In Springfield …
The Illinois General Assembly convened for the first week of the fall veto session, which began Oct. 25.
It was a tough week for Gov. Pat Quinn, with the General Assembly taking the following actions:
While the governor alone has the constitutional authority to negotiate and sign union contracts with public employee unions, the General Assembly is responsible for appropriating funding to pay for the cost of the employee wages and benefits. As such, the speaker indicated that he would ask the House Revenue & Finance Committee to determine a percent increase that the General Assembly would allocate for wage and benefit increases for upcoming contracts to be negotiated by the governor.
The AFSCME contract expires June 30, 2012, and the governor has indicated that he intends to begin the bargaining process shortly.
Two meetings of the House Revenue & Finance Committee have been scheduled Thursday, Nov. 3, and Monday, Nov. 7.
HJR 45 also states that it is the policy of the State of Illinois that the size of, or a reduction in, the state employee workforce shall not be a topic of collective bargaining.
ComEd/Ameren Smart Grid Modernization Act
After Quinn held a press conference saying, “There’s no way to put perfume on this skunk,” the General Assembly overrode the governor’s total veto of SB 1652 (the ComEd/Ameren Smart Grid Modernization Act) and passed a “trailer” bill to clean up some remaining issues in the original legislation.
This trailer bill requires ComEd to invest an equal amount in smart-grid modernization and storm-proofing steps to its existing electricity transmission system. It also establishes a $60 million fund to help needy ratepayers pay their utility bills and ties ComEd’s annual profit margin during the next decade to Treasury yields.
The trailer bill passed the House with a veto-proof majority; however, the governor – in what is being called “Buttongate” – has called on the inspector general to investigate whether House members actually cast the votes that were officially recorded.
Illinois Power Agency
The General Assembly also voted to remove the Illinois Power Agency from under the governor’s control and put it under the Executive Ethics Commission. Quinn had removed the previous executive director about a month ago and replaced him with a retired 35-year veteran of ComEd. Her confirmation by the Senate could be problematic.
The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) voted against the governor’s recommendation to close four downstate facilities that serve people with mental and developmental disabilities. There are three remaining facilities awaiting COGFA’s vote: Tinley Park Mental Health Center, Jacksonville Developmental Center and Logan Correctional Center. Although COGFA votes are not binding, previous administrations have taken their vote in to consideration when proposing facility closures.
Regional Offices of Education
Quinn had used his amendatory veto to eliminate the pay for regional superintendents of education. The House developed a plan to use personal property replacement tax money to pay these superintendents, however, this measure was put on postponed consideration because there were not enough votes to pass it. This issue could be reemerge during the second week of veto session.
FY 2010 budget issues
There are a number of FY 2012 budget issues remaining to be discussed, but most of those have been pushed off to the second week of veto session.
There are working groups of legislators from both chambers who are scheduled to meet between now and the second week of veto session to determine if any funding can be moved around in the budget to forestall the layoffs and facility closings announced by the governor. They also will determine if more funding should be redirected to specific state programs, especially in the human service area, that were cut by the governor.
Speaker Madigan has indicated that he does not want the General Assembly to exceed the $33.2 billion bottom line budget that they approved during the spring session. There does appear to be agreement among the four legislative caucuses that they could reallocate, at most, $250 million in the current budget, but that would not be enough to cover the $76 million the Quinn administration says is needed to cover the pay raises for union members that he canceled.
Quinn also is said to be trying to push another borrowing bill to pay off old bills; there does not appear to be any appetite in the General Assembly to approve another borrowing bill.
In other budget-related matters, the Illinois Supreme Court, in a 6-1 decision, upheld a 2006 Sangamon County Circuit Court ruling that backs the governor’s and General Assembly’s ability to take money (“sweep”) from hundreds of special state funds. This ability to sweep funds can be used to address some of the budget shortfalls or to help pay off overdue bills.
Health insurance contracts
The Senate did not override the governor’s veto of SB 178 (vote: 28 yes, 28 no, 1 present), commonly referred to as the Health Alliance bill. This bill would have given legislators input into employee health insurance contracts awarded by the state, and it would have extended state health insurance contracts by two years.
- HB 3813, a pension reform bill introduced by Reps. Cross and Madigan, passed the House (vote: 111 yes, 3 no, 1 present). The bill amends numerous pension systems, including SURS, regarding leaves of absence for employees who are employed full-time by a labor organization. This bill is intended to close some of the “loopholes” in the pension system that were recently highlighted by the Chicago Tribune. There are some ongoing negotiations between the bill sponsors and police and firefighter unions, and we should expect to see an amendment introduced in the Senate during the second week of Veto Session.
- HB 3815, a pension reform bill introduced by Rep. May, is very similar to HB 3813, aimed at eliminating “loopholes” for leaves of absence in numerous public pension codes. This bill also passed the House (vote: 113 yes, 2 no), and the sponsor also is negotiating with the police and firefighters unions. There likely will be an amendment introduced in the Senate if these negotiations are successful.
NIU students rally in Springfield
On Wednesday, Oct. 26, approximately 65 NIU students traveled to Springfield to talk to legislators about potential cuts to the Monetary Assistance Program and to advocate in support of increased funding for higher education. The students had the opportunity to meet with a number of legislators, and they were recognized on the floor of the House of Representatives by Rep. Bob Pritchard.
Week Two coming Nov. 8
The second week of Veto Session begins on November 8. House Minority Leader Cross has indicated that it is his intention to call the large pension reform bill, SB 512, possibly with some additional amendments, for a vote that week. Keep checking back to the NIU pension website for up-to-date information.
In addition, the General Assembly is likely to consider reallocations for the FY2012 budget, including a possible supplemental appropriation for MAP grants to make up the current year shortfall, as well as considering gambling expansion and business tax incentives.
In Washington, D.C. …
We are only about three weeks away from the deadline by which the Super Committee on Deficit Reduction must identify at least $1.2 trillion in cuts and savings or mandatory across-the-board cuts to discretionary and defense spending will take effect.
Vast partisan differences remain, and only time will tell if it is possible to reach any sort of agreement before the mandatory cuts occur.
On Tuesday, Oct. 18, seven higher education national associations, including the American Council on Education and the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities, submitted written testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance regarding federal charitable giving income tax incentives and potential proposals to change current giving incentives. The testimony stressed how important charitable gifts are in supporting colleges and universities, especially in light of reduced state support for higher education.
Last week, President Obama announced a plan to make federal student loans more affordable by allowing borrowers who currently hold a federal loan issued by a private lender and one issued by the federal government to consolidate their loans into one federal loan issued by the government. In addition, the president’s plan would accelerate current law by two years.
The Student Aid Alliance, an alliance of 62 higher education organizations, has launched a campaign in support of federal student aid programs. Students, faculty and administrators are being urged to sign on in support of Pell Grant funding.
The Voices section of NIU Today features opinions and perspectives from across campus. Lori Clark is director of State and Federal Relations for NIU.