The Energy Committee reviews legislation that affects power and utilities issues.
The Environment Committee handles legislation that addresses recycling and the environment.
The Executive Committee considers changes to the state’s constitution, state government policies and other high-profile issues.
The Pensions and Investments Committee oversees laws affecting the five state pension systems for public employees and local government pension funds.
Committees screen legislation introduced by all members and usually, only those bills approved by a committee may be considered by the entire Senate.
Kudos to Illinois resident Erin Merryn for her efforts on behalf of a new law that will help raise awareness of child sexual abuse.
“Erin ’s Law” was inspired by Merryn, whose own experience with sexual abuse as a child prompted her efforts to increase teacher, student and parent awareness about abuse.
Senate Bill 2843/PA 96-1524 permits school boards to adopt and implement a policy addressing sexual abuse of children including: age-appropriate curriculum for students in pre-K through 5th grade; training for school personnel on child sexual abuse; educational information to parents or guardians provided in the school handbook on the warning signs of a child being abused, along with any needed assistance, referral, or resource information; available counseling and resources for students affected by sexual abuse; and emotional and educational support for a child of abuse to continue to be successful in school.
The second part of the new law creates the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children to establish strategies for reducing child sexual abuse throughout Illinois . The Task Force will gather information concerning child sexual abuse throughout the state; receive reports and testimony from individuals, state and local agencies, community-based organizations, and other public and private organizations; create goals for state policy that would prevent child sexual abuse; and submit a final report with its final strategic goals and plans to the Governor and the General Assembly by January 1, 2012.
QUINN WANTS MORE SPENDING, $1.5 BILLION DEFICIT, MORE BORROWING
Governor Pat Quinn’s budget plan for next year relies on spending $1.7 billion more than last year, a $1.5 billion deficit, and more borrowing to make up the difference.
Governor Quinn outlined his Fiscal Year 2012 budget proposal to a joint session of the General Assembly on Feb. 16. Fiscal Year 2012 runs from July 1, 2011, through June 30, 2012.
What I will say is his speech was short. I am not going to say it was sweet. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Governor gets it. After extracting one week’s pay on an annual basis from the hardworking people of Illinois in the lame-duck session, he now comes back and asks to borrow.
The Governor is calling for $35.38 billion in general funds spending – basically, the state’s operating budget – but is only estimating general funds revenues of $33.93 billion – a budget deficit of $1.5 billion. The spending plan also requires lawmakers to approve an $8.75 billion borrowing plan, which at this point has no chance of being approved by the Legislature.
He is asking to borrow $9 billion, on top of the $28 billion that he and Governor Blagojevich have indebted this state over the last eight years. His borrowing plan will put us in the unenviable position of being the single largest per-capita debtor state in the nation. All while he is spending another $1.7 billion more than last year. You can’t bring jobs to Illinois and keep jobs here by kicking the can down the road by the continuation of taxing, borrowing and spending.
Governor Quinn’s budget plan includes a 67 percent income tax hike that was passed by a lame-duck Legislature hours before the 97th General Assembly convened on January 12. That increase is expected to bring in about $7 billion annually.
PROPOSED CUTS ARE GOOD, BUT NO MENTION OF HIGH-COST ITEMS
The Governor did propose cuts of about $1 billion, which is a good starting point for bringing spending more in line with revenues. However, he did not make any attempt to address the largest drivers of state costs: pensions and health insurance.
In addition, workers’ compensation reform, which not only has a significant impact on the state’s costs but is a pressing and costly concern for Illinois ’ employers, was given only passing mention in the Governor’s budget message.
It is my hope that the Legislature, a coequal branch of government, will be able to redefine state spending at a level that the people of Illinois can afford. The focus is on the highest priorities, but works in a way that fosters private-sector economic job creation for the hard-working families of Illinois.
BUDGET CALLS FOR ADDING MORE THAN 900 NEW EMPLOYEES
In the days following the budget release, controversy also arose as both Republicans and Democrats pointed out that the Governor’s budget would add about 900 new employees to state government.
The largest number, 187, would go to the state’s Department of Corrections. The administration maintained that added prison guards would save the state money by reducing overtime costs. However, those savings were not evidenced by the Corrections Department budget, which actually goes up by about 15 percent under the plan submitted by Governor Quinn. Other state agencies seeing large increases in employees were the Departments of Public Health, Transportation and Veterans Affairs.
SOME QUESTION QUINN’S ‘CUTS’
The budget proposal was given just days after Governor Quinn’s administration released documents advancing “cuts,” which were later found to be largely non-existent. Of $3 billion in cuts Governor Quinn claimed to have made over the past two years, about $2.25 billion of the “cuts” were attributed to just two programs: Medicaid payments and the cost of health insurance for state employees. In both cases, the actual amount spent on the programs was not reduced, but rather simply put off from one fiscal year to the next.
It is difficult to verify other claimed “cuts” because of the way the state budget has been written over the past two years – instead of specific line items, much of the budget was approved in lump sums giving the Governor broad flexibility to structure the budget.
However, many of the other claimed “cuts” also appeared questionable. For example, some “cuts” shifted items from one spending account to another, others simply reflected actual expenditures in areas where costs had previously been overestimated, and some reflected additional cases where payments were simply delayed from one fiscal year into the next.
PLAN ILLEGAL UNDER NEW LAW
Senate Republicans said they were disappointed to once again see a budget proposal that is unbalanced, unconstitutional, and reliant on borrowing to advance more state spending. They pointed out the budget proposal flies in the face of “Budgeting for Results” legislation promoted by Governor Quinn’s fellow Democrats, and signed into law after the budget address.
The Governor signed HB 5424/PA 96-1529, which requires governors to submit budget proposals that rely solely on revenues that currently exist. Under the new law, Governor Quinn would not have been allowed to include his borrowing proposal, which has not been approved by the General Assembly, and instead would have been restricted to available revenues.
NEW LAWS INCREASE FISCAL OVERSIGHT
Other laws were signed during the week to save taxpayer dollars and increase oversight of state fiscal matters.
Senate Bill 3708/PA 96-1531 requires the Governor to submit quarterly budget statements to the General Assembly and the State Comptroller. The reports must be made available within 45 days of the last day of each quarter, and must be posted on the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget Web site.
Another new law, HB 1450/PA 96-1521, requires greater scrutiny of the state’s process of acquiring leases of large properties. Now, all new state leases of properties larger than 10,000 square feet with annual rent payments of $100,000 or more must be approved by the Procurement Policy Board.
FREE RIDES FOR LOWER INCOME SENIORS
The Governor also signed SB 3778/PA 96-1527, which limits Illinois ’ controversial “Free Rides for Seniors” program to only the state’s lowest-income seniors.
Under the new law, the free rides program would be tied to the same qualifications that are in place for the state’s Circuit Breaker program. Illinois ’ Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) has consistently struggled to stay on top of its financial obligations, and RTA authorities say the Free Rides for Seniors program creates an additional burden. Citizens who are 65 or older living in a one-person household with an annual income of $27,610 or less, or a two-person household that brings in less than $36,635, would qualify for free transportation on Metra, PACE and the CTA.
Senior citizens who exceed the income limits for a free ride are still only required to pay half price for regular fare.
CONSOLIDATING OFFICES WOULD SAVE MONEY
The Senate Executive Committee advanced legislation during the week that would consolidate the offices of the Illinois Comptroller and the Illinois Treasurer.
If approved by the General Assembly, Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 13 would allow Illinois residents to vote on a 2012 Constitutional Amendment to merge the Comptroller and Treasurer into one office, the “Comptroller of the Treasury.”
The consolidation could save more than $12 million each year.