- Rauner Gets Reforms Rollin
- General Assembly Begins Work
- Appointees to Lead State Government
- Food Bank Looks for Food, Help
- Board of Education Sets Priorities
Rauner Gets Reforms Rollin
Governor Rauner’s campaign promise to shake up Springfield turned into action shortly after his inauguration with a torrent of executive orders. We can expect to hear more of his agenda next Wednesday in his first State of the State address. Here are some of the governor’s first steps:
• Executive Order 15-09 placed new requirements and prohibitions upon Executive Branch employees. The order creates a one-year barrier between leaving an executive-branch position and accepting any compensation for lobbying. It further expands the required annual Statements of Economic Interest by state employees to disclose non-state work, volunteer work, legal status, and property holdings. Hear more about this executive order as reported by Springfield public radio station WUIS here.
• Executive Order 15-10 increases transparency for the hiring of individuals who are exempt from civil service protection. In response to hiring scandals in the Quinn Administration, this order directs that all policy position hires be published on the existing Illinois Transparency and Accountability Portal. They will be sorted by name of employee, name of employing agency, division within the employing agency, and the job title for which the person was hired.
• Moving beyond traditional “affirmative action” guidelines, Governor Rauner in Executive Order 15-12 called for hard numbers about the results. He directed the Department of Central Management Services (CMS) to gather data about procurement, apprenticeship programs, and trade union training programs. He specifically requested data on participation of veteran-owned businesses and those owned and controlled by racial minorities, women, and persons with disabilities. The Department is instructed to recommend solutions and methods to remedy any disparity in procurement awards. Click here to read further details reported in the Chicago Sun-Times.
• Executive Order 15-11 rescinds seven decrees by Governor Quinn as he departed office. Several of the former executive’s orders would have sharply increased the operating costs of state agencies in a time of budgetary crisis. The legislature would be a more appropriate forum to debate these policies and necessary funding.
• The Executive Order freezing all non-essential spending by state agencies does not include $1 billion in Illinois Tollways construction projects. Governor Rauner exempted the ongoing, rebuilding and widening projects of the Tollways since they are “self-financed” through toll increases paid for by toll road users. These projects including work on Interstate 90 are expected to reduce traffic bottlenecks and increase the ability of toll road users to get to work and transport products. The Chicago Tribune describes the tollway projects and Rauner’s decision here.
The Governor has defined essential spending as contracts, grants or other spending that is determined by the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget to be necessary for the health, safety and welfare of the people of Illinois or to prevent serious disruption in critical state services.
General Assembly Begins Work
The 177 members of the 99th General Assembly who were inaugurated in Springfield earlier this month are a seasoned group of legislators with only 1 new senator and 14 new representatives. Despite gains by Republicans nationally, the Democrats control a super majority in both legislative chambers.
I appreciated a large group of local residents who traveled to Springfield to see the ceremonial beginning of the General Assembly, tour the capitol, and visit the offices of Governor and Comptroller.
The legislature is taking this week to form committees, adopt rules and begin looking at several hundred pieces of legislation that already have been introduced. We will hear the Governor’s official State of the State address on February 4 but he has already given indications of the changes he would like to make and the sacrifices that will be required to get our state back to sound financial footing.
Many groups are already contacting me asking about the direction Governor Rauner will take and the looming financial crisis their local agencies face as the state funding runs out. It has been clear since May that the legislature approved a budget that over estimated revenue and under estimated expenses. The Governor has made clear those practices must cease.
Appointees to Lead State Government
There has been a flurry of announcements of people to lead various agencies in state government pending Senate approval. Here is a brief introduction to some appointees.
The Department of Revenue will be led by Connie Beard, current executive director of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Tax Institute. She brings more than 30 years of experience in state and local tax issues with 16 of them in various roles at Revenue. An attorney, Beard understands tax policy and the impact of taxes on businesses.
Continuing as Director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) will be Lisa Bonnett. She has worked for the agency for nearly 20 years and served as Director since 2013. Bonnett has streamlined the permit process and created a program for local governments to upgrade and expand aging water and sewer systems.
Serving as Director of the Department of Agriculture will be Seneca farmer Phillip Nelson. The former President of the Illinois Farm Bureau led the state’s largest advocacy organization for agricultural interests and was President of Country Financial, the state’s third largest auto and home insurer. His experiences include grain inspection, international trade, biotechnology and consumer dialogue.
Heading the Department of Natural Resources will be Wayne Rosenthal, a former State Representative and retired Brigadier General from the Illinois Air National Guard. Rosenthal has experience in leading a large organization, managing a multi-million dollar budget, and working with wildlife advocates. He operates a farm with emphasis on conservation, and has helped to establish a hunting and fishing preserve in his home county.
Named to lead the Department of Veterans’ Affairs will be Erica Jeffries, a former Captain in the United States Army and black Hawk helicopter pilot. She is currently the chief inclusion and diversity officer of Exelis, a global aerospace, defense and information solutions company. She has worked with the Environmental Protection Agency while serving in the White House Fellows Program.
Felicia Norwood has been appointed to lead the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Service. Norwood brings more than 20 years of experience in health care policy, care delivery and health business operations. Most recently she was Regional President for the insurance company Aetna where she managed a budget of more than $6 billion. Norwood led health care reform initiatives for Governor Edgar and served as human services policy advisor for Governor Thompson.
Directing the Department of Public Health will be Nirav Dinesh Shah who holds both medical and law degrees. He has been focused on the administrative and legal aspects of public health for clients around the world. As a public health economist for the Minister of Health in Cambodia, Shah worked to address inefficiencies, and make the public health system more cost-effective.
Finally, Brien Sheahan has been appointed Chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission. He has more than 20 years’ experience in managing government relations and policy making including being policy advisor to Governor Edgar. Sheahan has worked as legal counsel for the commission and Deputy Executive Director of the Illinois Housing Development Authority.
Food Bank Needs Food, Help
How much food does it take to feed 71,500 people every week? How many trucks traverse the 13 county area served by the Northern Illinois Food Bank to distribute food to local pantries and recover unsalable products from grocers and manufacturers? I found the answers on Martin Luther King Day as I toured the Northern Illinois Food Bank in St. Charles and helped repackage some meat products.
You can find the answers and ways you can help feed the hungry in our area at the website: www.solvehungertoday.org. Volunteers are critical to inspect, sort and repackage the donated food items. Food recovery comprises a large part of the inventory as bakeries, grocery stores, and manufacturers clear their shelves of food items nearing their expiration date or that may not meet their quality standards for sale.
A large school group was helping to sort and package food items the day I was there. This is an excellent community service investment of time for all ages. The Bank also needs funding for trucks, fuel, refrigerators and freezer, and yes, food purchases.
Representative Ed Sullivan and I are joined by a family from Naperville and Food Bank staff as we toured the food depository.
Board of Education Sets Priorities
The State Board of Education has compiled its budget request for FY2016 well ahead of the Governor’s Budget Address. Much of the request for increased funding is to fully fund the general state aid line which has been prorated in recent years. While the budget document was compiled before the Governor’s hand-picked chairman took office, James Meeks has offered his support for the request.
The board intends to conduct a standardized test that is aligned with the state’s learning standards for grades 3 thru 8 plus 3 years in high school. This request will fund the ACT college admission test. The board also requests $126.4 million in capital funds for infrastructure costs associated with the standardized test.
Noteworthy in the budget request is the absence of any funding for legislator special initiatives including After School Matters. There is a $50 million increase in funding for early childhood education. Another area of focus is funding for alternative education, regional safe schools, homeless education and truant alternative education.
Watch my Facebook page for news of the Governor’s State of the State address next Wednesday and my comments. Best wishes,