Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
In this issue:
· Final Days of 97th General Assembly
· Legislation Extends Christmas Eve Filing Deadline
· Budget Issues
· Vote Near on Winnebago County Sports Facility
· Increased Park Funding Bill Goes to Governor
· Schools Given Ideas to Save Money
· Come to the Inauguration
Final Days of 97th General Assembly
The 97th legislature is moving toward final adjournment on January 8 prior to the seating of the newly elected 98th General Assembly. We are in the middle of 6 days in the “Veto Session” prior to 6 days in the “Lame Duck” session in the first weeks of January.
The Veto Session is supposed to be dedicated to actions of the governor regarding legislation passed in the spring. As we saw last week, there is also action on unfinished legislation as well. Many controversial issues could emerge so I encourage you to follow the news and share your views with me by phone or e-mail. In the week ahead I expect legislative votes dealing with driver’s licenses for all motorists, a new proposal for reforming the pensions, a fee on satellite TV, and votes to override a number of gubernatorial vetoes.
Legislation Extends Christmas Eve Filing Deadline
SB 3338 passed both chambers last week to extend the material filing deadline in the consolidated election from December 24th to December 26th. My office had received concerns about the deadline nearly as soon as the election calendar was announced in the summer.
I filed legislation in July to extend the filing deadline since many local government offices had plans to close on Monday December 24 and give employees a long holiday weekend. Despite concerns that the bill couldn’t be implemented fast enough, it was approved by both chambers last week. The act also prohibits objections being filed against candidates who file on December 26th based solely on signature and circular statements.
Last week the Illinois Senate voted to reject Governor Quinn’s line veto in the current budget and keep open the Tamms high-security prison, the Dwight women’s lockup, and juvenile detention centers among other items. The issue now comes to the House. The Governor not only wants to close these facilities but to divert some $56 million in savings to child-protection services. Even with the action, the governor can still close the facilities but not divert the savings to other uses.
Meanwhile State Comptroller Topinka testified against HB 6240 in a House committee last week that would allow borrowing of $4 billion to pay down over $7 billion in unpaid bills. Such an action would take our $27 billion in current General Obligation Bonding to the 3rd highest in the country. This total has grown from just $7.6 billion in bonding 10 years ago.
Finally, Speaker Madigan, in an acknowledgement that the state is broke, sponsored House Joint Resolution 45 to send a clear message to labor contract negotiators and one of the state’s largest unions. The resolution puts the House on record as objecting to any net pay increases with the union or job reductions. The negotiations are stalled and union members are being told to prepare for a strike early next year.
Vote Near on Winnebago County Sports Facility
SB 3183, a bill that would allow Winnebago County to increase the 3 percent hotel tax to 5 percent, could come to a vote this week. The money raised through the tax would go to finance a $41 million bond to renovate and expand sports facilities in Rockford and allow the city to compete for regional sporting events.
A downtown building would be converted into an indoor basketball and volleyball center, Sportscore One would see improvements while major expansion would occur to Sportscore Two.
The tax would be imposed on hotel guests, many of whom come to use the facilities. The project is estimated to add $16.5 million annually in business for the region, $1.9 million in tax revenue per year and create 250 full-time jobs in the tourism and hospitality industry.
Increased Park Funding Bill Goes to Governor
A bill to increase funding for state parks which stalled in the Senate last spring was approved and sent to the governor this past week. SB 1566 will raise an estimated $32 million annually by increasing the license plate cost for passenger cars and pickup trucks by $2, implementing a usage stamp for off-highway recreational vehicles and collecting other fees.
General revenue fund appropriations for the Department of Natural Resources have been reduced from $107 million in 2003 to about $48 million in 2012. Staffing levels were reduced from 2,600 employees a decade ago to around 1,100 this year. As a result, park maintenance has suffered.
Schools Given Ideas to Save Money
One of Governor Quinn’s campaign ideas from 2010 was the formation of a commission to recommend ways Illinois school districts can improve student learning and reduce duplicative administration costs. The commission came to be known as the Classrooms First Commission.
The group’s final report to the General Assembly includes 23 recommendations to spur school district consolidation and streamline operations, with the goal of redirecting $1 billion to classrooms from administration spending. Among the legislative recommendations likely to see action next year are reductions in barriers to consolidation, encouragement to use more shared service agreements between districts and increased use of computers.
One of the proposals would require the Illinois State Board of Education to establish and maintain a web-based resource management service for all school districts by 2014. Another would consolidate database licenses including electronic textbooks.
Yet another proposal would create a state “Efficiency Revolving Loan Program” where districts could borrow start-up funding for programs that would be repaid with operational efficiency savings. Examples were given where public entities saved 20 to 30 percent in operating costs.
You can review the report at: HERE
Come to the Inauguration
If you would like to be part of history as the 98th General Assembly takes its oath of office, I invite you to join me on January 9th in Springfield. The ceremony begins at noon but there will be receptions in the morning, tours of the capitol, a private lunch, and opportunity to visit the Lincoln Museum.
Contact my office for details and to reserve your seat. There will be a lot to see and experience.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to firstname.lastname@example.org