It’s been an exciting few weeks! Here’s a quick update on what’s been going on in Springfield.
Video of the President’s Address
February 11th was the deadline to file bills in the House. 1,959 bills have been filed since the start of the new year. You can view the bills I have filed or signed on to as a co-sponsor here. Highlights include a bill banning unfunded mandates during election years, a bill concerning school closings, and a bill to help ensure compliance with the Open Meetings Act.
Legislation in areas highlighted by Governor Rauner’s State Address has been introduced to improve government efficiency and cut costs. Four bipartisan bills based on the recommendations of the Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates Task Force were filed. These bills will make it easier to consolidate duplicative, unnecessary, or excessive units of government via referendum.
Also recently filed was HB 4644, which contains much needed reforms to improve the procurement system by cutting out unnecessary red tape. Among the provisions of the bill is the creation of a pre-qualified pool of vendors in different categories of supplies and services. Another reform will allow the State to “piggyback” on the procurements of other states and governmental entities, a process known as cooperative purchasing. By reorganizing the procurement structure, the length of the Request for Proposal (RFP) process can be cut to a third of the long process now. Savings from this bill are estimated to be as high as $500 million a year.
Very few bills we actually discussed and debated on the floor during the few days we were scheduled to be in session over the past month. We did debate for several hours, an amendment to House Bill 580, a measure which would impact the current (and only current) AFSCME negotiations and potentially force interest arbitration. This is the same as Senate Bill 1229 which we debated last year, passed both chambers, was vetoed by the Governor, and the attempt to override the veto failed. After a long and heated debate, HB 580 passed the House. I voted against the measure because I have serious reservations about it, particularly the elimination of union members’ right to strike, and I do not believe that the General Assembly should insert itself into the collective bargaining process.
Higher Education Funding
As expected, Governor Rauner vetoed the MAP and community college funding appropriations bill on Friday. I wrote an op-ed on why I voted against this bill last month which you can read on my website.
In an unprecedented situation, Governor Rauner gave his budget address last week as the state enters its 8th month without a budget in place. Like last year Illinois is expected to take in around $32 billion dollars. State Government has been operating at a much higher level, leading to a growing bill backlog which now sits at $7.7 billion. The governor laid out two plans for balancing the budget; “Either you give the executive branch the authority to cut spending to live within our revenues, or we agree — together — on economic and governmental reforms to accompany a negotiated balance of spending reductions and revenue that ensures that Illinois can be both compassionate and competitive.”
He also proposed fully funding the school aid formula at 100 percent with no proration for the first time in years and an investment of an additional $75 million in early childhood education programs. If you want to read the entire proposed FY17 operating budget, you can do so here (its over 500 pages!). You can also watch the address. What is important to note is that governor’s “budget” is meant to serve as a starting point and roadmap for the spring session. It is by no means the final stop. President Obama encouraged bipartisanship in his visit and Governor Rauner reiterated that message again this week when he reached out to the GA to help him improve the state’s government and economy. The gridlock will continue if the GA chooses not to address the structural issues that led us to unbalanced budgets and high bill backlogs. The governor made it clear that he is ready to act; it’s now up to the GA and Speaker Madigan to more forward on this.
Governor Creates New Cabinet
Governor Rauner issued an executive order last week establishing a cabinet on Children and Youth whose function is to bring together the 19 State agencies that impact education and human services to promote coordination and efficiency of programs and services. The goal of the cabinet is to address the State’s fragmented approach to education and human services provided to children and families and track the progress on statewide educational initiatives to ensure Illinois students have the best opportunities possible. The new Children’s Cabinet will enable State policymakers to work across State agency boundaries to shape and increase focus on long-term goals.
Many of you take the Metra to and from work. Employers and Employees can save money through a recently created federal pre tax benefit plan. For more information, click here.
Continuing Education for Women
The Conference of Women Legislators (COWL) has established a scholarship fund to assist mature women (age 25 and older) who wish to continue their undergraduate education. The goal of the scholarship is to focus on deserving, qualified women whose educations were interrupted due to family concerns and economic problems. Particular consideration will emphasize women who have shown leadership promise through community service. The one year undergraduate scholarship will cover tuition, books and fees up to $2500 per year. Applicants for the scholarship must meet certain requirements to be eligible. For more information on this scholarship and the application, click here.