- Published: Monday, December 12, 2016 02:42 PM
On Dec. 1 the Legislature concluded the fall veto session with no sign of a balanced budget agreement in sight, even as we quickly approach 2017, at which point stopgap funding for universities, local governments and human service agencies will run out.
As I've said numerous times, this situation is completely unacceptable, with tragic consequences for students, seniors, victims of sexual assault and more.
Gov. Bruce Rauner and the legislative leaders have been meeting to discuss the budget, and that's an encouraging sign. I'm calling on all sides to compromise to end this stalemate. However, we must remember that negotiation can only have a successful outcome if no party is asked to violate its core principles.
Unfortunately, Gov. Rauner consistently has sought to tie budget negotiation to unrelated policy battles where there is simply no hope of agreement between Democrats and Republicans.
I will continue my efforts to find a different path forward, one that is consistent with the values of our community. Stay tuned to hear more from me on that front; read on for a summary of some of a few issues we've encountered recently in Springfield.
First compromise, then torpedoes
Unfortunately, two important bills that I have been closely involved with failed in the veto session.
Each of these initiatives had been meticulously negotiated, and in each instance a bipartisan compromise was reached. But Gov. Rauner torpedoed both efforts, apparently because he is determined to obstruct any good-government measure that isn't attached to his political agenda.
One of these bills provided for automatic voter registration, a policy that removes barriers to participation in our political process, safeguards against fraud and saves the government money.
After many discussions and a lot of hard work, the bill passed in May with an overwhelming bipartisan majority in both the Senate and the House. However, the governor vetoed it for apparently political reasons, and all of a sudden when it came time to override that veto, Republican legislators who supported the bill in the spring changed their positions and we didn't have enough votes in the House.
The other bill provided for PACE financing, a mechanism to allow homeowners to pay for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects over a long period of time on their property tax bills. Several states have effective PACE financing programs, and I have been working to add Illinois to that list.
After four years of work, we finally had a bill that all stakeholders were comfortable with, and I headed to Springfield last week under the impression that it would sail through the legislature.
Unfortunately, the governor decided he didn't like this one either, and all of a sudden Republican legislators weren't willing to vote for it and therefore the bill failed.
These are solid policies that should not be controversial, and I'm disappointed that they will not be enacted into law yet. Perhaps even more importantly, it's a very alarming sign that we can't find agreement on issues like this.
Please click here to read a more detailed explanation about these efforts.
Energy bill passes in Springfield
We did pass one significant measure in Springfield during the veto session. The Future Energy Jobs Bill is a sprawling energy package that does a number of things. There are significant upsides and downsides to the legislation, but I ultimately concluded that the good outweighed the bad and it was worthy of support.
This is the most significant step Illinois has ever taken on climate change, and it is the only major climate bill moving in any state legislature in the country right now. It will lead to at least $12 billion in additional private investment in Illinois, creating one of the top energy efficiency programs in the nation and restarting renewable energy development after five long stalled years.
Action on climate change has to be among our top priorities, and it is very gratifying to see that after these five years Illinois will now return to its rightful place among national leaders on this critical issue.
Aspects of the bill have been criticized, and rightfully so. I certainly take no pleasure in sending money to Exelon, a profitable corporation, so it will keep open plants that it claims are losing money. However, that aspect of the legislation was necessary in order to find the votes to pass the bill, and the environmental components are simply too good to pass up.
Additionally, because of intense negotiations over the legislation, rate caps were introduced to minimize the impact on ratepayers. I intend to closely monitor the effects of this legislation on ratepayers in my district and also the progress of the renewable-energy and energy-efficiency components.
Please feel free to contact my office if you have any questions about the legislation and what it will mean for Illinois.
‘Suffering in Secret’ series prompts Senate hearing
I was horrified by the accounts of severe neglect and abuse of developmentally disabled adults across Illinois that were revealed in a new Chicago Tribune series, as well as details about the Rauner administration's effort to keep details from reporters.
If you have not yet had time to read the series, “Suffering in Secret,” I encourage you to do so. Tribune reporters unearthed 1,311 cases of documented harm to Illinois residents with developmental disabilities since July 2011 and evidence of 42 deaths linked to abuse or neglect in Illinois group homes in the past seven years.
The series paints a terrifying picture of the human costs that arise when the state doesn't do its job properly. Lives are at stake, and we have a moral obligation to act accordingly.
My heart aches for the families of these victims, who wanted only for their loved ones who are unable to care for themselves to live in a safe and protected environment
I hope to make progress toward understanding what went wrong and, more importantly, how we can fix it during a Senate Human Services hearing Dec. 13 in Chicago. James Dimas, secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services, and Michael McCotter, inspector general for the agency, are expected to testify at the hearing.
I will update you on this issue as more information becomes available.