99th General Assembly Wrap Up

Murphysboro….This week marked the end of the 99th General Assembly. On Monday and Tuesday, the House convened to take up several unresolved legislative measures prior to final adjournment. Here’s a quick roundup of the action:

House Demorats once again push unbalanced budget bill with no reforms or input from Republicans: 
SB 2051House Democrats once again pushed an 11th hour non-negotiated spending they claimed would have provided emergency funding for social and human service programs for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2017. A stopgap budget that passed in the summer of 2016 expired on December 31st, leaving Illinois with no spending authority to fund critical public safety, human service, and higher education budget items.

SB 2051 did contain many important items that must be funded. Unfortunately, the process that brought the bill to the House floor for a vote was a sad repetition of the “take-it-or-leave-it” budget-making approach by House Democrats that marked the dysfunction of the 99th General Assembly.

We have divided government in Illinois. The most recent election resulted in a net-gain of 4 seats for Republicans in the House, breaking the Democrats’ super-majority. It is necessary that all sides have input on how your tax dollars are spent. Ignoring Republican legislators and the advice and priorities of the Governor will only deepen the partisan divide and perpetuate the gridlock in Springfield.

I have been clear during my time in office that Illinois must have a full, truly balanced budget that focuses on growing state revenues through economic expansion. We need more good paying jobs in Illinois. The ‘tax, spend, and repeat’ policies of the last 15 years have resulted in Illinois’ near financial insolvency. The state owes more than $100 billion in pension liabilities $10 billion in unpaid bills, and we lead the nation in population loss. SB 2051 was a spending plan, not a budget. Despite these objections and with no way to pay for it the bill passed the House but was not called for a vote in the Senate.

Criminal justice reform: SB 2872 – This bill became known in Springfield as a sweeping criminal justice reform bill. I was proud to support the measure for several reasons. SB 2872 will bring trauma recovery centers to under served communities, allow more judicial discretion to utilize probation in lieu of prison for certain non-violent felonies and expand the use of “good-time” to help increase participation in rehabilitative programs that help reduce recidivism and decrease the prison population.

Testing Drinking Water for Lead in Schools – SB 550, a bill to require testing for lead in the water supplies in schools passed the House and Senate this week. I voted YES on this measure. According the Illinois Municipal League, “the obligation to arrange and fund water testing for school facilities is placed on schools. Schools are also required to share lead test results with the parents or guardians of their students. Schools constructed prior to January 1, 1987 must complete testing by December 31, 2017. Schools constructed between January 2, 1987 and January 1, 2000 must complete testing by December 31, 2018. Day care facilities are also responsible for their own testing.”

The bill requires that water customers be notified within 14 days of water main or service line maintenance or replacement. Illinois has one of the largest concentrations of lead service lines in the country. Water quality is a critically important issue in Illinois, but the financial condition of the state is so bad that, often times, water-infrastructure investments have been put on hold or canceled altogether.

SB 550 seeks to get ahead of potential lead-poisoning issues to help avoid a situation similar to that which was discovered in Flint, Michigan, where improperly treated water caused lead levels to rise to dangerous levels. This is an important public safety measure and contains protections for schools to help offset the cost of the mandate.

Property Tax Freeze Legislation – HB 6630

On the final day of the 99th General Assembly, Speaker Madigan finally allowed a House Republican measure to freeze property taxes for a vote in the House. I supported this property tax freeze legislation. The bill sets a tax cap of zero percent on all taxing bodies in the state, including home-rule units,and would require passage of voter referendums before any increase in property taxes could be granted.

Illinois has the highest property taxes in America. A property-tax freeze that allows local citizens to control whether or not property taxes go up sends a positive signal that we’re serious about creating jobs and keeping families and businesses from leaving the state. The bill was passed too late in the session to allow for a concurring Senate vote so the measure died when the 99th General Assembly adjourned. But, the passage of a property tax freeze based on local control in the last session is a good sign of things to come in the newly-seated 100th General Assembly.