School funding reform commission, county fairs to be funded

As always, you can contact me via webform at www.repbennett.com, or by phone at (815) 844-9179 (Pontiac) or (815) 432-0106) Watseka.

New School Funding Reform Commission Appointed

The commission will be composed of five designees from the Governor’s administration and each of the four legislative leaders. Secretary of Education Beth Purvis will serve as chairperson.  

There’s no question that our current school aid formula is outdated and leads to large funding inequities from district to district. The overreliance on property taxes is also a tremendous burden on local homeowners.  The new Commission is charged with coming up with a recommended comprehensive solution to reform Illinois’ school funding formula.  A report is to be presented to the Governor and the Illinois General Assembly by February 1, 2017 with action to be taken in time for the 2017-2018 school year.

I’m pleased that Governor Rauner has taken this step, which I hope will bring all sides to the table to find a solution that benefits our schools and hard-working taxpayers.

Agriculture, County fair funding provided for in stopgap State budget

With the new, stopgap budget in place funding is now flowing to schools, colleges and universities, and to service providers in our area that help the most vulnerable.  Funding is also being provided to crucial programs and services administered by the Department of Agriculture.

The 6 month budget includes $5 million in funding for Soil and Water Conservation District operations throughout Illinois. It also includes $1.8 million in grants to local education agencies to fund Agricultural Education.

One area of state spending that was completely cut out last year were grants to Illinois’ county fairs, but there’s good news on that front as well.  The new stopgap budget has appropriated State money for county fair premium payments for both FY16 and FY17.  This should cover county fairs through summer 2016.

Participants in the Illinois state and county fair systems are now looking at ways to redistribute the operations of Illinois’ agricultural-fair system in summer 2017 and future years in order to reduce burdens on taxpayers statewide.  

Key provider of Obamacare health insurance in Illinois must liquidate

Land of Lincoln Health, a health care insurance co-operative set up under the terms of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), has defaulted on its payments.  The State of Illinois has initiated steps to wind up the operations of the failing firm and shut it down. 

49,000 Illinois residents had purchased mandatory health care insurance through Land of Lincoln, which sold its policies to the individual, individual family, and self-employment markets.  They will have to find emergency new coverage before the close of calendar year 2016. 

The failure of Land of Lincoln paralleled the failures in other states of Obamacare co-ops, which have been whipsawed by heavy claims rates and mandatory risk adjustment payments.  More than half of the co-ops operating under the ACA (13 of 23) have gone under.

Resolution filed to remove Auditor General for cause

Questions have multiplied concerning the campaign fund of former State Representative Frank Mautino, who is in his first year of a 10-year term as Illinois’ new Auditor General.  Shortly after his appointment, Mautino and his campaign fund were placed under criminal investigation by a federal grand jury.  Charges he currently faces include misappropriation of campaign funds, ethical concerns and potential conflicts of interest.  Mautino has for several months refused to respond to questions from the General Assembly relating to the investigation and his fitness to remain in office.  House Joint Resolution 158 was filed this week to remove him from the office of Auditor General.

The Office of Auditor General is essentially the taxpayers’ top financial watchdog in Springfield. He or she audits the public funds and operations of State agencies. Past Auditor Generals have been asked to undertake additional investigations and submit additional reports to the General Assembly on questions involving public policy, including the operations of units of local government that represent parts of the State.  Removing Frank Mautino from this position will require a three-fifths majority vote in both chambers of the General Assembly.

Work begins on new bike trail to connect Champaign-Urbana with greater Danville area

The Kickapoo Rail Trail will be built on a historic railroad right-of-way that once carried Abraham Lincoln to the White House.  Expected to span 24.5 miles upon its completion, the trail will connect the east side of Urbana with Kickapoo State Park near Danville.  Construction has begun on the first segment of the rail-trail, which will connect Urbana to the Champaign County suburb of St. Joseph, Illinois.   

The Champaign County portion of the future trail will be maintained by the Champaign County Forest Preserve District.  The 7-mile segment to St. Joseph is being built with the help of a significant donation from sandwich franchisors Jimmy John and Leslie Liautaud.