November 24, 2014

Illinois Universities Warned Of 'Dire' Budget Cuts

The head of the Illinois Board of Higher Education has issued a budget warning to the presidents of the state's public universities after meeting with Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner's budget transition team.

The Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises newspapers obtained an email that Executive Director James Applegate sent to the presidents. It says the schools need to prepare for state funding cuts of up to 30 percent.
Applegate says in the email that the budget team has asked the schools to prepare budget recommendations for fiscal year 2016 with a 20 percent reduction.

He says they also may be asked to create spending reserves of between 5 and 10 percent of existing budgets for the remainder of fiscal year 2015.

A spokesman for Rauner, Mike Schrimpf, told The Associated Press that the Republican's transition team was not ordering budget cuts but seeking information on how a rollback of the state's temporary income tax would affect state agencies.

 University administrators say the news wasn't a surprise.

June 05, 2014

Legislator Pay: Too Much Or Too Little?

A state senator and candidate for higher office on Thursday sought some attention for giving up a portion of his pay. This comes after Illinois lawmakers — for the first time in years — did not vote to symbolically cut their own pay. This form of salary self-denial has become popular in Illinois, but its roots are much deeper than that.

The base salary for a member of the Illinois General Assembly is $67,836 a year. During the Great Recession, when Illinois’ finances were tanking, lawmakers decided to give some of that back.

They passed a law requiring themselves to take unpaid furlough days, one a month, which reduced annual salaries by a bit less than five percent. This went on for five years. Then, something changed last summer.

“The legislators should not get paid until they enact comprehensive, public pension reform," said Gov. Pat Quinn, who vetoed the money for legislators’ salaries out of the budget, trying to get them to pass a pension overhaul.

The Democratic leaders of the House and Senate sued the governor and won. Cut to this year, and a spokeswoman for the Senate president said having just argued it was unconstitutional for the governor to cut legislative pay, it would be just as unconstitutional for lawmakers to do it to themselves. Hence there was no vote this year on taking those furlough days.

This does not sit well with Rep. Dwight Kay, a Republican from Glen Carbon.

“The state’s broke," Kay said. "We can’t fund our schools. We can’t take care of the most needy. We can’t provide opportunity. So why in the world should we reward ourselves for doing bad work."

Kay points to the fact that Illinois legislators are among the best paid in the country.According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only California, Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan have higher base salaries. But other states are way, way lower, like New Hampshire, where a two-year term will net you a cool $200.

It’s important to keep in mind that this is not only a Republican talking point. Democrats, like State Sen. Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign), like to get in on the act, too.

In a video touting his candidacy for state treasurer, Frerichs said, “In 2006 I ran for the Senate, where I led by example by cutting my own pay."

But, as we’ve heard, no one got to cast that vote this year. Frerichs is already taking criticism from his opponent, Republican Rep. Tom Cross of Oswego, for supporting the overall budget. So Frerichs announced he'd donate 12 days’ worth of pay to charity — the amount he would have been furloughed. That money will be used to address tornado damage in his home town of Gifford.

"Skipping this pay increase is a small, but important gesture that I understand we must do better for the people of Illinois and I hope my colleagues in Springfield will follow my lead," said Frerichs in a news release.

This is a well worn path for politicians. Chris Mooney, who heads the University of Illinois' Institute of Government and Public Affairs, said they want to be seen as "just helping out."

“American don’t like politicians," Mooney says. "They don’t like government. Going back to throwing the tea in the drink, and et cetera."

Mooney said it benefits most politicians to try to look more like everyday people — people who aren’t seeking this job just because they want a paycheck.

Mooney said this can lead to what he calls a death spiral, where policy makers can’t raise their salaries because it might look bad on a campaign mailer. Believe it or not, he says Illinois was once in the forefront of a push to “professionalize” state legislatures. That involved making sessions longer, hiring more staff, and increasing lawmakers’ pay.

“Look, if you’re only paying them a thousand bucks or something or whatever, (and) they can’t afford to do it, who is going to serve in the state legislature?" Mooney asks. "It’s going to be people that are wealthy, people who are what were called in those days ‘housewives,’ people who are students, and retired people."

It’s also going to be people like House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, both of whom are lawyers in private practice on top of their legislative duties.

As a voter, ask yourself: Just what kind of legislator do I want? Professional? Citizen? Working class or wealthy?

It’s something to keep in mind when you begin to see campaign material attacking legislators for “giving themselves a raise.”


May 30, 2014

Illinois Legislature OKs 'Incomplete' 2015 Budget

The Illinois Legislature has approved an approximately $35.7 billion budget that Democrats acknowledge is "incomplete.''

The Senate approved the 2015 budget Friday with no GOP support. The House approved it Tuesday.
Democratic Sen. Dan Kotowski calls the plan "incomplete'' but says it's the best budget lawmakers can pass this year.  Republicans call the budget irresponsible.
Leading Democrats wanted to stop Illinois' temporary income tax increase from rolling back in January.

But House Democrats didn't have enough "yes'' votes in an election year to do so. That resulted in a budget that doesn't account for increased costs next year.  Democrats say Illinois could see massive cuts and layoffs if new revenue isn't found.
The GOP warns Democrats are planning to return after the November election and make the tax increase permanent.

In a statement, Governor Pat Quinn said he had submitted a balanced budget plan to lawmakers, but that the General Assembly had sent back an "incomplete budget" that "postpones the tough decisions". He said he would work to "minimize the impact of cuts in vital services while continuing to cut waste and maintain our hard-won fiscal plans."

Meanwhile, Quinn's Republican challenger, Bruce Rauner, calls the legislative budget plan a "phony budget". In a statement, Rauner says lawmakers didn't address structural reforms, instead passing a "broken, dishonest budget that career politicians" have been passing for years.


Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner presents his term limit petition in Springfield on Wednesday.
(Brian Mackey/IPR)
May 05, 2014

Still Waiting For Comprehensive Budget Plan From Rauner

The two men vying for governor disagree on a lot of issues, most notably what to do about Illinois' budget. Still, it's hard to compare the two, because one plan doesn't seem to exist.

It was nearly a month ago, at an event for Sangamon County Republicans that the party's nominee, Bruce Rauner, said "we'll be coming out with a comprehensive plan, that will be recommending about what we should change in our regulations and in our tax code and in our spending structure, in the, in … relatively near future."

So far, though, that hasn't happened.

Rauner has consistently said that Illinois should reduce its current income tax rate. His opponent, Gov. Pat Quinn, has the opposite stance.

Quinn said Illinois needs to make the higher rate permanent, or else face drastic cuts to important state programs.

The Quinn campaign said the governor is being forthright while Rauner's making dangerous campaign promises; while the Rauner campaign and other Republicans say Quinn is just trying to scare voters.

February 03, 2014

Gov. Quinn Wants To Postpone Budget Address

Gov. Pat Quinn has asked for more time before he delivers his budget address in part to prepare a five-year spending blueprint.

Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said Monday that the governor would like to delay his annual budget speech from Feb. 19 to March 26.
That puts the speech after the March 18th primary election. Anderson notes that 13 of the last 20 budget addresses have been delayed.
Quinn must address the January expiration of the state's temporary income tax hike.
 Anderson says the Democrat will outline his plans for the anticipated loss of $2 billion halfway through the year.
But she says the governor will present an outline for income and spending for the next five years to provide taxpayers more ``long-term certainty.''

June 05, 2013

Quinn Signs Legislation to Pay off Overdue Bills

More than $1 billion of the state's overdue bills are being paid off. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday signed legislation that pays down the bill backlog of a number of social service providers.

The Community Care Program will receive $142 million. The governor's office says another $235 million will go to care for people with developmental disabilities.

Group health insurance will receive $350 million and $500 million will go to Medicaid bills.

The bill includes $42 million to make payroll at the Department of Corrections and $6 billion for the state's pension contributions.

The legislation is one of several budget bills that will cross the governor's desk. The legislature last week passed a $35.4 billion budget for the next fiscal year, which starts in July.

May 31, 2013

Legislature Sends to New State Budget to Governor

The Illinois Senate has approved the final piece of a new state budget. The spending plan approved Friday now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn.

The $35.4 billion general revenue funds budget avoids cuts to elementary, secondary and higher education for the first time in several years.

It also keeps funding level for school transportation, early childhood and bilingual education.

But elementary and secondary school districts will continue to receive only 89 percent of what state statutes say they should get in general state aid.

Democrats drafted the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. They say it's a responsible plan that honestly reflects anticipated spending and helps pay down the state's backlog of bills.

Republicans criticize it for increasing spending and including "pork'' projects.

April 11, 2013

Illinois Human Services Staff Too Lean

Officials say the Illinois Department of Human Services staff is so lean that caseworkers can devote only 45 minutes a year to some families in need of social services.

Human Services Secretary Michelle Saddler told lawmakers Thursday that the agency needs more money to hire employees. Some have caseloads of 2,600.

Saddler told a House appropriations committee that Human Services officials need a larger staff just to keep their "noses above water.''

Saddler's testimony shocked lawmakers.

DHS caseworkers help needy families get food, shelter, financial and medical assistance.

Gov. Pat Quinn proposes adding 100 employees to the agency in the budget year that begins July 1. Funding would increase 8 percent to $6.3 billion. Staff increased by 105 this year.

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