Winger's Weekly Wrap-up

Normalcy for kids in Foster Care
Rep. Winger advances bill to improve lives of youth in care of the state. Legislation sponsored by State Rep. Christine Winger (R- Wood Dale) that would instill a little normalcy in the lives of Illinois foster children passed out of the Illinois House of Representatives late last week. 

With the permission of their parents, spending the night at a friend’s house, going on a school field trip and holding a summer jobs are all normal activities for most Illinois children. It is not the case for children in the state’s Foster Care system who must get the permission of bureaucrats before they engage in these and many other activities.
“This legislation would make it a little easier for youth in foster care to experience the activities that other children take for granted,” explained Winger. “These experiences enhance learning and help young people gain important life skills.”

Winger’s legislation would remove the bureaucratic barriers to normalcy for children in the care of the state by giving foster parents the same ability to make parenting decisions for their foster children as other Illinois parents. House Bill 5665 requires caregivers to use the reasonable and prudent parent standard in determining whether to give permission for a child to participate in appropriate extracurricular, enrichment, cultural, and social activities. 

“Foster children should have the same rights as other children to engage in extracurricular and social activities with the permission of their foster parents,” said Winger. “This bill gives foster parents the ability to make the best decisions for each individual child.”

House Bill 5665 passed the House unanimously and heads to Senate.

Budget – Higher education
Governor signs bill, pushed by House Republicans, to provide stopgap funding for higher education. The bill was SB 2059 as amended in the House. On Monday, April 25, Governor Bruce Rauner signed the bill into law, making it possible for the Comptroller’s office to begin transferring “lifeline” funding to Illinois’ nine universities, 12 campuses, 39 community college districts and approximately 120,000 Monetary Assistance Program (MAP) Grant recipients.

The money provided by SB 2059 is “lifeline” funding intended to help keep operations going and enable students to remain active in classroom learning. Full funding awaits continued work by the General Assembly to enact constitutional balanced budgets for FY16 and FY17. Illinois higher education has not received operational funding from the State since July 1, 2016, when FY16 began.

House Republicans Mike Fortner and Dan Brady identified a source of existing tax money, $600 million in the Education Assistance Fund, that could be used to provide stopgap funding for Illinois higher education. This was money previously withdrawn from the general revenue funding stream generated by the existing Illinois income tax as a rainy-day fund for purposes of Illinois education. Using this money will not require a tax increase.

All House Republicans present and voting on this measure on Friday, April 22 voted for the bill. Governor Rauner’s signature allowed this bill to become law as P.A. 99-502. The Governor expressed optimism this week that this could be a sign that Illinois budget talks are about to get serious. In an interview, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin urged his colleagues to use SB 2059 as a stimulus to conduct further talks on other issues with the goal of enacting a constitutional balanced budget before May 31, the scheduled end of the 2016 spring session. Illinois is currently the only state in the U.S. without an enacted budget for FY16.

General Assembly – Payless payday
End of month sees payless payday for 118 members of Illinois House. The Illinois legislators were members of one the largest single groups of men and women affected by the decision of Comptroller Leslie Munger that she must shift the pay status of Illinois elected officials between payment queues. House members from both parties are paid, by law, at the end of every calendar month. Due to the State’s continued lack of a constitutional balanced budget, however, the Comptroller has determined that these payments to elected state leaders should be treated on a basis of equality with other budget-impacted State payments on an immediate basis. The decision became effective during the end-of-April pay period. The end-of-April business day was Friday, April 29.

Elected official pay commitments, including pay for Comptroller Munger, for other statewide elected officials and for members of the Illinois House and Senate have been shifted to a wait-queue that will generate payments when monies are available. As with other providers of goods and services to the State, delay times are expected in the settlements of these commitments and claims. While the move nominally affects Governor Bruce Rauner, the State’s chief executive has announced that he is serving without pay.

Observers see the move as increasing internal pressure within the General Assembly to discuss budget issues seriously with the goal of generating new spending numbers before the legislature’s scheduled May adjournment. Comptroller Munger’s office is currently posting a backlog of official unpaid bills that exceeds $6.8 billion.

Health care fraud – Rauner task force
Governor Rauner’s task force against health care fraud organizes itself. The task force, created earlier in April 2016 by executive order, has been asked to look into possible fraud, waste, and abuse in state-administered health care programs. Illinois taxpayers pay $19 billion a year to administer and pass through payments on state-run health care programs. Most of this money is paid directly by state taxpayers to Illinois, and a large subset is paid through federal taxes paid by Illinoisans to Washington, D.C.-based programs in which both Illinois and the federal government collaborate and provide funds.

Rauner has asked the task force to review the best practices currently used by the private sector to examine and control soaring health care costs. Other states’ efforts to reduce Medicaid fraud and other forms of public sector health care abuse are also to be looked at. The task force will work with data managers skilled at “big data” analytics to uncover statistical patterns indicative of non-optimal health care billing and spending.

The task force has been asked to write a report that will: (a) make recommendations for policy changes the State needs to look at, and (b) refer specific cases of wrongful reimbursements to authorities to seek recovery on behalf of Illinois taxpayers.

Illinois Soldier of the Year
Spc. Tycjan Sieradzki honored. The 21-year-old from north suburban Algonquin, a member of the 244th Digital Liaison Detachment, won first-place honors in the Illinois Soldier of the Year competition held on April 7 through 10 at the Marseilles Training Center. The competition, open to members of the Illinois National Guard, is an annual exercise intended to recognize and honor excellence in physical fitness, mental toughness, and skill competence.

A full-time truck driver when not on active duty, Sieradzki told a reporter that he had trained for the 2016 competition with calisthenics, by shooting at a local gun range, by self-orienteering for land navigation skills in wooded areas, and had worked with his unit mates to learn and memorize information for the brain-skill section of the competition. This was his second year in the ISY competition after coming in third in 2015.

As part of his victory, Sieradzki has been honored with invitations to represent the Illinois National Guard in the NFL Draft ceremony and player selection event held in Chicago on April 28-30, and in the Midwest U.S. regional Best Warrior competition to be held in Ohio on May 16-19. A representative from the National Guard will be invited to the U.S. Army Soldier of the Year competition to be held at Fort A.P. Hill in southern Virginia on September 26 through October 3 of this year.

Taxes – property
New study generates additional published evidence that Illinois owners, including homeowners, pay highest property taxes in nation. The study, published by CoreLogic, compares aggregated property tax extensions (the total amounts billed) with the value of the real property being taxed. According to CoreLogic, which the median property tax extension aggregate extension is 1.31% of the property being taxed, the median Illinois extension is 2.67% of value. This measurement scale makes Illinois the highest-property-tax state in the U.S., with New York second at 2.53% of value.

The CoreLogic data indicates that if an Illinois homeowner is occupying a house valued at $200,000, the homeowner will be paying a median annual property tax bill of $5,340. As always, individual homeowners’ experiences may vary. Different localities within Illinois will have different property tax rates; and within localities, different property owners may enjoy the effect of specific property tax relief measures. For example, senior citizen homeowners should be able to enjoy some relief from the Senior Citizens Homestead Property Tax Exemption, which automatically subtracts some of the value from the assessment number generated for an eligible senior citizen’s house before the tax bill is generated.

According to CoreLogic, neighboring states have lower property tax rates than Illinois. The California-based data aggregator generated median property tax burdens, calculated as a percentage of property value, of 1.95% in Wisconsin, 1.69% in Iowa, 1.26% in Missouri, and 0.88% in Indiana. CoreLogic’s data, published this week, agrees with previously public state-by--state surveys by firms such as WalletHub, which have also found Illinois to be one of the worst states in the nation in which to be taxed.