Illinois’ fiscal crisis continues to dominate discussions in the Capitol during the week, as two independent reports offered a detailed assessment of the state’s struggling economy.
Also during the week, attention was focused on the issue of human trafficking, which victimizes thousands of Illinois residents each year.
Getting the fiscal house in order
Getting Illinois’ fiscal house in order is a fundamental step to restoring confidence in government and renewing the state’s promise as an economic leader among states.
Until this year, Illinois has been under one-party rule for 12 years. The decision to over-spend and grow the size of government rests with the majority leaders. Senate Republicans have warned for years that state government could not continue to increase spending at a pace that was unsustainable. Governor Bruce Rauner was handed a state budget that was out of money on his first day in office.
Earlier this spring, a budget fix was approved to address the $1.6 billion hole in the state’s current year budget. Bipartisan legislative support and leadership from Gov. Rauner brought about Illinois’ first honestly balanced budget in more than a decade.
Governor Rauner’s “working groups” of lawmakers are meeting to discuss ways to eliminate waste, increase efficiency and end the kind of internal corruption, which saw tens of millions of taxpayer dollars squandered on ill-conceived and fruitless programs in recent years. I serve with Senator Matt Murphy, two Democrat Senators, two Democrat Reps and three Republican Reps in a working group, trying to reach a consensus on reforming workers’ comp, unemployment insurance, tort reform, minimum wage and other reforms in the Governor’s Turnaround Agenda.
According to a new consumer/taxpayer report by online financial website WalletHub, Illinois ranks 41st in the nation, based on an analysis of what taxpayers pay to government compared to the value of what they receive in programs and services.
Another financial assessment to make news comes from the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI), an independent public policy research center. IPI’s report evaluated the state’s economy on unemployment, economic opportunity, taxes and business regulations.
Key findings include:
• Illinois is experiencing the worst-in-nation employment recovery since the Great Recession.
• 236,000 fewer Illinoisans are working today than when the Great Recession began.
• Illinois is one of the nation’s leading out-migration states.
• The state’s over-regulated and uncompetitive business climate has triggered a shortage of work opportunities.
• Illinois has the nation’s most severe pension crisis. State government’s public pension debt tops $111 billion. Local governments face a similar pension debt problem.
• Illinois has the highest average property taxes of any state.
• State-mandated work rules raise the cost of hiring and shrink employment opportunities.
In the 1990s, Illinois was among the leading states for business expansion and job growth and it’s essential that after 12 years of failed policies, Governor Rauner’s ideas be given a chance to revive Illinois’s economy, lower the burden of taxes and regulations, and make government more efficient and responsive. Other states, such as neighboring Indiana, have made similar changes with success.
Fighting back against human trafficking
Every year, as many as 25,000 people in Illinois are trapped in the modern-day slavery of human trafficking, exploited for sex, drugs, violence, forced labor, or worse. Law enforcement, state and federal authorities, and independent groups are fighting back. On April 28, a bipartisan group of lawmakers hosted an event at the Capitol to raise awareness of this crime and to honor the heroes combatting human trafficking in Illinois.
The event featured more than 20 organizations that fight human trafficking. Among the featured speakers was Brenda Myers-Powell, Executive Director of the Dreamcatcher Foundation and a former victim herself. “I couldn’t stand being a girl who nobody was looking for,” said Myers-Powell. “My story is beautiful now, because I fight for girls like me.”
The event was the first in a series of awareness and advocacy events throughout Illinois. On the legislative front, House Bill 2822 creates a Human Trafficking Task Force in Illinois to promote and improve coordination and communication between trafficking fighters. The bill unanimously passed the House of Representatives April 16 and is currently working its way through the Senate.
On April 29, lawmakers welcomed members of the crew and support group of the soon-to-be christened USS Illinois, a Virginia-Class submarine that is the first commissioned U.S. Navy vessel to bear the state’s name in nearly 120 years.
The last ship to carry the name of Illinois was a battleship put in service in 1897. That ship saw only brief action during the early 1900s. Another USS Illinois battleship was to be constructed during the World War II-era, but the Navy decided against it as the war was winding down.
Governor Dan Walker: 1923 – 2015
The week also marked the passing of former Illinois Governor Dan Walker, 92, who served as Governor from 1973 to 1977. He was known as “Walkin’ Dan” Walker, having walked more than 1,000 miles traversing the state during his campaign for Governor.