Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
November 2, 2009
The General Assembly’s fall Veto Session ended last week after considering lots of legislation but not any response to the state’s dire economic situation. There were good sounding bills to “clean up” campaign financing and correct poorly written legislation passed this spring. However when it came to funding college grants to students or the mountain of unpaid bills, all the leaders would allow is talk. The Governor has authority to sell more short-term bonds and is crafting plans to “borrow” from other state funds that have any surplus. The General Assembly is now in recess until January.
New Cemetery Regulations Stall
The Illinois House passed legislation to require more oversight of cemeteries but the bill will not be considered in the Senate until next year. Senate Bill 1471 was amended to exempt all but the 200 or so for-profit cemeteries in the state from the most onerous regulations.
The bill still requires all cemeteries to be licensed, as well as have a cemetery map submitted under supervision of an Illinois professional land surveyor. Cemeteries would also be required to provide an annual cemetery report, continuing education for cemetery managers, and complaint mediation procedures.
Besides creating a whole new level of bureaucracy regarding cemeteries, the regulations create expenses and work for townships, municipalities, churches and small neighborhood cemeteries. I believe it is time to try to streamline government not create more expenses.
Snowmobile DUI Legislation Advances
Under legislation that advanced out of the House last week, individuals who are arrested for operating a snowmobile under the influence of alcohol would have that offense count against their motor vehicle driving privileges. SB2248 modifies the driving under the influence (DUI) provision of the Illinois Vehicle Code to combine driving a motor vehicle, a snowmobile or watercraft in a single, consolidated provision.
This legislation was patterned after a Minnesota law but in stark contrast to Minnesota, snowmobiles in Illinois are usually ridden on private property. As a result, there is little that law enforcement can do to enforce such offenses.
Insurance Rate Fairness Passes Both Houses
When House Bill 3923 is signed by the Governor, consumers will see an increased level of transparency from the insurance industry in Illinois. The legislation will allow consumers to see critical information regarding industry profits and premium increases. The legislation also mandates that all insurance carriers in Illinois provide an independent external review process for claims that have been denied and requires that 75 percent of premiums be used for health care benefits.
This legislation results from a 2008 study conducted by the Family USA Foundation which found that Illinois is the worst state for providing consumer protections in the individual health insurance market. Under current law, insurers can set or raise premiums, and limit or revoke coverage without the state’s review.
The Director of the Department of Insurance is given great authority to unilaterally develop standards and overturn independent review of claim denials.
Campaign Finance Reform, It’s Not
Despite the momentum of reform groups and the public for real campaign finance limits, the General Assembly on nearly a party line vote passed a watered-down version of reform. Senate Bill 1466 does little to limit big contributions in general elections or alter the power of political leaders, who oversee contracts and licensure laws, to then accept political contributions from those affected.
It would appear that legislative leaders wore down the reform groups in closed door meetings. The only limits of campaign financing apply to primary elections where political parties usually spend little money. In the last general election, contributions from political parties and caucus committees were 7 times larger than in the primary elections that year.
At a very public press conference this summer, the Governor vetoed the first campaign finance reform bill (House Bill 7) because it was significantly flawed, and pledged to bring all parties back to the drawing board. The Governor said at the time, “It is imperative that we come up with our very best effort with respect to campaign finance reform.” What passed this past week was not our best effort, nor was it constructed in a bipartisan fashion.
Cost of Higher Education Scrutinized
Tuition and fees at Illinois public universities rose an average of 56 percent in the five years from 2002 to 2006. As a result, costs are less affordable for Illinois families and a college degree is getting out of reach for many middle income students. The Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) commissioned a study to look at cost issues, as well as governance, general education and intellectual diversity of Illinois public universities.
Northern Illinois University had among the smallest increase in undergraduate tuition and fees from 2002 to 2007. Increases were 42.6 percent while Chicago State University increased charges 79 percent. Tuition and fees in 2007 comprised 15 percent of median household income. Part of the reason for the increase relates to declining state support for public universities.
The IPI’s study called for more transparency of university records; professors to be more objective in their classroom political comments; and require all students to take courses in math, literature, history, economics, and American government. The study results can be found at the Illinois Policy Institute’s website: www.illinoispolicy.org.
State Stiffs Colleges for Veterans’ Tuition
In an alarming pattern of cutting budget appropriations for higher education in recent years, Governor Quinn has now stopped reimbursing universities and community colleges for veterans’ college tuition. By state law, veterans are awarded free tuition at state schools in appreciation for their service.
The Governor’s decision to cut funding for the veterans’ education means that the colleges are left with unfunded mandates to give all veterans free tuition. The tuition waivers at Southern Illinois University’s Carbondale campus amount to about $4 million and for Illinois State University, the bill is $3 million. For the 2009 fall semester alone, Kishwaukee Community College reported 78 veterans for an unfunded bill of $71,045. Last year, Northern Illinois University reported 572 veterans at a cost of $3.9 million in which only $1.5 million was reimbursed by the state. NIU expects the number of veterans attending the university to increase for this academic year.
Stimulus Funds Take Some Sting Out of Recession
It has now been nine months since President Obama signed the $787 billion American Recover and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) intended to help Americans through the recession. I recently had the opportunity to examine Illinois’ Stimulus Update and wanted to share my findings.
In the recent Federal Stimulus report, Illinois is considered a national leader in ARRA funding by being consistently in the top five for funds allocated and awarded. Illinois ranks 3rd in funds paid out at nearly $5.5 billion of the $10.9 billion in announced allocations.
Of the Illinois receipts to date, over $1.2 billion has gone to education; transportation has received over $270 million; labor has received about $1.5 billion; Health and Human Services about $1.2 billion; and Energy and Environment has received over $8 million.
According to the Stimulus Update, over 760,000 Illinois residents have received extended unemployment benefits. The Illinois Department of Transportation has 397 projects under contract, resulting in 1000 miles of roads being resurfaced. The Department of Aging has served 45,900 additional meals to senior citizens through senior centers and churches. The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has served 4,822 through the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Dislocated Worker program, and the WIA Youth program has served nearly 18,000 Illinois youth.
While there hasn’t been the job creation touted, the funds have preserved jobs and avoided deeper budget cuts—for now. Most other states are anticipating budget reductions after the stimulus funding ends and have warned their state agencies to begin planning for reductions next year.
To date Governor Quinn has not cut the $3.8 billion necessary to balance the FY2010 budget. In the meantime, revenues have fallen $600 million and expenses are up over $1.2 billion from budget projections. The Governor needs to take action now and also direct agencies to begin prioritizing services and looking for efficiencies.
State Boards Reforming Principal Training
Based on over four years of review and discussion, the State Board of Education and Illinois Board of Higher Education are revolutionizing school principal training and educational certificates. The boards gave a progress report to the legislature last week outlining conclusions and reforms underway.
The two boards and representatives from numerous K-12 and postsecondary organizations have agreed that effective school leaders are essential to improving student performance. Further, they concluded that current principal training programs are not equipping candidates with all the tools they need on the job.
The boards reported that the current principal certificate is being abolished and guidelines for college principal preparation programs are being rewritten. All college principal preparation programs must be aligned with the Interstate School Leader Licensure Consortium Standards and be resubmitted for approval by the State Board of Education.
The Dean of Northern Illinois University’s College of Education, Lemuel Watson, advises me that NIU is well on its way to redesigning the principal education program.
Give me a call or e-mail if you would like to discuss any of these issues.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
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