Senate Week in Review: March 2 – 6, 2015
SPRINGFIELD, IL – A last-minute fiscal maneuver by Senate Democrat lawmakers drew criticism from Senate GOP legislators, who said the stunt had the potential to undermine previous, good-faith discussions between the Governor and legislative leaders. The state’s leaders have been working together to negotiate a fix to the $1.6 billion budget hole created by former Gov. Pat Quinn, according to State Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington).
The Senate’s two budget committees held hearings during the week, inviting testimony on state fiscal matters from a number of state boards, commissions and agencies. Senate lawmakers spent most of the week in committee hearings, approving a number of bills that may later be considered by the full Senate.
Also this week, Gov. Bruce Rauner rolled out his 28-member Criminal Justice Reform Commission charged with analyzing Illinois’ criminal justice system and identifying strategies to reduce the state’s imprisonment and recidivism rates. On March 5, hundreds of high school agricultural students descended on the Capitol Complex for the annual ag education day.
Politics trumps good policy during Senate budget hearing
Weeks of negotiations on a path to filling the $1.6 billion budget hole left by former Gov. Quinn were placed in jeopardy when Senate Democrats placed politics before the process of identifying a real solution to the fiscal crisis that they helped create.
Senate Democrats threw a wrench into ongoing negotiations between legislative leaders and Gov. Rauner when they attempted to muscle through a funding proposal that wouldn’t even have solved the problem.
Their efforts to move $580 million out of the Road Fund and other special-use funds drew criticism from the Governor and Senate Republican lawmakers who said the Democrats’ bill contained the same type of short-term thinking that caused the current funding crisis. Additionally, the bill didn’t grant spending authority over the funds that would be swept, leaving no clear path to disperse the funds to agencies facing shortfalls.
Deputy Senate Republican Leader Matt Murphy called the effort, a “distraction from the negotiations that need to occur for the comprehensive solution to be brought together” and Gov. Rauner issued a statement decrying the move, saying “it does not even solve the major crises that will occur at the end of this month.”
Senate Democrat lawmakers readily admit they passed former Gov. Quinn’s budget despite knowing it would not adequately fund state programs for an entire fiscal year. Daycare providers, correctional officers and court reporters were among the first people to feel the crunch from the shortfall; some programs have already run out of money and correctional institutions have cautioned they will not be able to make payroll in the coming weeks. Unless a funding solution is identified, additional agencies will soon begin to run out of money to make payroll.
Though Democrat members on the committee advanced the measure, the weekly legislative session adjourned without the proposal being brought before the full Senate body for consideration.
Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Hearings
The Senate’s Appropriations I and II committees heard testimony during the week on projected budgetary needs from several state agencies, boards and commissions. The hearings provide lawmakers and the public with specific information on state fiscal matters, and insight into what Illinois’ final budget blueprint will look like.
On March 3, the directors of the state’s retirement systems gave a bleak forecast about their agencies and they provided updates as to the current fiscal health of the State Employee Retirement, State University Retirement, General Assembly, and the Judge’s Retirement Systems.
Also during the week, several legislative support service agencies provided their budget requests, while the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget presented their overall assessment on the Fiscal Year 2015 and 2016 budgets and the need to scale back spending.
Rauner begins IDOC and criminal justice reform
State Senators Karen McConnaughay (R-St. Charles) and Michael Connelly (R-Wheaton) were appointed to serve on Gov. Rauner’s newly-formed Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform.
The Commission has been tasked with analyzing Illinois’ criminal justice system from arrest to re-entry into the community. It will explore evidence-based strategies to reduce the rate of imprisonment and recidivism, while also preserving public safety.
Other members of the committee include members of the law enforcement community, legislators, professors specializing in criminal justice, lawyers, judges, experts in violence prevention and drug abuse, and representatives from the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Illinois prison population hovers at just shy of 50,000 inmates in a system that was originally intended to house no more than 31,500 inmates. Illinois taxpayers have shelled out an additional $320 million over the past five fiscal years in overtime costs, even as the security workforce for the state’s 25 correctional facilities has reached a near-record low.
Additionally, the Office of the Governor formally dismissed the former head of the Illinois Department of Corrections whose tenure was plagued by controversy. Former Director Salvador Godinez was implicated in 2013 by the Office of the Executive Inspector General for the questionable circumstances surrounding the hiring of a former Congressman’s son.
Legislative Agricultural Day
Illinois has a diverse background in agricultural education and the state’s youth often get their start in hundreds of FFA Chapters and county fairs across the state. One-quarter of the state’s economy is based in agriculture and today more than ever, the state’s FFA and county fair programs are a vibrant part of the Land of Lincoln’s rich ag history
On March 5, as part of the annual legislative agricultural education day, Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) introduced the 2015 Illinois State Fair Queen and the 2014-2014 Illinois State FFA President. To see more about the introductions of Richland County’s Sadie Gassmann and Coles County’s Cody Morris, visit the Senate Republican Caucus Facebook site at www.facebook.com/ILSenateGOP.
Senator Barickman and Representative Tom Bennett meet with students from the Armstrong FFA chapter.
Sen. Barickman and Rep. Bennett with FFA students from El Paso.
Sen. Barickman and Rep. Bennett were also able to catch up with students from Streator.
Sen. Barickman and Sen. Chapin Rose meet with Heyworth FFA students.