Illinois lawmakers met for a one-day session June 16, but neither chamber addressed the state’s budget issues, focusing instead on college affordability in the Senate, and restructuring the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity in the House of Representatives.
Another totally wasted day for “optics” to show voters we are “working” when in fact we can do nothing until House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton agree to the basic reforms needed to begin to turn our state around.
On June 17, Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland announced his retirement. He will be greatly missed. He has done a great job for the state as Auditor General.
Also during the week, a new report shows Illinois cities are losing population.
Budget showdown now in third week
The state’s fiscal year comes to an end June 30, but the Governor and lawmakers are not any closer to a final solution to the Fiscal Year 2016 budget.
Democrat leaders have yet to send most of their budget package to the Governor’s desk despite passing it nearly a month ago. However, Governor Bruce Rauner has indicated he will not sign the Democrat leaders’ budget, which even Speaker Madigan and President Cullerton acknowledge is out of balance by more than $3 billion.
Republican lawmakers have continued a steady drumbeat in their quest for meaningful government reforms to help Illinois move beyond the past 12-plus years of one-party dysfunction. We have joined the Governor in consistently expressing a willingness to work together with our Democrat counterparts on the state’s budget, beginning with compromise on job-creating, economy-boosting reforms.
The unbalanced Democrat budget proposal came just days after Republican lawmakers introduced a major package of legislation (SB 884, SB 994, SB 1046, SJRCA 14, and SJRCA 15) that would implement Gov. Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda. I cosponsored those common-sense reform bills, which would:
• Freeze Illinois property taxes: currently the second highest of any state
o Supports local control: option to increase through local referendum
• Improve Illinois’ business climate: recently ranked third worst in the country
o Workers’ compensation reform (raising causation to a 50% requirement)
o Lawsuit reform (stopping venue shopping)
• Reform State Government: Illinois called “worst-run state in the country” last year
o Constitutional amendment establishing term limits for legislators and executive officeholders: Illinois would join 15 other states with term limits
o Redistricting reform: Constitutional amendment to create an independent commission for fair and balanced districts.
Committee of the Whole on higher education affordability
On June 16, the Senate met for another Committee of the Whole to discuss higher education affordability. A number of panelists talked about need-based aid, community college funding formulas, and state support of the university system. They noted how much state tuition, fees and other associated costs had risen over the past decade. We asked witnesses for insight into how to reduce administrative and tuition costs within the state’s higher education system as a way to reduce the cost burden on students and parents in Illinois.
We State Senators will return to the Capitol on June 23 for another (wasted day) Committee of the Whole, to discuss the minimum wage and sick leave policies.
Auditor General to step down
Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland has announced his intention to step down as the state’s chief fiscal watchdog on December 31. Holland has held the position for 23 years and has been a well-respected staple of Illinois government during the tenure of five Governors.
Holland’s January 2009 testimony during the Senate trial of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was seen as key to the now-felon’s eventual removal from office. Holland’s service to the people of Illinois was especially critical during the Blagojevich Administration’s six years of abject fiscal failure.
His office also handled the more recent audits of the now infamous NRI-scandal, in which former Gov. Pat Quinn’s Administration handed out $55 million in state grants as part of his questionable and poorly managed crime reduction initiative. In 2014, Holland released a scathing audit of the program that Quinn launched prior to the 2010 election for Governor. Since that time, there have been several criminal grand jury probes into the NRI program, as well as a legislative audit.
Illinois losing population
Recent media reports have shown that Illinois is the only state in the Midwestern region that lost population from 2013 to 2014. The Land of Lincoln lost nearly 10,000 residents and an overwhelming number of communities are losing population at an alarming rate. Central and Southern Illinois continues to experience the largest losses, and even Chicago’s population has nearly stagnated for the past couple years.
Some suburban communities experienced population increases, but nothing approaching the Great Recession levels of pre-2008. In fact, only the communities of Naperville and Elgin saw meaningful growth. However, even with this growth, the state’s overall population decreased overall, especially when coupled with the losses in Decatur and Rockford.