Pritchard's Perspective for February 22

Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to 
February 22, 2016

In This Issue:
  Ø  Breaking the Budget Gridlock
  Ø  Executive Order Seeks Better Coordination and Results
  Ø  Higher Education Crisis Growing
  Ø  County Boards Share Legislative Agendas
  Ø  Social Service Agencies Feel Different Effects

Breaking the Budget Gridlock
Since the General Assembly has failed to pass a balanced budget on its own, the Governor’s budget address last week came down to Governor Rauner asking the legislators to do one of two things.  He said either work with him or give him authority to act alone. 
The Governor’s tone was notably different than his last budget address and especially cooperative: “With my hand outstretched--with a genuine desire to compromise--I humbly ask you to join me in transforming our state for the better.”  He continued to say just raising taxes without addressing the costs of government and improving the business climate of the state will merely drive more families and jobs out of Illinois.

His conciliatory tone was apparently lost in the memory of past anti-union statements, political reforms and tough negotiations.  It became quickly apparent by body language and press statements that legislative leaders would choose “none of the above” to the Governor’s choices. 
So where do we go from here?  Over the weekend I heard the Director of the Office of Public Leadership at the University of Illinois Institute for Government and Public Affairs Rick Winkel analyze our situation.  According to the director and former legislator, neither the legislative leaders nor Governor wants to compromise on the core issues.  Each is convinced the other side will give-in.  Both sides seem willing to continue the budget gridlock, piling billions of dollars in new debt and risking the destruction of social service agencies and our once acclaimed higher education system.
Perhaps an influential arbitrator will appear who can bring the sides together or, more likely, voters will have to break the stalemate.  Legislative elections this year give the choice of strengthening the power of legislative leaders or reducing it.  The answer may come on March 15 or more likely not until November.

Executive Order Seeks Better Coordination and Results
Governor Rauner announced a new effort last week to improve coordination and efficiency among the 19 state agencies and various boards that impact education and human services for children and youth.  Through an Executive Order he created a Children’s Cabinet that will enable state policymakers to work across state agency boundaries for the benefit of students. 
The focus will be to track student educational progress, develop collaborations among public and private partners to create new funding sources, and improve the effectiveness of state spending on children and family programs. 
The cabinet will make policy and funding recommendations to achieve educational outcomes at the 90 percent of grade level.  Illinois joins 17 other states that have already created this type of cabinet over the past 20 years.

Higher Education Crisis Growing
College students and university officials were in Springfield last week to advocate for student MAP grant and higher education funding.  Some crowded around the entrance to the House chamber where Governor Rauner was to give his budget address and thus delayed his entrance into the chamber.  He never mentioned the demonstration or higher education funding in his address.
The students focused on SB2043 which permits spending for MAP grants and community colleges, but not universities like NIU.  Instead of signing the bill, the Governor vetoed it last Friday because it didn’t provide any revenue.  Approval with no revenue the Governor said would just “explode the State’s budget deficit, exacerbate the State’s cash flow crisis, and place further strain on social service providers and recipients.”
A better solution to the current situation is passage of HB4539 which approves spending for all of higher education and MAP grants plus provides a funding mechanism.  I explained the differences in the bills with the NIU delegation. 
Matthew Holt, Tim Brandner, Dillon Domke, Eric Johnson and Mike Mann
We must find a budget resolution quickly.  Colleges, universities and human service providers can’t make payroll or continue programs.  As we learned from the rally in DeKalb on February 11, the current impasse is causing irreparable damage to our community, our work force, institutions and quality of life.

County Boards Share Legislative Agendas
Boone County officials were in Springfield last week to share their 2016 legislative agenda and the state’s budget impact upon counties.  I will be meeting with Kane and DeKalb County officials this week.
The Boone County delegation met with Senator Dave Syverson and me to share their dilemma in providing county services with the uncertainty that the state will continue withholding some of their tax revenues.  They also pointed out the need for new revenue to keep up with infrastructure needs of the county.
The board members described not only the need for road upgrades due to increased traffic off of I-90 but also increased costs of maintaining existing roads.  They advocated for legislation to join Kane and McHenry Counties which allows county boards to create a tax on persons selling motor fuel in the county.

Social Service Providers Feel Different Effects  
The current Illinois budget crisis is affecting each Illinois social service provider in different ways, depending upon their legal status.  Some entities that have specialized in providing residential care or essential living-assistance care to specific groups of patients and persons with disabilities have found their cash flows partly protected by court orders, consent decrees and continuing-appropriations laws.  Legal language exists to ensure that some money has kept flowing based upon need-based billing cycles.
On the other hand, no payments have been made to providers that have traditionally offered broad-based services to dispersed populations living in private homes.  Consequently clients with challenges of disabilities, mental health, or substance abuse, and juveniles who have been placed under court supervision have been severely impacted.  
Many social-service providers have responded to the cash crunch by reducing their presence in their communities.  One example in our area is Lutheran Social Services of Illinois that cut 30 programs and reduced its workforce by 43 percent.  Chicago Catholic Charities--that is owed $25 million from the state—is urging parishioners to put pressure on state lawmakers to solve the budget impasse.  Officials say a resolution must be found if they are to continue serving well over a million clients in our region.  

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