The General Assembly returns to Springfield for a special session on June 19; however, with the Legislature’s Democrat leaders at an impasse and the Governor unable or unwilling to take charge, the prospects for a major breakthrough appear slim.
Senators could be asked to vote on a “hybrid” plan that melds two competing and contradictory proposals. But, with no commitment from the House Speaker to allow a vote on the hybrid, it may suffer the same fate as previous measures, even if it does pass the Senate.
In the House, a union-backed plan was stripped of its content and replaced with the same plan that failed to win support from Senate Democrats at the end of May.
Cost-Shift on Agenda
Also up for debate in the Senate could be a plan (Senate Bill 1687) to shift pension costs to universities and community colleges. The shift is a major goal of House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has also sought to move more pension costs onto downstate and suburban school districts.
But opponents of the cost-shift argue it will result in property tax increases for community colleges and higher tuition costs for both community college and university students. It failed in the Senate on a 21-33 vote at the end of May, but Senate rules allow it to be brought back for another vote.
The Senate has scheduled a committee hearing on June 18, to discuss the cost-shift, as well as alternative pension reforms for universities and community colleges.
The hybrid pension plan in the Senate would likely include provisions of Senate Bill 1, the comprehensive measure that passed the House but failed in the Senate, as well as the contents of Senate Bill 2404, which passed the Senate but has now been gutted in the House.
The more far-reaching cost-saving measures in Senate Bill 1 would go into effect first. If those measures are struck down by the courts, then the weaker provisions of Senate Bill 2404 would become effective.
A similar hybrid effort passed the Senate earlier in the year, but with the bare minimum number of votes required. With the May 31 end-of-session deadline now past, legislation needs an extraordinary majority to go into effect immediately. So, it is likely that neither the hybrid bill nor the resurrected House plan would go into effect before July 2014, even if one of the measures passes.
Prospects for a resolution appeared dim at week’s end as both sides seemed to be hardening their positions. Although the Governor has consistently claimed that pension reform is his top priority, he has shown little interest in actively lobbying legislators of his own party.
Speaker Pushing Pension Cost Shift
Shifting pension costs to local taxpayers has long been a priority of the House Speaker and a deep concern for suburban and downstate lawmakers of both parties. Although the Speaker originally targeted local school districts – calling state funding of teacher pensions a “Free Lunch” – strong bipartisan opposition forced him to focus instead on universities and community colleges at the end of the spring legislative session.
The “Free Lunch” claim was debunked by a Senate Republican study (http://www.senategop.state.il.us/News/NewsDetails/tabid/120/nid/475/r/4/Default.aspx) which instead revealed that it is the Chicago Public Schools that have benefitted disproportionately from the state’s school funding formulas.
Right-to-Carry Awaits Governor
Some lawmakers have also expressed hope that the special session could be used to address any action the Governor may take on concealed-carry legislation, which allows citizens to obtain permits to carry a concealed weapon in public.
Although House Bill 183 won approval with veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate, many expect Quinn to either veto or amend the measure. A veto or amendatory veto would send the bill back to the Legislature, where lawmakers could either override the veto or accept or reject any changes the Governor might propose.
Illinois is under a federal court order requiring the state to adopt concealed-carry legislation.
If the Governor acts before the June 19 special session date, lawmakers could take action while in Springfield, enabling the state to meet the federal court deadline without having to go through the expense of calling another special session.
Governor Signs Bills into Law
Measures signed into law during the week address Internet betting on horses, a state contract with its largest public employee union, and foreclosure grants.
Internet Betting on Horse Races (SB 1884/PA 98-0018): Reauthorizes Advanced Deposit Wagering (ADW), which is a form of internet betting on horse racing. The authority expired Jan. 1, 2013 and will now be extended to Jan. 31, 2014. Also retroactively provides that any track that conducted ADW on or after January 1, 2013 is deemed validated, provided all taxes are remitted. (Twin Spires, TVG and Express Bet all continued to conduct ADW late into the month of January, past the sunset date). The measure directs a one-time transfer from the Gaming Fund of $92 million to the School Infrastructure Fund, and ongoing annual transfers to the School Infrastructure Fund of $66.3 million; at today’s low bond interest rates this $60 million a year could pay for $1 billion in school construction bonds. Also creates the Chicago State University (CSU) Education Improvement Fund as a special fund in the State Treasury, and provides that beginning July 1, 2013 and every year thereafter $1.6 million will be transferred from the State Gaming Fund into the CSU Education Improvement Fund.
AFSCME Contract (SB 1515/PA 98-0019): Incorporates components of the recently negotiated AFSCME contract regarding retiree health insurance. Requires the Department of Central Management Services (CMS) to offer a program of group health benefits for retirees 65 and older. Allows the director of CMS to develop a state group insurance incentive opt-out program for annuitants with 20 years or more service that are not yet Medicare eligible. Also gives the State Treasurer the discretion to determine if any monies in the Treasurer’s Rental Fee Fund are in excess of the amount necessary, and transfer unobligated and unexpended moneys from the Fund into the State Pensions Fund. Additionally, allows the Treasurer the discretion to determine if a balance of $2.5 million in the Unclaimed property Trust Fund is sufficient to promptly pay out all unclaimed property claims and to keep more money in the Fund if the Treasurer determines that the amount is not sufficient.
Foreclosure Grants (SB 1674/PA 98-0020): Restricts the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) to no more than 4% of the annual appropriation of the foreclosure prevention program to be used for administrative overhead. This is a follow up to Senate Bill 16 (PA 97-1164) which created an expedited foreclosure process for abandoned residential property and created a foreclosure prevention program.