Pritchard's Perspective for June 6th

Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to
June 6, 2016

In This Issue:
Ø  Flurry of Bills Pass House
Ø  General Assembly Continues to Allow Skipping of Pension Payments
Ø  Budget Bills Fail, New Proposal Offered
Ø  Movement Toward a New School Funding Formula Stalls
Ø  State Developing New Plan for Every Student to Succeed

Flurry of Bills Pass House
Of the thousands of bills filed since January, 225 House bills and 221 Senate bills passed both chambers before adjournment May 31.  Here are a few of bills:

HB581 Creates the Social Services Contract Notice Act to require State agencies to give 30 days notification to social service providers if they do not have funds or plan to reduce, terminate or suspend contracts.  Service providers may terminate or suspend a contract when invoices are unpaid for more than 90 days.
SB10 extends the state’s medical cannabis pilot program until 2020 and adds terminal illnesses and post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of ailments that qualify for treatment under the program.
SB250 provides for the automatic voter registration of residents when they interact with designated state agencies—Secretary of State, Department of Aging, Human Services, Healthcare and Family Services, and Department of Employment Security.
SB324 expands the Finance Authority’s successful agriculture loan program to include qualified veteran-owned small businesses.
SB399 will allow public libraries to sell alcohol at fundraisers and educational events, which may generate additional funds for the library.
SB730 expands eligibility for child care services for families with incomes up to 250 percent of federal poverty, and not receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families regardless of appropriated funding for the Department of Human Services.
SB2157 will require community college trustees to undergo training on the financial, ethical, and legal obligations of their duties as trustees in the first, 3rd, and 5th years of their terms.  Similarly, SB2174 establishes leadership training for public university board members.  Such training already exists for K-12 school board members.
SB2160 extends for 10 years the valuation procedure in property tax assessments for vegetative filter strips.  A vegetative filter strip is land that uses some type of grass or legume plant to create a permanent vegetative cover to reduce the flow of runoff water, a vital tool for farmers in addressing nutrient management processes and addressing soil erosion concerns. 
SB2370 would guarantee that children age 17 and younger have a lawyer present if they are being interrogated in a murder case.
SB2600 requires at least two labor and two minority members on local economic development commissions if the commissions receive any public money. 
SB2746 eliminates the 6.25 percent sales tax on tampons, menstrual cups, and menstrual pads.
SB 3130 exempts free seed sharing groups and seed libraries from regulations, such as testing and some record keeping, that apply to commercial seed business.
SB3301 seeks to make it easier to transfer student credits among Illinois community colleges and public universities.
The House and Senate remain in continuous session, like last year.  They will meet at the call of the chair; the next session will be Wednesday.

General Assembly Continues to Allow Skipping of Pension Payment
The House and Senate issued Governor Rauner the second veto override of his term and continue practices of underfunding pensions.  The Governor vetoed Senate Bill 777 over concerns that it was more of the same bad pension payment practices that landed the state and the City of Chicago with such large unfunded pension liabilities. 
The bill, now law, lowers the Chicago police and fire pension ramp payments for the city until 2020, extends the time to reach 90 percent funded by 15 years and adds to the pension benefit by creating a new minimum pension level.  In addition, any future Chicago casino revenues will automatically be placed in the pension fund.  
Chicago, like the State, has not made full pension payments for years and created a pension ramp with smaller payments now and higher payments later so it could fund other programs.  The city’s pension system is just 26 percent funded and the State has a current unfunded pension liability of $111 billion.  These changes will cost Chicago taxpayers an additional $13 billion.

Budget Bills Fail, New Proposal Offered
Two spending bills sponsored by leaders of each chamber failed in the other chamber last week.  Speaker Madigan filed a spending plan that spent $40 billion dollars-- the largest in history—that was $7.2 billion more than expected revenue.  If it would have become law, the bill would have doubled the state’s backlog of unpaid bills and cost another billion dollars in interest payments to be spent for late charges.  The Speaker filed his 500 page bill late in the afternoon, held no committee hearings on it and called for a vote within two hours.  Only the Speaker has such power to quickly approve legislation.
To pay for such a large increase in spending would have required an income tax rate of 5.5 percent.  The Senate rejected the plan overwhelmingly.
Meanwhile the Senate President amended HB2990 to fund K-12 education, the downstate teacher pension fund and normal cost of the Chicago Teacher pension payment.  Viewed as a bailout for Chicago, the bill failed overwhelming in the House.     
The Republicans, who had been shut out of discussions in drafting these bills, introduced their own stopgap plan late Monday that did not include any of the reforms proposed by the Governor and was fully funded.  While Democrat leaders have called for a “clean” budget bill all session, they weren’t interested in debating them and assigned the bills to the budget working group for consideration.
Governor Rauner said that Democrat leaders indicated to him that despite the progress of the working groups on non-budget issues, neither the House nor the Senate would take them up for a vote before November elections.  Nor, it appears, would they consider full budgets that required spending cuts and additional revenue. 
HB6583 and HB6585 provide a framework for a temporary budget that would allow schools to open on time and keep state government functioning-- including universities and social services-- through January.  Rank and file legislators from both parties have a desire to compromise and they have made great progress through the working groups.

Movement Toward a New School Funding Formula Stalls
While a majority of legislators agree there needs to be a new school funding formula, efforts to move toward that goal are stopped for now.  The reason appears to be the lack of additional funding that would prevent taking money from some to give it to other more needy districts.  Then too there’s no state budget to pay any school.  
In my district most of the schools would lose state funding if SB231, which passed the Senate, became law.  It was not brought to a committee vote in the House.  One of my districts would lose nearly 70 percent of their General State Aid. 
Another bill (HB3190) introduces the evidence based school funding model that looks at the instructional support needed for the type of students in a district and then funds each district based upon their needs.  It’s not known yet how such a change would impact each district or the actual cost to the state.  Theoretically if the state pays more to a district based on student need and local property wealth, some districts might even be able to lower their property tax rates.
Hearings on the evidence based model are being planed around the state for this summer. 

State Developing New Plan for Every Student to Succeed
The new federal education act shifts back to states more authority for academic standards, school accountability and education policy.  Gone is the No Child Left Behind Act.  States, however, must set challenging standards, be accountable to ensure achievement by all students, and intervene in a school district when student achievement is below expectations.
Illinois is developing its new policy and plans to submit it for federal approval by the end of the year.  Hearings on the new act were held around the state over the past few months.  Staff is now analyzing that input from parents, teachers, students and others in an effort to draft a state plan for public comment by fall. 
Apparently few people knew of the hearings or bothered to give input so there is legitimate concern about the student learning goals that will be set, how schools will measure student growth, and guidelines for teacher evaluation and, if necessary, school intervention.  Legislators will certainly be following the State Board’s process in these matters and encouraging public input and sufficient time to comment on the plan.

I will be in Springfield Wednesday to continue urging compromise for a state budget or bridge funding until January.