Senate Week in Review: February 11-15
SPRINGFIELD, IL – Budget outlooks from both the Governor's Office and the Legislature's own bi-partisan financial forecasting agency were on tap Friday, Feb. 15, when the Illinois Senate's two budget writing committees held a joint hearing in Chicago, according to State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris).
The hearings capped a short week in the state Senate, which also saw Senate approval of a same sex marriage proposal, the adoption of rules to encourage citizens to submit ideas for new laws, moving the date of the Governor's annual budget message and a major increase in licensing fees for the state's doctors.
Only HB 156, which moves the date of the Governor's budget message to March 6, has been approved by both the Senate and the House. The same sex marriage proposal and licensing fee increase for doctors have yet to be considered by the Illinois House, Sen. Rezin explained.
A rules change approved in the Senate, Senate Resolution 54, will allow citizens who collect 10 or more signatures for a legislative proposal to have their ideas submitted to the Senate. The proposals for new laws would be reviewed by a special Senate committee for possible consideration as legislation, Sen. Rezin said.
Receiving the most attention was the same sex marriage proposal, SB 10. It was approved after extensive debate both in committee and on the Senate floor. Proponents argued that giving same sex couples the right to marriage was a civil rights issue. Opponents focused primarily on concerns that the Illinois law could have unintended consequences for churches and religious institutions that view same sex marriage as contrary to their tenets.
In debate on the Senate floor, opponents raised concerns that the broad language of the measure could subject churches which oppose same sex marriage to costly lawsuits simply for adhering to their beliefs.
Others questioned the priorities of the Senate President, who expedited consideration of the same sex marriage proposal while pension and workers' compensation reforms, which are critical to the state's economy, languish.
The state economy did take center stage when the two Senate Appropriation Committees met Feb. 15 to hear economic assessments from the governor's budget office, the legislature's own financial forecasting agency and the state's Revenue Department, Sen. Rezin explained.
An extensive analysis from Moody's Analytics was grim, declaring Illinois "is one of just a handful nationally in danger of falling back into recession" and adding "Illinois has been among the Midwest's weakest and is underperforming the nation in most economic gauges."
Earlier in the month, the legislature's Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability presented a similar assessment to the Illinois House revealing that the economic recovery from the 2007-2009 recession has seen the weakest growth since the World War II era.
In almost every economic indicator, the reports show Illinois lags behind the rest of the nation and faces significant hurdles to job growth, Sen. Rezin said. Moody's Analytics warned that as the rest of the nation recovers, Illinois will "trail the region and nation by an even larger margin in 2013."
However, there were some bright spots in the analysis, notably in the manufacturing and in tech- and science-based industries, Sen. Rezin said.
In manufacturing, Illinois is recovering jobs more rapidly than the rest of the country and the state's percentage of manufacturing jobs is actually slightly higher than the nation's. Slightly more than 10% of the state's workforce is in manufacturing and outside Chicago, manufacturing accounts for 13.1% of the state's jobs. Yet, even in that sector, Moody's cautioned that most of the 305,000 manufacturing jobs lost since 1997 will not return.
Other key findings:
• Income in Illinois fell by more during the recession and has risen by less during the recovery;
• The national unemployment rate in January 2013 was 7.8%. Illinois’ rate was 8.7%;
• One of Illinois' greatest strengths is its skilled and educated workforce. About 31% of Illinois residents have college degrees and 12% have post-graduate degrees. Both figures are above the national average;
• The 2011 tax hike sent Illinois into the bottom half of the nation in terms of tax climate with the major increase in business taxes being "the single biggest reason for the recent slippage in the state's tax climate." Illinois now has the fourth highest corporate tax rate in the nation;
• Illinois is suffering from weak population growth and in 2012, a net 44,000 residents left the state. Even in the Midwest, Illinois is trailing its neighbors meaning "the state is losing out to its closest competitors to attracting and maintaining residents;"
• The state's largest number of out-migrants aren't moving to a sunbelt state, but rather to Indiana;
• Despite strong competition from South America and Asia, the outlook for Illinois agriculture is good, in part led by increasing demand for ethanol;
• Lake County and Rockford account for more than 90% of the state's foreclosed properties. The state's foreclosure rate is twice the Midwest average and second highest after Florida;
• Illinois' extensive transportation network is a key factor for economic growth. Illinois is the nation's top rail hub with more than 7,300 miles of track and 42 different railroads.
In other legislative action, a bill increasing licensing fees for doctors (SB 622) was also sent to the Illinois House for their consideration. The state's Medical Disciplinary Fund does not have enough money to cover the cost of licensing doctors in Illinois. The bill more than doubles physician licensing fees and loans the Medical Disciplinary Fund $6.6 million to be repaid from the higher fees.
However, opponents pointed out that the reason the doctor's licensing fund is broke is because more than $12 million has been "swept" from the fund over the past decade to pay for other state services. They also noted the irony that another special purpose fund, the Local Government Tax Fund, was being swept to provide the loan. Opponents argued that raising fees will not solve the problem so long as the Governor is allowed to raid special purpose funds.
Also this week, the Senate passed SB 20 which would keep certain high-level or supervisory public employee positions from being affected by SB 1556, which de-certifies these positions from the union. SB 1556, passed during the January lame-duck session, has not yet been signed by Governor Quinn, and SB 20 will only take effect only if the Governor signs SB 1556. SB 20 passed the Senate unanimously, and it now moves to the House for consideration.
Sen. Rezin says she is urging the Illinois House of Representatives and Illinois Department of Natural Resources to conclude negotiations on legislation that could create thousands of jobs and have a several billion dollar economic impact for Illinois residents.
"The issue of hydraulic fracturing has been discussed at length the last couple of years," Sen. Rezin said. "Last year, the Senate approved a bipartisan bill, which was negotiated and agreed upon by both the industry and the environmentalists, and passed unanimously, before it hit a roadblock in the Illinois House. This could create 47,000 jobs and have a $9.5 billion positive impact on Illinois residents. It also offers a huge opportunity to move America toward energy independence by accessing lower cost natural gas and reducing America's reliance on foreign oil while providing safeguards to protect the environment."
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a form of horizontal drilling in shale rock with fracking permit regulations decided at the state level by each state. A recent study showed that new fracking permits in Illinois could create up to 47,000 jobs and have a $9.5 billion economic impact to Illinois residents.
Sen. Rezin said local workers at sand mines in the 38th Legislative District would see a direct impact from these new regulations due to the fact that sand found in the area is an ideal type for using as a part of the process for this type of drilling.
As a leading member on the Senate Environment Committee, Sen. Rezin has supported hydraulic fracturing legislation in the past including the 2012 measure, Senate Bill 3280, which laid out a roadmap for hydraulic fracturing in Illinois. The bill was prevented from passage in the House due to hostile anti-fracking group amendments.
Sen. Rezin says she looks forward to working with her colleagues in each chamber on this issue in order to create jobs and spur economic growth for her district and the State of Illinois.