The first week of the fall veto session ended a day early without any real action on the state budget.
Republican lawmakers joined the Governor in urging their Democrat counterparts to work with them on crafting a full balanced state budget and passing government reforms. The appropriations authority required to pay for many state operations, human service providers, and state vendors will run out on December 31.
In other business, Democrat legislative leaders rammed through an override of voter registration legislation that experts say has several major flaws, while refusing to take up a newer, Republican-sponsored measure that cleans up many of the technical problems in the initial legislation.
Also during the week, Senate Republicans unanimously re-elected Senator Christine Radogno as the leader of their caucus.
Democrats slow-walk budget negotiations
House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton began the first week of the fall veto session by boycotting a budget negotiation meeting scheduled by the Governor. Despite their attendance at later meetings, no significant progress was made on balancing the budget and passing any reforms to streamline state government and reduce costs.
We need a full budget solution to provide stability to residents and businesses, while protecting vital state services and schools. The urgency of the matter was underscored when the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget released its annual long-term budget projections. The publication estimated that the current budget year deficit is nearing $5.3 billion, which will likely push the bill backlog to $13.5 billion by the end of the fiscal year. With no changes to the status quo, the backlog could reach an impossible to manage $47 billion by Fiscal Year 2022.
While the stopgap budget passed June 30 covered K-12 schools, transportation, and some higher education spending, the spending authority for much of the budget will expire on Jan. 1, which means no more money is appropriated for the state’s already struggling colleges and universities, some human service providers, state vendors and operations (including utility bills for prisons and state facilities), and healthcare for state employees.
Despite the state’s budget crisis, both Madigan and Cullerton decided to cancel a scheduled November 17 session day in their respective chambers, leaving three days left in the annual fall veto session to deal with the budget.
Democrats push through flawed voter registration bill
Democrat leaders did find time to override a number of Governor Bruce Rauner’s vetoes, including a voter registration bill that needed some changes. Fortunately, I expect the Governor’s veto to be upheld in the House.
Senate Bill 250 would automatically register voters when they apply for, update, or renew their driver’s licenses. While proponents touted the measure as a new system to increase voter participation and clean up the voter rolls, Governor Rauner had vetoed the measure because of several concerns with the specific language.
The legislation would require the Secretary of State’s office to forward all of the drivers’ data to the Illinois State Board of Elections, potentially violating privacy standards. Concerns were also raised that the new system would automatically register anyone to vote who qualifies for a driver’s license, including those who are here illegally. Individuals would be given the opportunity to attest to their eligibility to vote, but the application would be processed even if they are unable to attest. In addition, residents would be registered without their consent or knowledge. They would have the opportunity to opt out of the system, but not until weeks later by mail.
A compromise measure, Senate Bill 3452, was filed by Senator Sue Rezin of Peru to address the issues with Senate Bill 250. Under Rezin’s legislation, individuals would have the opportunity to opt out at the beginning of the process. It would also stop the application process if their records show that the person may not be eligible to vote. Rezin’s legislation would also require a signature attesting to the person’s eligibility to register to vote.
Though Senate Bill 3452 offered a reasonable compromise that would address the concerns outlined by the Governor and other lawmakers while also increasing voter participation, Democrat legislative leaders refused to consider the proposal.
Democrats add $100+ million in spending
Despite serious fiscal problems facing the state, two other vetoes were overridden by Senate Democrats, with the result of adding more than $100 million in spending each year. While Republican lawmakers noted the proposals were well-intentioned, the hefty price tag of the proposals made them impossible to support.
Senate Bill 2536 requires non-relative providers in the child care assistance program to participate in orientation pre-service trainings. Additionally, it requires the non-relative providers to be paid $15 an hour for their time spent at the trainings. This legislation would cost $28.4 million for training and $1.9 million for insurance, annually.
Senate Bill 2931 increases wages for personal assistants and individual maintenance home health workers to no less than $15 an hour. The total cost of this bill is estimated at $86.6 million annually. I also expect both of those vetoes to be upheld in the House.
Senate Republicans re-elect Leader
Also during the week, Senate Republicans unanimously re-elected Senator Christine Radogno as their Caucus Leader, recognizing her efforts to protect the rights of Illinois residents and improve the state’s economic outlook, and her leadership during the current budget crisis.
Leader Radogno said that she is excited to continue in her leadership role as the caucus works to find compromise with Democrat lawmakers to balance state spending with revenue, while working to make state government more accountable, efficient, and responsive to Illinois residents.