Pritchard's Perspective for May 9th

Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to 
May 9, 2016
In This Issue:
  Ø  Legislators Remember Fallen Officers
  Ø  The Rocky Road for Constitutional Amendments
  Ø  General Assembly Moves to Protect Road Funds
  Ø  Cashless Tolling Expanded
  Ø  Local Advocates Make Their Case
  Ø  Power Plants Closing but Not the Youth Prison
  Ø  Agreement Reached, Horse Racing Begins
  Ø  Trial Program to Reduce Hearing Delays
  Ø  Sycamore Student Swings the Gavel

Legislators Remember Fallen Officers
Thursday, May 5th, was a day of remembrance in Springfield.  Cinco de Mayo marks the Mexican army's unlikely victory at the Battle of Puebla in 1862 against invading French forces.  The day also provided an opportunity to remember the men and women of our law enforcement who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives in the line of duty. 
The House and Senate gathered around the Illinois Police Memorial to pay tribute to the two officers from Illinois and 33 nationally who had died in the line of duty in just the first four months of the year.  We listened to stories about the officers’ lives, the families they left behind and the importance of state pensions to those families. 

Unfortunately, disability payments and death pensions are not being paid without a state budget.  The loss of life while trying to protect and serve the public deserves our deepest debt of gratitude; to add a financial burden on the family that is mourning is morally reprehensible.

The Rocky Road for Constitutional Amendments
As I explained last week, the pathway for constitutional amendments to be placed on the November ballot is difficult at best and littered with good intentions.  This year 59 House amendments were proposed, but voters will see only one amendment from legislators and possibility one from a citizen initiative.  The House passed two others that were not supported by the Senate and the Senate passed one that wasn’t considered by the House.
The House and Senate each passed legislative redistricting plans but didn’t vote on the other’s proposal so the amendment will not appear on the ballot.  Only the citizen petition redistricting plan remains a possible item for the November ballot.  Over 600,000 petitions were filed by the deadline, nearly twice the number needed, but the amendment will certainly be challenged in court.
The constitutional amendment to adopt a progressive income tax never came to a vote in either chamber.  The Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) released a requested fiscal note to the bill that would have set the tax brackets (HB 689), saying they estimated the rates would discourage entrepreneurial, job-creating activity in Illinois and lead to the loss of 20,000 Illinois jobs. 
Earlier, the Chicago Tribune reported over 3,000 people with assets over $1 million have already left the state and the Champaign-Urbana News Gazette reported every state around Illinois with a progressive tax sets their tax brackets at very low income levels to collect the needed revenue.
Finally, the proposal to abolish the Lt. Governor’s office was squashed in the Senate after that chamber’s sponsor attached an amendment to insure that gubernatorial succession would remain in the same political party instead of going to the Attorney General, regardless of their affiliation.

General Assembly Moves to Protect Road Funds
The only constitutional amendment approved by both chambers was one to protect road funds from being used for other purposes.  If approved by the voters in November, this amendment will put all revenues from transportation taxes and fees into a “lockbox” that can only be used for road construction and repair, enforcing traffic laws, and paying off transit-related debt.  HJRCA 36 was a response to the lack of a balanced budget and concerns that money from this fund could be swept to pay for General Revenue Fund expenditures.

Cashless Tolling Expanded
The Illinois Toll Highway Authority (ITHA) released its summer plans which will include the institution of all-electronic tolling on Route 390, also known as the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway.  Vehicles using this road will be expected to have transponders for automatic payments of tolls due, although drivers without transponders will also have the right to go online and make subsequent payments.  Online payments will be due no more than 7 days after the non-transponder vehicle passes over the highway.  No Route 390 toll gates will accept cash beginning on July 5.
The movement in Illinois towards cashless tolling parallels policies instituted by toll roads and bridges in other states.  California, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington have instituted cashless tolling for certain defined toll roads, bridges, and high-speed toll lanes.  According to ITHA, 90 percent of drivers using Illinois Route 390 already have I-PASS, an ITHA-approved transponder device, which matches a driver with a financial account and automatically deducts toll payments due.  The ITHA will charge a toll of $1.90 for drivers traveling the entire 10-mile length of Illinois Route 390. 

Local Advocates Make Their Case
Early childcare advocates came down from the district to share stories about families that depend on state licensed childcare so that they can go to work or school.  I was visited by people from the Children's Learning Center and 4-C (Community Coordinated Child Care) in DeKalb and Once Upon A Time Childcare in Sycamore:
Community colleges also visited last week and Elgin Community College in particular came up with a clever way to get the budget message across:
Community colleges were included in the recent higher education stopgap funding bill, and the Senate passed a bill to add another $453 million which would bring most public universities and colleges to the 60 percent funded level.  Other visitors included the DeKalb & Sycamore Park Districts, mayors, school superintendents, and credit unions.
(Clockwise from top left) Rep Chapa Lavia, Waubonsee College President Christine Sobeck and Lulu Blacksmith; Kishwaukee College President Laurie Borowicz and board members Kathy Spears and Bob Johnson; Rock Valley Credit Union’s Lori Perkins and former Rep Joe Lyons who now represents credit unions; DeKalb Park District board member Phil Young, Executive Amy Doll and Scott deOliveira
Power Plants Closing but not the Youth Prison
Dynegy, the largest electric generating company in southern Illinois has announced plans to shutter three of its coal-fired plants.  The plants, formerly owned by Ameren and its predecessor Illinois Power, are the Baldwin plant in Randolph County, the Newton plant in Jasper County and the East Alton plant.
The company cited difficulty meeting the new, lower-cost structure of the Central U.S. electric grid and stricter environmental standards.  
Exelon announced Friday that will may have to move forward with plans to retire the Clinton and Quad Cities nuclear power facilities if legislation offering cost concessions is not passed soon.  The company is looking for nuclear power to be declared a clean energy source which would increase demand for nuclear energy, and higher financial returns needed to modernize the aging plants.
Meanwhile, the Commission on Government Finance and Accountability turned down the Governor’s request to close the Kewanee Youth Prison.  The Governor proposed closing the 2001 facility because the Department of Juvenile Justice has excess prison capacity and it is far from the families of inmates.  COGFA responded that the prison is one of the state’s newest facilities and could be repurposed.

Agreement Reached, Horse Racing Begins
Arlington Park, a major horse racing track in the Chicago area, has reached agreement with the associations of horse owners and trainers to enable summer races.  An estimated 1,700 horses are expected to be trucked into the facility for races which began last week.  Because of Illinois gambling laws, horse racing has not been able to offer competitive prizes with tracks in other states. 

Trial Program to Reduce Hearing Delays
Governor Rauner has signed an executive order creating a pilot program aimed at reducing delays and inefficiencies in administrative hearings.  The pilot will set up a centralized panel of adjudicators to conduct hearings for multiple agencies, standardize procedures which will reduce confusion and legal costs, and hold multiple hearings in one location.  The pilot will also focus on data collection and improved technology.
More than 100,000 hearing requests are filed each year by businesses and taxpayers.  Currently cases may take several years to complete and companies with cases before several agencies have to make multiple appearances and fillings.  The central administrative hearing model is used in 30 other states and the City of Chicago.

Sycamore Student Swings the Gavel
I was joined on the House floor last week by Jeff Keicher and his son Oliver, a Sycamore 5th grader who served as my House Page.  Honorary Pages have access to the House floor where they observe action first hand, run errands, deliver messages and, occasionally, control the chamber.  If you know of a youth who would like to be a page, please contact my office. 

For all the mothers, may your special day yesterday not be the only time you feel appreciated and loved.