Governor Bruce Rauner delivered his first State of the State Address February 4, outlining a policy agenda that focused on job creation, education funding, revamping the state’s criminal justice system, and a push to implement governmental reforms like term limits and merging the Comptroller and Treasurer’s offices.
Also during the week, it was revealed that the current budget signed by former Governor Pat Quinn has significantly underfunded Illinois’ Child Care Program.
One of the biggest issues of the 2014 spring session, education funding reform, has been reintroduced. Senate Bill 1, the new version of last spring’s Senate Bill 16, continues to raise concerns, especially from suburban lawmakers.
Governor Rauner emphasizes new beginnings, bipartisan agenda in SOTS
Though he stressed the challenges facing Illinois, Governor Rauner also underscored his willingness to work in a bipartisan way to deliver results.
Governor Rauner pointed to the state’s negative population growth and stifled employment opportunities as the root of Illinois’ problem. He cited Illinois’ current workers compensation, unemployment insurance and liability costs as impediments to economic growth. The Governor said his top priority is making Illinois competitive again in order to grow more jobs.
Increasing employment opportunities for Illinois residents, particularly minority residents, was also strongly emphasized. The Governor stressed the need for greater diversity in apprenticeship programs and floated the idea of a Minority Enterprise Small Business Investment Program as a way to boost minority entrepreneurs.
Governor Rauner also stated his interest in raising the minimum wage—in conjunction with regulatory changes to help Illinois employers.
The Governor strongly emphasized the need to empower Illinois residents, including giving them the ability to control local government spending when it comes to property taxes, collective bargaining issues and government consolidation.
He renewed his call for term limits, and also outlined new restrictions on what he identified as conflicts of interest between campaign donors and elected officials.
Additionally, Governor Rauner echoed some legislators’ calls to merge the Comptroller’s and Treasurer’s offices, and voiced his support for efforts to reform the state’s criminal justice system. He announced his intention to hire more correctional officers to improve prison safety, support offender reintegration programs and improve the state’s parole system.
Governor Rauner also stressed his strong commitment to education, noting he plans to increase education funding for K-12 and invest resources in technical and vocational training.
The Governor is expected to detail his ideas about addressing the state’s serious fiscal problems in his budget address February 18. Working long hours analyzing Illinois’ finances, he and his staff have found these issues are worse than previously reported, due to unrestrained spending and mismanagement by previous administrations.
Child Care Program shortfall raises concern
Under the current budget signed by former Governor Quinn, the Child Care Program administered by the Department of Human Services (DHS) has less than one-half of the funding needed to fully operate the program as it is currently structured.
Unless the General Assembly approves legislation giving Governor Rauner authority to approve additional spending for this program, DHS has warned child-care providers their payments will be delayed and only include federal funds.
The Rauner Administration has underscored this shortfall is in no way related to Rauner’s Executive Order to address the fiscal crisis, explaining former Governor Quinn deliberately moved forward with a budget that he knew did not contain the revenue needed to fully fund the program.
Additionally, DHS was directed by the Quinn Administration to run the program under status quo parameters, even though the Administration was aware that doing so would create a funding shortfall during the second half of the fiscal year. The problem is compounded by years of program mismanagement by the Quinn Administration, which has resulted in drastically increasing costs.
Governor Rauner’s Office of Management and Budget is currently working with lawmakers to rectify the problem as quickly as possible.
Education Funding Reform Reintroduced as Senate Bill 1
Education funding reform, one of the 98th General Assembly’s hot-button issues, has resurfaced. Senate Bill 1, a reintroduction of similar legislation known as Senate Bill 16, is raising concerns among lawmakers.
As currently written, Senate Bill 1 advances an unbalanced redistribution of scarce education resources, pitting school districts against each other. Though lawmakers acknowledge the need to reform Illinois’ school-funding formula, many voice concerns about any legislation that simply shifts current disparities and continues to create “winners” and “losers” among schools.
In 2013, the bipartisan Education Funding Advisory Committee (EFAC) was created to study Illinois’ education funding formula and develop solutions to improve the disparity in funding between different areas of the state. The report that resulted from the committee led to partisan legislation (Senate Bill 16) that did not address specific concerns raised by Republicans, like fully eliminating the Chicago Block Grant or unfunded mandate relief. It seems that, once again, these concerns have gone unaddressed in Senate Bill 1.