Legislative Update: June 29, 2015

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.

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