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After blocking efforts by House Republicans for the last three weeks to bring a bill to the floor that would stop automatic pay raises for legislators amid the budget crisis, today Speaker Madigan brought his own very similar bill to the floor for a vote.

State Representative Chad Hays had this to say about the Speaker's motives.
Illinois continues to face an unprecedented fiscal crisis. As of late, there is no clear solution in sight, and the budget impasse continues in the General Assembly.

The state is suffering from a debt burden of over $100 billion, and despite this crisis, Speaker Madigan pushed a bill through last year to guarantee pay raises to state legislators for FY16. This pay raise not only includes a salary increase but also increases the per diem and mileage reimbursement rates given to legislators. The state cannot afford to give legislators a raise and I have repeatedly voted against automatic cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). It is completely wrong as legislators to give ourselves a pay raise when our state’s finances are in turmoil and no budget is in place.

At the same time, we do not have the ability to refuse this pay raise. Speaker Madigan created this automatic pay increase when the aforementioned bill passed last year. House Bill 4225, filed this year by several House Republicans, seeks to rectify this problem. This bill amends the Compensation Review Act, and prohibits any financial adjustments that were previously recommended and determined for compensation. I signed onto this bill in full support. As of today, our caucus has tried three times to have House Bill 4225 released from the Rules Committee so we could vote to reject the raises. On all three occasions Speaker Madigan’s strongest allies in the House blocked our effort to bring our bill to the floor.

I believe that House Bill 4225 is a step in the right direction and will continue to push for its release from Rules and passage. I am ready to work together with my fellow legislators to create a balanced budget for our state, and help fix our finances.
Democrats Continue Push for Unbalanced, Unconstitutional Budget
As the State of Illinois entered the second week of its fiscal year without a balanced budget in place, House Speaker Madigan and Senate President Cullerton continued to take a piece-meal approach to the budget crisis.

Democrats again backed a temporary budget to fund certain services at a level that is not sustainable over the course of the entire fiscal year. SB 2040, passed by the bare minimum of 71 partisan Democrat votes in the House Thursday, does not contain one-month spending levels based on the projected FY16 revenue estimate of $32 billion. The Governor’s Office of Management and Budget believes this plan will ultimately require the expenditure of over $36 billion of GRF taxpayer resources for FY16. As approved, SB2040 marches the taxpayers of Illinois toward a $4 billion unbalanced budget, one month at a time.

On Thursday I expressed my disappointment in the lack of progress toward approval of a balanced budget. You can listen to my remarks here.

Three Different Courts Hear Case of State Employee Pay
Three different courts heard testimony last week about whether or not State employees should be paid during the budget impasse, and by the end of Thursday, there were two starkly different results.

On Tuesday, a Cook County circuit judge ordered that the Comptroller was not allowed to pay the full payroll to state employees without an appropriation. The same order allowed the Comptroller to pay eligible state employees the federal minimum wage pursuant to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. At the same time, the judge signed off on an agreed order that allowed the Comptroller to expend monies for non-appropriated funds, continuing appropriations, consent decrees and judicial operations.

The Comptroller, CMS and the unions appealed the first court order to the First District Appellate Court. A four judge panel issued a temporary restraining order staying the order to pay employees the federal minimum wage until the Appellate Court is fully able to rule on the appeal. The TRO also barred the Comptroller from paying the full payroll. In essence, the TRO prevents the Comptroller from paying any wages to state employees. The Court also provided for an expedited hearing process and should offer a ruling on the appeal no later than July 20th.

On Thursday, a St. Clair County circuit judge held a hearing on the matter filed by AFSCME and twelve other unions on the same issue of employee payroll. The unions argued that full payroll should be paid, even without an appropriation, because of the Contracts Clause of the Illinois Constitution. The St. Clair County judge, according to media reports, issued a verbal order that allows the Comptroller to process the full payroll for all State employees, based on the inability of the Comptroller to differentiate union employees from non-union employees. The Comptroller’s Office has indicated it will indeed process the full payroll, based on the order. The Attorney General’s Office has indicated it will appeal the order.

House Republicans Introduce Bill to Ensure State Workers Get Paid
Last week I signed on as a sponsor of HB 4245, which designates pay for State workers as a “continuing appropriation,” a category that legally outranks the lack of a formal State budget. Enactment of HB 4245 would ensure that State and public university employees would be paid on July 15 and succeeding pay periods throughout FY16. Shortly after signing on as a sponsor, I spoke about the importance of the legislation. You can listen to that interview here.

HB 4245 covers all State agencies, the offices of constitutional officers such as the Secretary of State, State universities, community colleges, and a wide variety of ancillary agencies and offices in which payroll expenses are supported by State appropriations. Many House Republicans co-sponsored HB 4245 and the measure was fully supported by Governor Rauner.

Chief bill sponsor Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer took to the House floor Thursday to push for a fair hearing on his legislation to ensure State workers continue to receive their paychecks. Unfortunately, House Democrats chose to block the bill, and refused to release it from the House Rules Committee.

Governor Rauner, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin File Revised Turnaround Illinois Plans
As a signal to voters that the continued Illinois budget impasse only increases the evidence that substantial reforms are needs, Leader Durkin and Governor Rauner worked together this week to refile and re-launch “Turnaround Illinois.” This package of five key reform measures represents movement together fulfilling of the issues platform that the people of Illinois supported in November 2014 when they voted for Governor Rauner.

The planks of the Turnaround Illinois platform filed this week include tort reform (HB 4246); a two-year freeze on Illinois property tax extensions (HB 4247); workers’ compensation reform (HB 4248); term limits for elected State officials (HJRCA 41), and nonpartisan redistricting (HJRCA 42).

New Rules Ban Outdoor Smoking on Illinois College, University Campuses
The Illinois Smoke-Free Campus Act took full effect on Wednesday, July 1 at community colleges and State universities throughout Illinois. The law, which is implemented through local university and college boards of trustees, forbids smoking and the use of any tobacco product on campus.

The Smoke-Free Campus Act was enacted by the General Assembly in spring 2014 as SB 2202. The ban was given a July 1, 2015 effective date so as to give colleges and universities ample time to prepare implementation of the measure. Signs banning outdoor smoking are now familiar sights in Illinois public higher education. The move follows up on the actions of many individual Illinois boards of trustees and university/college presidents who have taken action on their own to ban outdoor campus smoking. The University of Illinois banned outdoor smoking at Urbana-Champaign on January 1, 2014.

Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, an advocacy group, reports that as of July 1, 2015, there are now 1,577 campuses throughout the United States that are described as “100% smokefree.” 1,078 of these campuses also ban nonsmoking tobacco products.

General Assembly Sends Concealed Carry Trailer Bill to Governor
In spite of the budget division in Springfield, there are many issues that continue to receive bipartisan attention from the Illinois General Assembly. The concealed carry trailer bill is a spring 2015 measure that looks at and solves many of the glitches affecting the 2013 Firearm Concealed Carry Act.

Concentrating on issues that involve the interaction between an armed citizen and a member of law enforcement or a member of emergency services personnel, SB 836 describes what members of each group should do during these encounters. For example, this bill clarifies that if a citizen licensed to carry a concealed firearm is contacted by law enforcement or emergency responders, the officer may secure the firearm or direct that it be secured during the duration of the contact.

The House vote to pass SB 836, as amended, was 84-23-3. House Republicans Ed Sullivan, John Anthony, and John Cavaletto co-sponsored the measure, which is expected to be signed into law soon.

Waters Continue to Rise in Illinois
Heavy summer rains continue to worsen floodwater conditions. Water is standing in many farm fields, leading to severe crop damage for many farm owners and operators. This was the wettest June in Illinois history, with an average of 8.91 inches of rain falling. More rain fell in early July.

Conditions are especially challenging in the Peoria area, where the Illinois River is running well above its banks. Many bottomland parcels are devoted to camping and boating, but these activities have been disrupted or ruined in summer 2015. The Illinois Emergency Management Agency continues to coordinate disaster relief efforts.

Illinois is now two weeks into FY16 and there is no sign of progress toward a balanced budget for the year that began on July 1. This week in Springfield, State Representative Chad Hays suggested the doorman lock the chamber doors and keep lawmakers in session until a deal is reached.
Wanting to make sure hard-working state employees are paid during the FY16 budget impasse, today State Representative Chad Hays (R-Catlin) joined several of his Republican colleagues in sponsoring a bill that would allow state agencies to meet their payroll obligations in the absence of an approved State budget.

“There are tens of thousands of hard-working State employees who are expected to go to work every day even though there is no authority for the Comptroller to issue their paychecks this month,” said Hays. “These individuals must be able to provide for their families, and HB4245 will allow them to get paid.”

HB4245 seeks to amend the State Budget Law of the Civil Administrative Code of Illinois to provide for a continuing appropriation for each State agency to meet personnel expenditures for each payroll period when a permanent budget is not in place. The bill would apply to all state agencies and also include state universities, community colleges and other areas where personnel expenditures are typically made through an annual State budget. Funding for salaries would match the appropriations made in FY15.

“We must be fair to our state employees and their families,” said Hays. “This budget mess is not their fault, yet there are some who are very willing to use these people as pawns in a political game of ‘chicken,’ to see who blinks first. Paying these folks is the right thing to do and this bill should receive unanimous support in both chambers of the General Assembly.”

To hear Rep. Hays speak about the bill, click here.

As we enter this new fiscal year without a budget in place, my office is hearing from state employees who are concerned about how things will change for them.The following Q&As were designed to help answer any questions.
 
Employee Benefits
 
Q.  Will an employee's health, dental or life insurance be affected?
A.  No. Group insurance coverage during a budget situation will not be impacted. If paychecks are delayed, and as long as the employee continues to work and earn a paycheck, insurance premiums will be taken accordingly. The missed payroll deductions will be taken once paychecks are issued.
 
Q.  What will happen to an employee's contributions to any flexible spending accounts (i.e., MCAP, DCAP) during the budget situation?
A.
Ø  Employees enrolled in MCAP will not be impacted. ConnectYourCare debit cards will continue to work. If the employee continues to work and earn a paycheck, deductions should be taken accordingly. If MCAP deductions are missed, they must be made up when the budget situation is resolved.
Ø  Employees enrolled in DCAP may be impacted as reimbursements are limited to the available account balance contained in their DCAP account. If the employee continues to work and earn a paycheck, and once all payroll deductions are deposited into the DCAP account, reimbursements can be made for eligible expenses up to the available account balance.
 
Q.  What will happen to an employee's Commuter Savings Program benefit?
A.  Employees enrolled in the Commuter Savings Program will continue to receive the benefit under this program. Employees will owe any underpaid amount upon their return to payroll.
 
Workers' Compensation Program
 
Q.  Will an employee's Workers' Compensation benefits be affected?
A.  No. In the event of a budget situation, Temporary Total Disability (TTD), Permanent Total Disability (PTD) and survivor death benefit payments under the Workers' Compensation Act will continue through July. Work-related injuries should continue to be reported through the procedures in place today.
 
Deferred Compensation Program
 
Q. What will happen to an employee's Deferred Compensation contributions during the budget situation?
A.  As long as the employee continues to work and earn a paycheck, payroll deductions for Deferred Compensation should be taken accordingly. Deferred Compensation contributions can only be made through payroll deduction. The employee cannot deposit money directly to his or her fund to catch-up the contributions.
 
Q.  If an individual is currently receiving a distribution from their Deferred Compensation account, will that distribution continue during the budget situation?
A.  Yes. Current distributions and changes to distribution amounts will continue to be processed. To make any changes in distribution, call T. Rowe Price at 1-888-457-5770.
 
Q.  Will hardship distributions/loans from an employee's Deferred Compensation account be available during the budget situation?
A.  A loan provision is available at any time and allows a participant to have one outstanding loan and borrow a minimum of $1,000 up to a maximum of $50,000 or 50% of their account balance over a five year period. The interest you pay goes back to your account along with the principal amount each month as you repay the loan through Automatic Clearing House (ACH) deductions from your bank. Employees would likely not qualify for a hardship distribution as they will be made whole of any missed payrolls when the budget situation ends.
 
Q.  How do I borrow from my Deferred Compensation account?
A.  To apply for a loan from your account over the phone, call T. Rowe Price at 1-888-457-5770 to speak to a Representative. There is a $75 processing fee and you will need to supply bank routing and account information for your checking/savings account numbers to set up the automatic ACH deduction. Participants are allowed one outstanding loan at a time. You may repay the full loan balance amount at any time through the same phone number at T. Rowe Price.
 
State Employee Compensation
 
Q. What options exist if certain parties take action to temporarily block pay for state employees?
A. State employees will be paid for their work. If certain parties take action to temporarily block pay for state employees, there may be an opportunity for employees to get bridge loans from local financial institutions. Credit Union 1, for example, has already agreed to offer no-interest loans for qualifying members of the credit union should salary payments for state employees be delayed. To be eligible to receive 0% interest loans from Credit Union 1, participants must have been members on or before May 1, 2015. Employees who have become members of Credit Union 1 since May 1, 2015, can apply for a loan, subject to normal criteria, rates and terms.
Governor Rauner Signs Education Budget Bill
On Wednesday, June 24, Governor Rauner signed the elementary and secondary education component of the Fiscal Year 2016 State budget, taking our children’s education out of the crossfire in Springfield.  While HB 3763 does not increase education spending by as much as the governor’s proposal, it does increase K-12 education funding by $244 million and early childhood education funding by $25 million.

“Education is the most important thing we do as a community.  I would have done more for our schoolchildren, but I am taking action today to ensure our teachers are paid and our schools are open and funded,” Governor Rauner said. 

The overall budget sent to the Governor is nearly $4 billion out of balance.  Thus, in its entirety it is blatantly out of balance and by definition unconstitutional as the constitution of Illinois requires a balanced budget.

That being said, I am glad education won’t be caught up in the Springfield stalemate and that our school children will not be held hostage over this budget battle.  Schools will open on time, teachers will be paid and education will get a needed boost in funding.   

The State of Illinois garnered an additional $31 billion after the tax increase of four years ago, yet K-12 education saw no increase in funding.  That is shameful.  Better funding for education is long overdue.

Governor Rauner Vetoes Unbalanced, Unconstitutional Budget; Cites $4 Billion Deficit
Citing the $4 deficit in the budget sent to his desk by House and Senate Democrats, Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the bulk of the budget bills Thursday, increasing the likelihood that some state services could be disrupted when the fiscal year begins next week. "For too long, the state of Illinois has made spending promises that exceed available revenues, relied on accounting gimmicks to make budgets appear balanced, used borrowing and cost deferral strategies to push costs into the future, and delayed payments to vendors," Rauner said in his veto message.

With a June 30 deadline for approving a fiscal year 2016 budget, Rauner continues to insist on "structural" changes to the business and political climates in Illinois before dealing with the opposing party on spending. Democrats want a tax increase, along with strategic spending cuts, in order to continue what they call vital state services. Read more on ABCNews.
For the past month, House Republicans have gone to Springfield each week hoping that the Chicago Democratic leaders who have held up the budget process were going to finally make it to the negotiating table.  Instead we were subjected to a series of disingenuous House hearings intended to do little more than derail the process.  It has been political theater at its’ worst.  A categorical waste of time that is beneath my expectations and the public most certainly expects and deserves more.

If I were in charge of the General Assembly I would call the legislature into session, tell every member to notify their family that they will miss the 4th of July; that Labor Day is in jeopardy; and that if they don’t get busy Thanksgiving may be next.  I would then tell the doorman to chain the doors until an agreement is hammered out.

AFSCME and Governor’s Office Announce One-Month Contract Extension
Thursday evening, a joint statement was released from Governor Rauner’s General Counsel and from AFSCME Council 31, which represents more than 40,000 unionized workers in Illinois. The short statement outlined an agreement that precludes the possibility of a strike or lockout for a one-month period after the state’s collective bargaining agreement with AFSCME Council 31 expires on June 30. The agreement allows both sides to continue to negotiate during the month of July without the threat of disruption to important public services.

Poker Run Bill Approved  by Both Houses of General Assembly
HB 3538 will help to smooth the licensing approval process for this popular fundraising tool throughout suburban and downstate Illinois.  Current law creates local snags in the ordinances that groups use to win licenses to carry out these popular fundraising activities, and HB 3538 pushes to streamline out these snags by placing poker run licenses in the hands of Illinois county boards other than Cook County.  The bill also clarifies that all bona fide nonprofit groups are eligible to seek to operate a poker run.

Poker runs are activities, usually one day long, in which a group of people make an event of traveling from place to place and playing a game at each location.  At the end of the poker run, the players concentrate at a finish line and play out the game, and prizes are awarded.  Under the provisions of HB 3538, the poker run must be set up so as to raise money for a needy person, a good cause, or the financial survival and stability of the group sponsoring the run.  Many motorcyclists and biker groups carry out poker runs.  After passage by the House in April, HB 3538 was amended in the Senate to authorize Cook County’s county board to retain the existing poker run law at their discretion.  The House vote on Tuesday, June 23 to concur with the Senate amendment completed the legislative work on this bill, and it joined other bills ready to be sent to Governor Rauner’s desk for final action.

U. of I. Bioenergy Grant Announced.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign announced on Wednesday, June 24 that it had received a $3.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to enable two years of intensified research on energy sorghum.  The grant will help cover the cost of semi-robotic farm machinery that will roll between rows of sorghum plants and sense the genetic information contained within the plants’ stems and leaves.  This information will control researchers’ efforts to achieve success in the breeding of improved strains of the potential new crop.

High-biomass sorghum shows potential in carbon capture and green energy production.  Plant breeders in Texas have grown sorghum stalks up to 20 feet tall, which can be harvested for distillation into ethanol and other energy products.  The plants have to be carefully bred so as not to produce flowers and seeds.   

Eastern Illinois was, for many generations, a longtime leader in the production of grains belonging to the sorghum family.  The prolific crop, which up until now has often been grown for its small seeds, is used for stock feed, bird seed, and broom grass.

I will continue to press for an agreement on both the budget and structural reforms that promise to move out State closer to being fiscally responsible and competitive for the jobs that we desperately need.