SPRINGFIELD, IL—Legislation that would adequately fund MAP grants and higher education stalled during the week as the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives took a 30-day vacation, leaving Illinois residents and students in their rear-view mirror.
The Senate remained in session, continuing its committee process where it reviewed dozens of pieces of legislation.
There was good news from the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in Appropriations I Committee on March 8. Senate lawmakers were encouraged to hear about state agencies’ progress under the Rauner Administration.
Senate Republicans also joined the discussion in Appropriations II about budget requests from state education agencies, including the Illinois State Board of Education, Illinois Student Assistance Commission, and a number of state universities. During the hearing, universities cautioned lawmakers that Illinois’ higher education system cannot withstand the ongoing budget impasse.
On March 9, the Senate Executive Committee held a subject-matter hearing about legislation that would create the Unbalanced Budget Response Act, which gives Gov. Rauner the authority to free up state funds to fill holes in the state budget. While all agree this is not the preferable path, Senate Republicans argued that not taking any action is unacceptable.
Speaker Madigan takes a vacation
Speaker Michael Madigan and House Democrats received well-deserved criticism during the week from Republican lawmakers who called a news conference to address the month-long hiatus scheduled in the House of Representatives.
Senate Republicans voiced their concerns about the House’s extended break and called for the Speaker and his caucus to return to Springfield, emphasizing the importance for both chambers to be present, engaged and active in solving Illinois’ ongoing budget crisis.
Despite the opposition of House Republicans and the criticism of Senate Republicans, the House adjourned on March 3 and is not scheduled to reconvene until April 4.
“There are a multitude of reasonable proposals on the table to fund higher education and offer our universities hundreds of millions in savings,” said State Senator Jason Barickman. “Speaker Madigan and his lawmakers have not only rejected these plans out of hand, they’ve now shut down their chamber for the rest of the month.”
Senator Barickman joins his colleagues to call for the Illinois House to return to session so lawmakers can work on a solution to end the state’s fiscal crisis.
DCFS witnessing improvements under Rauner Administration
DCFS Director George Sheldon painted an encouraging picture during his testimony in front of the Appropriations I Committee on March 8.
Having been appointed more than a year ago by Gov. Rauner, Director Sheldon has been working to address a number of shortcomings within DCFS operations. Some of the biggest challenges facing the agency included a “revolving door” of directors, a breakdown in completion and accuracy of paperwork that resulted in the loss of millions in federal funding, reports of abuse within state residential centers, and an inability of the agency to properly account for a number of missing children.
Under the Rauner Administration, DCFS has seen a number of promising improvements indicating that DCFS is moving in the right direction.
Director Sheldon reported that the Department has worked over the past six months to properly file and process paperwork, resulting in the Department receiving an additional $21.5 million in federal funds for Fiscal Year 2016.
DCFS also submitted plans to improve residential centers across the state, including unannounced site visits and enhanced monitoring, reporting, and oversight of facilities, staff, and procedures to ensure more effective communication, safety, and transparency within residential facilities.
DCFS has also partnered with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office to create a cross-agency unit of Sheriff’s officers and child welfare specialists to work jointly on recovering missing children in Cook County.
Universities caution lawmakers, call for budget resolution
Senate Republicans continue to call upon Democrat lawmakers to join the discussion and work to find compromise on the issues of higher education and K-12 education funding as education agencies, such as the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), and state universities came before the Appropriations II Committee on March 10 to present their Fiscal Year 2017 budget requests.
ISBE appealed to lawmakers during their testimony to fully fund Illinois’ education Foundation Levels, which the state has intentionally underfunded for years, resulting in proration.
Gov. Rauner has made K-12 funding a top priority, pushing to fully fund the Foundation Levels for the first time in seven years. Senate Republicans continue to express concern that Democrat lawmakers will continue to hold education funding hostage in order to bail out CPS, as previously indicated by Senate President John Cullerton.
EIU, SIU and WIU also appealed before the Committee, calling for an end to the budget stalemate. Now nine months into the new fiscal year, the universities cautioned lawmakers that their institutions and students cannot withstand the consequences of the ongoing budget impasse. Citing loss of students, employee layoffs, decrease in governmental trust, and additional financial burdens, representatives of the universities warned that schools are suffering from being forced to operate without state aid and support.
Republican lawmakers have worked to find a compromise to fund higher education and have stressed that there are a number of available alternatives on the table that would provide money to help fund Illinois’ higher education system. However, efforts to move that legislation have been rebuffed by the Democrat majority who would rather push for empty promises that the state cannot afford.
Senate Republicans remain committed to putting Illinois’ students and taxpayers first, continuing to call for reform that will allow Illinois’ government to be able to provide a consistent, reliable, and balanced budget.
Senate Committee debates Unbalanced Budget Response Act
On March 9, the Senate Executive Committee held a subject-matter hearing on the Unbalanced Budget Response Act (UBRA). Leader Christine Radogno made it clear in committee that UBRA was the less preferable of the two routes to a state budget laid out by Gov. Rauner in his budget address last month, emphasizing the need for compromise and bipartisan cooperation.
“As sponsor of the legislation, I urged my colleagues to take the Governor’s path of compromise to get Illinois back on track. But if not – we have to give the Governor the fiscal tools he needs to make spending and revenues balance,” said Radogno.
During the Feb. 17 budget address, Gov. Rauner laid out two paths to a balanced budget. “Path A,” the preferred option, requires legislators to come together in a bipartisan way to pass reforms and a balanced budget. “Path B” is what happens if Democrats continue to refuse to come to the table to negotiate reforms and a budget to move Illinois forward.
UBRA is part of “Path B,” and gives Gov. Rauner the authority to address the budget deficit in Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017. Essentially, it provides tools needed to free up state funds to patch holes in the state budget.
Illinois scores high in women’s economic and social well-being
Illinois has earned a top spot in WalletHub’s recent ranking of 2016’s best and worst states for women.
In recognition of Women’s History Month, WalletHub compared all 50 states and the District of Columbia across a number of variables involving the needs and expectations of women in America. Data considered included median earnings of women, unemployment figures, and school dropout rates.
WalletHub rated Illinois 13th overall, placing the state in the top 15 of best states for women. The report also found Illinois to rank even higher for both women’s economic and social well-being, as well as median earnings for female workers, ranking 7th and 5th respectively.
The full report can be found at https://wallethub.com/edu/best-and-worst-states-for-women/10728/