Legislators' work may not yet be done
SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois lawmakers could be back in Springfield well before the veto session that begins in October.
“There may be a few issues that bring us back this summer that are out there floating around,” said Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley. “The governor may take some actions on the big bills, like Com Ed. There may be some opportunities yet.”
Com Ed is the rate-increase bill for Commonwealth Edison and Ameren that Gov. Pat Quinn has vowed to veto.
When the Illinois Senate wrapped up its session late Tuesday, Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, praised senators for their accomplishments, including historic school reforms and passing “a balanced, but incomplete budget.” However, he then closed with this:
“I can’t tell you when we are going to come back. You have the schedule for the veto session. It may be before that, though.”
Cullerton later said he was referring to a bill reauthorizing capital projects that wasn't approved before the General Assembly adjourned. Others have speculated lawmakers could be forced back if the state Supreme Court rules that the funding mechanism for the state's $31 billion capital program passed in 2009 is unconstitutional. A decision is expected soon.
Quinn could always call lawmakers back into session if he thinks he can force them to rework the operations part of the budget they approved. The Democratic governor last week criticized cuts contained in the spending plan and said it needs more work.
Doing that, however, would risk allowing Republicans – whose votes would be needed to achieve the after-session supermajority required -- to demand even deeper cuts than are in the budget that was passed. And Quinn's status even among Democrats took a hit during the session. Quinn maintained a low profile during the closing weeks of the session, and his proposed spending plan was mostly ignored after he introduced it.
“Whether he has been as out front on every issue as some members would like, I can't speak to. I'm sure he feels he is relevant,” said Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie. “When bills hit his desk, he will be highly relevant."
Here are some of the issues that will hit Quinn's desk for his decision and some that won't.
Lawmakers were intent on sending a message to the public that they could hold the line on spending.
Legislators will say they cut about $2 billion from Quinn's budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, although it was only his recommendations for spending. And to make the numbers work, more than $1 billion in bills are being deferred into the next budget, something critics deride as another of those gimmicks the legislature has used in the past to balance budgets.
There are also many unresolved questions about the impact on human services and even state employment. Personal services spending for state agencies — the line item that pays employee salaries — were cut across the board. It appears the amounts left will not be enough to pay salaries for the full year, especially if contracted union pay raises take effect.
“We made cuts that were necessary. It's a little early to say you can't make payroll,” said Mautino, the Democrats' point person on the budget. “There is more than enough money to get through the bulk of the year. That becomes our task, with the governor, to manage how that money works."
Quinn has an agreement with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees not to lay off workers or close facilities until the union's current contract expires June 30. Mautino and others have said that agreement doesn't preclude the state from firing workers if there is no money.
Quinn has so far focused mostly on cuts to education. A last-minute attempt by the Senate to put more money into general state aid and the Monetary Award Program, which provides scholarships for college students, was rejected by the House, where Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has shown no inclination to add to the budget already approved.
Quinn could sign the budget and hope to persuade lawmakers to increase spending when they return for the veto session. By then, the state will have some idea if tax collections might be better than anticipated next year. Madigan, though, said he wants any windfall used to pay down the bill backlog.
Mautino warned that people better get used to austere budgets.
"The target is to be in the black (on bills) in four years," he said. "You're going to have two to three more years of this kind of budget."
Retiree health insurance
A plan to have retirees pay premiums for their state health insurance didn't pass this spring, but the issue is far from dead.
The plan's architect, Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, D-Evanston, said he plans to make another attempt during the veto session. The state's unfunded liability for retiree health insurance is closing in on $30 billion, and Schoenberg said that is too much to allow things to go on as they are.
Most retired state employees pay no premiums for health insurance, but they do pay co-pays for doctor visits.
Schoenberg’s proposal didn't surface until the last days of the spring session. When it did, some lawmakers were upset to see that even people with state pensions of less than $15,000 would have had to pay hefty amounts for their insurance.
Now the plan is to fine-tune a fee schedule that doesn't hurt lower-income pensioners while still reaching a target of having retirees pay 50 percent of the state's retiree insurance costs.
It took some arm-twisting by Madigan, but the House finally passed workers’ compensation reforms that are supposed to save businesses up to $700 million. Quinn pledged to sign it.
"The workers' compensation reform law, I think, will go down in Illinois history as one of the most important job-creating and -preserving statutes that we've ever enacted,” Quinn said after passage.
Most of the savings are to come from reducing payments to doctors and hospitals for treating workers' comp cases.
It will take a couple of years for all of the changes to take full effect and to determine if the bill does indeed rein in the cost of workers' compensation. Lawmakers thought they were reining in costs with a reform package passed last decade, though. It didn't work as advertised.
Quinn won't say what he plans to do with a proposal to authorize five new casinos, allow existing casinos to expand and permit slot machines at six horseracing tracks, two Chicago airports and the Illinois State Fairgrounds. If all of the expansions are used, Illinois will go from having 10,800 gaming positions to 31,200.
Quinn repeatedly has described the bill as “top heavy” and “excessive.” However, faced with the prospect of the state taking in an estimated $1.6 billion more this year without raising taxes and $760 million to $1 billion annually thereafter, lawmakers approved the expansion.
Opponents believe the revenue numbers are wildly inflated and that expanding gambling opportunities will simply dilute the market for gamblers.
However, a total veto by Quinn would eliminate the casino for Chicago, something Mayor Rahm Emanuel has made it very clear he wants. Quinn could also use his amendatory veto powers to remove some of the casinos or slot machines.
Quinn could also leave the gambling portion largely intact, but redirect how revenue from the expansion is to be spent.
The Senate rejected four bills sponsored by state Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, that would have sold more than $6 billion in bonds to pay vendors to whom the state owes money. That means, for now, school districts, local governments, vendors and other providers won’t be getting paid any more quickly.
As of last week, Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka had more than 130,000 unpaid bills dating back to December that total just over $4 billion.
“Vendors should know that there will still be substantial delays, but the situation will slowly begin to improve if we hold the line on new spending,” she said.
Quinn’s options to make a dent in the bills are to sign the gaming bill as is and use the $1.6 billion in upfront licensing fees to pay off debt, or use any revenue surplus to pay bills. None of the gaming revenues are in the fiscal 2012 budget, and the legislature’s budget calls for spending roughly $1 billion less than the revenue estimated to come in during fiscal 2012 by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.
The Democrat-dominated General Assembly sent two maps to the governor, one for the state’s 18 U.S. House seats and another for the 177 seats in the legislature. The maps are redrawn every 10 years to coincide with new census figures.
Quinn on Friday signed the bill redrawing the legislative districts.
Republicans said the public did not have enough time to review the maps before they were voted upon. A lawsuit is virtually assured, probably focusing on questions about whether either map complies with rules requiring redistricting to maximize minority representation, particularly for Hispanics.
Just before adjourning Tuesday, the House passed a bill that would bar legislative liaisons and other senior managers from being in collective bargaining units. It would also allow Quinn to petition the state labor relations board to remove other workers from union membership.
The legislation, which was supported by the Quinn administration, was not called in the Senate, but could come up there during the veto session.
Ninety-six percent of state workers are in collective bargaining units, and there are petitions pending before the state labor board that could increase that proportion to 99 percent, said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago.
“I think 99 percent of the workforce as members of the collective bargaining units turns the idea of running the ship of state totally on its head,” she said.
But Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, R-Des Plaines, said the governor is to blame for reaching a no-layoff agreement until June 30, 2012, with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in exchange for $50 million in concessions.
“Didn’t he think everyone was going to join the union?” Mulligan said. “They’d have to be stupid not to.”
Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527. Chris Wetterich can be reached at (217) 788-1523.