While Senate Republican lawmakers are looking to build bipartisan momentum toward a future budget and reform package, that spirit of cooperation did not extend to pension reform measures that failed to advance out of a Senate Committee during the week.
I am sick and tired of partisan politics. I want to vote for good bills, and vote against bad bills, no matter the party affiliation of the sponsor. We have asked this Administration to find ways to cut expenses to save taxpayer dollars. Unfortunately, we are saying “Yes, I want you to cut expenditures, but don’t cut here.” “Yes, cut spending, but not there.” On the Senate floor on Wednesday I asked my fellow senators to give this administration a chance to run the state government in the way they think is most effective to save taxpayer dollars instead of considering politics first. I’m not sure that the majority is ready to do that.
However, the Senate did unanimously come together in support of a proposal to lift the statute of limitations for certain sex abuse crimes against a minor, and legislators on the Senate Public Health Committee approved a proposal to make life-saving epinephrine more accessible.
Action urged on budget, pension proposals
During the week, a fiscal plan was introduced by Senator Bill Brady that offers a full and balanced Fiscal Year 2018 budget that aims to protect the state’s highest priority programs, rein in spending, and eliminate two-thirds of the state’s backlog of unpaid bills.
The seven-bill package proposes selling revenue bonds totaling $6 billion to tackle the state’s backlog of unpaid bills – saving the state millions of dollars in late-payment interest costs. The package also includes a hard-spending cap of roughly $36 billion in general funds. Furthermore, the balanced budget proposal calls for a 1:1 ratio when it comes to spending cuts and revenue enhancements. For example, if lawmakers want to increase revenues by $1, they need to also look to cut spending by $1.
The budget plan provides full funding for the school-aid formula, and holds MAP grants for college students at their current level. It incorporates many of the budget-balancing measures proposed by Governor Bruce Rauner in his February Budget Address, including $1.3 billion in pension reform savings, selling the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago, and restructuring the state employee group health insurance program. Additionally, the proposed budget includes new across-the-board cuts totaling nearly $800 million.
While the budget plan seeks to build on the Senate’s recent efforts to negotiate a budget buoyed by critical structural reforms, that spirit of bipartisanship was not extended to reforming the state’s pension system. On March 29, Senate Democrats ensured two pension reform measures introduced by Senate Republican lawmakers failed to advance out of a Senate committee.
In recent weeks, the Governor and a number of House lawmakers pledged their support for the Senate proposals heard by the Senate Executive Committee during the week. Supporters of Senate Bill 2172 and Senate Bill 2173 underscored there is nothing preventing Senate lawmakers from moving forward on areas where there is agreement—such as pension reform.
The measures reflected the language and intent of previous pension reform legislation agreed to by both Republican and Democrat legislators last summer. The package incorporates pension reform concepts that have been supported by both Governor Rauner and Senate President John Cullerton. However, the proposals were held in committee by Democrat legislators, despite urging from proponents who said positive action on the measures provided an opportunity to form the foundation for positive budget negotiations moving forward.
Hamstringing the Governor
In other action, lawmakers continued to hamstring the Governor’s reform efforts, by passing a bill that ties the Governor’s hands in trying to reorganize and save money on prisons.
Senate Bill 19 would block the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) from bidding contracts that would reduce the number of employees engaged in medical and/or mental health services. IDOC says that moving the jobs to a private company will save the state $8 million. Four Republicans and most Democrats voted for this terrible bill.
Protecting abuse victims
Seeking to give victims of child abuse additional time to report the crime, the Senate advanced legislation March 29 that would eliminate the statute of limitations on certain sexual abuse crimes against a minor.
Senate Bill 189 was approved by the Senate unanimously, and proponents say the bill will help prevent child predators from escaping justice. Frequently, victims of child sexual crimes require years to come to terms with the abuse. If signed into law, the measure would enable greater numbers of individuals who had been victimized as children to come forward. Advocates also noted that eliminating the statute of limitations will encourage state’s attorneys to investigate old claims, even if they decide not to bring charges against the accused.
Easing epinephrine costs
As a response to the high costs of epinephrine auto-injectors, a Senate Public Health Committee advanced Senate Bill 2038 to allow authorized, trained entities to administer less-costly epinephrine from a glass vial, ampule or pre-filled syringe. The proposal seeks to make life-saving epinephrine more available in cases of deadly allergic reactions by making it less cost-prohibitive for schools and universities, companies, restaurants, etc. to keep the medication on hand. It is estimated that allowing entities to obtain an epinephrine prescription from a health-care practitioner in these less expensive forms could save hundreds and even thousands of dollars every year.
Reorganizing state government
On March 31, Governor Rauner filed three Executive Orders that reorganize state government:
• Executive Order 17-01: Separates the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum into a standalone entity and consolidates the remaining functions of the current Historic Preservation Agency into the Department of Natural Resources to streamline government and achieve over $3 million in annual savings.
• Executive Order 17-02: Consolidates the Human Rights Commission into the Department of Human Rights.
• Executive Order 17-03: Shifts the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s Energy Office responsibilities to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to better align with the agency’s core mission. Also, shifts the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s Coal Office duties to the Department of Natural Resources.
Agricultural Legislative Day at the Capitol
In honor of the 47th annual Illinois Agricultural Legislative Day (IALD), farm and agricultural organizations and interest groups were invited to join lawmakers in the Capitol on March 30. The day-long event, organized by the Illinois Department of Agriculture, offers the groups the opportunity to speak with their local legislators about industry-related issues, as well as educate them about their own agri-business and role in the community. Agriculture is Illinois’ number one industry, with agriculture and food production representing 10 percent of the state’s economy. Illinois has more than 74,000 farms located in three quarters of the state, and supporting the growth of agribusiness remains a priority throughout Illinois.