Pritchard's Perspective for January 18th

Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to bob@pritchardstaterep.com
January 18, 2015
In This Issue:
  Ø  2016 Session Off to Stuttering Start
  Ø  Criminal Justice Reform Takes Time
  Ø  Illinois Bonds are Hot Commodity
  Ø  Focus on Local Government Mandates, Consolidation
  Ø  Workshop Moves Residents Toward Citizenship
  Ø  Join the Discussion on Education Issues
  Ø  Good News Abounds

2016 Session Off to Stuttering Start
With all the critical issues facing Illinois one would think the House would be in session every week.  Politics and campaigning for the March Primary Election are more important, apparently, since Speaker Madigan has only scheduled 10 days of meetings until April. 
The first House session will be January 27 when the Governor will give his “State-of-the-State” address.  If you would like tickets to the chamber for the speech, please contact my office today.  Meanwhile, legislators have been busy drafting legislation before the deadline this Friday.  I will be filing nearly a dozen bills—many at the suggestions of constituents--on a range of issues.  More about them at a later time, but you can view the bills here.
The contract negotiations between Central Management Services (CMS) and the state’s largest labor union AFSCME are also going at a slow pace.  After 67 days of negotiations over the past year and with little agreement, CMS on Friday requested the Illinois Labor Relations Board to determine if the parties are at impasse. 
The request initiates a formal process of fact finding that may take months meanwhile pausing further negotiations.  The Governor again pledged not to lock out employees despite the lack of negotiation progress.

Criminal Justice Reform Takes Time
Upon taking office, Governor Rauner made it one of his goals to reduce the state’s prison population by 25 percent within the next decade.  At one point, there was an estimated 49,000 inmates in a system designed to house 32,000.
Through executive order, the Governor created a diverse task force to develop a plan by last December to reform the state’s criminal justice system and sentencing practices.  The task force will release its initial recommendations this month, with a final report expected in March.
The governor’s goal is lofty and long overdue.  Despite bipartisan agreement on the need for reform especially in regards to low-level, nonviolent crimes, removing just those types of criminals from prison will not meet the reduction goal.  National Public Radio Illinois provides some information on the unique challenges for the task force, which can be read here.
I look forward to receiving the task force recommendations and debating changes to both sentencing laws and remediation programs.  The cost of the current system is too high both financially and in terms of human lives.

Illinois Bonds are Hot Commodity
Despite its financial issues, Illinois attracted a lot of buyer interest in its $480 million general obligation bond offering last week.  The state benefited from the overall low market yields, low supply of bond offerings and buyers hungry for higher yielding bonds. 
Illinois has not sold bonds since 2014 and many analysts feared there would be little interest since the state’s credit rating is just three or four steps above “junk” status.  The state will have to pay an overall 3.99 percent interest on the 25 year bonds, well over a percent more than AAA-rated bonds.  The money will be used to fund ongoing capital projects, mainly road construction and transit improvements.

Focus on Local Government Mandates, Consolidation
The recent report of the Governor’s Task Force on Local Government didn’t reveal any surprising findings, but it did prod lawmakers to give local governments and voters the ability to both drive down costs to taxpayers and the number of government units. 
The Task Force, led by Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti, said major reasons for high property taxes in Illinois were the extraordinarily large number of local units of government—over 7,000—and the unfunded mandates placed on them by the state legislature.  
Among the 27 recommendations were suggestions to allow voters to dissolve local governments by referendum; implement mandate relief for public notices, third-party contracting, and PE and drivers’ education in schools; and merging downstate and suburban public safety pension funds.
The proposals will now be drafted into legislation that will be debated this spring.  Thanks to NIU’s Center for Governmental Studies staff who worked on the report and provided data and analysis.  You can read the full report here.

Workshop Moves Residents Toward Citizenship
Illinois has nearly 850,000 foreign born residents who have become U.S. citizens.  Another 350,000 are eligible to become naturalized if they can negotiate the citizenship process. 
I held a workshop on Saturday in conjunction with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and Family Focus of Aurora to offer needed assistance to those seeking citizenship.  Trained volunteers helped 21 foreign born legal residents of our area prepare their applications.   
Among the volunteers were students and faculty from NIU as well as the Youth Services Bureau of the Illinois Valley based in Mendota.  I appreciate all their help in making the dream of citizenship become closer to reality for even a few people.  Like my great grandparents who immigrated to this country, many foreign born residents share American values and desire to improve the lives of their families.

Join the Discussion on Education Issues
There are a host of education issues that could be debated by the legislature this spring and I welcome your thoughts and comments about them.  Join my next Education Advisory Council meeting on February 4 in DeKalb along with other parents, teachers, administrators, citizens and students.  It will be held in the County Outreach Building at 6:30 p.m.
We will discuss such issues as the State Board’s FY2017 budget recommendations, a new school funding formula, and the PARCC test (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers).  We will also discuss the lack of funding for higher education and student MAP grants which has reached a critical point of threatening to shut down institutions and disrupt the economies of not only communities around college campuses, but also the state. 
I look forward to your participation.  Please RSVP your attendance to my office by phone (815-748-3494) or by e-mail (bob@PritchardStateRep.com).

Good News Abounds
Least you feel overwhelmed with all the negative news about Illinois, I want to remind you of a number of excitingly positive events this past week and share the impressions from my Youth Council meeting. 
Today the DeKalb Library cut the ribbon on its expansion program which literally transforms its nearly 85-year-old building and the outdated concept of a library.  It stands in tribute to the community’s combined efforts in partnership with the state to foster an attractive safe haven for learning, discussion and entertainment.  
Yet another positive was the advancement of DeKalb to the semifinals of America’s Best Communities competition.  Again, the community working together has developed a plan to revitalize itself for the common good.  Then there was news of Target’s plans to add an upstream distribution center to its operations in DeKalb and more than double its workforce. 
Northern Illinois University also added to the area’s feeling of pride last week as it received the NCAA and Minority Opportunities Athletic Association national award for Diversity and Inclusion.  The NIU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics was recognized for its campus and community leadership to promote civility, shared values and inclusion of all residents.  It was a great lead-up to Martin Luther King Day today and remembering his message that “true peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.”
My Youth Council and even readers of this newsletter had no difficulty in developing a long list of additional reasons to be positive about Illinois.  Besides our central location in the country, productive farm land, parks, historic sites,  international city, economic center, entertainment and transportation hub, they cited our low income tax rate, sports teams and, of course, hometown of a super hero--Metropolis, Illinois--as proclaimed by the Illinois House of Representatives.  We all need to stand for “truth, justice, and the American way.”

Have a great week and think positive.

          Bob