Democrat leaders continued to drag their feet during the week instead of taking immediate action to help Governor Bruce Rauner fix the $1.6 billion hole in the current Fiscal Year 2015 budget.
In other state news, Governor Rauner continues to propose ways Illinois can reduce the size of government and improve efficiency. Recently, he announced the lawmakers, local leaders and consolidation experts who will work as part of the newly created Local Government and Unfunded Mandates Task Force to identify how the state can consolidate local governments and reduce state costs.
Legislation sponsored by Senate Republicans that seeks to enforce transparency and accountability of government meetings unanimously passed the House of Representatives and now awaits further consideration in the Senate.
Negotiations to Fill Budget Hole Again Delayed
State prisons, childcare facilities and many other state-run programs are struggling to fund essential services as yet another week passes without any progress made to fix the $1.6 billion budget hole advanced by former Governor Pat Quinn and Democrat leaders in the current budget. Though Governor Rauner has repeatedly asked for the tools to fix the crisis, Senate and House Democrat leaders continue to delay a resolution to repair the deficit.
By failing to make accommodations for the expiration of their income tax hike, Democrat leaders knowingly approved an unbalanced budget last year that they admitted would severely underfund many state programs.
The current budget underfunded the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice Aftercare program by $5.3 million. As a result, kids are hanging in the balance who desperately need the rehabilitation services intended to promote positive reintegration in their community and reduce recidivism.
Additionally, Democrat leaders also underfunded the Child Care Assistance Program by $300 million, and now it is no longer receiving state assistance. As a result, families have been disrupted and child-care providers are left scrambling.
Furthermore, the Department of Corrections will run out of money to pay guards by mid-April, and the fund to pay court reporters will run out even sooner. That could result in disruption of court activity, and dangerous uncertainty at state prisons.
Governor Rauner has asked for greater spending authority that would allow him to transfer funds to agencies facing shortfalls. While Democrat leaders claim a resolution to the issue is close, for many struggling agencies, it is not close enough.
And rather than addressing the problem at hand, Democrat lawmakers continue to introduce billions of dollars in new legislative initiatives that the state cannot afford. The focus should be on funding the state’s current priorities rather than exploring new ways to spend taxpayer dollars.
Local Government and Unfunded Mandates Task Force
Created to help identify ways to help streamline and consolidate local governments, the Local Government and Unfunded Mandates Task Force, chaired by Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti, aims to help make Illinois government more effective and efficient.
Senators Dan Duffy of Lake Barrington and Dale Righter of Mattoon were appointed by the Governor to sit on the task force, along with municipal and county leaders, representatives of school districts, other state legislators, and experts in consolidation.
Governor Rauner explained the task force was created as a way to consolidate the “excessive numbers of local government units” and “reduce the burden of unfunded mandates imposed by the state,” which “will reduce costs, increase efficiency and improve delivery of services.” There are currently nearly 7,000 local government entities in Illinois, more than any other state in the nation.
Open Meetings Act Reforms Advance to Senate
Three Republican Senators are now spearheading efforts in the Senate to advance legislation that seeks to enforce transparency and accountability of government meetings, after the measure unanimously passed the House.
Sponsored by Senators Dan Duffy of Lake-Barrington, Pamela Althoff of McHenry and Michael Connelly of Wheaton, House Bill 175 will give people more time to report a potential violation of the Open Meetings Act. Now someone will have 60 days after discovering the violation to report it, as opposed to current law that requires a violation to be reported within 60 days from the date of the meeting.
This legislation was inspired by reports of a potentially illegal closed-door July 2013 meeting by the Oakwood Hills Village Board, which met secretly to discuss a controversial proposal to construct a $450 million power plant in their town. The public had no knowledge of this secret meeting until nearly a year later when the gathering was discovered by an attorney hired by village residents who opposed the power plant project. However, because of the loophole in current law the meeting could not be submitted to the Attorney General’s office to enforce the provisions of the Open Meeting Act. Under current law, the 60-day window to report the violation had expired.
Reforming the state’s Open Meetings Act to eliminate the loophole that exists will not only give the public more time to respond to future violations of the state’s Open Meeting laws, but will also work to deter government entities from withholding information from the public. Elected officials should welcome the opportunity to increase transparency and accountability to the people they represent.
House Bill 175 passed the House 110-0 and has advanced to the Senate for further consideration.
Additional Legislative Committee Action
Senate lawmakers approved many other bills in committee during the week. All of the bills now go back to the full Senate for consideration.
A list of legislation passed by Senate committees is available at the “Senate Action” page where it is possible to search each day’s activity.