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Senate Week in Review: February 20-24, 2017

Senate lawmakers are preparing to return to Springfield on Feb. 28, hoping to make progress toward ending Illinois’ ongoing budget impasse.

With state debt rising and Illinois’ bill backlog growing each day, the pressure of operating without a budget continues to build. In light of some of Illinois’ ongoing challenges, it is no surprise that the state fell short in overall well-being in a recent report from the Boston Consulting Group. However, the report underscored some key points reinforcing Republicans calls for job-creating reforms.

Meanwhile, the state’s largest employee union announced its members have voted to give their union bargaining committee the authority to call for a strike, and farmers are hoping to see some relief from Illinois’ unusually dry and warm winter weather.

Senate Republicans look toward budget progress

In the days following Gov. Bruce Rauner’s annual budget address, Senate lawmakers once again returned their attention to negotiating a resolution to Illinois’ ongoing budget crisis.

Senate leaders and lawmakers from both parties have been negotiating for weeks, working to craft a bipartisan budget framework and associated reform package that would finally bring stability and relief to the people of Illinois. Senate GOP legislators have stressed that cuts to state and local government targeting inefficiency and waste must be the first priority, and emphasized that structural reforms to state government are also critical to maintain the state’s fiscal health, economic growth and financial stability moving forward.

With state debt rising by $11 million per day, and facing a projected budget deficit of $13.5 billion by the end of Fiscal Year 2017, Senate Republican lawmakers acknowledge an urgency to act. Senate leaders aim to finalize a comprehensive budget package and bring the framework for a Senate vote in order to move the proposal to the House of Representatives for their consideration and input.

Illinois falls short in overall well-being

Finding itself falling to the bottom of yet another state comparison ranking, Illinois ranked 34th nationally in well-being in a recently released report published by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). However, the report stressed that there was “cause for optimism,” praising the state’s “tremendous assets” and successes of neighboring states.

Using the BCG’s Sustainable Economic Development Assessment, Illinois was compared nationally based on four categories: economics, investments, sustainability and equality.

Illinois’ strongest score was in investments, ranking 17th overall when considering health, education and infrastructure factors. The report praised the state’s investment in health and education, underscoring this reflects “a solid commitment to supporting the well-being of its residents.”

Upon comparison, Illinois ranked in the bottom 15 in three of the four categories, earning the 44th spot in economics “despite its significant wealth,” 38th in sustainability due to factors like “violent crime, low voter turnout and poor air quality,” and the 39th position in equality. The report stressed that Illinois “fairs poorly” in both racial and income equality, allowing some residents to prosper while others struggle to get by.

Despite the challenges facing Illinois, the report emphasized there is “a strong foundation on which to build”—pointing to the state’s large and diverse economic base, a well-educated workforce, and abundant human capital.  As Senate GOP lawmakers and the Governor have stressed, these benefits will only be further boosted by reforms to attract employers to Illinois, boost the economy and stem the tide of jobs and residents from the state.

AFSCME announces members vote to authorize future strike 

On February 23, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees announced the highly anticipated outcome of a member-wide vote on strike authorization.

Members of the state’s largest employee union, representing approximately 38,000 public service workers in Illinois state government, voted to give their union bargaining committee the authority to call a future strike. However, the ballot outcome does not mean a strike is imminent. A union representative emphasized that state workers do not want to strike, and that AFSCME is still open to compromise.  

Though the Governor has renegotiated contracts with 20 other labor organizations, a compromise with AFSCME remains elusive. Governor Rauner is seeking changes that he emphasizes would streamline government and save taxpayer dollars.  AFSCME representatives maintain the Governor’s terms are unreasonable.

The call for strike authorization came after years of failed negotiations between AFSCME and Governor Bruce Rauner. The Rauner administration has sought to implement a contract with AFSCME to replace the contract that expired in 2015; however, discussions between the two parties stalled more than a year ago after the Governor declared they had reached an impasse in the contract talks. A state labor panel later agreed with the Governor, but a temporary court order secured by AFSCME has prevented the Rauner administration from moving forward with implementation of the Governor’s preferred terms.

Farmers fret about mild temperatures

While many across the state are enjoying putting away their mittens and scarves, farmers are considering what Illinois’ mild winter means for this year’s farming prospects.

This winter, Illinois reportedly received less than half-an-inch of precipitation and 60 percent less snow fall than average, causing concern that Illinois’ warm winter may have unintended consequences for farmers and moisture levels of soil.

Not only is Illinois lacking the usual wet, rainy and snowy winter typical in the Midwest, but the warm temperatures may also pose a problem for farmers—who typically expect freezing temperatures to eliminate insects and disease. 

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