This week House Appropriations Committees continued to take testimony on the Governor’s proposed budget. More than 30 of the Governor’s funding proposals for agencies have been heard in committees with testimony from the agency directors. The hearing process will take two or three more weeks before legislation emerges on these proposals.
Meanwhile, discussions are also continuing on the so-called “Grand Bargain” budget bills in the Senate, but there was no floor action in recent weeks on bills that comprise the plan. So far, about half of the bills involved have been passed. All of the bills in this package would need to be passed and signed into law for any of them to become effective.
In addition, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) this week added a new challenge into the mix, reporting that revenues are currently falling short of projections by approximately $800 million.
New Proposal for Cost-Saving Pension Reforms
With our growing budget challenges in mind, House Republicans today introduced a comprehensive pension reform proposal consistent with the “Grand Bargain” measures in the Illinois Senate. The new proposal is estimated to provide taxpayer savings of approximately $2.25 billion that would help us achieve a balanced budget while also saving our struggling pension systems. I hope Speaker Madigan will help us move this important discussion forward.
There’s no question that with $130 billion in unfunded pension liabilities and billions in annual costs, the current pension systems are unsustainable. Components of our reform proposal include:
• Senate President John Cullerton’s “consideration model” that would require a choice between receiving an annual 3% COLA or having future raises counted as pensionable. This concept previously received union support by the We Are One Coalition
• Closes new member participation in GARS
• Offers Tier 1 TRS, SURS, SERS and GARS employees the option to participate in a defined contribution (DC) plan
• Creates a voluntary Tier 3 Hybrid defined benefit/defined contribution plan for new Tier 2 employees under TRS, SURS, and certain SERS members who do not participate in Social Security
We have gone far too long without a balanced budget. Now is the time to take action to reform our pension systems, break the budget impasse and pass a truly balanced budget for the people of Illinois.
Organ/Tissue Donor Registry Expansion Advances
Legislation I’m co-sponsoring to create more life-saving organ and tissue donation opportunities in Illinois is advancing in the General Assembly. House Bill 1805 has passed the House by overwhelming majority vote and is now awaiting consideration in the Senate.
Under the bill, 16 and 17 year-olds may sign up with the Illinois’ First Person Consent Organ/Tissue Donor Registry to donate their organs in the event of their death, but for minors under the age of 18 good-faith efforts must still be made to notify parents or guardians who would still be able to make the final decision on the donation. I believe this legislation is about turning a tragedy into a life-saving opportunity. Allowing these young adults to make their wishes known about organ donation will help grieving parents make decisions that can save other families from losing a loved one, and may provide them some comfort as well.
For more information on organ donation or to register with the Secretary of State’s Organ/Tissue Donor Registry you can go to LifeGoesOn.com or call 1-800-210-2106.
Addressing Illinois’ Nursing Shortage
I am also pleased to report that legislation aimed at easing our state’s nursing shortage has passed the House on unanimous vote. House Bill 3490 would expand school options for scholarship recipients pursuing graduate degrees in nursing in Illinois.
Our Nursing Education Scholarship Program was established to remove financial barriers to help increase the number of students training to be nurses in Illinois. The problem is that current law only provides scholarship students with 6 eligible nursing schools to choose from. That’s a problem we’re fixing with this legislation. House Bill 3490 corrects an inconsistency in current law and formally opens up the scholarship to all Illinois schools offering Master of Science degrees, which provides scholarship nursing students more than 20 additional school options.
To combat our nursing shortage we need to find new ways to help, not hinder those who want to make nursing their life’s work. Providing scholarship nursing students a much wider range of qualified school options all across the state is a big step in the right direction.
In response to exponential increases in the numbers of “hacking” and “phishing” assaults mounted daily upon Illinois state workers and systems , the new Department of Innovation and Technology (IDIT), is planning steps to improve the informational security of Illinois databases and electronic technology.
The challenge is significant, and it isn’t just information that could be vulnerable. For example, many Illinois prisons have cellblock doors, external doors, and security gates that open and close electronically. Click here to read more about the new proposed cyber protections.