Discussions on a budget framework are expected to continue when the General Assembly returns to Springfield January 24, and Governor Bruce Rauner will lay out his vision for Illinois during his third annual State of the State address January 25.
Also during the week, the Governor signed an important bill to protect schoolchildren from lead in drinking water.
Senate continues work on budget framework
Senate lawmakers will begin holding committee hearings on a budget framework designed to reestablish fiscal stability and certainty, and get Illinois moving forward again.
The Senate has made progress recently with Senate leaders announcing that significant headway has been made on a budget proposal that would fund the remainder of the fiscal year and provide associated reforms to state government. This was the first time structural reforms, revenues and a budget plan have been tied together. Notably, the legislation was written so that every measure in the package must be approved in order for the entire proposal to take effect.
Among other things, the budget framework under discussion would provide spending authority for the remainder of the 2017 year, continue efforts to reform some of the state’s public employee pension systems, and tie a property tax freeze to measures that provide mandate relief to school districts and reforms to lower the cost of government.
Other items included in the budget framework are reforms designed to maximize efficiencies in Illinois’ workers’ compensation system while retaining the basic set of protections workers have benefited from for more than 100 years, and reforms to make it easier for local voters to abolish township government. There are more than 1,400 township governments in Illinois. Townships are often criticized as duplicative and outdated and frequently targeted for consolidation or elimination.
The budget framework also includes measures that would streamline and improve the state’s procurement process to eliminate barriers to vendor participation, competition, cost savings and efficient procurement practices.
While I am delighted to see Senate Republicans and Democrats working together toward a budget compromise, the current proposed reforms are not significant enough to justify the substantial income tax increase and “sugary drinks” tax that have been proposed, along with a property tax freeze. Make no mistake. There are some positive parts to this package. But there is not yet enough spending reduction and true reforms to justify the proposed tax increases. Hopefully, there is still room to negotiate.
An emergency budget agreement that funded state government through late summer and fall expired on Jan. 1, leaving public universities, mental health providers, addiction treatment centers, senior citizens programs, breast and cervical cancer screening programs, youth services and programs for victims of sexual assault without state funding.
Protecting children from lead
Signed into law on. January 17, Senate Bill 550 establishes additional standards to further protect Illinois children from possible exposure to lead in drinking water.
Senate Bill 550 will ensure proper health protections are in place to protect Illinois’ youngest residents from lead ingestion. The new law provides schools and daycares are to sample for lead contamination from sources of potable water in school buildings.
The oldest school buildings, those constructed before January 1, 1987, must complete water testing by the end of 2017. Schools constructed between January 2, 1987, and January 1, 2000, must complete testing by the end of 2018. Daycares constructed on or before January 1, 2000, and that serve children younger than 6 will also be required to conduct testing. Further, parents and guardians of students must be notified of elevated lead results.
“This legislation, along with the enhancements Illinois EPA has proactively implemented with community water supplies over the last year, is an important step towards eliminating the risk of lead exposure to our most vulnerable citizens, Illinois’ children,” said Illinois EPA Acting Director Alec Messina.
“Elevated levels of lead in children can cause developmental and behavioral disabilities,” said IDPH Director Nirav D. Shah, M.D., J.D. “We have made great progress in reducing the number of children with elevated levels and we will continue to work to protect one of our most vulnerable populations.”
The new law is the product of a lengthy stakeholder process, including the Illinois EPA, Department of Public Health, the Department of Children and Family Services, the Illinois Environmental Council, and representatives from a number of organizations.