- Governor’s budget director, experts tell General Assembly that State’s fiscal position continues to worsen. In testimony to the House Revenue Committee on Monday, November 26, Budget Director Jerry Stermer joined with Department of Revenue Research Director Natalie Davila to explain that statutorily mandated budget pressures – in particular, the increase in mandated payments by the State into public-sector pension funds– will create even greater budget pressure in FY14 of up to $3.6 billion in additional annual spending even without the creation of net new programs. The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA) projects based on current economic trends, that taxpayers will pay approximately $767 million in new revenue to the State’s general revenue funds in FY14. This $0.8 billion in new revenue will be required to cover this $3.6 billion in projected FY14 spending pressure. It is not yet clear how this gap can be closed by current State governmental leadership.
- House adopts HJR 45, signaling the lack of available funding for pay increases to organized State workers in fiscal year 2013. The vote for the measure, adopted Wednesday, November 28, was 84-29. The State, earlier this year, appropriated $33.7 billion for FY13 budget. These funds have already been spoken for in a manner that tries to “hold the line” on all existing State spending, including pay for unionized State employees. However, organizations that represent the men and women who work for the State – labor unions such as AFSCME and the Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU) – have not yet agreed to contractual terms that incorporate this budgetary commitment. HJR 45 contains language specifically setting forth that no new money can be paid from the FY13 budget for higher pay for organized State workers.
This resolution was controversial. Many House members were reluctant to vote for it, as they realize many components of Illinois household life (such as health-care costs and motor fuel) have continued to rise in price over the past 12 months. Illinois lawmakers, who have taken unpaid furlough days as part of their FY13 budget sacrifices, recognize the pressures being imposed on all Illinois workers.
- General Assembly grants Mayor Emanuel power to plan major Chicago Public School (CPS) consolidation initiative. Existing State laws allow (and, in fact, mandate) the Mayor and his aides to generate an Educational Facility Master Plan, an essential element in a consolidation push. Under the timeline in place up until this week, this Master Plan was supposed to be drafted and publicly distributed no later than January 1, 2013. As part of November 2012 bill action, however, the Mayor and his City Hall leadership team persuaded the General Assembly that this planning deadline was unreachable and would, in fact, stand in the way of needed efforts to increase the productivity of the Chicago school system.
The new State legislation was generated after negotiations between the Mayor’s office and representatives of some (but not all) of the neighborhood groups and ethnic groups affected by the legislation. Negotiations between the Mayor’s office and the Hispanic community were seen as an important piece of the overall puzzle. Under the new timeline, the Master Plan must be distributed by July 1, 2013 (rather than January 1, 2013).
As approved by the House, SB 547 contained language in which the Mayor’s office assured Chicago schoolchildren, parents, and teachers that: (a) the class size of any classroom that accepted consolidated students would not be greater than the class sizes otherwise provided for under CPS policy; and (b) each consolidated school would receive a comparable level of social support services as had been enjoyed by the schools comprising the consolidated school’s service area prior to the consolidation action.
On November 28 and 29, SB 547 was approved by both houses and sent to the Governor. It was expected to be signed into law. The House vote was 84-28-2.
- State report counts increase in number of abused, neglected children in downstate Illinois. The report, published in November by the Department of Children and Family Services, showed a 5.4% increase in child abuse-and-neglect reports in a recent four-month period throughout downstate Illinois. The Child Abuse and Neglect Statistical Report counted 25,348 “hotline” calls and other reports of suspected child abuse and neglect from July through October, 2012, compared to 24,053 reports in a similar period in 2011. Counties with above-average increases in reporting rates included regions of Illinois with severe economic challenges, such as Winnebago County.
- $2 sticker fee increase will soon provide $32 million/year in additional funding for State parks, recreational areas. After five years of budget cuts, maintenance and personnel conditions have deteriorated dramatically at many State parks and conservation areas operated by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). SB 1566, a bill approved in its final form by the Senate on Wednesday, November 28, will increase the annual cost of licensing a motor vehicle by $2, from $99 to $101. The additional monies raised by this fee will be paid into a special fund to be used by DNR for park maintenance purposes.
SB 1566, which has now been passed by both houses of the General Assembly, will raise taxes on Illinoisans by $32 million per year. The House previously approved this measure in May 2012. The House and Senate members who voted for the bill indicated that this was the State parks’ sole opportunity to raise funds for urgently required maintenance needs. State parks have been neglected continuously for the past five years of harsh Illinois economic conditions, and these parklands – the common possession of all Illinois – had no other alternative pathway to get this money. However, members who voted against this bill pointed out that the Illinois motor vehicle owners who will have to pay this fee are also suffering from the same harsh economic conditions, and that this is no time to again raise taxes on Illinoisans. Passage of SB 1566 by both houses sends the bill to the Governor, who has said he will sign it. The House vote on SB 1566, in May 2012, was 61-56-0.
- In fight to save Tamms and other suburban and Downstate prisons and juvenile detention facilities, Senate overrides Governor’s veto. “On the bubble” after Governor Pat Quinn wielded his veto pen were appropriated funds to the Department of Corrections (IDOC) and the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). These funds had been appropriated by the General Assembly in SB 2474 to operate the State prisons in Dwight (female correctional inmates) and Tamms (enhanced maximum security inmates), juvenile detention centers in Joliet and Murphysboro, and several “halfway house” post-imprisonment transitional facilities located throughout Downstate.
The Governor’s veto aimed at reducing spending by $56.1 million in the current fiscal year, but concerns were raised that the actual savings would be much less than the proclaimed amount. Although FY 13 was, by November 2012, almost half over, the two largest prisons affected by these proposed closings remained open because of multiple actions of arbitration and litigation. Furthermore, the General Assembly has the right to override any gubernatorial veto. The Senate voted on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 to override the Tamms veto signed by Governor Quinn. This override vote shifted the focus of this issue to the Illinois House, which could take up the issue in the veto session that re-convenes on Tuesday, December 4.
A successful override of the Governor’s veto by both houses of the General Assembly would not necessarily save the threatened Downstate facilities, but would legally prevent the chief executive from transferring the $56.1 million in appropriated funds and using them for other purposes.
- Grinch election law “tweaked” by General Assembly to give a merry Christmas Eve to local election officials. A quirk in State election law would have forced these officials to keep their offices open throughout Christmas Eve day in 2012 (December 24, 2012) to receive filings for the consolidated local election to be held statewide in spring 2013. Also, existing election law would have required two special one-time-only election dates, one for the primary contest and one for the general election, to be purchased and paid for throughout Illinois’s vacant 2nd congressional district. SB 3338, passed unanimously by both houses of the General Assembly this week, enacted one-time fixes to both problems. By slightly shifting the filing and congressional election dates, the legislature authorized candidates in the spring 2013 local elections (to be held statewide) to file their petitions and candidacy papers on the day after Christmas, December 26, 2012; and authorized the congressional primary and election days to be held on February 26, 2013, and April 9, 2013, so as to partly coincide with the spring local election. The House vote was 114-0-0, helping to send the measure to the Governor for his expected signature.
- Northern Illinois University (NIU) searches for new president. After John G. Peters, president of the 25,000-student university headquartered in DeKalb, Illinois, announced his approaching retirement in October, NIU began the process to formally search for a successor. The NIU Board of Trustees reported in November that they had set up a search committee to select a new chief executive. The trustees’ goal is to have a new university system head in place prior to Peters’ scheduled step-down date of June 30, 2013. Peters’ successor will be the 12th president of NIU.
- Governor sets up website to push pension reform. “Squeezy the Pension Python” is the animal of the week in Illinois, an animated mascot of Gov. Pat Quinn’s determination to lead what he calls a “discussion” on necessary pension reforms. Counting changes in actuarial assumptions adopted in fall 2012 by the Teachers’ Retirement System, the State’s current unfunded-liability total has now officially reached $96 billion. Financial experts warn, however, that assuming indefinite continuation of todays near-zero worldwide interest rates for high-grade debt, the current shortfall of Illinois’ five state-managed pension systems will be significantly greater than $100 billion. The Governor unveiled his new website in November 2012.
- Catastrophic athletic-insurance mandate fails in Illinois House. HB 603 would have required all public school districts that educate pupils in grades 9-12, including both consolidated and high school districts, to purchase and maintain supplemental catastrophic insurance policies for their pupils as a condition of being allowed to play in sporting events sanctioned by the Illinois High School Association. The bill was submitted after at least two Illinois high school football players sustained life-threatening, paralyzing injuries on the playing field. Existing insurance policies maintained by many school districts do not provided unlimited coverage necessary to maintain the indefinite skilled nursing care required in some case of severe injury. However, requiring supplemental insurance would be a hugely expensive additional mandate upon school districts hard-pressed by existing mandates. The House vote on HB 603 was 41-68-5, with 60 votes required to pass the bill.