State gets F in
pension funding, college affordability
services struggling while governor holds funding
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[December 08, 2008]
SPRINGFIELD -- The outgoing
Senate president used a legislative maneuver to guarantee that
lawmakers won't have an opportunity to override a veto of
approximately $55 million allocated for historic sites, health
facilities and other state programs, said state Sen. Larry Bomke,
Bomke explained that Gov. Rod Blagojevich partially vetoed $55
Senate Bill 1103 on Nov. 20, a measure that initially contained
$231 million to keep a variety of state programs and facilities open
and operating. As a result, 12 historic sites were forced to
indefinitely close, numerous health and human services programs have
seen funding slashed, and 85 workers have been laid off.
The General Assembly had already adjourned before receiving notice
that the governor amendatorily vetoed the legislation. Ordinarily,
that would have meant that lawmakers would need to wait until the
legislature reconvenes in January to review the governor's action.
But because Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, convened a
"perfunctory" session day on Nov. 21, Senate Bill 1103 was
officially accepted into the Senate's records. Under the state
constitution, that began a 15-day countdown for lawmakers to act.
Since Jones won't call lawmakers back to Springfield until January,
the cuts automatically go into effect once the 15 days pass
(effective Dec. 6).
These vetoes include $2.1 million for the Council on Food and
Agricultural Research; $32 million that was included to restore the
constitutional officer budgets, including funding for the attorney
general, lieutenant governor, comptroller, secretary of state and
treasurer; $2.4 million for the Historic Preservation Agency, which
was intended to prevent closure of state historic sites; $5.4
million for psychological screening at the Department of Children
and Family Services; $3 million for the Excellence in Academic
Medicine program at the Department of Healthcare and Family
Services; $1 million for the Alzheimer's Association of Illinois;
and $1 million for the ALS Association of Greater Chicago.
Bomke noted that even though Blagojevich did not veto the funding
for state parks, seven of the 11 state parks initially selected for
closure have announced plans to shut down. Although the funding is
available to keep the parks open, the governor does not have to
spend the money -- instead he may selectively choose which funds he
will release. As a result, many parks are proceeding with closure.
Ongoing budget problems have also led the Blagojevich
administration to request that Illinois' universities cut 2.5
percent of their budgets, meaning that the state's four-year
colleges would lose approximately $35 million. Community colleges
would see an almost $8 million decrease.
Though many universities were prepared to cut back, having been
warned of impending cuts by governor's staff in early fall, this is
serious financial blow to state colleges and universities -- which
have seen budgets cut by $21 million since 2003.
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While state funding has gone down, tuition at the public
universities has increased by an average of 82.8 percent. As a
result, Illinois recently received an F in affordability according
to the National Center of Public Policy and Higher Education's 2006
The National Report Card on Higher Education report.
Illinois' universities aren't the only state assets in need of a
revenue infusion. As a way to address economic woes associated with
the state's retirement systems, state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias
has introduced a plan that he says will save the state a purported
$50 million to $80 million annually by consolidating the state's
five pension systems.
Lawmakers have cautiously greeted the proposal, questioning the
actual savings -- which may be significantly less than initially
anticipated when taking into account what some say could be millions
of dollars in transition costs.
While the plan would not change the benefits promised to the
270,000 teachers, university and state employees, lawmakers, and
judges in the state retirement systems, it would change the way the
five state pension plans invest money. The treasurer says that
pooling investments would reduce administrative costs and fees.
The proposal also relies on implementing pension reform measures,
which have been long-sought by the Senate Republican caucus. Bomke
did support the ethics reforms included in the treasurer's plan,
which target fraud and abuse.
Currently, Illinois holds the unfortunate title of the most
poorly funded pension system in the United States, with a combined
debt of almost $44 billion. At this time the state's retirement
systems are only about 63 percent funded. The overwhelming debt
burden poses a significant liability -- particularly because the
pension systems accumulate 8.5 percent interest each year, or more
than $3.6 billion annually.
[Text from file sent on behalf of
Larry Bomke by Illinois
Senate Republican staff]