No action on school funding reform this week, session scheduled for next week
After two months of delay, Senate Democrats last week sent Governor Rauner the school funding reform bill, Senate Bill 1. He immediately issued an amendatory veto which struck out the portion of the bill that bailed out Chicago’s school pension system.




EDUCATION FUNDING

Gov. Rauner issues amendatory veto to ensure school funding bill is fair, equitable for all students. Tuesday, Gov. Bruce Rauner issued an amendatory veto to Senate Bill 1, the school funding bill. The matter now heads to the Illinois General Assembly, where the governor has respectfully requested that lawmakers uphold his changes. If these changes are upheld, Illinois will achieve historic education funding reform.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from or who your family is. With a great education, you can go anywhere in life and be whomever you want to be. You can grow up, get a good job and provide for your family. That’s why the changes I have made to the education funding bill are so important,” Gov. Rauner said. “With my changes, our state ensures that enough resources flow to children in the poorest and most disadvantaged school districts across the entire state. And my changes ensure that the education funding system in our state is fair and equitable to all students in Illinois.”

More than a year ago, Gov. Rauner established the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission. This group came together on a bipartisan basis to study the way Illinois funds its public schools, and to chart a path to a fairer and more equitable system.

“These changes included in my amendatory veto reflect years of hard work by our education reform commission and our ability to overcome our political differences for the good of our young people’s futures,” Gov. Rauner said. “I urge the General Assembly to act quickly to accept these changes and let our students start school on time.”

The governor’s amendatory veto makes the following changes to ensure an adequate and equitable school funding formula:

• Maintains a per-district hold harmless until the 2020-2021 school year, and then moves to a per-pupil hold harmless based on a three-year rolling average of enrollment.

• Removes the requirement of $350M in spending every year.

• Removes the Chicago block grant from the funding formula.

• Removes both Chicago Public Schools pension considerations from the formula: the normal cost pick-up and the unfunded liability deduction.

• Reintegrates the normal cost pick-up for Chicago Public Schools into the Pension Code where it belongs, and finally begins to treat Chicago like all other districts with regards to the State’s relationship with its teachers’ pensions.

• Eliminates the PTELL and TIF equalized assessed value subsidies that allow districts to continue under-reporting property wealth.

• Removes the escalators throughout the bill that automatically increase costs.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Governor signs bill to prohibit pay raises for General Assembly members. Co-sponsored by 20 House Republican members, HB 643 amends the Compensation Review Act to prohibit what would otherwise have been automatic pay hikes for State government legislative and executive elected officers and appointees, including members of the General Assembly. The new law also freezes the reimbursements that lawmakers can ask to cover the costs of their lodging, meals, and mileage while on State business.

The freeze on taxpayer-funded pay and benefits covers all of Fiscal Year 2018, and will be effective through June 30, 2018. The pay/benefits freeze bill was signed by Governor Bruce Rauner on Wednesday, July 26.
Governor calls special session for school funding reform
Governor Rauner called the House and Senate back into session this week to get an agreement on a new school funding formula. The state budget which was passed a few weeks ago contained a requirement that all school funding go through an “evidence-based” formula. Without such a formula in place, no state money can be distributed to Illinois’ more than 800 school districts. We need to get to work on passing legislation to put this formula in place so that schools will get their funds in time to start classes.

School funding reform bill hanging in limbo
The legislature has been in summer recess for the past couple of weeks. During that time I have taken the opportunity to visit several of our local school boards, and I plan to visit several more in the coming days and weeks. I recently met with the school boards in Rossville, Bismarck, Watseka and Iroquois West to discuss state government and the ongoing issues we face. Obviously, the biggest matter of concern was the question of school funding reform and whether schools will be able to open on time this fall.

Thank you to our first responders
Far too often we are reminded of the risks that our first responders take to keep us safe. In the past few weeks, those of us who serve in elected office have seen these brave men and women in action. They do their jobs so well that we sometimes take their service for granted until something happens to remind us of all that they do. I want to take a moment to say thank you to those who serve and protect each and every day.

Rep. Tom Bennett (R-Gibson City) discusses the summer 2017 special session of the Illinois legislature in which the House and Senate voted to raise taxes and enact a state budget over the Governor's veto. Rep. Bennett voted No on the tax hike, No on the spending and No on the veto override.
House overrides Governor’s budget, tax vetoes
As you have probably read and heard, the House passed a budget and a tax increase on Sunday night. The spending bill, Senate Bill 6, appropriates more than $36 billion for the state for the fiscal year which began on July 1. The revenue bill, Senate Bill 9, raises the state’s income tax from 3.75% up to 4.95% and the corporate income tax from 5.25% up to 7%. Supporters of the bill say these hikes will bring in around $4.7 billion, enough to pay for all the spending in SB 6.

I voted No on the tax increase, No on the spending bill and No on overriding the Governor’s vetoes.
Session to continue at least one more day as negotiations continue
I want to give you a quick update on where things stand as of Friday afternoon. This morning, by a wide bipartisan vote, an amendment was adopted to Senate Bill 6 which sets out a spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year. This is not the final budget agreement, but it is a major step in that direction. The legislative leaders were meeting throughout the day and the word from both sides was that they are very close to an agreement, though not quite there yet.

Special session gets off to slow start
The Governor has called the House and Senate into special session for each of the last 10 days of June, or until a balanced budget with reforms is passed. The first of these session days was Wednesday, June 21, but the House did not act on a budget on day one. In fact, the Speaker convened the House for the special session, adopted a pair of procedural resolutions and then adjourned in less than 10 minutes. It was not an encouraging start.

Special sessions called for late June
Governor Rauner has called the House and Senate into special session beginning Wednesday June 21 and continuing through the end of June. As you know, the House adjourned May 31 leaving much work unfinished. With half the month of June having now gone by without any further movement, the Governor has summoned legislators back to Springfield to finish our work before the end of the fiscal year on June 30. This week, House and Senate Republican leaders introduced a new compromise package of legislation that will hopefully help break the stalemate that has crippled state government for more than two years.

The Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal (OSFM) is reminding all qualified cities, towns and villages that the deadline to apply for Limited Pyrotechnic Distributor licenses is June 15, 2017. Pyrotechnic Distributor Licensees are required to employ licensed pyrotechnic operators for Fourth of July firework celebrations.

Currently licensed Pyrotechnic Distributors and Operators are listed here.

Any additional questions may be directed to the OSFM Pyrotechnic Licensing division at (217) 558-0328.

For the full statement from the State Fire Marshal, click here.
Another debt downgrade for Illinois
Before adjourning the spring session without a budget agreement in place, state officials were warned by the major credit rating agencies that the state would face another downgrade if no action was taken. Just hours after adjournment, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s moved Illinois to the brink of junk bond status.  The ratings (Moody’s went to “Baa3” and S&P to “BBB-“) came with a “negative outlook,” which amounts to a formal warning by both firms that yet another demotion of Illinois’ status to non-investment-grade is dangerously close.

Adjournment deadline passes, no agreement on budget
The House adjournment deadline came and went Wednesday night without an agreement on a budget for either the current fiscal year or the next fiscal year. Both the House and Senate will now be in “continuous session” over the summer. With the passing of the May 31 adjournment deadline, it will now take a three-fifths majority, or 71 votes to pass a bill in the House and 36 votes in the Senate.

A note to readers
As I write this on Friday, May 26, we are right in the middle of the end-of-session crush of activity at the Capitol ahead of our May 31 adjournment deadline. Hundreds of bills are moving through the process in a short amount of time, many with last-minute negotiations or amendments. I will try to provide you with the most up-to-date information, but things are changing rapidly. Look for next week’s update for a more comprehensive report on the activity in the Capitol during these final scheduled days of the spring session.

House begins work on bills which have passed the Senate
The Illinois House will spend most of mid-May considering Senate bills which have made it to the House. The Senate passed 345 bills over to the House, out of 2,209 bills filed in that chamber – that’s about one in six. The Senate bills were assigned to House committees for further discussion, hearings and debate. The Senate bills had to be passed through House committees by Friday, May 19, in order to get a House floor vote and possibly become law this spring. It is possible for Senate bills to be granted an extended deadline for more consideration, but this does not typically happen to very many bills. This week the Senate sent several budget-related bills over to the House for consideration. So at least the process is moving forward. I hope this is a good sign that an agreement may be on the horizon.
Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urges Senate to act
Last week I shared with you some of my frustration at the level of partisanship that has come to dominate Springfield. This week, I have some better news to report. I joined with a bipartisan group of 30 House members in calling on the Senate to pass their “grand bargain” bills over to the House so that we may take up the bills before the May 31 adjournment deadline. It was encouraging to stand with so many members from both sides of the aisle in issuing this call.


State Rep. Tom Bennett (R-Gibson City) recognized fallen Paxton-area law enforcement officers with legislation which re-names the overpass near the site of the 1979 shootout where they fell in their honor.
Partisanship worsening the dysfunction in Springfield
I have served in the House of Representatives for a little over two years, and in that time I have encountered a great deal of frustration; over the budget, needed reforms and many other subjects. But last week I ran into one of the most frustrating obstructions yet.

Following a week of action under the dome in Springfield, State Representative Tom Bennett (R-GIbson City) discusses what took place at the state capitol. The House will be back in session again on May 9th.
Mixed news on employment, still a long way to go
There was some mixed news from the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) last week when they reported that Illinois’ unemployment rate had fallen below 5% for the first time in ten years. The new Illinois unemployment rate is 4.9%.

Governor begins consolidation of IHPA into IDNR
Governor Rauner issued an executive order earlier this month which would start the process of moving the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) into the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). IHPA is responsible for over 50 different historical sites around the state. Some of these sites include the David Davis Mansion in Bloomington, the Governor Small Memorial in Kankakee, Woodford County’s Metamora Courthouse, as well as many other sites related to Abraham Lincoln and important cultural and historical figures throughout Illinois.
Moody’s labels Illinois’ budget situation “unsustainable”
Moody’s Investor Services, the globally-followed credit-rating firm which has downgraded debt securities issued by the state of Illinois and its affiliates in the recent past, has given us another warning.  In the most recent caution issued to Springfield, Moody’s indicated that if the State does not enact a budget by May 31, Illinois will be on a pathway to “unsustainable fiscal challenges.” This is another reason why last week’s “stopgap” budget (instead of a full-year budget) was a bad idea.

More political games on the budget, but no progress
This week we saw a party-line vote on an irresponsible stopgap budget that does nothing to move us closer to a full-year budget agreement. On Thursday, a short-term budget that had not been negotiated by the two parties was rushed to the floor and put up for a vote. House Republicans are willing to work with Democrats to find an agreement on a balanced budget that fixes the long-term problems our state is facing. Instead, this week we saw the exact same political game that was played in 2015 and 2016. It did not help the people of Illinois then, and it will not do so now.

New pension reform proposal introduced
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin has introduced legislation for comprehensive pension reform that would provide significant savings for taxpayers and $215 million to the Chicago Public Schools for a one time pension parity payment.

Legislation to honor fallen Paxton-area police officers presented in House
In 1979, a shootout on Interstate 57 claimed the lives of Illinois State Trooper Michael McCarter, Paxton Patrolman William Caisse and civilian Donald Vice. Paxton Patrolman Larry Hale was wounded in that same shootout. Patrolman Hale recovered from his wounds and continued to serve the residents of Paxton as a part-time patrolman.

‘Grand bargain’ talks hit a snag
Since the beginning of the year, the Illinois Senate has been in bipartisan talks to work out a deal on both the budget and the structural reforms that have been under consideration for more than two years. At the start of the 100th General Assembly in January, Senate leaders introduced 13 bills dealing with the budget, taxes, workers compensation reform, procurement reform and a handful of other issues. Then a bipartisan group of Senators tried to work out the differences between them to get the bills passed and sent over to the House.

Governor proposes changes to Medicaid
Governor Rauner has introduced a proposal to have more Medicaid cases move through managed care. The Governor called for expanding the state’s existing Medicaid managed care programs to cover 80% of Illinois’ Medicaid patients, about three million in all. Right now, about 67% of Illinois Medicaid patients are in managed care. In managed care, private insurance firms perform a role similar to insurance firms that manage groups of families that receive health insurance from their employer.


State Representative Tom Bennett (R-Gibson City) recognized Eureka native Ben Zobrist on the House floor Wednesday as part of the General Assembly's celebration of the Chicago Cubs' 2016 World Series victory. The Woodford County community held its own recognition of Zobrist earlier this year in honor of his being named the Most Valuable Player of the 2016 World Series.
Some good government legislation headed to the House floor
While we continue to work to find agreement on a state budget, the House is acting to put into place legislation to make us better stewards of taxpayer money. House Bill 682 would bring transparency to initiatives to increase state spending. The bill creates the Local Initiative Sunshine Act and directs the Comptroller put on her website a listing of every initiative that earmarks state funds for specific local groups and governmental units. Included in the information to be made public would be details on who sponsored the initiative, who is receiving the funds, the amount of money being transferred, its purpose and other relevant information.

Package of government reform bills filed
With the start of the new General Assembly, House Republicans have introduced a package of bills and constitutional amendments intended to fix our broken state government system. The proposed reforms are called the Get Government Back on Track package.

The lead sponsor of the bills is Rep. Tom Demmer of Dixon. The reform package has six key parts. First, House Bill 787 would create a bipartisan Joint Committee of the General Assembly on Rules and Operations – a panel of legislators which would review and recommend procedures, rules and structures of the General Assembly to make it run more efficiently and fairly. House Bill 789 establishes a Board of Repealers which would review Illinois’ laws and look for ways to get rid of laws that have become outdated or which conflict with other laws. Instead of just adding more and more laws to the books, this would give us a way to get rid of those we no longer need.

Governor delivers Budget Address
Governor Rauner went before a joint session of the legislature on Wednesday to deliver his annual budget address. He touched on a number of issues, but emphasized the overall theme that we need to find the political will to bring people together and finally work our way out of this crisis.
Legislation filed to continue paying state workers
I have joined several of my colleagues in sponsoring House Bill 1787, legislation which makes state workers’ salary payments a continuing appropriation. This would guarantee payment of state employees during a budget stalemate. The issue of state employee paychecks has become especially urgent since Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a motion in court to stop paychecks for state employees at the end of this month.

If enacted, the bill would be effective immediately. I co-sponsored similar legislation in the previous General Assembly, but it was not allowed a committee hearing. I hope the House will take up this legislation without delay.

House adopts Madigan’s rules
In a vote that very closely followed party lines, rules governing the 100th General Assembly were adopted by the House last week. The approved rules were written by the office of Speaker Michael Madigan. House Republicans expressed strong disappointment that the party in power in the House had refused to look at bipartisan proposals to guarantee an equal voice for all residents of Illinois. The rules give Speaker Madigan unprecedented power over the legislative agenda of the House. With that power and those rules, the Speaker is able to determine which bills are voted on and which are not. This impacts the bills, the votes, the policies and the direction that our conversation takes.

Governor delivers State of the State Address
Governor Rauner went before a joint session of the legislature on Wednesday to deliver his third State of the State Address. The Governor struck a positive, upbeat tone, as he reviewed some of the accomplishments of his term, like record education funding, transparency and initiatives to streamline government.

Budget Work Continues
In the coming weeks, our top priority must continue to be getting a responsible budget in place as soon as possible.

Upon the expiration of the “stopgap” FY17 budget on January 1 authorized State spending stopped on many vital social programs our families and communities depend upon, and for our colleges and universities.

Efforts to reauthorize these programs for the second half of FY17 are continuing to be discussed along with the need for real budget reform and true reforms to the Illinois political process. Reform proposals under discussion include a hard freeze on property tax extensions, term limits for elected Illinois officials, workers’ compensation, and other issues.  Senate leaders said that they are working to finalize a comprehensive budget plan by February 1.  Some of the components they’re considering include changes to Illinois individual income tax rates, pension reform, a major expansion in Illinois casino gambling, and other significant changes to Illinois laws.

I’ll keep you updated as the discussions progress.
100th General Assembly takes office The new 100th General Assembly was sworn in on Wednesday, January 11, at Sangamon Auditorium in Springfield, opening up the new legislative session. As expected, Democrat Michael Madigan of Chicago was re-elected to the office of Speaker of the House. I was proud to cast my vote for our House Republican leader Jim Durkin.
New General Assembly to take office January 11
With the coming of the new year, the members of the House and Senate elected last fall will formally take the oath of office and begin the 100th General Assembly at noon on Wednesday, January 11 in Springfield. Democrats will continue to hold the majority in both houses, as there will be 67 Democrats and 51 Republicans in the House, and 37 Democrats and 22 Republicans in the Senate.