Senator Syverson’s Week in Review: Jan. 25 – 29

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Bruce Rauner presented his vision for Illinois on Jan. 27 in the annual “State of the State” address, focusing on transformation and reform during the speech, and also asking lawmakers to break from partisan politics and do what is right for Illinois’ long-term future.

Continuing with the theme of “transformation,” Gov. Rauner also announced the formation of the state’s new IT department, the Department of Innovation Technology (DoIT) this week. DoIT is part of a strategic, statewide initiative designed to usher Illinois’ IT systems into the modern era.

Two drastically different approaches for funding MAP grants and higher education in Illinois emerged this week. One plan, pushed by legislative Democrats, makes an empty promise to the state’s higher education community, pushing through funding authority for community colleges and student MAP grants, but lacking a source of money to actually pay for the appropriation.

An alternative, more comprehensive solution sponsored by Republican legislators would free up the money to fund MAP grants, community colleges and the state’s public universities by giving the Governor more broad authority in individual budget lines.  An additional plan to free up money for higher education was floated that would tie funding to procurement reform—changes that Rauner said in his State of the State address are estimated to generate savings of close to $500 million a year.

In more positive news this week, Illinois leads the nation for “green” buildings in 2015 for the third year in a row, according to a report from the U.S. Green Building Council. Green construction is expected to support 413,000 total jobs in Illinois. 

Governor focuses on transformation and reform in “State of the State”

Gov. Rauner laid out his agenda for 2016 during the “State of the State” address on Jan. 27.  During the 30-minute speech, the Governor was clear that despite an ongoing budget impasse, he isn’t standing still. He’s moving forward with a transformation agenda designed to make Illinois’ government more efficient and effective for Illinois residents.

Included in this transformation are proposals to reform Illinois’ pension system, education system, and criminal justice system, as well as initiatives to transform health and human service, Illinois IT systems, and spur economic development. The Governor says he’s focused on improving how Illinois operates at every level, and improving the lives of all Illinoisans.

Much of the speech focused on education reform, which the Governor called the key to rising family incomes, more high-paying jobs, and a higher quality of life for everyone in Illinois. Rauner committed to eliminating wasteful bureaucracy, and putting more money into the classroom.

Fundamental reforms designed to create economic opportunity and jobs for Illinois residents were also part of Rauner’s plan for the state. According to the Governor, Illinois has the ability to lead the nation in growth and opportunity, but it must address its workers compensation system, labor regulations, liability costs and high property taxes to make Illinois competitive again.

“The Governor is continuing his push to improve our business climate and grow good-paying jobs, but he’s also working to improve the way our entire state government functions,” Sen. Syverson said. “This platform of bold reforms is how we can finally overcome a decade of mismanagement that ran our state into the ground.”

Rauner discussed the need to restore Illinoisans trust in state government, starting with term limits and redistricting reform. He noted that in his most recent State of the Union, President Obama had come out strongly in favor of both of these ideas.

Concluding his remarks, Rauner said, “We must break from the politics of the past and do what is right for the long term future of our state. I’m ready – and it’s my genuine hope that you are too.  Let’s continue this journey together.  Illinois can’t wait any longer.”

Very different approaches emerge to fund higher ed

During the week, drastically different approaches emerged for funding MAP grants, Illinois community colleges and universities. Higher education and MAP grant funding have not received a penny this fiscal year, due to the state’s ongoing budget impasse.

The first proposal, Senate Bill 2043, pushed by legislative Democrats, amounts to little more than an empty promise, according to Senate Republican lawmakers. Though Senate Bill 2043, which passed the General Assembly on Jan. 28, would appropriate $721 million to higher education, Senate Republicans pointed out the legislation did not identify a revenue source to pay for the appropriation. Additionally, the bill provides no funding for Illinois’ public four-year universities, only allowing for funding of MAP grants and community colleges. The Governor is expected to veto this measure when it reaches his desk. Senator Syverson voted no to SB2043.

“They could have tied in spending reductions or attached a revenue plan to it, but instead they simply made another unfunded political promise that the state can’t actually pay,” Sen. Syverson said. “Our colleges and universities need stability and proper funding, not more empty promises.”

The second proposal, Senate Bill 2349, a comprehensive solution that would allocate nearly $1.7 billion to fully fund MAP grants, community colleges AND the state’s universities. Senate Bill 2349 is contingent on a piece of companion legislation, Senate Bill 2338, which creates the Unbalanced Budget Response Act. The Act would provide the Governor with the authority necessary to reallocate state money to fund higher education, as well as filling other holes in the state’s current fiscal year and next fiscal year’s state budget

One additional solution would be to tie a procurement reform proposal the Governor estimated would save taxpayers $500 million each year, to higher education funding, as a way to finance the state’s community colleges, universities and MAP grants. Unlike the Democrat’s proposal, this comprehensive approach would provide revenue to fund the proposal and ensure neither higher education institutions nor students are left high and dry.

New IT Department to increase efficiency, security

In an attempt to bring Illinois out of the 1970s and into the new millennium, Gov. Rauner recently signed an Executive Order creating the state’s new IT department, DoIT, as part of a strategic, statewide technology plan to “accelerate Illinois’ modernization” or AIM.

“Finally we have a Governor that is addressing an issue I have been raising concerns about for over a decade,” Sen. Syverson said. “I am so grateful the Governor is taking on this important project. Once this agency is fully in place, the savings generated will more than pay for the upgrades we so desperately need. Additionally, people’s personal information will be much more secure.”

The new department will integrate and modernize the state’s more than 400 enterprise resource planning systems, of which 263 are dedicated solely to finances. These systems cost the state roughly $800 million a year, most of which is dedicated to maintaining equipment and systems developed in 1974.

While Illinois currently has the third highest IT operating costs in the nation, it is one of the lowest-ranked states for the quality of digital service. The creation of DoIT seeks to improve the state’s low productivity and outcomes, joining 29 other states that have integrated their IT structures. Not only will the consolidation effort reduce waste and increase efficiency in state government, it will improve consistency in cybersecurity efforts through greater centralization and monitoring.

The Department of Innovation and Technology, or DoIT, will be headed up by Hardik Bhatt.  Bhatt has more than five years of experience working with Cisco’s Internet of Everything as their local government expert before the Governor named him Illinois’ CIO back in August.

Illinois tops the nation in “green” buildings

Illinois led the nation for “green” buildings in 2015, according to a report from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Illinois has 161 buildings and nearly 44 million square feet of space that has been certified as LEED, or “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.”

Illinois has been the top state in the nation for green building in the USGBC ranking for the past three years, this year beating out Maryland and Massachusetts to take the top spot. USGBC noted that green construction is expected to support 413,000 total jobs in Illinois.

Dave Syverson

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