A press release from Pam Althoff:
Senate Week in Review: March 11-15
SPRRINGFIELD, IL – State Sen. Pamela Althoff (R-Crystal Lake) said Senate Committee meetings consumed most of the time this week in Springfield, but Senate Republicans found time to point out the disparity in education and how false and misleading statements are jeopardizing pension reform. Also, Althoff sponsored legislation to promote greater transparency in the Illinois budget process was sent to subcommittee despite testimony for the need of a more open process in the state.
Institute calls for transparency in Illinois’ budget process, parallels Althoff legislation package
The University of Illinois’ Institute for Government and Public Affairs presented testimony during the Senate Appropriations II Committee on March 14 that parallels legislation filed by Althoff. Their testimony noted that Illinois needs more budget transparency, faster budgetary reporting, a rework or redo of how the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB) presents the Governor’s budget proposals, and a transparent process of fund transfers.
Althoff’s Senate Bills 1904, 1905, and 1907 are all measures that seek greater transparency in Illinois’ yearly budget process.
Senate Bill 1904 would require every bill that provides for the transfer of money from a special fund in the state treasury to any other fund in the state treasury through sweeps, administrative charge-backs, or another fiscal or budgetary maneuver to have prepared for it a brief explanatory statement or note that discloses the amount to be transferred from each special fund and an estimate of the programmatic impact of that transfer prior to second reading in each chamber.
In conjunction, Senate Bill 1905 requires GOMB to maintain a database on its website that tracks funds in each special fund of the state treasury.
Lastly, Senate Bill 1907 would require the GOMB to post on its website in a spreadsheet a copy of all tables, charts, and quantitative data used in the preparation of the Governor’s proposed state budgets.
Althoff filed this package of legislation in order to give the public greater transparency as to how their tax dollars are spent.
Unfortunately, all three pieces were sent to the Appropriations II Subcommittee on Special Issues.
Legislation often “dies” once it is sent to a subcommittee, but Althoff is hopeful that these good government, transparent measures will be signed into law in the future.
Who gets the “free lunch?”
Sen. Althoff joined Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) and other members of the Senate Republican Caucus on March 13 to discuss the disparity in education funding and stress the importance of staying focused on pension reform.
Illinois Senate Republicans acknowledge there is a “free lunch” in education funding – but the Caucus’ in depth examination of the state’s system of school funding shows it’s Chicago that is receiving it.
The examination found that even though Chicago Public Schools account for roughly 18% of Illinois’ public schoolchildren, they receive $772 million in additional funding each year from the state through special considerations and grant lines. That is compared to the $104 million so-called ‘free lunch’ that downstate and suburban schools receive to educate 82 percent of Illinois’ students.
Althoff said that the false claims that downstate and suburban school districts are getting a ‘free lunch’ because the state picks up some teachers’ pension costs is jeopardizing sincere efforts to solve the state’s financial crisis.
“The suburban schools are approximately 90 percent funded by our property taxes,” Althoff said. “To be told that the suburban and downstate schools are getting a free lunch is completely inaccurate and misleading. That kind of rhetoric should not be involved in the pension discussion. We need to be serious about solving this problem, and that’s not done by making false statements.”
The Caucus began to investigate the disparity in education funding once cost shift proposals were suggested as part of pension reform.
To read the full Senate Republican Analysis, visit Althoff’s website at www.senatoralthoff.com.
Pension reform measures advance to full Senate
This week two pension reform measures were advanced by the Senate Executive Committee, including Senate Bill 1 sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton.
Cullerton’s measure incorporates two choices for pension reform. The first option (Part “A”) is similar to Senate Bill 35 and a bipartisan measure co-sponsored in the Illinois House by House Republican Leader Tom Cross and Democrat Rep. Elaine Nekritz.
The second component of the bill is an alternative that would go into effect if the first option is declared unconstitutional.
Part “A” includes unilateral benefit cuts, including a freeze on cost of living adjustments (COLA) on retirees’ benefits and higher employee contributions. It also strengthens the state funding formula for the pension systems, but does not include a cost shift to pass pension responsibilities onto local school districts.
Part “B” of Senate Bill 1 takes effect only if part “A’ is ruled unconstitutional. This plan offers employees and retirees a choice between reduced COLAs and keeping retiree health insurance, or keeping a full COLA and losing health insurance. This component would also strengthen the state funding formula for the pension systems, but does not include a cost shift.
The other pension bill, Senate Bill 35 is identical to reform legislation that is moving through the House of Representatives that would create new “Tier 3” pension recipients, establishing a hybrid of a defined benefit and defined contribution plan for new teachers and college staff. Tier 3 does include a cost shift, and would apply to employees hired after January 1, 2014. Those now in “Tier 2” (hired after January 1, 2011) may switch to Tier 3 benefits.
The defined benefit plan will require contributions of 4% of salary from Tier 3 employees, and those employees will earn benefits each year based on 1.1% of final salary. The age of retirement would be increased to 67. Tier 3 also includes a defined contribution plan that requires employees to contribute 5% of salary, with schools and colleges contributing at least 3% and as much as 10%.
Senate Bill 35 also makes changes to “Tier 1” benefits for all Illinois retirement systems, except the judges’ retirement system. It reduces and would delay COLAs. Cost of living adjustments would be paid only on the first $25,000 of benefits for those without Social Security, or the first $20,000 for those with Social Security. Retirees would receive no COLA at all until age 67 or 5 years after retirement, whichever comes first. The retirement age would also be increased to 5 years longer than current law, and phased in over time. The proposal also phases in a 2% of salary increased contribution from all Tier 1 employees over 2 years, caps pensionable salary at the Social Security base (now $113,700), and strengthens the state’s funding formula.
Smart Grid follow-up legislation passed by Senate
The Illinois Senate advanced Senate Bill 9 on March 14, which would further clarify the state’s 2011 “Smart Grid” law, legislation that allowed for Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) to hike consumer rates by more than $2 billion over the next decade in order to digitize and repair the state’s aging electrical grid.
The utility company argued the modernization would save consumers more money in the long run through increased efficiency, and by giving consumers more control over their electric usage. However, Senate Bill 9 was introduced in response to an ongoing disagreement between ComEd and the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) on implementation of the law, which ComEd said would substantially increase costs for the utility company by approximately $100 million annually.
Senate Bill 9 addresses three of the points of contention between the ICC and ComEd, including: whether pensions will be considered an asset or a liability; the interest rate that will be used to bring the utility’s actually costs into line with the theoretical costs; and what returns will be based on—the equipment in the ground at the end of the year, or the average amount of equipment that is put into the ground throughout the year. And though ComEd pushed back its deployment schedule to install “smart” meters, the measure would require the utility to begin installing their in-home smart meters in 2013.
Althoff welcomes two district communities to Springfield for Illinois Main Street Rally Day
March 13 was the annual Illinois Main Street Rally Day in Springfield. The program is celebrating its 20th year of working to promote the revitalization and success of communities throughout the state. Diana Kenney, Executive Director of the Downtown Crystal Lake Main Street Program, and Adam Johnson, Executive Director of the Marengo Main Street Program were in attendance from Althoff’s district. Althoff said that the Main Street Program’s mission is at the heart of what legislators should be promoting.
“Building up our communities to thrive socially and economically are policies that I do my best to advocate for,” Althoff said. “It is my hope that through the advocacy of the Main Street communities and partnerships with legislators such as myself, we will be able to take their mission and continue to promote it for the benefit of all these communities around the state.”
Visitors to Springfield
Also this week, Althoff welcomed members of the McHenry Country Government who were in Springfield with the Barrington Area Council Government. Althoff joined them during their March 12 meeting with Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno concerning the Governor’s proposal to borrow local government distributive funds from municipalities.