The Pritchard Perspective for February 23, 2015

February 23, 2015
In This Issue:
  • Darkest Before Dawn
  • Focus on Results
  • Committees Begin Hearing Bills
  • Governor Targets Criminal Justice System For Reform
  • Reducing Cost of Local Governments
  • Video Gaming Influences Revenue
  • Hearing Reviews Controversial School Test Mandate

Darkest Before Dawn

This past week as I listened to Governor Rauner present what he called a “turnaround budget” I couldn’t help but recall the words of the English theologian and historian Thomas Fuller.  His observation that it’s always “darkest before dawn” has inspired hope and optimism for centuries.  Illinois certainly needs hope and optimism.

The Governor presented a budget that for the first time in decades honestly limited spending to available revenue; no “smoke and mirrors” to mask the growing state deficits.  He quickly added that the only real answer to our financial challenges is to become pro-growth again.  I agree that we need a booming economy to expand the economic pie or our citizens, community agencies, and schools will forever be left to fight over ever smaller slices of the pie.

As if to put an exclamation point on the Governor’s budget message, Caterpillar—one of the state’s premier manufacturers and employers—announced Friday that after a two-year study it will not only keep its international headquarters in Peoria but also will expand it to 6 city blocks.  Rauner said Caterpillar didn’t ask for any tax incentive or break, they just wanted to be treated with respect and know Illinois is going to be fiscally responsible and run right, the way Caterpillar is run right.

Governor Rauner’s budget like previous governor’s budgets is a starting point for the legislature to use in crafting a spending plan over the next three months.  I applaud his priorities of education, early childhood, care for the most vulnerable, and reforms to better operate government and reduce costs over time.

Watch this clip of my comments immediately following the speech.

Focus on Results
The five House appropriation committees will soon be hearing testimony from agencies and groups who want a piece of the budget.  As I sit on two of these committees, I will be asking for results; is the public investment getting a good return and are you making progress toward the public goals for the programs. 


Those are the questions I encouraged early child care providers to answer as they visited Springfield last week.  I found it helpful to visit with parents, childcare center operators and 4-C staff (Community Coordinated Child Care).

The public needs to hear the data of how child care assistance programs help children develop mentally and socially, allow parents to get an education and improve their job skills, and help families become contributing members of the community through their employment.  

Committees Begin Hearing Bills
Nearly a month and a half after taking office, Representatives are now meeting in committees to review new legislation, investigate issues and craft the FY16 budget.  The work of the House is conducted in 51 committees which often cover broad subjects like agriculture or very narrow aspects of a subject like the seven committees covering education.  Over the next three months these committees will review the thousands of pieces of legislation that have been introduced.  You can view these bills by topic or bill number on the legislative website: www.ilga.gov.

I am looking forward to serve as Republican Spokesman on three committees and as a member of four others.  Please share your views on any bill or issue with me so that I can give voice to them as legislation is debated.

Governor Targets Criminal Justice System For Reform
There have been some exciting innovations in the criminal justice system that have altered criminal behavior, kept people out of prison and saved taxpayer money in the process.  The governor has formed a commission to see if these programs can be scaled up in Illinois to reduce prison recidivism and the cost of operating our prisons.

State prisons are holding 150 percent of the inmates that they were designed to handle.  The current population of about 49,000 inmates is expected to grow to 60,000 by 2025 at the current rate of growth.  The Illinois Department of Corrections spends about $1.3 billion annually to keep these prisoners.  There are additional hundreds of millions of dollars spent by county sheriffs to maintain jails.

In creating the Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform Commission earlier this month, Governor Rauner directed the group to look at sentencing policies and the Code of Corrections to see how to lower the number of inmates while ensuring the safety to the public.  The new task force has been asked to report its findings to the Governor and General Assembly by December 31.

As a result of the governor’s initiative, all bills dealing with prison time--like my HB154—will be held until the commission presents its findings.  My bill would have limited the number of day’s credit toward early release that a prisoner could earn while serving a sentence for aggravated battery by causing great bodily harm or permanent disability to a peace officers or fireman.

Reducing Cost of Local Governments
Illinois is known around the country as having the most units of local government—6,963 in 2012-- but the Governor would like to encourage consolidations, streamline functions and eliminate unfunded state mandates that increase the cost of local governments.  In Executive Order #15-15 he directed Lieutenant Governor Sanguinetti to lead a Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates Commission that would make its findings known by the end of the year.

Sanguinetti’s task force will conduct a comprehensive review of state laws that impose burdens on local schools and governments, and therefore taxpayers.  It is to identify opportunities to consolidate, streamline or eliminate duplicative governmental bodies.  The task force will also analyze the success of programs and legislation with similar goals implemented in Illinois and other states.

Northern Illinois University’s widely recognized Department of Public Administration has offered its help to the task force.  I have invited the Lt. Governor to visit DeKalb County on April 9 to talk with citizens about her focus on local government, business growth and property taxes.

I recently attended the Illinois State Library Association’s legislative luncheon where I heard about their efforts to consolidate government services and deliver programs more efficiently.  Dee Brennan, Executive Director of the Reach Across Illinois Library System (RAILS), pictured with me, explained their services for local libraries to share resources.

Video Gaming Influences Revenue
It has been over two years since the first video gaming machines became operational in Illinois and the results may be surprising.  By last December there were over 19,182 terminals that reported $ 972.5 million in net terminal collections in the first 27 months.  Of this total, approximately $243.1 million went to the state’s Capital Projects Fund and $48.6 million went to local governments where the machines were located.

In 2014 Cook County had the most video gaming terminals despite the fact that the City of Chicago has continued to ban video gaming.  Winnebago County was second and Kane County ninth in number of terminals.  The number of terminals state wide would be higher but for the number of communities that continue to ban video gaming in their areas.  The growth trend in number of terminals appears to be plateauing.

As Illinois’ video gaming numbers continue to increase, Illinois’ riverboats have lost adjusted gross receipts with the exception of the new casino in Des Plaines.  Eight of the ten Illinois casinos had reported losses greater than 12 percent since the calendar year 2013.  Overall, citizens continue to spend more money statewide each year on gambling, a figure that totaled $2.14 billion last year.

You can find the full report about gaming at www.cgfa.ilga.gov.

Hearing Reviews Controversial School Test Mandate
School districts, teachers and parents have been complaining about the amount of student testing that occurs during the school year—especially in the last quarter of the year.  At the center of the controversy is the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test mandate.  A House Education Committee will hear testimony about the test on Wednesday.  If you have comments about school testing, get them to me as soon as possible so I can enter them in testimony before the committee.

Many people are opposed to both the new test and to the way it is being implemented here in Illinois.  Educators have raised concerns about the length of the test, inadequate technology, lack of testing infrastructure to match the space required to administer the test, overall school funding issues, and issues of student preparation to take the new type of test.  They add that test results will be reported too slowly to tailor teaching methods to improve student learning in real time.

Defenders of the test assert that PARCC is one of only two standardized assessments that are tied to the new statewide learning standards.  A contract was signed by the State Board of Education to use the PARCC test over a year ago and the state must follow through with the test or face federal Department of Education sanctions.  Sections of federal law direct the Department to withhold major subcategories of federal school aid from the school districts of a state that is not in compliance with nationwide testing mandates. 

I serve on a school assessment task force that has identified over a dozen tests that are administered by various school districts during the year.  The task force is in the process of surveying districts, teachers and parents about the number of tests, purpose for them and their cost.  Results of the survey and recommendations about assessments are due to the Governor and General Assembly by May.

Have a great week and stay warm.  If you have concerns about school closings due to the cold, be sure to contact your district Superintendent.

Bob

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