AMENDING THE CONSTITUTION
Two resolutions filed on February 18 would amend the Illinois Constitution with reforms that would take the power of drawing legislative maps out of lawmakers’ hands and place it into the hands of an independent commission.
House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 56 and Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 104 take an initiative sponsored by the League of Women Voters and other government reform groups and put it into legislation for General Assembly passage.
The current redistricting process allows legislative leaders to draw district boundaries behind closed doors. The constitutional amendment would require public hearings, ensure public display of proposed maps and allow public submission of proposed maps. Since 2001, incumbents have had a 98 percent reelection rate; passage of the amendment will encourage competition and promote diversity.
According to state law, for the Constitutional Amendment to appear on the ballot in November, the General Assembly must pass it with a 3/5th majority by May 2, 2010, (six months before the election).
REPUBLICANS OPPOSE MORE BORROWING
The Senate Executive Committee approved legislation February 17 that would authorize two types of short-term borrowing, despite Republican concerns that the state continues to defer making tough decisions on how to fix its fiscal problems.
Senate Bill 416 would allow most public universities, except the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Northeastern Illinois University, to short-term borrow up to 75 percent of the money owed to them by the state. The universities would then repay the borrowing when they receive the money they are owed by the state.
Republicans primarily objected to a second borrowing component contained in the bill that would allow Governor Pat Quinn to short-term borrow $250 million for Medicaid expenses without approval from the Comptroller and Treasurer. Currently, the Governor must receive authorization from the Comptroller and Treasure to commence short-term borrowing.
We also question why Democrat lawmakers tied the money for higher education to the Medicaid funding, and expressed concern that the measure simply “kicks the can down the road” with another short-term budget fix. Since 2003, Illinois Democrats have short-term borrowed $11 billion, with interest topping $100 million. Instead of pushing off the state’s problems and paying so much interest, Illinois should confront its budget woes head-on.
Other questions – how will the Governor pay back the money? And why is there a need to bypass the Comptroller and the Treasurer and borrow more money without their approval.
Having been approved by the Senate Executive Committee, Senate Bill 416 now progresses to the full Senate for consideration. Because the measure authorizes a general obligation bond, the bill requires 3/5ths approval of the Senate before it can move to the House of Representatives for further debate.
ILLINOIS WORST IN NATION FOR FUNDING PENSIONS
This week, Illinois’ woefully underfunded pension systems were highlighted in a report released by the Pew Center on the States, which found that Illinois ranks dead last when it comes to funding the state’s pension systems.
According to the report by the respected research group, Illinois’ unfunded liability surpasses $54 billion—or only slightly more than half of what the state needs to pay benefits to its five state retirement funds. The Pew Center noted that only 54 percent of the state’s pension liability is funded, which is far below the 80 percent funding level recommended by experts.
It was also noted that Illinois has consistently deferred making its required payments into the systems, “paying less than 60 percent of the required amount in each year since 2005” and issuing “$3.5 billion in bonds to pay for its 2010 actuarially required contribution.”
The Pew Center’s study only researched pension funds through fiscal year 2008 and does not account for the recent stock market crash—and the serious impact it had on the value of state pension investments.