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.
Click here to view a recent ABC 7 story on Rep. Peter Breen's bill to limit law enforcement retention of public license plate reader data, HB 3289. It appears that the legislative pressure from Breen and other privacy-minded representatives has pushed some in law enforcement to self regulate. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said that they only hold this data for 30 days, and the City of Chicago said in a statement, that "license plate data is over-written and not stored unless there is a positive hit on a plate needed for investigative purposes." Breen pointed out, that "during the negotiations, law enforcement did not want to limit retention to less than 33 months and the City of Chicago wanted to keep it indefinitely. This is definitely a positive result of our legislation to limit retention of this type of data and is a small victory for those innocent civilians who do not want to be tracked by the government."
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.
On May 25, 2015, Representative Peter Breen passed Senate Bill 90, a bill to protect disabled seniors under the care of the court system from having their estate plans changed without oversight from a judge. The bill amends the Probate Act to allow a court to appoint an attorney to assist disabled seniors under a guardianship, to help those seniors alter their wills free of undue influence.
“Unfortunately, disabled seniors have been victimized by scammers who coerced them into deathbed changes to their wills to disown their families and instead direct their assets to these scammers,” said Breen. “We’ve seen this time and time again, including in the recent situation over the last wishes of baseball great Ernie Banks. This bill will ensure that our disabled elderly residents are protected from wrongdoing in their estate plans, and to guarantee that the fruits of their lifetime of working and saving are not stolen away at the ends of their lives.”
Breen worked with probate judges from DuPage and Cook Counties on the measure, along with staff from the Illinois State Bar Association and the Cook County Public Guardian’s office. There was no opposition to the bill, and it unanimously passed in the House. The Senate will now take up the measure.
On Tuesday, May 12, 2015, Governor Rauner, the Acting State Fire Marshall Matt Perez, the Illinois General Assembly and other officials honored firefighters who died in the line of duty and 39 other firefighters for bravery and service to their communities during the 22nd annual Illinois Fallen Firefighter Memorial and Firefighter Medal of Honor Awards Ceremony. Rep. Breen presented an Illinois House Certificate of Recognition to Firefighter Christopher Guare from the Glen Ellyn Volunteer Fire Company who achieved the Medal of Honor award, the highest award given to firefighters by the State of Illinois. Guare was one of seven firefighters who were selected for their acts of outstanding heroism, by which they demonstrated selflessness and personal courage above and beyond the call of duty, under adverse conditions, with the possibility of extreme personal risk.
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.