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Legislative update 3.10.17.

3/14/2017
The Illinois House and Senate were in Springfield last week for more committee action. The most pressing issue in Springfield remains the lack of a full FY17 budget; Governor Rauner continues to put his unpopular political demands before the best interests of Illinois and impeding lawmakers’ ability to reach a budget agreement. While the backlog of state bills continues to grow, higher education institutions and social service agencies continue to suffer from lack of funding.

In the latest hit to Illinois finances, the General Assembly’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) projected that revenues are $329 million less that Governor Rauner’s estimates of $32.7 billion. This the puts Governor’s latest budget proposal at more than $5 million in the red.


Here is a quick update on the “grand bargain” package we detailed last week, and other highlights from the week of 3.10.17:


Grand Bargain update
There was no movement this week on the grand bargain after last week’s effort to move part of the deal failed, most notably SB 16, the pension reform proposal. Thanks to IFT members who contacted Senators urging them to oppose the bill, SB 16 was rejected.

Several news outlets continue to report that the “grand bargain” is on life support. Democrats accused Governor Rauner of blowing up the deal, but nothing is ever dead in Springfield; it is likely that the grand bargain will be revived this spring. To review the status of the various bills in the “grand bargain,” see last week’s legislative update. Since every bill in this package is linked, they all must pass or the “grand bargain” will fail.


Rauner administration asked, “Where would you cut?”

The Governor’s proposed budget relies on the passage of the “grand bargain.” Since the fate of that package is uncertain, Illinois Senate committees asked Governor Rauner’s agency directors to explain how they would close the $5 billion hole in the Governor’s proposed budget. Not one of the 16 agency heads could identify a single cut to their own budgets.

In the meantime, Illinois higher education institutions are facing irreparable harm from the lack of funding. Every university president (except for the University of Illinois representative) described the dire financial situation facing their students and campuses, including forced employee furloughs, tuition increases, program eliminations, and more.


On the education front

The House and Senate Education committees met to address several key issues, including:

Voucher bill amended to shift lottery proceeds into school funding
HB 213, known as the School Choice Act, is no longer a voucher bill. As amended and passed by the House Education Curriculum committee, the bill now requires that funds transferred from the state lottery fund to the common school fund be supplemental, rather than in lieu of, any money transferred to the common school fund.

College entrance exam must be administered during school day
  HB 2442 requires that state assessments used for college admissions purposes be administered during the school day (normal business hours). The bill is an ISBE initiative and unanimously passed the House Education Curriculum committee.

Process created for SPED Coops to depart cooperative agreements
HB 6252 passed last session and was signed into law (PA 99-729) last week. The bill was custom crafted to allow a west suburban elementary district to depart from the SPED Cooperative of which it was a part. The elementary district’s request to pullout of the cooperative agreement had been denied. The appeal process in place at the time was not seen by the elementary district as robust enough to consider all viewpoints equally.

HB 2540 is a trailer bill to HB 6252. It creates a general appeal process for all suburban Cook County SPED Coops that wish to reconsider their cooperative agreements. This bill passed the House Education Licensure committee.

Increased transparency required for school board members
HB 3378 requires greater financial transparency for current school board members. Those with an interest in a company or business which seeks to do business with the board would be required to disclose that interest publicly in a board meeting, as well as recuse himself or herself from votes related to the business. HB 3378 passed the House Education Licensure committee.

Cursive writing law proposed
HB 2977 would require the teaching of cursive writing in elementary and high school. In the committee hearing, concerns were expressed that this bill is a mandate and that purchasing or producing the writing practice sheets will be a financial burden. The sponsor reported support from superintendents in his district, and some committee reported that many students cannot read cursive nor sign with a true signature. The bill passed out of House Education Curriculum committee.


On the state employee front

Mendoza wins dispute with Rauner over state employee pay
In a stinging blow to the Governor, a circuit court quickly ruled in favor of Comptroller Susana Mendoza on Tuesday in her dispute with Rauner over which funds she can use to pay nearly 600 state employees in the Department of Central Management Services (CMS). The suit had been filed on Monday.

The Comptroller accused Rauner of hoarding $93 million in two funds used for state vehicle and building lease expenses. Mendoza wanted to tap these flush funds to pay the CMS employees, but Rauner demanded they be paid out of the state's general fund, which has a $12 billion deficit. The Governor accused Mendoza of trying to deny payment to the workers and force a crisis, but the Comptroller has said the employees will be paid once paperwork is resubmitted.

Read the complete ruling here.


A look ahead

Both chambers will reconvene on Tuesday, March 14. In addition to committee work moving bills, a number of House committees will also hold subject matter discussions, including:

  • The House Education Funding task force will meet March 14 at 10 a.m. to continue discussions on a new school funding formula;
  • The House Appropriations Elementary and Secondary Education committee meets March 14 at 1:30 p.m. to discuss the FY18 Illinois State Board of Education Budget;
  • The House Labor committee will meet on March 15 at 2 p.m. to discuss the minimum wage; and
  • The House Revenue committee will meet March 16 at 8 a.m. to hear subject matter testimony about property tax relief.

March 17 is the deadline to get bills out of Senate Committees. The House deadline is March 31. Stay tuned for updates.

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