Recent Senate action to advance bipartisan budget measures for higher education and social service providers have some lawmakers hoping for a timely resolution to Illinois’ lengthy budget impasse, now in its 11th month.
A controversial Senate proposal to restructure the state’s education funding formula for K-12 education did not advance during the week, however, after data released by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) showed that the legislation would funnel hundreds of millions of dollars in state education resources to Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
On May 5, I joined several of my legislative colleagues to demand that Auditor General Frank Mautino answer serious questions about campaign expenditures and reporting procedures dating back to his time in the House of Representatives.
In other action, lawmakers approved a resolution that will give voters the chance to weigh in on a constitutional amendment to protect road fund dollars from being diverted and used for other purposes. Voters will see the question on their ballots in November.
Senate moves yet another bipartisan budget measure to House
A majority of Senate lawmakers came together May 5 to advance additional funding for the state’s public universities, community colleges and students.
The Senate passed legislation May 5 to direct more funding to students who receive Monetary Assistance Program (MAP) grants, to ensure universities and community colleges can remain open, and to provide more certainty for students, faculty and staff during the state’s ongoing budget impasse.
Senate Bill 2048 would bring funding for all public universities, community colleges and MAP grants, up to 60 percent. The proposal acts a supplement to another “stop-gap” appropriations bill that was recently signed into law (Senate Bill 2059), which had only provided 60 percent funding for one state university in Chicago. Senate Bill 2048 would increase parity and provide significant financial relief to the other institutions of higher education, dedicating $454 million in available revenues to bring them all up to 60 percent funding.
The bipartisan approval of Senate Bill 2048 was another recent example of the willingness of Senate lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to work together to advance meaningful legislation. In late April, the Senate approved a measure (Senate Bill 2047), which the Governor has indicated he will sign, that would appropriate $441 million to help pay for critical human service programs.
Both Senate Bill 2048 and Senate Bill 2047 are now awaiting consideration in the House of Representatives.
Flawed school funding plan pending in Senate
Downstate and suburban school districts could lose hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid every year under a controversial school funding formula currently being debated at the Capitol, according to data released by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).
Initial numbers released by the ISBE showed that Senate Bill 231 would have led to losses in downstate and suburban districts totaling more than $340 million. According to the data from the ISBE, Senate Bill 231 would have pulled nearly $120 million in funding from downstate schools, $121 million from collar county schools, and $102 million from North Cook County schools, all to redirect more than $352 million to the Chicago Public School District (CPS).
On May 4, the Senate Executive Committee considered an amendment to Senate Bill 231 that would still result in losses totaling around $197 million in suburban and downstate districts, while funneling $174 million to Chicago Public Schools. Senate Bill 231 is a major step backward in the effort to reform the state’s current school funding formula, appearing to be little more than a plan to funnel downstate and suburban dollars into the bankrupt Chicago school system.
While lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree the current school funding formula is broken and needs to be fixed, Senate Bill 231 is not the answer to the problem. We need to continue our work to develop a new formula, and in the meantime, the state can offer school districts certainty through full funding of General State Aid for the first time in seven years.
The sponsor of Senate Bill 231, Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) have resisted the full-funding idea, with Cullerton going so far as to suggest that all K-12 funding be held up until Manar’s controversial funding plan is passed into law. Bad idea! No schools should be held hostage in order to force a bailout of Chicago Public Schools.
Auditor General must stop stalling on months-old campaign expense questions
In February, a group of lawmakers began asking Auditor General Frank Mautino serious questions about campaign expenditures and reporting procedures dating back to his time in the House of Representatives. On May 5, I joined with a group of legislative colleagues in a Capitol press conference to tell Mautino that his foot-dragging must stop. Illinois citizens deserve some answers.
I had raised concerns in February when the Ottawa Times and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald newspapers wrote about questions surrounding campaign account transactions when Mautino served as a State Representative. I was the only member of the Legislative Audit Commission to vote against recommending then-Representative Mautino’s appointment to the Auditor General position, even though we all knew the “Illinois fix” was in for Madigan’s guy. We had interviewed another very highly qualified candidate for the position who I believed should have been recommended as well.
A group of 12 legislators from the House sent the initial request to Auditor General Mautino on Feb. 1, asking for a written reply within 10 days. Mautino replied on Feb. 9 that he needed more time to properly address the request. To accommodate the Auditor General, the lawmakers on Feb. 11 extended their request deadline to Feb. 25. Mautino replied that he had retained a legal firm to assist him and would be working “…during the next few weeks in order to respond to your letter.” The lawmakers sent Auditor General Mautino a third letter May 5 requesting an immediate resolution to the issue.
Voters will see a measure to protect road funds on November ballot
Voters in November will be given the opportunity to decide if funding for the state’s roads should be off limits to other agencies or programs, with the approval this week by the General Assembly of a proposed state constitutional amendment known as the “Transportation Fund Lock Box.”
Intended to end Road Fund diversions, the amendment states that any revenue collected from transportation-related activities (registration fees, gas taxes, and mass transit fees) is only spendable on road construction, maintenance, and other related transportation expenses. Since 2003, nearly $7 billion has been swept out of the Road Fund and diverted elsewhere—money that was intended to repair Illinois’ roads and bridges. According to an audit completed in May 2013, less than half of Road Fund expenditures went toward road construction costs in 2011 and 2012. The resolution to send this constitutional amendment to voters in November passed with overwhelming support from both parties in the Legislature.
Other proposed amendments to the Illinois Constitution failed to advance out of the General Assembly this spring, including proposals to change the way legislative district boundaries are drawn, to eliminate the Lieutenant Governor’s office, and to change the state’s flat income tax rate to a graduated rate.