State’s money woes

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The past month has been challenging for the General Assembly. Among other things, we dealt with budget cuts, ethics, and pay raises. With all of the complicated rhetoric surrounding our actions in Springfield, it seems appropriate to update you and analyz

The past month has been challenging for the General Assembly. Among other things, we dealt with budget cuts, ethics and pay raises. With all of the complicated rhetoric surrounding our actions in Springfield, it seems appropriate to update you and analyze some of the more complex and contradictory assertions that have been made.

The Senate took action this week to restore $220 million to state programs in order to fend off closures at historical sites, cuts to drug treatment centers and mental health programs, and to maintain services to the developmentally disabled. These programs will be funded through the transfer of surplus monies from small, administrative state funds. The $220 million fund transfer proposal originated from bills passed unilaterally by the House of Representatives when the Senate was not in session.

While the bills passed by the House and Senate should help lessen the impact from this year’s $1.4 billion budget cuts, this is a stop-gap measure and not a panacea.

No solution should have been needed; this crisis was preventable.

The Senate passed three revenue measures this year that were never delivered to the governor’s desk, totaling over $1.5 billion in immediate savings for Fiscal Year 2009. My colleagues in the Senate and I passed a budget in May that included funding for all of the aforementioned programs, as well as many excellent items that remain without sufficient funding even after our actions this week, such as MAP grants for college students, local health protection grants and cooperative extension educational programs that serve more than 2.5 million Illinoisans annually.

While the revenue streams passed by the Senate may not have been acceptable to all members of the General Assembly, no revenue alternatives were offered during regular session. No real negotiations took place during the budget process on this matter.

Notwithstanding the fact that it was imperfect, I supported the Senate’s fund transfer legislation this spring, which would have provided $530 million in funds the State can use to pay its bills and a full $530 million federal match. While there are some funds that may have needed to be exempted from that transfer proposal, negotiations could have yielded a funds transfer agreement that could have initially funded more of the aforementioned items that were eventually cut by the Governor. Unfortunately, unilateral action prevailed over inclusive negotiations.

Meaningful bi-partisan and bicameral negotiations did take place this past week in an attempt to generate more revenue for restorations. Regrettably, these discussions gave way to the acrimonious, cynical atmosphere in Springfield when certain members refused to consent to a more meaningful budget relief package without tacking on language that unconstitutionally limited the governor’s authority.

Distrust unfortunately continues to serve as an obstacle in Springfield.

Also discussed this week was Senate Bill 780, which adds registration, disclosure and penalty provisions to highly lauded and recently passed ethics legislation, House Bill 824. While I supported both of these bills, I feel it is important to highlight that Senate Bill 780 needs improvement with regard to legislative pay raises. Under this bill, the General Assembly would be required to affirmatively adopt any Compensation Review Board Report for state legislators to receive a pay increase. In my opinion, this issue constitutes a conflict of interest for legislators and does not belong in the legislative domain. Instead, pay raises ought to be wholly determined by an independent body.

I also feel that that the bill’s targeting of legislators who come from a background of local public sector employment is inconsistent with the idea of encouraging a diverse citizens’ legislature. Overambitious restrictions could potentially limit service in the legislature to the elite.

One of the benefits of the legislative process is that, almost always, modifications can be made along the way. I urge my colleagues to take up new revenue measures and improvements to ethics legislation in the coming months, and I look forward to hearing your opinion on these matters.

State Senator Kwame Raoul represents the 13th District.

Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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