Senate week in review     Send a link to a friend

June 28 - July 2

[JULY 3, 2004]  SPRINGFIELD -- The General Assembly approved and the governor signed a temporary budget this week that keeps state government up and running for one month, according to state Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield. Lawmakers also took action to rescue the health insurance program for retired teachers, ensure public input into state facility closings, scale back trucking fees and ensure President Bush's place on the Illinois ballot.

Senate Republicans supported the temporary budget to prevent the interruption of vital state services and avert a government shutdown. Meanwhile, negotiations over the full state budget were ongoing. Senate Republicans continue to stress the need for a final budget agreement that is pro-jobs and fiscally responsible.

In recent days, Republican leaders have made headway on several fronts in budget discussions. Republicans got a tentative agreement to give taxpayers more insight into the closing of state prisons and other facilities. Under the State Facilities Closure Act, all future recommendations for the closure of state facilities would be submitted to the Illinois Economic and Fiscal Commission for review. The commission would be authorized to conduct public hearings and issue advisory opinions regarding facility closures.

Republicans feel the new process is necessary in order for communities most affected by the closure of state facilities to know what the closure would mean for them in terms of the financial and social effects. It would also give the Illinois Economic and Fiscal Commission the opportunity to conduct a full and complete review of the proposed closures.

The State Facilities Closures Act came about because of the governor's proposals to close the correctional centers at Vandalia and Pontiac. In the case of Pontiac, the prison's closing was announced before any economic impact study was conducted on how its closure would affect the surrounding area.

Republicans won another concession on June 28, when the governor tentatively agreed to limit raids of the state's Road Fund. Since taking office, Blagojevich has diverted about $700 million from the fund to pay for the day-to-day operations of state government. Though negotiations continue, Republicans were optimistic that $140 million in diverted dollars could be returned to the Road Fund this fiscal year to help pay for the construction and repair of roads, highways and bridges across the state.

Also this week, the Senate voted to scale back higher taxes placed on truckers last year. On July 1, the Senate approved House Bill 714, which reinstitutes the rolling stock tax exemption on trucks and reduces the commercial distribution fee. Senate Republicans voted against the truck tax and fee hikes last year, warning they would drive trucking companies and jobs out of Illinois. Statistics released earlier this year bore these concerns out, as it was reported that Illinois truck registrations for 2005 are down 17,000 and more than 2,700 truck companies have either ceased operations or moved out of state.

 

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In other business, a key piece of education legislation benefiting teachers and schools passed the General Assembly. Senate Bill 1553 extends the Teachers Retirement Insurance Program, which had been set to expire on July 1. More than 40,000 retired teachers across the state depend on the program for their medical coverage.

The bill also eases the state's complicated teacher certification process. The legislation gets rid of much of the red tape that teachers encounter during recertification and gives educators more control of their records during the process.

Another key piece of the legislation keeps the state's respected school construction program in place. Throughout the spring legislative session, Gov. Blagojevich had pushed to change the program so that an agency under his jurisdiction, rather than the independent State Board of Education, would decide which projects got funded.

The governor backed down from that proposal after many legislators and educators expressed concern that the move could lead to construction projects being determined by political considerations instead of according to which schools were in most need of repair.

This week the General Assembly also passed legislation ensuring that President George W. Bush's name will appear on the Illinois ballot this November. Senate Bill 2123 closes a loophole in state election law that would have prevented this year's Republican nominee from being on the general election ballot. Republicans had attempted to pass similar legislation during the fall 2003 legislative session but refused to support the bill after Democrats loaded it with language to overlook election law violations and undo voter fraud protections.

[Illinois Senate Republican Caucus
news release]

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