Governor moves to more quickly pay off state debt

Governor Bruce Rauner announced a refinancing plan during the week that would allow the state to pay down some of its $15.4 billion backlog of overdue bills, including obligations to the state’s vendors and other providers.

Also during the week, Illinois schools have begun to receive their state funding, and Senate Republican lawmakers joined with current and former legislators from around the United States to voice their support for fair legislative maps.

In other action, Governor Rauner signed an Executive Order creating the Governor’s Opioid Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force.

Governor announces plan to pay down bill backlog

Governor Rauner announced a refinancing plan September 7 to pay down a portion of the state’s $15.4 billion bill backlog.  While advocating for spending reforms and policies that will help the Illinois economy to grow and become more competitive, Governor Rauner acknowledged that the Illinois budget has been marked by deficit spending for many years, resulting in the state’s large backlog of unpaid bills.  

Currently, a significant portion of the bill backlog is subject to late-payment interest penalties of up to 12 percent annually.  By using a tool included in the Democrat majority’s budget, the state can pay struggling state vendors, and taxpayers will benefit from considerable savings.  The Comptroller’s Office estimates the refinancing plan will save taxpayers $550 million to $650 million per year over the 12-year repayment schedule.

Senate Bill 42 requires the refinancing to be completed in 2017 and be applied to the bill backlog.  The Administration will need the collaboration of the offices of the Comptroller and Attorney General to target payments to the high-cost bills – including Medicaid and Group Health Insurance.

The Governor noted his preferred path of balancing the budget without borrowing, but acknowledged “it’s better to have Wall Street carry our debt than Main Street Illinois.”

Schools start to see funds

On September 7, the Comptroller’s Office transmitted $541 million in payments to schools that were due on August 10 and 20.  Funds for the September 10 payment were also expected to go out by the end of the week.  In total, Illinois schools will receive $805 million during the week.

At this time, these payments will only include the base funding, which is each district’s hold-harmless to prior year funding, for each district until the new “tier funding” levels created through the new formula can be calculated.  These calculations, which include many new data points as well as verification of the data, are expected to take some time to complete to ensure schools are being accurately funded.

For now, the Illinois State Board of Education is ensuring that schools get their hold-harmless payments to tide them over until these calculations can be completed.  The “hold-harmless” amount equates to what each district received in Fiscal Year 2017 for the following: General State Aid, Bilingual Education, Special Education Funding for Children, Special Education Personnel Reimbursements, and Special Education Summer School.  These are the five programs that were rolled into the one, new formula for this year and going forward.

Legislators take bipartisan effort to end gerrymandering to U.S. Supreme Court

A number of Senate Republican lawmakers joined current and former legislators from around the country to voice their support for fair legislative maps by signing on to an Amicus Curie brief filed in the United States Supreme Court urging the Court to end the practice of political gerrymandering.

Lawmakers made their argument as amici in Gill v Whitford, a redistricting case in which a U.S. District court found that the State of Wisconsin used partisan gerrymandering to create the state’s legislative district map, violating protections given to voters by the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.  The case will be argued before the Supreme Court on October 3.

Supporters noted it is important the Supreme Court intervene with some clear direction on how we can eliminate political gerrymandering in our state and ensure Illinois residents are no longer shut out of the political process.  Additionally, if the Supreme Court finds Wisconsin did use partisan gerrymandering, that decision could play a factor in future efforts to strike down political gerrymandering in Illinois.

The Senate Republican caucus has long argued that partisan gerrymandering can be used as a powerful political tool that interferes with the democratic process and subverts the idea of fair representation.  It notes that “voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.”

Governor creates Task Force targeting opioid abuse

Governor Rauner signed an Executive Order September 6 creating the Governor’s Opioid Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force.

Co-chaired by the Lieutenant Governor and the Illinois Department of Public Health Director, the Task Force will look at strategies to tackle the escalating opioid crisis in Illinois, aiming to stop its spread, reduce the number of opioid-related deaths, and aid in the recovery of individuals with opioid-use disorder.

In Illinois, the number of heroin overdose deaths has doubled since 2013, and the number of opioid overdose deaths has quadrupled.  This year, more than 1,900 people in Illinois are expected to die of opioid overdoses.

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