Grand bargain bills arrive in House; nurse layoffs avoided

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 consideration of Senate “Grand Bargain” bills
This week some of the so-called “grand bargain” bills began arriving in the House. These are the bills which the Senate has been working on since the first of the year which address a wide range of issues from taxes and the budget to gambling, education reform, workers compensation and procurement reform. As we approach the May 31 adjournment deadline, the status of these bills can change almost by the minute. For the most up-to-date information on the status of each of these bills, visit the Illinois General Assembly’s website at www.ilga.gov and search for them by their individual bill numbers. The “grand bargain” bills are Senate Bills 1 through 13.

For months, the Senate has been negotiating and tweaking these bills. They began arriving in the House with only a few days before our scheduled adjournment, so House members are having to work fast to dig into their details and work on our own negotiations. As with any fast-developing situation, things are changing very quickly. Senate Democrats passed an out-of-balance budget Tuesday on a party line vote, and then passed a tax increase in the same partisan fashion later that day. Other legislation, such as procurement reform, has more bipartisan support. Some of these bills began emerging from committees on Wednesday and reached the House floor late in the week, others were still under review.

DOC, Nurses’ Association reach deal to avoid layoffs
Throughout the spring, several dozen nurses employed by the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) faced the threat of layoffs. I am happy to report that an agreement has been reached between the Department and the Illinois Nurses’ Association (INA) to permanently avoid those layoffs. Under the agreement, the DOC facility in Pontiac, along with several others, will be converted to an INA-only facility which will help address the issue of different work rules for nurses who have different employers but work at the same facility.

I was glad to see that the Department had rescinded the layoffs. I was also pleased to see both sides show a willingness to come to the table, be flexible and offer solutions that produced a true compromise. It gives us reason to hope that the General Assembly can do the same thing in our ongoing budget negotiations.

Republicans call on Attorney General to force General Assembly to comply with the balanced budget requirement
In an effort to propel the state budget process forward, I signed a letter to Attorney General Lisa Madigan calling on her to use the power of her office to force the General Assembly to adopt a revenue estimate prior to the filing and passage of any spending bills. This action would prevent further damage to the state’s finances and the many social service providers who serve the most vulnerable individuals and families across Illinois. The letter to the Attorney General was co-signed by 39 other House Republican legislators.

In the letter we cited several prior court rulings and instances which set precedent for the Attorney General to intervene to ensure the Constitution is upheld. As I wrote last week, the Constitution requires the General Assembly to adopt a revenue estimate to determine how much money we have available to spend in the coming fiscal year. This is an action which legislators have failed to take in either of the past two years and haven’t yet done this year.

“It is time for the Attorney General to step in,” the letter reads, in part. “The majority party in the General Assembly refuses to do their job and take the first, most basic step in the state budget process, which is to adopt a revenue estimate. It is common sense that you can’t determine how much you’re going to spend, and on which priorities, until you know how much revenue you have. Illinois families and taxpayers understand this principle, and until two years ago, the state did too.”

“Even though I am a relative newcomer to Springfield, I have learned firsthand how the budget impasse has a devastating impact on families and the human service providers who care for the most vulnerable in our community. The Attorney General can help us end this ongoing tragedy by forcing state legislators to do their job.”

Stewardship bill passes committee
Legislation I sponsored which would create a program to allow non-profit land conservation organizations to apply for grants for land stewardship passed the Appropriations-General Services Committee 10-0 this week. The bill would allow the Department of Natural Resources to make matching stewardship grants to conservation land trusts to help protect Illinois’ natural lands. The bill was amended in the House, so if it passes the full House it must go back to the Senate. If the Senate concurs in the House amendment, the bill will head to Governor Rauner for his signature.

State’s unpaid bill backlog tops $14 billion
It is bad enough that the state cannot pay its bills. However, under the Illinois Prompt Payment Act, when the state does not pay on time, those debts begin accruing interest. As the budget crisis has worsened, these interest payments have themselves become a major source of spending. Over $800 million has accumulated in late-payment interest penalties on the unpaid bills.

The penalties come from a promise which Illinois first made in the 1990s to pay its creditors at the rate of 1% per month. Now that the state is so far behind on its bills, the Comptroller estimates that the past-due interest payments are themselves growing at a rate of about $2 million a day. They make up a growing share of the state’s $17-million per-day structural deficit. The Comptroller’s office reports that the backlog of unpaid bills now totals more than $14.4 billion. The $800 million in interest penalties is in addition to those unpaid bills.

This rising total of interest on past-due bills is yet another warning that we need to act urgently on our budget crisis.

Did You Know?
The holiday we now know as Memorial Day has its roots in Illinois. In 1868, as a way of honoring those who had given their lives for the Union in the Civil War, General John A. Logan of Murphysboro issued General Order Number 11, which stated that May 30 was to be designated, “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.” Logan had a distinguished war record and went on to serve as a U.S. Senator, but he considered the event then known as “Decoration Day” to be the proudest achievement of his life.

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