• Although Governor Quinn appointed former judge David Erickson to conduct an extensive review of release practices in December, no report has ever been issued;
• In January, Senator Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale formally requested that the Senate and House convene a Committee of the Whole;
• On January 7, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees called for a task force to “answer urgent questions” about the Early Release Program;
• On February 22, Representative David Reis of Olney submitted a letter to Governor Quinn with a list of questions pertaining to the Early Release Program;
• On March 5, legislators from both parties filed House Resolution 991 to create a non-partisan Early Release Investigative Committee. That resolution was bottled up by the House Democrat leadership;
• When it was revealed that some of those prisoners released early had gone missing, Dillard, Representative Dennis Reboletti of Elmhurst and I again called for a House-Senate investigation;
• In an editorial on July 8, the Peoria Journal-Star demanded that lawmakers “press Corrections Director Michael Randle on the repeated slip-ups, demanding a step-by-step explanation of how every problem will be addressed before more Illinoisans are put at risk.”
GOVERNOR ANNOUNCES REMAINDER OF CUTS
On July 1, the Governor used his veto power on House Bill 859 to reduce Fiscal Year 2011 state appropriations by $155 million. On August 4, Governor Quinn provided a rack-up of his $1.4 billion in vetoes and reserves by agency. Though there were very few specific details, the cuts were outlined at http://www.budget.illinois.gov.
While Senate Republicans are supportive of the Governor’s plan to scale back state expenditures in the face of a $13 billion budget deficit, they noted that without additional detail, the Governor’s claims regarding what he will cut cannot be verified. Lacking this detail, it’s impossible to determine whether Governor Quinn’s planned budget reductions will trim down state spending, or if these cuts will be made in other areas—such as Medicaid or group insurance—and simply push costs off into future fiscal years.
Senate Republicans question whether Governor Quinn has the resolve to follow through with his promises to cut the budget. Since taking office, the Governor’s actions have demonstrated that he has not been willing to reduce spending in any meaningful way.
GOP senators point to a similar scenario last year, wherein the Governor promised to cut $1 billion from state spending, even providing a list of cuts that were to be made. However, the vast majority of those budget reductions never happened. In fact, Governor Quinn ended up overspending by $2 billion and increased Illinois’ backlog of bills from $4 billion to $6 billion.
SALES TAX HOLIDAY AUGUST 6-15
Illinois’ “Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday” will begin August 6 and run through August 15.
During this time, shoppers won’t be charged the state’s 5 percent sales tax on certain school supplies, clothes and shoes, though local sales taxes will still apply.
Qualifying items include clothing and shoes that cost less than $100 per item, as well as basic school supplies, like book bags, notebooks, lunch boxes, etc.
Notable non-qualifying items include clothing costing more than $100, certain sports equipment and recreational footwear, computers and computer supplies, certain specialized art supplies, and electronics, such as cameras, video cameras, and cell phones.
The new law is intended to provide financial relief to Illinois’ working families at a time when money is tight. Supporters of the sales tax holiday note that the new law will help families afford the cost of school supplies and clothing, which is often expensive. They also said that the measure will benefit Illinois businesses.
ROAD CONSTRUCTION UPDATES
The Illinois Department of Transportation has announced schedules for three projects in central Illinois, weather permitting.
Work is scheduled to begin August 16 on the rehabilitation of Illinois Route 165, beginning in Cooksville and ending in Colfax. This project will include 15 miles of cold milling, patching, resurfacing and pavement striping. Also, Illinois 165 will be closed for 15 days beginning August 16 during the replacement of three drainage structures. The anticipated completion is the end of November, weather permitting.
Work is scheduled to begin August 16 on the rehabilitation of U.S. Route 150 (Mitsubishi Parkway) beginning at Market Street west of Bloomington and ending west of Interstate 74. This project will include four miles of patching, resurfacing and pavement striping. The contract is scheduled to be completed by November 20, weather permitting.
Work is scheduled to begin August 9 on the cleaning and painting of the structure carrying Interstate 55 over US 136 at McLean in McLean County.
Motorists are advised to slow down and drive carefully through all work zones.
A reminder—as of January 1, it is illegal in Illinois for drivers to talk on their cell phones while driving through a highway construction zone or school zone. The new law also prohibits drivers from writing, sending or reading text messages, instant messages and e-mail, as well as surfing the Web while driving.