With just over three weeks remaining in the 2016 spring legislative session, Illinois has entered its eleventh month without a state budget. However, recent action in the Senate to advance bipartisan budget measures for higher education and social service providers have some lawmakers hopeful a timely resolution to the impasse is possible.
While a majority of Senate lawmakers were able to come together on May 5 to advance additional funding for the state’s public universities, community colleges and students, a Senate proposal to restructure the state’s education funding formula for K-12 education failed to advance after data released by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) showed the legislation would funnel hundreds of millions of dollars in state education resources to Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
However, lawmakers did approve a resolution that will give voters the chance to weigh in on a constitutional amendment to protect road fund dollars from being diverted and used for other purposes; voters will see the question on their ballots in November. Also this week, law enforcement officials from all over Illinois arrived on Statehouse grounds to pay tribute to those officers killed in the line of duty, and park and conservation district representatives held their annual legislative day in the State Capitol.
Senate moves yet another bipartisan budget measure to House
The Illinois Senate passed legislation to direct greater funding for students who receive Monetary Assistance Program (MAP) grants, ensure universities and community colleges can remain open, and provide more certainty for students, faculty and staff during the state’s ongoing budget impasse.
Senate Bill 2048 would bring funding for all public universities, community colleges and MAP grants, up to 60 percent. The proposal acts a supplement to another “stop gap” appropriations bill that was recently signed into law (SB 2059), but through which only one state university received 60 percent funding. The measure approved by lawmakers on May 5 would increase parity and provide significant financial relief to the other institutions of higher education, dedicating $454 million in available revenues to bring them all up to 60 percent funding.
“This provides a much more fair level to all of our colleges and universities, and will help more low-income students stay in school,” said Sen. Syverson. “My hope is that we can use the momentum from this compromise to finally reach an agreement on a complete and balanced budget, along with adequate revenue, while providing much-needed reforms to state government.”
The bipartisan approval of Senate Bill 2048 was another recent example of the willingness of Senate lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to work together to advance meaningful legislation. In late April, the Illinois Senate approved a measure, which the Governor has indicated he will sign, that would appropriate $441 million to help pay for critical human service programs.
Despite the strong bipartisan support in the Senate, both pieces of legislation are now in awaiting consideration in the House of Representatives. It is uncertain whether House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) will allow the proposals to be considered by House lawmakers.
Flawed school funding plan pending in Senate
Downstate and suburban school districts could lose hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid every year under a school funding formula currently being debated at the state Capitol, according to data released by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).
Initial numbers released by the State Board of Education would have led to losses in downstate and suburban districts totaling upwards of $345 million. According to the data from ISBE, Senate Bill 231 would have pulled nearly $120 million in funding from downstate schools, $121 million from collar county schools, and $102 million from North Cook County schools, all to redirect more than $352 million to the Chicago Public School District (CPS).
On May 4, the Senate Executive Committee held a subject matter only hearing on a new amendment to Senate Bill 231 that would still result in losses totaling around $197 million in suburban and downstate districts, while funneling $174 million to Chicago Public Schools.
Senate Republicans criticized the measure as a major step backward in the effort to reform the state’s current school funding formula, noting the proposal appeared to be little more than a plan to funnel downstate and suburban dollars into the bankrupt Chicago school system.
While lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree the current school funding formula is broken and needs to be fixed, Senate Republicans say SB 231 is not the answer to the problem. As an alternative, Senate Republican legislators have advocated for continued work to develop a new formula..
In the meantime, they said the state can offer school districts certainty through full funding of General State Aid for the first time in seven years. Sponsor of Senate Bill 231, State Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) have resisted that idea, with Cullerton going so far as to suggest that all K-12 funding be held up until Manar’s formula is passed into law.
Republicans have stressed that no schools should be held hostage in order to force a bailout of Chicago Public Schools.
Voters will see measure to protect road funds on November ballot
Voters in November will be given the opportunity to decide if funding for the state’s roads should be off limits to other agencies or programs, due to a proposed state constitutional amendment approved by the General Assembly this week known as the “Transportation Fund Lock Box.”
“Illinois residents depend on our transportation infrastructure every day,” said Sen. Syverson. "So they should be able to decide whether to protect road funds from being used to plug budget holes or fund other programs.”
Intended to end Road Fund diversions, the amendment states that any revenue collected from transportation-related activities (registration fees, gas taxes, and mass transit fees) is only spendable on road construction, maintenance, and other related transportation expenses.
Since 2003, nearly $7 billion has been swept out of the Road Fund and diverted elsewhere—money that was intended to repair Illinois’ roads and bridges. According to an audit completed in May 2013, less than half of Road Fund expenditures went toward road construction costs in 2011 and 2012.
The constitutional amendment, co-sponsored by Senator Syverson, passed with overwhelming support from both parties in the Legislature.
Other proposed amendments to the Illinois Constitution failed to advance out of the General Assembly this spring, including proposals to change the way legislative district boundaries are drawn, to eliminate the Lieutenant Governor’s office, and to change the state’s flat tax rate to a graduated rate.
Police Officers gather at the Capitol to honor fallen
On every marked police patrol cruiser in Illinois is the saying, “To protect and serve.” The police officers gathered around the Police Memorial Statue at the Capitol building May 5 know the price of protecting and serving their communities better than most.
Police officers from around the state began their tribute to the fallen by driving from the State Fairgrounds to the Capitol building with a looping route around downtown Springfield, emergency lights flashing. The motorcade included modern police cruisers, motorcycles and patrol cars from past decades.
The procession concluded at the Police Memorial Statue on the east side of Capitol. There, the solemn event included police bagpipes and drums, guest speakers, and a reading of the names of officers lost in the line of duty.
Parks Day at Illinois State Capitol
Members of the Illinois Association of Park Districts descended upon the Capitol on May 4 to discuss legislation and concerns affecting park districts, forest preserves, conservation, and recreation agencies.
More than 45 park districts from around the state were in Springfield this week, with association members setting up booths and displays on the first floor of the Capitol building as legislators visited with their local park representatives and others around the state to discuss their concerns and legislative priorities.
The Illinois Association of Park Districts is a research and education organization that advances the ability to provide park and recreation opportunities, preserve natural resources, and improve the quality of life for people in Illinois.