The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
My first session as your State Representative was brought to a close last week just before midnight on May 31st.
The Illinois House adjourned for the summer after addressing a number of big items, while some issues were left unresolved as additional discussion and debate is needed over the next couple of months to find compromise solutions.
The budget is always the main focus during the final weeks of session. This year the budget process was remarkably different, as Republican and Democrat members of the House worked in bipartisan fashion to craft a spending plan that will for the first time in years force the state to live within its means.
Early on during budget negotiations the Illinois House set a strict spending cap of $33.2 billion.
That figure is about $2 billion less than what Governor Quinn proposed spending for FY12 and around a billion less than what the Senate expected to spend. The House budget makes cuts of around $500 million, while ensuring the priority programs of education, human services and public safety are spared from extreme reductions.
These are real cuts to the state budget, and cutting funding for programs is never an easy task. But the people of Illinois have been very clear in their message that they want to see the state reducing spending, not raising taxes. This budget does just that. If we want to begin to pay off the billions in unpaid bills and ensure the democrat's recent "temporary" tax hike really is temporary, budget cuts must be part of any solution.
While these cuts are certainly difficult, they are manageable. Most organizations and groups that receive state funding will tell you they want a level of predictability and reliability from the state regarding fiscal matters.
That is what this budget intends to accomplish. Over the past couple of years the state has overpromised and under delivered to these groups.
That makes it very difficult for them to manage their budgets. The goal of this budget is to get financial matters in order, start paying our vendors in a timely manner and put us on a path that will meet the needs of Illinois residents.
It is still uncertain what the Governor intends to do with the budget product that was sent to him by the legislature. He has repeatedly criticized the budget plan and favors more spending on state programs. The Senate democrats unsuccessfully tried to add $430 million of additional spending onto legislation that authorizes funds for the upcoming season of the capital plan, but the House rejected that maneuver.
The Governor has said he intends to call a special session to address the capital legislation, so lawmakers may be back in Springfield sometime in the next couple of weeks to deal with this matter.
A proposal that is supposed to address our state's abysmal workers' compensation costs narrowly passed the House and was sent to the Governor on the final day of session. However, the measure will likely do little to rein in our over costly workers' comp system that ranks as one of the most anti-business in the nation.
The measure was defeated on the first attempt at passage, but strong arm tactics from the powerful House Speaker forced the bill through on the second try. The bulk of the initiative deals with cutting the medical fee schedule by 30%. This will save some money, but certainly not the amounts that have been touted by the proponents of this bill.
The one issue that is always brought up by business interests when discussing workers' compensation reform is causation, or requiring an injury to be primarily caused on the job. There is nothing in the legislation that will address this huge problem, and many feel that without a proper causation clause within the initiative it will do little to attract new investments for Illinois.
I plan to continue working on a comprehensive, real reform measure to address this extremely important issue. Our state does not have the most business friendly reputation and the recent tax hike did not help that image, so it is imperative that we craft responsible workers' comp reform that addresses all the issues and not just pass legislation masquerading as reform.
A proposal to drastically alter pension benefits for current employees was shelved at the end of session. The plan was dropped after strong opposition from a number of involved groups and legislators.
Instead of pushing ahead with a proposal that many disagreed with for a variety of reasons, a number of hearings will be held over the summer with all involved groups, General Assembly members and the public to try to craft some sort of agreed upon compromise.
The $85 billion pension liability is certainly a problem that will need to be addressed, but finding a means to accomplish this goal that is constitutional and does not harm the benefits of our current employees will be difficult.
Everyone agrees that the state's years of failure to make their portion of the required payments is the reason for the pension mess. There is no disputing the fact that the years and years of underfunding have created a very big problem. We need a plan to ensure benefits for our public sector employees are available and secure for retirees. I believe there are solutions to make our five pension systems stable without hurting our public employee's benefits. We need to continue the discussion on potential resolutions, and all sides should and need to be involved if we are going to find a responsible compromise that protects the retirement systems of our public employees.
The Governor recently signed the Democrat crafted redistricting maps. The process was anything but transparent. Although there were a number of hearings held throughout the state before the map was drawn, the final version of the new Illinois House and Senate districts was only made available for a matter of hours before the Democrats pushed the new boundaries through with zero republican votes.
Under the proposed maps the 94th district will undergo some changes. The far western part of the current 94th district along the Mississippi River will be put into a new district with Quincy. The 94th will gain Schuyler and Brown Counties while stretching all the way up to take in the southern part of Galesburg. But the current district will lose a lot of ground in Hancock, Henderson and Warren Counties.
A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new district boundaries is almost a sure bet. Many feel that minority populations, particularly the Latino community, may not be properly represented under the new map. Until the lawsuit is settled I am going to refrain from commenting on specifics of the districts.
The Governor's decision to drop Health Alliance and Humana as HMO providers for the state has drawn a great deal of attention. Last week, legislation was sent to the governor that would extend the current contracts and make other necessary changes to this obviously flawed process. The Governor likely will not sign the proposed changes as he stands by his decision to get rid of the healthcare providers.
Below is a press release I issued last week on the proposed legislation that I wanted to share with you. Please keep an eye on this issue as the deadline to enroll in alternative plans is quickly approaching and without the Governor taking action on this bill, options remain limited for those who may be forced to switch healthcare providers.
Rep. Hammond Supports Legislation Extending Health Alliance Contract
Springfield, IL:State Representative Norine Hammond (R-Macomb) said that Senate Bill 178 is the best option for state employees and retirees to retain their healthcare coverage under Health Alliance and Humana providers.
"The General Assembly made the right decision today to cancel the most recent group insurance contracts and instead continue the existing healthcare contracts for an additional two years," said Rep. Hammond. "The facts that I have seen clearly show that the decision to eliminate Health Alliance as an insurance provider for the state didn't make sense then, and it doesn't make any sense now. The DHFS decision to drop these proven providers will cost Illinois taxpayers significantly more over the next decade because of the increased risks associated with the plans that were intended to replace Health Alliance and Humana."
"Under the recently negotiated contracts there would not be an HMO provider network in place for 64 of Illinois' 102 counties. I don't think the administration took that fact into consideration when choosing the most recent contracts. For the 100,000 people who are going to be forced from their family physicians, the question remains, where they will receive healthcare coverage in downstate Illinois," Hammond said.
Senate Bill 178, co-sponsored by Rep. Hammond, would cancel all the recently negotiated state group health insurance contracts scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2011. Instead, current contracts, including Health Alliance and Humana, will be extended for an additional two years. The legislation would return responsibility to purchase state employee healthcare back to the Department of Central Management Services and also make Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability contract decisions binding.
SB 178 passed the House on Monday and now heads to the Governor. Governor Quinn has 60 days after receiving the legislation to take appropriate action, either signing the bill into law, vetoing the legislation or making changes to the proposal with his amendatory veto powers.
State employees and retirees are required to be enrolled with providers by June 17. Rep. Hammond urges the Governor to take swift action on the legislation to give enrollees the necessary time to make their healthcare decisions.
As always, please feel free to contact my office by phone or email any time. I will be traveling throughout the district over the next few months meeting with as many constituents as possible and I always look forward to your feedback.
Thanks, Norine Hammond (R-Macomb)
94th District Illinois State Representative firstname.lastname@example.org
Committee Assignments: Agriculture & Conservation
Appropriations-Higher Education Consumer Protection Human Assistances
Aging, and Assistance and Benefits Subcommittee
District Office: 311 N. Lafayette Street, PO Box 170, Macomb,IL 61455 (309) 836-2707