Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
As if our state hasn’t suffered enough from the ethical choices of our former governors, the actions of a recently appointed Chicago representative are being investigated. A House ethics committee was formed last week to investigate allegations that State Representative Derrick Smith allegedly accepted a $7,000 cash bribe in exchange for his endorsement of a state grant application.
I can understand the disdain that many citizens have for their government right now with abundant examples of poor judgment, dishonesty and failure to uphold our laws and Constitution. Perhaps that was a contributing factor to the low voter turnout in last week’s primary election. The concern over ethical behavior was certainly a reason the House voted to discontinue the legislative college scholarship program (discussed later in this newsletter).
Voters cannot respond to this type of official misconduct by staying home on Election Day. We must hold each other to higher standards for the choices we make and select public officials thoughtfully—not based solely on the most recent campaign ad.
In this Issue:
· Disciplinary Committee Formed
· The Pain of Reducing Debt
· Retooling the College Illinois Savings Plan
· Radon Testing Required for Daycares
· Legislative Scholarship Program Will End
· Another U of I President Resigns Amidst Controversy
· MAP Grant Closure Earliest on Record
· Sycamore Fifth Graders Visit Springfield
The Pain of Reducing Debt
As the budgeting process moves forward this year and the state tries to reduce its mountain of debts, many legislators are being told by financial advisors to prepare for some real pain. Countless state programs and services that have expanded over the past decade will not be funded.
The scope of the budget–what is available for program spending after mandatory payments—is still taking shape. The obligations that must be paid first in the budget include transfers to local government, interest and repayment of our debt, pension payments and Medicaid obligations. Such payments are estimated to total $16.9 billion or nearly half of the available revenue next year.
One of the unanswered questions of the moment is how much of the $8.5 billion in unpaid bills do we pay down rather than continue to delay paying? The answer could result in even further annual program cuts.
I mention this dilemma because nearly every group appearing before budget committees this month has been asking for the same or more spending than last year. Few are prepared for the pain of less funding.
Citizens can help in this transition from state funded programs back to more personal responsibility. What can we do for ourselves and how can we help our neighbors? Then maybe state funding will be available to help the most vulnerable and at risk. The change in philosophy will be painful but is necessary.
Retooling the College Illinois Savings Plan
Many parents and family members of future college students took advantage of a state program to freeze college tuition costs and save money. The program, called “College Illinois”, became very popular but was not successful in anticipating college tuition cost inflation or investing money wisely.
As a result, the program’s assets total $1.1 billion, but its obligations are $1.7 billion. “College Illinois” has closed its doors to new participants while lawmakers and the Illinois Student Assistance Commission figure out how to fulfill commitments to existing investors, cut expenses and correct some of the investment problems.
There is a desire to amend the plan then reopen it to future participants. College cost inflation must be slowed if Illinois hopes to increase the percent of its citizens with education degrees beyond high school and have the skills necessary to compete in a global economy.
Radon Testing Required for Daycares
Each year in the United States exposure to indoor radon gas causes thousands of preventable lung cancer deaths. According to the Surgeon General this odorless, colorless gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Legislation was approved in the House last week to require radon testing at least every three years by licensed child day care centers, day care homes and group day care homes. Under HB4606, proof of radon test completion would be required when applying or renewing day care licensing. Parental notification would also be required under the legislation.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, testing is the only way to know if buildings contain dangerous radon levels. If an elevated radon level is discovered, the gas can be lowered by installing an air exhaust system. Additional legislation is before the House to require the installation of a passive exhaust system in all new home construction. The cost is estimated at less than $1,000 which is less than half the cost of a system installed after the home is built.
Legislative Scholarship Program Will End
With reports of abuse and concerns over the economic impact on colleges, the House passed legislation last week to end the Illinois General Assembly Scholarship Program on June 1. Each year legislators have been able to award up to eight one-year college tuition waivers to public university students. Since the program is unfunded, the universities have to absorb the cost of the program, estimated at $13.5 million last year.
In recent years, news reports have documented the awarding of scholarships to the families of legislative staff, campaign contributors and students who don’t even live in the legislator’s district.
HB 3810 now moves to the Illinois Senate for consideration.
Another U of I President Resigns Amidst Controversy
With a scheduled appearance before the House Higher Education Committee last week, University of Illinois President Michael Hogan unexpectedly resigned. His exit comes less than two weeks after the university’s trustees ordered him to repair his relationship with faculty, but follows months of pressure, including letters calling for his ouster signed by some of the university’s most distinguished faculty including Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners.
Hogan was hired in May 2010 after another president, Joe White, resigned during a student admissions scandal. Hogan was under pressure for his leadership style, policies and questionable communications by his handpicked chief of staff.
Board of Trustees Chairman Christopher Kennedy immediately named longtime university educator Robert Easter as Hogan’s successor, saying the 64-year-old Easter agreed to fill the role for two years. Dr. Easter has previously served as Dean of the College of ACES and several interim positions including Vice President for Research, Provost, and Chancellor at the Urbana-Champaign campus.
Dr. Easter is a respected educator and leader who hopefully will calm the turmoil at the state’s premier university and refocus the university system on teaching and research. He also needs to restore the moral compass of the University of Illinois system which has been rocked by scandal after scandal in the last several decades. He will leave for a scheduled trip to India on Friday where the university has numerous research and teaching programs.
MAP Grant Closure Earliest on Record
The Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) reported last week that they have stopped making Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants to assist college students in paying tuition bills. This is the earliest date on record that the program has hit its budget limits. The MAP grants are need-based financial aid given on a first-come, first-serve basis.
ISAC expects to receive a record number of applications for the program this year, reflecting both the higher cost of attending colleges and universities, and the lower incomes of students and their families. More than 140,000 students are expected to get the aid valued at up to $4,968 per year.
The grants are available each year until the state appropriation, some $380 million this year, is awarded. Just ten years ago the program was able to fund the full tuition and fee costs for every eligible student. Today only about half the eligible students receive grants for less than half their college costs.
Sycamore Fifth Graders Visit Springfield
I extended a special welcome to the Sycamore SE Elementary School fifth graders last week at the State Capitol. Hopefully this understanding of how their government works will spur them to become engaged citizens who will, one day, vote. School principal Mark Ekstrom also stopped by to provide an update on the new state principal training and assessment programs. He serves on a state advisory committee to shape the content and preparation of these important school leaders.
This is the final week to pass House originated legislation so we will be very busy with groups visiting Springfield, committee hearings and long House sessions. Call if you want to share your opinion about any of the bills we will be considering.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to email@example.com