Observations and comments about state government
by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to email@example.com
January 18, 2010
Governor’s Address Misses the Point
If the Governor’s annual address to the state is supposed to be a time to lay out goals, needs and solutions to guide us through 2010, Governor Quinn had a memory lapse. At no time did he acknowledge the serious fiscal crisis the state faces, how the delay in paying state bills is affecting families and all manner of service providers, or did he embrace any of the various solutions floating around Springfield to get us on the right path.
Instead he rambled for 80 minutes about opening our parks, selling Thomson prison, ethics reforms, the service of our veterans and value of education. As important as those things are, that isn’t what the legislature or citizens needed to hear.
I was expecting him to talk about how service providers will survive until the state has money to pay them, ways we can work together to help businesses put people back to work and providing help for those most in need. We needed to hear about priorities for spending our meager state revenues and ways to balance our budget.
Citizens shouldn’t lose hope that no one is talking about these things just because the Governor doesn’t. There are a lot of people campaigning to take over the job of governor who are talking about goals, needs and solutions. Citizens only need to listen and make a choice about the future direction of our state.
Additional Borrowing Proposed to Pay Bills
Among the important topics debated by the legislature this past week were ways to pay bills and keep serving the needs of citizens. The House passed SB1425 which authorized $250 million in Government Operating Bonds to pay Medicaid bills. This will capture nearly $251 million in additional federal government health care payments and free up state money intended for Medicaid payments to pay other bills.
The administration is also negotiating with the federal government for a $488 million loan to fund capital projects, selling the pension notes authorized last summer and preparing to offer up to an additional billion dollars in government operating bonds in February.
The approximately $5 billion in new state debt, combined with revenue from the capital program tax increase, will allow payment to many state providers in the near future and put people to work on infrastructure improvements.
The Comptroller’s Office reports that it is now holding bills for $5.1 billion in payments to schools, universities and service providers with another $1.4 billion in payments not yet released by the Department of Healthcare and Family Services. The Governor’s Office of Management and Budget now estimates state revenue this year will be down nearly $1 billion from last year while demand for services increases as people lose their jobs.
Possible Action to Help Create Jobs
I am serving on a Bipartisan Jobs Task Force that seeks to identify deterrents to doing business and creating jobs in Illinois as well as enhancements for attracting business and jobs to our state. Hearings will be held around the state beginning with one in Rockford on January 28. I am encouraging several local businesses and NIU to testify with their experiences and ideas.
Since one of the House Democratic leaders is chairing the committee, I am hopeful that state leaders have finally realized our regulations, taxes and red tape discourage job creation. Figures were just released showing that the state lost 52,000 manufacturing jobs last year and 709 manufacturers closed their doors.
If creating jobs and expanding business activity which grow state revenue are top priorities for our state right now, the legislature must know what works and what doesn’t. I welcome your ideas.
Legislation Passed Last Week
SB1013 passed out of the House limiting the Governor’s program to save money by releasing hundreds of inmates early—many for violent crimes. The bill requires that prisoners serve at least 60 days prior to meritorious service time credit and that county State’s Attorney’s be notified of the release date so they can notify former victims.
HB1188 creates the cemetery oversight act and seeks to prevent unethical practices brought to light by a Chicago cemetery last year. Town, township and non-profit cemetery associations are excluded from most of the regulations.
SB315 strengthens school teacher and principal evaluations as part of reforms to capture federal Race to the Top funding. Among other things, the locally determined evaluation program must include student academic growth in measuring teacher and principal effectiveness. The bill also prohibits public disclosure of teacher, principal and superintendent evaluations under the Freedom of Information Act.
Health Insurance Rights Increase for Citizens
Illinoisans now have greater consumer protection when it comes to health insurance claims. As of January 5th when Governor Quinn signed HB 3923 into law, Illinois residents that have been denied health insurance claims will now have the ability to have their claim reviewed by a qualified, independent doctor. Under previous state law, only Illinois health consumers enrolled in a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) had the right to an independent, external review when claims were denied.
External reviews will be conducted by qualified, independent doctors who have been selected by a nationally-accredited and Illinois Department of Insurance-approved Independent Review Organization. The external review is binding and must be completed within 20 business days.
Also under this newly enacted law, insurance providers that cover small businesses must accept a standard insurance application by January 1, 2011. This new requirement means that small businesses will no longer be required to fill out lengthy, often complex applications that vary from one insurance company to another. The standard application will streamline the process that businesses go through to make it easier for businesses and individuals to shop around for the best suited insurance. The standard application will be developed in cooperation with the Illinois Department of Insurance by a committee of consumers, small business owners, insurance agents and insurance company representatives.
College MAP Grants Still Lack Funding
Last fall thousands of Illinois college students descended on the State House to lobby lawmakers to restore more than $200 million to the MAP Grant – state financial aid program. Out of those lobbying efforts came the passage of Senate Bill 1180 which authorized the spending but did not provide any money.
At that time I proposed HB 4622– tax amnesty legislation– that would fund at least half of the grants needed for the spring semester without raising taxes. The bill was finally heard in committee last week but House Democratic leadership would not allow a vote.
I am troubled that the Governor claims the grants have been restored and many students and faculty expect the state will pay students in the next few weeks. Kishwaukee Community College has decided not to wait and is using college funds to provide the grants to students now. Not every university or college can fund what is a state responsibility.
College Scholarship Opportunities
Applications are now available for Illinois General Assembly legislative scholarships through my office located at 2600 DeKalb Avenue, Sycamore, or online at www.pritchardstaterep.com. The deadline for applying is March 29th. Eight scholarships are available each with a value of more than $6,000 per year.
Applicants must be a resident of the 70th Representative District, plan to attend a state public university as a full-time student and show evidence of leadership and involvement in school and community organizations. A special Scholarship Selection Committee will review the applications and select recipients by May.
The Children of Veterans Scholarship is a four-year tuition waiver at any of the University of Illinois campuses. Up to six scholarships are awarded per county– one for each of the major U.S. wars/conflicts.
Applications for scholarships complete with various veteran papers must be submitted to The University of Illinois Financial Aid office by March 1. Go to their website: http://www.osfa.uiuc.edu/aid/scholarships/waivers.html for forms and details.
Other helpful references for scholarship information can be found at: www.collegezone.com, www.collegescholarships.com and www.scholarships.com.