SENATE VOTES WITH BRADY
The Illinois Senate did not advance a proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution April 26 after I successfully argued that it would block voters from considering another proposed amendment that will save the state millions of dollars.
I asked to delay a vote on SJRCA 66 – a Constitutional amendment to require that each state’s attorney be a resident of the state – but its sponsor Senator Mike Jacobs of East Moline refused. The resolution then failed to get the required 36 votes, losing on a vote of 32-17-4.
Now we need House Speaker Michael Madigan to allow a public vote on the Comptroller/Treasurer merger amendment, which he has stalled in committee despite the fact that it was adopted by a unanimous vote of the Senate more than a year ago, on March 31, 2011.
Other proposed amendments to the Illinois Constitution that appear to be headed for passage, which would put them on the November ballot, include a proposal to require a supermajority, three-fifths vote for passage of any legislation to increase pension benefits; and a proposal to amend the Bill of Rights Article of the Illinois Constitution to provide additional rights to crime victims.
ENTERPRISE ZONES EXTENDED
A bill that extends the Illinois Enterprise Zone program for an additional 25 years was passed by a unanimous vote of the Senate April 26.
Senate Bill 3688 also allows for the creation of 10 new zones, and for increases in the geographic size of zones. The legislation also eliminates three obsolete tax incentives and increases transparency requirements. The bill now heads to the House.
The bipartisan Special Senate Committee on Enterprise Zone extensions held statewide hearings this spring to gather testimony about the effectiveness of the zones. Since they were first established, the zones have contributed to the creation of more than 900,000 jobs and led to nearly $50 billion in associated revenue.
TOPINKA: FISCAL CONCERNS PERSIST
The state’s well-documented budget problems were highlighted again during the week when Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka’s office released its quarterly report, which noted that the state’s fiscal concerns persist.
According to the report “the bill backlog has increased in the most recent quarter, and payment delays are expected to persist for the foreseeable future.”
The Comptroller’s Office is reporting the backlog of bills on hand totals more than $5.5 billion; however, the report stressed that number only includes submitted requests for payment. When including bills that are being held by state agencies, including an estimated $2 billion in Medicaid bills pending at the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, the estimated backlog jumps to more than $9 billion.
PROBLEMS WITH WORKERS’ COMP SYSTEM
The Illinois Auditor General issued a report April 25 about the Administration’s poor management of the workers’ compensation system.
The audit identified “extensive problems” with the three agencies involved in handling state workers’ compensation issues – Central Management Services, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission and the Attorney General’s office. The audit noted the “problems have led to a program that is ill-designed to protect the State’s best interests as it relates to processing and adjudicating workers’ compensation claims for state employees.”
Among the findings of the Auditor General was that the agencies used data that was incomplete, inaccurate, and inconsistent; adjusted claims and made decisions without appropriate forms being submitted; did not have formal policies for conflicts of interest for adjusters or other employees who process workers’ compensation claims; negotiated settlement contract terms directly with the injured employee’s legal counsel; did not evaluate Arbitrator performance; did not have guidelines for Arbitrators regarding awards and issued awards that were inconsistent in similar cases; and did not have a formal policy or specific procedures to identify fraud.
To further reduce the conflict of interest between politicians and special interests doing business with their offices, legislation has been introduced to prevent government employee unions from donating funds to candidates who may end up negotiating with them for raises and increased benefits.
Senate Bill 2988 was developed in conjunction with the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, a free-market advocacy group.
The legislation will apply the same restrictions on donations that were enacted two years ago for private companies that do business with state agencies. A vendor that does more than $50,000 of business with the state is now prohibited from donating any funds to a candidate who may oversee that company’s contract. However, a loophole was left in the 2010 bill that allows government unions that negotiate employee contracts worth hundreds of millions to continue to donate huge amounts to politicians in charge of those contracts.
Kudos to community preservationists for their efforts in getting Pekin Community High School West Campus included in the Historic Neighborhood Schools category on the Landmarks Illinois list of 2012 Ten Most Endangered Historic Places. Now in its 18th year, this statewide list calls attention to threatened historic resources to encourage solutions for their preservation.
Also on the list is El Paso-Gridley High School. Though not located in the 44th Senate District, the school has a local tie, in that it was designed by Bloomington architect Arthur L. Pillsbury.
TALKING ABOUT PENSION REFORM
I was pleased to organize a legislative panel that talked about public pension reform with members of the Central Illinois Regional Chambers Legislative Effort (CIRCLE) April 26 in the Howlett Building in Springfield.
The panel also included Representative Darlene Senger of Naperville) and Representative Elaine Nekritz of Des Plaines. We are all members of Governor Pat Quinn’s pension reform panel, as are Senator Mike Noland of Elgin and Quinn aide Jerry Stermer.
CIRCLE is made up of 18 local Chambers of Commerce from central Illinois.
HOTEL MANAGERS VISIT CAPITOL
Members of the Bloomington-Normal Hotel and Lodging Association stopped by my office in the Capitol April 25 as part of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association’s Legislative Day activities.
I enjoyed talking with Jeff Pritts, Marriott, Normal; Ron Oliver, Holiday Inn & Suites, Bloomington; Julie Bushell, Parke Hotel and Conference Center, Bloomington; and Michelle Irvin, Holiday Inn & Suites, Bloomington.