Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to bob@pritchardstaterep.com

April 10, 2017

In This Issue:
Ø  State Employee Insurance Plan Could Change
Ø  Bills Pass Quickly Out of the House
Ø  Another Stop Gap Funding Measure Passes
Ø  Computer Science Promoted for Education
Ø  April Declared Seed Month
Ø  Gun Owners Rally in the Capitol
Ø Break Offers Time to Listen--Reflect

State Employee Insurance Plan Could Change
Proposed changes to the state employee health insurance package are almost certain to be delayed by two legal issues.  Normally information about the benefit package is distributed about this time of year, sign-up occurs in May and the program begins on June first.
What could delay implementation of the new plan are a court injunction preventing the Governor from implementing his final labor contract offer to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union and a challenge to the contract award for administering the state’s medical benefit plan.  The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) heard details about the possible delay and the proposed plan at a hearing last week.
Central Management Services (CMS) Acting Director Mike Hoffman testified that if the court does not permit the Governor to implement his contract offer in the next few weeks, the current benefit plan will be extended.  A new plan will be implemented as soon as possible during the fiscal year. 
Cigna, who currently administers the benefit package, has challenged the awarding of the contract to Aetna for next year.  Cigna contends Aetna’s proposal does not meet the requirements set out in the request for proposal and has appealed the matter to the Executive Ethics Commission. 
The proposed state employee health and life insurance plan creates a multi-tiered system to reduce liabilities and increase overall revenue contributions from employees.  The Acting Director said the goal was to split the cost of the program so the state’s responsibility would be about 60 percent, similar to other states and private businesses.  However, the changes would not affect the Medicare advantage HMO plans currently utilized by retirees.
The current FY2017 insurance plan benefits would be the “platinum” plan under the new proposal and increase monthly plan premiums by 120 percent.  Three other options would reduce or have no premium but require higher deductibles and co-payments.  According to CMS, employees could keep their existing doctors and other providers.
CMS also testified that the lack of a budget appropriation for health insurance has prevented the state from paying claims and resulted in a backlog that now exceeds $4.2 billion.  Interest on the unpaid claims exceeds $493 million and could reach $1 billion in the next year.  This is money that should be used to pay claims.
With healthcare and drug costs continuing to grow at near double digit percent levels and considering the state’s fiscal crisis, Director Hoffman said the state must try to reduce benefit costs.

Bills Pass Quickly Out of the House
A large number of bills were debated last week in the House and most passed with bipartisan support.  Here is a sampling of bills now in the Senate.

HB732:  Amends the Illinois Roofing Industry Licensing Act and would require any business that wants to do their own repair or to replace a roof on their buildings using their own labor to first obtain a roofing license and know how to do the work safely.

HB2449:  Amends the Illinois Service Member Civil Relief Act and would allow service members ordered to relocate for at least 90 days to terminate or suspend certain contracts for service.  It also provides that the contracts could be reinstated if the service member is no longer on active military service.

HB706:  Amends the Safe Pharmaceutical Disposal Act to ensure that medical professionals can take possession and dispose dangerous medications following a death. 

HB524: Provides that pharmaceuticals disposed of under the Act may be destroyed in a drug destruction device.  This change allows law enforcement agencies to dispose of unwanted, unused, or expired pharmaceuticals instead of relying on the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency to do so.
Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to bob@pritchardstaterep.com

April 3, 2017
In This Issue:
Ø  Crafting a Budget
Ø  Illinois Comeback Agenda Announced
Ø  Keys to Job Growth
Ø  Illinois Celebrates Agriculture Day
Ø  Recognizing Outstanding Educators
Ø  Legislation to Watch
Ø More Citizens Engaged in Policy Debate

Crafting a Budget
Budgeting in its simplest definition prioritizes how to spend available revenue.  In the absence of any real activity by the legislature to craft a state budget, it’s interesting to read the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) three-year budget forecast released recently.  COGFA is required by law to release budgets for the next three years using the best projections and noting opportunities and threats to those projections.  You can find the report (Here).
Since the state has not had a budget in two years, COGFA had to use a type of forensic accounting on past general revenue and expenditure funds to produce the estimates.  The Commission based general fund revenue at $30.2 billion in FY2017 and only expects it to grow to $32.7 billion by FY2020 based on minimal growth to the economy and employment. 
Balancing those revenue projections, COGFA pegged FY2017 spending at $39 billion based on the Governor’s five-year budget forecast.  The overspending of available revenue can be seen in the growth of unpaid bills—currently at $12 billion-- interest charged to those unpaid bills of $397 million, and bills from providers that are being held by agencies since they don’t have spending authority. 
COGFA then laid out six spending scenarios for the next three years that range from a 14 percent reduction—in order to essentially eliminate the unpaid bills-- to a 5.1 percent annual growth in spending that has been typical over the past 20 years. 
The Commission’s scenarios point to the obvious conclusion that paying our backlog of bills and crafting a balanced budget requires more revenue.  According to COGFA, the legislature could choose to expand the number of sales taxes; increase tax rates; make policy reforms that would stimulate economic growth in years to come; or a combination of these choices. 
Based on the last two years’ experience and current budget negotiations, it would appear the legislature is headed toward making none of these choices.  It now looks to me that the only way the legislature will pass a balanced budget for FY2018 is if there is a significant shut-down of government and massive citizen uprising—or divine intervention.

Illinois Comeback Agenda Announced
House and Senate Democrats held a press conference last week to layout their plans to move the state forward and counter the Governor’s reform agenda.  Their initiative includes five components: the budget, limiting the influence of money in politics, job creation, education and improving community health and safety. 
A main priority of the plan focuses on amending the state constitution to allow a graduated income tax.  The legislature must approve the amendment by a three-fifths vote--which requires bipartisan support--and then submit it to voters perhaps by the November 2018 election.
Other portions of the Democratic agenda call for limiting large campaign contributions, removing politics from drawing legislative boundaries, and curbing tax breaks for corporations that move jobs out-of-state.  Also in the plan is raising the minimum wage, reversing cuts to child care programs, protecting children brought into this country from deportation regardless of immigration status, and ending the requirement of cash bond that can keep low-income people in custody awaiting court action.
As the Governor has found over the past two years, it’s difficult to negotiate and compromise if the other side doesn’t engage.  I view the Comeback Agenda as a step toward negotiations to fix the fiscal crisis ruining our state and so many of our institutions and organizations.

Keys to Job Growth
The Illinois Manufacturers' Association commented on employment data last week showing that Illinois has only created a net 100 jobs since September 2000.  This equates to an average of just six new jobs per year in Illinois over the last 17 years.  
In contrast, our neighboring states have added an average of 115,250 jobs since 2000.  Missouri led the way with 134,400 new jobs followed by Wisconsin with116,300, Indiana with 110,600 and Iowa with 99,700.
The U.S. Department of Labor reported in February that Illinois had finally surpassed the number of total non-farm jobs held in 2000.  While this total jobs number may be seen as a bright spot, the state's population grew by more than 400,000 residents during that same time period and manufacturers shed 309,000 jobs.
The manufacturing group reiterated its key tenets for moving Illinois forward and regaining economic competitiveness with the rest of the country.  They call on policymakers to create fiscal stability, reform pensions, strengthen the education and workforce system, enact economic development reforms, and rewrite the tax code that reduces the high cost of property taxes.