September 21, 2009
Many legislators have been meeting over the summer recess to discuss pressing state issues including Medicaid and pension reforms, efficiency of state government operations and new revenue sources. Any proposals are not expected to be called for a vote during the October Veto Session but rather when legislators return to Springfield after the first of the year.
In the meantime, I look forward to opportunities to discuss these reforms and solutions to the current state fiscal crisis with you. My schedule is filling with municipal and township meetings but let me know if you would like me to attend one of your club meetings to discuss the topic. I like to explain our state situation and choices, then listen to your opinions. Just give my office a call to schedule a meeting.
Likely Topics for Veto Session
The Legislature will be returning to Springfield in October to consider legislation from this spring that the Governor has vetoed as well as active bills that have still not passed both chambers. Overall, the General Assembly will be dealing with 50 amendatory vetoes and 10 total vetoes.
Some of the burning issues that remain on our plate due to the Governor’s vetoes are campaign finance reform (HB 7), procurement reform for state contracts and leases (SB 51), and legislative pay raises (SB 2090). The Governor also wants the legislature to lower petition requirements for a community to consider banning video gaming (SB 1595). The House will continue to urge the Senate to pass HJRCA31, which is a bill that the House passed last spring giving citizens the power to recall a Governor.
Other issues that I hope to address during Veto Session include restoring monetary assistance grant (MAP) funding for college students, necessary cuts to balance the budget, and the Governor’s cuts to critical local programs.
MAP Grants Deemed Important
When the Governor made cuts to the budget this year he only provided half of the necessary funding for college and university student monetary assistance grants. Over 137,000 low to moderate income Illinois students rely on the grants of up to $5,000 per year for part of their college expenses.
Colleges and universities are concerned that without the grants in the second semester, students may drop out, transfer to other schools or get into credit problems borrowing too much money for college. MAP grants are given annually to the neediest of Illinois students, half of whom have an annual family income of less than $20,000, according to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission.
Recently I discussed the situation with several college presidents and over 30 Northern Illinois University students. Most of the NIU students were first generation college students. Some of their parents have been laid off work, many never had enough income to save up for college and most students are working while attending college to help pay for books, room and board.
A coalition of Illinois college presidents from public and private, two-year and four-year institutions recently met with Governor Quinn to urge restoring about $200 million for the grants. Their message was simple: prioritize funding for this program or thousands of Illinois’ neediest college students will not be able to continue their education.
When legislators return to Springfield for Veto Session, it is imperative that we find funding for this program. Perhaps the solution will be part of a larger revenue source needed to solve our state’s overall fiscal problems. I am not one to support taxing just a few people for money to assist college students when all of us benefit from an educated workforce.
U.S. House Overhauls College Aid
While Illinois cuts aid to college students, the U.S. government is making some of the biggest changes in college loans in nearly 50 years. The U.S. House has passed a bill that fulfills nearly all of President Obama’s campaign promises for higher education.
The bill ends subsidies for private lenders, boosts Pell Grants for needy students and creates a grant program for community colleges and construction of preschool and K-12 school buildings. It also puts the government in charge of loans programs which could mean the loss of some 30,000 jobs of private lenders. The bill does nothing to stem the rising cost of a college education and now goes to the Senate for action.
Join in Education Council Discussion
You are welcome to join my Education Council on October 3 to learn about some of the state reforms, policy directions and funding outlook for elementary, secondary and higher education. The meeting will be held at 10 a.m. in the DeKalb High School.
I rely on the voices of teachers, administrators, parents and taxpayers in the group to help me analyze bills, programs and issues. We will be discussing HB174 to increase state revenue and education accountability as well as new state programs aimed at data collection, mentoring teachers and principals, turning around failing schools, and student assessment. Call my office to obtain the background information for the meeting.
Call the Flu by its Real Name
The new strain of influenza that hit the world this spring was given a misnomer that is causing consumer confusion and real economic hardship in the Illinois and U.S. pork industries. As a result, I am introducing legislation to urge media outlets and health organizations to avoid the term “Swine Flu” even for clarification purposes.
The H1N1 virus is a unique flu strain that has not been found before in humans, pigs or birds. It is not transmitted by eating pork products yet many consumers and countries have stopped buying U.S. pork products. The economic impact has been severe for producers in DeKalb, Ogle and LaSalle Counties as well as across the country. Hundreds of pork farmers are being forced out of business.
We can assure consumers that eating pork products does not increase the chances of catching the flu. Each of us can create our own economic stimulus program by eating pork and helping family farmers stay in business.
Illinois Tops in Midwest Retail Sales
With our state generally falling at the bottom of most lists, it’s noteworthy that Illinois ranks sixth among all states in total retail sales and dominates other Midwestern states. Retail sales in Illinois totaled $197.4 billion, according to a study by the National Retail Federation, nearly double the sales in Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana or Missouri.
These sales are made at 61,087 retail establishments that include nearly 140 types of service transactions. However, only 17 types of service sales are taxed in Illinois. As legislators seek to balance the state’s budget, some are calling for a broader sales tax on more services, and perhaps at a lower tax rate.
The Tax Foundation evaluates how each state’s tax laws affect economic performance. In the Foundation’s 2009 survey, Illinois ranks the 11th best climate when just considering the tax laws. With all the concern for global climate change, we must be careful not to change our economic climate at a time we need all the activity possible.
More Short Term Borrowing to Pay Bills
Many wonder with falling state revenues and increased spending, how Illinois keeps operating. Governors for years have relied on delayed payment of bills and short term borrowing. This past year the state borrowed $2.25 billion in two purchases in May and again in August. Interest rates were approximately 1.8 percent in May and 1 percent in August.
Even with the borrowing, unpaid bills totaled $3.9 billion on June 30 and are expected to climb this year as federal stimulus programs end. This delay in payment is putting severe stress on state service providers who must borrow money themselves to meet payroll and purchase inputs. Some have had to close their doors while others are refusing to do business with the state.
State employees are finding that many health care providers now demand payment for services from the patient, no longer willing to wait for the state to pay its bills. We must balance our state budget and pay our bills before further damage is done to private companies and organizations.
Quick Answers to Insurance Questions
Consumers with questions about insurance or confused by technical terminology can call the Illinois Insurance Hotline for quick answers. The hotline is an industry-sponsored resource that puts callers in touch with a consultant who can answer questions or send educational materials on a wide range of insurance topics.
Operated by the Illinois Insurance Association, the goal of the hotline is to help consumers make educated decisions about insurance issues. Consultants do not sell insurance products. The Illinois Insurance Hotline is available by calling 1-800-444-3338.
Enjoy the fall and be safe.
2600 DeKalb Ave.
Sycamore, IL 60178
(815) 748-3494 – phone