SPRINGFIELD, IL – Illinois is less than a week from the beginning of the next fiscal year with no notable progress made on a balanced budget, despite lawmakers convening a one-day session in the Capital City, according to State Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington).
The Senate held another Committee of the Whole meeting on June 23, this time on the topics of minimum wage and mandatory paid sick time, but no legislative action was taken on either subject or the budget. The House of Representatives shot down a bipartisan measure aimed at delaying a pension payment of more than $600 million that will soon be due for the Chicago Public School District.
On June 24, Gov. Bruce Rauner took action to ensure that Illinois schools won’t be used as pawns in the continuing gridlock, by signing one budget measure that makes sure Illinois schools are able to open as planned and teachers will be paid. However, the next day, he vetoed 19 of the legislative Democrats’ budget bills, saying their overall plan is unbalanced and unconstitutional.
In a June 24 op-ed published in the Chicago Tribune, Gov. Rauner underscored that Illinois “cannot accept the status quo of throwing more taxpayer money into a broke and broken system.” He emphasized his plan to enact “reasonable and balanced” reforms are imperative to reverse the state’s economic decline.
The Governor is advocating for a property tax freeze, workers’ compensation and lawsuit reforms, term limits and redistricting reform, and he also indicated his commitment to comprehensive pension reform—though he emphasized that pension reform is “not a prerequisite to signing the budget.”
The Governor stressed “We will work day and night with members of the General Assembly to reform state government, modernize our tax code and enact a balanced budget as part of a truly comprehensive solution.”
Governor signs education funding
Democrat leaders finally began sending pieces of their unbalanced budget proposal to the Governor. While the entire Democrat budget represents a spending plan that is underfunded by more than $3 billion, the education portion actually appropriates less money for schools than the Governor’s proposal. Nonetheless, it represents a slight increase from Fiscal Year 2015 funding, and Gov. Rauner said he signed the measure into law to “ensure our teachers are paid and our schools are open and funded.”
The Governor’s action will make it much more difficult for Democrat leaders to hold schools hostage by threatening that the schools wouldn’t open without a budget in place.
Last year’s budget prorated General State Aid at only 87%. The legislation Rauner signed will raise that level to 92%.
Governor vetoes budget bills
On June 25, Gov. Rauner vetoed 19 budget bills that combine to create a deficit of nearly $4 billion “… in order to protect Illinois taxpayers from an unbalanced and therefore unconstitutional budget.”
In his veto message, Gov. Rauner stated:
“The Speaker of the House and President of the Senate have admitted that the General Assembly’s budget is unbalanced. The Governor’s Office of Management and Budget concurs, calculating that this budget is nearly $4 billion out of balance.
For too long, the State of Illinois has made spending promises that exceed available revenues, relied on accounting gimmicks to make budgets appear balanced, used borrowing and cost deferral strategies to push costs into the future, and delayed payments to vendors.
This has generated significant backlogs of unpaid bills and a crushing debt burden of well over $100 billion. Because of past fiscal mismanagement, Illinois is experiencing the worst fiscal crisis in America, highlighted by Illinois being assigned the worst credit rating of any state.
The State of Illinois will be forced to pay more than $6 billion in debt payments in Fiscal Year 2016 due to years of fiscal neglect and overspending. A balanced budget is the only way to responsibly protect taxpayers and put the State on a path to once again using its resources for important public services rather than interest and debt service.”
Senate hears testimony on mandatory sick time and minimum wage
On June 23, the Senate held another “Committee of the Whole” meeting to discuss mandatory sick time and increasing the state minimum wage. Both topics brought employees and members of the business community to talk about their views on the topics. No legislative action was expected or taken on either subject.
The hearing was lambasted by Senate Republicans as another day of political theater, where no progress was made on passing pro-job reforms or a balanced state budget.
The current fiscal year ends on June 30. If no budget is in place by July 1, there will be no spending authority for many vital state agencies and programs.
Instead of working to make sure state employees get paid and important programs can keep their doors open, Democrat leadership wasted another week by refusing to work with the Governor to grow jobs and balance the budget.
House rejects pension payment delay for Chicago schools
House lawmakers failed to pass legislation to create a 40-day delay before the Chicago Public School District’s $634 million pension payment is due. The bill was requested by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to give the city more time to figure out how to make the payment. The proposed delay would have meant the bill wasn’t due until Aug. 10, when the first state-aid payment is due and after some city revenue would have come in.
DCEO privatization bill passes the House
The House did pass a measure to create a new, private Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The idea was initially proposed by Gov. Rauner, inspired by successful private programs in several other states.
Before passage however, Democrats inserted several amendments that may kill the effort, including a three-year sunset provision. Many experts believe that three years simply isn’t enough time for the agency to become viable.
Tornadoes rip through northern Illinois
Mother Nature ravaged northern Illinois on June 22, with multiple tornadoes and severe thunderstorms damaging homes, taking down trees and power lines, and destroying other property.
The National Weather Service says at least five tornadoes touched down in the region, in Will, Kankakee, Lee, Grundy, and LaSalle counties. The two strongest tornadoes were rated EF-2, which is considered strong with winds from 111-135 mph. One of the EF-2s left a three-quarter-mile path of damage from Coal City to Braidwood, with the other on the ground for a half-mile from Woodhaven Lakes to just south of Sublette.
Gov. Rauner issued a state disaster proclamation for Lee and Grundy counties to make available a wide variety of state resources that can help affected communities respond and recover from the storms. The Governor also directed the deployment of Illinois Task Force 1, an 80-member search and rescue team, to assist local responders with search and rescue efforts.
Heavy rains pushes rivers into flood stage
As heavy rains continue to fall throughout Illinois, many rivers continue to push higher into flood stage. In Morris, the Illinois River level reached more than 19 feet, with anything over 16 considered moderate flood. Further downstream at Peoria, flood forecasts estimated river levels would break 27 feet. In Meredosia, levels had already broken into the major flood category by June 22.
The Mississippi River levels were reaching similar high water marks, with gauges from Canton south to Clarksville reading minor to moderate flood stage, and levels at Hardin continuing to push higher into the major flooding category.
Heavy rains continue to hamper farmers
Statewide rainfall averaged 3.61 inches, 2.5 inches more than normal, leaving just 0.8 days rated as suitable for field work, according to United States Department of Agriculture. Continued precipitation has kept the fields wet as well, with topsoil moisture rated as 56% surplus and subsoil moisture as 43% surplus.
The 2015 soybean crop is now rated at 91% complete, just a single percentage point gain from the previous week, and behind the 2014 and the five-year averages, with both at 96%.
Crops still look good throughout much of the state, however, with 70% of the corn and 60% of the soybeans rated as good or excellent.