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Fall Arrives and Still No Budget

Fall officially arrived this past week and farmers have begun harvesting the fields.  As I made my way to Springfield for another day of session, I began to think about all our region has to offer during this time of the year.

Take some time to ask your neighbor or get online to find a new festival or parade you have not attended in the area.  There are so many to name I would hate to leave anyone out.  I would like to note that it’s important that we take time to interact with our community and surrounding areas, which many do.  These events and the people that attend, is what makes living in Northwest Illinois the greatest!

Going back to session in Springfield this past Thursday, I have nothing new to report in regards to the budget impasse other than we still do not have one.  Instead of staying in Springfield and getting the job done that we were elected to do, we adjourned until October 20th.

Delaying to negotiate a solution or agreeing to a compromise is going to cost taxpayers more and more money.  We are far past the $4 billion gap that was originally stated during budget negotiations in May.  Some statistics show the gap has doubled up to $8 billion.  A tax increase by itself cannot fix that big of a gap.

We have to reform current practices to help save taxpayer money for the future.  Letting the courts make decisions for elected officials is absolutely outrageous and is not helping solve this budget disaster.  We need a balanced budget, structural reforms and to make sure we take care of the people who cannot speak for themselves.

I have said on multiple occasions, but I will say it again, we are in a fight for the future of Illinois.  I will not falter in taking our message of reform from the citizens of Northwest Illinois to leaders in Springfield.

I put faith in the words of former President Ronald Reagan, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.  From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people.  Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden.” Stand strong, be brave and know that we are all in this together for the future of Illinois.

Another week of session has come and gone without any action taken to fix the budget crisis. Legislators were dismissed from Springfield this past Wednesday and have been ordered to return on September 24th.  That gives leaders in Springfield the opportunity to negotiate for a balanced budget and end the impasse within the next three-weeks.

Each day, week and month we continue to delay a budget deal the gap between revenue and spending grows larger.  Some estimates show that the gap is closer to $6 to $8 billion over the $32 billion dollar revenue estimate at this point.

How did we get here?  Leaders continue to refuse to come to the table and compromise.  All of the leaders should have the ability to listen to both sides and devise a compromise acceptable to both parties.  I have read Governor Rauner’s compromise proposals, but I have not heard from Speaker Madigan other than his usually weekly talking points.

When you hear the other side of the aisle say they don't want to talk about the “non-related budget issues”, they just want to talk about the budget, what they're really saying is they just want to raise taxes to increase government spending without making a single economic reform to increase jobs or a single government reform to save you money.  What they're really saying is let's just raise taxes, go home, and make hardworking taxpayers foot the entire bill.

We have to reign-in our spending and provide some reforms that will help drive business to create jobs and give the people who truly need our help the opportunity to receive it.  Raising taxes just to pay the bill doesn’t solve the problem.  Offering ideas and solutions and then compromising will solve the problem.

I hope everyone enjoys this Labor Day weekend and thank you to the hardworking families in the 89th District that continue make northwest Illinois great!  In closing, “No government is perfect.  One of the chief virtues of a democracy, however, is that its defects are always visible and under democratic processes can be pointed out and corrected,” stated President Harry S. Truman.

The people of Illinois pointed out the defects and elected Governor Rauner.  While some might believe he is doing more harm than good, change is never easy.  My colleagues and I stand united in our support for a truly balanced budget that protects the interests of taxpayers, working families and seniors.

Federal Funds & Law Enforcement Reform
This past week was significant in that everyone agreed on a funding allocation for federal dollars.  I mentioned last week that Senate Bill 2042 had been unanimously passed by Senate Democrats and Republicans and based on the fact that this appropriations bill is entirely comprised of federal dollars, Governor Rauner publicly committed to signing the measure.

However, once again, my colleagues and I were put on an unfortunate political roller coaster that culminated in House passage of Senate Bill 2042, which will appropriate approximately $5 billion in federal only dollars currently being held up by the budget impasse.

While the House Democrats initially pushed to derail the measure, they eventually realized it best to provide a bipartisan stopgap relief measure to many state agencies. If the Senate concurs next week, the measure will help critical human services, child services, public health services and student assistance programs.

It is unfortunate that it could not be sent to the Governor the same day the legislation passed, but I am pleased that it now includes previously omitted funding for homeland security that was suggested by House Republicans.  

This is yet another step in the budget process, one that is not ideal given the piecemeal approach; nevertheless, this action makes sense as it allows the appropriation of federal dollars that should not be subject to the ongoing budget battle in Springfield.

Monumental law enforcement reforms were signed into law by the Governor.  The legislation, Senate Bill 1304, is a result of negotiations between all four caucuses and stakeholders from the police and legal community, which is a combination of police officer related bills that were held in Judiciary – Criminal committee and various Judiciary – Criminal sub-committees this past spring session, which I sit on.

Specifically, the legislation defines incidents with law enforcement involved deaths, provides for independent investigations and prosecutions, enhances reporting mechanisms, outlines traffic and pedestrian stop procedures, creates chokehold restrictions and allows for body cameras worn by officers.

The bill contains a large variety of reforms that came from both the community and law enforcement themselves.  As a former law enforcement officer, I don’t agree with everything that was put into this bill, but I do agree with the process, compromise and hard work that went into creating this legislation and that is why I was a co-sponsor.

The bill applies to law enforcement statewide and is effective immediately for provisions concerning funding of the Law Enforcement Camera Grant through fines and the Commission on Police Professionalism.  The remainder of the bill has no effective date and is thus effective January 1, 2016.

In light of some recent and unfortunate news, I’ll leave you with some words from former President Jimmy Carter, “You can do what you have to do, and sometimes you can do it even better than you think you can.”  

End of Summer Nears, Still No Budget
Summer session continued for the 6th straight week without a budget in place. At this point, I would not expect there to be a compromise. Unfortunately, I believe this is going to end with whoever blinks first.

There are two philosophies that people need to understand and decide which one to support. The first viewpoint is to continue to do what we have done for the last decade while the second viewpoint would do things completely different. The question is, do you support the way Illinois continues to operate or do you want to see us try something new?

The answer sounds simple, but choosing a new direction is never simple, especially when one of the leaders has been in power for almost 30 years. However, we are all watching the fight for a new direction right this minute. Each and every one of us knows someone being affected by this budget impasse.

This week, the Senate voted on a measure that could bring some temporary relief to people who depend on programs provided by the State of Illinois. Passed 57-0, $4.8 billion in federal dollars would be used for programs like the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
It provides spending authority (federal funds only) for $100 million in Aging programs, $1.7 billion in Human Service programs, $400,000 million in Healthcare and Family Services programs, $317 million in Public Health programs and more (Complete list at bottom of page).

This legislation was passed unanimously by both Democrats and Republicans. The Governor has already stated he supports the bill and would sign the legislation if it passed both chambers. I was hoping we would take up this issue this week, but instead Speaker Madigan has the bill assigned to committee next week. While it is a temporary solution to a much bigger problem, we should not be holding federal funds hostage.

Also, I would not get too excited just yet. Speaker Madigan has been known for attaching unrelated items to bills in the past as a political power move. If that were to happen, these federal funds might never be appropriated until a budget deal is negotiated.

 Until then, thank you to everyone who emailed or called the office last week to share your concerns. It’s always great to hear from you. I believe a high level of communication will increase civic participation by ensuring people are aware and informed about the issues facing our state. We don’t always have to agree, but ensuring you remain informed about the struggles facing our state is critical to me.

I’d like to thank the 2015 Summer Civic Interns including Colton Havens, Patrick Muggler, and Megan Smith. Their hard work and dedication has helped up reach out to over 7,000 constituents over 5 weeks by walking door-to-door. I am privileged to mentor and teach the next generation of leaders and I appreciate the commitment to our community our three summer interns demonstrated this year. We are now accepting applications for the 2015 Fall Civic Internship, please call Sally for more details.

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often,” Winston Churchill. Continuing down the same path is not an improvement nor is it change. While we may never be perfect, choosing a new direction is change with a chance at improving. I will continue to take that chance in hopes of a new Illinois. 

Senate Bill 2042 Federal Funds to be Released:
(ALL figures are rounded)

Aging: $100,900,000 
Agriculture: $13,000,000 
Appellate Defender: $200,000
Appellate Prosecutor: $2,200,000
Arts Council: $1,000,000
Attorney General: $1,000,000 
Board of Higher Education: $5,500,000
Children and Family Services: $10.500,000
CJIA: $65,000,000
Comptroller: $0
Council on Developmental Disabilities: $4,700,000  
Court of Claims: $10,100,000
DCEO: $1,032,000,000 
Emergency Management Agency: $134,200,000  
Employment Security: $319,000,000
Environmental Protection Agency: $65,600,000 
Healthcare and Family Services: $400,000,000 
Human Rights: $4,538,000 
Human Services: $1,700,300,500 
Labor: $5,000,000 
Military Affairs: $37,400,700 
Natural Resources: $27,900,500 
Public Health: $317,500,900 
Revenue: $250,000 
Secretary of State: $7,500,000
State Board of Education: $163,310,500 
State Fire Marshal: $1,500,000  
State Police: $20,000,000
Student Assistance Commission: $344,600,800 
Transportation: $9,800,500 
Veterans Affairs: $1,600,800 

Budgets, Bill Signing & Youth Activities

I have nothing new to report as we wrapped up the fifth week of the new fiscal year without a balanced budget in place.  Instead of voting on a balanced budget the House Speaker once again issued his talking points for another round of show-trials.  

This is a continuation of the “gotcha politics” at the expense of families who need us to put differences aside and pass a balanced budget.  The right thing is usually the hardest thing to do and this week was full of easy things. 

Speaking of budgets, I wanted to share with you our district office budget information.  Since being elected into office in 2014, I have given money back from the district allotment every fiscal year.  In FY 2014 I returned $21,314.45 to the state and in FY15 I returned a little over $13,000 which represents 19% of our annual office allotment.

I believe legislators and other elected officials should be leading by example if we are asking everyone to share in the sacrifices needed to get our finances in order.  For months now, Democrats in Illinois have known legislators were going to receive a pay raise, and they did nothing until mounting pressure from the taxpayers finally woke them up. 

House Republicans filed legislation (HB 4225) to reject the pay raises two months ago.  The Democrat majority had repeated opportunities to deny the COLA in a timely fashion.  Rather than doing the right thing, they waited until the last minute; a time when many would say it is too late.
Now, no matter what we do, the pay raise will go through for at least the next paycheck, as the Senate won’t be here to act on the House bill until at least next week.  So while it’s better late than never, the Democrat majority should have allowed a vote on HB4225 before it got to this point.

This past week was more than just budgets.  I had a very important piece of legislation signed into law by Governor Rauner that is important to remember.  House Bill 246 designates December 23 of each year as "Scott's Law Day"  to honor public safety workers and to remind motorists to slow down, change lanes away from a stationary authorized emergency vehicle, and proceed with due regard to safety and traffic conditions.

As a former law enforcement officer, I have seen firsthand how dangerous it can be during a traffic stop.  Each year we are reminded of this danger with the names of fallen officers who were killed in-the-line of duty during a traffic stop, assisting a motorist or working an accident scene.
Scott’s Law Day is to remind us and never let us forget the public safety workers whose lives were taken by a motorist passing by.  It’s simple, change lanes away from a stationary authorized emergency vehicle, and then proceed with caution to avoid an unforeseen accident that could occur while driving.

If you’re looking for something to do this weekend with your kids, the Illinois Conservation Foundation will be hosting a free Open House at the Torstenson Youth Conservation Education Center which is a 750 acre youth outdoor education property in Pecatonica to highlight conservation activities this Sunday, August 2nd from 12:00pm to 5:00pm.

The event will have kid-focused hands-on activities for a fun family event.  There will be a live animal show, archery range, crafts, free lunch and more.  Additional organizations that will be on-site include the National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, and more.  In addition to scheduled events, the ICF is also offering tours of the full property to see the new catch-and-release fishing pond, the beautiful 11,000 square-foot log cabin and archery range.

This event will occur rain or shine, and food will be provided in return for donations to the ICF and Torstenson Center.  The Torstenson Center is located at 13735 Cook Road just east of Pecatonica, IL.  You may visit or call (217) 785-2003 for more information.

While we work on finding a bi-partisan solution to fix the budget I would implore each and every one of you to send me an email or contact me on my website with your thoughts.  Thank you to those who already have.

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing,” Theodore Roosevelt.  The right thing to do is to pass a balanced bipartisan budget, but again we did nothing.  
The Fight for the Future of Illinois

Happy Independence Day! I hope you all enjoy the holiday festivities while keeping in mind the sacrifices for our freedom so many have made. Enjoy your BBQs and fireworks and parades, and never forget.

The rumbling of a state government shutdown is no more in question.  July 1st came and went without a balanced budget in place.  The stalled negotiations over the budget in Springfield empowered Democrat leadership to continue to muscle its veto-proof majority through politically charged show-trials and sham legislation votes with no compromise in sight.

The Governor recently stated, “This is a fight for the future of Illinois.”  Well, he’s exactly right. We are in a fight to change the way government operates.  Illinois’ devious political culture has been threatened and the powers that be are starting to feel the pressure.  Don’t be fooled by their temporary solutions or their parade of what-ifs.  The fact remains that we need a balanced budget that aims to spend less than what we take in.  The rhetoric might seem redundant in recent columns, but it’s the honest truth.  
This week, we began session on Tuesday with another “Committee of the Whole” that discussed government operations.  A panel of organizations around Illinois addressed the House with their concerns and possible financial problems that could occur if a shutdown was permitted.

During the doomsday testimony of government operations, per usual as of late, House Speaker Mike Madigan held a press conference to alert the media that a short-termed budget solution would be voted on during session on Wednesday.  “This is a one-month budget.  This is a reasonable budget,” Madigan said.  This one-month budget would relieve some of the pressure legislators are experiencing from constituents back in their districts and once again give reason to create a political mail piece for anyone who would dare not vote with the Speaker.

In reality, this was the Democrat majorities attempt to take a piece-meal approach to the budget by backing a temporary budget to fund certain services at a level that is not sustainable over the course of the entire fiscal year.

Tuesday concluded with the understanding that we would resume the government operation discussions on Wednesday and vote on the Speaker’s “one-month budget.”  We had till midnight on Tuesday to work on a solution before the state would begin to shut down, but instead, we adjourned.

On Wednesday morning, we resumed the “Committee of the Whole” concerning government operations.  We heard more stories and possible outcomes from the effects of a government shutdown.  That afternoon, House Speaker Madigan called for the “one-month budget” to be voted on.  To my surprise, the neediest services that gave hours of testimony during the “Committee of the Whole” were not funded in this bill.

All this bill would do is march the taxpayers of Illinois toward an unbalanced budget one month at a time.  No matter how they slice it and dice it, the math just doesn’t add up.  It still does not fix the problem.  I would guess if Democrats were serious about fixing the unbalanced budget they passed in May, that they would have already used their veto proof power to override the Governor’s veto of their $4 billion out of whack budget.  However, that means they would have to use their super majority to pass a tax increase as well.

It’s pretty clear where both sides stand at this point.  One side wants to spend $4 billion more than actual revenues, with a tax increase attached, while the other side wants structural reform to government and a balanced budget that is fiscally responsible to the taxpayers in Illinois.  My colleagues and I stand united in our support for a truly balanced budget that protects the interests of taxpayers, working families, and seniors.

I and all other elected officials are here to represent the people of Illinois.  I am proud to make my weekly trip to Springfield to represent the 89th District and the good people of Northwest Illinois. We elected a new governor because they wanted to change our government processes.  Change will not be easy, and as the debacle continues to unfold, our perseverance for the good of our State will be tested, but the fight for the future of Illinois must be pursued and the powers to be must be challenged.

Once again, President Abraham Lincoln said it best, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”  It does not matter if Democrat leadership passes a one-month budget, a six-month budget or an entire fiscal year’s budget.  As long as the Democrats continue to spend more money than we take in, it’s still an unbalanced, unconstitutional budget.

FAQs for Budget Situation
We understand state employees have questions on how their benefits will be impacted as the state budget is no longer in place beginning July 1. The following Q&As were designed to help answer any questions you may have.
Employee Benefits
Q.  Will an employee's health, dental or life insurance be affected?
A.  No. Group insurance coverage during a budget situation will not be impacted. If paychecks are delayed, and as long as the employee continues to work and earn a paycheck, insurance premiums will be taken accordingly. The missed payroll deductions will be taken once paychecks are issued.
Q.  What will happen to an employee's contributions to any flexible spending accounts (i.e., MCAP, DCAP) during the budget situation?
Ø  Employees enrolled in MCAP will not be impacted. ConnectYourCare debit cards will continue to work. If the employee continues to work and earn a paycheck, deductions should be taken accordingly. If MCAP deductions are missed, they must be made up when the budget situation is resolved.
Ø  Employees enrolled in DCAP may be impacted as reimbursements are limited to the available account balance contained in their DCAP account. If the employee continues to work and earn a paycheck, and once all payroll deductions are deposited into the DCAP account, reimbursements can be made for eligible expenses up to the available account balance.
Q.  What will happen to an employee's Commuter Savings Program benefit?
A.  Employees enrolled in the Commuter Savings Program will continue to receive the benefit under this program. Employees will owe any underpaid amount upon their return to payroll.
Workers' Compensation Program
Q.  Will an employee's Workers' Compensation benefits be affected?
A.  No. In the event of a budget situation, Temporary Total Disability (TTD), Permanent Total Disability (PTD) and survivor death benefit payments under the Workers' Compensation Act will continue through July. Work-related injuries should continue to be reported through the procedures in place today.
Deferred Compensation Program
Q. What will happen to an employee's Deferred Compensation contributions during the budget situation?
A.  As long as the employee continues to work and earn a paycheck, payroll deductions for Deferred Compensation should be taken accordingly. Deferred Compensation contributions can only be made through payroll deduction. The employee cannot deposit money directly to his or her fund to catch-up the contributions.
Q.  If an individual is currently receiving a distribution from their Deferred Compensation account, will that distribution continue during the budget situation?
A.  Yes. Current distributions and changes to distribution amounts will continue to be processed. To make any changes in distribution, call T. Rowe Price at 1-888-457-5770.
Q.  Will hardship distributions/loans from an employee's Deferred Compensation account be available during the budget situation?
A.  A loan provision is available at any time and allows a participant to have one outstanding loan and borrow a minimum of $1,000 up to a maximum of $50,000 or 50% of their account balance over a five year period. The interest you pay goes back to your account along with the principal amount each month as you repay the loan through Automatic Clearing House (ACH) deductions from your bank. Employees would likely not qualify for a hardship distribution as they will be made whole of any missed payrolls when the budget situation ends.
Q.  How do I borrow from my Deferred Compensation account?
A.  To apply for a loan from your account over the phone, call T. Rowe Price at 1-888-457-5770 to speak to a Representative. There is a $75 processing fee and you will need to supply bank routing and account information for your checking/savings account numbers to set up the automatic ACH deduction. Participants are allowed one outstanding loan at a time. You may repay the full loan balance amount at any time through the same phone number at T. Rowe Price.
State Employee Compensation
Q. What options exist if certain parties take action to temporarily block pay for state employees?
A. State employees will be paid for their work. If certain parties take action to temporarily block pay for state employees, there may be an opportunity for employees to get bridge loans from local financial institutions. Credit Union 1, for example, has already agreed to offer no-interest loans for qualifying members of the credit union should salary payments for state employees be delayed. To be eligible to receive 0% interest loans from Credit Union 1, participants must have been members on or before May 1, 2015. Employees who have become members of Credit Union 1 since May 1, 2015, can apply for a loan, subject to normal criteria, rates and terms.