Pritchard's Perspective for August 31

Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to 
August 31, 2015
In This Issue:
  Ø  Governor Acts on Bills
  Ø  Legislature Looks to Limit Governor
  Ø  Comptroller’s Office Struggling to Make all Required Payments
  Ø  State Sells Planes
  Ø  Treasurer Focuses on College Costs
  Ø  Rock Valley and NIU Collaborate on Awarding Engineering Degrees
  Ø  Education Advisory Council to meet with State Superintendent

Governor Acts on Bills
        While the House passed 302 bills this session, Governor Rauner has thus far signed into law 267 and used his veto powers on 21 others.  He vetoed many because they either duplicated Senate bills or because they would place undue regulatory burdens on citizens or the state.  He has used his amendatory veto powers to make changes to another 10 House bills.  A veto or amendatory veto may be overridden by a 3/5ths vote from both chambers.
          The most notable changes the Governor made were to two sweeping, bipartisan bills.  Governor Rauner used his amendatory veto on the Medicaid funding portion in House Bill 1, a comprehensive bill to address the state’s heroin crisis.  He argues that the State's Medicaid programs already cover multiple forms of medication necessary to treat alcohol and opioid dependence and the new changes would restrict the state's ability to contain rising costs at a time when the State is facing unprecedented fiscal difficulties.  Opponents of the amendatory veto say that the Governor’s changes hurt the overall bill and that the biggest issue with heroin addiction is that people can’t afford treatment.
The Governor also amended the marijuana decriminalization bill to call for a smaller cap on the amount of marijuana that can be possessed without civil penalty.  He further lowered the standard for driving under the influence of marijuana.

Legislature Looks to Limit Governor
When the partisan budget was passed this spring, Governor Rauner announced several administrative changes to help manage the anticipated billions of dollar in deficit spending.  These steps included ending EDGE tax credits, suspending several portions of programs and state purchases, and implementing emergency rules to the state childcare program.
The emergency rules for childcare programs changed the standards for qualifying for state childcare, which resulted in as many as 90 percent of the families who normally qualified, now unable to qualify.  The House has held several hearings on the issue and a bill was filed, HB 570, which would reverse these changes.  However, the bill goes further than simply undoing the rules implemented by the Administration by essentially removing significant authority from the Department of Human Services to make any changes to the program. 
Another instance where the legislature is attempting to take administrative powers away from the Governor and his agencies is Senate Bill 1229.  This bill would potentially take the bargaining and decision-making power in AFSCME negations away from employees and the Governor, and put it in the hands of an unelected, unaccountable arbitrator.  That bill was vetoed by the Governor, but it was overridden in the Senate and will face an override vote in the House on Wednesday.

Comptroller’s Office Struggling to Make all Required Payments
          It’s not a new problem for the Comptroller to delay paying in a timely manner the state’s ever increasing expenses.  The list of unpaid bills has varied since the year 2000 from less than $1 billion to nearly $9 billion.  Up until now, however, the Comptroller was able to prioritize and make payments for those ordered by the courts or contracts. 
Many providers of state services now report they are not being paid on time despite court orders.  One such group that operates a network of residential services for persons with developmental disabilities was in court last week arguing to get paid.  The Comptroller stated that Illinois did not have the cash on-hand to immediately pay even the state’s priority payments.
By Friday, the comptroller’s office was able to avoid contempt charges by paying the service providers for the disabled.  It certainly isn’t fair that other providers without court orders were not paid and many have been waiting to be paid for a year or more. 
As I mentioned in my last newsletter, through court orders, piecemeal legislation and administrative actions, almost 90 percent of the budget has been committed already without the legislature being concerned with a balanced budget or shown any willingness to cut expenses.   
The Comptroller’s office estimates the state is operating around $300 million in deficit spending a month to meet just its mandatory payments.  There seems to be a growing risk that bonds and pension payments will not be paid on time.
State Sells Planes
   In a bright spot last week, the state was able to sell five surplus aircraft.  The sales netted $3.5 million for state taxpayers; $2.5 million for the planes and $1 million in avoided maintenance and operation costs.
   One of the Governor’s policy initiatives announced soon after inauguration was to ground and sell most of the state fleet.  The planes have been used to shuttle public sector executives back and forth between Chicago and Springfield.  Planes will still be available to shuttle legislative leaders to Springfield.
Treasurer Focuses on College Costs
Treasurer Mike Frerichs will be at NIU today where he is expected to speak about the cost of higher education and ways to help pay for it.  College costs have ballooned over the last decade, pushing higher education beyond reach for many.  Fortunately, the trend appears to be abating.  After increases as high as 9.5 percent in 2009-10 and 6.5 percent in 2010-11, average published tuition fees for full-time in-state students at public four-year institutions increased by less than 1 percent in each of the last two years.
Part of the reason for increased tuition is the defunding of higher education by the state since 2002.  Governors and legislative leaders have paid lip service to the need for a higher education degree while appropriating fewer dollars for education institutions.  Then too, those institutions have not sufficiently controlled the growth in their expenses.
The Treasurer intends to speak about the importance of families saving for their children’s college education and the state grants to low income students called MAP grants.  The Treasurer’s office manages a tax-free savings plan called the Bright Start Program.  It is one of many so-called 529 savings plans allowed under the Internal Revenue Code for families to plan ahead and put money aside for their children at a young age.  Currently more than 390,000 Illinois families participate in Bright Start. 
Mary and I have set up 529 accounts for our grandchildren since we know their parents don’t always have sufficient cash to invest now and getting an education beyond high school will be critical for the child’s future employment.  Investing every year in a 529 plan will grow to a significant “nest egg” that will be necessary to pay college costs in 17 to 20 years. 
The Treasurer is also expected to call on the legislature to appropriate more money for the Illinois Monetary Award Program (MAP) to help students pay for their college education.  Illinois awards about $373 million to more than 120,000 low-income students each year, but that is less than half of those who qualify.  The recipients can attend public or private colleges and universities.  Like many other programs, MAP funding is in jeopardy without a budget.  Most state colleges are forging ahead and awarding the MAP grants with the hope that the state will pay them back once a budget is passed.

Rock Valley and NIU Collaborate on Awarding Engineering Degrees
In response to Rockford area employers and working student requests, NIU and Rock Valley Community College (RVCC) have found a way to make it more convenient to earn engineering degrees.  NIU will now award such degrees to students taking classes at RVCC’s Woodward Technology Center and close to their employment.
In signing the agreement recently, officials of both institutions acknowledged that many students who want and need further education can’t afford the traditional four year, full time, college campus experience.  NIU is stepping up its efforts to increase student enrollment by expanding its delivery of quality programs locally where students work—something it has done for years at Naperville and Hoffman Estates-- and to utilize RVCC facilities.

Presidents Doug Baker (NIU) and Mike Mastroianni (RVCC)
agree on joint engineering degree program
Rockford has a heavy manufacturing base and this agreement is partly a response to the industries communicating that the labor force is lacking in certain kinds of skills and the need to adapt quickly to the advanced technology that is rapidly emerging in the manufacturing sector.  
The demand for engineers is growing, especially in the Rockford area, which recently opened a new aerospace factory.  The $90,000 average wage of engineers is much higher than the average worker according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the unemployment rate for engineers is also significantly lower.
Large businesses with locations in Rockford, like aerospace giants UTC and Woodward, have pledged to establish scholarships and intern/mentor programs at RVCC.  In addition, they are in talks to help fund the facility renovations needed at RVCC to accommodate this new engineering program.

Education Advisory Council to meet with State Superintendent
You are invited to join my next Education Advisory Council meeting to discuss current trends and issues in education with Dr. Tony Smith, State Superintendent of Schools.  The meeting will be held September 21 at the Sycamore High School Auditorium beginning at 6 p.m.
This is a rare opportunity to discuss issues and provide feedback with the administrator of state programs.  The council usually meets several times each year to provide me with comments about legislation and feedback about education programs.  The group is open to all citizens, not just educators.