First Week Of Veto Session Recap

Illinois legislators have so far overruled Governor Pat Quinn on issues related to prisons and assault weapons, but they’ve been working on other matters too, including measures designed to address the state’s dire financial situation.

WUIS Statehouse Bureau Chief Amanda Vinicky has this report:

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It’s difficult to predict what the big issues of veto session will be. It’s a given that lawmakers will probably address some of the handful of bills Gov. Quinn vetoed — but they usually make time for more — and with that, at least, they’re making progress.So far, not much has made it through both the House and Senate to the governor’s desk.

One that has is designed to help Illinois’ struggling state parks.

The Department of Natural Resources has seen its budget cut again and again in recent years — it’s half what it was a decade ago.

An attempt to come through with funding narrowly failed in the Senate this spring.

But this week the Senate passed a measure intended to raise millions of dollars for state parks. It adds $2 fee to license plate renewals — bringing the total to $101 for regular passenger plates — that’ll serve as an annual admission pass at Illinois’ 324 state parks, fish and wildlife areas, and other recreational sites.

Marc Miller is Illinois’ director of Natural Resources.

“Well we do want to have accessible public lands for everyone to recreate and have a healthy lifestyle and enjoy the outdoors and enjoy nature.  This is a very nominal fee the way we’ve approached this with a license plate that will still allow everyone to still have access to the outdoors.”

The governor indicates he’ll sign the D-N-R measure into law, but he’s less enthusiastic about some of the legislature’s other budget ideas.

Quinn has been pushing all year to close several prisons, developmental centers, and other facilities.

But in rural parts of Illinois, prisons mean jobs, and even self-styled fiscally conservative lawmakers don’t like to see them closed. State Sen. Gary Forby is a Democrat from Benton, in far southern Illinois. The supermax prison at Tamms is in his district, and it’s been on Quinn’s hit list.

Like a lot of his colleagues, Forby says he’s skeptical of the governor’s move to consolidate an already-overcrowded prison system.

“I just wish we had a plan, when somebody decide(s) to close something, and actually show us the dollar amount – what it’s going to save or cost us.

The fight over prisons has lead to a prolonged back-and-forth between the governor and legislature.

Back in the spring, legislators included money in the budget to keep open the supermax prison at Tamms, the women’s prison in Dwight, and several other correctional facilities.

To no-one’s surprise, Quinn vetoed the extra money — cutting more than $56 million from the prison budget.

But yesterday (WEDNESDAY), the Senate voted to put that money back.

Even if the House restores the money too, the prisons will still probably close. Quinn doesn’t have to spend it.

The governor’s office says it’s not in taxpayers’ best interest to keep open half-empty, expensive facilities when funds are needed to protect children from child abuse and neglect.

He wants the legislature to approve additional funding for the state’s Department of Children and Family Services instead.

That may happen.

But there’s been no action yet.

Also … no action on THE biggest budget issue … pensions.

Still, the General Assembly has been swift to act on other budgetary matters.

The House overwhelmingly approved a resolution that says it won’t approve money to fund any union pay raises.

The move comes as the Quinn administration’s in contract negotiations with AFSCME, the state’s largest public employees union.

House Speaker Mike Madigan says it’s a message … a message intended for both the governor, and AFSCME .. that says Illinois doesn’t have money for raises.

“This is simply a message to those who are engaged in bargaining.  Those of us who have worked through two reduction budgets know that budget making under these conditions is very difficult.  We’re simply telling the negotiators, ‘don’t be sending us a bill for a significant increase, or any increase, when we’re in the process of reducing every other aspect of state government.’ ”

The resolution’s a big hit to unions … who see it as one in a litany of assaults against their collective bargaining rights.

But unions’ traditional foe — big business  — is taking a hit too.

The Senate passed a measure that would require publicly traded corporations that do business in Illinois to disclose how much they pay in state taxes.

The Department of Revenue says two thirds of Illinois corporations pay no corporate income tax.

Senate President John Cullerton says it’s meant to help lawmakers have more information, as they try to get a handle on the state’s finances, and potentially redo Illinois’ tax system.

“We’re just asking for disclosure so we have an idea how much they’re .. we’re not changing any tax rates, we’re not increasing any loopholes, we’re not eliminating any loopholes, we’re just trying to get informed so we can make those decisions in the future.”

Despite Cullerton’s insistence it’s not meant to punish, or hurt businesses … that’s just what the Illinois Manufacturer’s Association’s Mark Denzler says it will do.

“This is confidential, tax information that we don’t think should be released publicly.  These do have, real life applications for these companies that are making decision s in their tax policy.  Other companies, when they look at it, will look and see what a company’s doing, where they’re spending resources, those kind of things, and it does have a competitive affect on them.”

The Senate did do a favor though, for two of Illinois’ big businesses … Chicagoland’s utility Commonwealth Edison, and its downstate counterpart, Ameren.

Just as the House did already, the Senate sent a message to state regulators in charge of setting electricity rates: go back to the drawing board.

The Commerce Commission set rates lower than ComEd and Ameren say they need to pay for investments in Illinois’ outdated electric grid.

The utilities say they can’t make the improvements they need unless customers pay more. Consumer groups are trying to call their bluff.

But the General Assembly’s on the side of the utilities.

The General Assembly’s also sided with Chicago Public Schools.  Despite protests from parents and the Chicago Teachers Union, both chambers passed measures that will give CPS more time to close schools.

Expect the Senate to finalize that today (THURSDAY).

The chamber’s also expected to begin action on a high-profile effort that’d allow immigrants living here illegally to get drivers’ licenses.

It’s an effort that took off after the fall election, when Latino voters demonstrated their growing political influence.

That influence helped land even more Democrats in the General Assembly …

So while there’s a last minute rush to get lame-duck legislators to vote on controversial issues … Democrats in charge of the General Assembly need only wait until January to try do it themselves.

I’m Amanda Vinicky.

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