Update from the Capitol 3/25/16

Procurement reform could save Illinois more than $670 million

As Illinois’ debt grows, there is a plan on the table that could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars without cutting programs or raising taxes. The savings from modifications to the Illinois Procurement Code, the law that governs how Illinois and its state universities are required to purchase many goods and services, would come from speeding up the process and creating a new class of pre-cleared bidders who could compete in future Requests for Proposals (RFPs) without time-consuming verifications. 

After studying the operation of the existing Procurement Code, the Rauner Administration released the results of a preliminary study which indicated that the enactment of reforms could generate as much as $514 million in procurement savings for state agencies with additional savings of $159 by state universities.

Republicans call for full funding for elementary and secondary education

With budget conditions continuing to be unsettled, many Illinois teachers, educators, and parents are concerned that Illinois school funding may get caught in the crossfire.  The Rauner Administration and Republican legislators are calling for full 2015-16 school aid foundation grant funding. The foundation grant level, which is determined by a formula set by statute, is currently $6,119 per student.
On Thursday, Governor Rauner visited the Paxton-Buckley-Loda K-12 school district.  The Governor visited classes and talked with students at an assembly. He noted that Paxton-Buckley-Loda enjoys strong leadership from administration, faculty and staff, and stressed that education is a priority of his administration. He also talked about the budget impasse where he encouraged Speaker Madigan and the House Democrats to come back to the table to get a budget done.

Despite the failure of Illinois to enact an overall balanced budget to cover the 2015-16 fiscal year, the State last spring did enact an appropriation bill to partly cover Illinois school funding in FY16.  Although this FY16 appropriation bill was not fully funded, it did include money that Illinois school districts are using right now to meet their operational needs in this fiscal year.

New leadership teams call for attention to State Fair infrastructure

The Governor’s office, which is in charge of working with the General Assembly to allocate the State’s limited supply of capital spending funds, recently released a report listing $180 million in unperformed repairs and maintenance required for continued use of the Illinois State fairgrounds in Springfield and DuQuoin.  This unperformed work includes roof repairs, electrical rewiring and repair, and road repaving.  Several buildings have not had routine upkeep work performed in more than 20 years.  

The report’s findings match previous discoveries of substantial state repair/maintenance work left undone at other facilities, such as the James R. Thompson Center state office building in Chicago, and on state roads and highways throughout Illinois.

The Rauner Administration has previously begun to name new managers for the Illinois State Fairs.  A new Springfield-based assistant state fair manager was hired in February. 

In closely-watched case involving back pay, Illinois Supreme Court rules against AFSCME

The case actually began during the administration of Governor Pat Quinn, in which Quinn had refused (starting in July 2011) to pay a set of wage increases to AFSCME members.  The increases had been included in collective bargaining agreements involving workers for five State departments, including the Department of Corrections (IDOC), but money to implement the increases was not appropriated in the Quinn budgets and the money was not paid.  AFSCME sued to enforce the collective bargaining agreements, but the Supreme Court found that in cases like this one, the absence of appropriated funds legally trumps the standing of the relevant labor union to enforce the wage portion of the contract.

The case involves approximately 24,000 current and former State workers who are owed an average of $2,500 each.   The Supreme Court decision strikes down a decision by a labor arbitrator to enforce the terms of the wage increase. 

Southern Illinois University (SIU) joins list of state universities facing sharp cuts

Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn has laid out a list of cuts and layoffs at all three campuses that he says might be required if a plan to adequately fund higher education isn’t passed soon.  The projected layoffs at SIU encompass a total of 420 faculty and staff positions at campuses on Carbondale and Edwardsville the School of Medicine in Springfield. 
Like proposed cuts laid out by administrators at several other state universities, this is especially frustrating because it could have been avoided.  Speaker Madigan continued to call for votes on one unfunded plan after another before adjourning the House for more than a month, while there are a number of real, workable plans on the table that would actually deliver the dollars they promise, including House Bill 4539, which I am co-sponsoring. This bill would provide approximately $1.68 billion to fund community colleges and universities, and students’ MAP grants.

House bill 4539 would be a great starting point for discussion on a compromise to get needed funding to our universities and students. I can only hope the Speaker returns from his vacation with a renewed spirit of cooperation.

Be prepared: warmer weather brings tornado threats

With the coming of spring to Illinois comes the possibility of dangerous storms. 

Weather alerts, tornado watches, and tornado warnings are familiar to Illinoisans, but newcomers to the Land of Lincoln should familiarize themselves with them.  An increasing number of cellphones are technologically connected to Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) warning-message systems that automatically generate a unique tone signal and warning message when a severe weather warning, such as a tornado warning, is issued for a specific time and place.

Illinois residents who do not subscribe to cellular phone service, or who are out of range of the existing warning network, are strongly urged to obtain a weather alert radio that will automatically emit a parallel warning tone when a weather hazard is detected.  IEMA has announced plans to hold a random drawing to award 100 free weather alert radios to Illinois residents.  Participants in the drawing are asked to submit applications to http://public.iema.state.il.us/iema/wintersurvey/readywinterstormnarrative.asp
 no later than March 31.

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