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Illinois State Senator Pamela Althoff's E-Newsletter

Charles Rector's Weblog; Mar. 27, 2013; By Charles Rector
Type: News

Illinois State Senator Pam
 Althoff - 32nd District 

When Gov. Pat Quinn delivered his annual State of the State speech Feb. 6, many lawmakers were hoping for detailed plans on how the Governor would fix Illinois' broken pension system and get the state's economy back on track.

Instead, they got a pleasant speech filled with upbeat slogans but little substance. Meanwhile, Illinois continues to have an unemployment rate above the national average and above all its neighboring states, owes $9 billion in unpaid bills and faces a pension liability that is conservatively placed at $95 billion.

While Gov. Quinn once again expressed support for fixing the state's pension funding problem, he did not offer a clear roadmap, other than simply calling a proposal from the Senate President "the best vehicle to get the job done."

“I’m disappointed in the direction the state has taken over the last decade, disappointed in the lack of leadership that should be coming from the Governor’s office, and I’m disappointed at how those two things combined have severely hurt our businesses and citizens,” Althoff said.  “The speech mentioned several examples of success and reforms that we have enacted, which is great, but yet our state continues to decline.  Our credit rating is now the lowest in the nation, our pension liabilities grow by $17 million each day, and we have a budget deficit of $5 billion and a backlog of bills at $7.4 billion, despite the highest personal income tax increase in history a couple years ago. We need to focus on the fiscal challenges.”  

Althoff said the State of the State address had much of the same rhetoric that it does each year, and she felt the Governor failed to propose any real reform of his own, showing a lack of direction that the state desperately needs.  

“We must have leadership.  It’s what I want to see – leadership and focus.  We desperately need it and without it, we aren’t going to get anywhere proposed reforms,” she said.  

Quinn spent far more time on controversial measures, seeking to revive gun control measures that failed just last month and urging lawmakers to raise the state's minimum wage to the highest in the nation, Althoff said.

Althoff noted that this initiative will either drive businesses away from the state or cause them to close their doors.  She noted that employers will cut back and eliminate entry-level jobs that we need, meaning fewer opportunities for our young people, should minimum wage be increased.

“Apparently, they do not realize that increasing minimum wage will do more harm than good,” she said.  “Illinois currently has the fourth highest minimum wage level in the country.  Raising it will not create more jobs as the proponents seem to hope.  We are taking away every opportunity for young people to enter the workforce through our policies, those current and those proposed.  By examining our business policies in Illinois, it would seem as if we are making every effort to drive away businesses in this state and hinder employment opportunities for all, young and old.”

The minimum wage proposal drew immediate opposition from small business owners. Typical was Jorge Armando, a restaurant owner in Chicago, who told the Chicago Sun-Times he would have to lay off his dishwasher if the minimum wage is increased.

Only three states have a minimum wage higher than Illinois and no Midwestern state has a minimum wage as high as Illinois.

But, Althoff said there were things to like in the Governor's speech, such as a program that will allow state licensing agencies to consider a veterans' military experience. For example, a veteran who wishes to become a licensed nurse could receive some consideration for skills learned as a military medic.

Similarly, Althoff said a new Illinois Manufacturing Lab in Chicago where companies can learn how to implement the latest advancements in manufacturing technology was another welcome announcement.

While the Governor’s State of the State address drew significant attention this week, Senate committees were also busy. Several controversial measures were advanced, including legislation to authorize same sex marriage in Illinois, a bill to expand the state’s Medicaid program, and a $2.2 billion supplemental spending package.

Same sex marriage bill passes Committee
On Feb. 5, the Senate Executive Committee advanced legislation that would authorize same sex marriage in Illinois. A similar bill was approved during the early January lame-duck session, and once again Committee debate centered on the degree to which religious organizations and parochial schools’ religious liberties would be affected by the bill.

Many religious organizations have raised concerns that overly broad language in Senate Bill 10 would force churches to host or participate in same sex weddings. Opponents say the legislation is in direct conflict with these institutions’ religious principles—and their constitutional, First Amendment rights. Despite these concerns, the bill was approved and the sponsor has announced intentions to call the bill for a full Senate vote on Feb. 14.

Additional Medicaid expansion passes Committee
Another controversial bill was considered by the Senate Public Health Committee on Feb. 5. Despite the state’s current moratorium on Medicaid expansions, if signed into law Senate Bill 26 would advance the second exemption to the state’s Medicaid expansion freeze in the past seven months. Althoff explained that though the expansion was initially required as part of the federal Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” it was later rendered optional as a result of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The measure was advanced by the Committee despite Republican concerns that the expansion would offer benefits to an additional 350,000 individuals, which could carry an annual state cost of $300 million to maintain the federal reimbursement level beyond the first two years of the program’s implementation. By 2020, the cumulative state cost of this expansion could exceed $2.9 billion.

$2.2 billion supplemental package passes both chambers
Finally, House and Senate committees this week approved legislation that would free up $2.2 billion in supplemental spending for state programs, road programs and other obligations. House Bill 190 was approved by committee, despite opponents’ concerns that on the same day that the Governor outlined a bleak financial picture in his State of the State message, one of the first acts of the new General Assembly should not be to approve a massive new spending proposal.

The measure, which passed the full Senate Feb. 7, initially enjoyed bipartisan support, as lawmakers sought to direct revenue to important state programs in need of a fiscal boost. However, many Republicans dropped their support of the legislation when Democrats piled on additional spending for questionable projects.

Major changes in the bill include an additional $600 million for group health insurance costs for state workers. At the beginning of the fiscal year, the legislature deliberately underfunded health insurance costs in order to provide the Governor leverage in contract negotiations. However, those talks have stalled and no savings have materialized, so the spending authorization is now needed.

In addition, the measure includes a $675 million hike in the current year's road construction program. Other services which received notable increases include personal services, mental health grants and early learning challenge grants. The East St. Louis School District would receive a one-time payment of $9 million to keep its doors open through November 2013, although the school will likely need a total of $27 million to stay open through June 2014. Concerns were raised over the quick passage of these appropriation changes, and it is not yet known whether and how often the East St. Louis School District would require additional funding in the near future.
 

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Contact Information:Senator Pamela Althoff 
5400 West Elm Street
Suite 103
McHenry, IL 60050 
(815) 455-6330 
Fax (815) 679-6756

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