Senate Week in Review: April 30 – May 4, 2012
Springfield, IL – State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said she will be hosting a TeleForum with State Rep. Pam Roth (R-Morris) on Wednesday, May 9 at 6:55 p.m. Residents may participate by calling 877-229-8493 at the designated time and then entering ID code 18315. Participants will have the opportunity to ask Sen. Rezin and Rep. Roth questions about the issues facing the state. Sen. Rezin said she hopes many are able to participate as she takes this time to communicate with her constituents during the last scheduled weeks of the spring session.
It was a busy week in Springfield, as lawmakers entered the final push toward the scheduled May 31 legislative adjournment, said Sen. Rezin.
Though much of the Senators’ time was spent in committees considering legislation that has been approved by House legislators, the Senate did approve a long-sought measure to eliminate the beleaguered General Assembly Scholarship Program, as well as a Constitutional Amendment that would make it more difficult for lawmakers to increase employee pension benefits in the future.
In other news, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) issued its opinion on Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed closure of several state facilities, and Senate Republican lawmakers and the Illinois Policy Institute highlighted the need for greater fiscal transparency at the local level.
Lawmakers are one step closer to eliminating the scandal-plagued General Assembly tuition waiver program. On May 3, the Senate voted to advance House Bill 3810, which would end the controversial program. The measure now moves to the House, which must approve an amendment to House Bill 3810 that creates a Tuition and Fee Waiver Task Force charged with reviewing the use of tuition and fee waivers at Illinois’ public universities.
Senate Republican lawmakers, led by Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont), voluntarily walked away from the controversial program in early 2012. Sen. Radogno has been a vocal opponent of the waivers and her leadership, in conjunction with the Senate GOP's unified position against the program, was a driving force in the effort to end the program.
The Illinois media has uncovered a slew of abuses relating to the General Assembly Scholarship Program that stretches back to the 1980s. Allegations of impropriety continue to surface, which in some instances have led to federal investigations into evidence that lawmakers awarded the scholarships to benefit friends, lobbyists and campaign donors. Additional studies reveal that over the last six years a significant number of lawmakers illegally awarded the waivers to students outside their district.
However, while the focus often centers on abuse of the program, Sen. Rezin pointed out that the legislative scholarships are also a financial drain on Illinois’ higher education system. The state does not reimburse colleges for the cost of the program, which totals more than $13 million a year. Instead, those costs are passed on to other students in the form of increased tuition and fees.
Senate Republicans stressed that the best thing lawmakers can do to improve access to and affordability of higher education, is to get the state’s finances under control so Illinois can offer more support to the state’s colleges and universities.
The Senate also advanced Constitutional Amendment 49, which seeks to further restrict the Legislature’s ability to approve future pension benefit increases. Having been approved by the Senate, Illinois voters will be given the opportunity in November to weigh in on the measure. If approved by voters, the measure would require a three-fifths vote of the General Assembly to pass increased pension benefits for employees in the future.
If the provision is to take effect, the amendment must be approved by either three-fifths of those voting on the question, or a majority of those voting in the election.
Fiscal transparency is the focus of legislation highlighted this week by Senate GOP lawmakers and the Illinois Policy Institute. Allegations that a Dixon city official stole $53 million from city coffers highlights the need for Senate Bill 3392, which would require all local governments – including school boards, townships and municipalities – to post their checkbooks online.
The Illinois Policy Institute supports this legislation and greater efforts to improve the level of government transparency in Illinois. Since 2010, the nonpartisan Institute has partnered with local citizen activists to grade governments on how much public information is available online. More than 130 government entities have been graded using the Institute’s 10-Point Transparency Checklist.
“After seeing how little public information is available on Dixon’s Web site, it’s no surprise that the alleged theft went under the radar for so long,” said Brian Costin, director of government reform at the Illinois Policy Institute. “What Dixon and the entire state must do now is create a culture of transparency and accountability. This will help weed out corruption, and restore the public’s faith in local government.”
On May 1, COGFA voted against Gov. Quinn’s proposed closure of four correctional facilities, an Illinois Youth Center and the Murray Developmental Center. The bipartisan, bicameral legislative panel was supportive of the Quinn’s proposals to save the state money, but at the same time expressed deep concerns about the economic impact on the communities of Centralia, Tamms, Dwight, Peoria and additional job losses in the suburban areas.
The panel’s recommendation is only advisory and the ultimate decision still rests with the Governor. Local Senators who represent the facility host communities have also pledged their support to working with the Governor on budget-cost savings measures. They argue that any savings must provide long-term economic stability for the host communities and a legitimate plan to safely reduce prison populations and to care for citizens with severe developmental disabilities.
In other news, Sen. Rezin welcomed Max Colby and his mother, Mindy, to the State Capitol Thursday, May 3. Max, a Utica resident, was in town to participate in the Illinois History Expo.
A seventh grader from Trinity Catholic Academy in LaSalle, Max was the only student from his school to advance from a regional historical fair earlier this year to be a participant in the Illinois History Expo. His project focused on the history of St. Margaret’s Hospital in Spring Valley over the span of 50-plus years.
Lastly, Sen. Rezin has a few upcoming events for you to mark on your calendars. On June 9, she will be hosting a Kids Fair along with State Rep. Pam Roth (R-Morris) in Minooka. Participants include the Grundy County Sheriff K-9 Unit, Channahon Fire Protection District, Girl Scouts, Ignite Cheerleading, Joliet Family YMCA, and many more. The following week, June 11-15, Sen. Rezin will be holding her First Annual Legislative Budget Review at five separate locations throughout the district. Join her for a recap of the spring session, including legislative achievements and challenges still facing Illinois. The evenings are meant to give insight on how the policy decisions in Springfield affect you and your family. Please visit Sen. Rezin’s website at www.senatorrezin.com to learn more about these two events.