In the past I rejected budgets that would spend more, tax more and not fix what was fundamentally wrong with the state. This year I voted for a budget that is balanced, funds priorities and does not contain a tax increase.
We began this year’s budget process with three common-sense requests:

1. The budget must be balanced. We cannot spend more than the revenue we expect to bring in. We must live within our means.

2. The budget must cover the entire fiscal year. No short term fixes or partial budgets just to get by.

3. No tax increases. Illinoisans have already been hit hard by two recent tax increases in the last few years and simply cannot endure yet another one.

I am delighted to report that we were able to successfully negotiate our requests and fund our priorities, especially education. The FY 2019 budget:

• Fully funds the new bipartisan K-12 Education funding formula. This will result in more financial support for schools across Illinois and reduce reliance on local property taxes.
• Increases funding for Early Childhood Education that keeps Illinois on track to receive millions in federal matching dollars for these programs.
• Provides for a merit-based scholarship called AIM HIGH that will keep our best and brightest high school graduates in Illinois to attend community colleges and state universities. It also funds MAP grants to help students attending Illinois colleges and universities.
• Offers new pension reform measures like voluntary buyouts and capping end-of-career salary increases that cause pension spiking, which should help school districts control costs.
• Increases funding by 2% to universities and colleges to help reduce the pressure to raise tuition.

The budget also funds a capital plan and road plan that will take care of road projects, park maintenance, and maintenance of state building as well cover the cost of building a new veterans home.

Additionally, the passage of a budget means organizations that provide services to those most in need will receive their funding so they can continue their good work.

For years the majority party in control of Springfield has passed unbalanced budgets that spent billions of dollars more than we took in. While this budget is not perfect, it is balanced and a product of compromise and negotiation. I will continue to advocate for our district in Springfield.

While I am proud to support this budget, the financial future of Illinois will not be secure until we pass real reforms to make Illinois more competitive so we can create more jobs, stem the loss of population and reduce property taxes.

Last week was the deadline for Senate Bills to be approved by the House of Representatives.  It was a busy week in Springfield, and with only a few days to go before the end of spring legislative session, there is still much to be accomplished before the May 31st deadline. 

In the Capitol, Representative Winger had the opportunity of meeting students from her district during the TECH2018 demonstration.  The purpose of this demonstration is to increase awareness of the critical role technology plays in preparing students to succeed.   Students had various exhibits set up to show lawmakers the innovative uses of technology and demonstrate the need for increased state funding for technology in education throughout Illinois.
Pictured above:  Rep. Winger visits students and staff from Itasca District 10 for TECH2018.  This is a technology demonstration in the State Capitol building, where lawmakers could visit different booths and see what students in their legislative districts were working on in the technology field.

New Animal Welfare Act Approved in House

State Representative Christine Winger presented Senate Bill 2380 in the House of Representatives to amend the Animal Welfare Act. This legislation will help create greater transparency on the health and welfare of animals at facilities, and help discern whether a facility has a history of performing high numbers of euthanization.

SB2380 will include animal control facilities on the list of establishments that can transfer animals to other facilities.  In addition, new license renewal requirements are established under the bill for animal control facilities and animal shelters. For license renewal, animal shelters must submit a report of their total intake number for dogs, cats, or other animals from the calendar year.  Also, if a microchip is present in an animal, the registered owner must be contacted before intake.

Upcoming Property Tax Seminar

State Representative Christine Winger is hosting a seminar for local residents on Understanding and Appealing Property Tax Assessments.  The event will be held on June 6th from 6:30—8:00pm at the Bloomingdale Library, 101 Fairfield Way, meeting room A/B.

This is an annual event the Representative hosts, to help residents understand the process behind property tax assessments and how to appeal them if they believe they are unfair.  Several local assessing officers from Rep. Winger’s 45th district will discuss what variables affect your tax bill, how the assessment process works, what exemptions are available, and how to appeal your assessment.

Residents are encouraged to bring their tax bills to the event to ask specific questions.

While the event is free, space is limited and an RSVP is required. Pease contact Rep. Winger’s District Office today to reserve your spot at (847) 252-9311.

State Representative Christine Winger presented Senate Bill 2380 in the House of Representatives today to amend the Animal Welfare Act. This legislation will help create greater transparency on the health and welfare of animals at facilities, and help discern whether a facility has a history of performing high numbers of euthanization.

SB2380 will include animal control facilities on the list of establishments that can transfer animals to other facilities.  In addition, new license renewal requirements are established under the bill for animal control facilities and animal shelters. For license renewal, animal shelters must submit a report of their total intake number for dogs, cats, or other animals from the calendar year.  Also, if a microchip is present in an animal, the registered owner must be contacted before intake.

The bill passed unanimously today with no opposition.

I recently attended the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new baseball field renovation at Springfield Park in Bloomingdale.  It was a great day to celebrate with the Bloomingdale Park District!

State Orders CPS to Grant Special Education Oversight

The move followed significant special education findings affecting Illinois’ largest school district.  The overarching theme of criticism against existing Chicago Public Schools (CPS) special education management was that despite spending $900 million annually for the benefit of 52,000 enumerated students with a broad range of special needs, the troubled school district had failed to meet a series of mandates set down by federal special education law.  Many of the 52,000 enumerated student affected by this order are young persons with individualized education programs (IEPs).

Under the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) order published on Wednesday, May 16, Chicago Public Schools are required to grant operational sign-off powers over much of its special education establishment to a monitor appointed by ISBE.  The monitor will oversee the implementation of a list of 40 mandated corrective actions.  Students affected by the order include students with learning issues, behavioral disabilities, and physical disabilities.  In cases uncovered by investigation, students and their families with diagnosed needs and challenges were unable to get help in a timely manner.

The duration of the takeover order will be at least three years.  Chicago Public Schools will have to get permission from the monitor to implement any changes to its special education policies and procedures.  Stakeholders will have the right to talk to the monitor and report ongoing special education problems and challenges within CPS.  The monitor will have the right to attend any and all CPS senior staff meetings at which operations are discussed.  The role of the appointed ISBE monitor will be akin, in some facets, to the “special masters” that can be appointed by federal courts under current law to oversee or assist in the oversight of school systems and other units of public infrastructure.  

U.S. Supreme Court Sports Betting Decision Affects Illinois

Placing large-scale and electronic bets on sports teams is currently prohibited in Illinois.  The Criminal Code ban on Illinois gambling covers many forms of wagering activity, with one sports-related exception that covers bets on horse racing.  Until this week, this ban was buttressed by a federal law enacted by Congress in 1992 that froze in place the laws of 46 U.S. states that forbade betting on sporting events.  Pushed by the state of New Jersey, the U.S. Supreme Court this week struck down this federal law.

The action by the federal high court opens the door for the General Assembly to begin to debate the amendment or modification of Illinois’ ban on sports betting.  Many Illinoisans will continue to oppose expansion of the State’s gambling industries.  Others may look at the revenues that taxing a gambling transaction can bring in – money that does not have to be extracted by incomes, sales, or property taxes.  Potential revenue estimates from the legalization of sports betting in Illinois range from $300 million to more than $600 million.

Record year announced for Illinois Tourism. 

Records from Illinois hotels, motels, and tourist attractions show that nearly 114 million visits were made to Illinois in 2017, up 1.4% from 2016.  The visitors spent $39.5 billion, up 3% from 2016, and supported the creation and maintenance of 335,500 jobs.  The numbers for 2017 were announced by Governor Rauner on Tuesday, May 15.   

The Illinois Office of Tourism encourages visits to Illinois as a way for persons from elsewhere to enjoy authentic U.S. “heartland” products and experiences.  Illinois experiences are featured in our State’s “Illinois Made” campaign.  Visitors pay taxes for goods and services such as hotel rentals, restaurant meals, local beverages, and rental motor vehicles.  Tourist travel to Illinois generated $2.95 billion in 2017 State and local tax revenue, representing $1,300 in tax payments for the average Illinois household.    

“The event had an amazing turnout, and I have already received a great amount of feedback from job seekers and employers who were happy to have this opportunity.  I recently heard from one constituent who attended the Job Fair and has already been hired,” said Rep. Winger. “As a State Representative, it is important for me to provide necessary outreach services like this, to connect our employers with job seekers in the community."

Behavioral Health Initiative Announced

Gov. Bruce Rauner announced this week that Illinois has received federal approval to launch a sweeping $2 billion behavioral health initiative designed to deliver better outcomes for Medicaid beneficiaries suffering from mental health and substance abuse disorders.

The Better Care Illinois Behavioral Health Initiative is the culmination of a 30-month long effort to involve state health agencies, legislators and behavioral health organizations in a coordinated plan to help people with disorders that require treatment of the whole person.

"The Better Care Illinois effort is one the most significant developments in the history of Illinois' health programs," Governor Rauner said. "For the first time here in Illinois, we are in a position to devote massive integrated resources to the devastating effects - personal and societal - of behavioral health problems."

"This effort puts a strong new focus on prevention and public health; pays for value and outcomes rather than volume and services; makes evidence-based and data driven decisions; and moves individuals from institutions to community care, to keep them more closely connected with their families and communities."

"The waiver will allow the state to care for its most vulnerable citizens earlier and more efficiently," Rauner continued. "Better Care Illinois will use an integrated approach, so we can focus on helping the whole person and get the right services to the right person in the right setting at the right time."

The waiver is not a grant but rather an opportunity to use $2 billion Medicaid dollars differently to increase the efficiency and quality of care for Medicaid populations. The state got the go-ahead to launch the initiative from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) which approved the state's application for an 1115 Waiver.

The waiver means that beginning July 1, 2018, Illinois can begin investing $2 billion of federal funds in 10 pilots to demonstrate better care alternatives and outcomes. The pilots will feature newly-created delivery systems designed to improve care, increase the value of patient experiences, and produce better outcomes for the dollar. The federal government has also been approving related innovations called state plan amendments.

Better Care Illinois is a win for state taxpayers who over time will see better health outcomes without spending more state dollars. The demonstrations will result in more early help for beneficiaries, so savings can eventually be invested in more cost-effective services.  More than 750,000 beneficiaries, 25 percent of Illinois' Medicaid population, have behavioral health conditions, and they account for 52 percent of Medicaid spending.

The application process was led by the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS), the state's Medicaid agency. Thirteen state agencies participated in the development of the approved application.

"The opioid crisis and violence in our communities call on us to find better ways to help those in need, and that is what we are accomplishing with this transformation," said HFS Director Felicia Norwood. "Smarter spending will lead to healthier lives and safer communities. By bringing state agencies and medical providers into closer cooperation for our members, we ensure stronger whole-person care for vulnerable individuals."

According to the Governor, the pilots will help Illinois address a variety of vexing societal problems that are impacted by behavioral disorders: mental health, violence, public safety, and opioid abuse among them.

The 10 CMS-approved pilot projects involve a variety of treatment, intervention, case management and home health programs. Summaries of the 10 pilots in the Better Care Illinois Behavioral Health Initiative can be accessed here.

State Budget

For more than 24 months, from the end of June 2015 until mid-July 2017, the state of Illinois spent taxpayers’ money without an approved budget.  The partial withdrawal of Illinois’ legislative branch from the job of overseeing and controlling Illinois spending effectively kicked this oversight power over to the federal and state judiciary, and created wide gaps between Illinois spending areas.  Although the General Assembly maintained partial oversight of state spending through continuous public hearings and discussions of spending programs and issues, this partial oversight fell short of the mandate contained in subsection 2(b) of Article VIII of the state Constitution.  This subsection requires the General Assembly to make annual formal appropriations for all expenditures based upon funds estimated to be available in the approaching fiscal year. 

Despite the explicit language of the state Constitution, as the spring 2018 session of the Illinois General Assembly moves towards its mandated May 31 adjournment once again no action has been taken to adopt a binding revenue estimate or to pass appropriations and a budget for FY19.  FY19 will begin on July 1, 2018.  The more than two dozen members of the House Republican Caucus who are currently freshmen or serving their second term in office have never seen the Illinois House adopt a binding revenue estimate as required by constitutional law.  House Republicans continue to demand that the House and Senate come together, discuss the State’s spending challenges in FY19, and adopt a binding revenue estimate in line with the demands of the Constitution.              

State Revenue Numbers Published

The numbers for State of Illinois revenues were published by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA), the nonpartisan budgeting arm of the Illinois General Assembly.  COGFA works with the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) and other State agencies to track Illinois general funds revenues on a month-to-month basis.  The data gathered by COGFA is reported to the General Assembly annually and is supposed to be used by the House and Senate to adopt a revenue estimate to control spending in the appropriations process.

COGFA’s most recent report to the General Assembly, which covers the month ended on Monday, April 30, was published on Wednesday, May 2.  The report showed total general funds revenues from federal and state sources of $5.1 billion in the month of April 2018, which was marked by significant income tax payments.  COGFA tracks trends not only in tax revenues but in other features of the Illinois and U.S. economy in order to establish precise estimates of how money will be paid to the State in FY19, beginning July 1, 2018.  It will be necessary to restrict spending to numbers within this estimate in order to enact a balanced budget in line with the mandate imposed on the General Assembly by the state Constitution.

Illinois Republican leaders continue to call for the adoption of a revenue estimate for FY19.  With the new fiscal year beginning in less than 2 months and the General Assembly scheduled to adjourn in less than 4 weeks’ time, the House and Senate should be using COGFA’s numbers to regain control over state spending and to ensure that the State does not appropriate or spend more money than it has.  The ability to put forth an official revenue estimate and to match this estimate with state budget appropriations is, however, the responsibility of the General Assembly’s majority party.  Previous acts of non-compliance by Illinois with the balanced-budget requirements laid upon it by the state Constitution have led to the State’s economy suffering under a mountain of debts, unpaid bills, and delinquent pension obligations.

House Passes Bill to Alleviate Local Teacher Shortages

For many Illinois school pupils and families, a shortage of teachers in elementary and secondary education has become a standard part of the school experience.  Examples include special education teachers for pupils with individualized education programs (IEPs), logistics directors and schedulers for students with IEPs, and multilingual teachers for students who use English as a second language.  

The House with bipartisan support has passed and sent to the Senate legislation to help alleviate these shortages.  HB 5627 contains measures aimed at streamlining the process of affirming that out-of-state teacher credentials are in line with Illinois-mandated requirements for licensed teaching status.  Other sections of the bill create a new, alternative substitute teacher re-certification process that targets retired teachers who want to continue teaching on a part-time basis.  Moving towards reciprocity with other states in the standing of Illinois teaching credentials and licenses is a longstanding goal of the Illinois school reform community. 

Illinois Remembers Sacrifices Made by Illinois Firefighters and First Responders

International Firefighters’ Day, which is observed on Friday May 4, is a day to remember firefighters throughout the world.  The Illinois Firefighters’ Memorial in Springfield is our State’s place of firefighter remembrance.  The annual observance at the Illinois Firefighter’s Memorial is always held on a Tuesday close to International Firefighters’ Day.  It will be held this year on Tuesday, May 8.