From the Office of Illinois State Representative Ron Sandack:

Sandack Bills Advance to House Floor after Busy Week in Committees

Last week members of the House of Representatives spent the majority of the week attending committee meetings where scores of bills were heard. On Wednesday I spoke with WLS 890 AM Radio host John Howell about a variety of bills pending in Springfield, including a renewed effort by Democrat Senator Andy Manar to funnel school funding dollars away from suburban school districts and toward downstate and Chicago Public Schools. I also provided an update on the budget impasse. You may listen to that full interview here.


Two of my bills advanced out of committees last week and now move to the House floor for full consideration. HB 6261 is a bill I am carrying on behalf of DuPage County. It would clarify laws to permit County Health Departments to operate outside the county jurisdiction and contract for services with other health entities. By codifying this authority in the statutes, service delivery can be consolidated and efficiency can be maximized. HB 6169 also was approved at the committee level. This bill deals with situations where a vehicle has been repaired and the owner fails to pick it up. In many of these instances a mechanic’s lien is placed against the vehicle to cover costs associated with the shop’s repairs and for storage of the vehicle. My bill requires the lien holder or title holder of the vehicle to be notified of the fees. In cases where a vehicle is still subject to a loan of a bank or another entity, the provisions of the bill would allow the lender to decide if it would like to recover their collateral. The mechanic, of course, would have to be paid by the lender, but this required notice feature would be necessary before a mechanic could have the vehicle re-titled into its name as owner.


Sandack Bill that could provide $200 Million in Unfunded Mandate Relief Stalls in Committee


At a time when education funding dollars are in short supply and high demand, easing the financial burden on school districts is a priority. This year I filed HB 6164, which would eliminate unfunded mandates as they relate to local hiring practices for non-instructional and drivers’ education services at schools. If fully implemented, the collective annual savings for Illinois school districts could top $200 million.

Another provision of the bill would allow school boards to adopt a local policy, if they choose, that would excuse pupils on a case-by-case basis from engaging in physical education classes if they receive a same or higher level of activity through another school sponsored or outside equivalent activity. I have always felt strongly that the State is too involved in decisions that should be made locally. In every area of Illinois, voters elect a local school board and those individuals are entrusted to make decisions that are in the best interest of that community’s students and families. As a reminder, in order to graduate high school in Illinois, students must currently take two years of social studies and science and three years of math but four years of PE. Illinois is the only state with that unusual mandated requirement. Unfortunately, due to immense pressure placed on committee members by PE teachers statewide, the ultimate committee vote was a tie, so the bill did not advance.


Education Funding Reform Bill Reemerges as Amendment to SB 231

Two years ago Democrat Senator Andy Manar filed SB16, a sweeping education funding reform bill that would have stripped approximately $140 million in state funding away from DuPage County schools and channeled that money to downstate and Chicago schools. Suburban taxpayers stood united against that bill and it ultimately died at the end of the 98th General Assembly. Last year Manar resurrected the bill as SB01, and it too was very damaging to suburban school districts which derive most of their school funding from property taxes.

Last week the bill emerged again; this time as Amendment #1 to Senator Manar’s SB 231. The 236-page amendment again would use a Robin Hood approach to funding Illinois schools, by taking funding away from districts perceived as being “rich,“ and giving the funding to districts classified as “high need.” Manar has tweaked his proposal to make the bill more palatable to some districts, but make no mistake- this new language inside SB 231 would still be harmful to our local schools. I will provide updates as this new bill makes its way through the legislative process, but it appears that once again we will need to take to our phones and computers to let Senator Manar and the members of the House Elementary & Secondary Education Committee know that education funding reform must be equitable and fair, and not just create a new list of funding “winners” and “losers.”

Meanwhile, I sit on the House Education Funding Task Force. This bipartisan committee is exploring school funding equity and adequacy issues, and other states’ best practices for funding schools. We hope to bring forward our own recommendations. Our task force meets this week on Tuesday morning in Springfield.


House Republican Leader Jim Durkin ups Pressure on Democrats to Start Moving on Budget

The reconvening of the Illinois House on Monday, April 4 created additional pressure on Democrats, led by Speaker Madigan, to begin serious negotiations to end the ten-month impasse that has prevented the passage of a constitutional balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2016. Illinois has been operating without an overall plan to guide and discipline State spending since July 1, 2015. Illinois is now the only state in the United States operating without a budget, and has been slapped by credit-rating overseers with the lowest debt rating among the 50 states.

Speaking out with his counterpart, Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, Leader Durkin urged Democrat leaders to meet with Governor Bruce Rauner and hold high-level negotiations aimed at bringing an end to the impasse. According to Comptroller Leslie Munger, Illinois is on course to develop a backlog of unpaid bills and invoices that could top $10 billion before the end of the current, budget-less fiscal year.


Republican Leaders Introduce Bill to Free Up Money in Certain Crisis Areas

Hardest-hit by the current budget crisis have been several broad areas of State spending not protected by court orders, consent decrees and continuing appropriations, such as higher education and some providers of community services. Leader Durkin and Leader Radogno joined forces last week to advocate for a $1.3 billion budget/appropriations relief bill to reopen cash flow for defined subgroups of providers of community services, including public health-related services.

Services that would be restored under the categories covered by this proposal include screenings for lead poisoning, services for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, and home care for elderly residents. The areas covered by these definitions are community public-health-related services, traditionally performed by locally-based nonprofit private sector entities that rely on grant support from the State of Illinois. The failure of the State to enact a FY16 budget has forced many of these service providers throughout Illinois to carry out significant layoffs. In some cases, longtime service providers have been forced to close their doors entirely.

Under this proposal, parts of the cost of these payments would be met by transfers from other State funds, and part would be met by a partial pension cost shift from the State to local school districts and higher education institutions that took certain enumerated salary actions to obligate their pension systems. This move would be one of several proposed pension reforms being discussed by the General Assembly in the current spring session.


Vehicle Emissions Test Notices Resume


Drivers of motor vehicles in specified areas in greater Chicago and metropolitan St. Louis are required by federal law to get their cars and trucks tested for compliance with emissions standards. The vehicle owner must present proof-of-testing as part of the documentation submitted at the time the motor vehicle’s sticker is scheduled to expire. The tests must be performed on a rolling schedule tied to the age of each vehicle, and there is an official list of test centers authorized to perform the emissions tests.

Until December 2015, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) routinely sent out friendly notices of vehicle emissions testing deadlines to motor vehicle owners. The notice cycle was suspended at that time due to the State’s budget crisis, leading to widespread protests. The IEPA has announced they have renegotiated the terms of their notice mailing process with their testing system private partner, and notices of duty-to-perform 500,000 vehicle emissions tests are now in the process of being mailed out. The notices cover vehicles due for emissions tests during a three-month period starting on March 1, 2016 and ending on May 31, 2016. Mailings resumed on Wednesday, April 6.

A separate suspended mailing program by the Secretary of State’s office to vehicle owners to remind them to renew their vehicle license stickers and purchase new ones has not been resumed. Vehicle owners will continue to be responsible to renew their vehicle license stickers on their own and will pay penalties if they fail to do so. The Illinois House is currently considering a bill, HB 4334, to temporarily suspend the delinquent registration renewal fee when it is being charged and collected under these circumstances.


IL Business and Economic Development Corporation (ILEDC) Presents Job Creation Plan

The presentation was made by the Illinois Business and Economic Development Corporation (ILBEDC) CEO Jim Schultz. He explained to the newly-convened House Committee on Public Private Partnerships the role of ILBEDC to sell Illinois as a place to locate businesses and create jobs. CEO Schultz explained that the new nonprofit corporation is expected to match the economic-development-corporation organizational model grasped by 17 U.S. states and by many regions within Illinois. Neighboring states that have set up EDCs include Indiana, Missouri, and Wisconsin. Large states that have set up EDCs include Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Texas.

A typical state-affiliated EDC operates its job creation activities in close cooperation with the State agency that has the task of maintaining and helping the creation of jobs and economic development. In the case of Illinois, this agency is the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, IL-DCEO. Former DCEO Director Schultz explained to the House committee that the decision to charter the ILBEDC is “a major initiative to accelerate job growth in Illinois.” Incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, ILBEDC will not be a government agency and will not ask for taxpayer funds for its day-to-day operations. ILBEDC has been set up in a manner parallel to the existing, and relatively successful, Texas Economic Development Council. Texas has created more than 8 million net new jobs since the TEDC was organized in 1961.

Governor Bruce Rauner’s Executive Order 1602, filed in February 2016, sets forth the future relationship between IL-DCEO and the new ILBEDC. IL-DCEO will continue to be a taxpayer-funded agency with overall responsibility over Illinois job creation. Their approximately 350 employees will continue to maintain all of IL-DCEO’s other statutory responsibilities, including liaison with Illinois local governments and relationships with a variety of nonprofit entities. IL-DCEO has ongoing relationships, including grantor-grantee relationships, with more than 1,000 nonprofit corporations throughout Illinois.


Faster Trains Coming to Chicago-St. Louis Route

As work continues to improve on the railroad right-of-way between Joliet and Alton, improved timetables grow near for the implementation of service along much of the route as fast as 110 miles per hour. The faster trains could be running as soon as 2017. Amtrak is also taking steps to revamp and rebuild the interior space in Chicago’s Union Station, with moves underway to concentrate passenger ticketing and waiting areas in the station’s Great Hall and open more multilevel space to West Loop-oriented private-sector retail activity.

While Illinois continues to tighten its belt with regards to a wide variety of spending commitments, the Joliet-Alton speedup is being implemented through a multi-year capital improvement consortium program that includes federal U.S. Department of Transportation money and partial funding from the Union Pacific Railroad, the owner and operator of the railroad bed. Union Pacific has consented to continue to allow Amtrak trains to run on its line in return for federal and State help in improving the roadbed, on which it is running an increasing count of double-stacked trailer trains.


Ron Sandack