Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
June 3, 2013
In this issue:
· Concealed Carry Bill Goes to Governor
· Budget Increases Spending
· Medicaid Expanded Despite Uncertain Cost
· Legislation Highlights of the Final Week
The Spring Legislative Session concluded on May 31 with passage of some significant legislation but I am very disappointed that Illinois’ number one issue—pension reform—remains unresolved. Unlike other difficult issues where there are negotiations and compromise, the leaders of each chamber became so enamored with their solution they would not compromise. During this year’s session, the House approved four different pension bills and sent them to the Senate where the main bill, SB1, was defeated 16-42. The Senate approved its own pension bill and sent it to the House where Speaker Madigan refused to call it for debate.
Now, perhaps, the legislative leaders will back off and allow their members to craft a bill with all the parties in what generally works—comprise—to reach the important goal.
The final bill to come before the House Friday provided a heated debate over allowing the Chicago Public Schools to skip another pension payment for its workers. The majority party violated several house rules in order to bring the pension holiday bill for a vote and then soundly defeated it. It was ironic that what has gotten the state into a severe pension crisis was being proposed for Chicago. Apparently the drama was meant to send a statement to the Mayor of Chicago who controls the school system.
Then there were emotional speeches by advocates for same sex marriage about why their bill didn’t come to a vote and the hope it would be back this fall. Hundreds of advocates and all the major news media came to Springfield on Friday to see the vote.
Concealed Carry Bill Goes to Governor
With eight days remaining until the federal-court deadline for concealed carry in Illinois, the General Assembly on Friday sent a “shall-issue” carry bill to Governor Quinn for his signature. Negotiations on a compromise bill took place all week and final action in both chambers occurred quickly on Friday.
HB183 allows municipalities with current assault weapons bans to retain those rules, but requires all communities to allow concealed carry of hand guns for all who obtain a permit. Nearly all provision of earlier versions of the bill remain, including gun-free zones, training requirements, background checks and a $150 fee to pay for enforcement.
Budget Increases Spending
Those legislators who have been frustrated with spending reductions over the past two years passed a budget for FY2014 that increases spending by $2 billion and “balanced” it with optimistic revenue estimates. To accomplish their task, they cut out of budget negotiations those of us concerned with unpaid bills, a stagnant economy and continued overspending of revenue.
Over the past two years both parties have contributed to crafting responsible budgets that assumed conservative revenue estimates and reduced spending. Last year for the first time in a decade the state paid down its unpaid bills. Rather than continue that path to fiscal solvency, the majority used increased revenue for spending in spite of Illinois’ $7.5 billion backlog of bills and looming income tax rollback in 2015.
While our education system—schools, colleges and universities—that can improve the economy, worker skills and business climate was held flat, there were billions for “pork” projects, ineffective programs, and program expansion. While some may consider their budget status quo a victory, I am concerned that we refuse to follow the policies of other states who lead in economic recovery, tax reductions and paying their bills.
Medicaid Expanded Despite Uncertain Cost
SB26 was sent to the Governor with the promise of covering more low-income uninsured adults with government health care. For hospitals, nursing homes and medical providers the expansion will mean less uncompensated care. For such patients, the expansion will increase their access to health care and should reduce unnecessary emergency room visits.
The expansion will save employers tax penalties and relieve some of the cost shifting to patients who have insurance. Nevertheless, the expansion will mean more—perhaps billions more—spending for the state.
Many Representatives voiced concerns about the uncertainty of the number of people who will be covered, the state’s share of costs and the inability for the state to prevent fraud and abuse. Currently a quarter of our citizens are eligible for Medicaid which consumes about a third of our general revenue.
Legislation Highlights of Final Week
As the spring session came to a close, many remaining bills were moved to the floor for debate and votes. Some of the more notable bills include:
HB1247: Hand-Held Cell Phone Ban. Beginning January 1, Illinois will prohibit the use of hand-held cell phones on Illinois roadways. The use of hands-free phones in addition to one-touch dialing while driving is still permitted.
HB2418: Elections Omnibus Bill. Continues enhanced early voting opportunities on college campuses, allows for on-line voter registration and grace period voting. The bill also creates a county board of election commissioners for only Lake County. Lake County did not request this legislation, and the creation of this new mandatory board is estimated to cost Lake County $600,000.
SB20: Economic Development Act of 2013. This bill is a catch-all for a dozen different economic development projects across the state; some that wouldn’t pass on their own. Included is a new fertilizer plant near Tuscola that would receive $35 million in state and local tax breaks for adding 300 permanent jobs and $1.2 billion in economic activity. Also changes in the farmland assessment law, an expansion of Chicago’s McCormick Place exhibition hall for DePaul University, and incentives to develop a third Chicago-area airport in Peotone.
SB492: Diversion of Corporate Personal Property Taxes. This bill permits the permanent use of the Corporate Personal Property Tax Replacement Fund (CPPRT) to pay for various county clerk stipends, the Regional Offices of Education (ROE), and the expenses of the Educational Labor Relations Board which had been paid out of state funds. With this diversion, local schools will have less local resources and therefore qualify for more state funding.
SB1042: Landowner Liability. This legislation limits the liability for landowners who allow the general public to use their land for recreational and conservation purposes.
SB1307: Lowers the Compulsory Age for School. The compulsory age for children to attend school was lowered from age seven to six. Five-year-olds who turn six by September 1 would need to start school.
SB1366: Teacher Early Retirement Option. This bill extends for three years an early retirement option for teachers without discounting their annuity. Local school boards may choose to negotiate use of the ERO in collective bargaining.
SB1470: Prevailing Wage for Private Clean-up Projects. This bill requires paying prevailing (union) wages for clean-up projects within the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) program.
SB1625: School Evacuation Drills. This legislation adds another type of evacuation drill for PK-12 schools. Currently schools must hold at least four evacuation or lock-down drills per year and this bill adds “suspicious intruder” to the list of drills that schools may select. Attempts must be made to include law enforcement personnel on site for the drills.
SB1664: Modernization of Telecommunications Law. This bill brings outdated service standards for particularly landline providers more up-to-date. This will allow companies to invest in new technology and be more competitive. Also creates a study of 9-1-1 emergency service technology.
SB1687: Shift Costs for Higher Education Pensions. Under the threat of a cost shift by Speaker Madigan, colleges and universities agreed to pay the annual pension costs for their workers. They requested and were given a number of concessions: relief from some of the procurement and property tagging rules, members on the pension board, the right to refuse any pension enhancements by the legislature, and easing of the rules regarding rehiring of retirees. The Senate did not concur with the bill.
SB1715: Permits and Regulates Fracking. After more than a year of negotiations this bill provides the strictest environmental protections in the nation for Fracking, the potential to create 45,000 jobs, inject $9.5 billion into the Illinois economy and impose fees on wells and severance tax of 3-6 percent on the value of oil and gas removed.
SB2266: Natural Gas Modernization. This act allows certain natural gas utilities to modernize their aging distribution lines, will create jobs, imposes performance reporting and limits rate increases.
SB2268: Township Authority to Sell/Lease Property. This bill allows townships and township road districts the ability to lease or sell personal property by a vote of the township board or recommendation of the township road commissioner. It deletes requirements of competitive bidding for surplus personal or real property, and allows a township or road commissioner to sell personal property by public or internet auction.
SJR32: Education Advisory Committee. This resolution creates an Advisory Committee on Education Funding to conduct a thorough review of the existing distribution of general state aid and education funding.
The House will stand in recess until October 22 unless called back to Springfield by the Speaker or Governor. Call my office if you would like me to visit with your group about actions of the 98th General Assembly or legislative issues. I hope to see you in parades or other events this summer.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to email@example.com