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Ignoring the bipartisan working groups charged with creating a balanced FY16 budget, this week House and Senate Democrats filed a series of budget bills that collectively overspend by close to $4 billion. State Representative Chad Hays was interviewed by WCIA news about the budget proposal and you can watch that interview here.

Casino Discussions Continue in Springfield Working Group

Discussions continue about a possible expansion of gaming in Illinois. The gaming expansion working group met twice last week and we have plans to meet again twice this week. A possible license for the city of Danville is an important part of these discussions, and while there is currently no bill pending in the General Assembly at this time, I remain hopeful that a casino license is in Danville’s future.

Senate Bill Committee Deadline Passes in the House
Most Senate bills had to be out of House committee by the end of last week to remain alive. As the General Assembly continues to move towards May 31 adjournment, members of the Illinois House and Senate scrambled to get committee approval for their bills. This week, May 18 through May 22, is the deadline for Senate bills to be heard on the House floor. By May 22, most Senate bills will either have been passed by the House and sent to the Governor for final signature, passed by the House as amended and sent back to the Senate for concurrence, or will have been sent to the House Rules Committee for failure to meet the deadline. Meanwhile, the Senate has a parallel deadline for House bills.

Political Games Continue in Springfield
At a time when legislators should be working in a bipartisan manner to create the FY16 budget, some members of the majority party have been making a mockery of the legislative process by bringing bills to the floor they have no intention of passing. Rather than allowing the working groups on the budget and other important issues to complete their work and send appropriation and reform bills through the committee process for proper vetting, Speaker Madigan has instead decided to turn the House Chamber into a political circus. House Republicans are refusing to participate in the Speaker’s political stunts and are voting “Present” on these insincere pieces of legislation.

Hays Serves as Honorary Starter for Fundraising 5K Run/Walk
Over the weekend it was my privilege to serve as the honorary starter for the Danville Police and Firefighter 5K Run and Walk. Proceed from the event will assist with travel costs associated with bringing wounded warriors from VETSports to play against Danville’s Finest and Bravest in an upcoming August 22 charity softball event at Danville Stadium. Danville was recently named the most Veteran-friendly community in both Illinois and in the United states by the 40 & 8 Veterans Organization. Proceeds from this year’s August 22 charity softball game will benefit CASA of Vermilion County. Thanks to all who participated in the 5K run and walk. Due to your participation and generosity, the event was a huge success!

50-State Survey Shows Recent Illinois Job growth has Underperformed Neighboring States
The study, conducted by the nonpartisan Pew Charitable Trusts, counted the rates of new job creation in each of the 50 states between January 2008 (marking the start of the 2008-15 downturn) and March 2015. The study was released on Wednesday, May 13.

Study findings indicated that, when measured by percentage, the rate of job growth in Illinois underperformed similar numbers in Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Although Illinois’ job growth was significantly slower than that of the nation as a whole, slow rates were also posted by many states in the U.S. Northeast other than New York. Some Midwestern states did well in the Pew study, with Michigan bouncing back significantly from the motor vehicle industry-led crash of the late 2000s. Paced by changes in labor-management law, Michigan added 417,900 jobs since its low point of March 2010, outpacing many of its Rust Belt neighbors.

Moody’s Reduces Chicago’s Credit Rating to Junk Bond Status
The downgrade to what Moody’s calls “Ba1,” a junk-bond level, was announced on Tuesday, May 12, and affects $8.1 billion in city general-obligation debt. The moved marked semi-official acknowledgement, by a major player in global debt markets, that there is material risk that Chicago may on a future date fail to repay its bondholders in full and the city may default on its debts. The New York credit-rating agency attributed this move to the Friday, May 8 decision by the Illinois Supreme Court to discard recent moves toward pension reform. As recently as March 2014, Moody’s rated Chicago debt at A3. With this May 2015 move, Chicago’s GO bonds will no longer be suitable for most purposes of fiduciary investment, including investments by pension funds, annuity funds, and funds operated by Wall Street that provide savings options to workers enrolled in 401(k) plans. Junk-bond debt often continues to trade back and forth between speculators and aggressive income-oriented investment funds.

White House Confirms Future Obama library will be Built on Chicago’s South Side
The widely leaked decision was officially disclosed on Tuesday, May 12. Insiders expect that the Obama Presidential Library and Museum will be constructed with private donations and will not require a capital investment by the State or its taxpayers. Chicago’s Martin Nesbitt, who will head the foundation that will fund the planning and construction, has not yet disclosed where on the South Side the presidential complex will be built. The University of Chicago, in cooperation with Chicago’s City Hall, is recommending sites in Chicago’s Jackson Park or Washington Park. Both locations would be physically close to the Obamas’ longtime family home in Chicago’s Hyde Park/Kenwood neighborhood, as well as the University of Chicago Law School where Obama served as an instructor.
Illinois Supreme Court Strikes Down Pension Reform Law
In December of 2013, the General Assembly took a vote on a controversial pension reform bill (SB 1) that made sweeping changes to benefits for current and past state employees. The new law was promptly challenged by the unions and has spent the last year and a half in the court system. Leading up to the December 2013 vote I was vocal in my opinion that the bill was inherently unfair to retirees and also unconstitutional. When the bill came up for a vote I voted against it.

On Friday, May 8, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously reaffirmed a lower Circuit Court ruling on the State pension system reforms contained in SB 1 (P.A. 98-599).  The Illinois Supreme Court ruling found P.A. 98-599 unconstitutional and permanently enjoined its enforcement.  Regardless of the severability provision that linked only certain reforms, written to allow some reforms to fall and others to stand if so ruled by the Court, the opinion held that the pension annuity reduction provisions were so central to the Act that the entire Act must fall.  The Court found that if all unconstitutional provisions were stricken, then the bill would no longer reflect the intent of the General Assembly and must be void in its entirety. 

Hays Named to Gaming Working Group in Springfield
While budget working groups continue to meet regularly in Springfield to iron out a FY16 spending plan, a new working group dealing specifically with the issue of expanding the gaming industry in Illinois has also been formed. I am pleased to announce that I have been chosen to serve on this bipartisan panel. An overwhelming number of constituents from this area have expressed support for a casino in the Danville area, so I am looking forward to representing my constituents’ views on this new committee.

House Republicans Reject Piecemeal Budget Components   
An all-too-often told story played out again Wednesday in the Illinois House of Representatives: the story of a broken, backwards budgeting process intended to divide, not unite. 

The process began with Governor Rauner’s introduced Fiscal Year 2016 budget, which is meant to be a starting point for negotiations through which changes are made, with a final budget arriving back on the Governor’s desk for either approval or rejection.  The budget process is designed to ensure all priorities are considered and more important that all decisions are made in an open and transparent manner.

Wednesday, in a divisive spirit and with a complete disregard for legislative procedure, House Speaker Mike Madigan and majority party leaders short-circuited the budget process by bringing the Human Services budget directly to the House floor with little notice and no committee deliberations. This action was not genuine; it was intended to send a message. Recognizing that, I joined my colleagues in the House Republican Caucus and voted “Present.”

Immediately after that vote, 15 additional amendments were filed by majority party leaders, cherry-picking various programs vulnerable in the budget and began running them one at a time, again in the hopes of deliberately sabotaging the budget working groups that have been meeting for months, and continue to meet.  Again, House Republicans voted “Present.”

IDOT Listening Tour Draws Large Crowds Statewide
This month the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), in cooperation with the Illinois Capital Development Board, is sponsoring 40 meetings in 30 days across the state to discuss and seek input on the state’s infrastructure needs. At the conclusion of the meetings, Governor Rauner will be presented with a comprehensive package of recommendations. Citizens from this area were offered two opportunities to attend a meeting and have their concerns and priorities heard. I attended both of these meetings; the first in Champaign on April 27, and then the second in Danville on May 7. We had large crowds at both events and a lot of good information was shared. Thank you to all who took the time to attend a meeting.

House Republicans Call for Benefit Certainty, Process Reform for Workers Compensation
A lengthy Committee of the Whole hearing on workers’ compensation issues was held before the full House on Tuesday, May 5.  Injured workers, members of their families, and other stakeholders testified to lawmakers on the strengths and problems of Illinois’ current system of workers’ compensation.     

House Republicans pointed out that many agree that benefit levels to workers should not be changed and there are substantial savings in prospect from reforms to the workers’ compensation process.  Existing pieces of the Illinois workers’ compensation process, including the standard of causation used to reach a definitive determination of what caused a workers’ injury, can be looked at to bring these standards into line with the standard practices of most other U.S. states.  As one benefit of these changes, reforms to the process could reduce fraud and speed up the determination of cause of a workers’ injury.  This could lead to faster compensations getting paid to injured workers.

Despite limited workers’ compensation reforms passed in 2011, Illinois still has the seventh highest workers’ compensation costs in the country.  These high structural costs drive jobs to other states, including Indiana, where workers’ compensation costs are more than 50 percent less.  For every $100 in payroll an Illinois employer pays another $2.35 in workers’ compensation premiums, whereas Indiana employers pay $1.06.  For 2014, Illinois’ rates are 27 percent higher than the national median.

Area Students Visit State Capitol
It was a very busy week in Springfield, with several groups visiting their capitol. Last week I had the pleasure of talking with 8th grade students from Westville Jr. High School, We are shown here outside of the House Chamber at the Capitol.

I also got to see a display in the Capitol rotunda put together by 3 rd grade students from Judith Giacoma Elementary School in Westville. These kids were part of a statewide celebration of technical education in our schools as part of Tech Day 2015: Students for the Information Age. I enjoyed talking with both groups of students, and a great time was had by all.

Governor Rauner Speaks to Chicago City Council, Warns No Bailout
As the fiscal picture darkens for Illinois’ largest city, some advocates have held out hope that Illinois taxpayer could be persuaded to ride to the rescue with moves intended to bail out Chicago.  However, in remarks delivered to the Chicago City Council on Wednesday, May 6, Governor Rauner told Chicago’s mayor and alderman their city has many strengths.  The Governor asserted that leveraging these strengths, combined with sacrifices by stakeholders, will lead to city-state cooperation that offers the best hope of achieving financial recovery. 

“Compromise,” the Governor urged.  “Accept things we might normally oppose.  That’s going to be required of all of us.”  Chicago issues in which State actions are possible include pension reform, a possible Chicago-based casino, school reform, and changes to labor-management law.  Bond rating agencies agree that the quality of Chicago’s debt is plunging, and just yesterday Moody’s downgraded the Chicago bond rating to” junk bond” status.
In response to the decision today by Governor Bruce Rauner to restore the $26 million in cuts that had previously been announced for Illinois human service agencies, State Representative Chad Hays (R-Catlin) has issued the following statement: 

“Based on revised revenue estimates provided by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, it appears that Illinois will have an additional $300-$500 million in revenue. I fully support Governor Rauner’s decision today to restore funding to the list of grant recipients which fall under the auspices of the Department of Human Services and the Department of Public Health.”

“Funding for important services such as autism, epilepsy and early childhood intervention programs is very important to me, and I am pleased to know that they will receive full funding for the balance of this fiscal year. This unanticipated, one-time influx of $300-$500 million takes some pressure off of how the current budget will be brought back into balance and I applaud Governor Rauner’s prompt decision to reverse those cuts.”
Third Reading Deadline Passes in House and Senate
During what is typically one of Springfield’s busiest weeks, the House and Senate finished considering legislation that originated in their respective chambers. That means any House bills that have not been approved by the House are now dormant for the remainder of this year’s spring legislative session. Similarly, Senate bills that did not come up for a vote last week are ineligible for action for now.

From here on until the end of the 2015 spring session, the House will be dealing with Senate bills, and vice versa. House Republicans will closely scrutinize these Senate bills. As of the morning of Friday, April 24 (deadline day), the Senate had sent 251 bills and one joint resolution to the House for further action. The House has sent 331 measures to the Senate. This reflects almost three-quarters (331/444) of the 444 House bills let out of House committee for floor consideration. As the end of session gets closer, bill actions may move faster and break quicker than they did earlier in session. Check out The Caucus Blog for frequent updates on Illinois House legislative action.

Small Business Owners Caucus Forms in General Assembly
A Bipartisan group of legislators has formed a new caucus that is focused on drafting legislative policies and suggesting changes that spur economic development in Illinois. The 20-member caucus brings together lawmakers who share similar entrepreneurial experiences, and activities will include caucus-backed legislative proposals and the support of individual caucus members’ legislative ideas. The group also intends to hold pro-business discussions with the state’s constitutional officers, agency directors, legislative leaders and with pro-business organizations throughout the state. It’s an honor to be a part of this new group of legislators and I look forward to our important work.

Statewide Discussion on Capital Spending Begins
Governor Bruce Rauner announced on Tuesday, April 21 that he is launching an infrastructure Listening Tour in which the Governor will talk to local leaders in at least 30 separate Illinois communities to hear their needs for additional help in maintaining vital local infrastructure. At the same time, Illinois House budget working groups will be meeting on FY16 budget challenges, including issues of public infrastructure. I will be attending two sessions in this area and invite you to join me at the session that is most convenient for you. The first local session will be in Champaign today (April 27) at 1:00 PM at Champaign’s Hilton Garden Inn, 1501 S. Neil Street. I’ll also be attending a session next week in Danville on May 7. The Danville session is at 9:30 AM in the Vermilion County Building’s Board Room on the second floor of the County Annex, 6 N. Vermilion Street in Danville.

Deteriorating roads and bridges are expected to be a particular focus of the Governor’s tour and Illinois House discussions. Current projections, based on existing trends on motor fuel consumption and taxes paid, have looked at the current six-year Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) planning program. Current trends indicate that by the end of this six-year program 40 percent of Illinois highways, and one in seven Illinois bridges, will be in unacceptable condition.

Most of the money raised by motor fuel taxes is deposited in the state’s Road Fund and used for road and bridge repair and replacement. Illinois transportation infrastructure work will continue in the 2015 construction season, but IDOT has reported to the Illinois House that the State’s asphalt infrastructure is depreciating faster than moneys are being deposited in the Fund.

General Assembly Takes Action to Restore Funding for Autism, Early Childhood and other Programs
SB 274 authorizes Governor Bruce Rauner to move $26 million from certain restricted State accounts. The Governor would use the money to partly reverse cuts imposed on certain hard-hit State programs. The list of cuts that were announced last month was troubling, and I took your concerns to heart when you emailed my office. SB 274 received wide support in the Senate and is now pending in the House of Representatives. If Speaker Madigan calls this bill I will be supporting it. Funding for critical services such as early childhood intervention and autism and epilepsy programs are very important, and I will continue to do what I can to preserve funding for our most vulnerable citizens while also working toward a balanced budget for FY16.

House Moves Bills to Reduce Marijuana Penalties/Extend Medical Marijuana Program
HB 218, a bill negotiated with input from prosecutors and law enforcement, makes changes to the penalty schedule for possession of small quantities of marijuana. The bill creates a Uniform Cannabis Ticket and a fine (rather than a misdemeanor charge) for possession of not more than 30 grams of marijuana. Reductions in penalties are made for offenses of quantities of not less than 30 grams and not more than 500 grams. HB 218 does NOT make marijuana legal.

While I voted against HB 218, I do agree that streamlining the rules and penalties for marijuana use and possession is a good idea. More than 100 communities in Illinois had already taken steps to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and a key component of the bill is that the rules are now the same throughout the state.

Lawmakers in the IL House also voted last week to extend the life of the medical marijuana program. The program, which has granted limited numbers of permits to grow cannabis and dispense cannabis-based substances, is intended to provide small quantities of medical cannabis to patients upon the recommendation of their doctors.

General Assembly Moves Bill to Encourage Construction of Obama Presidential Museum/Library
Last year the House Republicans successfully stopped an effort by the controlling Party in Springfield to allocate $100 million in taxpayer funds toward the building of an Obama Presidential Library and Museum in Illinois. While most people agree that Illinois is the proper location for our current President’s future museum and library, we felt it was fundamentally wrong to ask the taxpayers of Illinois to foot the bill.

HB 373 was amended last week to add language authorizing the construction of a presidential library on public parkland in Chicago. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office and the University of Chicago, where Obama worked as a lecturer in constitutional law, have submitted a bid to construct the library on parkland space adjacent to Obama’s former residence in Hyde Park, Chicago.

The most important element of this new bill is the no taxpayer money is tied to the project. An Obama Presidential Library/Museum, if constructed and operated in a manner similar to the Clinton Library or the two Bush Libraries, would be built with private-sector funds. Gifts from the private sector and admission fees, not State money, would be used to operate much of the museum section of the Library.

Features of the Obama Library bill could also strengthen the legal position of Emanuel’s office in his separate fight to build a museum on Chicago’s lakefront honoring filmmaker George Lucas. Language within the bill exempts museums and aquariums affiliated with the city of Chicago from requirements that reclaimed Lake Michigan bottomland be protected if it was reclaimed for public use. The Lucas Museum plans include an expectation that the museum will charge a significant admission fee. The bill, which does not allocate any taxpayer dollars toward the construction of the museum/library, was approved in the House and Senate and now awaits the signature of the Governor.

Funds Raised to Offset costs of Summer Music Enrichment Program
This last weekend I had a great time at a great event that supports the Danville Area Community College for Kids Program. The College for Kids program has been in place since 1980, and provides educational opportunities for children during the summer months while helping students grow accustomed to life on a college campus. The philosophy of the summer enrichment program is to provide fresh and fun subject matter to motivate children and keep them challenged and active during the summer. The program accomplishes the following:
  • Provides hands-on, in-depth exploration in specialized fields of knowledge
  • Provides opportunities for children to reach levels of intellectual stimulation which exceed those normally acquired in a regular classroom setting
  • Provides challenging experiences and necessary tools to develop the special interests in the subject areas offered
  • Exposes children to the college atmosphere of learning which will increase the probability that they will direct their energies toward fulfillment of their highest potential
I’m shown in the photo with Pete Goodwin, Judge Mark Goodwin, Steve Strader and Rick Rotramel at Wolf Creek Golf Club.
Fithian native Susan Richter was honored in Springfield this week with a House Resolution recognizing her for her recent receipt of the “First Citizen Award” by the Danville chapter of the American Business Club.

House Resolution 383, sponsored by State Representative Chad Hays (R-Catlin), outlined Richter’s service to the Danville area for the last 40 years, from when she began working as a volunteer and gift shop manager at the Vermilion County Museum Society in 1976, through her current day role as an extremely active community volunteer.

“Susan Richter exemplifies what it means to give back to one’s community,” said Hays. “She has spent most of her adult life donating her time and talents to the museum society, the local garden club, her church and to many other community organizations.”

In addition to being the recipient of the First Citizen Award, Richter is also a former Woman of the Year for the American Association of University Women (AAUW), a Best Program award recipient by the Illinois State Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), and a local recipient of the Old Towne Preservation Legacy Award for Historical Preservation.

“Vermilion County and all of Illinois owes Susan Richter their gratitude and thanks for the role she has played in making the Danville area a wonderful place to live,” Hays said. “She is incredibly deserving of the awards she has received and our community is lucky to have such a dedicated individual who is so dedicated to community service.”
After voting on Tuesday to provide Governor Bruce Rauner with flexibility to bring into balance the FY15 budget he inherited in January from former Governor Quinn, State Representative Chad Hays spoke about the importance of the votes and how they relate to the upcoming budget process for FY16.