Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
February 25, 2013
In this issue:
· Budget Balancing Grows More Challenging with Inaction
· Federal Government Approves Illinois Health Insurance Exchange
· Tantalizing Expansion of Medicaid Could be Costly
· Gun Control Hearings Reveal a Great Divide
· Thousands Lobby for Traditional Marriage
· Bipartisan Coalition Works to Regulate Fracking in Illinois
· Join me for Discussion over Coffee this Saturday
Budget Balancing Grows More Challenging with Inaction
Governors and legislatures are wise to be cautious about taking actions that could damage the economy. Inaction in Illinois, however, is having the same effect. As Governor Quinn prepares for his annual budget address on March 6, he will have to face the increased costs from his inaction–and that of his party–on implementing reforms in the FY2013 budget and passing pension reforms.
Information from the House Revenue and Finance Committee points to over $1 billion of increased costs in this budget year due to the failure of the Governor to implement reforms directed by the legislature. Add another $1 billion in projected spending due to the failure to pass pension reform.
The comprehensive Medicaid reforms in the SMART Act provided a blueprint for the Governor to reduce spending by $1.6 billion this year. His failure to implement the plan will cause the state to spend over $400 million more than budgeted for Medicaid and $323 million more for the Community Care program. In addition his failure to reach a collective bargaining agreement with the state’s largest union will result in increased spending for health insurance.
Finally, failure to reform the pension system will force state payments to increase by $1 billion next year. Altogether, these actions will add $2 billion in budget pressure next year and force significant reductions in education, safety and other priorities.
Perhaps Governor Quinn should read the book The Coolidge Lesson on Taxes and Spending about how our 30th President cut spending, reduced debt after the First World War, stimulated economic activity and lowered taxes in the process.
Federal Government Approves Illinois Health Insurance Exchange
Illinois has received conditional approval from the federal government for a health insurance exchange partnership associated with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). With the federal approval in place, an estimated 500,000 Illinois citizens and owners of small businesses will be able to shop for federally-subsidized insurance beginning October 1.
The state must comply with a very ambitious schedule to develop operating plans; consumer assistance, outreach and education programs; and customize its platform to handle electronic information. Mandatory insurance is a provision of the ACA, and those who do not purchase health insurance will be subject to fines.
Tantalizing Expansion of Medicaid Could be Costly
The federal government has created an enticing carrot for states to expand Medicaid coverage to more low income and uninsured families. If states open enrollment in Medicaid to anyone with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, the federal government will reimburse 100 percent of the operating costs for the first three years of the program and 90 percent of the costs through 2020.
According to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, this is the most generous offer the federal government has ever made. Never mind that the federal government is broke, like Illinois, with $16.5 trillion in debt.
For Illinois, this offer would translate to approximately $12 billion in federal funds through 2020 which would be a great financial benefit for hospitals who now have to provide services regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. Sounds good, but what would this expansion cost Illinois taxpayers and what happens if the federal government reduces or can’t fulfill the offer?
Depending on how many uninsured and low income citizens apply for the program, Illinois would have to pay from $300 million to over $2.1 billion more for Medicaid if everything goes as planned. Should Congress, in an effort to balance its budget, renege on its offer, the impact upon the state already struggling to pay its Medicaid bills would be staggering.
Before the legislature passes a bill to accept the federal Medicaid offer, it should look at how other states are responding. Perhaps combine Medicaid coverage for low-income individuals up to the federal poverty level and subsidize others to buy insurance through the new health insurance exchange the state is creating.
Gun Control Hearings Reveal a Great Divide
Many thought after a federal appeals court ruled the ban on the right to carry a concealed weapon in Illinois was unconstitutional that both sides of this issue would work for reasonable conceal carry guidelines. Hearings last week not only showed just how dividing the issue of gun control is but also contempt for the ruling of the courts.
The three-judge appellate court decision which struck down Illinois laws limiting the right of individuals to possess a firearm was upheld by the full court late last week. Nevertheless, the Cook County State’s Attorney submitted testimony that she would not abide by the ruling.
Speaker Madigan has submitted a bill that is scheduled to be heard in committee this week that will undoubtedly try to limit the right to possess a firearm in Chicago. Meanwhile the pro-Second Amendment folks want any law regarding conceal and carry weapons to apply to the whole state.
With the current attitudes, chances of compromise legislation by June 9 when gun laws end seem a long shot.
Thousands Lobby for Traditional Marriage
Legislation permitting same-sex marriage may be heard in committee this week so thousands of men, women and children descended on Springfield last week to show their support for the traditional definition of marriage—between a man and a woman. This follows the concerted efforts by proponents of HB110 who have called, e-mailed and stopped by my office in recent weeks.
I have come to understand that marriage is a powerful word. At the least it is a commitment of two people; and then there is the purpose to raise children. One could make a strong case that a lot of the problems in our society today are because the kids haven’t been loved, supported, disciplined and taught the essentials of life by a family.
My hope is that we focus on the aspect of children, and how we raise the next generation of citizen and perpetuate a civilized society.
Bipartisan Coalition Works to Regulate Fracking in Illinois
In a legislature filled with highly emotional, unresolved issues, it was an unusual sight last week to see a bipartisan group come together on legislation to allow hydraulic fracturing—fracking—in Illinois. Legislators were joined by environmental leaders and representatives of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), to explain how the bill would protect the environment while allowing economic activity and job growth.
The agreement came after months of negotiations over the highly technical process through which water, sand and chemicals are pumped into rock formations thousands of feet deep so that oil and natural gas can be extracted. If approved, HB2615 would be the most restrictive law of its kind in the nation. The bill will be amended to provide state and local government taxing authority.
The IDNR would be the regulatory agency—issuing permits and enforcing the provisions of the bill. When Congressman Kinzinger was in DeKalb recently he spoke about the potential for fracking to make the U.S. energy independent and to create an economic surge unlike any in our memory.
Join me for Discussion over Coffee this Saturday
I have been holding discussions over coffee in various communities around the district and answering lots of questions about the issues discussed in this newsletter. Two more discussions will be held Saturday March 2 at the Big Rock Township Hall starting at 8 a.m. and at the Campton Township Community Center starting at 10. Stop by to visit, see how my office might be of assistance to you, and to share your ideas.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to email@example.com