To the Editor:
It wouldn’t be a big surprise to report that a constitutional state budget remains elusive, although, I had hopes compromise and cooperation were in the works. By the end of the week (Nov. 13) it was clear sincere efforts to compromise and cooperate were undercut by political power plays. It’s disappointing, because after a delay of four months and counting, the inability of state government to pay its bills is beginning to take its toll on critical needs.
Years of mismanagement put us in the midst of our current financial crisis. Even if we put a new budget in place today, Illinois taxpayers – through their government – are billions of dollars in debt. Overdue bills top $7 billion and long-term public pension debt is more than $110 billion. This is debt that’s being left for future generations to repay. No private corporation could behave in this manner without facing serious legal consequences. Yet, establishment politics seems to be insulated from accountability.
I commend the Governor for compromising on legislation for child care services, changes to eligibility requirements for elder care and agreeing to use revenue from special state funds for counties, municipalities and local road districts. His actions to fund these budget items should have moved the overall budget discussion forward and led to solving the budget impasse. Instead, legislative actions by House Democrats at the Capitol undercut the compromises and there won’t be an immediate funding for these critical needs.
In the Senate, there is good news to report. I believe the state budget and the Governor’s “Turnaround Agenda” of reforms are closely linked.
One component of the Agenda received near-unanimous support in the Senate when we met in session on Tuesday, November 10. The Senate approved House Bill 1285 that reforms Illinois’ Unemployment Insurance (UI) program. I believe it gets us closer to making Illinois a competitive state once again in attracting job creators. There are three major provisions of HB 1285, which I co-sponsored:
1) Gross misconduct on the part of a worker who has been terminated because of that conduct would disqualify that worker from receiving unemployment.
2) The legislation would protect the unemployment benefits of older workers who are laid off and who also receive Social Security benefits.
3) It eliminates the scheduled 2016 UI tax increase on employers of $470 million and prevents $300 million in benefit reductions for laid-off employees also scheduled to take effect in 2016.
The passage of HB1285 is long overdue, and an issue I first raised at the Capitol in 2011. The Senate passed the legislation on a vote of 58 to 0. It now heads back to the House for final action. Hopefully, the House will follow suit so we can start getting Illinois back on the track of economic opportunity for all.
Another part of the Governor’s agenda and another issue that I consistently sought as your Senator is Workers’ Compensation reform. Passing real reform dealing with “causation” would make a big difference in turning around Illinois’ business/jobs climate. The most fair and equitable change we can make for employees and employers is a “causation” standard that says the majority cause of the accident and injury must be the workplace and caused by the employer. That is simple common sense, but it’s currently not the standard today. As a result our business climate is suffering. “Causation” will lead to lower Workers’ Comp rates because it will help eliminate fraudulent claims and protect benefits for employees who are truly injured on the job.
A constitutional budget and the “Turnaround Agenda” reforms are the successful solution to get our financial house in order and revitalize our state economy.
State Senator, 54th District