House session was cancelled earlier in the month by Speaker Madigan who bafflingly cited a “lack of workload”. We’ll meet for the first time in 2016 this week on January 27th, the same day that Governor Rauner is to give his State of the State address to the General Assembly. 2016 is an election year and the tendency by leadership can be to put off tough votes until after the primaries in March. The legislative calendar, as set by Speaker Madigan, does not have us in session regularly until April; we are only scheduled to be in Springfield for 2 days in January, 5 in February, and 3 in March. It’s disappointing given how much work we still need to do to compromise on the budget and necessary reforms. In the meantime, rank and file legislators have been at work drafting bills before the deadline last Friday. Generally in the second year of the term (99th General Assembly), fewer bills are filed.
Upon taking office, Governor Rauner made it one of his goals to reduce the state’s prison population by 25 percent within the next decade. At one point, there was an estimated 49,000 inmates in a system designed to house 32,000. Through executive order, he established a task force to reform the state’s criminal justice system and sentencing practices. The group that was assembled is comprised of legislators, lawyers, judges, police, prison administrators, professors, and a community activist. The task force was supposed to present a final report at the end of last year, but unsurprisingly given that they are tackling such a large and complex issue, they’re asking for more time. The task force has released its initial recommendations, with a final report expected to be delivered to the governor in March.
The governor’s goal is a lofty one. There is a lot of bipartisan agreement on the need for reform with regards to low-level, nonviolent crimes, but some proposed measures may be more difficult for legislators and citizens to swallow, such as reforming sentences for violent crimes. NPR Illinois provides some information on the unique challenges for the task force, which can be read here. Hopefully these issues and the recommendations of the task force can be addressed legislatively by the General Assembly before the end of the spring session.
This week Governor Rauner presented proposals which would impact CPS and the pension system.The CPS proposal comes amid reports from the Better Government Association that the system doesn’t know what happened to much of the equipment from the 50 schools Mayor Emanuel closed two years ago and a another decline in CPS’s bond rating by Fitch.
Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin filed legislation last Wednesday which would add CPS to an already existing law that allows the state to intervene in financially dire school districts. That legislation, which included every state school district except CPS, outlines a process for the Illinois State Board of Education to establish an Independent Authority to run the school district and remove the current school board. The legislation proposed Wednesday would also create an elected school board in Chicago once the district is no longer in financial difficulty. The current Chicago Board of Education serves by appointment of the mayor.
As the state’s pension crisis continues to worsen (unfunded liability now sits at $113 billion), Governor Rauner also proposed pension reform, which mirrors legislation from Senate President Cullerton. Under this proposal, the State would narrowly define wages in the Illinois Labor Relations Act to exclude any future salary increases as pensionable. Eligible individuals would be then able to examine their personal financial circumstances and the circumstances of their families, to irrevocably decide whether they would like to keep a 3% compounded cost-of-living adjustment and forfeit future wage increases as part of their pension calculation, or move to a lower cost-of-living adjustment (lesser of 3% simple or ½ CPI) and use all future wage increases for purposes of a pension calculation.