ALL EYES ON QUINN AS ‘STATE OF STATE’ APPROACHES
Senators will return to Springfield next week as the spring session gets under way beginning on February 5. As they look forward to the spring legislative agenda, members of the General Assembly, including State Senator Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), are interested to see what Governor Pat Quinn will say in his “State of the State Address” on February 6.
Little is known about what direction Quinn will take in his speech, although tradition dictates that the Governor will use the State of the State to deliver upbeat messages about his record, unveil new initiatives and proclaim that better days are ahead.
Senator Brady, however, points out that while this is all well and good, real and serious issues need to be at the forefront during the spring legislative session. Pension reform and Illinois’ bloated budget are on the top of Brady’s list of must-address issues for the spring.
“The rising costs of Illinois’ retirement systems for teachers and other public employees threaten to bankrupt Illinois and bury other areas of state government. If we do not address this important issue, our massively underfunded pension system has the potential to drive the state’s credit rating even lower,” said Brady. “I am interested to see if Governor Quinn, who has been unable to advance needed pension reform thus far, will present us with his solutions for tackling this problem.”
Brady and other Republican lawmakers have pledged to work with the Governor and with Democrat super-majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives to find solutions.
Republican legislative leaders have consistently supported reform and one bipartisan pension proposal won approval in the Senate last year with significant Republican support, but was never called for a vote in the House. The Senate President has filed his own proposal, which was scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Executive Committee Feb. 5.
While cooperation between the Governor and the legislative caucuses is not common, it is not unheard of, says Brady who points to the landmark 2012 Medicaid reforms that were passed by bipartisan majorities as a model for future cooperation. Lawmakers are currently awaiting an update on the implementation of those reforms.
The success of the 2012 Medicaid reforms in bringing costs under control depends on their effective implementation by the Quinn administration. Republicans have questions what appears to be a delay by the Quinn administration to implement this law. During the State of the State, Senate Republican lawmakers will be looking for reassurance from the Governor that his office is moving forward on this issue.
Brady points out, “The Quinn administration must reach targets set out in the reforms. If it fails to do so, the administration will dig an even deeper hole in the state’s current budget and make next year’s budget all the more difficult to balance.”
Senator Brady and other lawmakers are concerned that the state’s daunting fiscal challenges may prompt Governor Quinn to take advantage of new Democrat super-majorities in the Senate and the House and attempt to revive efforts to borrow to finance state spending. In recent years Republicans have successfully blocked new borrowing schemes, because a super-majority vote is necessary to increase state debt. However, the new makeup of the General Assembly makes it possible for Democrats to push through a borrowing plan without any Republican support.
Opponents, have expressed concern that an attempt to push off today’s financial commitments through borrowing will push off costs on to further generations and perpetuate a fiscally unhealthy Illinois. A myriad of issues affect Illinois’ overall fiscal health, but pension obligations continue to be the biggest threat to the state’s already overwhelmed budget.
While pension reform continues to go unaddressed, the state’s credit rating continues to take a dive with Illinois now at its lowest level ever. Under the Quinn administration, Illinois has seen a total of 11 credit downgrades.
The most recent credit downgrade prompted the Governor to delay a planned bond sale at the end of January, deciding instead to wait for more favorable market conditions. In recent months, grim financial assessments have come not only from credit rating agencies, but from the state's Comptroller and from the Governor's own budget office.
With the many challenging issues facing Illinois, lawmakers and the public are interested to hear the Governor's plans when he steps to the podium Feb. 6.
SENATORS CONTINUE TO FILE NEW LEGISLATION FOR 98TH GA
As the General Assembly gears up for the spring legislative session, hundreds of proposals have been filed by State Senators. Included in the bills recently introduced are the following:
Aggravated Battery (SB 1249): Increases the penalty for aggravated battery to a Class 2 felony when the battery causes permanent disability or disfigurement.
Firearms Lawsuits (SB 1195): Makes sellers of firearms liable for any damages done in the future by the gun or ammunition buyer if the buyer is not legally authorized to own a firearm, has bought the weapon on behalf of another person or if the seller has reason to know the firearm will be used for illegal purposes.
Grandparents Raising Babies (SB 1190): Requires employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid family medical leave per year to workers who care for a newly born or adopted grandchild.
Grow Your Own Teacher (SB 1220): This Democrat-sponsored measure would earmark $2 million to the failed "Grow Your Own Teacher" program. One study found that the program spent more than $19 million in its first six years and produced only 29 teachers – at an average cost of $662,000 per teacher.
Implied Consent (SB 1234): Expands the list of chemical tests used to detect the presence of drugs or intoxicating compounds in the state's implied consent law to allow police to test a driver's saliva.
Injured Workers (SB 1245): Clarifies that under the state's Public Safety Employee Benefits Act, a "catastrophic injury" requires that the injury must permanently prevent an individual from performing any gainful work.
Lawsuits for the Homeless (SB 1210): Creates a new "Homeless Bill of Rights" and allows homeless persons to sue governments, businesses and individuals for violating those rights.
Local Government Pay Hikes (SB 1222): Requires Counties, Townships and Municipalities to hold a public hearing before increasing the pay of any officer or employee by more than six percent per year.
Pension Reform (SB 1224): Ends the practice of using unused vacation and sick time to increase pension benefits or to establish service credit. Applies to new hires only. Affects the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF), Cook County, State Employees, State Universities, Downstate Teachers, and Chicago Teachers Articles of the Illinois Pension Code.
Private Gun Sales (SB 1171): Regulates the sale of firearms between two private parties, including imposing fees and requiring the sale take place at a licensed firearms dealer's place of business. The firearms dealer would be required to conduct a background check on the buyer and follow all other applicable federal, State, and local laws as if he or she were the seller of the firearm.
School Choice (SB 1248): Creates a 10-year School Choice pilot program in Chicago, allowing students in low-performing Chicago public schools to attend a nonpublic school of their choice and receive a voucher to help offset the cost.
Senior Drug Benefits (SB 1193): Resumes the state's "Circuit Breaker" program of drug benefits for senior citizens and persons with disabilities. The program was ended due to the state's financial problems. This measure would create a new program, but with the same purpose.
State Spending (SB 1223): Limits state spending increases by requiring a three-fifths vote of the General Assembly and a vote by the public to spend more than an annual increase based on inflation and population growth. Also requires that the first payment the state makes each year must be to fund the state's unfunded pension liabilities.
Student Athletes (SB 1274): Seeks to increase awareness of and help prevent Sudden Cardiac Arrest involving students participating in school sports or other activities. Requires the Department of Public Health and the State Board of Education to develop materials to students, parents and coaches about the warning signs of sudden cardiac arrest. Also provide that students who exhibit signs or symptoms must be removed from any sporting activity until evaluated and cleared for a return.
Workers' Compensation (SB 1253): Creates a legal presumption that any firefighter who develops Parkinson's disease is presumed to have developed the disease as a result of his or her employment. This would likely cause a significant increase in workers' compensation costs for local governments and goes against recent reform efforts that have sought to assure that injuries are actually linked to an employee's work.