Senate Week in Review: April 2-6
Lawmakers returned to their respective districts this week to catch up on local issues, while State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said two legislative bodies used the opportunity to hold statewide hearings on enterprise zones and Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed facility closures.
Sen. Rezin was joined this week by A.J. Wilhelmi, Senior Vice President of Government Relations for the Illinois Hospital Association, to visit four different hospitals in the 38th Senate District. Morris Hospital, St. Mary’s Hospital in Streator, St. Margaret’s Hospital in Spring Valley, and Mendota Community Hospital personnel met with Sen. Rezin and Mr. Wilhelmi to discuss the issues that are facing the health care industry, including budget cuts. The meetings were open to other hospital personnel in the area as well.
Additionally, Senate Republicans recently unveiled a new Web site seeking public input on how to improve state government, and the Illinois Comptroller also has a new Internet database to improve the public’s access to state financial information.
On April 4, members of the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) held public hearings in Joliet and Dwight on the proposed closures of the Illinois Youth Center (IYC) at Joliet and Dwight Correctional Center. A similar meeting took place in southern Illinois on April 2, with regard to Tamms Correctional Center, which is also slated for closure.
The hearings were well-attended by local leaders, union representatives, former inmates, prison administrators and employees, and the general public. The Governor’s Office has advanced prison closures and consolidations as a way to reduce state financial obligations in the face of Illinois’ massive budget deficit. However, many local representatives said that closing the facilities will devastate the regional economies, which rely heavily on the jobs and revenues associated with the correctional centers.
Safety concerns were also raised, particularly with respect to inmates from Tamms and IYC in Joliet. The facilities house some of the state’s most violent and dangerous adult and juvenile inmates. Tamms is the state’s lone super-max facility, and Joliet IYC is the only maximum-security facility for juvenile offenders in the system. Some members of COGFA joined prison officials and employees in questioning the wisdom of transitioning these inmates into a less aggressive prison population, particularly when Illinois’ correctional system already exceeds capacity.
Members of COGFA have until early May to issue their non-binding recommendations on the Governor’s proposed facility closures. The facilities are scheduled for closure by July 31.
Employment growth and economic development were the focus of legislative hearings on proposed enterprise zone extensions, which also took place this week. The bipartisan Special Senate Committee on Enterprise Zone Extensions met on April 4 in Rockford and April 5 in downtown Chicago.
Business representatives and employers were present at both hearings to testify in favor of the enterprise zones, which offer a number of incentives intended to attract and retain businesses. Incentives range from property tax abatements, to utility and sales tax breaks and other tax credits.
Illinois has almost 100 enterprise zones that were established in 1982 to create jobs and spur economic growth. Several enterprise zones are scheduled to expire in the coming year unless lawmakers extend the program. In anticipation of that extension, legislators on the committee are seeking input from the business community and local leaders to help evaluate and hopefully improve the incentive program.
Since being established, the zones have contributed to the creation of more than 900,000 jobs and led to nearly $50 billion in associated revenue. Legislation has been introduced to extend the length of the zones by 25 years, create up to 10 new zones over the next 10 years, and implement transparency and accountability for these zones.
Senate Republicans are also seeking input from the public on their new Web site “By the People” at http://www.bythepeople.senategop.net/, which allows the people of Illinois to suggest ideas for potential laws.
“By the People” is an initiative of the Illinois Senate Republicans that encourages Illinois residents to become a direct part of the lawmaking process. By the People is a legislative forum where the public can submit ideas, receive feedback, and comment on other legislative suggestions.
While citizens have a say in who they choose to represent them in the Illinois General Assembly, often people feel like their voices are not heard when it comes to their government and the creation and revision of laws. By the People is an online legislative forum to allow individuals to not only offer suggestions for new legislation but also comment and expand on the ideas of others. The intent of this forum is to also allow citizens to be able to suggest changes and repeals of current laws.
The Senate Republican staff will review the forum proposals, and the public will be allowed to vote on the top suggestions. The final proposals will be chosen based on the amount of public support a suggestion received, as well as the likelihood that a proposal could realistically be approved by lawmakers and signed into law. The final proposals will be drafted into legislation that will be sponsored by a Senate Republican lawmaker.
Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka is also reaching out to the public. The Comptroller’s office recently launched a new government transparency Web site called “The Ledger” at http://ledger.illinoiscomptroller.com/.
The Ledger is a comprehensive online fiscal database where taxpayers can click their way through everything from the state’s daily receipts and bill backlog numbers, to state agency budgets and expenses. State employee salaries and recent addition to the public payroll are also available on the site.
All the information on the site is available for download, so taxpayers can access and print hard copies of the same up-to-date information and fiscal numbers that Comptroller Topinka’s staff uses every day.