Budget progress elusive; banning contraband in state prisons

More political games on the budget, but no progress
This week we saw a party-line vote on an irresponsible stopgap budget that does nothing to move us closer to a full-year budget agreement. On Thursday, a short-term budget that had not been negotiated by the two parties was rushed to the floor and put up for a vote. House Republicans are willing to work with Democrats to find an agreement on a balanced budget that fixes the long-term problems our state is facing. Instead, this week we saw the exact same political game that was played in 2015 and 2016. It did not help the people of Illinois then, and it will not do so now.

While these games were being played, the House was not working on a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Fiscal Year 2017 will end on June 30 and Fiscal Year 2018 will start on July 1. Under state law and the state Constitution, the General Assembly must approve a balanced budget for the approaching fiscal year. The Illinois Constitution requires that this budget be balanced: that it not spend more money than is expected to come in during the fiscal year. The legislature did not fulfill this mandate for the current year, and is not yet making progress to do this for next year. As March ended, Illinois had more than $12 billion in unpaid bills.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin called for the House to quickly take action on the state budget. Durkin pointed out that progress toward a budget is possible if state government undertakes serious structural reforms, including pension reform, to reduce its long-term commitments. Moody’s Investors Service warned at the end of March that continued failure to act on the budget situation risks further downgrades of the state’s credit rating.

Continued reductions in the credit rating that governs the interest rates paid by state institutions and concerns in the worldwide business community about Illinois’ future make immediate action necessary.  House Appropriations committees will continue to meet through the spring. We need to find a solution sooner rather than later.

Keeping contraband out of state prisons
A few weeks ago I told you about a series of bills I was introducing after speaking with several correctional officers from around the district. These bills were meant to help enhance the safety of both staff and inmates in Illinois correctional facilities. Some of these bills moved forward before the deadline to get bills out of committees, but others are still being worked on.

One bill which did reach the House floor was House Bill 2935, which bans the use or possession of recording devices, broadcast equipment or electronic contraband within a state penal institution with the intention to disrupt safety, security or operations of the facility. This idea was brought to my attention by correctional officers after an incident in which an individual was broadcasting a pirate radio station into a prison to incite violence. I believe this legislation is a reasonable precaution to take to keep our correctional workers and staff safe. HB 2935 passed the House on Wednesday by a 115-0 vote.

Help for small businesses networking
The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) operates several Small Business Development Centers around the state to provide information, training and resources for start-ups and existing small businesses. This week, the House passed legislation that would add marketing and networking to those services.

House Bill 1813 passed the House on Wednesday. It directs DCEO to create a Networking for Success program within its Small Business Development Centers to assist small businesses with strategic market research, geographic information systems, web design and search engine optimization and social media marketing. Currently, such services are often out of reach to many Illinois small businesses because of the cost. This program would make such services accessible to small businesses – the very businesses that employ so many of our neighbors and generate so much economic activity in our communities. The bill is now awaiting action in the Senate.

Durkin, Rauner call for action on I-55 congestion
Those who use Interstate 55 to travel north from the 106th district know what a traffic headache it can be at certain times of day. Many of Illinois’ manufacturing jobs are concentrated on both sides of I-55 north of Braidwood. Increases in traffic, both from local commerce and goods transportation to and from factories and warehouses have created daily traffic jams along many stretches of this section of I-55. The problem is especially harsh the closer you get to the Chicago city limits.

The existence of right-of-way space, including space in the I-55 median, presents a solution. Leader Durkin joined with Governor Rauner last week to call for General Assembly approval of the construction of new access-controlled express lanes in both directions of I-55. The proposed I-55 express lanes would start at the interchange with I-355 in Bolingbrook-Woodridge and continue north to I-90/I-94 near downtown Chicago. The express lanes would be built by private contractors and would charge a toll for users other than emergency response vehicles. The toll lanes are projected to generate about $24 million in annual revenue, which would service the $500 million in bond sales required to finance the project.

Did You Know?
Illinois was the first state to ratify the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery. The Constitution requires three-fourths of the states to ratify all proposed amendments which have passed the Congress. The amendment was submitted to the states for approval on January 31, 1865, and Illinois quickly got to work: ratifying it the very next day. It took until December for the amendment to receive approval from the required 27 states before it became part of the Constitution.