311 requires the Department of Human Services and the Department of Public Health to cross-reference public aid recipients with the names of those who state records indicate are dead. Records of the deceased are kept by the Department of Healthcare and Family Services.
A year ago, the media reported the payment of millions of dollars in state medical care benefits to people who were dead. One report, citing the Auditor General, indicated state government paid out millions during Fiscal Year 2014 to more than 1,100 people who were deceased. Another story by the Chicago Tribune stated that nearly 6,000 people known to be deceased were considered eligible for state medical services.
And as recently as May, the Auditor General highlighted state spending of more than $320,000 by the Illinois Department on Aging for services for people who were dead.
Four companies close during 10-day period
A recent report by the Illinois Policy Institute states that in a 10-day period in July, four manufacturers announced that they will be shutting down their operations in Illinois.
According to the July 16 report by Michael Lucci:
“General Mills announced July 16 it will shut down a manufacturing plant in West Chicago, laying off 500 local food-manufacturing workers at the plant. One day earlier, Bunge North America announced 210 manufacturing jobs will disappear after the closure of its plant in Bradley, Illinois.
The General Mills news comes just two days after machine-maker DE-STA-CO announced it would move 100 jobs from Wheeling, Illinois to Nashville, Tennessee; and 10 days after an as-yet-unnamed company announced it will move 500 manufacturing jobs from the Chicago area to East Chicago, Indiana.”
The report states that jobs losses from just these four manufacturers total more than 1,300.
Governor seeks federal flood relief for crops
On July 23, Gov. Rauner sent a letter to USDA officials requesting all counties in Illinois experiencing crop damage related to recent flooding be included in a Secretarial Disaster Declaration.
A Secretarial Disaster Declaration would provide farmers in designated counties the ability to receive low interest emergency loans if they meet all eligibility requirements.
The State Emergency Board will convene July 27 to review the county emergency board minutes and loss assessments in preparation for determining county eligibility. The Illinois Department of Agriculture will continue to assist U.S. Farm Service Agency (FSA) officials in securing benefits for farmers who are impacted by flooding.
Even those crops not damaged directly by flooding have suffered. Long periods of rain and drenched fields have slowed farmers all season and so far, crops haven’t been able to make up for the slow start. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the second cutting of hay is only 52% complete, compared to the five-year average of 83%. 96% of soybeans have now emerged from the soil, still behind the five-year average of 100%. 75% of corn plants are silking, compared to the typical 77% at this point, though 17% have reached the dough stage, which is actually ahead of the five-year average of 16%.
Precipitation last week averaged .97 inches across the state, .18 inches more than normal, leaving an average of 3.3 days suitable for fieldwork. Though many farmers were still waiting on fields to dry out more before they were able to work.
Crop conditions are dropping again, with 56% of corn acres rated as good or excellent, compared to 61% last week, and 47% of soybeans receiving the same marks, down from 52%.
Bills signed into law
Gov. Rauner took action on a number of bills during the week. A complete list is available on the Senate Action page of the Senate Republican Caucus Web site at http://senategop.state.il.us/AbouttheSenate/SenateAction.aspx
The following bills signed into law this week are sponsored by Republican Senators.
· Medical Cannabis Corrections (HB 341):Provides immunity for correctional officers who in the course of their official duties prohibit or prevent the possession or use of marijuana by a cardholder.
· Rental Housing Support Program (HB 1361): Requires that geographic distribution of funds for the Rental House Support Program shall come solely from its annual receipts. IHDA must also perform reconciliations of all funds made in connection with the RHS program.
· Property Tax Complaints (HB 2554):Provides complaints and other written correspondence concerning any property that is over-assessed or under-assessed sent via the United States Postal System will be considered filed as of the postmark date. If the United States mail is not used, the complaint or written correspondence will be considered filed as of the date sent according to the shipper’s tracking label. Further provides any complaint or written correspondence sent via email, if allowed by the board of review, will be considered filed as of the date received.
· Insurance Modifier Rate (HB 2763):Provides that payment for services rendered by a registered surgical assistant shall be paid at the appropriate non-physician modifier rate if the payer would have made payment had the same services been provided by a physician.
· Sentencing Policy Council Sunset (HB 3587):Extends the repeal date for the Sentencing Policy Advisory Council from December 31, 2015 to December 31, 2020.
· Juries – Removal & Disability (HB 3704): Provides additional means of establishing a total and permanent disability for purposes of a prospective juror seeking a permanent exclusion from jury service (an individualized education program plan or proof of a guardianship).
· Early Termination Fees for Electric Choice Customers (HB 3766)Caps the early termination fees for electric choice customers (i.e. ARES or Plug in Illinois) at $50 for homeowners/renters and $150 for commercial properties. Applies only to future customers and contracts. Natural gas customers are already protected from escalating early termination costs.
· Human Trafficking Hotline (SB 43):Requires DHS to cooperate with IDOT to promote public awareness of the national human trafficking hotline.
· Managed Care Translation/Interpretation Services (SB 1253):Requires managed care entities to develop a written language access policy to ensure language-appropriate services for populations with limited English proficiency—this includes translation of forms and documents; interpreter services; staff training; data tracking; notification on availability of services.
· Human Trafficking Defense (SB 1588):Creates an affirmative defense for people charged with prostitution if they can prove that they engaged in prostitution as a result of human trafficking.
· Discovery (HB 95): Provides that discovery, such as admissions of fact and of genuineness of documents, physical and mental examinations of parties and other persons, the taking of any depositions, and interrogatories shall be in accordance with rules.
· Land Conveyance (HB 3241):Authorizes the Illinois Department of Transportation to convey certain land or release certain land from easement or other rights in Madison, Tazewell, and Whiteside Counties. Authorizes the Illinois Department of Transportation to convey certain land or release certain land from easement or other rights in Madison, Tazewell, Will, DuPage and Whiteside Counties.
· Tattoo and Body Piercing Establishment Registration Act (HB 3375): Authorizes the Department of Public Health to establish and assess penalties or fines against any person who violates the Tattoo and Body Piercing Establishment Registration Act. Provides DPH may assess a late fee if the renewal application and renewal fee are not submitted on or before the registration expiration date. Provides that in no circumstance will any penalties or fines exceed $1,000 per day for each day the violation continues.
· Uniform Interstate Family Support Act Updates (HB 3512):Updates the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act in accordance with the 2008 amendments recommended by the Uniform Law Commission.
· Lekoteks (HB 4107):Repeals a provision in state law requiring DHS to enter into contracts for the establishment and continued support of resource, training and counseling centers, known as Lekoteks, for special-needs children. The Lekotek program has been eliminated and thus the rules governing this program should also be eliminated from state law.
· Local Government Tech (SB 920):Clarifies whether locals can regulate wind farm sites where there is no zoning.
· Temporary Stop Signs (SB 1388):Provides for the placement of temporary stop signs on state and local highways in instances when the permanent sign is missing or has been damaged. IDOT must make sure all temporary stop signs adhere to requirements in the State Manual and placed in a manner to provide adequate visibility and legibility, and they must be placed there for the amount of time recommended by the State Manual.
· State Retirement Investment (SB 1761):Requires state retirement systems are required to divest all direct holdings of restricted companies. Creates an Illinois Investment Policy Board to develop a list of restricted companies, which includes those that boycott Israel.
Senator Barickman hosted a farm town hall with Representative Tom Bennett and Ag Director Philip Nelson on the Zehrview Dairy Farm near Pontiac.