Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard
September 3, 2013
In this issue:
• How Illinois Can Become More Business and Job Friendly
• Vendor Payment Programs Offer Prompt Payment
• Tying College Funding to Student Performance
• State Grants Help Schools with Energy Efficiency and Maintenance
• NIU Joins in Immigration Reform Discussion
• Senate Education Funding Task Force Focuses on Formula
• Programs Available to Assist Homeowners Facing Foreclosure
• Take Action Against Hunger in September
• Let’s Make Lemonade out of Illinois’ Lemons
How Illinois can Become More Business and Job Friendly
Too many people in Springfield think the only way to stimulate the economy and create jobs is with your tax money. To the contrary, I have been talking for years about private sector investment and the barriers those units of government place in the way of stimulating the economy and creating jobs.
You can imagine my delight in reading a recent editorial by Illinois Chamber of Commerce President Doug Whitley as he focused public attention on these barriers and as a result got some quick results. I’ve posted the article on my website.
Whitley cited several examples of recent private and public sector efforts in Chicago to invest millions for new construction, hundreds of jobs and economic opportunity in neighborhoods only to be blocked, delayed, overburdened with red tape and often “shaken down” for kickbacks to politicians. While you may say “that’s just Chicago,” I contend state and local units of government are consciously and unconsciously doing similar things.
This past session seemed like some legislators in Springfield had declared war on Illinois businesses with a slew of bills intended to limit competition, raise the cost of doing business, and the cost of public projects. For example:
HB 922 (Signed into law) – Extends the amount of time contractors must keep certain documents, like payroll records, when they are engaging in “public works” projects from 3 years to 10 years.
HB 923 (Signed into law) – Requires most non-union contractors to report all payments made to an individual, sole proprietor or partnership who is not an employee of the contractor.
HB 924 (Passed in the House) – Requires contractors and subcontractors to comply with “responsible bidder” requirements as defined under the Procurement Code.
HB 1421 ¬ – Applies Prevailing Wage and Project Labor Agreement requirements upon private individuals and businesses using the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) program.
County and municipal governments also increase the cost of projects, delay construction and sometimes scare off business with their regulations, approval schedules and unwelcoming attitudes. We need to take a lesson from Sycamore and how they helped SK Tools relocate and build a facility in record time.
I’m glad to hear that after the public attention, one of Whitley’s examples has ended with a changed attitude from the city council and the auto dealer may be “allowed” to invest $500 million of private capital for a new dealership.
Vendor Payment Programs Offer Prompt Payment
Despite higher than anticipated state revenues in the past year, the Comptroller’s office is reporting that the backlog of unpaid state bills continues to grow and is forcing vendors to wait six months or longer for payment. I recently became aware of two programs that offer vendors prompt payment.
One of them, the Vendor Assistance Program, offers vendors 100 percent payment with no discounts. Since the program began in January, it has processed more than $180 million in receivables and allowed many vendors to stay in business. The firm advances 90 percent of the bill and pays the remaining 10 percent once the state has paid in full. Details of the service are available at vendorassistance.com or 855-734-4827.
Another program just recently became available and details can be found through Central Management Services.
Tying College Funding to Student Performance
President Obama has been barnstorming the country to focus national attention on the value of education beyond high school and strategies to make a college education more affordable for middle class families. Several states including Illinois already have programs to encourage more citizens to receive certificates and degrees beyond high school, and for colleges and universities to focus on student success. Illinois’ efforts can be improved.
The president has been pointing to the economic benefits of not only completing high school but also gaining additional education. A person who drops out of high school is five times more likely to be unemployed and when they work, to earn only a quarter of the weekly pay of someone with a professional degree.
Paying for a higher education degree, however, is growing beyond the reach of most middle income families according to the president. He said over the past 30 years the average tuition and fees at a public university has grown over 250 percent while incomes for a typical family increased by only 16 percent.
The president outlined three strategies: pay colleges and students for performance, promote innovation that cuts costs and improves quality, and help students manage loan debt. Many of his suggestions will take congressional action but in the meantime, Illinois should continue to improve its program for performance based funding.
Considering the payback to the state from higher education and the reductions in state funding for higher education institutions and research over the past decade, additional funding to encourage better performance from our public college and universities seems justified. The president’s recent focus will certainly create discussion in the legislature.
State Grants Help Schools with Energy Efficiency and Maintenance
Last week Governor Quinn announced that public elementary and secondary schools can now apply for two grants that will aid with improvement projects. Up to $20 million will be available through Energy Efficient Grants and $50 million is being allocated for School Maintenance Projects.
The efficiency grants offer up to $250,000 in matching grant money for projects that maximize energy efficiency and reduce energy consumption and costs. Maintenance grants offer up to $50,000 per project toward maintenance and upkeep of buildings and other structures. This program would also require a dollar for dollar match by local school districts, and districts may apply for more than one grant. The application process for both of these grant programs will be handled by the State Board of Education.
NIU Joins in Immigration Reform Discussion
A number of business and education organizations joined together last week in Naperville to sponsor a discussion on common sense immigration reform. They seek to support passage of comprehensive immigration legislation in Congress soon.
Northern Illinois University (NIU) President Doug Baker said “We have more than a million undocumented students in America and each year 65,000 of them graduate from high school.” He observed that only 5 to 10 percent of undocumented students go on to college. “What a waste of resources and cycle of poverty we create,” he continued.
Baker spoke of a current NIU student who maintains a 3.5 GPA while working three different jobs, but who still might not be able to pay for the remaining years of her college education. He said that because she is undocumented, the prospects for scholarships are uncertain and she is ineligible for financial aid.
Other speakers spoke to the need of comprehensive immigration reform not just a focus on securing the U.S. borders. Border security is important in this age of terrorism several agreed but they stressed we must also provide a pathway to citizenship and full involvement in our communities. The U.S. is a nation built by immigrants who wanted to achieve a better life for their families. The current 12 million or more undocumented residents in the U.S. want a chance to do the same and the business representatives said a hard working labor force is needed.
The summit sponsors included the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition; NIU; the U.S., Illinois, Chicagoland and Naperville Area Chambers of Commerce; and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
Senate Education Funding Task Force Focuses on Formula
Speaker Madigan wouldn’t appoint members to a joint Senate-House Education Funding Task Force so the Senate members moved forward with their first hearing August 19. While some testifying before the Task Force wanted to take the discussion to the level of education funding in Illinois, much of the time was focused on the equity of education funding between districts and funding for low income students.
Written testimony and background materials will be available on the State Board of Education website www.isbe.net. I will be meeting with several members of the House Education Appropriations Committee next week to discuss the allocation of general state aid and how to get better results from the dollars Illinois is currently spending on education.
Program Available to Assist Those Facing Foreclosure
Prairie State Legal Services has expanded its service focus to include homeowners and tenants facing foreclosure. The goal is to keep people in their homes by such strategies as court defense, bankruptcy, income generation, and loan modification. Additional information is available on their web site at www.pslegal.org, or by calling 888-966-7757.
Prairie State Legal Services is a non-profit organization offering free legal services to the poor, the elderly and individuals with disabilities.
Take Action Against Hunger in September
If you had to make a choice between paying your utility bills or having enough food for your family, would you be able to make that choice? Unfortunately, more than 500,000 people served by the Northern Illinois Food Bank (NIFB) in the last year have had to make such decisions. Food banks in our 13 county Northern Illinois region have helped distribute a record 42 million meals to feeding programs in the area.
September is Hunger Action Month so NIFB and 200 food banks across the country are hosting awareness campaigns and events to bring attention and take action for the cause of hunger. Here’s a few easy ways you can get involved:
Go Orange: Wear something orange on National Go Orange Day September 5 to show your support for the hungry. Encourage co-workers to do the same then snap a photo and post it on your social media page. You can find NIFB on Facebook and Twitter.
Dine Out for Hunger: Go out to dinner at one of the more than 30 participating restaurants that will send part of the proceeds to NIFB feeding programs. Go to www.SolveHungerToday.org/HAM for a list of participating restaurants.
Volunteer: Bring your family and colleagues to one of the NIFB food bank centers to help repack food for the hungry. It’s a great teambuilding exercise and you will leave knowing you helped put food on the table for someone in need. Centers are located in Geneva and Loves Park.
Let’s Make Lemonade out of Illinois’ Lemons
I am holding a series of discussions over lemonade this month regarding key issues (lemons) in Illinois and possible solutions. Join me September 14 at 9 a.m. in the Kaneville Community Center, September 17 at 6:30 p.m. in the Cortland Town Hall or September 21 at 9 a.m. in the Bonus Township Office, Garden Prairie.
The meeting in Burlington last week was well attended and offered valuable solutions. Share your ideas and get involved to change Illinois.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
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