Saturday, February 20, 2010
sponsored by

Senate week in review: public hearings for redistricting, pension funding woes and more

Send a link to a friend

[February 20, 2010]  SPRINGFIELD -- Two resolutions were filed on Thursday that state Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, said would amend the Illinois Constitution with reforms that would take the power of drawing legislative maps out of lawmakers' hands and place it into the hands of an independent commission.

House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 56 and Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 104 take an initiative sponsored by the League of Women Voters and other government reform groups and put it into legislation for General Assembly passage.

The current redistricting process allows legislative leaders to draw district boundaries behind closed doors. The constitutional amendment would require public hearings, ensure public display of proposed maps and allow public submission of proposed maps. Since 2001, incumbents have had a 98 percent re-election rate; passage of the amendment will encourage competition and promote diversity.


According to state law, in order for the constitutional amendment to appear on the ballot in November, the General Assembly must pass it with a three-fifths majority by May 2, six months before the election.

Also this week, the Senate Executive Committee approved legislation on Wednesday that would authorize two types of short-term borrowing, despite Republican concerns that the state continues to defer making tough decisions on how to fix its fiscal problems.

Senate Bill 416 would allow most public universities, except the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Northeastern, to use short-term borrowing for up to 75 percent of the money owed to them by the state. The universities would then repay the borrowing when they receive the money they are owed by the state.

Republicans primarily objected to a second borrowing component contained in the bill that would allow Gov. Quinn use short-term borrowing for $250 million for Medicaid expenses without approval from the comptroller and treasurer. Currently the governor must receive authorization from the comptroller and treasurer to commence short-term borrowing.

Proponents of the legislation argued that the state should allow universities to borrow money since the state's delayed payments have created their money woes. Currently the state owes all public universities approximately $735 million. Proponents also say that the Medicaid borrowing will free up the revenue to pay Illinois' health care providers, who have suffered for years, waiting months to receive the reimbursements they are owed from the state.

However, opponents question why Democrat lawmakers tied the money for higher education to the Medicaid funding and expressed concern that the measure simply "kicks the can down the road" with another short-term budget fix. Since 2003, Illinois Democrats have used short-term borrowing for $11 billion, with interest topping $100 million. Bomke said that instead of pushing off the state's problems and paying so much interest, Illinois should confront its budget woes head-on.

Additionally, critics noted that there are no provisions outlining how the governor would pay back the money, and questioned why -- if the governor has such a good financing plan -- there is a need to bypass the comptroller and the treasurer and borrow more money without their approval.

It's speculated that the legislation is necessary because it's unlikely that Comptroller Dan Hynes will approve additional borrowing. In late 2009, Hynes refused to authorize a short-term borrowing measure being pushed by Quinn, saying that Illinois already has to repay more than $2 billion in short-term borrowing that was undertaken earlier that year and that it would be difficult for the state to repay any additional borrowing.

Having been approved by the Senate Executive Committee, Senate Bill 416 now progresses to the full Senate for consideration. Because the measure authorizes a general obligation bond, the bill requires three-fifths approval of the Senate before it can move to the House for further debate.

This week Illinois' woefully underfunded pension systems were highlighted in a report released by the respected research group the Pew Center on the States, which found that Illinois ranks dead last when it comes to funding the state's pension systems.

[to top of second column]

According to the report, Illinois' unfunded liability surpasses $54 billion -- or only slightly more than half of what the state needs to pay benefits to its five state retirement funds. The Pew Center noted that only 54 percent of the state's pension liability is funded, which is far below the 80 percent funding level recommended by experts.

It was also noted that Illinois has consistently deferred making its required payments into the systems, "paying less than 60 percent of the required amount in each year since 2005" and issuing "$3.5 billion in bonds to pay for its 2010 actuarially required contribution."

The Pew Center's study only researched pension funds through fiscal 2008 and does not even account for the recent stock market crash -- and the serious impact that had on the value of state pension investments.


Bills approved by Senate committees this week:

Aggravated assault (SB 2488): Raises the penalty on aggravated assault against a police officer when the offender uses a deadly weapon.

Forfeiture (SBS 2551): Creates a public corruption profit forfeiture provision requiring forfeiture of profits and proceeds derived from a criminal public corruption offense that resulted in a criminal conviction, including automatic forfeiture of all political contributions held by a political committee or organization controlled by the convicted person.

Meth precursor (SB 2952): Raises all penalties by one penalty level on the illegal purchase, receipt or acquisition of more than 7,500 milligrams of methamphetamine precursors ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, within a 30-day period.

Veterans' taxes (SB 2350): Allows returning veterans to claim a $5,000 exemption in the tax year following the year in which they return if their primary residence is first acquired when they return.

Business district development (SB 2523): Amends the Business District Development and Redevelopment Act to allow a municipality to create an advisory board of directors.

Municipal local improvement (SB 2614): Provides that when the corporate authorities of a municipality propose a local improvement that is estimated to cost more than $1 million (currently $200,000), the municipality may post notice of the proposed ordinance on the municipal Web site instead of publishing the notice.

[Text from file sent on behalf of Sen. Larry Bomke by Illinois Senate Republican staff]

< Top Stories index

Back to top


News | Sports | Business | Rural Review | Teaching and Learning | Home and Family | Tourism | Obituaries

Community | Perspectives | Law and Courts | Leisure Time | Spiritual Life | Health and Fitness | Teen Scene
Calendar | Letters to the Editor