In Springfield …
The Illinois General Assembly finished its second week of the scheduled fall veto session Thursday, Nov. 10.
Senate Bill 512, the large pension reform bill being sponsored by House Minority Leader Tom Cross and Speaker Michael Madigan, came Nov. 8 before the House Personnel & Pensions Committee. Leader Cross offered Amendment 2, making some changes to the bill. The amended bill narrowly passed out of the committee by a vote of 5-4.
The amended bill was moved to Third Reading, meaning that it can be called for a final vote in the House at any time. It would then move to the Senate for concurrence with a House amendment.
No one knows if this bill will be called when the House reconvenes Nov. 29. However, there is a distinct possibility that consideration of the bill might be postponed until after the primary elections in March.
Several other pension reform bills saw action.
House Bill 3813, dealing with leaves of absence for public employees from a pension system to work for a labor organization and reporting requirements for suspected fraudulent activity in a public pension system, was amended in the Senate and passed back to the House for concurrence. For SURS, it requires an individual to file an irrevocable election to become a participant before the effective date of the amendatory act in order to have specified periods of leave applied to his or her service as an employee.
House Bill 3815 is very similar to HB 3813, and it also deals with leaves of absence for public employees to work for a labor organization. This bill also was amended in the Senate and has now been passed back to the House for concurrence.
Both HB 3813 and HB 3815 are intended to close “loopholes” in the existing pension systems that have allowed for some of the situations highlighted in recent articles in the Chicago Tribune.
Continue to monitor the NIU State Pension & Budget Update website for current information.
Senate Bill 1795 passed both chambers. This bill transfers regulatory oversight of private business and vocational schools from the Illinois State Board of Education to the Illinois Board of Higher Education. There are approximately 300 such schools that offer post-secondary certificate programs in a wide variety of fields, ranging from dog-grooming schools to allied health and computer technology.
This bill, with a three-year sunset, exempts several types of university procurements from the Procurement Code, including:
- memberships in professional, academic or athletic organizations;
- events or activities paid for exclusively by revenues, private grants, gifts and donations;
- events of activities for which the use of specific vendors is mandated or identified by the sponsor of the event;
- artistic or musical services, performances or productions held at a university-operated venue; and,
- periodicals and books for use by a university library or academic department.
In addition, the Chief Procurement Officer for Higher Education has been given the ability to waive the registration, certification and hearing requirements for:
- contracts with a foreign entity for research or educational activities;
- procurements of FDA-regulated goods, products or services necessary for medical, dental or veterinary facilities;
- contracts for programming and broadcast license rights for university-operated radio and television stations; and,
- procurements required for fulfillment of a grant.
There are reporting requirements to ensure transparency.
There are still many large and complicated issues that were not resolved in the six-day veto session.
There was no final agreement on appropriations that would prevent the threatened imminent closure of state facilities and employee layoffs. A plan has been circulating among budget negotiators, and it is rumored that a deal is close.
There have been no supplemental appropriations yet that would address the MAP shortfall.
A revised gaming expansion bill fell short of the votes it needed to pass in the House. The bill was placed on postponed consideration by the sponsor, meaning that it can still be brought up for a vote when the House reconvenes. The revised bill incorporated many of the elements that the governor had called for, but he once again is saying that he will veto this bill despite its more limited expansion.
Taxes and Business Incentives
A bill was introduced intended to relieve some of the business tax burden on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which has been threatening to leave Chicago.
Several additional items have been added to the bill including extending an Economic Development Area for Sears and reinstating the Research and Development Tax Credit for businesses. The estimated cost of this bill has increased significantly, and many are wary of the costs of this expanding bill. The fact that this issue remains unresolved is one of the primary reasons for extending the session by at least one day.
In Washington, D.C. …
In an exceedingly rare display of bipartisanship, the Senate passed two components that were included in President Obama’s jobs plan.
The Senate approved a bill that would provide tax credits to companies that hire unemployed or disabled veterans. This measure is intended to help address the high unemployment rate among our returning veterans. In addition, the Senate also repealed the “3 percent rule” that requires government agencies to withhold a small percentage of payments to government contractors.
We are only a week and a half away from the Wednesday, Nov. 23, deadline for the Deficit Reduction Super Committee to release its plan or face mandatory across-the-board spending cuts beginning in 2013.
Any plan must come up for a floor vote before Friday, Dec. 23. The Deficit Reduction Agreement passed early last summer allows any plan to be fast-tracked through both chambers on a simple majority vote with no amendments allowed. As a result of the European debt crisis, the Super Committee is facing increasing pressure to come up with a plan to deal with the nation’s own debt situation.
The most pressing issue relates to revenues.
The Democrats are demanding more than the $600 billion offered in a Republican plan, about half of which has come from new taxes by limiting deductions typically claimed by higher-income earners.
Conservative Republicans are even rejecting this proposal, saying that it amounts to a tax increase, which they view as unacceptable. Democrats are calling for about $1 trillion in spending cuts, including $350 billion from Medicare and $200 billion from defense programs, coupled with $1 trillion a year in higher tax revenues. This plan would be unlikely to pass in the House.
The president’s leadership in this matter also is being called in to question as he has not been involved in the discussions and, in fact, has left for a trip to Asia. A failure to reach an agreement could shake confidence in world markets and trigger the automatic across-the-board cuts in 2013. There has been some talk of restructuring the “trigger” of the automatic spending cuts.
The current Continuing Resolution (CR) that has kept our government paying its bills expires Friday, Nov. 18. It is likely that another CR, possibly through mid-December, will be attached to a “minibus” FY2012 appropriations bill (H.R. 2112) this week.
This bill contains the appropriations for Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science and Transportation-HUD. It is possible that the FY2012 Homeland Security appropriations (H.R. 2017) and/or the FY 2012 Legislative Branch appropriations (H.R. 2551) might be included in this minibus. Extending the CR through mid-December will also give Congress time to deal with the remaining nine FY2012 appropriations bills.
The Voices section of NIU Today features opinions and perspectives from across campus. Lori Clark is director of State and Federal Relations for NIU.