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*** UPDATED x2 - Pension reform delayed until veto session *** Memorial Day session live blog

Monday, May 30, 2011

* I should’ve started this earlier. Better late than never, I suppose…

*** UPDATE 1 *** Pension reform is being delayed until the fall veto session at the earliest. From a press release…

May 30, 2011

STATEMENT REGARDING PENSION REFORM

We are absolutely committed to reforming Illinois’ public pension system for current employees. It must be done to stabilize our systems and address long term financial issues for both the public employee pension systems and state government.

We believe passage of legislation addressing this issue is essential to the state’s well being.

It was made very clear during the May 26th hearing in the Personnel and Pensions Committee that both those who support pension reform and those who are opposed to Senate Bill 512 acknowledge we have a problem and something must be done.

Our goal is to enact reforms to our pension systems that provide a long term solution for both those who are members of the pension systems and those who fund them.

We will convene meetings over the summer to address the issues and concerns that have been raised and work toward a solution in this year’s Fall Veto Session. [Emphasis added]

-Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan
-Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross
-Tyrone Fahner, President, Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago

*** UPDATE 2 *** As mentioned in the live-blog above, the Senate Democrats passed an amendment through committee today that contains over $400 million in extra funding for state budgets. They attached the extra funding to a capital projects bill, so if the House doesn’t approve the extra funding the projects are held up. Click here to read their analysis

Attached is a Senate budget overview associated with HB 2189.

Explanation of columns:
“FY 11” is the current year’s budget.
“FY 12 Intro” is the Governor’s proposed budget.
“FY 12 Senate” is the Senate budget proposal.
“FY 12 House” is the House budget proposal.
“Restorations” are Senate additions to the House budget lines.

The House budget amounts are being used as the base for proposed funding restorations in select categories.

The Senate is proposing restorations totaling $431 million.

- Posted by Rich Miller   39 Comments      


Question of the day

Monday, May 30, 2011

* The Tribune has a story today about the big money raised by House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton this month

All told, more than $600,000 in amounts of $1,000 or more has flowed into political funds controlled by Madigan and Cullerton this month. That campaign cash is changing hands during a month when lawmakers traditionally face the most controversial legislation — an agenda dictated by the two Democratic leaders. […]

“Our only criteria in the Democratic caucus in the House is whether legislation represents a common-sense solution to a problem or making sure a program operates in a common-sense fashion,” [Madigan spokesman Steve Brown] said. He said it is “critical” to raise money “every month of the year” to defend incumbents because of the recent effect of groups that accept unregulated and anonymous sources of money “to put slop on the heads of candidates.”

By contrast, Republicans who have spent the past decade out of power in the House and Senate saw their leadership funds raise only $38,500 in donations of $1,000 or more in May, state records show. […]

“Six hundred thousand dollars at the close of session when all the very controversial legislation is attempting to move forward?” asked Sen. John Millner, R-Carol Stream. “It doesn’t look good and it might create more cynicism on the part of our constituents. I think we really have to seriously re-evaluate how we’re doing business.”

Democratic Sen. Don Harmon of Oak Park, the sponsor of the current campaign finance law, said he’s concerned that Illinois is increasingly seeing “unregulated political interest groups, who don’t disclose where they get their money, launching campaigns to influence public policy.” Harmon, a member of a bipartisan commission looking at the law, said he remains open to suggestions and recommendations.

Fundraising is banned on most session days, however Monday events before session begins on Tuesday is a regular occurrence around these parts.

* The Question: Should all legislative fundraising be banned during session months? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments. Thanks.


- Posted by Rich Miller   27 Comments      


Conservative group differs with Rockford Diocese decision to drop adoption and foster care

Monday, May 30, 2011

* You may have seen this story last week about the Rockford Diocese dropping adoption and foster care services because of the new civil unions law

The Rockford Diocese announced Thursday that it would end those services rather than be forced to serve same-sex or unmarried opposite-sex couples. The agency served children and families for more than 100 years.

“It’s the moral teaching of our faith that we believe in the natural order of marriage. In order to serve our children best, we believe that they be in that kind of a family,” said Ellen Lynch, general counsel for the diocese. “This is not a judgment on whether or not they are loving or capable. We are strictly following the teachings passed down by our faith.” […]

The agency was forced to opt out of its contract with the state for adoption and foster services because legislators failed to enact an amendment to the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act that would have allowed Catholic Charities to continue its practice to refer unmarried couples, whether same or opposite sex, to other agencies.

* But the conservative Thomas More Society strongly disagrees with the legal reasoning behind the decision

“Catholic adoption agencies have no need to stop serving foster and adoption families,” said attorney Peter Breen of Chicago-based Thomas More Society. “In our view, Illinois law does not require sectarian agencies to abide by the same non-discrimination standard as non-sectarian agencies. We’re encouraging Catholic Charities adoption agencies to continue their work just as they have before.” […]

Thomas More Society attorneys argue the Illinois Human Rights Act currently does not force Illinois non-discrimination public accommodation laws on sectarian organizations, only non-sectarian groups. The Illinois Human Rights Act defines specifically where the non-discrimination laws apply, and sectarian adoption agencies are not listed. […]

Because “non-sectarian adoption agencies” are listed and sectarian are not, Breen argues that Catholic Charities may continue to operate without referring for fostering or adoption same sex or opposite sex couples whose partnerships are not considered marriage by the church’s definition.

* Whatever happens, the kids will apparently be cared for

Transitions like this have happened in the past, and other agencies are expected to step up to support the children and families served by Catholic Charities, officials with Children’s Home + Aid Society and Lutheran Social Services of Illinois said. Each agency serves families that are married or unmarried, including gay and lesbian partners.

“We’re sad to lose the partnership with Catholic Charities in this community,” said Kathy Reese, program director for Children’s Community Services of LSSI. “The foster care community here is very collaborative … if we’re called upon to be of help with this situation, we’ll stand ready to work with Department of Children and Family Services in any way that it’s deemed appropriate.”

Thoughts?

- Posted by Rich Miller   20 Comments      


Borrowing, budget and health care

Monday, May 30, 2011

* The borrowing bill got 19 votes in the Senate last night. The Democrats have 35 seats. So it wasn’t just the Republicans who defeated the proposal

Senate Republicans defeated a Democratic bid to borrow nearly $1.5 billion over seven years to pay down part of the state’s crushing backlog of unpaid bills. The measure failed by a 19-23 vote with 36 votes needed for Senate passage.

“It’s always a bad idea to borrow money when you don’t know how to repay it,” said Sen. Dale Righter (R-Charleston), who voted against the measure.

The one-sided loss involving the first piece of a four-bill, $6.1 billion borrowing proposal represented another significant defeat for Quinn: It effectively killed his hopes of righting the state’s bleak budget situation and persuading lawmakers this spring to authorize borrowing to pay unpaid state bills.

In February, the governor called for $8.75 billion in borrowing to deal with unpaid bills but had swung his support to the $6.1 billion borrowing plan pushed by Sen. John Sullivan (D-Rushville).

* The hope among Democrats is the governor will finally move away from this idea. He actually seems to be taking the hint

Stretching out the payment cycle to Medicaid providers into next year will allow Gov. Pat Quinn’s office to “manage” hundreds of millions of dollars, said state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, adding that the state pays $28 million a day for Medicaid services. […]

An Illinois Senate panel on Sunday approved a measure that would extend the amount of time the state has to pay its bills from three months to six months. That period, know as lapse-period spending, covers bills that arrive in Springfield after the end of the budget year, which ends in June. Illinois traditionally would pay those bills by September, but lawmakers want to give the governor until December to send the checks. […]

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said if lawmakers do not give the governor more time, they have to either give him more money or tell businesses and hospitals to sue the state.

“This is not new spending,” said Cullerton. “This is giving (the governor) more time to pay the bills.”

Quinn’s budget spokeswoman, Kelly Kraft, said the governor would prefer that lawmakers “restructure” the state’s backlog of bills by borrowing $6 billion, but the Quinn administration will take what it can get.

“An extension is something we need to manage the state’s cash flow” said Kraft.

* Here’s another plan being floated

One idea that’s been tossed around is to limit local governments to the same share of revenue that they received this year. That would mean no additional money if the economy rebounds and the state collects more than expected from income and sales taxes.

* And, as I told you yesterday, this bill may not be going anywhere

State government retirees – many of whom don’t pay premiums for health insurance – would have to pick up roughly half the cost under a bill approved by the Senate Executive Committee Sunday.

The prospects for the bill, Senate Bill 175, are uncertain, however. Two senators on the committee said they voted for it only in order to give the full Senate a chance to consider the measure. They did not pledge to vote for it when it is debated by the full chamber.

The bill would affect thousands of retired state employees, most of whom pay no premiums for their state health insurance, according to a consultant hired by the state. Mercer Health and Benefits said that is a rarity both among state governments and large private employers.

Illinois reduces health insurance premiums by 5 percent for each year a retiree worked for the state, so a retiree with 20 years on the job pays nothing in premiums.

* Related…

* VIDEO: Rep. Feigenholtz on state spending plan

* Plan to borrow for old bills fails

* Senate Republicans block $6 billion in Illinois borrowing

- Posted by Rich Miller   21 Comments      


Workers’ comp reform up in the air

Monday, May 30, 2011

* After last night’s House defeat of the workers’ compensation bill, Caterpillar, Inc. sent out this statement…

As previously stated, Caterpillar did not oppose the workers’ compensation bill passed by the Illinois Senate, but the company was concerned that it did not go far enough to position the state to attract additional jobs and investment. While the bill failed in the House, we are hopeful that a compromise can yet be reached, that would provide for meaningful reform. We remain committed toward supporting changes that support our goal of making Illinois one of the best states in the union for attracting investment and jobs.

* Gov. Pat Quinn’s office had a much different take…

“Tonight House Republicans have walked away from a chance to bring meaningful reform to Illinois’ workers’ compensation system—the best opportunity our state has seen in decades. This is a bill that saw bipartisan support in the Senate. This proposal had broad-based support in Illinois’ business community, from large companies including United and American Airlines, Hyatt, Ford Motor Company and Navistar, as well as business advocacy groups including the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, the Illinois Retail Merchants’ Association and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce - groups that represent thousands of businesses across our state.

“Most importantly, this proposal would have resulted in more than $500 million in savings to Illinois businesses, while still protecting the rights of workers.

“House Republicans had a choice between enacting landmark reforms, or voting to support their own partisan agenda, and maintaining the status quo. Their political decision was made at the expense of workers and business owners in their districts. When they return home, House Republicans will need to explain to their constituents why they chose the interests of their political leadership over significant financial savings for their constituents.”

Notice he didn’t mention any of the Democrats who voted against the bill or cast a “Present” vote.

* Sen. Kwame Raoul, the bill’s Senate sponsor, pointed out the obvious: The House Republicans voted in lockstep to protect their favorite interest group, the Illinois State Medical Society

“The Republican leader and his caucus are largely financed by the medical society,” Raoul said. “I’m sure that Rep. Bradley could not donate as much to their campaigns as the medical society, so I don’t see them changing their position.”

* Raoul video

Give the docs credit for pulling off a huge win. They’re good. Very good.

* Not all House Republicans were happy with the way this went down

Freshman Republican Rep. Dwight Kay, who voted present, expressed frustration about the political nature of the vote.

“Today, I found out a lot of things that I really don’t know about politics,” said Kay, of Glen Carbon. “But I have learned a couple things. The first is that there is no such thing as perfection. Well, you learn that in life, but we try to attain it. Then you learn when you get here about politics, and you think you know what that’s about until you get here. And then when you kind of (get) disenchanted with the political part, you say to yourself, ‘What’s possible?’ Well, because we don’t have perfect and because there is an awful lot of politics in Springfield, we aren’t doing what’s possible. And I’m sorry, I can’t apologize for my feelings. Because we need reform.”

* Greg Baise, president of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, expressed his disappointment

“Illinois employers will not get an opportunity to realize $700 million in savings. No bill is perfect in Springfield, but this one was certainly better than the system we live under today.”

* Ditto for Dave Vite

“[Opponents say] we’ve never gone far enough, but we’ve never gone anywhere,” said David Vite, president and chief operating officer of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. “Every election, candidates from both parties talk about the jobs climate, talk about helping Illinois business, and when it comes right down to it, they didn’t step up to the plate today.”

* The House has already passed the “nuclear option” bill to eliminate the workers’ comp system altogether. The Senate has advanced the bill to the floor. Will they call it or try to work out an agreement? Unclear at the moment

State Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, was the Senate sponsor of the failed measure, and said late Sunday that he would be moving Bradley’s “nuclear option” in the Senate as soon as Monday.

“We need some type of workers’ compensation reform, and that may be our only option at this point,” Raoul said.

Business hates the bill, however

“For something that produces upwards of 20,000 cases a year or more, how’s the Illinois court system going to handle that?” Baise told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I guess it’s a lawyer’s delight.”

More on that topic

The sponsor, Democratic Representative John Bradley of Marion drew a line in the sand before the vote.

“46 votes in the Senate, most of your Senators voted for it. This is the vote.” He said.

Yet the House Republican Leader said talks could continue toward reaching a compromise.

- Posted by Rich Miller   30 Comments      


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