With the scheduled May 31 adjournment of the spring session quickly approaching, but no budget compromise negotiated, the ball is in Democrat legislative leaders’ court.
It is VERY unlikely that there will be a budget compromise by Sunday evening, so everything this weekend is really political theater. We should just go home and wait until House Speaker Madigan and Senate President Cullerton feel enough “blood in the streets” to reach an agreement. But the legislative leaders are reluctant to send us home early (and save taxpayer dollars with reduced per-diem expenses) even though little can be accomplished now. “Bad optics” to send us home early with no deal possible.
Legislative leaders have said they will continue to meet with Governor Bruce Rauner to negotiate a resolution to the current budget impasse. The House Speaker and the Senate President have said all options are on the table; however, as of May 29, they have rejected a number of job-creating, good-government reforms introduced by Republicans, choosing instead to pass a budget that is $4 billion out of balance, in violation of the Illinois Constitution. But, it seems that’s how things are done in Springfield. It’s all about what the press will report.
Dems pass status quo budget, ignore reform opportunities
Governor Rauner and Republican lawmakers have repeatedly offered to negotiate and compromise on the state’s fiscal issues, in conjunction with reforms that would generate jobs and boost Illinois’ sluggish economy. However, repeated attempts to work in good faith with Democrat legislators have been rebuffed in favor of the same failed budget policies that have dominated Illinois finances for more than a decade.
Instead of working on a budget compromise, Democrat leaders moved forward with an unconstitutionally unbalanced spending plan. Their plan calls for more than $36 billion in total spending, which is more than $4 billion over projected revenues of about $32 billion for the next fiscal year.
Democrat leaders acknowledged their budget will not fully fund state government for an entire year, and have advocated for a tax increase as a way to fill the multi-billion dollar hole. Republican leaders have consistently said that reform discussions must come before any conversations about new taxes. Most of us could live with a modest tax increase IF the reform agenda were put in place to get our state moving forward again and IF we could believe that our government would spend our money effectively and efficiently. Few of us believe that to be the case, but with Bruce Rauner at the Governor’s desk, we have hope for the first time in more than a decade. The Governor has indicated that he has no intentions of signing the Democrats’ spending plan into law, and will instead push for a balanced budget in conjunction with much-needed reform policies.
Pro-jobs reform killed by Senate Democrats
Significant portions of Governor Rauner’s and Senate Republicans’ pro-jobs reform agenda were stalled during the week by entrenched opposition from Democrat legislative leaders.
Property Tax Freeze (SB 1046): Illinois has the second-highest property taxes of any state, a distinction that a proposal considered this week sought to rectify by freezing property taxes until local voters approve an increase. However, legislative Democrats blocked the effort to provide Illinois residents with real property tax relief, and stymied the ability of local voters to control their own taxes.
Lawsuit Reform (SB 884): Reform that would even the legal playing field and fix the state’s broken lawsuit system was stalled by Democrat lawmakers in a Senate committee May 28. The compromise lawsuit reform legislation was intended to reduce frivolous lawsuits that have pushed employers and jobs out of Illinois.
Ranking 46 out of 50 states, with one of the worst lawsuit climates in the nation, Illinois is home to two counties deemed “Judicial Hellholes” by the American Tort Reform Association.
The bill is the result of a bipartisan working group organized by Governor Rauner, on which I serve. The measure would limit the practice of venue shopping, where plaintiffs file lawsuits in courts based on where they are most likely to win, regardless of where injuries actually occurred. The bill would have created a process where locations are prioritized based on the parties involved and the location where the injuries occurred.
Senate Bill 884 would also limit the ability of plaintiffs to seek damages from wealthy businesses and individuals (even though they may have had little involvement in causing the injury). It also ensures a plaintiff can recover all damages and even pain and suffering, but the medical bill reimbursement portion is limited to the amount actually paid or expected to be paid rather than the inflated amount billed by the hospital or doctor.
Workers’ Compensation Reform (SB 994): Pro-jobs workers’ compensation reform also failed to advance on May 27 when Democrat lawmakers voted against an initiative that would have had a dramatic impact on the state’s economic health and jobs climate by requiring at least 50% of the cause of an injury to be work-related instead of the 1% or less now.
Illinois workers’ compensation rates are currently the seventh-highest in the nation. Employers testified in support of Senate Bill 994, saying the state’s high workers’ compensation costs have a significant impact on their bottom line and deter job creators from expanding or locating in Illinois.
Term Limits (SJRCA 14) and Redistricting (SJRCA 15): Democrat legislative leaders refused to allow public hearings on two constitutional amendments, one that would impose term limits on legislators and executive officeholders, and one that would create an independent commission to draw fair legislative district boundaries.
Democrats refuse reform with action AND inaction
Sometimes, a small anecdote can illustrate a larger truth – that’s the case with three bills flying below the radar during a hectic pre-adjournment week.
Democrat lawmakers pushed a proposal to expand the Urban Weatherization Program. Last year, the Better Government Association found the 2009 program “in disarray,” with more than 80 percent of the program’s $16 million going to administrative and training costs – not weatherization projects. In the program’s five years, only 183 homes have been upgraded, well short of a 1,000-home goal. On May 26, Democrat lawmakers voted to expand the program, raising the per-home expenditure by more than 50 percent and quadrupling the cap for grant recipients to $2 million per year.
Democrat lawmakers’ quick action to expand this program is in stark contrast to their inaction on two Republican reform bills: one to fix political hiring by former Governor Quinn at the Illinois Department of Transportation, and another to address the scandal-plagued Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. Both bills remain blocked by Senate Democrat leaders.
Senate action round-up
Action continued on the Senate floor and in committees during the week. A full round-up of all the measures that passed in committees and on the Senate floor during the week is available on the Senate Action Page.