Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
January 9, 2012
In this Issue:
· Quinn’s First Multi-Year Budget Causes Gasps
· Fiscal Issues to Dominate Spring Session
· Stretching the Education Dollar
· Juvenile Incarceration Trend Must Be Reversed
· New Laws Becoming Overwhelming
· Home Foreclosure Solution Needed
· Quinn’s First Multi-Year Budget Causes Gasps
Quinn’s First Multi-Year Budget Causes Gasps
The Governor unveiled a three year budget outline last week that calls for capping the growth in Medicaid, flat funding for education, 7 percent cuts in most other areas and seems to be calling for extending the income tax increase. The general reaction was shock from the reality of sluggish income projections through 2015 and that the Governor has finally realized major spending reductions are necessary.
Legislation passed with the tax increase last year called for the Governor to issue a three year budget projection and be more open about expenditures during the year. The first such report was very sketchy but it clearly showed that something different must be done to stimulate job creation, foster economic activity and reduce the need for social programs.
Quinn’s report pinpoints escalating pension and Medicaid costs as the main source for the budgetary squeeze. As a result, Governor Quinn’s office is indicating that a combination of reductions in employee headcount and program cuts will be required to make up the difference.
Last spring the General Assembly approved Medicaid reforms which are estimated to save $700 million over five years. Despite this, Medicaid costs continue to soar much faster than inflation and more people are demanding services.
Likewise, our state’s pension costs are anticipated to swell by nearly $2 billion over the next three years. Governor Quinn and Senate President Cullerton have signaled an interest in exploring ways to reduce the state’s pension costs without violating the state constitution. One such tactic being floated would shift the state’s higher education pension costs to the colleges and universities that employ the workers.
Fiscal Issues to Dominate Spring Session
With nearly $7 billion in unpaid bills, little to no state income growth and rising pension costs, the legislature will need to focus on very difficult fiscal issues in what is typically a light election year. It is my hope that, the legislature can again come together in a bipartisan effort for setting spending priorities, reforms and a balanced budget.
The scope of our fiscal problems defies the usual tinkering. We should resist reducing the state’s labor force, which is already among the lowest number per thousand citizens in the nation, but instead look at how to be more productive. There are numerous ideas for reducing the cost of incarceration and recidivism too.
Cutting Medicaid rates for doctors and hospitals are easy targets but those rates are already significantly lower than the discounted federal Medicare rates. Instead we need to move faster toward wellness programs and individual responsibility for healthy behavior that reduces health care demand. We also need to reduce the cost of medical errors, frivolous litigation, and defensive medical practices.
Let’s hope this spring session will be a time for creativity and real solutions to issues. Citizens need to let incumbents and candidates alike know they want action, not hot air.
Stretching the Education Dollar
If you saw the Governor’s budget projections you know that education funding will require some major changes in the way we provide education in the coming years. At my next Education Council meeting we will discuss school finance, efficiencies, and implementing recent education reforms. I welcome your participation on January 18 at 7 p.m. in the DeKalb County Outreach Building on Annie Glidden Road, DeKalb.
We will look at information present at a recent meeting sponsored by The Gates Foundation which directs our focus to school structure, performance outcomes, and community engagement. They made clear that traditional cuts and tinkering with the school budget will be insufficient.
At the core of the Gates Foundation quest to improve education is the belief that teachers matter more to student achievement than any other factor inside schools. Research has led them to the conclusion that we must better understand what makes a teacher effective and find ways to rethink how we recruit, retain and evaluate teachers in our schools in order to improve student outcomes.
As we move forward, I think it is important for all of us to give these ideas and philosophies careful consideration. Education is critical to helping people succeed and attract employers to our state.
Juvenile Incarceration Trend Must Be Reversed
While noting progress, an Illinois state commission recently issued a road map of additional changes needed throughout the juvenile justice system. “The Youth Reentry Improvement Report” includes a series of findings and recommendations to improve public safety, reduce government spending on youth prisons, protect the constitutional rights of juveniles and increase the likelihood that young offenders will become responsible adults.
In preparing the report, the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, analyzed the files of more than 380 youth with recent parole revocations, and Commission members observed more than 230 Illinois Prisoner Review Board hearings – the first independent observation of its kind for hearings closed to the general public.
The Youth Reentry Improvement Report found that the system does little to prepare youth and families for the youths’ return home. In addition, paroled youth rarely receive needed services or school linkages and as a frequent result are returned to prison.
To address these concerns, the report recommends improving screening assessments and development of case plans for each youth entering the correction system, training for prison staff on different ways to deal with youth inmates and providing legal advocates for youth.
The report also finds a need for specialists to work with juvenile inmates and their families from the day of incarceration and continuing after release. Finally, the report suggests a time limit for parole rather than the current common practice of keeping youth on parole until their 21st birthday.
New Laws Becoming Overwhelming
Since I joined the legislature my library shelf of state statues has grown by nearly six inches and currently takes up nearly three feet of space. This January, alone, over 200 new laws went into effect and thousands more will be considered in the next legislative session.
The new laws this year have a resounding theme of transportation and public safety. Here are some of the most noteworthy new laws.
As of Jan. 1, anyone riding in the back seat of a vehicle without being seat belted can be ticketed and fined up to $25. Prior laws only applied to front-seat passengers and children. Illinois is the 26th state to approve such a law.
Commercial vehicles and large trucks will now be allowed to travel the same speed as other vehicles on state and federal roads throughout the state except in Chicago and the five collar counties. Motorcycles and bicycles, often not heavy enough to trigger traffic sensors that switch traffic lights from red to green, will now be allowed to legally pass through that light after waiting two minutes.
Legislation, known as “Andrea’s Law”, requires that all individuals convicted of first-degree murder be included on a public database registry for 10 years following release from prison. The law was inspired by the murder of Andrea Will of Batavia.
Individuals with an order of protection issued against them must now surrender their Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card while the order is valid. Anyone convicted of domestic battery is ineligible to obtain or keep a firearm.
Possessing or selling synthetic marijuana, sold under names such as “K2,” “Black Mamba” or “Head Trip” is now a felony accompanied with a penalty of one-to-30 years in prison.
The state’s newly expanded Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act outlines 13 electronic products that are not to be thrown in a landfill. These products include: televisions, laptops, digital converter boxes, printers, computer keyboards, DVD players and digital music players. The rationale behind the law is to cut down on electronic waste and keep toxic materials out of the soil and groundwater.
Anti-bullying legislation now allows school boards and administrators to suspend or even expel a student who threatens another student or a school employee via the Internet.
In response to attacks using chemicals against two Chicago women, any individual buying commercial-grade hydrochloric or sulfuric acid must show identification and be listed on a statewide database.
Finally, it is against the law to shine a laser light into a plane cockpit in the midst of either a takeoff or landing. The measure was introduced in response to a Federal Aviation Administration report that 2,800 pilots nationwide reported such an occurrence in 2010, including many in the Chicago area.
Home Foreclosure Solution Needed
Illinois has earned another dubious distinction of being among the three states with the most homes facing foreclosure. Real estate data research firm CoreLogic in Santa Ana, CA recently reported that Illinois has 1.6 million homes facing foreclosure or already owned by banks. Illinois, California and Florida account for more than one-third of such properties nationally.
According to the Core Logic report, this so called shadow supply of homes can stand in the way of a housing market recovery and contribute to problems with abandoned properties. Most of these homes will end up either in foreclosures or in short sales, in which a bank allows a home to be sold for less than the debt on the property.
Many believe the legislature must act to clean up this property surplus. Senate bill 2534 would put abandoned properties on a judicial foreclosure fast track to reduce the average 504 days in the court system to as short as 90 days if it can be proven that the property is abandoned.
While bankers freely admit this won’t solve everything, they do believe it will be a huge help if lenders can get title and resell the homes before they are totally wasted. Doing so would also lower the municipality’s costs for maintaining abandoned property.
I will be traveling around the district this week. Call if you would like me to stop by for a visit.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to firstname.lastname@example.org