Update from the Capitol 3/7/16

House Democrats advance budget-busting spending plan 

We’re now in our ninth month without a comprehensive state budget plan in place, and instead of working across the aisle to pass a compromise plan, Speaker Madigan continues to simply push bills that contain billions of dollars in spending with no money to pay for them.
Prior to Thursday’s abrupt adjournment, House Democrats advanced a budget-busting spending plan. House Bill 2990 and House Bill 648 would spend approximately $3.7 billion with only $454 million in accompanying resources. 

Simply put, we don’t have the money to pay for it. The Comptroller’s Office currently reports a backlog of unpaid bills totaling $7.2 billion, with almost 50,000 unpaid vouchers on hand.  Promising money we can’t pay is not why you sent us to Springfield.  You deserve better.

Republicans have proposed responsible alternatives and I continue to stand ready to work and to compromise on a balanced budget that meets the needs of all Illinoisans while protecting hardworking taxpayers.

Criminal justice reforms unveiled

A new package of bills has been unveiled with a goal of reducing the state’s prison population by 25% over the next 10 years.

The three-bill criminal justice reform package will start in the state Senate.  Two of the bills, headed by SB 3294, work to increase the safety of streets and public spaces when offenders are released back into society, including expansion of the use of electronic monitoring when released offenders are in transitional status.  A third measure, SB 3164, amends Illinois sentencing procedures to increase the presumption that a low-level offender with no violent criminal record will be considered for alternatives to incarceration.

Under current law, many Illinois residents convicted of felony criminal offenses, including nonviolent, low-level felonies, are sent to prison.  The Illinois Department of Corrections currently houses approximately 49,000 inmates in spaces designed for less than two-thirds that many.  Each inmate costs the taxpayers more than $22,000 per year to incarcerate, and the overall prison system costs well more than $1 billion/year in scarce State general funds. 

House committee considers pension proposals

With Illinois facing increasing challenges to fund existing defined-benefit pension commitments, some House members are looking at potential constitutional alternative policies.  

The House Personnel and Pensions Committee looked at two bills last week that, if passed into law, could encourage existing public-sector employees with vested pension status to consider the buyout of some or all of their future benefits.  Employees who take a buyout would be given a one-time payout of funds, and would enjoy the opportunity to invest them for a payout that would match their future life plans.

In some cases, these proposals could reduce current costs and future unfunded pension liabilities borne by Illinois’ five state-managed pension systems.  Illinois’ unfunded pension liabilities currently top $110 billion.

Both proposals, House Bill 4427 and House Bill 5625, were held in committee for further discussion.   
Governor Rauner seeks federal assistance for counties hard hit by December flooding

Governor Rauner has requested federal assistance for 16 counties in Downstate Illinois, including Iroquois and Douglas, hard hit by heavy rains and flooding in the final days of 2015.

Under federal law, the governor of each state takes the lead in requesting disaster assistance for residents, businesses, and local governments whose property and interests were damaged by a natural disaster.  Investigative work carried out by federal authorities, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, and local first responders has found that the series of storms and flooding events inflicted public expenses and damage of more than $15 million in Illinois.  The storms also damaged nearly 700 Illinois homes. 

House Republicans urge compromise, responsible solution to higher education funding

I have received quite a bit of input in recent weeks on Senate Bill 2043, the Democrats’ proposal to fund community colleges and students’ MAP grants. The bill was vetoed by the Governor because it was a funding proposal that contained no actual funding. For that same reason, a veto override attempt failed last week in the House.

The good news is that several options remain on the table that will actually provide needed emergency funding for students’ MAP grants and Community Colleges and 4-year universities as well including House Bill 4539, which I am co-sponsoring. This legislation would provide approximately $1.68 billion that would come from general revenue to adequately fund colleges and universities, and students’ MAP grants. It would work in tandem with the recently filed Unbalanced Budget Response Act – legislation that would afford the Governor ability to manage monies in existing funds to adequately fund programs including higher education.

Students’ and universities’ budgets are at the breaking point. They can’t pay the bills with an empty promise. They need a plan that will provide actual dollars now. The plan I’m sponsoring will do that and I will continue to request that the Speaker allow us to discuss it and to work together on a realistic compromise.

Republicans move to keep the House in session, Democrats vote for a four week vacation

Perhaps the most frustrating vote taken in the House last week was on the motion to adjourn.

We don’t have an agreed-upon budget.  Local human service providers, students and universities are without funding .  My House Republican colleagues and I on Thursday moved to keep the House in Session, working on those issues. Speaker Madigan and Representatives on his side of the aisle broke their own House rules to avoid even considering our motion, and quickly voted to adjourn the House for a four-week vacation.

 We’re not in session again until April 4th. That’s unconscionable.

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