LITTLE HAS CHANGED
A particular frustration for many Republican legislators was that even though Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office, neither Governor Pat Quinn nor Democrat legislative leaders took any steps to reverse the programs and policies put in place under Blagojevich. Even programs that directly led to the former Governor’s impeachment remain untouched nearly a year later.
BUDGET ISSUES REMAIN
The state budget remained a key issue throughout the year. Republican lawmakers stressed that the escalating deficit was created by fiscal mismanagement, creating and expanding programs despite waning revenues, and Illinois’ massive obligations to the state’s pension systems and the Medicaid program.
RETIREMENT SYSTEMS AMONG WORST-FUNDED
If state pension payments are made next year, the budget hole will expand to more than $10 billion. Illinois’ retirement systems are some of the worst-funded in the nation, and because the state’s pension obligations are so high, pension payments will cost taxpayers more than $5 billion in the next year alone.
Senate Republicans have consistently advocated for pension reforms, which they say will provide billions of dollars of savings.
MEDICAID OBLIGATIONS CONTINUE TO GROW
The state’s Medicaid obligations are the fastest growing expense in the state budget, consuming almost one-third of the state’s budget and even surpassing education. Throughout his tenure as Governor, Blagojevich continuously expanded Medicaid without properly funding it. However, the current Administration continues to finance the program at current levels without advancing any cost-cutting solutions.
Reform ideas like managed care, modest co-pays, restrictions on emergency room use, verifying eligibility and reasonable means testing would significantly cut down program costs, while also improving quality and access to medical care for Medicaid recipients.
CAPITAL CONSTRUCTION APPROVED
Despite budget conflicts, lawmakers did come together to negotiate the first capital construction program in 10 years. The program will finance many improvements to Illinois’ transportation infrastructure, as well as school construction and local government projects—creating new jobs in the process.
Passage of the construction program was one of the legislative highlights of 2009. Unfortunately, the Quinn administration has yet to implement the program, even in the face of rising joblessness.
UNEMPLOYMENT AT 11 PERCENT
The unemployment rate in 2009 climbed to 11 percent, as the state reportedly lost more than 300,000 jobs over the last year. This is the highest unemployment rate Illinois has seen in more than a quarter of a century, and one of the 10 worst in the nation.
Republican lawmakers attribute much of the state’s job loss to the over-taxation and over-regulation of Illinois businesses. When businesses are established in Illinois, jobs are created and revenue is stimulated. Republicans have advanced numerous plans that would keep the tax burden low in order to bring Illinois’ business regulations and mandates in line with competing states, and encourage business growth and development.
CAMPAIGN REFORMS LACKING
This year, lawmakers worked on legislation that would institute limits on campaign contributions. Though the first-ever campaign contribution limits were advanced and signed into law in the form of Senate Bill 1466, Republicans are critical of the final package.
There were some positive aspects in the reform bill targeting “pay-to-play” abuses, enhancing disclosure of state contracts, expanding Freedom of Information authority and improving financial transparency. Unfortunately, the new law does not limit the power of political leaders over their legislative members because the caps on contributions do not apply to legislative leaders during a general election. Thus, leaders will continue to hold sway over lawmakers who rely on cash infusions provided by leadership during general elections.
REDISTRICTING REFORMS NEEDED
Redistricting reform was a major issue in 2009, as well. Republican lawmakers joined good government groups in advocating for change to how political boundaries are drawn in Illinois. They are calling for reform that would enable the public to choose their elected representatives, rather than have the representatives choose their voters.
Throughout the year, public hearings were conducted throughout the state on gerrymandering. Testimony from experts and citizens largely confirmed what Senate Republicans contend—that the current system does not work and a new redistricting system is necessary. Gerrymandering and redistricting reform will be one of the most important issues discussed in the coming year.
With the tumultuous year of 2009 behind, we are anxious to get back to work in 2010. We look forward to working cohesively in the General Assembly to get Illinois back on track economically and restore the faith of its citizens.