Comptroller calls for ‘realistic approach’ to budget discussions

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SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza is imploring the General Assembly to be realistic with revenue projections this year to avoid adding to the state’s backlog of unpaid bills.

A compromise budget passed last  year was hailed as balanced by many lawmakers, but will actually add $1.5 billion to $2 billion to the state’s backlog, which was estimated about $7.3 billion as of Thursday.

One year ago, the General Assembly passed Mendoza’s Debt Transparency Act, mandating state agencies to provide accurate monthly reports on liabilities, including the escalating cost of interest penalties. This allowed budgeteers to identify which agencies lacked adequate appropriations to process their bills and account for it in negotiations.

Even with the adequate debt information, Mendoza said, a budget cannot be balanced without accurate revenue projections.

Shortfalls in last year’s budget come from various sources, including false revenues from the non-existent sale of the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago. It also included savings from proposals, such as a pension buyout plan, that will potentially fall short for the current fiscal year, the comptroller’s news release said.

Other key findings Mendoza listed in her report include: 

• The unpaid bill backlog continues to force the Office of the Comptroller into crisis management, impede timely bill processing, cause instability for state programs, and creates unnecessary and costly late payment interest penalties.

• Given that the fiscal year 2019 budget also failed to address the current backlog of bills, taking significant steps in fiscal year 2019 to pay down the backlog of unpaid bills – or even keep it static – is impossible.

• Temporary tools to manage the backlog granted under the current budget do not resolve systemic budgetary issues. Dedicated funding is needed to lower the bill backlog.

Step increases coming to AFSCME workers

Illinois AFSCME union employees will receive their scheduled and long-withheld pay step increases starting in April, a spokesperson for Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced this week.

Step increases are required by state law to be paid to employees in their first eight to 10 years because they start at a below-market rate as a savings to government. Former Gov. Bruce Rauner halted them in 2015 when AFSCME’s last contract expired.

Pritzker promised to pay the step increases – which were mandated to be paid by court order anyway – in his first week in office.

The increase is expected to cost about $50 million, and Pritzker’s office said employees will begin seeing this reflected in their paychecks in the first half of April, although some agencies could require more time to adjust paychecks.

Medical marijuana an alternative to prescribed opioids

Patients over the age of 21 who are prescribed opioids will have temporary access to medical marijuana as an alternative treatment after the state’s Opioid Alternative Pilot Program began accepting patients Thursday.

Under the program, patients must obtain a physician’s certification of a condition which could require the prescription of an opioid. Such a prescription could be taken to a dispensary to receive medical marijuana for a fixed period of time.

The Illinois Department of Public Health’s rules regulating the program can be found on their website at www.dph.illinois.gov.

The bill went live just a week after downstate Democratic Sen. Andy Manar, of Bunker Hill, and Chicago Democrats Sen. Heather Steans and Rep. Kelly Cassidy hosted a Springfield town hall to discuss the legalization of cannabis recreationally. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said he would embrace such a proposal.

Demmer proposes term limits for legislative leaders

State Rep. Tom Demmer, a Dixon Republican, has filed a bill to limit terms for legislative leaders – such as powerful House Speaker Mike Madigan – in the General Assembly.

Demmer filed an amendment to the Illinois Constitution to limit the number of years any lawmaker could serve as speaker of the House of Representatives, president of the Senate, minority leader of the House or minority leader of the Senate.

Per the amendment, legislative leaders would be limited to serving for a total of eight years in any one position and 12 years combined in two or more positions.

Speaker Madigan is the longest-serving state house speaker in U.S. history and was first elected in 1983.

The powerful House Rules Committee headed by one of Madigan’s main lieutenants – Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) – controls the flow of any bill filed in the House and would have the power to prevent its committee hearing.

Senate rules approved unanimously

While the rules for the Illinois House’s 101st General Assembly were contested then approved on partisan lines, things went more smoothly in the Senate.

The upper chamber added a provision in its rules to allow any senator to file a committee amendment to a bill that provides appropriations for state spending. Previously, only the bill’s sponsor or a member of the committee considering the bill could file such an amendment.

State Sen. Dale Righter, a Mattoon Republican, said he was thankful for the amendment, which he said should make things “interesting.”

Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, said he wanted to “highlight the fact that we handle things differently in the Senate” than in the House.

Pritzker makes appointments

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced more appointments and agency heads this week. They include state agency directors: Ngozi Ezike as director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, and Jaime E. Martinez as director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Ezike is a board-certified internist and pediatrician who comes to IDPH from Cook County Health, where she has served for more than 15 years. Martinez currently serves as executive director of Illinois Joining Forces, a nationally-recognized statewide nonprofit and public-private partnership that brings services and support to veterans at the community level. He is a 26-year Army combat veteran.

Both appointments will require Senate approval.

Pritzker also appointed Ramon Gardenhire as his deputy chief of staff for policy. Gardenhire currently serves as the vice president of policy for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, overseeing AFC’s advocacy and policy work at the federal, state and local level.

Pat Collier will serve as Pritzker’s deputy chief of staff for federal affairs. Collier previously served as policy director on Pritzker’s campaign and was the director of government affairs for the Center for American Progress, a progressive Washington think tank.

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via The Southern

February 1, 2019 at 06:14AM

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