Winger's Weekly Wrap Up

FY 16 Budget


Democrats reject Republican efforts to stay in session and avoid month-long recess. Illinois House Republicans, furious about the lack of a state budget and seemingly empty session calendar thus far this year, challenged House Democrat leadership Thursday to not adjourn as scheduled for the entire month of March.

At the conclusion of session on Thursday, Republicans made a motion to bring the legislature back the following day. The motion, despite being completely in line with the rules, was ruled out of order with Democrat leadership scurrying quickly from the chamber to prevent debate on the issue. House Democrats cleared out of the chamber despite the requests from Republicans to keep working.

Video of the motion request and exchange with Democrat leadership can be viewed at The Caucus Blog.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, who determines the session schedule, put in place a four week gap in the month of March for what many assume is political reasons. The House is not set to be back in session until April 4th.

Do you agree with the House Republicans, given the challenges facing Illinois, that the legislature shouldn’t take a month long break during March? Tell us what you think here.

House Democrats advance budget-busting spending plan. Prior to Thursday’s abrupt adjournment, House Democrats advanced a budget-busting spending plan that was yet another sign of the complete unwillingness of Speaker Madigan to compromise. Make no mistake, this was not a compromise. It was a proposal that was pieced together solely by Democrat leaders in the cover of night; thrown together without a hint of participation from either House Republicans or the Governor. Republicans have repeatedly and genuinely requested that our Democratic colleagues come to the table to negotiate a responsibly funded budget.

The Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB) indicated that the package of bills consisting of House Bill 2990 and House Bill 648 together is yet another proposal where expenditures wildly exceed revenues. The measures would spend approximately $3.7 billion with only $454 million in accompanying resources. We don't have the money to pay for this, yet Democrats continue to march ahead placing our entire state in jeopardy over their unwillingness to support reforms.

The Comptroller’s Office currently reports a backlog of unpaid bills totaling $7.2 billion, with almost 50,000 unpaid vouchers on hand. Vendors continue to wait months and months to get paid. At the end of the day, the Democrats’ plan would spend $2.4 billion in State money that we don't have, and Democrats need to begin to ask themselves... are they ready to hike income taxes to an even higher rate than they were without a single reform being implemented?

Do they really want to face their own middle class constituents and say: We haven't improved ANYTHING. We haven't made a single reform. We haven't created a single job. Yet, we're going to raise your taxes… again.

Democrats enjoy super majorities in both the House and Senate. They can pass any bill and override any veto on a party-line vote. If the Democrats are unwilling to compromise with House Republicans or with the Governor, they should use their supermajority to end this budget impasse today by passing the tax increase they want.

Instead, Speaker Madigan and his allies continue to make false promises to Illinois’ most vulnerable children and families in the form of empty appropriations bills like we saw this week. Illinois families, taxpayers and students deserve better. They deserve a responsible bipartisan solution.

We want to compromise with Democrats to end this budget impasse and rescue everyone who has being caught in the crossfire of Speaker Madigan’s obstructionist tactics – the seniors on fixed incomes who receive home care, students who rely on financial aid to stay in college, and working parents trying to make ends meet.

Republicans have proposed responsible alternatives and have stood ready since last May to compromise on a balanced budget that meets the needs of all Illinoisans while protecting hardworking taxpayers.

Criminal Justice Reform


After receiving a report in January from the Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, Governor Bruce Rauner and key members of the General Assembly consulted with each other on how to begin moving towards Rauner’s goal of reducing the State’s prison population by 25% over a ten-year period. At a press conference held on Wednesday, March 2, members from both chambers of the General Assembly discussed a new three-bill package that moves toward this goal.

The three-bill criminal justice reform package will start in the state Senate. Two of the bills, headed by SB 3294, work to increase the safety of streets and public spaces when offenders are released back into society, including expansion of the use of electronic monitoring when released offenders are in transitional status. A third measure, SB 3164 amends Illinois sentencing procedures to increase the presumption that a low-level offender with no violent criminal record will be considered by the court for a disposition of non-incarceration.

Under current law, many Illinois residents convicted of felony criminal offenses, including nonviolent, low-level felonies, are sent to prison. The Illinois Department of Corrections currently houses approximately 49,000 inmates in spaces designed for less than two-thirds that many. Each inmate costs the taxpayers more than $22,000 per year to incarcerate, and the overall prison system costs well more than $1 billion/year in scarce State general funds.

Drugs – Heroin Epidemic


Illinois law enforcement moves toward new model in response to heroin epidemic. Opiate possessions are growing, both in Illinois and across the U.S., at the same time as the taxpayer impact of ‘tough-on-crime’ policies is becoming more apparent. Some Illinois law enforcement agencies are moving toward a normalized avenue of station adjustments in cases of persons who voluntarily surrender to authorities. In many cases, persons admitted to this station-adjustment avenue are persons who do not have a criminal record and who appear to be people who would potentially benefit from drug treatment.

Under this station adjustment platform, people addicted to opiates – typically heroin – are allowed to present themselves at a police station for rapid diagnosis and transport to a drug treatment center. Persons who admit their status as addicts can even bring their drugs and paraphernalia to the police station. If they are granted this amnesty adjustment, their goods will be disposed of and they may not face a charge for drug possession. The police departments of the Illinois municipalities of Dixon, Dwight, Naperville, Pontiac, Princeton, and Rolling Meadows have started, or will soon start, an opiate station adjustment program. The overall model has been adopted by approximately 85 police departments in other U.S. states. Not all Illinois police departments have adopted this station-adjustment model.

Action by Illinois law enforcement marks recognition of the growing danger of heroin addiction and drug-related overdose deaths in Illinois. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracked an increase of more than 8% in total drug overdose deaths in Illinois in 2014, from 1,579 in 2013 to 1,705 in the most recently tabulated calendar year. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, 711 of these deaths (42%) were caused by or related to heroin.

The heroin station adjustment model is part of an overall movement within many Illinois police departments toward reconfiguring their first-responder capacities toward crisis alleviation and a reduction in the use of deadly force. For example, the Cook County Jail – Illinois’ largest jail system – this week announced progress towards the projected opening later in 2016 of a 24-hour triage center, which will be oriented toward people with psychiatric or substance-abuse problems.

Economy – DuPage County


DuPage County acclaimed as great place to get start in life. American City and County magazine named Illinois’ DuPage County as the No. 1 county in the U.S. as a home base that offers children and young adults a statistical chance to enjoy upward mobility. The findings, based upon statistics gathered by the Equality of Opportunity project operated by social economists from Harvard University, showed that children from low-income families who grow up in DuPage County are likely to earn 15.2% more than children from similar socioeconomic backgrounds who grow up in similar families elsewhere.

Parental support was noted as a factor in the DuPage County outcome. Relatively high prices for real estate and rental property in Chicago’s largest exurban county mean that children need staunch parental sacrifices to be able to live and get educated there. Other counties highlighted by American City and County include Seattle-based King County and two counties adjacent to New York City and Washington, D.C.: New Jersey’s Bergen County and Maryland’s Montgomery County.

Health care – Zika virus


Fifth Zika case diagnosed in Illinois. The diagnosis announcement was made on Monday, February 29. As with previous diagnoses, the patient was described as having recently traveled to a country in South America where the virus is endemic and present in large numbers. Symptoms of Zika infection include fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, and possible pregnancy complications.

The Illinois Department of Public Health is working with the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to monitor the outbreak and prevent its spread in Illinois. Public-health advice for preventing the spread of the potentially deadly virus centers on monitoring persons who have traveled to countries where the disease is prevalent. In the Western Hemisphere, these regions include South America, Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. The CDC is now urging that athletes and travelers intending to participate in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, scheduled to take place in Brazil in September, practice enhanced precautions against mosquito bites.

Higher Education


House Republicans urge compromise, responsible solution to higher education funding. On the heels of the Senate’s override of the Governor’s veto of Senate Bill 2043, House Republicans from across Illinois joined together Wednesday to reiterate their willingness to compromise and arrive at a responsible solution to fund Illinois’ higher educational community.

“Today’s veto override in the Senate is unfortunate given we’re all here today to reiterate our willingness to compromise on this issue to bring about a reasonable solution,” said State Rep. Dan Brady, who serves as the Republican Spokesman on the House Higher Education-Appropriations Committee. “We can’t continue down the road of calling adversarial votes that don’t benefit students or universities. It will only further the divide in Springfield.”

The group of legislators cited several bills that have been presented including Rep. Brady’s House Bill 4539 which sought to reasonably fund not only MAP grants and community colleges, but also the operational budgets of our State’s four-year universities excluded from the Democrat proposal.

During the original debate on Senate Bill 2043, House Republicans noted the oversimplification of the Democrat sponsor Kelly Burke’s explanation of how exactly the State of Illinois would pay for the MAP grants and community college payments. They took specific exception with the implication that the Illinois Comptroller could simply prioritize the spending.

Due to the lack of funding available to pay for the Democrats’ legislation, the override motion on SB 2043 failed in the House on a vote of 69-48 (71-vote supermajority required to override a gubernatorial veto).

Pensions – Buyout Proposals


House committee considers pension proposals. With Illinois facing increasing challenges to fund existing defined-benefit pension commitments, some House members are looking at potential constitutional alternative policies. In some cases, these proposals could reduce current costs and future unfunded pension liabilities borne by Illinois’ five state-managed pension systems. Illinois’ unfunded pension liabilities currently top $110 billion.

Of the five state-managed pension funds, the largest is the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS), a quasi-state agency that manages pension funds for Illinois teachers, educators, and employees of local school districts and makes payouts to eligible pensioners. Other funds benefit state employees, the employees of state universities, judges, and legislators.

The House Personnel and Pensions Committee looked at two bills this week that, if passed into law, could encourage existing public-sector employees with vested pension status to consider the buyout of some or all of their future benefits. Employees who take a buyout would be given a one-time payout of funds, and would enjoy the opportunity to invest them for a payout that would match their future life plans.

Veterans


Veterans Courts focus directly on the needs of former and current members of the armed forces. Currently, there are 12 Veteran Court programs in Illinois. All are limited to veterans with non-violent records who are struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues. Veterans who qualify and successfully comply with court orders get the treatment they need and can have charges dismissed. As of 2014, problem-solving courts including Veteran Treatment Courts kept 1,200 offenders out of prison, saving the state of Illinois $20 million.

A bill sponsored by Representative Christine Winger (R-Wood Dale) to increase the number of Veterans Courts in Illinois passed unanimously out of committee this week.

Winger’s bill requires the Chief Judge of each judicial circuit to establish a Veterans and Servicemembers Court program. The legislation specifies that the Chief Judge of each circuit has the discretion to decide the format of the program, whether it’s a separate court of a problem solving court, including but not limited to a drug court of mental health court.

“Men and women who have bravely served our country deserve a chance to get their lives back together,” said Winger. “Many are in their current situation because they were suffering from effects of their military service.” The bill now awaits a vote on the House floor.