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Lightfoot nails it

Wednesday, Feb 19, 2020

* I highly recommend watching this video…


- Posted by Rich Miller   27 Comments      


Question of the day

Wednesday, Feb 19, 2020

* What one word best sums up this week? One word only, please.

- Posted by Rich Miller   62 Comments      


Illinois Kidney Care Alliance Is Serving Illinois’ 30,000+ Patients With Kidney Disease

Wednesday, Feb 19, 2020

[The following is a paid advertisement.]

An estimated 30 Million Americans are living with kidney disease – that’s 1 in every 9 people according to the National Kidney Foundation (NKF). Kidney disease often has no symptoms in its early stages and therefore remains undetected until it has reached an advanced stage, devastating patients and their families physically, emotionally and financially.

The final stage of the disease – kidney failure – leaves patients with just two options. Nationally, 70 percent of patients with kidney failure are on life-sustaining dialysis, while the rest survive by receiving a kidney transplant.

Kidney disease is more prevalent among low-income people; additionally, people of African-American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian or Pacific Islander descent are at increased risk for developing the disease.

The Illinois Kidney Care Alliance (IKCA) consists of community groups and advocates, health professionals, and businesses from across Illinois banding together to educate the public about the challenges faced by those with kidney disease. In Illinois alone, it is estimated that more than 30,000 people suffer from kidney failure. We are here to tell their story. For more information, visit our website.

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You Think Commuting Rod’s Sentence Is Bad?

Wednesday, Feb 19, 2020

[The following is a paid advertisement.]

Wait until you see what Trump will do if he’s reelected.

Mike Bloomberg is the only candidate who can take him on in every community across the country.

He’ll get Trump out of the White House because he gets things done.

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Select budget address react

Wednesday, Feb 19, 2020

* Press release…

Moments ago, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker delivered his annual budget address, where he outlined his priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. While Gov. Pritzker’s proposal would increase funding for Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants and make other worthy investments, it did not include funding for campus mental health programs through the Mental Health Early Action on Campus (MHEAC) Act — legislation he signed into law just months ago.

Following Gov. Pritzker’s address, Erin Steva, Midwest Regional Director for Young Invincibles, released the following statement:

“With the state facing tough decisions and massive budget shortfalls, Illinois young people are looking to Gov. Pritzker to chart a path toward prosperity by investing in the resources they need to build a stable, financially-secure life. There are certainly worthy investments in the Governor’s proposed budget. We applaud the Governor for proposing increasing MAP grants, expanding apprenticeship opportunities across the state, and restoring a health care navigator program to help Illinoisans enroll in affordable health coverage.

However, it’s clear that any path to economic prosperity requires further investments in the next generation of Illinoisans — particularly Illinois’ most underserved young adults. Though Gov. Pritzker’s address supported expanded mental health services, his budget completely misses the mark in one area that desperately needs reform: campus mental health services.

Just months after signing a bill into law that would expand mental health resources on college campuses across the state, Gov. Pritzker’s budget fails to fund those programs, denying young people the mental health resources they need to stay healthy and succeed inside and outside the classroom. We understand the financial challenges facing the state, but failing to invest in this preventative measure is penny wise, pound foolish. Students with mental illnesses are twice as likely to drop out of college than those without, and we must ensure every student has the support they need to complete their education.

So while we share the Governor’s enthusiasm for the increase in college applications and college affordability, we must also ensure students can complete their education. That requires an investment in their mental well-being and a commitment to making mental health treatment affordable and accessible for every student.”

* Press release…

Majority Leader Greg Harris released the following statement Wednesday after Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s budget address:

“The governor’s budget proposal is an important starting point in a process that will require many tough decisions. We look forward to working with the governor and our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass an on-time balanced budget that lives within our means, funds critical services, helps stabilize state finances, and continues to build a stronger Illinois.

“House Democrats applaud Governor Pritzker’s commitment to joining us in making Illinois the best place in the country to raise a family, strengthening education, repairing the social safety network, and making our communities safer and our justice system fairer – as well as the governor’s recognition that achieving these important goals starts with a balanced budget.”

* Press release…

Vote Yes For Fairness Chairman Quentin Fulks released the following statement after Governor Pritzker’s budget address today:

“Governor Pritzker has once again followed through on his promise to propose a balanced budget for our state, and Vote Yes For Fairness applauds his work to move Illinois towards fiscal sustainability after mismanagement by previous administrations.

“While this year’s proposed budget uses budgetary reserves to stay balanced if the Fair Tax does not pass, it’s likely that next year’s budget would either raise taxes on all Illinoisans by 20% or significantly slash spending on education, health care, public safety, and other critical services.

“That’s why Illinois must change its tax system from the outdated, failing system we currently have to a Fair Tax system like the one the federal government and a majority of states employ. By asking the wealthiest Illinoisans to pay their share, the Fair Tax would generate billions of dollars in additional revenue that would go toward funding critical programs Illinoisans rely on, including our schools.

“A balanced budget is important for our state’s fiscal health, but nothing has the potential to change the trajectory of our state like passing the Fair Tax does. The path forward for Illinois is clear – it’s time to pass the Fair Tax, which will ensure 97% of Illinoisans see no tax increase and generate additional revenue to make our state the home all our residents deserve.”

* Press release…

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association (IRMA) issued the following statement regarding Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Annual Budget Address:

“This budget proposal demonstrates a lack of financial discipline that should raise questions about the wisdom of changing the Illinois Constitution to allow for a graduated income tax. Not only does this plan rely on questionable savings, it also escalates spending at a level that the state simply cannot afford, even if the graduated income tax were adopted,” said Rob Karr, president & CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. “At some point, Illinois must get serious about fiscal discipline. As we have done repeatedly in the past, IRMA will work with the General Assembly and Administration, to the extent they are willing, to address the challenges that impact us all.”

* Press release…

The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association (IMA) released the following statement regarding Gov. JB Pritzker’s annual budget address:

“Illinois manufacturers remain committed to working with Governor Pritzker and lawmakers to enact policies that create jobs, invest in our workforce and drive economic growth. Unfortunately, this budget proposal is built around a massive income tax increase on Illinois employers and families who are looking for meaningful reforms, property tax relief and fiscal restraint,” said Mark Denzler, president & CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association. “Illinois is an amazing state with many innate advantages, but the exodus of taxpayers will only grow worse if elected officials continue to pile higher taxes and costly regulations on job creators every single year.”

* Press release…

Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider released the following statement in response to Governor Pritzker’s Budget Address:

“Illinois’ fiscal crisis demands urgent action and serious solutions. Today, the only thing Governor Pritzker offered was new spending proposals and a false choice between the progressive income tax and devastating cuts. It’s disingenuous for the Governor to attempt to scare the public into voting for higher taxes to plug our budget hole and then turn around and advocate for new spending - in the same speech.

The Governor promises the progressive income tax will do a few things, including filling our nearly $3 billion dollar structural deficit, paying down the backlog of bills, and providing a tax cut for 97% of Illinoisans - all while providing property tax relief for everyone. Add into the picture that the Governor proposed over $10 billion dollars in new spending during the campaign, and it’s clear the progressive income tax and it’s currently proposed rates are a Trojan horse for California-style marginal tax rates and massive middle class tax hikes.

Any budget address or solution that stops short of proposing substantive reforms to our pension mess is an unserious attempt at papering over our fiscal disaster with accounting gimmicks and false promises. Illinoisans deserved to hear from a courageous Governor willing to make tough budgetary decisions today. Instead, they heard from a politician hiding behind scare tactics and impossible promises.”

* Press release…

Illinois Chamber President and CEO Todd Maisch released the following statement on Governor Pritzker’s Budget Address.

“The Illinois Chamber is encouraged by the governor’s budget plan, as it produces a balanced budget without increasing taxes by $3.6 billion, which would be triggered by the passage of a progressive tax scheme. By prudently holding down spending – through the $1.4 billion “hold”, the administration has made it clear to Illinoisans that another ruinous tax increase is unnecessary. We also call on the governor and the legislature to enact pro-growth policies that will increase tax revenues through economic growth without increasing tax rates.”

* Press release…

State Representative Mark Batinick (R-Plainfield) released the following statement regarding Governor Pritzker’s Budget Address on February 19th:

“I have said it before, but it still rings true: until the Democrats curb their insatiable appetite for spending, Illinois will not be financially stable. We cannot keep taxing our way into new revenues; we need to structurally change spending. The most disturbing part of the Governor’s address was that he based his budget proposal on new spending. We cannot plan on hypotheticals. That is the root of the problem, and until we actually change this, we will not move forward.

What’s worse, is that the Governor is underselling our current revenues. Growth is extremely important for our businesses and the economy at large—we have record revenue growth right now and that should be recognized and used to pay down our debts. The high costs of living in Illinois are driving families and businesses out of our state. The State of Illinois is continuing to lose young people and high-income earners. I wanted to hear something in the Governor’s address that spoke to those factors, which really matter when we are talking about producing a balanced budget. Instead, the Governor is raising taxes and barely touching pensions.

Last year, the Governor proposed skipping pension payments in his budget address. This year’s address wasn’t much different. It was not a serious proposal to tackle the state’s biggest issue. Our pension debt is serious and it will continue to build until we address it.”

* Press release…

The Illinois Collaboration on Youth (ICOY) is thanking Governor Pritzker after committing more funds to care for thousands of youth in Illinois for the second straight year, but Illinois’ largest child provider voice warns it will take a recommitment over years to fix the state’s shattered child welfare system.

“We are grateful to Governor Pritzker for his ongoing commitment to better support our youth who have been abused or neglected and hope the General Assembly agrees, but the monumental child welfare problems we face today were created over decades and will take a renewed commitment like this every single year if we truly want to fix a system in critical condition,” said ICOY Chief Executive Officer Andrea Durbin.

Today, more than 18,500 Illinois children are in state care after being removed from their homes and thousands more are receiving supportive services. The Governor’s own budget projection indicates the trend in caseloads is rising with DCFS projecting that 22,000 children will be in state care at the end of FY21, with another 4,400 receiving intact family services.

In theory, Illinois law requires the state to provide the same basic protections for children it cares for as a parent would traditionally provide for their own children – ensuring their health, safety, and well-being – while seeking to return them to permanent, loving families as soon as possible.

In practice, Illinois, far too often, fails to hit the mark, leaving many children in jeopardy.

Last year, the General Assembly passed, and Governor Pritzker signed, a budget that included new funding for the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS)— the first significant new investment into that agency in nearly 20 years. While the funding boost gives some hope for the future, it should be viewed as a down payment for the future rather than an immediate solution to the myriad of problems created from years of underfunding the system.

“As a private citizen, Governor Pritzker’s generous philanthropy and leadership on early childhood education shows a keen understanding of the issues and the importance of solving them. I urge him to continue those efforts as Governor of Illinois and extend that same hope and promise to the children and youth in state foster care,” added Durbin.

* Press release…

The Responsible Budget Coalition issued the following statement in response to Governor JB Pritzker’s Budget Address on February 19, 2020.

“We have worked for more than a decade to ensure our state has a responsible budget. That means investing in our families and communities with adequate revenue that’s fairly raised,” said John Bouman, Chair of the Responsible Budget Coalition and President of the Shriver Center on Poverty Law. “Our biggest challenge has always been that the old way of taxing income is unfair and inadequate. It burdens the middle class and lets the rich off easy while forcing harmful cuts to schools, services and jobs.

“To have a truly responsible budget now and in the future, Illinois needs the fair tax constitutional amendment. When we vote Yes this November, working families will get a tax cut, the wealthiest 3% will pay a little more on income above a quarter-million dollars, and the state will gain more than $3 billion a year to invest in our communities.”

The Responsible Budget Coalition specifically commends the Governor for his leadership on the fair tax amendment and for proposing a budget that makes bold new investments in children, education, and human services in order to meet our state’s most basic needs. We urge the Governor and the General Assembly to work together and pass a budget that retains a focus on these critical priorities for Illinoisans.

* Press release…

Statement attributable to Vote No on the Blank Check Amendment Chairman Greg Baise:

“Today, all we heard from the governor was a push for more spending, a massive tax increase and drastic to cuts to vital public services if he doesn’t get his way. Middle class families will not be intimidated by Governor Pritzker’s scare tactics. They understand that a balanced budget does not require handing Springfield politicians a blank check with their hard earned money.”

* And, yes, another press release…

Following Governor Pritzker’s budget address today, Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery released this response:

“After an incredibly productive first year, it was encouraging to hear Governor Pritzker maintain Illinois’s forward momentum.

”The governor remains committed to increasing education funding at all levels. His proposed increase for the Evidence Based Model (EBM) brings our state closer to equitable funding and drives dollars to our neediest K-12 schools. We are also glad to see his proposed increase for public higher education funding to help our still-recovering colleges and universities rebuild and keep more Illinois students in state by making college more affordable.

“The fact that the Governor has made a portion of this budget contingent on the passage of a Fair Tax demonstrates what we have been saying for the past year: passage of the Fair Tax is imperative to the fiscal health of this state. The Fair Tax will ensure our state has the revenue it needs to improve public services and give our students the future they deserve. Not only would the Fair Tax bring in $3.4 billion per year, fix our state’s broken tax system, and fund education and state services, it would do so by simply asking the wealthiest 3 percent of Illinoisans – those who make more than $250,000 per year – to pay their fair share. The rest of us would get a tax cut or see no increase.

“We are also pleased that the governor’s budget accounts for the state making its full pension payment to state retirement systems. For too many years, the state shirked its responsibility to provide retirement security for educators and other public workers. We appreciate that he is committed to ensuring that they receive the benefits they were promised for a lifetime of service.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the governor throughout this session to ensure our state stays on the path he has set to recovery and prosperity.”

* Press release…

Illinois Action for Children (IAFC) applauds Governor Pritzker for his continued commitment to our state’s youngest learners, which was reinforced in today’s state budget address and proposal.

“Illinois is poised to transform its early care and education landscape under this Governor’s administration,” said Maria Whelan, President & CEO of Illinois Action for Children. “Ultimately, it is our collective responsibility to take these opportunities and turn them into what children and families need from us.”

As the Governor revealed his FY 2021 State Budget proposal today, the following ECE-related budget items were outlined:

    $100 million increase to the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) to increase provider rates and reduce parents’ copays
    $50 million increase to the Early Childhood Block Grant (ECBG)
    $7 million increase to funding for Early Intervention (EI)
    $2 million for DHS-funded Home Visiting

“The early care and education funding in this budget lays a solid foundation for the hard work ahead—but as Governor Pritzker said, more must be done,” said Whelan. “When put into the larger context of the Governor’s creation of the Illinois Commission on Equitable Early Childhood Education and Care Funding, our state must reimagine ECE to ensure that every child in every community has access to the same opportunities and the same start in life.”

Beyond early care and education, the nearly $1.4 billion in appropriations held back in today’s budget proposal highlights the critical need for Illinois to also reimagine how it collects revenue. The Fair Tax that will be on the ballot in November will address Illinois’ structural budget deficit by lifting the burden off lower and middle-income Illinoisans while requiring only those making $250,000 per year to pay more.

* Press release…

The Illinois Legislative Latino Caucus released the following statement in response to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s budget address:

“Last year marked a historic moment for working families in Illinois and we’re ready to continue building on that progress by ensuring our communities get their fair share of funding. We are encouraged that the governor’s proposal echoed our values by having investments in education, human services, public safety and ensuring the accurate count of our communities in the 2020 Census. In order to have true equity for all Illinoisans, we need a balanced budget that allocates additional revenue to provide our local schools with more funding than just the minimum that they need to reach adequacy; to make health care and child care more accessible; to invest in affordable housing; and to ensure the safety of our families.

“While we have made great strides to protect immigrant communities, much more remains to be done to provide Illinois with the tools it needs to fight back against our bigoted president. So it is with great urgency that the vacancy in the Office of New Americans is addressed. We look forward to working with Gov. Pritzker to ensure we have an all-inclusive immigrant rights office that works to protect and educate families about their rights as immigrants in this country.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   19 Comments      


Budget address open thread

Wednesday, Feb 19, 2020

* Click here for the budget briefing. Click here to watch or listen to the address.

…Adding… Text…

Speaker Madigan, President Harmon, Leader Durkin, Leader Brady, Lieutenant Governor Stratton, my fellow Constitutional Officers, Honorable Members of the General Assembly, the incomparable First Lady MK, distinguished guests and people of Illinois —

My friends, not long ago I shared with you news of our state’s progress over the last year and my genuine confidence that our future is bright and that Illinois is growing stronger each day.

I know I have a reputation for being a bit of an irrepressible optimist – something somewhat unusual among those who have held this job recently – but I believe that the cynics had their years in power and that the people of Illinois suffered because of them.

Being a cynic is easy.

Cynicism, after all, demands only that you believe in the worst and do nothing to stop it from happening.

It’s optimism that’s hard. Because optimism demands hope, and patience, and faith…and most importantly, action.

Last year we began turning our ship of state in the right direction. Today we have the lowest unemployment rate in our history. We gave pay raises to working people. And once again we began attracting more students who want to go to college here, because we made college more affordable.

Our resurgence has been fueled by the very source of our historic resilience: the fundamental strength and goodness of our people, who demonstrate time and again that they can overcome any challenge that comes their way.

Never bet against that.

Before I took office, we had two long years without a state budget, longer than any other state in U.S. history. It nearly destroyed the lives of the most vulnerable children and families in Illinois, and it left all of us with billions of dollars in unpaid bills. It forced us to figure out how we would rebuild mental health care and schools and universities and how we would attract job creators and give working families a fighting chance.

And we did start to figure it out. Last year Republicans and Democrats alike rolled up our sleeves, worked out our differences and produced a bipartisan, balanced budget that has begun to put our state back on a sound fiscal path.

FINANCIAL IMPROVEMENTS
We’ve taken enormous strides forward to undo years of financial mismanagement.

For example, the state entered 2019 with almost $8 billion in unpaid bills. But a year later, responsible fiscal management has reduced that bill backlog by nearly $1 billion. Our late payment penalties, which had reached $950 million before I became governor, will fall to just over $100 million this fiscal year. In this regard I want to praise the tremendous efforts of our Comptroller Susana Mendoza and our Treasurer Michael Frerichs – who have been tireless advocates on behalf of getting our fiscal house in order.

From 2015 to 2017, credit rating agencies downgraded our state’s credit 8 times, which means Illinois taxpayers were paying higher interest rates. But this year, rating agencies and analysts have noted a “distinct improvement” in our fiscal stability, and interest rates on our bonds have tumbled to their lowest rate since 2013. That will save tens of millions of dollars for taxpayers.

Greater fiscal stability, fewer unpaid bills, lower interest payments — these are all monumental achievements in light of our state’s fiscal condition just 13 months ago. How are we doing it? Most of these advances are attributable to a disciplined approach to managing our state’s limited resources responsibly, and it’s important that we continue that hard work in the years ahead. The budget I propose to you today will build on the steady progress we’ve been making over the last year.

Our choices remain hard; our financial situation challenging.

In the context of the past devastation wreaked upon our state, the proposal I share today takes a disciplined approach to managing our limited resources while also investing in the very efforts that will make our state stronger: better schools, greater public safety, more job creating businesses, improved care for our most vulnerable children and seniors.

After years of poor fiscal management, of past leaders lying about how we got here, of scapegoating the wrong people and problems – our constituents deserve some honesty.
No amount of wishful thinking will wave away our structural deficit or our pension obligations. No amount of lip service will balance the budget or fund our schools or improve public safety.

I want to give you one stark example of why a change in approach was so desperately needed. Bruce Rauner went to war with labor unions, and one consequence of that was millions of dollars in costs for the state due to litigation and back pay. In contrast, when I came into office I negotiated substantial health care savings and finalized fair contracts with state workers. As a result, the upcoming fiscal year’s budget will spend $175 million less, and we will save $650 million over 4 years.

Lowering the wages of workers, trying to bankrupt the state and seeking to destroy government … didn’t work.

Also, trying to separate Chicago from the rest of Illinois, whether rhetorically or literally, will not solve the economic challenges of downstate Illinois. Quite the opposite. Some of you need to stop pretending that one part of Illinois can exist without all the others. We are … one Illinois.

There are realities about running a state and caring for our people that we have to face with more clear-eyed resolve, with a focus on unity and far less partisanship. Our future genuinely does depend on it.

EFFICIENCIES

Once again this year, I approached this budget looking to use taxpayer dollars as efficiently as possible. I’m pleased to say that this proposed budget saves taxpayers more than $225 million annually and more than $750 million over three years through operational efficiencies, possible agency consolidations, and the elimination of excess boards and commissions. And there is potentially $100 million more in additional structural savings in fiscal year 2022 and beyond through long term initiatives.

I believe that we are sent here to effectively manage the resources necessary to deliver what Illinois families need: good schools and healthcare, clean water and clean air, paved roads and sturdy bridges, a growing economy.

Let’s all agree that effective government demands efficient government.

BUDGET STABILIZATION

As we continue to make progress repairing the financial damage of the past, we must begin restoring safeguards for our future. It starts by building up reserves in our Budget Stabilization Fund, more commonly referred to as the Rainy Day Fund. It’s been more than a decade since the last contribution was made to the Rainy Day Fund, and it was almost entirely wiped out in 2017 under my predecessor.

The budget I am introducing today begins to restore it, dedicating $100 million to the Rainy Day Fund over the next 16 months. In addition, in concert with Senator Heather Steans, who is one of the General Assembly’s most responsible budgeteers, Comptroller Susana Mendoza recently proposed legislation that will create mandatory annual contributions to the Rainy Day Fund – a great step to improve fiscal protection for Illinois’ future.

CREATING JOBS AND REVENUE

Here’s another responsible step we’re taking together: Last year we worked on a bipartisan basis to pass a new source of general funds revenue and create tens of thousands of jobs with the legalization of adult-use cannabis. Our first focus was on making this law the most socially equitable in the nation. That’s why 25 percent of revenues are earmarked to reinvest directly in the communities most severely impacted by the war on cannabis.

Licensing fees from the first round of medical dispensaries have already provided a $30 million loan fund so that social equity applicants have access to capital to start new cannabis related businesses – a program that doesn’t exist in any other state at this scale. And I pardoned more than 11,000 individuals with low-level cannabis convictions. That’s just the beginning of our effort to remove barriers to housing, employment and education for hundreds of thousands of people.

With a successful first month of sales under our belt, I can conservatively project that adult-use cannabis sales will generate at least $46 million in revenue for our general fund in the coming fiscal year, of which $10 million will go directly to pay down our bill backlog.

A second new source of revenue we passed last year is from expanded gaming – including sports betting, which appears on track to be up and running in time for March Madness. As you know, gaming revenue directly funds our bipartisan, historic Rebuild Illinois capital plan which provides critical relief to state and local budgets for badly needed maintenance and construction work at our universities, community colleges and state facilities.

My office is working with the City of Chicago and the General Assembly to make a much needed adjustment in the legislation passed last spring to help make sure the Chicago casino is a success that will help fund projects throughout our state. I hope you all will join me in supporting these legislative efforts when they come before the General Assembly this session.

A BRIDGE TO FAIRNESS FOR ALL ILLINOISANS

Most importantly, this budget represents a bridge to the future, where I believe we have an opportunity to change our tax structure so working families are treated more fairly.

For at least the last 50 years, the burden of shoring up our state finances has fallen hardest on the 97 percent of Illinoisans who make $250,000 a year or less. You’ve been paying a higher portion of your income, when you include income taxes, property taxes and sales taxes, than those who make a million dollars a year or more! That’s not fair, and I’ve made it very clear that I believe it’s time for a change.

Last year, this General Assembly took an important step forward, and passed income tax rates so that working class and middle-class families will pay a lower rate and wealthy people will pay a higher rate. I believe this is far more fair than the flat tax rate we have today. These rates would go into effect only if Illinois removes the constitutional prohibition on a graduated tax, a decision that will be made by voters in November. If the constitutional amendment is passed, those rates will go into effect Jan. 1, 2021 – midway through our budget year.

As your governor, I take seriously my constitutional duty to offer a balanced budget that lives within our means as a state, whatever may transpire. To address the uncertainty in our revenues, this budget responsibly holds roughly $1.4 billion in reserve until we know the outcome in November. Because this reserve is so large, it inevitably cuts into some of the things that we all hold most dear: increased funding for K-12 education, universities and community colleges, public safety and other key investments – but as important as these investments are, we cannot responsibly spend for these priorities until we know with certainty what the state’s revenue picture will be.

Even if the graduated income tax does not take effect, our budget nevertheless continues our progress, although at a much slower pace than I think we require to get ourselves out of the hole previous administrations have dug for us. And if the graduated tax rates do take effect, this budget proposal takes major steps to stabilize our fiscal condition and build on the historic investments and improvements we’ve made across the board to better serve the people of our state.

PENSIONS

One of Illinois’ most intractable problems is the underfunding of our pension systems.
We must keep our promises to the retirees who earned their pension benefits and forge a realistic path forward to meet those obligations.

The fantasy of a constitutional amendment to cut retirees’ benefits is just that – a fantasy. The idea that all of this can be fixed with a single silver bullet ignores the protracted legal battle that will ultimately run headlong into the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution. You will spend years in that protracted legal battle, and when you’re done, you will have simply kicked the can down the road, made another broken promise to taxpayers, and left them with higher tax bills.
This is not a political football. This is a financial issue that is complex and requires consistency and persistence to manage, with the goal of paying the pensions that are owed.

That’s why my budget delivers on our full pension payment and then some, with $100 million from the proceeds of the graduated income tax dedicated directly to paying down our pension debt more quickly. We should double that number in subsequent years. Next year would be the first year in state history that we will make a pension payment over and above what is required in statute. It begins to allow us to bend the cost curve and reduce our net pension liability faster.

At the same time, without breaking our promises, we must relentlessly pursue pension initiatives that reduce the burden on taxpayers. This year, the State’s required payment to the State Employees Retirement System alone will be $32 million less than it would’ve been without the optional pension buyout program. We extended that program last year – because it’s good for taxpayers. That’s why I’ve asked all of the state’s retirement systems to fully implement buyout programs across all our systems.

What we do to reduce future net pension liabilities for our state and local pension plans has enormously positive benefits for taxpayers. Last year, working with members of this General Assembly, we did what no one had been able to do after more than 70 years of trying: consolidate the investments of the 650 local police and firefighters funds into two statewide systems. Because of their collective size, these funds are projected to see billions of dollars of improved returns over the next 20 years. That means lower property tax pressure on families and businesses across the state.

This is a great example of how both sides of the aisle can come together with reasonable solutions to address intractable problems. Let’s continue on that path.

EDUCATION

Over the past year we have made great strides to improve our schools and build back our higher education system, and this budget continues those investments.

Higher Ed

For more than a decade, our state universities saw significant declines in enrollment. But today, because of the important investments we made in MAP grants and school funding, for the first time in many years, applications are up at our public universities — and some schools, including UIUC and Illinois State, are seeing an increase in applications not just from in-state students, but out-of-state too.

Investments in our universities are giving people and companies from all over America, and the world, new reasons to choose Illinois. Just last week, I announced that with the support of businesses and philanthropists, the state will invest in University of Illinois’ new technology hub called Discovery Partners Institute. With it, we’re supporting nearly 50,000 new economy jobs in the next ten years, with an economic impact of $19 billion. Integral to DPI’s success is the Illinois Innovation Network, which will radiate across the state to 15 other university campus hubs from Chicago to Rockford to Peoria to Edwardsville. We’re investing in workforce development, innovation and R&D all across our state.

DPI is already succeeding. Azriel Alvarado was born here in Illinois, and then moved to Panama with his parents when he was very young. He never lost his Illinois roots though, and dreamed of attending the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign to study computer science.

Azriel set his sights on their world-renowned engineering program, moving home to Illinois to attend Oakton Community College and settle back into his life in the United States. After two years, he was accepted as a transfer student into the U of I engineering school and hasn’t looked back. Azriel says most people don’t imagine community college as the path to academic success. But he learned that the most popular way to do things isn’t always the best way to do things. He’s now studying as a DPI City Scholar and intends to set down roots and become a computer scientist here in Illinois.

Azriel is just one example of how investing in our state can attract and retain invaluable talent. Azriel is here today, and I’d ask him to stand so we can recognize your terrific achievements.
Making college more affordable for in-state high school students ought to be among our state’s highest priorities. My budget proposal for next year aims to make community college tuition free to all MAP-eligible students whose families make under $45,000 a year.

Today we have two students here whose families and communities will be stronger thanks to their hard work and our investments in MAP grants. They personify exactly why we need to set aside MAP funding especially for community college students. Lincoln Land Community College here in Springfield is lucky to count them among their student body.

When Lauren Hernandez was 12, her 6-year-old sister was diagnosed with cancer. After watching how hard the nurses worked to help her sister every day, she felt drawn to the healthcare profession. When her sister passed away a few years later, it cemented Lauren’s conviction to become a nurse. Today, Lauren is married and the mother of a beautiful baby boy – and MAP grants are covering the portion of her tuition that she couldn’t afford. She’s the first person in her family to attend college. She’s working overnight shifts at St. Francis Hospital. And she’s why our future as a state is so bright. Please give Lauren a round of applause for her hard work and commitment.

I also want to introduce you all to Brandon Ihlenfeldt, who earned his GED at Lincoln Land and is in the final semester of his H-VAC program. He’ll graduate this spring with a degree and the ability to do work that he loves. Brandon is also a husband and a father, and after a full day at work at Illinois National Bank and a full evening at school, he finds time to spend with his family. But he knows that an education is the key to being able to get a good job to support them. Without MAP grants, he would’ve had to take on loans and debt, with two young children. For Brandon, this is an opportunity he wouldn’t have had otherwise; and it’s an opportunity you all made possible by expanding the MAP grant program. Please give a round of applause to a great family man and a hard worker, Brandon Ihlenfeldt.

There is no more critical investment we can make in the future of our state than in our bright and ambitious young people, like Azriel, Lauren and Brandon.

So my budget proposal adds another 20,000 new scholarship students overall, on top of the 10,000 additional MAP grant and AIM High scholars you funded this year. And we will continue rebuilding our universities and community colleges with a 5 percent funding increase which, among other things, allows the University of Illinois to provide free tuition for students whose families make less than $67,000 per year.

K-12

Another way to make college more affordable is to help our students earn college credit before they even graduate high school, potentially savings thousands of dollars in tuition down the road.

Administrators and teachers across the state are engaged in this work — and it’s making a difference at places like Fenton High School, a majority-minority high school in Chicago’s western suburbs where most students qualify as low-income.

A few years ago, a snapshot of an Advanced Placement classroom at Fenton didn’t look much like the actual student body. So Fenton’s leadership began expanding their Advanced Placement program, and they now reach a third of the entire student body. Even more impressively: AP scores have gone up across all racial and ethnic groups.

In March, the College Board named Fenton “Advanced Placement District of the Year.”
Fenton provided the opportunity for their students to achieve extraordinary success and to save thousands of dollars on their first year’s tuition. We should follow Fenton’s lead and make it easier for more students to earn college credit in high school. My budget proposal last year requested $2 million to defray the cost of AP test fees for low income students, and you approved it. I’m making a request for FY21 of $2.5 million. It’s an innovative and cost-effective way to make college more affordable.

Speaking of removing financial barriers to college: 23 years ago our state launched an investment program that lured tens of thousands of Illinois families to invest early in their children’s educations through the College Illinois program. The program’s creators didn’t forecast that tuition increases would outstrip market returns, and we find ourselves in a place today where the program will be insolvent in six years. We didn’t create this problem – but we are charged with fixing it and rather than wait until the last minute, my budget puts a $27 million down payment on solvency for College Illinois in FY21. It’s time to make good on the existing contracts families signed up for and reassure them that their children’s college tuition will be paid.

We all want our children to go to college prepared to succeed, and that means investing in public schools that serve all our students from their earliest days. This budget makes a historic investment in K-12 schools, with a new $350 million of equitable funding, as Illinois continues down the path of ending our ignominious distinction as the worst state in the nation for state funding of public education.

This is not nearly enough to fund our schools properly and allow us to alleviate spiraling local property tax burdens throughout our state. But in a year dominated by limited resources and guided by prudent decisions about our state budget, this is the strongest investment we can afford to make today.

Funding isn’t the only determinant of a healthy school. Great teachers make great schools. But we have thousands of unfilled teaching positions throughout Illinois. This budget invests in strengthening our future teacher pipeline with increased funding for the Illinois Golden Apple teacher preparation program and scholarships. I’m also proposing support for accelerator programs that help people who are seeking a second career in teaching to transition into the profession faster.

In addition, this budget seeks to address the mental health concerns that schools face with their students every day. I’ve directed our Emergency Management Agency, Board of Education and State Police to apply for federal grants to launch a statewide school violence prevention tip line, a highly effective concept pioneered in Colorado after the Columbine tragedy. And I’ve proposed state funding to supplement the federal grants and develop curriculum to change the culture of stigma and silence around mental health. Students, parents, teachers, friends, will be able to call in with real concerns about a child’s wellbeing — possibly even about their survival. And a professional can check in on them. Here in Illinois, our tip line will be called Safe2Help Illinois, a confidential reporting program intended to be available via text, phone call, app, and social media platforms.

Early Childhood

Prioritizing our youngest Illinoisans offers the strongest return on investment for our future. Kindergarten is nearly too late to begin educating a child – social emotional development begins at birth, and a child’s earliest interactions are the most important ones. That’s why I’m determined to make Illinois the best state in the nation to raise young children.

When our families lack access to quality early childhood education and childcare, we all lose. I propose expanding our early childhood block grant funding by an additional $50 million – not as much as I would like – but responsibly moving our state another step toward universal preschool for every low-income child.

This budget also allows us to move forward on my pledge to offer evidence-based home visiting services to all of our most at-risk families with very young children, a service that is proven to pay dividends in supporting parents.

For too many families, quality childcare has become prohibitively expensive. Low and middle income parents are those hit the hardestby arise in childcare costs that has not kept pace with wages. I’m proud to propose a continued expansion of the Child Care Assistance Program so that we can maximize federal funding to offer reduced co-pays for families of the children we serve and improve the quality of the care they receive. This will result in eligible families paying no more than 7 percent of their income for childcare.

HEALTH CARE AND HUMAN SERVICES

Since I took office, it’s been a priority to provide health care that is accessible, preventative and equitable. For the second year in a row, I am proposing a substantial increase in mental health and addiction treatment services. This 2021 budget includes a $40 million increase, funded in large part by revenues from the successful roll out of adult use cannabis, which dedicates 22 percent of cannabis taxes to these programs.

When I took office a year ago, we were handed an enormous Medicaid backlog of more than 140,000 people who had applied for health care coverage but whose applications were simply never reviewed. This includes newborns, families with young children and seniors entering nursing care at the end of their lives. People got sick and couldn’t see a doctor. Some of the people on the list waited for more than a year.

That’s unconscionable.

So my teams at HFS, DHS, and DoIT worked in a concerted, collaborative effort and have reduced the backlog by 70,000 people. That’s healthcare coverage for a population the size of Decatur. There’s more to do, and we are committed to doing it. That’s why this budget adds employees at the Department of Human Services, allowing them to help finish the job.

We also budgeted $4.5 million to restore the vital health care navigator program that the Trump administration eliminated, leaving hundreds of thousands of families and employers without any assistance. This program helps small businesses and their employees and families lower their healthcare costs as they look for coverage options through the federal insurance marketplace.

Last year, we began restoring funding to the Home Delivered Meals program to reduce the existing waitlist and deliver proper nutrition to thousands more senior citizens. It’s a program that improves quality of life and saves money in the long run through a reduction in chronic health problems. For the coming year, I’ve once again proposed an increase of $2 million for the program. As Donald Trump continues to attack the safety net for seniors, my administration is doing everything we can to fight back.

Our Department of Public Health has been hard at work over the last year, restoring the federal immunization program that my predecessor closed down, which allowed us to beat back a potential outbreak of measles and other diseases across Illinois. And once again DPH has done outstanding work coordinating with Chicago health officials and the CDC in fighting coronavirus.

Thanks to their collective good work, the risk to the public remains low.

I’m also particularly proud that this budget supports the necessary additional funding for DPH to maintain our current service levels for family planning and related health services—without caving to the Trump Administration’s outrageous gag rule on women’s reproductive rights.

Child Welfare (DCFS)

There’s nowhere in state government that needs more attention and resources than the Department of Children and Family Services.

There are no overnight fixes for DCFS, no easy promises that can be made, no simple solutions for an agency that deals with some of our most complex societal problems.

There is an old saying that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. And the second best time to plant a tree is today.

So we began planting trees last year by bringing in new DCFS leadership and outside expert advisors and monitors. Every staff person, from top to bottom is being retrained. New policies and procedures have been enacted, the hotline has deployed new technology and added staff.
We’re moving forward with new ideas from experts that will transform the agency. Many of the most important reforms of DCFS that are being enacted were recommended by respected experts like Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago and Casey Family Programs. Outside contractors are also working with DCFS and DoIT to bring better technology to improve how cases are tracked and more prolific use of mobile technology for caseworkers to keep better records. After I heard from frontline workers a year ago that their jobs were harder because they couldn’t test parents on-site for substance abuse, we started rolling out on-site drug testing again.

We have a nationally acclaimed simulation program with a training lab in Springfield and newer one in Chicago, both of which provide real-life scenario training for frontline workers. Case workers and investigators are being retrained in these simulations labs so they can learn new techniques to manage difficult cases and investigations. Some of you have already visited these simulation labs, and I invite all of you to do so if you haven’t – and you will see why I insisted that our FY21 budget allow DCFS to open a third simulation lab in southern Illinois.

Overall, this budget proposal for DCFS increases funding by 20% compared to what the state was spending in FY19. We will increase personnel numbers by nearly 150 new staff — that’s on top of the 300 workers we added over the last year. This would represent an 11 percent staffing increase over the past two years. For the contracted agencies who carry out much of the work helping children and who struggle to retain staff because of the state’s poor funding and payment delays, we are increasing funding by nearly 4 percent – only the third increase in 19 years.

One of the moral tests of government is how we treat our most vulnerable. The funding needs of DCFS should transcend party and partisanship and be a cause we can all rally around.

CLOSING

It’s become something of a political sport in this state over the last several years to present our fiscal issues as insurmountable. I’m here to tell you, they are not.

Our budget challenges are hard, no doubt about it – but it’s a myth to think they were ever easy. Our state has grown and changed so much over the years and the complexities of running our government have evolved with it. Our future will not be built on the shaky rhetorical foundation of those who keep rooting for us to fail.

Every decision we make about how we spend the money our citizens trust to our keeping is, at its root, a deeply moral undertaking.

These lines on a budget spreadsheet – they give peace to sleepless nights worrying about medical bills, they are delivery on a deferred dream, they stand between poverty and prosperity. A road that is properly repaired and maintained is a car accident than never happens. A strong education system is the slingshot to success allowing a child to thrive. Fully funding public safety means a life saved, a crime solved and a justice system that is more equitable and fair.

Every worry that we erase, every dream that we fund, every obstacle we remove is a small bit of happiness that we give back to our citizens. Sometimes we forget that in 2020.

We can add happiness back into people’s lives. The pursuit of happiness is the real rhetorical and moral foundation of our government. The founders were optimists too, it turns out.

With that singular focus at the heart of all that we do, with an eye to our future and with prudence and responsibility as our guiding lights, I submit this budget proposal, and I urge the General Assembly to work with me in the pursuit of happiness for all Illinoisans.

Thank you.

- Posted by Rich Miller   32 Comments      


Stop the presses! Rod wants a banana split

Wednesday, Feb 19, 2020

* Exclusive interview on the plane ride home

The first revelation from Blagojevich actually involved his shoes. He was almost giddy to be wearing decent running shoes, after enduring prison-issued “cheaply made” shoes as he called them during his daily one-mile runs on the prison track.

The comfortable shoes, although conspicuously still on jailhouse white socks, seemed to be a symbol of Blagojevich’s newfound freedom and he would unconsciously rub his hands over them frequently on the flight-seemingly for verification that they were real and he was headed home.

Passengers on the flight were mostly happy to see him and he them. Many offered observations that he had been locked up too long and deserved to be out. Ever-the-candidate-for-something, Mr. Blagojevich played along and appeared to enjoy it.

He told me that in the depths of his years in prison, he couldn’t conceive of those public moments ever happening again.

Early in the flight there was one uncomfortable and raw exchange with the passenger right across the aisle. She told Blagojevich in an angry voice that his corrupt conduct was “offensive and outrageous” and that the Illinois Democrat had become “a surrogate of Trump.” Over the aisle and in a bitter tone, the woman told Blagojevich that he should “sneak away and don’t make it worse.”

* More from ABC7

Blagojevich caught a flight home to Chicago out of Denver around 8:30 p.m. Central Time, and spoke to reporters as he prepared to board the plane. He said he didn’t have advanced warning of Trump’s decision; instead, he found out through the news like everyone else.

“My first thought was, ‘I wonder if I’ll have time to get a run in,’ believe it or not,” Blagojevich said. “Because you get programmed, you have routines and I found that it helps through this time when you discipline yourself every day and you have something to work for, it helps you do it. And so I had a run planned and I think, I wonder if I’ll get that in before I go. And there was this helicopter over the prison so I thought well, maybe I won’t run, so I went and did push-ups.” […]

“I’m going to fight against the corrupt criminal justice system that all too often persecutes and prosecutes people who did nothing wrong, who over-sentences people, show no mercy, who are in positions who have no accountability,” Blagojevich said. “They can do whatever they want. They can put you into prison for things that aren’t crimes.”

* NBC 5

Blagojevich said despite the different party affiliations, “he’s got obviously a big fan in me and if you’re asking me what my party affiliation is, I’m a ‘Trump-ocrat,’” he added.

“I never gave into the false accusations and the railroading that was done to me and my family because if I did that, I would’ve violated my oath of office and my commitment to them,” Blagojevich said. “You know, I wasn’t just some business man who may have done some things that maybe you make a decision because it’s practical, a business decision…I was an elected governor twice by the people of Illinois, they trusted me and I didn’t let them down and so fighting back was a way to not only stand up for my own reputation, and for my children, my wife, of my late parents who raised me the right way, but it was a way to fight for the people of Illinois.”

Among getting to hug and kiss his family soon, he said after a few days of settling in, one thing he is most looking forward to — the idea of eating a banana split.

“I’d like to have three scoops of ice cream, vanilla, and chocolate and strawberry with chocolate syrup on it and cherry syrup, and pineapple syrup, with a whole bunch of whip cream but no peanuts cause my youngest daughter Andy is allergic,” Blagojevich said.

* CBS 2

“I didn’t let (the people) down, and I never gave into the false accusations and the railroading that was done to me and my family, because if I did that, I would have violated my oath of office and my commitment to them,” he said.

Without naming anyone, Blagojevich slammed the prosecutors who pursued the corruption charges against him.

“Fighting back was a way to not only stand up for my own reputation, and for my children, and for my wife, and for my late parents who raised me the right way, but it was a way to fight for the people of Illinois against corrupt prosecutors who have too much power, who are accountable to no one, and who break the law to do their jobs because it enhances their careers,” he said.

As to what his second act would be, Blagojevich said: “I’m going to fight against the corrupt criminal justice system that all too often persecutes and prosecutes people who did nothing wrong, who over-sentence people, show no mercy, and who are in positions that have no accountability. They can do and say whatever they want.” […]

“I’d like to have a banana split, and I’d like to have three scoops of ice cream – vanilla and chocolate and strawberry – with chocolate syrup on it, and cherry syrup, and pineapple syrup, with a whole bunch of whipped cream, but no peanuts, because my younger daughter Annie is allergic to peanuts – so I want to be able to kiss her, so no peanuts, because I can’t kiss her when I eat peanuts – and I want extra cherries on top,” he said.

* Certain teevee reporters have always been attracted to the man

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was laughing and joking with TV reporters Tuesday night after his release from federal prison, thanks to President Donald Trump, and his return home to Chicago.

If you can stomach it, click here to watch his press conference. I’m sure it’ll be a treat.

* And in other news, backing Blagojevich to own the state’s attorney

Sneed has learned Chicago Fraternal Order of Police union president Kevin Graham wrote a letter to President Donald Trump weeks ago requesting the commutation of former Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s prison sentence.

“I believe everybody should be treated fairly in the city and prosecutors can go into overdrive with excessive sentencing, and I felt Blagojevich’s 14-year sentence was excessive,“ Graham told Sneed. […]

“We just believed a 14-year sentence was over the top … compared to what goes on in Cook County where people don’t get 14 years for murder!” Graham said.

* Related…

* Will Blagojevich Run for (Federal) Office? Some Experts Say Maybe (actually just one expert)

- Posted by Rich Miller   51 Comments      


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Wednesday, Feb 19, 2020

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*** UPDATED x1 *** DCFS refuses to stop shackling children

Wednesday, Feb 19, 2020

* ACLU IL yesterday…

Earlier today at a meeting of the Illinois House Adoption and Child Welfare Committee, Carol Melton of the Department of Children and Family Services – under questioning by Committee members – refused to guarantee that DCFS would not shackle children in their care. The following can be attributed to Heidi Dalenberg, Director of the Institutional Reform Project at the ACLU of Illinois:

The Department must clear up any confusion immediately, with no further delay. DCFS made a promise late last year to the children in their care, to the ACLU as attorneys for those children and to a federal court judge that they would not shackle children going forward. When that promise was broken earlier this month, the promise was renewed. We are puzzled, and angry, to see this hedging in Committee today.

No child in the care of DCFS should be shackled. It is not hard. Just stop doing it.

* From the hearing

Rep. Keith Sommer (R-Morton) wanted to know why DCFS is still shackling children, even though it is against their current policy.

“It’s pretty basic. I think everyone heard it - you’re still shackling. Why,” Sommer asked. “How do you defend it? Tell members of the committee and the people of the state of Illinois how you defend it.”

“I’m not going to do that,” said DCFS Legal Counsel Carol Melton. “I can tell you that when it came to the administration’s attention last week, we took immediate action and stopped it - terminated a contract for cause, self-reported the incident - so I’m not going to defend it.”

“Can you guarantee me there won’t be any children shackled moving forward,” asked Sommer.

“I don’t know how you expect me to answer that question. I can tell you that our General Counsel is working very closely with the ACLU to make sure that we are complying with the B-H consent decree. And we’re making sure that we are acting appropriately and making sure anytime that there’s a problem that we take action to address it,” Melton explained.

* From the Cook County Public Guardian…

Marc Smith, Director
Illinois Department of Children and Family Services

Re: DCFS Shackling Children

Dear Director Smith:

I was shocked to hear that, today, your agency testified before an Illinois House Committee that you cannot assure that DCFS will follow its own policies, the law, and the constitution, all of which preclude shackling of children.

Today the Illinois House Adoption and Child Welfare Committee conducted a hearing on the so-called shackling bill, HB 3969. Carol Melton, DCFS’s Asst. Deputy General Counsel and Ethics Officer, testified for DCFS. When Representative Keith Sommer asked Melton if DCFS can assure the committee that no more kids will be shackled between now and until the bill moves forward, Melton responded to the effect, I can’t tell you that.

In other words, most remarkably, DCFS can’t say it won’t break the law, the constitution, and its own newly-promulgated policies prohibiting shackling of children. DCFS can’t say it won’t continue to trample on children’s civil rights. The only positive takeaway is that your attorney and ethics officer testified honestly.

I certainly hope that we won’t continue to see children shackled.

Sincerely,

Charles P. Golbert
Public Guardian

*** UPDATE *** Letter from DCFS Director Marc Smith…

Dear Mr. Golbert,

We share your concerns regarding the safety and welfare of our children. As you know, the express policy of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services states that “[u]nder no circumstances shall any agent or employee of [DCFS] any agent or employee of any provider, or any transportation company designated to transport youth in DCFS care use handcuffs and/or shackles for transporting any youth in DCFS care.” To be clear, DCFS will do everything it can to ensure that – consistent with its express policy – neither handcuffs nor shackles are used to transport any youth in DCFS care.

Last week, after Jim Stewart Transportation LLC inappropriately used leg restraints to transport a youth in DCFS care, DCFS immediately terminated its contract with Jim Stewart Transportation LLC and conducted a training with DCFS leadership regarding the required secured transport protocol. DCFS is working diligently to identify appropriate vendors to securely transport youth in DCFS care when necessary and appropriate and continues to work collaboratively with the ACLU of Illinois regarding potential revisions to its protocol.

We appreciate your continued commitment to collaborating with DCFS to better serve the youth in our care.

Regards,
Marc D. Smith

- Posted by Rich Miller   14 Comments      


Quick budget preview

Wednesday, Feb 19, 2020

* Bloomberg

“I would like to hear about pension reform that goes beyond the income tax referendum,” said Dora Lee, director of research at Belle Haven Investments, which manages about $11 billion of municipal assets including Illinois debt.

James Iselin, head of municipal fixed income for Neuberger Berman Group LLC, which holds Illinois debt among its $11 billion of municipal bonds, said he wants to see momentum for a solution for the pension shortfall, especially amid the improved relationship between the state’s executive and legislative branches. […]

Iselin is also monitoring the income-tax vote in November, noting that “increasing revenue by close to 10% of the state budget is a big number.”

House Republicans want to replicate the bipartisan process by which the state passed its balanced budget last year, Minority Leader Jim Durkin said during a press conference on Tuesday. Durkin, who doesn’t support the progressive income tax, added that “we are at a point where we don’t need additional revenue” and the state has a “growing surplus.”

Wait. There’s a surplus? Last I checked the budget office was projecting a $1.768 billion deficit. I suppose we’ll see what’s what today.

Also, pension reform that goes beyond the graduated income tax is not likely in the cards since any reduction in benefits would be unconstitutional and the governor and the vast majority of the General Assembly aren’t willing to change the constitution.

* AP

Funding for underfunded public schools could also increase by at least $350 million. Under the proposal, more teachers and social workers would be hired, and money would also be used to increase salaries and for property tax abatements.

That increase is mandated by law. Where he’s getting the money for all this will be answered today at noon, or not. He had some gimmicks in his first budget address last year, you will recall.

* Finke

There are other areas where Pritzker is expected to increase spending. State-funded pension systems need more money to keep up with their obligations.

Pension payments are expected to grow by about a half a billion dollars.

* Center Square

While the governor said he plans to save $225 million in the upcoming budget through government efficiencies, he is also expected to announce nearly $150 million more for the state’s child welfare agency. Republicans said more money won’t fix the agency’s problems.

If they don’t hire more people, they can’t do their jobs. And hiring more people means spending more money.

- Posted by Rich Miller   12 Comments      


Raoul responds to Tillman’s appeal of bond case

Wednesday, Feb 19, 2020

* Yvette Shields at the Bond Buyer

An Illinois judge acted properly when he dismissed a taxpayer complaint that challenged repayment of $14.3 billion of state general obligation bonds after concluding the case lacked legal merit, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office argues in an appellate filing.

“The circuit court’s judgment denying petitioner leave to proceed on his complaint should be affirmed because he failed to establish a reasonable ground to pursue his claim to enjoin further payments on the 2003 and 2017 bonds based on his theory that the laws authorizing them violated the State Debt Clause,” reads the brief filed Feb. 14 by Raoul’s office.

“That claim lacked merit for several reasons. And the circuit court was not required, as petitioner contends, to let his case go forward even if doing so was ultimately futile as a matter of law,” the brief continued.

The filing marked the latest salvo in the case watched closely by market participants that dates back to last summer when Illinois Policy Institute head John Tillman sought to file a lawsuit blocking repayment of the state’s $10 billion 2003 GO pension obligation issue and $6 billion 2017 GO bill backlog borrowing. About $14.3 billion remains outstanding.

Tillman, who as head of the conservative IPI is a frequent critic of state fiscal policies, argues the bonds violated the state constitution and therefore should be voided. A hedge fund that originally was named as a potential plaintiff is no longer named in any filings.

The attorney general’s brief is here.

- Posted by Rich Miller   6 Comments      


It’s just a bill

Wednesday, Feb 19, 2020

* Press release…

State Representative Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego), has filed legislation to allow legislative assistants to unionize if they so choose.

House Bill 4587 would remove the prohibition of legislative assistants to join a union. The legislative assistants can then be free to join whichever bargaining unit they choose to join.

“I support individuals having the right to unionize and the Illinois General Assembly should embrace this for their own employees”, stated Kifowit ”I have been asked by some legislative assistants to allow them this right to collectively bargain for issues that are important to them, such as work environment and wages”.

Legislative assistants are bound to the decisions of the majority party’s leader. Recently disparity exists between the House legislative assistants and the Senate legislative assistants. Legislative assistants in the Senate have a higher starting salary and are assigned one Senator to support; whereas, the House legislative assistants have lower starting salary as compared to their Senate counterparts and are assigned three Representatives to support.

“I believe in leading by example,” Kifowit continues, “and this is just commonsense legislation that further shows our commitment to hard-working individuals that play an important role in supporting us as legislators in Springfield”.

* Press release…

Pets are part of two out of three households in America, including 72 percent of renters. Restrictions in public housing can prevent a family from keeping a pet based on its size, weight or breed. That results in pets being surrendered to already-burdened animal shelters.

Senate Assistant Majority Leader Linda Holmes is introducing Senate Bill 2973, which would allow any tenant living in housing acquired, constructed or rehabilitated with state funds for low-income housing to keep a pet dog or cat regardless of its size, weight, or breed.

“A leading reason pets end up surrendered to shelters is housing issues that force some pet owners into a position of choosing between keeping their pet or keeping a roof over their head,” Holmes said. “Pets are part of our families, regardless of the family’s income level.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, pets have positive effects at nearly every stage of life. They influence social, emotional, and cognitive development in children and promote an active lifestyle. They provide emotional support, improve moods, and contribute to the overall morale of their owners, including among the elderly and disabled. Studies reveal that people with pets tend to have lower blood pressure.

“There is a shortage of affordable housing for families in Illinois, and that is exacerbated for pet-owning families,” Holmes said. “On the animals’ side, in shelters they may be adopted, or they may be destroyed. And there is an emotional toll on a family if they have to give up their beloved cat or dog. With this legislation I’m seeking a way to address both sides of this situation and keep pets with their families and out of shelters.”

According to Best Friends Animal Society, renters with pets stay longer than those without; do no more damage statistically than non-pet renters; and 90% of renters have never lost a security deposit due to a pet.

Senate Bill 2973 has been assigned to the Senate Local Government Committee.

* Hannah Meisel at the Daily Line

A coalition of Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups on Tuesday introduced a package of bills aimed at reducing plastic consumption and waste, including banning Styrofoam and imposing a statewide 10-cent fee on plastic bags.

The other bills in the package would require restaurants to make single-use plastic silverware, plates, bowls and cups available to customers upon request or at self-serve stations, in addition to tweaking Illinois’ procurement laws encourage the use of recyclable and compostable materials. Another measure would make Illinois the 11th state to create a statewide bottle deposit program, giving glass, aluminum and plastic bottles, jars and cartons a 5-cent value for deposit.

State Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) said she and her colleagues introduced the bill package because “plastic never really goes away” and gets into both air and waterways, in addition to making its way into the food system.

“Based on the average of plastic particulate in our air and water and food, the average person consumes the equivalent of a chunk of plastic the size of a credit card every year,” said Williams, who is the lead sponsor of several bills..

* Marie Fazio at Chalkbeat Chicago

Backers of a bill that would establish a 21-member Chicago school board say they are building momentum again, this time in the Illinois Senate.

If the bill passes the legislature, Chicago could hold school board elections starting in 2023.

The bill has supporters, including Sen. Robert Martwick, a Democrat who represents Chicago’s Northwest Side and some adjacent suburbs. But it has had its share of detractors, too, who say that a 21-person board would dwarf that of any other major urban school district’s governing body and would be too large to govern effectively.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who currently appoints the school board, opposed the bill last year. Speaking with reporters Tuesday in Springfield, she said she briefly discussed the bill with Martwick during her visit to the Capitol and agreed to meet “at another time” to discuss it further.

…Adding… I’m pretty sure that this was last year’s plan during the veto session. The mayor’s people told me yesterday that nothing new is on the table at the moment

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot came to Springfield on Tuesday armed with a new plan to lure a big casino operator to Chicago while still helping out casinos and tracks statewide.

She proposed extending the time a casino or track would have to pay its reconciliation fee — the charge that would amount to 75 percent of a casino or track operator’s best year in gaming revenue over a three-year period. The fee could be paid over six years and without interest — instead of the current two-year payment period with interest. The casino (or track) operator still could deduct the up-front licensing fees from the payment.

How it works: If a casino in its third year has gaming revenues OF $100 million, for example, it would pay the state a fee equal to $75 million less its previously paid upfront fee over six years.

The adjustment to the current law — paying over six years and interest-free instead of two years with interest — would be available to all new casinos in the state. That includes Chicago, Rockford, Waukegan, Danville and any other town with a new casino planned or track that elects to have casino gaming.

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