Today is one of the most important days in the legislative session: the day the House takes up the bulk of the vetoes issued by the governor. In the past, we called this the “veto session.” (Because the General Assembly didn’t balance the budget by May 31 as required, the regular session never ended.)
So far this year, the governor has signed almost 500 bills into law, while issuing vetoes for 63 bills. Governor Rauner’s vetoes cover bills addressing everything from heroin addiction policy, to how villages are formed, to whether schools can employ felons.
The governor has a few options when a bill hits his desk: sign it into law, veto it entirely, or recommend changes to the law through the use of an “amendatory veto.” For spending bills, he can also reduce or eliminate individual spending lines. Governor Rauner has issued total vetoes to 42 bills, amendatory vetoes to 20 bills, and a line item veto to 1 bill.
To override his veto, a supermajority of 71 members of the House must support the override, along with 36 senators. To agree to changes the governor recommends in an amendatory veto, just a simple majority of House and Senate members are needed. The Democrats have 71 members in the House and 39 in the Senate, so in theory, they can override any veto they’d like.
The House or Senate—wherever the bill started out originally—has 15 days to take action on a veto, so the clock is now ticking on the majority of the non-spending bills the governor vetoed. (Several months ago, the governor vetoed the spending bills, because they spent $4 billion more than the $32 billion we will take in during this fiscal year.)
The amendatory veto is a unique feature of the Illinois Constitution, and it is a good one. The legislative process in Springfield often moves at breakneck speed, and language occasionally finds its way into a bill that shouldn’t be in there. Sometimes the language is unclear or would cause unintended consequences. Sometimes the language was added to secure extra votes for the measure. And other times the language is just bad for the people of the state, whether intentionally benefitting a special interest or unintentionally because of oversight.
The debate will be vigorous on these vetoed measures. In the media, the governor has been accused of every terrible thing you can imagine because of his 63 vetoes. However, when you read through the governor’s veto messages, they show a high level of care and thought about the possible effect of each of the bills.
If a bill can be fixed, Governor Rauner has proposed and explained changes through an amendatory veto. For a bill that can’t be fixed, the governor has written a considered analysis through a total veto why that particular bill would be against what’s best for the people of Illinois. If you’re interested in a specific bill, you can go online to ilga.gov and read the governor’s veto message for yourself. (If you prefer not to go online, go ahead and call my office, and we’ll send you hard copies of veto messages.)
When you watch the news coverage of these vetoes over the next few weeks, ignore the heated rhetoric, look for the substance, and above all “follow the money.” Those most vigorously opposed to a particular veto may be looking to protect a financial perk for themselves, even if the bill in question would be bad for the people of the state. As we enter the third month of our government stalemate, folks still are angling for their carve-outs and special treatment.
The problem is, the only way to fix Illinois government is to return our focus to the people’s interest, and away from petty special interests. Until such a new way is adopted by the majority of the members of the General Assembly, we won’t be able to solve the financial and ethical crises facing our state.
This past week, the House unanimously approved a bill that would allow the state to spend $5 billion in federal money that supports state programs. The proceedings were heated, however, because at first, Speaker Madigan and his majority caucus wouldn’t allow debate on the agreed-to “clean bill” to merely spend the federal dollars available to Illinois. Instead, they tacked on over $1 billion in state spending to the measure—at the same unbalanced spending level previously vetoed by Governor Rauner. Only after the bill with the extra spending failed did Speaker Madigan and the majority allow a vote on the “clean bill,” to spend just the federal dollars, which passed easily. The Senate is expected to approve the measure this week, and the Governor has indicated that he will sign it as soon as it reaches his desk.
The Illinois state government has now been “shut down” for over a month and a half. Even so, some estimate that as much as 90% of state government is continuing, because of various court orders—requiring certain spending on Medicaid, foster children, the disabled, etc.—and pre-authorized spending—such as debt payments and pension payments. This way of operating means that a number of programs are entirely stopped, some are partially stopped, while others are running along on “autopilot,” without any assessment of the relative importance of each program or the amounts of money that are truly needed to deliver the benefits of each program. Yes, the state isn’t overspending right now, but this way of “budgeting” is like going on a crash diet: it wreaks havoc on your body and, as soon as the diet ends, you’re right back to eating too much.
With so much spending continuing as usual, there is less pressure on political actors to end the shutdown, whether from state government workers, the disadvantaged, or the disabled. Generally, state legislators’ offices aren’t being deluged with complaint calls. Without pressure, there is greatly reduced impetus to compromise, so we trudge along, week after week, with little or no progress on budget negotiations.
Instead, Speaker Madigan and his majority have scheduled at least 10 votes on fake property tax reform—measures that could never pass the Senate or be signed into law—all so that politically vulnerable members of the House majority can claim, in their next elections, that they supported property tax relief. Madigan and his members are also trying to override the governor’s veto on a bill that would strip from the governor and the executive branch the ability to negotiate state worker contracts. If that bill passed, an unelected arbitrator would instead determine state worker contracts, at an estimated additional cost to state taxpayers in the billions of dollars. No other state has enacted such a draconian measure.
Our state needs real reform, and it starts with a balanced budget. People can’t find work, and businesses can’t operate, because our current taxes and regulations are oppressive. And, even if the current structure works for particular types of businesses, they have no certainty due to the political mess plaguing in our state.
The solution is to get every idea on the table, with all parties involved. Up to now, that’s not been allowed to happen in the Illinois House and Senate. Majorities of Illinoisans want government and economic reform. The members of the General Assembly owe it to the people to go on the record and either support or oppose that reform. Soon enough, we’ll all have to stand before the voters again—they deserve to know where we stand first.
While the Illinois budget shutdown is center stage right now, the General Assembly has sent Governor Bruce Rauner hundreds of bills to either sign or veto. I’ve had one of the three bills for which I’m chief sponsor signed—a bill to eliminate an unnecessary unit of DuPage County government—while two more are still awaiting gubernatorial action.
As a new member of the Illinois General Assembly, I have experienced my fair share of “firsts,” but one that’s a “first” for all of us is seeing how Governor Rauner works differently than our past governors. In the past, the governor’s signing or veto was a foregone conclusion. If the bill made political sense or someone needed a favor, he signed it. If not, he vetoed it.
Governor Rauner has taken a different approach. For every bill, he has ensured that there are multiple layers of staff studying, debating, and reviewing the bills. They ask a lot of questions. For instance, will the bill help the economy to create jobs? Will the bill reduce government bureaucracy or grow it? Does the bill serve special interests or the people’s interest?
The governor himself will even participate in these sometimes vigorous debates about the merits of a particular bill, before he makes the decision to sign or veto it. You might think this would be standard practice, but it’s not. Considering the reaction I got when folks in Springfield realized that I was reading the bills—and asking specific questions about the effect of bill language—I guess this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Some bills, however, don’t need a lot of debate before vetoing. One that has received a lot of press is the governor’s recent veto of Senate Bill 1229. This bill is described as being related to “Interstate Medical Licensure.” However, what the bill actually does is upend the historical balance of the labor-management relationship, just for state government unions. Instead of a negotiation on fair terms between representatives of labor (the AFSCME union representatives) and representatives of “management” (our elected officials), the bill would put the terms of labor contracts in the hands of an unelected arbitrator. In other words, the taxpayers will foot the bill for the contract, even if their elected representatives—in this case, the Governor and members of the General Assembly—don’t agree to the terms of the contract.
The Governor recently negotiated an agreed contract with Teamsters union leaders, who represent several thousand state workers, so it’s not as if the Governor can’t or won’t negotiate in good faith. Governor Rauner wants fair wages and benefits for government workers, and with our state nearly bankrupt, that’s not being “anti-union” or “unreasonable.” It’s just common sense.
If this bill were to go into law, there would be nobody really looking out for the taxpayers, which is a primary reason why our state is in the fiscal mess that we’re suffering today.
The backstory is that the bill was intended as a political move by Speaker Michael Madigan and his members to generously pay back the AFSCME union leaders for their support in past (and presumably future) elections. AFSCME wants an up to 29% pay increase over 4 years, generous pension payouts, and overtime after 37.5 hours (instead of the usual 40 hours). This bill wouldn’t ensure a “level playing field,” which everyone supports. This bill would be a massive giveaway, at your and my expense!
Local editorial boards have seen through this charade, using words like “unsettling” and “flawed” to describe the bill and the process used to pass it through the House and Senate. However, Speaker Madigan and his majority caucus are expected to bring the bill back in the next couple weeks to seek to override the Governor’s veto.
As we continue into the second month of the Illinois state budget shutdown, you’re seeing two visions of government very clearly demonstrated: one way looks back and one looks forward. Whether you agree with everything the Governor has proposed or stands for, his proposed solutions for Illinois are clearly the way forward, while Speaker Madigan’s proposals are the way backward.
"I've never seen anything like this. It's two different worldviews." – State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields
… and it’s about time!
For decades, there’s only been one worldview in Springfield: that of House Speaker Mike Madigan. Madigan has been Speaker of the House since I was 6 years old. (I’m now 38.)
The visible results of that worldview are easily seen. One recent study, by George Mason University, ranked the fiscal condition of the 50 states. From not having a balanced budget to not having enough cash to meet either short-term or long-term commitments, Illinois came in dead last, 50 out of 50.
One concrete example of this was laid out in a symposium in January on public pensions, where Prof. Robert Inman of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School observed that, “Chicago’s unfunded [pension] liabilities are 10 times its revenues. Just assume that they’re going to have to pay 5% of that [annually]. That means you’re looking at 50% of their cash that will have go to pensions.”
As we trudge through these long hot days of summer, these “two worldviews” are why the government of Illinois is in shutdown mode, and the General Assembly deadlocked with Governor Bruce Rauner.
This new “worldview” of the Governor isn’t radical by any stretch. He’s proposing measures to reduce the costs of doing business in Illinois, and to streamline and reform all levels of state and local government. He’s also put forward term limits and ending the partisan process of drawing political districts, in hopes of finally and permanently breaking the power of career politicians to control state government.
You don’t have to agree with the Governor and each of his policy prescriptions in order to appreciate that we finally have competing visions of government in Illinois. It’s time for a robust debate on the critical issues facing us as a state—and may the best ideas and solutions win.
The sad reality is that the Governor’s reform measures are drafted, filed, and pending in the House Rules Committee, waiting to be released. However, Speaker Madigan and his majority caucus won’t allow these measures to be debated. And so, we’re shut down. And mired in crisis.
Let’s have the debate, and out of that debate will come compromise. If not, then let the people vote out those who refuse to work for their best interests.
There’s no Greece-style bailout on the horizon for Illinois. There are no easy solutions. Just hard work—if we’re allowed to do it.
We’re now in week two of the fiscal crisis in Springfield. Tempers are flaring in the Capitol: the other side even tried to shout me down, when I spoke on the House floor this past week about the harms to the needy and disabled caused by the unbalanced budget. (We got the video and posted it on my website, reppeterbreen.org, if you’d like to see it.)
The reason we’re here is Speaker Madigan. He rammed a package of 20 budget bills through the General Assembly which would spend $4 billion more than we’ll take in next year. Because the package of bills was unbalanced, Governor Rauner vetoed all but one of the budget bills. He decided to sign the K-12 education bill, so that schools can open, regardless of how long the budget fight takes to resolve.
Without agreement on a budget, payments to state contractors will grind to a halt, including payments to agencies providing services to the disabled and the poor. Some of these are paid on a delayed basis, so there may be a 30-day or 60-day window where the agencies’ payments continue, because those payments are left over from the previous fiscal year. However, no payments for this new fiscal year, which began on July 1, can occur. Even so, over the years, various court orders require certain payments to continue, such as for foster care, so some services will continue to be funded. Services funded through federal dollars should also continue.
As for the government itself, state employees are still coming to work, so it’s hard to call this a “shutdown.” Governor Rauner supports paying them, on time, for their work, because one way or the other, these folks are going to get paid in full. The worst would be mimicking the way the federal government has handled budget crises: some federal employees work and some stay home, but after the crisis ends, all those employees get back pay as if they’d been working the whole time.
However, Attorney General Madigan has gone to court to block the payment in full of state employees. It may seem odd for a Democrat Attorney General to oppose state employee unions and full payment of workers. But it all makes sense if you look at the politics.
First, obviously, Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s father is Speaker Mike Madigan. Speaker Madigan designed the $4 billion unbalanced budget. He’s been trying to put pressure on Governor Rauner to agree to a $4 billion tax increase and to drop demands for substantial government reform and job creation measures.
Another less obvious point is that large numbers of state workers live in downstate Republican legislative districts. If Attorney General Madigan can stop these folks from being paid, she increases pressure on downstate Republican members to agree to a tax increase and end the budget stalemate.
Still, there are strong pressures on the other side to agree to government and economic reforms. For one, the City of Chicago needs relief from its current pension payments, which have spiked because the City underfunded its pensions for decades. As well, because the City’s bond rating is junk, it can’t just borrow money to pay for government services like it did for years. Moreover, Democrat districts are likely to be hit hard by the budget impasse, especially in Chicago, because of large populations of people living in those districts being served by state government programs.
While there is plenty of room for compromise, the battle lines are drawn, and the fight for the heart and soul of Illinois is underway. Speaker Madigan is used to winning these sorts of fights—he has maintained power, control, and the status quo for decades. But our state faces much more serious problems than it did in the past. Governor Rauner brings business acumen and an outsider’s perspective, even going so far as to say he doesn’t care about re-election, as long as he gets his reforms. This makes him a much more formidable opponent than the Speaker has faced in the past.
I’m supporting Governor Rauner in this fight. We desperately need the economic growth and government reform he’s proposing. And if that means I get yelled at by the other side every time I stand up to speak on the House floor, so be it. Whatever the price, our future is worth it.
With everything going on in Springfield, a lot of folks ask me, "what's going to happen?" They’re worried about the budget crisis, the pension crisis, or one of any number of crises in Illinois state government. While I wish it were otherwise, my typical answer is, "I don't know what will happen, but I sure know what should happen!”
We should promote real job growth, stop spending more than we take in, and reform Illinois government. There are plenty of policy proposals out there to do this. Some proposals are more complex than others, but none of them require a rocket scientist to execute.
Here’s the problem: the debate in Springfield isn’t about which of the available policy changes we should pursue, but whether we should bother with any significant policy changes at all.
You wouldn’t realize that, listening to all the talk from members of the General Assembly. They make it sound like they’re on top of things. The problem isn’t in what you’re hearing, but in what they’re saying. You see, words mean different things in the State Capitol than they do in the rest of the state.
For instance, when you hear politicians advocate for a “balanced approach,” that means they support tax increases. When they say that a spending reduction is “massive,” that means a cut of more than about 5% or so. When they talk about “protecting the middle class,” that means they support new government programs or substantial increases in existing programs, usually without any way to pay for them.
The best way I know to “protect the middle class” is to increase the number of good-paying jobs. Middle class folks in Illinois don’t need more programs—they need more opportunities to work. And they deserve a government that won’t then bleed them dry through corruption, overspending, and excessive taxation.
In the coming weeks and months, ignore the talk and watch what the General Assembly actually does. So far, Speaker Mike Madigan has scheduled week after week of sham votes, on bills that were never meant to become law. That has led to lots of shouting but very little honest debate.
You’ll know we’re making progress if you see debate on real proposals to achieve job growth, balance the budget, and reform government. There are many entrenched special interests in the way, but if we can clear a path for proposals like these, we can achieve the recovery our state desperately needs and wants.
We’re now in the final week of the 2015 General Assembly session, which will conclude when the clock strikes midnight on May 31, this Sunday night. While there have been many bills debated up to now, the “elephants in the room” remain unaddressed. For the first 4 months of our session, Speaker Mike Madigan has prevented consideration of serious compromise measures, to clean up government, rein in property taxes, and get our spending under control.
And, at the end of last week, the majority leaders of the House and Senate told the governor that they would not consider any of his proposed reforms. You see, the governor ran for office on a set of proposals, what he calls his “Turnaround Agenda.” Several months ago, he put together bipartisan working groups to go through the proposals and to negotiate where the Democrat and Republican parties could find common ground. Those good faith compromise bills would then be introduced and debated by the General Assembly.
Strong majorities of Illinoisans support the governor’s ideas for reform, and of course, strong majorities of Illinoisans—essentially the entire state outside of Cook County—supported the governor in the last election. But the bipartisan process has now been brought to a screeching halt by the other side.
In years’ past, this is the point where the special interests would shift into overdrive, the reformers would lose their nerve, and business in Springfield would return to normal. With a wink and a nod, budgets would be busted, bills would be ignored while pet projects were funded, and real reforms would be put off until some uncertain future date.
Not this time, not this year.
The people of Illinois have demanded a clean break from the past, and the governor has publicly committed to stay the course, until we deliver the reforms that our state desperately needs. No more spending money we don’t have. No more special deals for insiders. No more putting off necessary changes to next year.
This may mean a budget doesn’t get done by the end of session this Sunday night. If the other side tries to pass an unbalanced budget, then the governor may keep the General Assembly in session all summer, until we balance our budget. If that’s what it takes, so be it.
You’ll probably see a lot of ink spilled about the fight in Springfield over the next couple months. That’s a good thing, because the people who’ve bankrupted and corrupted our state government won’t go away easily or quietly. The health and well-being of our state hangs in the balance: winning this fight is the only way to truly achieve the “Illinois Turnaround” that we all so desperately want and need.
It was like a scene out of a science fiction movie: folks are talking on screen, everything’s normal, when all of the sudden, half the people go blank, as if someone flipped a switch and took control of their minds. Their eyes glaze over, they move in unison, as if they were a group of robots.
That was the beginning of the budget games in the Illinois House.
It had been a typical day of work on the floor. Then, out walked House Speaker Mike Madigan—a rare occurrence—and he announced we would be considering the first of a list of 16 separate budget amendments. We’d be immediately debating and voting on billions of dollars in spending, with no warning, no committee hearings, and none of the usual process.
And, all this spending was to be voted on before we learned how much money would be available for next year’s budget. Yes, you read that right, billions of dollars would go out the door, without an idea of how we would pay for any of it.
The members of the majority caucus did not raise a single objection. Instead, they voted with Speaker Madigan on every single one of the amendments. That’s every Democrat in the House voting with Speaker Madigan, on every spending measure he offered.
I don’t like to get partisan in this column, because I’ve gotten to know many members of the majority caucus in the House. Most are good, decent, intelligent people. That’s what made this “robot moment” so shocking: it was out of character from their conduct during first four months of this House Session.
If you want Exhibit A of why Illinois is in such a mess, it was on display last week. You saw one man running our state with an iron fist. A man with so much power that he can do the equivalent of flicking a switch, and every member of the majority acts in unison, without thought. Otherwise rational representatives will abandon their senses. They’ll spend billions of your tax dollars, without care for how much is available or where the money will come from. All at his command.
Now, some believe that Speaker Madigan planned on using the votes to create campaign mailers for the 2016 elections, to accuse members on our side of the aisle of voting “no” on funding for all sorts of worthy causes.
Instead, everyone on our side voted “present,” for three main reasons: 1) because it’s bad government to vote on items that you haven’t had time to read and consider, 2) because folks on our side aren’t against funding these budget lines, but without an idea of how much money is available, we’ve got no basis to set the level where a particular program should be funded, and 3) because we want to send a unified, clear message to Speaker Madigan and the established political order that the people of Illinois are tired of their shenanigans.
Our over-$32 billion budget is being examined by numerous committees and working groups to hash out all of its various details. That process is careful, thoughtful, and deliberative. It involves both Democrats and Republicans. These meetings and negotiations are our best hope to put together a balanced budget that protects our core priorities: caring for those least able to care for themselves, providing a world-class education for our kids, and bringing jobs and economic growth back to Illinois. That process is good government.
The more that we can pull back the curtain on the bad practices, the sooner we’ll be rid of them. We have too many critical issues to address—from funding our pension payments to putting a lid on our property taxes—to play these political games.
April 25 was the deadline for bills to be passed out of the House for the 2015 session. Imagine hour after hour of debate, where one minute you’re discussing wait times for expunging criminal convictions and the next, appropriate procedures to establish fatherhood for newborns. Mixed in, there were less weighty debates, such as over what the state pie should be. (Illinois is apparently the pumpkin capital of America, so for economic and tourism reasons, the representatives from pumpkin-growing regions of the state prevailed upon the rest of the members to agree that the state pie should be pumpkin pie.)
In addition to the three bills I passed out of the House as chief sponsor, there were several other bills of note that I worked to pass as a cosponsor. We were able to pass a restriction on community college employment contracts—the bill included my “Breuder Rule,” a limit on severance packages, named after the president of the College of DuPage who recently received an outrageous $763,000 severance agreement. We also passed a prohibition on the use of red light cameras in non-home-rule communities. We got rid of these devices in Lombard, and there’s no reason folks in Villa Park, Lisle, and other communities should have to suffer under them, either.
From here forward, the legislative process essentially starts over, with the House taking up the Senate’s bills, and the Senate taking up the House’s bills. Just as the House bills were, the Senate bills will now have to be read three times, pass through committee, and win a 60-vote majority on the House floor. If amendments are made in the House, the Senate bills will then be returned to the Senate for its concurrence with the changes, before being sent to the governor. For bills that are passed without changes, they go directly to the governor, without returning to the Senate. The governor has 60 days from the time a bill is presented to him to either sign or veto the bill. If he does neither, the bill becomes law after those 60 days pass.
I am chief sponsor of 4 more bills that were passed out of the Senate. One of these is a bill to increase penalties for truck drivers and their employers who willfully violate limits on driving time and cause serious traffic accidents. Another is a measure to protect disabled seniors from avaricious individuals who take advantage of those seniors’ disability to pressure the seniors to change their estate plans.
Looming large over the regular movement of bills is the brewing struggle between Governor Bruce Rauner and the Democratic Leaders of the House and Senate. The governor has advocated for substantial reform of government, along with a balanced budget without a tax increase. So far, House Speaker Michael Madigan has publicly indicated a willingness to negotiate with the governor, while Senate President John Cullerton has taken a much harder line against him. There are strong interest groups on both sides of this battle.
We all knew that turning Illinois around would be difficult, and this robust debate is a necessary part of that process. That said, buckle up, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Illinois Turnaround Begins - Turning Illinois around is going to take a lot of work, and that work will be done slowly and deliberately, one step at a time. The first real step was this week, when Speaker Madigan and President Cullerton finally agreed to allow Governor Rauner to fill the $1.6 billion budget hole in the current fiscal year budget. All Republicans voted in favor of the compromise, along with fewer than half of the Democrats.
The shortfall was built into the fiscal year 2015 budget last year, both because the General Assembly deliberately underfunded various items in that budget and because Gov. Quinn instructed his department heads to ignore their budgeted amounts and “spend as much money as you think you need.” I wish I were making this up, but it’s true: those department heads have gone on the record to affirm they were told to ignore the amount of money they’d been budgeted.
This emergency situation had placed at grave risk Illinois’ child care programs, prisons, courts, and services for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled. It wasn’t painless—there were some funds that were swept and temporary cuts that were made—but the Governor will now be able to keep these vital services going through the end of June. After Easter, the General Assembly takes up the full year budget for fiscal year 2016, which begins this July 1. We’ll also start looking at Gov. Rauner’s job creation, government reform, and education reform packages.
“Pulling a Breen” - With all the corruption and mismanagement of the state government, one of the top concerns of our new General Assembly members is whether they’ll be able to “make a difference.” We’re blessed to have a number of highly accomplished people in our freshman class of legislators—these are folks who are used to succeeding in a variety of public and private settings.
Well, the other day, I got a little sign that I’m making a difference, during a hearing of one of the almost 50 committees in the House.
A Democratic representative, from the City of Chicago, was questioning a witness about a bill, and midway through, he said, “I’m doing something I call, ‘pulling a Breen’ … I’m actually reading the bill!”
Reading bills seems like the most normal behavior to me, but apparently it was not the way business has been done in the General Assembly. However, since we’ve got one Republican and one Democrat doing it, the practice is now “bipartisan.” With any luck, we’ll get more folks to read the bills that come before us!
Final bills - This past week was the deadline to bring bills out of committee, with only 13% of all bills being forwarded from committees to the floor. In addition to my bill to restrict government tracking of citizens using license plate readers, two more bills that used the same language as several of my bills made it out of committee: the “Breuder Rule,” which limits excessive community college severance packages in the wake of the scandal of the College of DuPage Board of Trustees awarding the college president an over $750,000 severance, and the “Lombard Model,” which would require the posting of local government salaries and spending online across the state, just like we’ve done in Lombard. Now begins the hard work of gaining the 60 votes necessary to pass these bills out of the House.