Senator Syverson’s Week in Review: October 12 – 16, 2015

SPRINGFIELD – The Senate and the House of Representatives are both set to return to Springfield Oct. 20, and State Senator Dave Syverson (R-Rockford) remains hopeful that Democrats will take this opportunity to work with Republicans and Gov. Bruce Rauner to solve the state’s budget impasse, now in its fourth month.

Republicans continue their call for fundamental reforms to state government in conjunction with a balanced budget plan that will help create jobs, boost Illinois’ economy, and right the state’s sinking fiscal ship. Without such a plan, Comptroller Leslie Munger warned this week that the state is on track to fall short of what it needs to make its pension payment in November.

In other news this week, Gov. Rauner announced he wants to sell a downtown Chicago building that houses state government offices, a move he says will save the state millions of dollars. He also renewed his call for passing a balanced budget as soon as possible. Also, a report shows Democrat political insiders are making huge amounts of money off of the state’s inability to pay its bills on time, and a warm, dry stretch of weather has allowed farmers to make huge progress in harvesting their crops and prepare for next year.

Comptroller: State can’t make pension payment due to budget impasse

In just another example of why Republicans are calling on Democrats to come to the negotiating table and help pass a balanced budget, the Comptroller announced this week that based on expected revenues and mandated expenditures, the state will fall short of what it needs to make its pension payment next month.

The state’s monthly pension payment of $560 million is the largest consistent expenditure throughout the year. Because November’s full pension payment won’t be invested now due to a lack of funds, that could negatively impact the overall investment of the pension system, which could lead to future increases in state contributions. Munger reiterated, however, that retirees will continue to receive their pension checks uninterrupted.

The Comptroller, like Republican Senators, has been warning that the unbalanced spending approach that Democrats have passed in the Legislature is a recipe for disaster, resulting in cash shortages, more unpaid bills, and extended payment delays. She says that the state is required to pay at last year’s levels, even though the state is expected to bring in $5 billion less this fiscal year.

Munger says the consequences of not passing a balanced budget are severe, and will grow more severe with each day.

This week, the backlog of unpaid bills reached $6.4 billion. Munger says the state is on track to have $8.5 billion in unpaid bills by the end of the calendar year.

Illinois Lottery payouts over $600 now delayed due to state budget impasse

Lucky Illinois Lottery winners may be feeling not so lucky, with the Illinois Lottery announcing this week that winners over $600 will now have to wait to collect their cash until the state’s budget impasse is solved. Previously, delays in payouts were for winners of more than $25,000.

Due to the state budget crunch, the Illinois Lottery says its check writing account doesn’t have the money to pay winners over $600, and there is no authority to replenish it with funds right now.  

Lottery players who win $600 or less can still receive their winnings by claiming the cash at any of the Lottery’s 8,000 retail locations throughout the state.

Rauner calls Chicago state office building ‘ineffective,’ intends to sell it

Rauner says taxpayers could save up to $12 million annually if the state sells the James R. Thompson Center (JRTC), a downtown Chicago office building that houses state government offices. It’s one of the many reasons the Governor intends to sell the building.

The 16-story building’s infrastructure has been deteriorating over the years and is costly to maintain, due to its very large and open atrium. Rauner estimates there are more than $100 million in repairs that need to be made, and it’s not compelling to make those repairs. The JRTC occupies almost three times the per-square-footage of office space as compared to the rest of downtown Chicago, and double what the rest of the state has for its employees working elsewhere. Such waste and inefficiency is the reason why the Governor wants to put the JRTC up for auction, explaining from a purely financial point of view that this is compelling for the people of the state and allows a developer to make more productive use of the space.

Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno said that the building is no longer functional for state government, and the taxpayers need to come first. Selling the Thompson Center will allow the state to explore more options for managing employees in Chicago and the suburbs.

Rauner says the goal is to sell the building in the next year, in which he says a new building could generate $20 million per year for Chicago and create thousands of construction jobs.

Report: Democrat insiders making big bucks off budget impasse

The lasting budget impasse, caused by legislative Democrats’ resistance to Republican-led reforms, is impacting Illinois in many ways: from social services to the business climate; to concern about state credit; to further blemishes on the state’s reputation.

But at least one group of Democrat insiders is cashing in. A report from the Chicago Sun Times shows a company called the Vender Assistance Program (VAP), owned by Brian Hynes (who once worked for House Speaker Madigan) and Democrat insider Patti Solis Doyle, has pocketed more than $22 million from the state thanks to a special agreement on the collection of late fees.

In short, when the state is late in paying a vendor by more than 90 days, it owes an interest rate of 1% per month on top of the owed amount.

The Vendor Assistance Program, started under then-Governor Pat Quinn, uses financing agreements to pay the vendor 90% of their owed claim, as a “sale” of the unpaid bill. When the state makes good on that bill, the VAP gives the vendor the remaining 10 percent, and keeps the late fees for itself.

So far, the Vender Assistance Program has received $22.3 million in late fees, according to the report.

Illinois currently has more $6.4 billion in unpaid bills.

Harvest begins winding down

With Mother Nature continuing to provide Illinois farmers with mostly dry weather, the 2015 harvest is now beginning to wind down, much earlier than recent years.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the statewide corn harvest is now 71 percent complete, a big jump from 50 percent the week before, and well ahead of the five-year average of 59 percent. The soybean harvest is at a similar point, with 71 percent harvested compared to 49 percent during the previous week, and the average of 53 percent.

Much of the progress owes to drier than normal weather during recent months. Last week saw statewide precipitation average of just .03 inches, which is .54 inches below normal. Just 58 percent of topsoil is rated as having adequate moisture, with only 4 percent having surplus. The dry conditions are starting to cause some concerns over pasture conditions heading into the winter, with only 46 percent of acres rated as “good” or “excellent.”

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