The spending plan advanced by Governor Quinn would create a deficit every single year for the next five years. Additionally, the single-year deficit of $8 billion at the end of Fiscal Year 2016 would be greater than the $6 billion deficit Illinois had at the end of Fiscal Year 2010.
Senate Republicans are working to identify a menu of realistic cuts ranging from $4 billion to $6 billion to bring state spending back in line with available revenues. Senate Republicans plan to outline needed reductions as early as the week of March 14-18.
In addition, Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont has set a goal of providing half the necessary votes in the Senate to implement the savings.
QUINN ABOLISHES DEATH PENALTY
Also during the week, Governor Quinn made national news when he approved controversial legislation to abolish the death penalty in Illinois.
The historic legislation to abolish the death penalty was signed into law March 9. Senate Bill 3539, which will take effect July 1, only applies to future death penalty sentences; however, Governor Quinn commuted the death sentences of the 15 prisoners currently serving time on death row. Illinois is now the 16th state to ban capital punishment.
I believe the death penalty, with the proper safeguards, was and should be an appropriate punishment for those felons who commit the most horrific of crimes, especially the murder of our law enforcement and public safety officers, and a tool available to prosecutors.
My heart goes out to the families of the victims of these heinous crimes who believed they had received justice from our legal system.
It is unfortunate that Governor Quinn, by signing this legislation, once again has misled the citizens of Illinois and acted contrary to the principles and promises he stood for during the campaign.
GOVERNOR SIGNS REDISTRICTING LEGISLATION
The Governor also acted during the week on redistricting legislation intended to protect minority rights during the upcoming legislative remap process.
Senate Bill 3976 makes it more difficult to divide communities where there is a significant racial minority or language minority. In the past these communities have frequently been divided into different districts as a way to split votes.
This component of the new law will require map creators to preserve these communities, which are known as crossover districts, coalition districts and influence districts.
Crossover districts are communities where the minority population doesn’t constitute a majority of the voting-age population, but is large enough to elect the candidate of its choice with the help of the majority population’s “crossover” support.
Coalition districts are composed of a minority population that is large enough to elect the candidate of the coalition’s choice.
Influence districts refer to a district where a minority group can influence the outcome of an election, even though the minority population doesn’t have enough influence to elect its preferred candidate.
The new law also establishes new requirements that supporters of the legislation say offer the public an opportunity to participate in the redistricting process. However, many lawmakers and political reform organizations criticized Senate Bill 3976, which requires four statewide public hearings on the Illinois’ current legislative districts before the remapping process begins.
Republican lawmakers praised efforts to incorporate the public into the remap process; however, they criticized the legislation for not requiring any public hearings after a potential map has been created and offered for legislative consideration by a redistricting committee.
Many good government groups contend that while the new law is a small step in the right direction, if lawmakers draw the map without public oversight or participation, Illinois voters will be deprived fair representation.
INTERNET RETAILERS BEING DRIVEN OUT OF STATE?
On March 10, the Governor signed another controversial measure that has come to be known as the “Amazon Tax.” The measure requires “affiliates” of major Internet retailers, such as Amazon.com or Overstock.com, to collect sales tax and turn the revenue over to the state.
These affiliates make money through interest earned on the profits the larger Web site earns from the business the affiliates referred.
Proponents of House Bill 3659 say the bill levels the playing field for brick-and-mortar businesses that are required to collect the sales tax, and there have been estimates circulated that the measure could bring in more than $100 million in new revenue.
However, opponents of the bill contend that imposing the tax will drive businesses away, pointing to other states that imposed similar taxes, after which Amazon terminated its contract with that state’s affiliates. Amazon cautioned it would cancel its Illinois contracts if the law was signed.
INCREASE OVERSIGHT ON M.G.T. PROGRAM
The Senate Criminal Law Committee advanced measures during the week that will increase oversight and improve public safety considerations associated with the state’s Meritorious Good Time (MGT) program.
The MGT Push program drew heavy criticism last year when the Department of Corrections (DOC) quietly released 2,000 prisoners, including violent offenders. Because some inmates were released through MGT Push after spending very little time in custody, Senate Bill 1341 will require inmates to spend at least 60 days in DOC custody before they can receive a meritorious good conduct award.
Another measure, Senate Bill 1338, requires DOC to establish uniform procedures to provide the sheriff of the county where the prosecution took place with advance notice that the offender will be released. This legislation was introduced in response to cases where DOC failed to notify the proper authorities of an MGT Push inmate’s release.
NOT-FOR-PROFIT GROUP OFFERS SCHOLARSHIPS
Applications for the Conference of Women Legislators’ 2011-2012 Scholarship Award Program are now available at www.cowlil.com.
The Conference of Women Legislators created the scholarship program as part of its mission to promote economic independence, community serve and leadership development.
Applications must be postmarked by April 1.
The Conference of Women Legislators is a not-for-profit organization and a bipartisan coalition of women legislators in the Illinois General Assembly.