Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
March 29, 2010
*Bipartisan Pension Reform Passes
*Jobs Bill Sent to Governor
*Barrage of Legislation
*Student Loan Relief for the Unemployed
*NIU’s LaTourette Honored
Bipartisan Pension Reform Passes
A major pension reform bill sailed to the Governor’s desk in less than 12 hours last week proving once again that bipartisan legislative action can be accomplished when Speaker Madigan allows it. Senate Bill 1946 makes significant changes to 13 of the 17 public pension systems in the state. Reforms to municipal fire and police pensions are expected yet this spring.
The legislative changes will not affect the benefits of current state employees but will save the state an estimated $100 billion over the next several decades. Swift action was requested by the Governor to avoid a bond rating reduction that would raise interest payments on a $1 billion bond sale the Governor intends to make in the next few weeks. Bonding companies like most citizens want the state to address its fiscal problems and pension reform will help.
Like most pieces of big legislation, this bill is not perfect. One of my concerns was over the pension payment holiday given to the Chicago Public School (CPS) system. CPS is allowed to reduce pension payments by $1.2 billion over the next three years. Making lower pension payments will increase the cost of pension liabilities by about $15 billion. This type of pension payment “holiday” is what got the state into its pension unfunded liability that now totals nearly $80 billion.
In writing the bill, Speaker Madigan took various reform ideas that had been proposed by Republicans and discussed in Pension Task Force meetings last year. Unions were understandably furious that they didn’t get a chance to help write the bill but then again neither did legislators.
With bipartisan action like this, the legislature might even agree to a balanced budget before July 4th. Contact my office if you would like to discuss any provisions of this massive pension reform bill.
Jobs Bill Sent to Governor
Another potentially significant piece of legislation was passed by the Senate and sent to the Governor last week. SB 1578 as amended in the House creates a $2500 tax credit for every job created by small businesses. This idea, which has been supported by Republicans for months, was endorsed by the Governor in his budget address.
The credit is limited to companies that employ less than 50 workers and applies to each job created. The bill limits the state’s exposure to $50 million.
Raining Constitutional Amendments
Over the past 40 years there have been only 16 proposed amendments to our state constitution but this year there are six proposals. Could it be that Speaker Madigan is just trying to perfect the constitution or is it that he wants to prevent voters from approving a redistricting plan?
The constitution limits the number of amendments that can be presented to voters in an election. The Recall of the Governor amendment has already been approved which only allows two more articles of the constitution to be considered. Speaker Madigan and his daughter, the Attorney General, have proposed four ideas dealing with judicial requirements, Crime Victim’s Rights, limiting appropriations, and abolishing the office of Lt. Governor. Then there are the legislative redistricting bills, House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 56 and Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 104, which propose to change the way districts are drawn every ten years.
If any two of the proposals backed by the Speaker are approved before redistricting is considered, that idea and its benefits will be delayed for ten years. Speaker Madigan may be afraid of losing some power by not controlling the redistricting process in 2012. Redistricting reform is one way to change legislative leadership and the too common gridlock in Springfield.
Barrage of Legislation
Here are some bills that passed the House last week.
HB4779—Income for Emergency Response. HB 4779 sets up a new fine for any person convicted of speeding and causing an incident where emergency personnel must respond. The money will go to pay for the emergency response.
HB4781–Debt Settlement Company Control. This bill provides for licensing and regulation of companies advertising to help consumers settle their debts. The Attorney General reports many abuses where companies charge big fees to consumers but then don’t help them get control of their financial bills.
HB4935–Medical Fee Splitting. HB 4935 amends several Acts that regulate medical and healthcare professions to allow contractual or employment arrangements with other health care professionals. The bill will allow arrangements for compensation, use of space, and sharing of equipment, insurance, pension or other benefits.
HB5023–Fetal Alcohol Outreach. The bill appropriates $250,000 from the General Revenue Fund for a grant to Trinity Services, Inc. and the FAST Team of Illinois for the establishment and operation of a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Outreach and Drop-In Center.
HB5109– Bars Public Funds for Blagojevich Portrait. This bill prohibits use of public funds to acquire the portrait of any impeached and convicted Governor. The state may display and maintain any donated portrait among the official portraits of Governors.
HB5571—Freeze Non Essential Spending. HB5571 provides that for a period of two years no state funds can be used for nonessential promotional purposes or advertising. The act also bars state grant recipients from using grant funds for such purposes.
HB5917–Food Service Sanitation Certification. This bill reduces the hours of training a person needs to be a Food Service Sanitation Manager. The manager will still need to pass a certification test. Illinois is one of only a few states that require a specific number of training hours or for a certified sanitation manager to be present whenever food is prepared.
HB6099–Lawn Care Fertilizer Application. HB 6099 prohibits applicators for hire from applying fertilizer containing phosphorus to an established lawn unless shown to be necessary by a soil test. While the bill does not affect homeowner applied fertilizers, it targets over application of phosphorus which contributes to algae growth in bodies of water.
HB6126–Delinquent Property Taxes. The legislation provides that all applications for judgment and order of sale for taxes and special assessments on delinquent properties shall be made within 90 days after the second installment due date (instead of during the month of October). This bill is intended to give property owners more time to pay their taxes and assessments.
HB6202–Net Metering Studied. A task force is created to study barriers to net metering development in Illinois. Net metering is a process where consumers generate electricity by renewable sources to offset purchased power from utility companies.
HB6241–Mobile Home Property Tax Increase. This bill provides that any new manufactured home or mobile home located outside a mobile home park will be taxed as normal real property. Currently such homes are taxed well below the value of a typical home with a foundation around the perimeter of the dwelling.
HB6412–Credit Card Terms. This bill amends the Illinois Financial Services Development Act to be consistent with new federal regulation of credit cards. It offers better options for consumers when a credit card company changes interest rates or other terms.
HB6441– Health Information Sharing. HB 6441 creates the Illinois Health Information Exchange Authority (ILHIE) to promote and facilitate the sharing of an individual’s health information among health care providers anywhere in the U.S. This act brings Illinois in compliance with federal efforts to foster the widespread adoption of electronic health records.
Northern Illinois University recently received a $7.5 million federal grant to create a Health Information Technology Regional Extension Center to assist doctors adopt the technology. The NIU Center will be one of 70 such facilities nationwide.
HB6749–Energy Efficiency Appliance Program. This bill appropriates $3.4 million for a quicker reimbursement to appliance dealers who participated in the federal Retail Energy Efficiency Appliance Program. The dealers will receive a federal reimbursement but this bill assures that payments will not be delayed as they were in the Cash for Clunkers federal program. Consumers can purchase a more energy efficient appliance at discounted prices during the first half of April.
SB2494– Vouchers for students in failing schools. This legislation that passed the Senate creates a pilot program to help parents pay for tuition to private schools. Proponents of the legislation feel that the bill would allow low-income students to escape schools that continually underperform.
Student Loan Relief for the Unemployed
The Illinois Student Assistance Commission and the U.S. Department of Education advise those with college student loans and who receive layoff notices to quickly contact the lending institution that holds their loan. You should explain the employment situation and seek a loan deferral or forbearance.
Applicants may need to send the lender a copy of the “RIF” notice. The terms of most loans let borrowers skip payments without accruing additional interest during periods of unemployment. Lenders decide loan relief on a case-by-case basis.
NIU’s LaTourette Honored
The State of Illinois will join in honoring a former NIU president on April 13 as the day has been officially designated “John LaTourette Day.” During the day, NIU’s chemistry and physics building will be renamed for the university’s tenth president.
LaTourette joined NIU in 1979 and served as president from 1986 to 2000 during a period of considerable growth for the university. Not only were four doctoral programs added during his tenure but also ten buildings were constructed, funding was secured to renovate Altgeld Hall and the Convocation Center, and the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology was established.
I was pleased to sponsor a House Resolution naming April 13 John LaTourette Day and recognizing the importance of higher education and graduate studies.
If you would like an easy to understand Guide to the State Budget or a Guide to Understanding Property Taxes, visit the Illinois Taxpayers Federation web site www.taxpayfedil.org
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
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