April 19, 2010
Legislative action last week mainly focused on committee hearings for bills that passed the other chamber. The House will be considering a Senate constitutional amendment resolution this week regarding redistricting. On a party line vote, the Senate sent the House a bill which continues the current politically-driven process of redistricting the legislature every ten years, rather than including ideas I support to take politics out of the process.
The Senate proposal continues to empower state legislators to choose their voters by drawing the boundaries of their own districts. True reform of state government must start by changing the politically-driven process.
If we don’t reform the redistricting process this year, we will have to wait ten years to change the process. It’s time citizens gain control of government and retire political leaders who want to continue current failed policies and programs.
Budget Inaction Continues
Thousands of individuals from various groups converged on the Capitol last week and more are scheduled to come this week to press lawmakers into action on the budget. Their presence is important because legislative committees are not crafting a budget nor are legislative leaders allowing debate on the chamber floor.
Each citizen group advocates for funding their program and most believe only a tax increase will solve the state’s fiscal problems. If ending our fiscal crisis was that easy, I think a majority of the legislators would have signed on by now. Back in the district, however, I hear many people calling for cuts and reforms before considering tax increases.
I continue to work with a bipartisan group to identify priorities in the budget and areas that can be rolled back. Action is needed now to solve our fiscal problems. Speaker Madigan appears ready to adjourn by May 10 and delay any budget solution until after the fall elections. By then many schools will be in serious fiscal problems and numerous local providers will have been forced out of business.
Labor Unions Help Balance the Budget
Union workers on the local level are agreeing to forgo pay increases and modify benefits in order to avoid layoffs and save programs. It is the kind of spirit of “neighbor helping neighbor” that built our country and helps local governments balance their budgets. In non-profit and private organizations, employees have not seen pay increases for years but employees tell me they are just glad to have a job and health benefits in these times.
On the state level, there seems to be a different story. The Governor’s 2011 budget includes pay increases for most agency workers and one of the largest unions just signed a four-year contract that includes a 15.2 percent pay increase over 4 years.
The Governor has called for shared sacrifice to solve our fiscal crisis. Isn’t it time we all pull in the same direction, look for ways to cut costs, and get work done quicker?
Updating Telecom Law Could Save Jobs
The Bipartisan House Job Creation Task Force heard testimony last week that regulatory reform could increase jobs and save consumers money as well. The Telecommunications Act which regulates wired services to homes and businesses will expire this year.
Many of Illinois’ neighbors have already updated their communication laws and seen new jobs and investment in services. The days of telephone monopolies have long since passed in Illinois and consumers have more choice than ever before. Competitive pressure from cable voice over internet service is expected to save consumers an estimated $4.6 billion over five years.
Advocates for modernizing the communication law say outdated regulations restrain business growth in Illinois but changes to the law could add nearly 40,000 jobs with just a 1-3 percent expansion of broadband customers.
Largest Roads Project in Years Adds to Summer Congestion
Illinois Department of Transportation Director Gary Hannig has announced an ambitious road construction program that will add jobs but slow traffic this summer.
The five-year construction plan includes $10.1 billion for improving state highways and $2.74 billion for local highways. The proposed program will improve nearly 4,740 miles of highways and replace or rehabilitate 763 bridges.
During the five year period, nearly $73.8 million will be spent for road and bridge improvements in this area.
‘Put Illinois to Work’ Program Launched
The Governor has created a new program that subsidizes businesses for hiring some of the people hardest hit by this recession. The program is funded through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Called “Put Illinois to Work,” the program targets unemployed and underemployed Illinois residents and pairs them with a company. The employer must provide supervision and training of the participant for the duration of the placement. The subsidized employment position lasts for up to six months.
For more information about the program, please visit www.PutIllinoisToWork.illinois.gov.
MAP Grant Applications End Soon
It may already be too late to apply for Monetary Assistant Program (MAP) grants to attend college this fall. The Illinois Student Assistance Commission says applications have been running about 37 percent ahead of last year when the program reached its monetary limit by May.
The program provides about $2,500 per semester for need-based students to attend college. Only $400 million is allocated for the program so not all of the 140,000 people who have already qualified will receive financial help. Some universities provide their own scholarships to help students who qualify for MAP but have missed out with the state.
Some Bill Action
SB 2494 has passed the Senate and is now in the House Executive Committee awaiting action. It provides vouchers for elementary students in the lowest performing Chicago schools to attend other public or private schools. Each voucher will be worth the lesser of the school tuition or the state foundation level.
Proponents point to research that says competition among schools for students will improve performance. In addition, the program could save the state money since parochial schools charge less than the current state foundation level of $6119 per student.
SB3635 as passed out of the House Education committee last week would require all school districts to use 60 percent of bilingual funding for instruction. Most, but not all, districts currently meet this threshold. The sponsor believes more funding should go to instruction rather than administration.
Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to email@example.com
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