State

Senate Week in Review: July 20-24

SPRINGFIELD – More than 3 weeks into a new fiscal year, the budget stalemate has revealed stark differences in the way reform-minded Republicans and status-quo Democrats envision Illinois’ future.

Gov. Bruce Rauner and Republican lawmakers are seeking a constitutional 12-month budget anchored on solid governmental and business reforms to improve the state’s economy, freeze property taxes, and implement term limits and take “politics” out of the process of drawing legislative boundaries. 

Democrat leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives have settled for an unbalanced, 1-month budget, and are advocating for a continuation of failed fiscal policies and unstable business practices that have left Illinois with the third-worst business climate, the second-highest property taxes, and the worst credit ratings of any state. 

The Illinois Constitution requires the General Assembly to pass a balanced 12-month budget. In May, Democrat leaders pushed through a plan based on expected revenues of $32 billion and proposed spending of $36 billion. That budget has been vetoed by Rauner, but Democrat lawmakers voted to override several of his vetoes, further complicating budget negotiations.

Both House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton repeatedly have said that their number one issue is the budget deficit – not the economy or the taxpayers – and have resisted nearly every effort toward reform. It’s tough to take them at their word because they voted to pass a budget with a $4 billion deficit, and they have introduced no proposals to cut enough or raise taxes to cover the shortfall.

Need for compromise

House lawmakers returned to Springfield July 21 for hearings that Democrat legislative leaders said showed the perils of adopting Rauner’s pro-business agenda. The Senate has its next session days scheduled for next Tuesday and Wednesday.

The General Assembly’s Democrat leaders need to stop the public relations gimmicks like the Committee of the Whole political theater, and make more attempts at compromise. Rauner already has offered to come more than half way by scaling his policy agenda down from more than 40 items in his Turnaround Agenda to only a handful, and backing away from right-to-work legislation. He has also offered movement on tax reform to find additional revenues to help balance the budget.

Governor seeks federal flood relief for crops

On July 23, Rauner sent a letter to USDA officials requesting all counties in Illinois experiencing crop damage related to recent flooding be included in a Secretarial Disaster Declaration, which would provide farmers in designated counties the ability to receive low-interest emergency loans if they meet all eligibility requirements.  

The State Emergency Board met Monday to review the county emergency board minutes and loss assessments in preparation for determining county eligibility. The Illinois Department of Agriculture will continue to assist U.S. Farm Service Agency officials in securing benefits for farmers who are impacted by flooding.

Even those crops not damaged directly by flooding have suffered. Long periods of rain and drenched fields have slowed farmers all season and so far, crops haven’t been able to make up for the slow start. According to the USDA, the second cutting of hay is only 52 percent complete, compared to the 5-year average of 83 percent. Ninety-six percent of soybeans have now emerged from the soil, still behind the 5-year average of 100 percent. Corn plants are silking at a rate of 75 percent, compared to the typical 77 percent at this point, although 17 percent have reached the dough stage, which is actually ahead of the 5-year average of 16 percent.

Precipitation 2 weeks ago averaged .97 inches across the state, .18 inches more than normal, leaving an average of 3.3 days suitable for fieldwork, although many farmers were still waiting on fields to dry out more before they were able to work.

Crop conditions are dropping again, with 56 percent of corn acres rated as good or excellent, compared to 61 percent 2 weeks ago, and 47 percent of soybeans receiving the same marks, down from 52 percent.

Bills signed into law

Go to the Senate Republican Caucus website at senategop.state.il.us and search for About the Senate/Senate Action for a complete list of bills on which the governor has taken action.

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