Friday, May 5

Gov. Blagojevich applauds General Assembly on passing budget     Send a link to a friend

Illinois takes major step toward becoming the only state to give every 3- and 4- year-old access to high-quality preschool

[MAY 5, 2006]  SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich applauded the Illinois General Assembly on Thursday for a successful legislative session and for passing a $45.8 billion operating budget that does not raise taxes and ensures:

  • Illinois will become the only state to start giving all 3- and 4-year-olds in the state access to preschool.

  • Middle-class families will receive help with the high cost of college tuition.

  • Overcrowded schools will have smaller class sizes.

  • Uninsured, low income veterans will have access to health care.

  • Senior citizens will be able to get help for a wide range of needs in one place.

  • More nurses will be trained and ready to serve patients in Illinois.

  • Law enforcement will have DNA results significantly faster as more tests are done in state labs, and more police officers will be on the streets.

  • More women will receive breast and cervical cancer screenings and treatment.

  • Businesses will see the time it takes to receive state licenses reduced from 19 weeks down to one to four weeks.

  • Illinois will guarantee access to affordable, comprehensive health insurance to all children.

  • And, the people of Illinois will not have to worry about the state taking more out of their paychecks in the form of higher taxes.

"This budget is the culmination of four years of changing the priorities of state government --changes that have resulted in seismic shifts in the state budget and the state itself," Blagojevich said. "We're now a state that guarantees health care to every child, a state that gives every child a chance to go to preschool, a state that invests billions more in its schools, a state that helps hundreds of thousands of senior citizens afford their prescription drugs, and a state that helps hundreds of thousands of working men and women purchase affordable health care for their families. We've been able to make all of these changes and do it without raising income or sales taxes by reordering state government -- by running state government with 13,000 fewer employees, by consolidating nearly 20 state agencies, by closing unfair corporate tax loopholes and by aggressively using some of the surplus balances in the special-purpose funds to pay for education and health care. That's what this budget does. And it's what we've been working for over the last four years. I want to thank Senate President Jones and Speaker Madigan for all of the leadership they've shown in helping make this happen."

"This budget reflects the priorities of the people of Illinois," Jones said. "It provides over $400 million in new funding for education. It invests in early childhood learning for at-risk children through universal preschool. It fully funds the MAP grants and creates a grant program to assist middle-income families with the growing burden of college costs. Health care for children, working families, veterans and seniors are also vital concerns that are addressed in this document."

"The FY '07 budget represents a very good collaboration with the Illinois Senate and the governor," Madigan said. "It provides the services to which Illinoisans are entitled. It addresses the unmet needs of young children, college students and our veterans. It is a balanced budget. It will get the job done."

The budget for fiscal 2007 includes significant new investments in education, health care and public safety, as well as new initiatives to streamline state regulations for businesses and clean up the state's riverfronts.

Investing in children

Over four years, Blagojevich dedicated $3.8 billion of new funding for Illinois schools. This represents more new money invested in education than any other state in the Midwest, more than 43 other states in the nation and more than any other administration in one term in Illinois history.

For the fourth consecutive year, Blagojevich has provided a major increase in education funding -- $415 million more for education from pre-kindergarten through high school. The budget also funds new initiatives proposed by the governor, including universal preschool, a pilot program to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade and a grant program for families struggling to afford the high costs of college.

Universal preschool

"Preschool for All" makes Illinois the only state in the nation to begin the process of providing access to high-quality preschool for every 3-year-old and 4-year-old child in the state. The program, which guarantees that in the end approximately 190,000 Illinois children will have the chance to attend preschool, will reach working families who are not able to afford the high cost of private preschool. Funding for preschool programs will increase by $45 million this year, allowing 10,000 more children to get an early start on their education. Students who attend preschool are 20 percent more likely to graduate from high school, 41 percent less likely to need special education and 42 percent less likely to be arrested for committing a violent crime. Studies also show that for every dollar spent on early childhood education, society saves at least $7 through decreased reliance on social services. Participation in the program for parents is voluntary. The Preschool for All legislation, Senate Bill 1497, was sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Westchester, and Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago.

Helping middle-class families pay for college

Building on his ongoing efforts to make college more affordable for students and families, Blagojevich provided the MAP program with its largest increase in 10 years, a boost of 10 percent over fiscal 2006, and created a new program to help middle-income families as well. With a new investment of $34.4 million, Illinois will create MAP Plus to help middle-class families who don't qualify for the traditional MAP program and struggle to afford rising college tuition costs. MAP Plus will provide a grant of $500 per student for sophomores, juniors and seniors who attend college in Illinois and come from families with incomes less than $200,000. An additional increase of $34.4 million will boost MAP grants to their statutory maximum of up to $4,968, which will help more students and their parents afford college. In total, 225,000 students will benefit from the creation of MAP Plus and the additional funding for MAP. Senate Bill 2225 was sponsored by Sen. Edward Maloney, D-Chicago, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, D-Orland Park.

Classroom size reduction

To help reduce class sizes, Blagojevich earmarked $10 million to help schools pay for more teacher salaries and benefits. Senate Bill 2882, sponsored by Sen. Terry Link, D-Lake Bluff, and Rep. Michael Smith, D-Canton, creates a pilot program that will distribute the $10 million award as $50,000 grants equally among suburban, downstate and Chicago Public Schools. More teachers mean smaller classes. And, smaller classes mean more attention for each student from the teacher and a better learning environment.

Increase for higher education

This year's budget includes a $48 million increase for higher education. Universities will receive more than $26 million to help attract and retain the best faculty and increase other school programs, and community college grants will increase by almost $7 million.

After-school programs

In fiscal 2007, after-school programs will receive a $12 million increase to provide educational and extracurricular activities for children after school hours. These programs keep children engaged in productive activities at times when their parents may still be at work.

Foster care

The fiscal 2007 budget includes a $20 million increase to pay for a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment for Department of Children and Family Services foster parents and a similar adjustment for certain Department of Human Services community providers. The increase will improve compensation for those who care for children who have been taken into the state's custody and other vulnerable populations.

Expanding access to health care

Since taking office three years ago, Blagojevich has made health care available to more than 400,000 working people and their children. And at the beginning of fiscal 2007, his All Kids health insurance program will go into effect, giving every uninsured child in Illinois access to affordable, comprehensive health coverage. The governor also created the Illinois Cares Rx program so that no senior would lose coverage after the federal government implemented the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit program, which actually provides Illinois seniors with less coverage than before. While other states cut health care coverage back to balance their budgets in the face of deficits, Blagojevich not only kept coverage intact, but also expanded it.

In the last three years, Illinois has provided free breast and cervical cancer screenings to 98,000 uninsured women; launched the Healthy Women program, offering free health care to 167,000 women; and awarded 77 women's health initiatives grants to fund local education programs. As a result of these and more health care investments, the Kaiser Foundation now ranks Illinois No. 1 in the nation in providing insurance for working adults who don't have access to affordable health care.

Blagojevich believes that health care is a fundamental right. This year's budget furthers that goal by launching a new comprehensive health care program for veterans, in addition to new programs to streamline services for seniors, educate more nurses in Illinois and an increase in funding for lifesaving breast and cervical cancer screenings and treatment.

Veterans Care

After serving their country in the military and putting their lives on the line to defend our freedom, veterans should expect to be treated with dignity when they return home. But too often they are forced to get by without access to affordable health care. In response, Blagojevich worked with state legislators to launch Veterans Care, a new program that will provide affordable and comprehensive health care to an estimated 9,000 veterans who are most likely to fall through the cracks. The new program will help uninsured Illinois veterans ages 19-64 who earn too much to qualify for federal Department of Veterans Affairs assistance or other state health programs. Just as the governor turned KidCare into All Kids, the ultimate goal of Veterans Care is making sure every Illinois veteran can afford health care. Senate Bill 627 was sponsored by Sen. Debbie DeFrancesco Halvorson, D-Chicago Heights, and Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley.

Senior services

In an effort to better serve senior citizens, Blagojevich included $7.8 million in the budget to launch a system for comprehensive case management. The Illinois Department on Aging will implement the first phase of this major initiative, and when fully operational, the system will provide a single point of entry for services, comprehensive assessment and coordination of clients' needs and a broad array of other services. Additionally, through a partnership with the Illinois Housing Development Authority, the Department on Aging will have $2 million in new funding to use for one-time home modifications that will help seniors stay in their homes longer and for emergency rental payments, first-month's deposits and utility bills for seniors transitioning back from nursing homes into communities. This program will join with the existing Community Care program.

In addition, the state will invest $10 million to increase the asset limit for state assistance to $17,500 from the previous $12,500 and provide additional emergency home response and respite services for seniors living at home.

Nursing shortage

To address the severe nursing shortage facing Illinois, the budget includes $1.3 million in nursing education scholarships that will make pursuing a career in nursing education more attractive and more affordable in the state of Illinois. In addition, the governor allocated another $1.5 million for grants to nursing schools to increase the number of graduating nurses, as well as $150,000 for 15 nurse educator fellowships that would supplement faculty salaries. The fiscal 2007 budget also contains funding to create a Center for Nursing that would develop a strategic plan for nursing manpower in Illinois, maintain a database on nursing supply and demand, and create nursing retention and recruitment initiatives. The governor also worked with Sen. Carol Ronen, D-Chicago, and Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, to pass legislation that creates a student loan repayment program for nurse educators.

Residential nursing care

The fiscal 2007 budget provides an additional $30 million in state and federal funding to nursing homes to ensure that they are held harmless as the state transitions to a new method for determining nursing home Medicaid reimbursements.

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Breast and cervical cancer screenings

Blagojevich has consistently made women's health a priority, adding $26.6 million in funding for women's breast and cervical health programs over the last four years. This year, Blagojevich allocated $3.6 million in new funding, plus $2 million more in federal funding, to increase eligibility for lifesaving breast and cervical cancer screenings to women with incomes up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level, which is approximately $25,000 for an individual or $50,000 for a family of four. The expansion makes breast and cervical cancer screening and treatment available for an additional 7,000 women.

Children's mental health services

The new budget includes a $5 million increase for children's mental health services. The increased funding will expand mental health services to children and is based on recommendations made by the Children's Mental Health Partnership.

Minority AIDS outreach

To expand state efforts to slow the disproportionately high rate of HIV/AIDS among minorities, the new budget increases funding by $3 million for programs to combat the disease in the African-American community.

Strengthening public safety

Blagojevich included several new public safety initiatives and funding commitments in the fiscal 2007 budget to better protect people from the destructive cycle of drugs and violent crime. These initiatives follow three years of strong public safety commitments, including increasing the state's investment in DNA testing by $7.3 million from 2004 to 2006 and opening a $12 million state-of-the-art State Emergency Operations Center. Overall, violent crimes committed in Illinois are down 9 percent since 2002 and property crimes are down 6 percent. Additionally, Illinois also is one of only seven states that have achieved the highest level of bioterrorism preparedness, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

New police officers

Blagojevich earmarked $3 million in fiscal 2007 to begin training 100 new Illinois State Police cadets. Two new cadet classes of 50 officers each will be trained in fiscal 2007 -- the first class beginning this summer and the second beginning in June of 2007. In addition, the new budget includes $8.4 million to purchase approximately 300 new police cars.

Prairie State DNA Institute

In order to improve training and retention of forensic scientists and enable the state to bring all DNA testing in-house, where it's less expensive and more efficient, Blagojevich is allocating $500,000 to create a program to offer scholarships at various Illinois universities and $1.8 million to begin planning construction on the Prairie State DNA Institute. While the turnaround time for testing forensic samples was significantly reduced to about 30 days from more than 10 months at the beginning of 2003, delays last year at outside laboratories increased the turnaround time for a forensic sample to 75 days. With the Prairie State DNA Institute, the state will no longer be forced to outsource cases, making the turnaround time to process samples faster and reducing the error rate. The scholarship program will ensure a steady stream of well-trained forensic scientists at the lab, who would train for a period of time while they're still in college and in return would be obligated to work in state labs for four years.

Combating meth

Blagojevich provided full funding in the fiscal 2007 budget for the creation of a specialized 200-bed treatment unit at the 667-bed Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center for inmates with meth addictions. The new unit, which will receive $1.9 million from the state and $4.78 million from the federal government, will be modeled after the Sheridan National Model Drug Prison & Reentry program, which has shown tremendous success, with a reincarceration rate that is nearly 50 percent lower than other groups. In Illinois, the number of meth labs dismantled grew from 24 in 1997 to 961 in 2004. In the last three years, Illinois has provided law enforcement with more tools to fight meth and made it easier for prosecutors to go after meth-makers. Illinois laws regarding meth are among the toughest in the nation.

In addition, a new investment of $1.6 million will allow the state to implement pilot programs in 19 counties to improve security around anhydrous ammonia tanks and reduce methamphetamine production.

Preparing prisoners for re-entry

New funding of $5.7 million will enable the Department of Corrections to increase programming in support of parolee re-entry, including interview skills and transitional employment. These efforts to prepare inmates to return to their communities will build on the governor's emphasis on reducing recidivism.

The fiscal 2007 budget also includes $6.7 million to open a portion of Thomson Correctional Center to house minimum-security inmates. The facility will open Sept. 1.

Promoting renewable energy and preserving the environment

Home-grown fuels

In order to help reduce our reliance on foreign oil and promote cleaner locally made fuels, in the coming year the state will provide $20 million for investments in alternative fuel and renewable fuel facilities -- biodiesel and ethanol -- and $5 million for renewable fuels research at Southern Illinois University and Western Illinois University.

Preserving natural habitat

In the coming fiscal year, the state will invest $29 million to preserve open space: $15 million for the purchase of hunting lands; $12 million for increased grants from the popular Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development Program; and $2 million, as well as $4.5 million over three years, to begin to conduct an inventory of natural areas.

Economic development and business growth

Riverfront redevelopment

The General Assembly passed the governor's River Edge Redevelopment Initiative, which will encourage developers to clean up and develop environmentally contaminated riverfronts. Riverfronts in downtown areas are ideal for commercial, retail and residential use, but because these areas are often environmentally contaminated as a result of former industrial use, developing these sites can cost 20 percent to 40 percent more than uncontaminated sites. The River Edge Initiative designates redevelopment zones that have economic development potential in areas adjacent to rivers, but the costs of redevelopment have made attracting investment extremely difficult. Redevelopment zones will be eligible to receive tax credits, exemptions and potentially new grant funding to support cleanup, remediation and redevelopment efforts that will lead to economic revitalization in these areas. This innovative new pilot program will be launched in Aurora, Rockford and East St. Louis and will provide developers and businesses with the critical tools to revive and redevelop abandoned or contaminated properties. Senate Bill 17 was sponsored by Sen. James Clayborne, D-East St. Louis, and Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora.

Expanded air and passenger rail service

In fiscal 2007, the state will boost its investment in Amtrak by more than $12 million, allowing passenger rail service to start new lines serving Springfield, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Carbondale and Quincy. The governor's budget includes $1.6 million in grants to promote regional commuter air service at Quincy Regional Airport, Decatur Airport and Williamson County Regional Airport. This funding is expected to attract more air carriers to those areas and expand passenger air service.

Licensing reform

To further improve the state's ability to create and retain jobs, Blagojevich included $1.6 million to simplify and streamline the licensing process for doctors, nurses, accountants, realtors, roofers, appraisers, real estate brokers, barbers, beauticians and almost 200 other professions. To do this, the Illinois Department of Finance and Professional Regulation is installing a new system to capture applicant data for all licenses quickly and accurately. The department will also streamline the applications, reducing the time it takes a professional to fill it out and review it. More than 1 million people rely on the state to grant or renew their professional license, but the licensing process can take up to 19 weeks. With the new licensing reform in place, the time it takes to complete the process will be reduced to only one to four weeks.

Minority job training

A $6.4 million investment in fiscal 2007 will be used to improve minority participation in pre-apprentice and apprenticeship programs. In addition, funding for local and regional work force training and community development activities will be increased by $10 million.

Film tax credit

Over the last two years, the film industry in Illinois has taken off. To keep it going, Blagojevich will sign legislation enhancing Illinois' film and television production tax credit.

Senate Bill 2030, proposed by the governor and sponsored by state Sen. Rickey Hendon, D-Chicago, and state Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, increases the film tax credit, making productions in Illinois even more attractive. In 2005, production revenue increased to an estimated $94 million, which led to approximately 15,000 people being hired by various film and television projects.

Making government smaller

To continue streamlining state government, Blagojevich created a shared services initiative to combine state agency "back-office" functions. The state currently has as many as nine payroll systems, 38 human resource systems, 104 fiscal systems, 95 call centers and 100 "1-800" numbers. Shared services will eliminate many of these duplicate and redundant services. Also, with as many as 23,000 employees of the baby boomer age set to retire from state government within the next 10 years, shared services will allow for a better knowledge transfer so that younger workers can learn from more experienced workers. This initiative will combine administrative functions across state agencies to reduce operating costs and head count. These functions include human resources, payroll and benefits, accounting, procurement, and benefits. Agencies will be grouped into clusters based on similar purposes -- for example, public safety, social services and infrastructure. The shared services initiative applies only to administrative functions, not the actual substantive responsibility of each agency. When fully implemented, this initiative could save taxpayers more than $115 million a year.

= = =

In summary, Blagojevich's fiscal 2007 budget makes significant investments in:

  • Education

    • $415 million increase for K-12

    • Universal preschool

    • Creation of MAP Plus to help middle-class families pay for college

    • $34 million expansion of funding for the current MAP program

    • New grants for classroom size reduction

    • $48 million increase for higher education

  • Health care

    • Provides health care to every uninsured child

    • Launches Veterans Care to cover uninsured veterans

    • Reduces the nursing shortage

    • Makes breast and cervical cancer screenings available to more women

  • Job creation

    • Expands tax credits that help businesses create jobs

    • Streamlines taxes and regulations to save businesses time and money

    • Reduces red tape and simplifies the licensing process for hundreds of professions

  • Public safety

    • Provides funding for new police officers and new police cars

    • Creates a new facility designed to help incarcerated meth addicts recover

    • Launches the Prairie State DNA Institute

  • Streamlines government and cuts costs through the shared services initiative, which combines state agency "back-office" functions.

  • And for the fourth consecutive budget, does all of this without asking the hardworking people of Illinois for more of their money in income taxes or sales taxes.

[News release from the governor's office]

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