Senator McCarter Week In Review

March 16, 2016

The Senate continues to move proposed new bills through the legislative process at the Capitol. Unfortunately, the House Chambers were vacant, except for the occasional cleaning crew. The House Speaker scheduled a four-week break from the Capitol even though state government is now in the ninth month without a complete and constitutional budget.

The House Takes a HikeDespite protests from Republican Representatives like Dwight Kay and to the disappointment of both Senate Republicans and Gov. Rauner, Speaker Madigan announced the House would not reconvene until April 4. Calling the extended break a “one-month vacation,” Rauner noted his growing disappointment in Democrat legislative leaders as they continue to play politics and reject compromise. Highlighting pending legislation for both procurement and pension reform, the Governor underscored the importance of lawmakers to be in Springfield, reaching across partisan lines, and working together to find bipartisan solutions.

“Our people are being hurt. Our universities are being hurt. Our students are being hurt. Stunning failure on the part of Speaker Madigan and his caucus in the House,” said Governor Rauner.

Senate Republicans share the Governor’s desire for an end to the politics that places a higher value on partisanship than the people. Meanwhile, the Senate was busy this week, including budget hearings during which we heard a mixed bag of welcomed and not-so-welcomed news.

DCFS improvements
An important task for government is how it handles programs and services for our most vulnerable citizens. The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) experienced a number of problems in recent years, not the least of which were the reports of abuse within state residential care centers and the inability of the agency to account for a number of children missing from the system.

When Gov. Rauner took office a year ago, he brought in George Sheldon to be DCFS Director. Sheldon testified before a Senate budget committee March 8 and outlined improvements that are turning the agency around:
·  The agency improved its internal administrative practices that resulted in the Department receiving an additional $21.5 million in federal funds for Fiscal Year 2016.

·  DCFS submitted corrective reform plans to improve residential centers across the state, including unannounced site visits and enhanced monitoring, reporting, and oversight of facilities, staff, and procedures.

· DCFS has also partnered with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office to create a cross-agency unit of Sheriff’s officers and child welfare specialists to work jointly on recovering missing children in Cook County.

Director Sheldon and the Governor deserve kudos for the turnaround they’ve achieved. Prior to Rauner taking office in January of 2015, DCFS experienced a revolving door of directors, which led to a number of failures that put children under its care at risk and cost the state precious federal funding.

Education: Fix the Budget
Illinois’ major state-run universities and the state’s own State Board of Education came before another Senate budget committee March 10 to present their budget requests for the 2017 Fiscal Year, which begins July 1.

Eastern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University and Western Illinois University officials called for an end to the budget stalemate, which is now in its ninth month. They told the Committee about loss of student enrollment, employee layoffs and additional financial burdens for the universities, which means dipping deep into financial reserves.

The Senate Republican Caucus is clear on its commitment to find a compromise on funding. Several proposals, are pending, including legislation I am cosponsoring that would provide funding for universities and community colleges through government procurement reforms that could free up as much as $500 million. Gov. Rauner commitment to education includes his plan, announced in February, that funding for K-12 is a top priority. His proposal for elementary and secondary education calls for fully funding the Foundation Level Grants for the first time in seven years. We continue to call upon our Democrat colleagues to join the discussion and work to find a solution.

People Over Party Please
The call to work together really started before Gov. Rauner took office 14 months ago. For years, Republicans in the Senate and House offered solutions to Illinois’ long-standing fiscal problems, but those ideas were rejected. Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle basically decided to go it alone and for 12 years expanded the size, scope and cost of government that eventually put Illinois into a debt and deficit spiral. The legacy left at the doorstep on Rauner’s Inauguration Day was a series of multiple state government credit downgrades and a state still left deeply in debt, even after an income tax increase that took $30 billion out of the pockets of working families and employers and gave it to the government.

Rauner asked for unity and compromise and proposed a way out of our economic fortunes. His so-called “Turnaround” agenda to reform government and rebuild the state’s business/jobs climate was rejected. I have chronicled time and again the loss of jobs, opportunity and our people to other states. Illinois has had its economic wakeup call, but we continue to struggle – unlike most states – to recover from the Recession of 2008.

Reason for Reform – Case in Point #1:
Under state law, employers with 75 employees or more must notify the state when they plan on a mass layoff or plant closing. The law is known as the WARN Act, the Illinois Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. Last month Illinois employers filed WARN Act notices with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity detailing more than 1,680 job losses. In that February WARN Act report, there are notices for 14 business closings and three business layoffs.

Reason for Reform – Case in Point #2:
The General Assembly’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA)recently released an update to their initial Fiscal Year 2016 revenue estimate. The report shows that while personal income tax revenues have continued to meet expectations, corporate tax revenues have failed to meet even modest expectations due to a weakening corporate profits picture. Additionally, state sales tax revenues are down, suggesting that Illinois consumer spending has slowed. Taking these reports into consideration COGFA has adjusted the estimated incoming state revenues down by $442 million with a newly expected revenue of $31.7 billion in total.

Illinoisans Want Reform
The online publication, Madison Record posted an interesting story March 10 about a survey of Illinoisans. Respondents were asked about their support for Gov. Rauner’s Turnaround ideas. The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at SIU-Carbondale conducted the survey.

The findings include:
·  78 percent of 1,000 registered voters contacted favor term limits for state lawmakers; 20 percent were opposed, and 3 percent said they didn’t know.

· 64 percent of respondents supported the idea of having an independent commission draw legislative maps. Twenty-five percent said they oppose the idea, and 11 percent gave another answer or said they didn’t know.

· 57 percent said they would vote for right-to-work or open-shop laws, while 4 percent said they leaned toward such laws. Thirty-three percent said they were opposed or leaning toward opposition. Seven 7 percent gave an answer of “undecided” or said they didn’t know.

The Institute’s survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The support for reform isn’t unanimous, but it’s strong. We know for certain that the bad policies imposed during the decade before Rauner took office aren’t working.

Structural reforms to improve our business/jobs climate must take place if Illinois is to maximize its potential for prosperity and opportunity for all. The state has too much to offer in the way of education, transportation, agriculture, technology and a highly-trained workforce to let it rot under bad policies for which we have proof of failure.

Notable Quotable
“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” – Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, 1861 until his assassination in April of 1865; U.S. Representative; Illinois State Representative.

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