Senator Syverson’s Week in Review: March 23 – 27, 2015

Springfield – By working in good faith across party lines, Gov. Bruce Rauner brought Senate and House lawmakers together to negotiate a fix to the $1.6 billion hole in the current budget. The solution was passed by lawmakers one year to the day after Gov. Pat Quinn outlined his budget plan—which seriously underfunded a number of state programs and services, said State Senator Dave Syverson (R-Rockford).

In other news, a Chicago-area film studio has returned a $10 million grant after media reports revealed the funds, which were distributed by the Quinn Administration in the final weeks of his term, were intended to purchase property later found to not actually be for sale. The funds were later returned at the Gov. Rauner’s request.

Facing a March 27 deadline to move legislation through the committee process, hundreds of bills were considered by legislative committees this week, while dozens more were approved by the full Senate.

Senate passes current-year budget fix

Senator Syverson joined a bipartisan majority of lawmakers to pass legislation that will enable Governor Bruce Rauner to fill a $1.6 billion hole in the fiscal year 2015 budget.

“Today we took a tough vote to plug a massive $1.6 billion hole in the current year budget,” said State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-Rockford). “No one likes the cuts contained in the legislation, and no one wants to make cuts like this, but the simple fact is that former Governor Pat Quinn and Democrat leaders passed an unbalanced budget last year and this what we have to do to clean up that mess.”

The legislative package will enable the Governor to move money around to fill holes in the current budget, including several areas where funds had already run out, or were about to, including payments to daycares and salaries for prison guards and court reporters.

The legislation enacts across the board cuts for many agencies and government functions, and pulls some money from the state road fund. However, according to analysis from Governor Rauner’s office, no current state road projects will be cut, and cuts in school funding will be minimized by additional resources that will help replace funds for schools dependent on state aid.

Governor Rauner has repeatedly promised to increase funding for elementary and secondary education in the FY16 budget, and plans to push through a massive capital construction program for the coming year as well.

“The reality is that today was just the first of many very tough votes that will be required to fix our budget problems,” said Senator Syverson. “Our goal in the end is to put Illinois financial house back in order after 12 years of irresponsible spending by the Majority party and the last 2 governors.”

Lawmakers to Focus on FY 16 budget

With the Fiscal Year 2015 budget shortfall addressed, lawmakers will now shift their focus to the upcoming budget for Fiscal Year 2016, which starts July 1.

Gov. Rauner presented his fiscal proposal in February, which aims to balance the state budget in the face of a projected $6 billion shortfall—the repercussion of years of reckless budgeting that occurred during 12 years of absolute Democrat control of state government.

Film studio returns grant

A Chicago-based film studio has returned an eyebrow-raising $10 million grant after Gov. Rauner demanded its return. A Senate Republican lawmaker has requested the Attorney General look into the matter.

A March 21 report by the Chicago Sun-Times showed that Cinespace Chicago Film Studios was awarded the $10 million grant by Gov. Quinn in December 2014 for the stated purpose of buying industrial land around its west-side studio facility where TV shows and movies are produced.

But the article also pointed out that the properties may not actually be for sale, and identified several other potential issues:

Quinn’s administration gave Cinespace the $10 million without any appraisals to justify the projected purchase prices listed by the studio’s owners.

The former governor’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity had nothing to show that Cinespace had pending contracts to buy any of the properties or had been in negotiations to buy them.

The state agency gave Cinespace the ability to buy just about any land it wants, allowing it to “substitute properties . . . in the event the applicant is unable to successfully negotiate the purchase of the listed properties.” Cinespace would need the state’s permission to do so. It has not asked for that.

The grant went out even though the studio’s owners had trouble complying with reporting requirements on another grant the studio had gotten under Quinn. In 2012, the state sent Cinespace four “not in compliance” letters. The state then suspended the $1.3 million construction grant because the studio hadn’t turned in “project status reports” on time — an issue that wasn’t resolved until March 2014, records show. Even as the Quinn administration was sending those letters, the state gave the studio three other grants totaling $16 million.

After the story broke, Gov. Rauner ordered Cinespace to return the grant to the state, which the studio did, with interest.

State Sen. Tim Bivins (R-Dixon) noted that the large grant was awarded despite the state’s multi-billion dollar backlog of bills and unbalanced budget. Bivins said the former Governor’s action demonstrated an “utter disregard for the resources provided by Illinois taxpayers.”

Senate Executive Committee advances major bills

Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) moved two health-related bills through the Executive Committee during the week.

The Executive Committee approved Radogno’s Senate Bill 986, which would require employees at any childcare facility that cares for children ages six or younger to receive measles and rubella vaccinations. Employees would be exempt from the requirement if they can provide proof that they had the illness and are now immune. The legislation was inspired by recent outbreaks of serious diseases in Illinois, which affected some children too young to be vaccinated.

Another measure, Senate Bill 987, would create the Down Syndrome Awareness Act, requiring the Illinois Department of Public Health to make available up-to-date, evidence-based written information about Down Syndrome to the parents of a child diagnosed with Down Syndrome. According to Senator Radogno, at this time many parents don’t have medically-reliable information about the condition or the numerous recent advancements made in caring for children with Down Syndrome.

 
Senator Syverson watches as the votes are tallied on the budget-fix legislation.

 
Senator Syverson welcomes nursing students from Northern Illinois University to the Capitol.

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