Senator Barickman’s Senate Week in Review: Sept. 5 – 9

SpringfieldEstimates that the state’s bill backlog could reach an unprecedented $14 billion by 2017 underscores the importance of enacting systemic government reforms to bring jobs to Illinois and boost the economy. That message was stressed during a recent address by the President and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, and reinforced during the announcement of a state-supported investment in a bioprocessing research lab that could bring up to 20,000 jobs to Illinois.

Also during the week, the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission met for the third time to discuss equitability as it relates to school funding.

Finally, the Governor’s administration is seeking a federal Medicaid waiver to secure $2.7 billion for expanded services to help persons with mental illness and those struggling with substance abuse.

Bill backlog, job loss underscore need for government reform

An announcement during the week that the state is investing $26 million in the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Lab (IBRL) at the University of Illinois underscored the importance of pursuing projects that will make Illinois a destination for employers as a way to help the state grow its way out of the current budget mess. Funding for the IBRL, which will help Illinois compete for up to 20,000 jobs in a new industry sector, was secured by the stopgap budget signed into law on June 30.

Job creation on this scale is critical, particularly when considering recent remarks made by Illinois Manufacturers’ Association President and CEO Greg Baise, who noted in a recent City Club of Chicago address that while many Midwestern states are adding manufacturing jobs, Illinois has lost more than 300,000 manufacturing jobs since the turn of the century. Baise said that accounts for nearly one-fourth of Illinois’ manufacturing jobs since 2000, a figure that impacted nearly 200,000 Illinois residents.

Baise called for a reform agenda to create stability and predictability for Illinois’ employers—and employees. He underscored the importance of addressing the state’s pension debt and bill backlog; enacting workers’ compensation reform; tax reforms and incentives for employers; property tax relief; and an emphasis on creation of a skilled workforce through education and workforce development initiatives.

Republican lawmakers have also joined Gov. Bruce Rauner in calling for structural and spending reforms in state government, stressing that fundamental change is needed in Illinois to bring fiscal security and much-needed jobs back to the state.

This type of economic growth will be imperative to avoid what Moody’s Investors Services estimates could be an unpaid bill backlog of $14 billion by the summer of 2017.  A spokesman for Moody’s noted that “if the bill payment backlog becomes sufficiently large, the state could resort to borrowing from debt service funds for operating needs.” That, he indicated, would further impact Illinois’ already dismal credit rating.

Though legislative Democrats have called for a reinstatement of their 2011 income tax hike as a way to boost revenues, Republican lawmakers and the Governor have resisted that effort. Republican lawmakers have refused to consider revenue enhancements without first passing economy-boosting, job-creating reforms. Senate GOP lawmakers pointed out that though the Democrats’ previous tax increase brought in more than $30 billion, the state’s unpaid bills remained in the billions, the pension debt reached approximately $111 billion and the state’s financial situation remained unstable and unpredictable. They said state spending that exceeded existing revenues has led to the state’s fiscal instability and bill backlog, and have staunchly refused to support efforts to hike taxes without first exploring ways to make government more efficient, reduce waste, boost the economy and help Illinois’ employers.

Proposal would expand services to help mentally ill, addicts

The state plans to pursue federal approval for a Medicaid waiver that would bring $2.7 billion in new federal dollars to help care for persons with mental illness and those battling substance abuse problems, benefiting as many as 800,000 Illinois residents with behavioral health issues.

The waiver would not expand Medicaid eligibility, but would allow the state to provide health-care assistance to many individuals currently living without much-needed treatment or assistance. Twenty-five percent of the state’s 3.2 million Medicaid residents live with mental health issues, substance dependency issues or both, and they account for 56 percent of all Medicaid spending. 

The Director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services said that the waiver would amount to a 3.75 percent overall increase in state Medicaid spending over a five-year period.  The additional financial support for employment and housing services would bring greater stability to many Medicaid recipients, which would greatly improve their quality of life. The waiver would also ensure individuals have access to the right type of care at the right time in the right setting, rather than “boarding” individuals with behavioral issues in emergency departments, hospitals or prisons due to the lack of a suitable care provider.

Sara Howe, chief executive officer of the Illinois Association for Behavioral Health, was quoted in the State Journal-Register as saying that the waiver proposal shows “a really strong vision for behavioral health” that is “decades ahead of where we’ve been.”

Equitability topic of most recent Illinois School Funding Reform Commission

Members of the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission met Sept. 7, as lawmakers and the Governor’s office attempt to get a handle on the challenges of changing the way schools are funded in Illinois.

Defining equitability and what that means for Illinois students was the focus of the commission meeting. Members discussed the importance of creating a system of funding that takes into account the needs of students and providing them with the resources they need to achieve. Emphasis was placed on the need for additional funding to help low-income students, English learners and students with special needs, who require greater resources in order to bridge learning gaps and improve outcomes.

The next meeting of the commission will take place on Sept. 21.

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