A last-minute fiscal maneuver by Senate Democrat leaders has the potential to undermine previous, good-faith discussions between the Governor and other legislative leaders working together to fix a $1.6 billion budget hole created by former Governor Pat Quinn.
The Senate’s two budget committees held hearings during the week, inviting testimony on state fiscal matters from a number of state boards, commissions and agencies. Senate lawmakers spent most of the week in committee hearings, approving a number of bills that may later be considered by the full Senate.
Also this week, Governor Bruce Rauner rolled out his 28-member Criminal Justice Reform Commission charged with analyzing Illinois’ criminal justice system and identifying strategies to reduce the state’s imprisonment and recidivism rates.
Putting politics before good policy
Weeks of negotiations on a path to filling the $1.6 billion budget hole left by former Governor Quinn were jeopardized when Senate Democrat leaders placed politics before solving the fiscal crisis they helped create.
Senate Democrats threw a wrench into ongoing negotiations between legislative leaders and Governor Rauner when they attempted to muscle through a funding proposal that would not solve the problem. They suggested moving $580 million out of the Road Fund and other special-use funds – just a third of what is needed to meet the state’s fiscal obligations. And they did not provide the Governor the spending authority over the funds needed to disperse the funds to agencies facing shortfalls.
It is this kind of knee-jerk reaction that epitomizes the irresponsible, short-term thinking that caused the current funding crisis. We must stay the course for the long-haul and work together for a real solution. Legislative leaders need to check their egos at the door and consider who these negotiations will affect – Illinois residents.
Senate Democrat lawmakers readily admit they passed former Governor Quinn’s budget despite knowing it would not adequately fund state programs for an entire fiscal year. Daycare providers, correctional officers and court reporters were among the first people to feel the crunch from the shortfall; some programs have already run out of money and correctional institutions have cautioned they will not be able to make payroll in the coming weeks. Unless a funding solution is identified, additional agencies will soon begin to run out of money to make payroll.
Though Democrat committee members advanced the measure, the weekly legislative session adjourned without the proposal being brought before the full Senate body for consideration.
Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Hearings
The Senate’s Appropriations I and II committees heard testimony during the week on projected budgetary needs from several state agencies, boards and commissions. The hearings provide lawmakers and the public with specific information on state fiscal matters, and insight into what Illinois’ final budget blueprint will look like.
On March 3, the directors of the state’s retirement systems gave a bleak forecast about their agencies and provided updates as to the current fiscal health of the State Employee Retirement, State University Retirement, General Assembly, and the Judge’s Retirement Systems.
Also during the week, several legislative support service agencies provided their budget requests, while the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget presented their overall assessment on the Fiscal Year 2015 and 2016 budgets and the need to scale back spending.
Rauner begins IDOC and criminal justice reform
Governor Rauner’s newly-formed Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform has been tasked with analyzing Illinois’ criminal justice system from arrest to re-entry into the community. It will explore evidence-based strategies to reduce the rate of imprisonment and recidivism, while also preserving public safety.
Other members of the committee include members of the law enforcement community, legislators, professors specializing in criminal justice, lawyers, judges, experts in violence prevention and drug abuse, and representatives from the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Illinois prison population hovers at just shy of 50,000 inmates in a system that was originally intended to house no more than 31,500 inmates. Illinois taxpayers have shelled out an additional $320 million over the past five fiscal years in overtime costs, even as the security workforce for the state’s 25 correctional facilities has reached a near-record low.
Additionally, the Office of the Governor formally dismissed the former head of the Illinois Department of Corrections whose tenure was plagued by controversy. Former Director Salvador Godinez was implicated in 2013 by the Office of the Executive Inspector General for the questionable circumstances surrounding the hiring of a former Congressman’s son.
Agricultural Education Day
On March 5, hundreds of high school agricultural students descended on the Capitol Complex for the annual legislative Agricultural Education Day.
Illinois has a diverse background in agricultural education and the state’s youth often get their start in hundreds of FFA Chapters and county fairs across the state. One-quarter of the state’s economy is based in agriculture and the state’s FFA and county fair programs are a vibrant part of the Land of Lincoln’s rich agriculture history.