Pritchard's Perspective for February 16th

Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to 
February 16, 2016
In This Issue:
  Ø      Reflections on the President’s Visit
  Ø      Lots of Legislative Ideas
  Ø      Lack of State Budget Growing Irreparable for Higher Education
  Ø      University of Illinois Introduces 2021 Initiative
  Ø      Governor Offers Way for State Museum to Reopen
  Ø      Union Reintroduces Bill to Limit Governor’s Negotiating Powers

Reflections on the President’s Visit
Last Wednesday’s visit was the first time since Jimmy Carter and only the fourth time that a sitting president has addressed the Illinois General Assembly.  It was certainly a reunion for the former State Senator and his comments were sprinkled with fond memories, but he had a strong message.   You can watch the nearly hour-long speech of President Barack Obama here.
        Typical of presidential visits, streets were blocked, lines were long, and excitement gripped the capital.  The President appeared relaxed, comfortable in his familiar surroundings.  Expectations were high that he would somehow break the hold of political gridlock that has prevented a state budget and solutions to our state’s economic recovery. 
As with his State of the Union speech, the President focused on the need for civility in an increasingly hyper-partisan country.  He reminisced about the bipartisan social gatherings of state legislators, frequent support for each-others’ legislation, and common goals for improving society.  While that atmosphere has certainly eroded over the past 12 years, members of the House ate lunch together in one of the committee rooms for the first time in my experience before the President’s speech.
While the President urging to tone down the partisanship and his call for reducing the influence of money in politics received uniform applause, he actually fueled visual partisanship in his call for reforms.  Each side of the aisle alternately either cheered loudly or sat stone silent when the President mentioned redistricting reform, easier voting process and party values. 
I was extremely disappointed that the President’s limited time in Springfield apparently wasn’t spent bringing the Governor and legislative leaders together in an attempt to broker compromise.  In talking with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle I believe there are reforms, cuts and revenue ideas that could garner support necessary to pass a budget and move our state forward.  However, leaders on both sides need a mediator.

Lots of Legislative Ideas
The deadline for filing legislation in the House passed last week with a total of 1,959 new bills filed since the start of the year.  You can view the bills I have filed here.
Legislation in areas highlighted by Governor Rauner’s State Address has been introduced to improve government efficiency and cut costs.  Four bipartisan bills based on the recommendations of the Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates Task Force were filed.  These bills will make it easier to consolidate duplicative, unnecessary, or excessive units of government via referendum.
Also recently filed was HB 4644, which contains much needed reforms to improve the procurement system by cutting out unnecessary red tape.  Among the provisions of the bill is the creation of a pre-qualified pool of vendors in different categories of supplies and services.  Another reform will allow the State to “piggyback” on the procurements of other states and governmental entities, a process known as cooperative purchasing.  By reorganizing the procurement structure, the length of the Request for Proposal (RFP) process can be cut to a third of the long process now.  Savings from this bill are estimated to be as high as $500 million a year.

Lack of Budget Growing Irreparable for Higher Education
Many social services have felt the impact of no state budget for months.  The DeKalb community rallied this past week to point out the significant impact a lack of funding is also having on higher education communities.   Similar rallies have been held by Eastern Illinois and Chicago State Universities.
Modest reserves are running out at community colleges and public universities across the state.  As a result, hundreds of staff have been laid off, furlough days have been implemented, students have had to drop out of school for lack of MAP grants or child care, and classes have been cancelled.  Highly sought after faculty have left Illinois and taken their research grants with them.
When college and university workers are let go along with greatly reduced operational spending, university and college communities feel it.  I am supporting legislation (HB4521 and HB4539) to not only fund higher education and MAP grants but also resolve the funding for other areas of the budget.  It would be a great help if citizens would urge state leaders to allow these bills to be considered and avoid further damage to Illinois.

University of Illinois Introduces 2021 Initiative
One university is not waiting for the entire budget situation to be resolved and is proposing its own compact with the state.  The University of Illinois is working with legislators on a bill--called The 2021 Initiative-- which would give the university a consistent appropriation and the means to cut its operating expenses in return for meeting certain metrics and objectives. 
Details will be negotiated starting this week that would spell out responsibilities for each party in the compact and the benefits for students, taxpayers and the university.  If successful, I predict other universities will follow this pilot agreement.

Governor Offers Way for State Museum to Reopen
The state museum in Springfield and several other locations has had to close its doors to the public due to the lack of a state budget and spending authority.  Governor Rauner used an amendatory veto (AV) to SB 317 that would allow the museum to reopen using private funding.  The proposed new operating plan will include the State Museum’s first-ever admission fee for visitors, and increased help from volunteer aides and private-sector donors/friends of the Museum.
Speaker Madigan and President Cullerton have yet to rule the AV “in order”, meaning that they accept the changes made.  If they fail to agree with the changes the bill will likely die and the Museum will remain closed.  

Union Reintroduces Bill to Limit Governor’s Negotiating Powers
Tension among state workers, who are members of AFSCME currently negotiating a new contract, continues to grow.  While the union says it is still willing to negotiate, the Governor has asked the Illinois State Labor Relations Board if the negotiations for a new contract have reached an impasse.
Not waiting for a ruling, AFSCME supports an amendment to HB580 which passed out of committee last week to provide for impasse arbitration should negotiations be resumed but fail to reach an agreement within a specified time.  If the Illinois Labor Relations Board rules in favor of the administration, it could open the door to the administration imposing its contract terms on AFSCME.  The union would then have to decide whether to accept the terms, go on strike, or challenge the labor board’s ruling in court.
HB580 language is similar to SB 1229 which passed the legislature, was vetoed and the veto was not over-ridden. 

Libraries Rally to Talk about Legislation
I met with most of my local libraries and attended a meeting of the Illinois Library Association last week to discuss the impact of no state budget upon their operations and possible legislation this spring. 
Libraries normally receive per capital state grants and equalization grants for smaller libraries through the Secretary of State’s office, but not this year.  They are among the casualties of the budget stalemate.
From my observations they use the funds they receive efficiently and play an important role in encouraging reading, sourcing information, assisting with computer access, providing inexpensive entertainment, and offering a safe environment.

Shown talking with Bob about library issues were Hampshire Memorial Library Director Emily Klonicki and Sarah McHone-Chase, NIU library.

The legislature returns to Springfield Tuesday for work on legislation and to hear the Governor’s 2017 Budget address on Wednesday.