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

June 26, 2017
In This Issue:
Ø“You Can Bring a Horse to Water, But…”
ØAttention Drawn to University Challenges
ØADM Announces Expansion in Illinois
ØCommittee of the Whole Discusses Various Reforms
ØVeterans Invited to Join Advisory Council

 “You Can Bring a Horse to Water, But…”
Governor Bruce Rauner is trying a well-worn strategy of calling Special Sessions to bring legislators together to pass legislation.  In fact he’s called for sessions each day until a budget is passed or July 1, whichever comes first.
Like the old time adage I learned as a youth “you can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”  Neither could Special Sessions called by Governors Blagojevich nor Quinn get legislators to pass the bills they wanted.
Governor Rauner, however, tried something a little different than his predecessors and on the eve of Special Session, he delivered a state-wide televised address to Illinois residents.  In it he explained the purpose of his proclamation and urged compromise and unity during the Special Sessions.
There was a sense of urgency as legislators returned to Springfield last week since most had been hearing about the need to pass a budget from their constituents and service providers while they were home.  Like all the Special Sessions before, however, the Speaker gaveled the session to order then promptly adjourned it.  No one was allowed to “drink.” 
After the first few days of Special Sessions with no legislation or time for debate, the atmosphere got a little heated.  I spoke to emphasize the support and willingness of colleagues on my side of the aisle to work on a budget agreement.  You can see more of my remarks here.

Attention Drawn to University Challenges
Illinois universities were in the news this past week for the different challenges they face.  Northern Illinois University captured a lot of attention when President Doug Baker announced he would leave the University this week.  He came to the institution in 2013 with plans to build university relations with the community and focus the university on its core mission, strengths and opportunities.  He became embroiled in hiring decisions, his plans for changes and the lack of state financial support.
Acting President Lisa Freeman inherits more than the challenges of being the first woman president.  The faculty formed a new union in response to several issues including the lack of a pay raise in over 6 years.  Out-of-state universities are stalking key faculty with offers of more stability, job security and resources for their work.  Recruiting new students has become increasingly difficult as they look at lower tuition costs, program stability and better faculty moral at out-of-state institutions. 
These challenges, however, are not unique to NIU.  I spoke out in the House last week about the damage being down to all our universities and colleges—public and private-- due to the lack of a state budget. 
I referenced a letter from the Higher Learning Commission to members of the General Assembly and state leaders which drew alarm that our institutions may face loss of accreditation.  The Commission is the oversight agency for 19 states that assures the quality of colleges and universities for students.
Lack of accreditation would mean students are ineligible for federal financial aid.
The Commission letter pointed to other impacts of not having a state budget:
·        Higher tuition and fees
·        Declining student enrollment
·        Loss of faculty, staff and programs
·        Deteriorating buildings, labs and infrastructure
·        Depleted cash reserves and grants
I repeated my commitment to work together to find a budget agreement that will provide the necessary funding to higher education and with that, give the needed certainty that schools can continue to operate.  For NIU, I am ready and willing to help University President Freeman and the entire NIU community overcome these challenges and focus on ways it can improve the lives of students and support a growing Illinois economy. 
Today is Flag Day, where we commemorate the adoption of the United States Flag. Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes as the American flag on June 14th, 1777. After that, additional stripes and starts were added when welcoming new states. The colors were also specifically chosen and have special meaning: the red symbolizes hardiness and valor, the white symbolizes purity and innocence and blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice.

National Flag Day is always observed on June 14th and typically celebrated throughout the entire week. After three decades of informal celebrations of this day around the country, Flag Day was officially established by President Woodrow Wilson on May 30th, 1916. But it wasn’t until President Harry Truman declared through an Act of Congress, Flag Day to be a national holiday. However, only Pennsylvania celebrates Flag Day on June 14th as a federal holiday.

Flag Day is an opportunity to show American pride. During this week, you will often see the flag proudly displayed on government buildings and many others around the country.

The American flag is a special source of pride and inspiration for United States citizens. Americans enjoy the greatest freedoms, and today you can celebrate by flying the flag!

The budget impasse has had a lasting impact on higher education in the State of Illinois. The University of Illinois School System—the state’s largest educator—expressed the effect the lack of state funding is having on its universities as well as students. 

University of Illinois officials wrote to lawmakers at the end of spring legislative session in the General Assembly to express their concerns over the continuing budget impasse, and detail the severity of its effect on state schools. You can find a copy of their letter here.

Above all, financial uncertainty has left faculty leaving for other opportunities and Illinois residents choosing other higher education options in other states. The impasse has hurt enrollment and impacted the national ranking of Illinois’ schools, leading many to choose other more appealing options. Illinois now ranks second, only to New Jersey, in having the highest net ranking of students who leave for colleges out of state. In 2015, that number amounted to 45% of high school graduates in Illinois.

Institutions of higher education have encouraged lawmakers to work together to put an end to the impasse and come to a budget agreement that will sufficiently fund Illinois’ schools and provide a more certain future.

With regular session in Springfield concluding without a budget in place, more pressure needs to be placed on lawmakers to encourage compromise and an end to the budget stalemate.

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

June 5, 2017
In This Issue:
Ø  Yucky Medicine
Ø  New School Funding Formula Passes Both Chambers
Ø  Key Legislation Passed in Final Days of Spring Session
Ø  Summer Reading Program Launched

Yucky Medicine
Do you remember when you were sick as a kid; mom would often give you a spoonful of something that tasted terrible?  That’s how Illinois is right now.  We are terribly sick fiscally and we don’t want to take the medicine that will make us better.
The bond rating company downgrade last week is just the latest indication of how sick we are.  Having a rating one notch above junk status and the lowest of any state in the history of our country should motivate us to take some corrective medicine.  If you don’t believe the bond houses, then look at the mounting pile of unpaid bills or the students fleeing Illinois because colleges are cheaper and more stable someplace else. 
Judging from constituent calls to my office and actions by the legislature, many refuse to take the yucky medicine.  Nearly every policy think tank says the medicine must include spending cuts, reforms to stimulate job creation and yes, revenue increases. 
The House of Representatives continues to ignore the medicine and didn’t even respond to the “doctors” in the Senate who sent the House a number of spending cut and tax increase bills.  The House procrastinated and instead went into what’s called “continuous session” promising to meet again in June and talk about the medicine.
The solution to our problems won’t become any tastier by waiting and hopes of some miracle drug from Washington to restore our state to greatness are out of the question.  It’s time to step up and take the medicine for years of overspending, inefficiency and voter inattention to what elected officials were doing.  

New School Funding Formula Passes both Chambers
At long last the legislature has passed a new school funding bill aimed at determining adequate funding for each school based on the educational needs of its students and research-based educational practices.  Any increased funding would come from the State and could lead to property tax reductions. 
Senate Bill 1 is the result of Senate and House members working together after dozens of hearings and the work of the Governor’s Commission on School Funding Reform.  Based on cost estimates to fully implement the formula and the state’s current fiscal conditions, it could take a decade to reach adequate funding for every child but we would be on the road to achieving that goal. 
The bill was a compromise of competing interests and in the end, efforts by Chicago and its Public Schools to receive funding faster than other districts and include all of its pension costs caused most Republicans to oppose the bill and the Governor to threaten a veto.
The evidence-based funding model, however, is an excellent blueprint for us to follow when we discuss overhauling our broken state funding formula.  This new way of funding was specifically designed to drive much-needed funding to school districts that are the farthest away from their adequacy target and have insufficient local capacity to fund education.  The model, as it was initially envisioned, focuses more dollars on districts that are the least adequately funded, which I believe is a critical point that differentiates this model from our current funding model.  
The issue of Chicago teacher pensions has been debated as an equity issue.  Chicago pays its share of the state teacher pension system but the state has not lived up to its agreement to contribute to the separate Chicago teacher pensions.  There is a lot of agreement about the mismanagement of both teacher pension systems over the years.  Nevertheless we face the consequences of these decisions.
Adequately funding education is vital to the success of our students and the well-trained workforce that attracts businesses.  Getting the state to pay its constitutional share for education could offer property tax relief. 
For now, SB1 is being held in the Senate in hopes pension reform will be tied to the Chicago teacher pension issue and garner the Governor’s support. 

Key Legislation Passed in Final Days of Spring Session
SB1839: Amends the Emergency Telephone Act by extending the system set to expire on June 30 and promoting an upgrade to technology.  The bill increases phone fees to fund a statewide 9-1-1 system that runs on the new IP network. The IP network is not only faster, but it also allows the customer to connect to a variety of devices, including tablets, computers, home phones, and cell phones.  
Greg and Sandy Beitel, Ogle County 9-1-1 coordinators, came to the State Capitol to explain the need for 9-1-1 system upgrades 

SB3: Provides that the Local Government Reduction and Efficiency Division of the Counties Code will be applied to all counties.  It encourages township consolidation through referenda that are approved by the township board.

SB8: Updates the state’s procurement code to increase purchasing transparency, correct some over regulation, while still providing a mechanism for obtaining the best purchasing terms.  I helped negotiate this bill over several years in part to clarify that university purchases through groups of organizations was allowed.

SB31: Sets reasonable, constitutional limits on local police interaction with the federal immigration authority and fosters trust between local police and immigrant communities.  It does not prevent local law enforcement officials from cooperating with immigration authorities when they have a warrant. 

SB81: Raises the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2022.  Compared to its border states, Illinois already has the highest minimum wage and under this bill would have the highest in the nation.  The bill also includes a complicated income tax credit designed to appear to provide relief for employers with fewer than 50 employees.  Proponents admitted a minimum wage increase imposes costs of doing business for a host of non-profits and small businesses.

SB1316: Provides for three innovative but very costly programs in higher education that I referred to as the College “Dream Act” in House floor debate.  One element pays university faculty a bonus to keep them from leaving Illinois.  Another provides a college grant program for middle-income students similar to MAP; while the last element would buy-out student loans of any eligible participant at zero interest.  Given the state’s fiscal condition and its failure to fund higher education or MAP grants, this program is an absurdity.

SB1353: Increases the monthly personal needs allowance to $60 for residents living on medical assistance in a nursing home.  The Personal Needs Allowance is the amount of Social Security an individual gets to keep for personal expenses not covered by Medicaid. 

SB1688: Requires the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to consider certain mitigating factors and evidence of rehabilitation for certain applicants of licenses, certificates, and registrations.  The bill is intended to reduce licensing barriers for people with arrest or conviction records wishing to become licensed in Illinois.

SB1904: Amends the Prevailing Wage Act to require the Department of Labor to publish, by August 15 of each year on its official website, a prevailing wage schedule for each county in the State.  The bill directs that the prevailing wage shall be no less than the rate set through collective bargaining for public projects.

HB2525: Provides what was explained as Workers Compensation reform but appears to increase the cost of doing business in Illinois.  It codifies worker friendly case law, mandates increased insurance regulation, and imposes fraud penalties, electronic billing penalties and penalties for delays in medical care.

HB2622: Creates a state run employers’ mutual insurance company to compete with over 300 private insurance companies.  The bill claims $10 million from the Workers’ Compensation Commission Operating Fund to start the company with doubtful reserves to operate it.

HB3259: Appropriates $18.6 million from the Commitment to Human Services Fund for Domestic Violence Shelters and Services during FY2017.  These shelters like DeKalb County’s Safe Passage have been operating without any state funding for a year and are about to close their doors.

Summer Reading Program Launched in District
I have officially launched my annual summer reading program to encourage students in K-5th grades to keep reading over the summer.  The program builds upon local library reading efforts and books read can be counted for each program. 
Reading is a foundation skill in education, and through this program I hope to encourage student engagement throughout the summer months when they can regress in their abilities.  Students who return their completed reading lists to my District Office will be invited to an ice cream party and commendation for their efforts.
You can find a copy of the summer reading brochure here, which includes the rules and instructions.

Have a great week and call my District Office to share your opinions or if I can be of assistance.