Kudos to Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka’s office for launching a new government transparency Web site called “The Ledger.”
The Ledger is a comprehensive online fiscal database where taxpayers can find such varied information as the state’s daily receipts and bill backlog numbers, state agency budgets and expenses. State employee salaries and recent additions to the public payroll are also available on the site.
All the information on the site is available for download, so taxpayers can access and print hard copies of the same up-to-date information and fiscal numbers that Comptroller Topinka’s staff uses every day.
MORE HEARINGS ON PROPOSED CLOSURES
On April 4, members of the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) held public hearings in Joliet and Dwight on the proposed closures of the Illinois Youth Center (IYC) at Joliet and Dwight Correctional Center. A similar meeting took place in southern Illinois on April 2 about the proposed closure of Tamms Correctional Center.
The hearings were well-attended by local leaders, union representatives, former inmates, prison administrators and employees, and the general public. The Governor’s Office has advanced prison closures and consolidations as a way to reduce state financial obligations in the face of Illinois’ massive budget deficit. However, many local representatives said that closing the facilities will devastate the regional economies, which rely heavily on the jobs and revenues associated with the correctional centers.
Safety concerns were also raised, particularly with respect to inmates from Tamms and IYC in Joliet. The facilities house some of the state’s most violent and dangerous adult and juvenile inmates. Tamms is the state’s lone super-max facility, and Joliet IYC is the only maximum-security facility for juvenile offenders in the system. Some members of COGFA joined prison officials and employees in questioning the wisdom of transitioning these inmates into a less aggressive prison population, particularly when Illinois’ correctional system already exceeds capacity.
Members of COGFA have until early May to issue their non-binding recommendations on the Governor’s proposed facility closures. The facilities are scheduled for closure by July 31.
SHOULD ENTERPRISE ZONES BE EXTENDED?
Employment growth and economic development were the focus of legislative hearings on proposed enterprise zone extensions, which also took place during the week. The bipartisan Special Senate Committee on Enterprise Zone Extensions met April 4 in Rockford and April 5 in Chicago.
Business representatives and employers were present at both hearings to testify in favor of the enterprise zones, which offer a number of incentives intended to attract and retain businesses. Incentives range from property tax abatements, to utility and sales tax breaks and other tax credits.
Illinois has almost 100 enterprise zones that were established in 1982 to create jobs and spur economic growth. Several enterprise zones are scheduled to expire in the coming year unless lawmakers extend the program. Legislators on the committee are seeking input from the business community and local leaders to help evaluate and improve the incentive program.
Since being established, the zones have helped create more than 900,000 jobs and led to nearly $50 billion in associated revenue. Legislation has been introduced to extend the length of the zones by 25 years, create up to 10 new zones over the next 10 years, and implement transparency and accountability for these zones.
‘BY THE PEOPLE’ WEB SITE SEEKS PUBLIC INPUT
Senate Republicans are also seeking input from the public on their new Web site “By the People,” which allows residents to suggest ideas for potential laws.
“By the People” encourages Illinois residents to become a direct part of the lawmaking process by submitting ideas, receiving feedback, and commenting on other legislative suggestions.
The Senate Republican staff will review the forum proposals, and the public will be allowed to vote on the top suggestions. The final proposals will be chosen based on the amount of public support a suggestion received, as well as the likelihood that a proposal could realistically be approved by lawmakers and signed into law. The final proposals will be drafted into legislation that will be sponsored by a Senate Republican lawmaker.