Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to bob@pritchardstaterep.com 
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.


Bob
Rep Pritchard with NIU President Baker and DeKalb mayor, John Rey 
On Friday, NIU moved over 2,000 freshman and students in to their dorms to begin the new school year. The big event went seamlessly thanks to over a thousand volunteers, including Representative Pritchard.

Read more about it here.
Governor Bruce Rauner signed SB 2042 today, which appropriates money for the pass through of federal dollars without adding to the state’s budget deficit. The clean bill allows the state to provide some services to the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

“Governor Rauner supported and signed this clean pass through bill because it will help those in need without adding to the state’s budget deficit,” Director of Communications Lance Trover said. “While the Governor continues to work on passing a balanced budget with structural reforms to maximize how much we can invest in our schools and important social services, some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens will be able receive additional support.”
On Saturday evening Representative Pritchard took part in the '50 Men Who Cook' charity event. The event, hosted by KishHealth System, was held at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb and proceeds from the event were donated to Court Appointed Special Advocates of DeKalb County. CASA is a local nonprofit organization that assigns volunteer advocates to help children involved in DeKalb County Juvenile Court cases. The money raised at the event makes up a significant portion of CASA's yearly budget. 

The event featured some of the communities most prominent leaders and citizens showcasing their cooking skills, as well as a silent auction and other entertainment. 

Representative Pritchard whipped up his Zucchini Fritters, you can read the recipe here
Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to bob@pritchardstaterep.com

August 17, 2015
In This Issue: 
  Ø  House Finally Agrees to Allow Access
  Ø  State Spending Continues without a Budget
  Ø  Many Human Services Struggle to Keep Operating
  Ø  Farmland Disaster Declaration Approved
  Ø  Ideas for Growing State Revenue

House Finally Agrees to Allow Access
After over an hour of debate and some political maneuvering, the House agreed last week to allow state programs and social services to access federal dollars.  Senate Bill 2042, as it passed overwhelmingly and in a bipartisan manner in the Senate, would allow almost $5 billion in federal dollars to "pass through" the state to citizen services.  
The money had been held hostage due to the lack of a state budget.  When the bill came to the House, the Speaker attached an amendment that would have added over $1 billion in additional state spending and therefore would have received a certain veto by the Governor.   
Republicans asked that the amendment be added to another bill so that the vital services in SB 2042 could quickly get through the legislative process instead of being held up.  However, those pleas were rebuffed and a vote produced less than the required number for passage.  The amendment was then removed and a second one was quickly introduced and passed with bipartisan support.
With such political games being played over federal dollars and dozens of critical services, you can understand why progress on a state budget is so difficult.

State Spending Continues Without a Budget
The idea of spending over three quarters of state revenue without a budget would have been inconceivable even a few short years ago.  The constitution clearly states there can be no spending—with a few exceptions for continuing and court ordered appropriations—without a budget proposed by the legislature and approved by the governor.
Yet now over 7 weeks into the fiscal year without a budget, the state is making expenditures at the rate of nearly $31 billion for a full year.  This compares with expenditures of around $38 billion last year and revenues this year expected to total just $32 billion.
A combination of court orders, continuing appropriations and approval of the FY16 elementary and secondary education budget have forced the expenditures.  The education appropriation totals around $7 billion, state worker salaries comprise another $6 billion, Medicaid payments $8 billion, debt and pension payments around $9 billion, and foster care and human services about $1.1 billion.
The Governor’s office is trying to get a handle on the full-year expenditures required by courts and past legislatures.  Needless to say, the Governor is fast losing any ability to manage the budget with these pre-emptions. 
One area where the Governor is cutting program eligibility and thus expenditures involves the Child Care Assistance Program.  The legislative oversight committee to such administrative cuts tried, but failed, to block the Governor’s actions last week.  The majority party just doesn’t accept cutbacks as a means to balance the budget.

Many Human Services Struggle to Keep Operating
With the actions of the courts and the Governor to continue funding most of the state programs, salaries and services, the remaining areas of the budget—Emergency Management Agency, higher education, senior care, and children and family services to name a few—are receiving little attention.  
A recent survey of many service providers found that one-third have cut clients, one-fifth will deplete their financial reserves by the end of August, and one-quarter are operating on lines of credit.
In DeKalb County for example, Meals on Wheels will be cutting back delivery days and wellness checks for its senior clients.  Programs to keep senior adults active are also being reduced.  It is these kinds of community-based programs that help avoid more expensive institutionalization in long-term care facilities. 
In discussions with a group of senior service providers recently, I suggested they look for alternatives for their clients should they have to reduce their programs due to state funding delays.  Such providers could refer clients to other agencies that are still operating, alert neighbors of clients to help fill the gap, and encourage other organizations like religious groups to help.

Farmland Disaster Designation Approved
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has granted the request from the Governor for disaster designation in 101 Illinois counties that suffered losses due to flooding and rain delayed planting this spring.  Governor Rauner made the request which had the backing of the entire Illinois congressional delegation.
All three counties in the 70th district are included in the declaration, which makes farmers in the area eligible for low-interest operating loans.  Farmers who are interest in such help should contact their county Farm Service Agency office or the state FSA office at (217) 241-6600.  Loan applications are considered on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the extent of losses, security available, and applicant’s repayment ability.  

Ideas for Growing State Revenue
It is obvious to even many fiscal conservatives that more state revenue is needed to dig our way out of the state’s current fiscal canyon.  While many liberals only see answers involving tax and fee increases, several legislators spoke out on the House floor last week with other ideas. 
One of the first suggestions was to “stop the bleeding” of companies leaving the state with their jobs, payrolls, and business activities.  Just last week another company announced it will be moving its operations from Chicago to Indiana.  Crain’s Chicago Business quoted the company as saying it was an easy decision for them because they could save millions of dollars each year due to Indiana’s better business climate.  The company said it could save $1 million dollars a year in lower Worker’s Compensation costs alone.  So the state should try to retain its current revenue by improving its business climate.
Another suggestion was to keep more of our current tax revenue by eliminating certain business tax credits and refunds.  This desperate measure would end incentive programs that were created to attract businesses, encourage expansion, and job growth.  It would also reduce payments for businesses to collect certain taxes on behalf of the state.
I took a different approach and spoke about the importance of investing in higher education, attracting federal research grants and providing a skilled work force that attracts businesses to Illinois. 
Just last year 49,000 graduates from Illinois public universities entered the job market with the potential of adding $2.8 billion in new taxable income for the state.  There is an undisputed correlation between level of education completed and employment earning potential.  Helping more students attend higher education and complete a degree pays real dividends.
Another dividend of investing in higher education is the capacity to attract $1.5 billion in “new” money for Illinois in the form of federal research and out-of-state tuition.  We have to have the university research infrastructure to “win” the grants and attract graduate students to help with the research.
Yet other benefits of investing in higher education are reduced demands for state services (expenditures).  Research has found that people with even some college education have better health, obtain jobs therefore needing less social support, stay out of prison, are more engaged in their children’s education, and donate more time and money to charitable causes.
Prioritizing state spending for higher education will have positive future implications for the state and its workers.

I will be in the district this week so call if you’d like to share your ideas.
Bob
State Representative Bob Pritchard finished up the last of his three ice cream parties on Saturday. The parties were a part of his annual summer reading club, which encourages kids to keep their minds active during the summer. The theme this year was 'Read to the Rythm'. The club was open to kindergarteners through 5th graders. Participants who read at least 8 books over the summer were invited to a free ice cream party and received certificates from the Illinois House of Representatives. Rep. Pritchard also shared important information about paying for college and the Bright Start program with parents. 


Kirkland, IL... Representative Bob Pritchard (R-Sycamore) hosted the final of his four coffee and conversations was this past weekend in Kirkland. His previous ones had been in DeKalb, Campton Hills, and Bonus Township. He was joined at various locations by Senator Syverson and fellow Representatives Demmer and Wheeler. 

"I thoroughly enjoyed the conversations and input I've gotten from constituents across the district" Rep Pritchard said. "These are tough times and I was happy to sit down with people in my district to explain to them what is happening right now in Springfield."

You can view the powerpoint presentation that was presented with Senator Syverson here.
Springfield, IL... Governor Rauner has signed in to law House Bill 3123, which has passed both chambers unanimously and was sponsored by Representative Pritchard (R-Sycamore). The law provides that school counseling services may include assisting students in need of special education services by implementing the academic supports and social-emotional and college or career development counseling services or interventions per a student's individualized education program (IEP) or participating in or contributing to a student's IEP and completing a social developmental history. The bill, primarily technical in nature, will help clean up and clarify Representative Chapa LaVia's (D-Aurora)bill that passed in the last General Assembly.


Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to bob@pritchardstaterep.com 
August 3, 2015
In This Issue:
  Ø  Springfield Happenings Last Week
  Ø  ADA Celebrates 25 Years and Medicaid Turns 50
  Ø  Local Restaurant Judged for “Best Steak”
  Ø  Governor Signs Veteran Bill
  Ø  Illinois Tourism Continues to Boom
  Ø  Renewable Energy Task Force Created
  Ø  Grants Available for Response to Violence Against Women
  Ø  Last Discussion Over Coffee

Springfield Happenings Last Week
One can’t say “nothing” happened in Springfield last week, but the fifth week passed in the new fiscal year without any movement on a state budget.  The House did vote to deny pay raises to legislators, statewide elected officials, State’s Attorneys, and certain executive appointees.  The 2 percent inflation adjustment was planned to take effect unless there was legislative action.  The Senate will consider HB576 this week.

The Governor vetoed an amendment (SB1229) to the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act that would replace collective bargaining with binding interest arbitration until 2019.  The act governs relations between most non-educational public sector employers and their employees including the state, counties, municipalities and other units of local government.  

The state labor negotiations were extended for two months.  Contentious negotiations between the state and its principal union, AFSCME, will continue with pledges not to strike or lock-out workers.  Talks have made only minor progress and both sides remain far apart.

Finally the Governor continues to sign numerous bills after a thorough review.  He is the first governor in recent memory to personally read each bill before taking action.

ADA Celebrates 25 and Medicaid Turns 50
          If you have ever had to use a wheel chair or walk with crutches in a public place, you have some understanding of the game changer the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been in the past 25 years.  The law made it markedly easier for people with disabilities to navigate steps, bathrooms and doorways as well as hold a real job to name just a few barriers they encounter every day.  

The definition of disability has been broadened to include substance use disorder as well.  Approximately 56.7 million Americans live with a disability and an estimated 21.6 million Americans live with a substance use disorder.

Another aspect of enabling the disabled involves saving money for needs beyond qualified programs.  In 2014 Congress passed the ABLE Act (achieving a better life experience) and the Governor signed into law last week the Illinois version I cosponsored.  Families and friends can now create private savings accounts to maintain the health, independence and quality of life for people with disabilities.  Take a look at SB1383 or call my office if you want to know more about this new program.

An even more important program is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year—Medicaid.  Created with the Social Security Amendments of 1965, Medicaid serves as the nation’s primary source of health insurance coverage for low-income populations.

Under the program, the federal government provides matching funds to states to enable them to provide medical assistance to residents who meet certain eligibility requirements.  In Illinois, Medicaid insures about 1 in 4 of all residents (about 3 million people), 2 in every 3 senior citizens, and 1 in 2 children.  Studies have found that Medicaid coverage reduces infant mortality, low birth weight, and asthma attacks.

Research also shows that expanding health coverage for low -income children increases high school graduation rates, college attendance and completion, as well as earnings in adulthood.  The total Fiscal Year 2015 appropriation for Medicaid was $7.1 billion or 19 percent of the $35.7 billion total General Revenue Fund budget.

As a part of the Affordable Healthcare Act, more than 500,000 additional Illinois residents are now covered by Medicaid.  The state will assume additional costs for these “new” recipients in 2020.

Local Restaurant Judged for “Best Steak”
You have an opportunity to vote on-line for the restaurant that serves the best steak in Illinois.  Sorrento’s Restaurant, Sycamore has reached the top-ten finalists in the Quest for Illinois’ Best Steak contest sponsored by the Illinois Beef Association.
The winning restaurant will be announced during Ag Day (August 18) at the Illinois State Fair.  You can vote by going to www.Illinoisbeef.com before August 15th.  Tell your friends to vote too; Good luck to Sorrento’s!

Governor Signs Veteran Hiring Bill
This past week the Governor signed into law a bill I sponsored that is aimed at helping veterans obtain jobs.  House Bill 3122 was crafted with the input of the USA4militaryfamilies, Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Illinois Department of Human Rights to help private companies avoid charges of discrimination when they prefer to hire veterans. 

To qualify, the private employer must adopt a veterans' preference employment policy and apply it to all decisions regarding hiring, promotion or reduction of force.  The policy must be in writing, publicly posted with employment information, and explained to all job applicants.  Current Illinois law already has a veteran’s policy for employment in the public sector.  In Illinois the veteran unemployment rate last year was 7 percent, compared to the U.S. average of 5.3 percent.

Illinois Tourism Continues to Boom
        The state’s Office of Tourism is celebrating a 4th consecutive year of record-breaking visitors.  State attractions hosted more than 109.4 million visitors last year, an increase of 3.5 percent over 2013, and generated more than $36.3 billion in purchases.
Visitors spent $88.39 million in DeKalb County in 2014, an increase of 8.3 percent notes Debbie Armstrong, County Convention and Visitor Bureau executive director.  The visitors’ spending directly supported 530 jobs and generated $1.38 million in local tax revenues.  DeKalb County is in the top 9 percent of counties that increased revenue from tourism spending. 

One of the newest hot attractions is a farm family venture called Whiskey Acres Distilling Company near DeKalb.  It is one of only two farm-based distilleries in the country using crops actually grown on the site.  For more information about this attraction, planning an Illinois getaway or to order a free copy of the 2015 Illinois Travel Guide, please visit www.EnjoyIllinois.com.


Renewable Energy Task Force Created
I have been appointed to a task force that will look into installing and maintaining renewable energy facilities on state-owned property.  The task force was created by House Bill 3560 which was signed in to law last week by Governor Rauner.  The group is entrusted with considering the financial implications, the impact on property values and the community, and environmental factors relating to renewable energy.  The task force is expected to present its report to the Governor and the General Assembly on or before September 1, 2016.

Grants Available for Response to Violence Against Women
The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority is requesting applications to fund multidisciplinary response teams to violence against women.  Applications may be for developing and implementing programs or expanding existing programs that serve victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking.   

Teams should include personnel from state's attorney's offices, law enforcement agencies, probation departments, and victim services agencies.  Grants will be made with federal fiscal year 2015 Violence Against Women Act funding awarded to Illinois.   Individual grant awards will range from $100,000 to $600,000.  Applications must be submitted by August 31.

Last Discussion Over Coffee
        This Saturday will make our final Discussion Over Coffee event for the summer.  During the past several weeks I have enjoyed speaking with residents throughout the district on state issues and hearing their ideas and concerns.  Don’t miss out on this opportunity to let your voice be heard.  Join me in the Kirkland Village Council Chambers at 511 W. Main Street in Kirkland at 10 a.m. Coffee will be hot and the discussion lively.