Springfield – By working in good faith across party lines, Gov. Bruce Rauner brought Senate and House lawmakers together to negotiate a fix to the $1.6 billion hole in the current budget. The solution was passed by lawmakers one year to the day after Gov. Pat Quinn outlined his budget plan—which seriously underfunded a number of state programs and services.
In other news, a Chicago-area film studio has returned a $10 million grant after media reports revealed the funds, which were distributed by the Quinn Administration in the final weeks of his term, were intended to purchase property later found to not actually be for sale. The funds were later returned at the Gov. Rauner’s request.
Facing a March 27 deadline to move legislation through the committee process, hundreds of bills were considered by legislative committees this week, while dozens more were approved by the full Senate.
Budget Fix heads to Governor
After weeks of negotiations, Gov. Rauner and legislative leaders agreed to a solution during the week to patch a massive $1.6 billion hole in the current-year budget. The legislative package, which is contained in two separate bills, passed with strong bipartisan majorities in both chambers and is now headed to the Governor for his signature.
In 2014, Gov. Quinn and Democrat leaders knowingly approved an unbalanced budget that didn’t contain revenues necessary to fund state government for an entire fiscal year. The one-time emergency budget fix approved March 26 will plug the hole, while protecting the state’s top priorities from significant reductions in state assistance—without relying on tax hikes or new borrowing.
The legislative package will enable the Governor to move money around to patch holes in the current budget. A program to provide funding for daycare for working adults was the first to feel the pinch, but there wasn’t enough cash on hand to pay court reporters and prison guards as well. The budget fix plan passed by lawmakers March 26 funds the corrections workers, court reporters and child-care programs that would have otherwise suffered devastating shortfalls.
Senate Republicans stressed that going forward, the state needs real, fundamental reform, instead of continuing to rely on emergency measures and stop-gap solutions that have dominated state government for more than a decade.
Senator Barickman said the bipartisan, bicameral process that produced the current budget agreement should be used as a template for future negotiations. Working together, keeping the priorities of Illinois’ families in mind, and identifying areas to cut and reform will be critical to addressing the state’s most difficult challenges: a struggling jobs climate, a growing multi-billion dollar bill backlog, staggering pension debt, the nation’s worst credit rating, and some of the country’s highest property taxes.
“Today’s vote allows us to repair the damage done by last year’s irresponsible budget, and represents the first in a series of tough choices as we try to repair our state’s broken fiscal situation,” said Senator Barickman. “I do not take these cuts lightly, but this is a necessary step that allows us to keep our daycares open, our courts functioning, and our prison workers paid. Now we begin the even more daunting process of putting together a responsible, realistic budget for Fiscal Year 16 that maintains core services. The actions we take this spring will determine the course of our State for the next several years. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues and the Governor to put Illinois back on a solid financial footing.”
Lawmakers to Focus on FY 16 budget
With the Fiscal Year 2015 budget shortfall addressed, lawmakers will now shift their focus to the upcoming budget for Fiscal Year 2016, which starts July 1.
Gov. Rauner presented his fiscal proposal in February, which aims to balance the state budget in the face of a projected $6 billion shortfall—the repercussion of years of reckless budgeting that occurred during 12 years of absolute Democrat control of state government.
Film studio returns grant
A Chicago-based film studio has returned an eyebrow-raising $10 million grant after Gov. Rauner demanded its return. A Senate Republican lawmaker has requested the Attorney General look into the matter.
A March 21 report by the Chicago Sun-Times showed that Cinespace Chicago Film Studios was awarded the $10 million grant by Gov. Quinn in December 2014 for the stated purpose of buying industrial land around its west-side studio facility where TV shows and movies are produced.
But the article also pointed out that the properties may not actually be for sale, and identified several other potential issues:
“ Quinn’s administration gave Cinespace the $10 million without any appraisals to justify the projected purchase prices listed by the studio’s owners.
“ The former governor’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity had nothing to show that Cinespace had pending contracts to buy any of the properties or had been in negotiations to buy them.
“ The state agency gave Cinespace the ability to buy just about any land it wants, allowing it to “substitute properties . . . in the event the applicant is unable to successfully negotiate the purchase of the listed properties.” Cinespace would need the state’s permission to do so. It has not asked for that.
“ The grant went out even though the studio’s owners had trouble complying with reporting requirements on another grant the studio had gotten under Quinn. In 2012, the state sent Cinespace four “not in compliance” letters. The state then suspended the $1.3 million construction grant because the studio hadn’t turned in “project status reports” on time — an issue that wasn’t resolved until March 2014, records show. Even as the Quinn administration was sending those letters, the state gave the studio three other grants totaling $16 million. ”
After the story broke, Gov. Rauner ordered Cinespace to return the grant to the state, which the studio did, with interest.
State Sen. Tim Bivins (R-Dixon) noted that the large grant was awarded despite the state’s multi-billion dollar backlog of bills and unbalanced budget. Bivins said the former Governor’s action demonstrated an “utter disregard for the resources provided by Illinois taxpayers.”
Senate Executive Committee advances major bills
Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) moved two health-related bills through the Executive Committee during the week.
The Executive Committee approved Radogno’s Senate Bill 986, which would require employees at any childcare facility that cares for children ages six or younger to receive measles and rubella vaccinations. Employees would be exempt from the requirement if they can provide proof that they had the illness and are now immune. The legislation was inspired by recent outbreaks of serious diseases in Illinois, which affected some children too young to be vaccinated.
Another measure, Senate Bill 987, would create the Down Syndrome Awareness Act, requiring the Illinois Department of Public Health to make available up-to-date, evidence-based written information about Down Syndrome to the parents of a child diagnosed with Down Syndrome. According to Senator Radogno, at this time many parents don’t have medically-reliable information about the condition or the numerous recent advancements made in caring for children with Down Syndrome.
The Senate Executive committee also approved legislation that would make Illinois a “Safe Harbor” state for immigrants. Senate Bill 22 would prohibit Illinois law enforcement agencies from complying with federal immigration detainers, mandate law enforcement agencies to certify anyone claiming to be a crime victim, and create penalties for violations of the act. Opponents noted that the legislation would block the detainers even if the federal government considered the subject to be a threat to national security, while supporters hail the measure as a step toward immigration reform. However, both sides appear to believe that the legislation will receive changes before being considering for a vote by the full Senate.
Bobcat season, round two
Last year, former Gov. Quinn vetoed bipartisan legislation to create a bobcat hunting/trapping season, which was proposed by his own Department of Natural Resources. Now both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees have once again advanced similar legislative proposals.
Both measures would allow the Department of Natural Resources to establish a bobcat hunting/trapping season, establish a limit of one bobcat per hunter per year, and charge a $5 fee for each permit.
According to sponsor State Sen. Sam McCann (R-Carlinville), the legislation was proposed by the Department of Natural Resources to allow them to manage bobcat populations using the same methods allowed for other game species such as deer and waterfowl.
Currently, Illinois is one of only eight states without a bobcat hunting season. In 1972, due to concern over declining bobcat populations, the season was closed. The species was listed as threatened in 1977. According to the Department of Natural Resources, the state’s bobcat population is now growing four to nine percent per year, and has reached the level where it requires management.
The legislation would allow the Department of Natural Resources to establish which counties are open for bobcat hunting, based on the local populations of the animals.
The Senate Agriculture Committee also approved a measure from State Sen. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) that would allow hunters ages 16 and younger to use a crossbow to take coyotes. Current law allows crossbows to be used only by hunters at least 62 years old, with a certified medical condition that inhibits the use of a traditional bow, or by any hunter during the latter part of deer and turkey seasons.
For information on crossbow permits for hunters with disabilities visit the Department of Natural Resources Office of Law Enforcement web page: http://dnr.state.il.us/law3/.
Senator Barickman talks with Governor Bruce Rauner after the budget vote.