Building on the bipartisan stop-gap budget approved June 30, Governor Bruce Rauner announced July 12 the creation of a bipartisan commission on Illinois School Funding Reform.

Commission appointees will work in the coming months to negotiate an agreement to fix Illinois’ broken school funding system.  A bipartisan compromise on this critical issue will be a top focus for legislators and the Governor, and another key reform for Illinois.

Also during the week, the Governor’s budget director outlined the ways that reforms to state government have protected taxpayers, increased government efficiencies and helped Illinois function more successfully.

School Funding Reform Commission

State Senators Jason Barickman of Bloomington, Dave Luechtefeld of Okawville, Dan McConchie of Lake Zurich, Karen McConnaughay of West Dundee and Sue Rezin of Peru have been appointed to serve on the Illinois School Funding Reform commission chaired by Illinois Secretary of Education Beth Purvis.

The Governor and the leaders of the four legislative caucuses each named five members to the 25-member Commission, which has been asked to reform Illinois’ school funding formula.  It’s anticipated the first public meeting of the commission will be held in early August, though that date has not been announced.  Recommendations are due to the Governor and General Assembly by February 2017, allowing lawmakers to take action during the 2017 legislative session.

This Commission gives lawmakers and the Governor some breathing room to come to an agreement on the school funding formula.  For the first time in seven years, Illinois schools will start the new school year (2016-2017) with full funding, as part of the stop-gap budget plan approved last month.

Illinois’ fiscal health and reforms

The compromise on the budget, after an impasse of more than a year, also acknowledged the need to streamline state government and improve Illinois’ business and jobs climate.  Such reforms are needed to get Illinois’ fiscal crisis under control and restore economic prosperity.

Currently, Illinois’ public debt continues to climb out of control, the state’s unemployment rate remains above the national average – as job losses out-number job gains – and Illinois is one of the top states for out-migration of residents.  Years of prior Administrations “kicking the can down the road” with unbalanced budgets, borrowing, and tax increases has left Illinois government with a record backlog of unpaid bills and more than $100 billion in unfunded public pension debt.

During the budget impasse, we worked to keep taxpayers a top priority and as a result:

•  Defeated Speaker Michael Madigan’s spending plan that was $7 billion out of balance and could have raised personal income tax rates to more than 5.5%;

•  Stopped attempts to bail out Chicago with an additional $400 million in state taxpayer funds;

•  Linked passage of the stop-gap budget to comprehensive pension reform.

This spring we were also able to:

•  Provide record funding for elementary and secondary schools statewide with a plan that fully funds the foundation level, ends the unfair practice of proration for the first time in seven years, ensures that no school receives less funding that it did last year, and provides a new poverty grant to help those students most in need;

•  Save more than $800 million in state spending by making the management of state agencies and programs more efficient;

•  Reform the EDGE tax credit program to eliminate “special” deals and only provide credits for actual job creation;

•  Ban the revolving door of state officials becoming lobbyists to make money off the programs they designed;

•  Implement fraud reduction efforts that prevented $188 million in improper unemployment insurance claims;

•  Take action at the Department of Health and Family Services to net state taxpayers more than $250 million by improving the administration of services;

•  Launch a comprehensive review of Illinois police procedures, and other states’ best practices, for handling use of deadly force between officers and community residents;

•  Begin the process of selling the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago;

•  Reduce the number of youth in shelter care and residential treatment centers in the care of the Department of Children and Family Services;

• Launch a Health and Human Services transformation to improve services to the most vulnerable citizens while also making the services more efficient and affordable.

We made progress, but more needs to be done. We need a complete and balanced budget with structural reforms that grow the economy, make government more efficient and accountable, and reduce government spending.

Some of those reforms include:

•  Term limits for state legislators;

•  Curbing lobbyist gifts to legislators and ending the legislator-lobbyist revolving door;

•  Local control of government costs that send property taxes skyrocketing;

•  Ending fraud and abuse in our workers’ compensation system and curbing lawsuit abuse to make Illinois friendlier to job creation and economic growth;

•  Government purchasing reforms to lower costs and save taxpayers money.

Economic growth relies on job creation.  Increased prosperity and more jobs would lead to more revenue that government can use to provide critical state services.  Getting Illinois’ fiscal house in order will also help get public debt under control so government does not become an unmanageable burden for future generations.