SPRINGFIELD, IL –The Chicago Blackhawks won their third Stanley Cup in six years and a Springfield, Illinois native was named the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, but these memorable sports milestones were the only cause for celebration in Illinois this week, which yielded little progress on the Land of Lincoln’s budget gridlock, according to State Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington).
The Illinois General Assembly met for a one-day session June 16, however, neither chamber addressed the state’s budget issues. Instead the Senate convened a Committee of the Whole focused on college affordability, while the House of Representatives discussed restructuring of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
In other news, on June 17 Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland announced his retirement; Illinois farmers continue to make progress on the state’s crops despite a series of torrential rains that have covered nearly every region; and a new report shows Illinois cities are losing population.
Budget showdown enters third week
Though tens of thousands of people rallied behind the Chicago Blackhawks after their Stanley Cup championship win on June 15, Illinois’ 13 million citizens are probably not going to be throwing a championship-style parade for the two majority legislative leaders any time soon. The state’s fiscal year comes to an end in less than two weeks and lawmakers and the Governor are not any closer to a final solution to the Fiscal Year 2016 budget.
The impasse enters its third week and the Democrat majority leaders have yet to send most of their budget package to the Governor’s desk despite passing it nearly a month ago. However, Governor Bruce Rauner has indicated he will not sign the Democrat lawmakers’ budget, which even House Speaker Madigan and Senate President Cullerton acknowledge is more than $3 billion unbalanced.
Senate Republican lawmakers, like their House counterparts, have continued a steady drumbeat in their quest for meaningful government reforms to help Illinois move beyond the past 12-plus years of one-party dysfunction. They have joined the Governor in consistently expressing a willingness to work together with their Democrat counterparts on the state’s budget, beginning with compromise on job-creating, economy-boosting reforms.
Committee of the Whole on higher education affordability
This week the Senate met for another “rare” Committee of the Whole to discuss higher education affordability.
Senators heard from a number of panelists in the areas of need-based aid, community college funding formulas, and state support of the university system. Republican lawmakers questioned the panelists on how much state tuition, fees and other associated costs had risen over the past decade. Senate Republicans asked witnesses for insight into how to reduce administrative and tuition costs within the state’s higher education system as a way to reduce the cost burden on students and parents in Illinois.
Senators will return to the Capitol on June 23 for what is expected to be another Committee of the Whole, this time on the topic of the minimum wage and sick leave policies.
Well-respected Auditor General to step down
Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland announced his intention to step down as the state’s chief fiscal watchdog on December 31. Auditor General Holland has held the position for 23 years and has been a well-respected staple of Illinois government during the tenure of five Governors.
Holland’s January 2009 testimony during the Senate trial of former Governor Rod Blagojevich was seen as key to the now-felon’s eventual removal from office. Holland’s service to the people of Illinois was especially critical during the Blagojevich administration’s six years of abject fiscal failure.
His office also handled the more recent audits of the now infamous NRI-scandal, in which former Governor Pat Quinn’s administration handed out $55 million in state grants as part of his questionable and poorly managed crime reduction initiative. In 2014, Holland released a scathing audit of the program that Quinn launched prior to the 2010 election for Governor. Since that time there have been several criminal grand jury probes into the NRI program, as well as a legislative audit of NRI.
“Auditor General William Holland has dedicated 20 years of his life to championing the cause of a good, transparent, and effective government,” said State Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington). “Through my position as Co-Chairman of the Legislative Audit Commission, I have had the amazing opportunity to work with Auditor General Holland and have seen the tremendous work he and his staff put into every audit. In short, Illinois is much better off today because of Bill Holland. I wish him well in his next chapter.”
Illinois farmers continue to battle weather
Rainy weather continues to hamper farmers’ efforts to get back into the fields to finish planting soybeans and harvesting hay. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, statewide precipitation averaged 3.24 inches, leaving only 2.3 days rated as suitable for fieldwork. The average temperature last week was 75.8 degrees, which is 4.6 degrees higher than normal.
The state soybean crop is now 90% planted, up just two percentage points from last week, and still below the five-year average of 92%. 84% of the soybean crop has emerged from the soil.
Hay producers have finished with 81% of their first cutting of the year, which is identical to the same time period last year, and just one percentage point behind the five-year average.
Illinois losing population
Recent media reports have shown that Illinois is the only state in the Midwestern region that lost population from 2013 to 2014. The Land of Lincoln lost nearly 10,000 residents and an overwhelming number of communities are losing population at an alarming rate. Central and Southern Illinois continues to experience the largest losses, and even Chicago’s population has nearly stagnated for the past couple years.
Some suburban communities experienced population increases, but nothing approaching the Great Recession levels of pre-2008. In fact, only the communities of Naperville and Elgin saw meaningful growth. However, even with this growth the state’s overall population decreased overall, especially then coupled with the losses in Decatur and Rockford.
Bills heading to Governor
Several key pieces of legislation are heading to the Governor’s desk for his approval, as the unofficial bill signing season will be kicking off shortly.
Rauner will be considering several bills filed by Senator Barickman, including a measure to speed up evidence gathering for inter-state trials, legislation that would help the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation investigate fraudulent radon contractors, and a bill that would help the process of training drug dogs.
To view more please visit www.ilga.gov and click the tab “Legislative Reports.”