Rep. Breen Stands Up for Taxpayers on SB 1229


The Nuts and Bolts of Veto Session

bolt-87524_1280.jpgToday 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.


Breen Applauds Rauner Veto of Wastewater Fee Increase Bill

drinking-water-293926_1280.pngOn Friday, Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed Senate Bill 1421, which could have resulted in fee increases for drinking water customers in DuPage County to pay for wastewater improvements downstate. The bill would have allowed private utility companies to charge drinking water customers for wastewater improvements, no matter where located and even if the customers receive wastewater services from their local municipalities and not from those private utility companies.

The bill easily passed the Illinois Senate on April 23 by a vote of 40-4-2, but Rep. Peter Breen (R-Lombard) led a floor fight against the bill in the House, almost killing it. The bill eventually passed the House 63-50-2 on May 28, receiving just 3 more than the minimum 60-vote margin needed for passage. Breen then publicly requested that the governor veto the measure.

“Folks shouldn’t have to pay for services and improvements that don’t benefit them,” said Breen, whose 48th District includes Glen Ellyn, Wheaton, Lombard, and Lisle, towns with numerous residents served by private utility Illinois American Water. “People don’t have a choice of drinking water and wastewater providers. Because of the monopoly those providers enjoy, the government carefully regulates the types of fees they can charge. This bill would have weakened these careful regulations. Governor Rauner’s veto is a victory for homeowners across the state.”

In his veto message, Governor Rauner noted that, "Whenever we permit utilities to pass on their costs to consumers, we should ensure that costs are passed to consumers who use and benefit from the particular services to the extent possible. Unfortunately, because not all consumers receive both their water and wastewater services from the same utility, Senate Bill 1421 would permit a public utility to pass on wastewater costs to consumers who do not receive wastewater services. This type of subsidy is not appropriate or necessary."

The bill now returns to the Illinois Senate, where it originated. In order to override the veto, 36 votes would be necessary in the Senate and 71 votes in the House. Breen is optimistic that the proponents of the measure will be unable to obtain the additional 8 House votes needed to reach the 71-vote margin needed for override. The sponsors of the bill are Sen. David Koehler (D-Peoria) and Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth (D-Peoria).

 


Crash Diet Shutdown

scale-403585_1280.jpgThis 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.


The Way Forward

road-815297_640.jpgWhile 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.


Rauner Signs Breen Bill Protecting Estate Plans for Seniors

Bill_Signings_2_021.jpgClick here to read the Illinois Review article on the latest news regarding Rep. Breen's bill to protect disabled seniors from scammers who try to change their wills for personal gain.


War of the Two Worldviews

earth-11593_640.jpg"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.


Breen's "Breuder Rule" Passes House as Part of Larger Reform Package

A major community college compensation reform measure, House Bill 3593, received final approval by a vote of 73-34 from the Illinois House last week. Passed over heavy opposition from community college presidents, the bill combined several concepts for reining in abuses in community college severance packages and benefits. One of the limitations in the bill is Rep. Peter Breen’s “Breuder Rule,” which would limit all severance packages to no more than one year’s salary and benefits. The name is a reference to the disgraced president of the College of DuPage, Robert Breuder, who received an over $750,000 payout from the College’s prior Board of Trustees. The College of DuPage is located in Breen’s 48th House District.

“We need reform at every level of government in Illinois,” Breen said. “While those who benefit from sweetheart severance packages fought hard against any changes to the law, my co-sponsors and I were able to gain the necessary bipartisan support to pass the measure. When enough public pressure is brought to bear on bad practices, we can get reforms passed in Springfield. I look forward to more of these sorts of reform measures in the future.”

Rep. Breen (R-Lombard) took the House floor to advocate strongly for the bill during a contentious debate. In addition to Breen’s “Breuder Rule,” the bill also limits community college employment contracts to no more than four years and specifically requires public notice prior to the adoption of those contracts. With final passage by the House, the bill will now be sent to the desk of Governor Bruce Rauner.


State Budget Fight Heats Up

Capitol_Shot.jpgWe’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.


Rep. Breen Highlights Harms Caused by Unbalanced Budget