Special session gets underway; Republicans introduce new compromise plan

Special session gets off to slow start
The Governor has called the House and Senate into special session for each of the last 10 days of June, or until a balanced budget with reforms is passed. The first of these session days was Wednesday, June 21, but the House did not act on a budget on day one. In fact, the Speaker convened the House for the special session, adopted a pair of procedural resolutions and then adjourned in less than 10 minutes. It was not an encouraging start.

On Thursday, the House convened in a “Committee of the Whole” to hold a hearing on a workers compensation reform bill. There was a good discussion, and I had the opportunity to share the story of a business that moved from my district over to Indiana because of Illinois’ high workers’ compensation costs. It now remains to be seen if this lengthy discussion on the House floor will lead to real reform to make Illinois more friendly to creating and retaining jobs.

Over the past couple of months I have told you about my frustration with session days in which the House met only for a few minutes without taking action on the major issues that we must tackle. Now that we are up against a very real deadline with very real consequences for inaction, this lack of movement is especially maddening. There are bills ready for debate and there are members willing to discuss them and work toward an agreement. We just need the House to get to work in order to make it happen.

House and Senate Republicans offer compromise budget plan
As the House and Senate came back to Springfield for special session on Wednesday, Republican leaders from both chambers laid out the details of a proposed compromise budget to finally end this deadlock. The plan respects the priorities of both parties and breaks the cycle of partisan stalemate and stop-gap budgets that only drag things out for a few more months at a time.

The comprehensive proposal includes a truly balanced budget, a four-year hard spending cap, property tax relief, and changes to our regulatory system that will create jobs and grow the economy. The bills also include a $288 million increase for the new school funding formula, as well as additional funding to fulfill commitments to restore child care eligibility to 185% of the federal poverty level and a wage increase to Direct Support Professionals. It also includes term limits on legislative leaders and constitutional officers. The plan includes $4 billion in bonding to pay down our overdue bill backlog.

We still have a week to go before the new fiscal year begins on July 1. There still time to take action before human service providers and others who depend on state funding have to face disastrous consequences. Both houses can pass this package of bills over to the Governor, or improve on it and still get a negotiated compromise deal in place before the deadline. But we have to get moving now. The time for inaction has long passed.

Seven Illinois public universities’ credit downgraded
A sign of the consequences of legislative inaction was delivered by credit rating firm Moody’s Investors Service when it announced on June 9 sweeping credit downgrades for seven Illinois universities over concerns about the ongoing budget impasse. Five of those seven – Southern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, Governors State University, Northeastern Illinois University and Eastern Illinois University – now have been downgraded to what are considered junk credit ratings.

You might recall that back in April, another ratings firm, Standard & Poor’s, downgraded the credit of six Illinois universities. Eastern Illinois University was the lowest rated university, downgraded from B2 to Caa2 with a negative outlook. That denotes speculative-grade credit quality. It is the lowest of the universities according to a separate Moody’s rating research document. The University of Illinois’ new rating is A1 with a negative outlook. That’s down from Aa3 negative and still considered superior credit quality.

Unemployment down slightly in May
The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) announced last week that the state’s unemployment rate slid by -0.1 percentage points to 4.6 percent in May and nonfarm payrolls increased by 2,400 jobs over-the-month, based on preliminary data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Job growth in April was revised slightly to show a decrease of 7,300 jobs rather than the preliminary decrease estimate of 7,200 jobs.

Even with May’s modest gain, Illinois’ job growth remains well below the national average. Payroll growth has been sluggish thus far this year. The state’s unemployment rate is 0.3 percentage points higher than the national unemployment rate reported for May, which fell to 4.3 percent. The Illinois unemployment rate has improved by 1.3 percentage points compared to a year ago when it was 5.9 percent. Illinois’ jobless rate stands at its lowest level since February 2007. It is down 1.1 percentage points since January 2017.

The unemployment rate is defined as including those individuals who are out of work and are seeking employment. An individual who exhausts or is ineligible for benefits is still reflected in the unemployment rate if they actively seek work.

Powerball, Mega Millions to drop Illinois due to state’s budget crisis
The popular Powerball lottery and Mega Millions games will drop Illinois at the end of June if there is no budget agreement in place, Illinois Lottery officials have announced. Concern over the state’s fiscal condition prompted the Multi-State Lottery Association to drop Powerball in Illinois.

Mega Millions also plans to drop the state unless a budget agreement comes together, state officials confirmed. Without a budget in place, the state isn’t authorized to make payments to Mega Millions or the association.

The state reported $99.4 million in Mega Millions sales and $208 million in Powerball sales within the 2016 budget year. Lottery officials indicated that Illinois retains about 40 percent of that money for education funding.

Did You Know?
Governor Edward Dunne signed the Illinois Women’s Suffrage Bill on June 26, 1913, making Illinois the first state east of the Mississippi to extend voting rights to women. However, the law only allowed women to vote in Presidential elections. It would be another seven years before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which granted women full voting rights nationwide. In 1922, Rep. Lottie Holman O’Neill (R-Downers Grove) became the first woman elected to the Illinois House.