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

February 27, 2017
In This Issue:
Ø Senate Plans to Deal with Bargain This Week
Ø AFSCME Takes a Step Closer to a Strike
Ø Congressman Michel Gave Useful Example
Ø Efforts to Sell the Thompson Center Reignited
ØVariety of Bills Pass House
ØYouth Council Readies for Trip to Springfield
Ø Local Dentist Office Recognized
Ø Share Your Ideas with Me This Week

Senate Plans to Deal with Bargain This Week
The topic on everyone’s mind in Springfield continues to be the budget but only the Senate is dealing with the issue at this time.  The Senate is scheduled to take votes this week on a number of bills that comprise the “grand bargain”.  
In his budget address, Governor Rauner made clear his parameters to the General Assembly on the Senate’s plan.  He insisted that the final product must be a good deal for taxpayers and job creators, and said it should include real spending reductions and meaningful pension reform.  Rauner also asked legislators if they pass a permanent income tax increase, they should also make a permanent property tax freeze.  
The governor stated in his budget address that if the state’s economy had been growing as well as neighboring states over the past few years, we would have billions more dollars to put towards the budget.  This fact is why he continues to insist upon reforms to attract job creators to Illinois and why state reforms and the budget are so entwined.
Senate leaders have expressed hope that these issues will get wrapped up in their chamber this week.  At that point, it will be up to the House to move forward.  House leaders have thus far made no efforts to join the budget discussion.  No House Appropriations committees have met and no bill declaring expected state revenues in FY2018, a normal starting point for budget drafting, has been discussed. 
It is abundantly clear that neither the Governor nor legislative leaders want to be the first to mention the amount of tax increase that most expect to be part of the budget solution.

AFSCME Takes a Step Closer to a Strike
The state’s largest union--the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees—AFSCME---announced results of a strike vote last week in hopes of putting more pressure on the Governor for a contract.  The union said 81 percent of its nearly 28,000 members eligible to strike voted to authorize a walkout.  Some of the 38,000 AFSCME members work at jobs like state prisons and juvenile facilities that are prevented by law from striking.
While both sides in this contract battle say they want to avoid a strike, it would appear that is where the state is headed.  There have been no negotiations in over a year and the Illinois Labor Relations Board in November said that the two sides were at impasse.  The only thing preventing the Governor from implementing his best and final offer is a court order.
The Governor appears convinced that AFSCME members currently enjoy many benefits not received by private-sector workers or even some other state unions.  While AFSCME has offered recently to reduce some of those benefits, that is not enough to satisfy the Governor. 
Like the lack of a budget, the failure to conclude labor negotiations is not productive for the future of Illinois. 

Governor Bruce Rauner again emphasized the need for economic reforms in his budget address to the General Assembly Wednesday. He said the state cannot achieve long-term economic stability with just tax increases and spending cuts. The Governor was optimistic that a balanced budget agreement could be reached this spring and praised the bipartisan discussions in the Senate.

I was pleased to see the Governor recommended additional funding for K-12 schools which included $50 million for early childhood education, increased funding for English learners, full funding for regular transportation and funding for technology infrastructure in schools. Education is the key to a skilled workforce that attracts jobs and stimulates the economy.

The Governor acknowledged the challenges that higher education institutions have experienced in the past two years but proposed only a 10 percent increase in monetary assistance for low income students. He suggested a 90 percent funding level for institutions compared with 2015. Institutions like Northern Illinois University will continue to have significant pressure with this level of funding to maintain operations and provide for competitive compensation for faculty and staff.

 

Governor Rauner’s budget proposal also prioritized public safety: increased state police staffing, funding for two correctional life skills and reentry centers, fully funding two mental health facilities and support for residential treatment centers. I was glad to see increased funding for childcare, senior citizens and other vulnerable people. The budget proposal also strengthened services for military men and women, $200 million more for the Department of Transportation, and funding for long-overdue maintenance and repairs at state facilities.

The budget included increased investments but also spending reductions, some $3 billion. The Governor, pointing to a $1 billion increase in pension costs, said the state must do something to reduce pension cost growth. He will continue pursuing negotiations with state employees to reduce healthcare costs and bring insurance programs more in line with what average citizens have.

The Governor for the third year in a row appealed to the legislature to work with him for a balanced budget and improvements to the economy. I was surprised to hear him say Illinois has lost over 540,000 residents in just six years. He said people are leaving the state due to high property taxes, lost jobs which are attracted to neighboring state with lower worker compensation insurance costs and a state government that can’t agree on a balanced budget.

I was disappointed to see that many in the legislature displayed signs challenging the Governor’s truthfulness and laughed at his offer to work with the legislature for a budget solution. The gallery applauded, however, when the Governor said citizens want to see us get something done, to get a balanced budget, to change our broken system, and to grow more jobs.

The Governor said Illinois is at a crossroads: we can choose a road to unlimited potential and growth or continue on the road to fiscal disaster. I will do what I can to work with legislators for a balanced budget, for job growth and for a road to prosperity for all.
Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to bob@pritchardstaterep.com

February 14th, 2017

In This Issue: 
Ø Work Begins in Springfield
Ø Focus on Education Committees
Ø Rally Promotes Higher Education Funding
Ø Reform Measures Move Out of Senate
ØGovernor Presents Budget Proposal
ØJoin in Upcoming Discussions

Work Begins in Springfield
The deadline for lawmakers to introduce legislation for the 2017 Spring Legislative Session in the General Assembly was Friday, February 10th.  As of that date 3,826 bills were filed in the House.  Over the next six weeks, House Committees will meet to review these bills and hold hearings.  This is the beginning of the legislative process where bills will be debated and a few will move forward for full House consideration and if approved move to the Senate for similar action. 
While I filed 16 bills on behalf of constituents or state agencies, here are a few with special meaning to me.  HB2447 makes changes to the Illinois Vehicle Code, providing that a person commits reckless driving when they knowingly drive with a serious medical condition known to cause loss of consciousness, and fail to have the condition under control.  This legislation was prompted by the deaths of two young people in Sycamore from an accident caused by a person who failed to control her medical condition.
HB2445 helps assure that veteran disability benefits are used for the care and compensation of the injured veteran.  Too often these funds are used by family members for other purposes.  HB537 clarifies in the election code the language that must appear on ballot referenda for bond issues and various tax increases.  Frequently the language of the referenda are not clear to the average reader and the real costs to the taxpayer are unspecified.

Focus on Education Committees
With the start of each General Assembly cycle, the two chambers organize themselves for the work they seek to do and form new committees.  The House this year named 58 committees, many to discuss special issues while others will consider the legislation that has been filed. 
I am assigned to serve on the following committees:  Elementary and Secondary Education:  Licensing, Higher Education Policy, and Appropriations-Higher Education.  I will serve as minority spokesperson for the following committees:  Appropriations-Elementary and Secondary Education, Elementary and Secondary Education: Curriculum and Policies, and State Government Administration.
I was also appointed by House Republican Leader Jim Durkin to serve as the Co-Chairman of the Commission of Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA).  The 12-member board represents an equal number of members from each chamber and political party.
The purpose of COGFA is to provide the General Assembly with information on the state’s economy, revenue projections, long-term state debt outlook and the overall operations of Illinois’ government.  Several reports are published throughout the year on these topics with detailed information and research.  COGFA also produces special reports throughout the year on issues that could potentially impact the economic well-being of the state.  Two areas of significance include the commission’s annual Budget Summary, and the
Report on the Financial Condition of Illinois Pension Public Pension Systems.

Pictured above are some of the 20 legislators who served on the commission
with the Secretary of Education Beth Purvis and State Superintendent Tony Smith. 
We have been talking about adequate school funding for decades without ever trying to quantify how much it actually costs to use the best practices for the needs of students in each school. Nor have we done enough to decrease our reliance on property taxes to fund education or the funding gap that exists between property wealthy districts and those with low property wealth.

The Illinois School Funding Reform Commission has been meeting for months to discuss these issues and on February 1 approved a framework to help the General Assembly create a new school funding formula. While some elements like determining the level of funding needed for each individual school can be done quickly, coming up with additional money to decrease the dependence on property taxes to fund education will take time.

The Commission’s recommendations including giving new funding to the schools farthest away from their adequacy targets in order to serve the most vulnerable students first. It was determined that more resources should be directed to school districts based on the student’s special needs and large concentrations of poverty.

As for districts with high property taxes or school funding well above the adequacy target, the Commission offered adjustments in the distribution of funds and suggested citizens should have the option by referendum to lower property taxes.

Just funding schools at an adequate level based on the needs of students, will require at least $3.5 billion and increasing the state’s share of funding education above it’s current 26 percent share will take about that much more.

The commission stated clearly that education is the key to economic growth and better lives for our citizens. Education helps raise family income levels and employment, and reduces the need for social services.
Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs recently announced a new investment program for Illinois. The ABLE program was launched this week, and is a federal y tax-advantaged savings program for individuals with disabilities. The program is part of a group effort, bringing together 14 states in a partnership with the National Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Alliance, allowing individuals with disabilities to save money, without hurting their federal disability benefits.

ABLE is similar to 529 College Savings programs, in that it allows families to set aside money for future expenses, invest funds in professionally designed savings accounts, and avoid tax penalties on the fund.

The federal ABLE law was passed in 2014, after which the Illinois General Assembly approved Senate Bill 1383, to authorize the Treasurer’s Office to create the Illinois ABLE Account Program. Representative Bob Pritchard was a chief co-sponsor of this measure, which passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate and was later signed into law by Governor Rauner in 2015.

Read more on the Illinois ABLE Program here.