SPRINGFIELD – Due to stalling by Democrat leaders, the first week of the fall veto session ended early without any real action on the state budget. Republican lawmakers joined the Governor in urging their Democrat counterparts to work with them on crafting a balanced state budget and transformational reforms, underscoring that the appropriations authority required to pay for many state operations, human service providers, and state vendors will run out on December 31.
Meanwhile, Democrats rammed through an override of voter registration legislation that experts say has several major flaws, while refusing to take up a newer, Republican-sponsored measure that cleans up many of the technical problems in the initial legislation.
Also during the week, Secretary of State Jesse White unveiled the new Illinois license plates that will soon go out to motorists.
Democrats slow-walk budget negotiations
House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton began the first week of the fall veto session by boycotting a budget negotiation meeting scheduled by the Governor. Despite their attendance at later meetings, no significant progress was made on balancing the budget and passing any reforms to streamline state government and reduce costs.
Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) reiterated the need for a full budget solution to provide stability to residents and businesses, while protecting vital state services and schools.
The urgency of the matter was underscored when the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget released its annual long-term budget projections. The publication estimated that the current budget year deficit is nearing $5.3 billion, which will likely push the bill backlog to $13.5 billion by the end of the fiscal year. With no changes to the status quo, the backlog could reach $47 billion by Fiscal Year 2022.
While the stopgap budget that passed over the summer funds K-12 schools, transportation, and some higher education spending, the spending authority for much of the budget will expire on Jan. 1, meaning no more money is appropriated for the state’s already struggling colleges and universities, some human service providers, state vendors and operations (including utility bills for prisons and state facilities), and healthcare for state employees.
Despite the state’s budget crisis, both Madigan and Cullerton decided to cancel Thursday’s session in their respective chambers, leaving only three days left in the annual fall veto session to deal with the budget.
Democrats push through flawed voter registration bill
While Democrat leaders refused to make progress on the state’s budget, they did find time to override a number of Governor Bruce Rauner’s vetoes.
Senate Bill 250 would automatically register voters when they apply for, update, or renew their driver’s licenses. While proponents touted the measure as a new system to increase voter participation and clean up the voter rolls, Rauner had vetoed the measure due to a number of serious flaws.
The legislation would require the Secretary of State’s office to forward all of the driver’s data to the Illinois State Board of Elections, potentially violating privacy standards. Concerns were also raised that the new system would automatically register anyone to vote who qualifies for a driver’s license, including those who are here illegally. The individuals would be given the opportunity to attest to their eligibility to vote, but the application would be processed even if they are unable to attest.
In addition, residents would be registered without their consent or knowledge. They would have the opportunity to opt out of the system, but not until weeks later by mail.
Senate Bill 3452 was filed by State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Peru) as a compromise measure to address the issues with Senate Bill 250. Under Rezin’s legislation, individuals would have the opportunity to opt out at the beginning of the process. It would also stop the application process if their records show that the person may not be eligible to vote. Rezin’s legislation would also require a signature attesting to the person’s eligibility to register to vote.
Though Senate Bill 3452 offered a reasonable compromise that would address the concerns outlined by the Governor and other lawmakers while also increasing voter participation, Democrat lawmakers refused to consider the proposal.
Democrats add $100+ million in spending
Despite the serious fiscal problems facing the state, two other vetoes were overridden by Senate Democrats that would add more than $100 million in spending each year.
While Republican lawmakers noted the proposals were well-intentioned, the hefty price tag of the proposals made them impossible to support.
Senate Bill 2536 requires non-relative providers in the child care assistance program to participate in orientation pre-service trainings. Additionally, it requires the non-relative providers to be paid $15 an hour for their time spent at the trainings. This legislation would cost $28.4 million for training and $1.9 million for insurance, annually.
Senate Bill 2931 increases wages for personal assistants and individual maintenance home health workers to no less than $15 an hour. The total cost of this bill is estimated at $86.6 million annually.
Senate Republicans re-elect Leader
Due in large part to her years of fighting to protect the rights of Illinois residents and improve the state’s economic outlook, as well as her leadership during the current budget crisis, Senate Republicans unanimously re-elected Senator Christine Radogno as the leader of their caucus.
Leader Radogno said that she is excited to continue in her leadership role as the caucus works to find compromise with Democrat lawmakers to balance state spending with revenue, while working to make state government more accountable, efficient, and responsive to the residents of Illinois.
Secretary of State unveils new Illinois license plates
Replacement of old Illinois license plates will begin January 2017, as part of a new initiative recently announced by the Secretary of State. The new license plates will be distributed at no cost to taxpayers.
Older license plates must be replaced because their reflectivity diminishes with age, making it difficult to quickly and accurately identify license plate numbers.
Owners will be notified by mail whether or not they are eligible for the new plates. When owners pay the renewal fee for their 2017 registration, they will be issued a yellow renewal sticker with the letter “T” and the word “TEMPORARY” to place on the rear plate of their vehicle where the present vehicle registration sticker is located. Within 60 days after renewal, they will receive the new license plates with a yellow registration renewal sticker already attached.
Motorists whose license plates are not up for replacement can still order a new plate at www.cyberdriveillinois.com, though they will be required to pay an associated replacement fee of $29. However, if an owner thinks their license plates are showing wear and are difficult to read, even though they were manufactured after 2001, they can visit www.cyberdriveillinois.com and access the license plate replacement application to apply for a newly designed plate at no charge.
Once receiving new plates, owners are encouraged to destroy or recycle their old plates at their nearest Secretary of State facility, where a tamper-proof bin will be available to dispose of the plates.
The Secretary of State’s Office noted that the program will not cost the state additional money; it simply begins the process of removing older plates and replacing them with the newly designed plates to ensure no license plate on the road is older than 10 years.
Starting in 2017, the plates dating back to the year 2000 and 2001 will be the first replaced. Then in 2018, the plates from 2002 and 2003 will be replaced. This process will continue on year by year.