Sometimes compromise can bring smiles and other times it can bring anger, tears and frustration. Hydraulic fracturing in Illinois has been a combination of both. Last year at this time everyone was beaming at the compromise on fracking that included industry and environmental groups that, according to the press releases, put Illinois in the preeminent position regarding fracking policy and setting a new standard for safety and environmental protections. This year, the frustrations in attempting to implement the policy by creating the rules had a number of legislators introduce legislation to circumvent the rulemaking process so that fracking in Illinois can begin. Those legislative attempts died when the session adjourned, but the frustrations haven’t.
What caused the rulemaking logjam is the efforts of some environmental groups who weren’t happy that some of their brethren negotiated and signed on to last year’s fracking deal. They don’t want fracking period. No way, no how. They knew they didn’t have the wherewithal to change the law through the legislative process so they decided to create havoc with rulemaking, in particular a provision that says that each comment provided during the initial comment period must be responded to individually. They produced approximately 35,000 public comments and a phalanx of lawyers and staffers from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) has been working feverishly to get that pile cleared up. But there’s no telling how long it wail take, and the process can’t continue until it is. Also, the Sierra Club, who was the major environmental group in the initial fracking negotiations, has taken a lot of heat for its role and has been walking a tightrope since.
Another factor in the delay in finalizing the rules may be the November election. A year ago Governor Quinn gave a major "thumbs up” to the agreement and bill signing. But, he also counts on the environmental community for support. If the final fracking rules are not what those environmental groups are satisfied with it could fracture his electoral support among those groups, and in what is perceived as a tight race every bit of support counts. The feeling is that the Governor would not at all be unhappy if the final rules were published and sent to JCAR on November 5 or later.
Senate Bill 3425 and House Bill 5454 that attempted to provide a mechanism to determine water commissioner salary increases were both derailed. House Bill 5454 passed the House but was held in the Senate Committee on Assignments and received no further consideration. Senate Bill 3425 was approved by the Senate but the bill was amended in the House to resolve a problem in the village if Indian Head Park.
Senate Bill 2966 that establishes an Urban Flooding Task Force has passed both Houses and will be sent to the Governor for his consideration.
Many years ago Channel 2 (CBS) in Chicago decided to televise their nightly local newscasts from their newsroom. The advertising campaign that accompanied that decision announced, "It’s Not Pretty, But It’s Real”. That ad slogan would have perfectly described the just concluded legislative session. Pretty, this legislative session was not.
When the final gavel came down the General Assembly gave final approval to a budget that comes close to the legislature’s original revenue estimates, approved a budget that was midway between the Governor’s initial "recommended” budget and the doomsday budget trotted out last week, and used smoke, mirrors, borrowing and payment delays to guarantee a massive headache to the next occupant of the governor’s office.
In March, the Governor tried to make the case for making the income tax permanent. He failed. There was no appetite to even consider the extension in the House where everyone is up for election this year, so budget negotiators had to make do without the $1.6 billion that will disappear in January when the tax rates reduce. And to do that they had to revert back to their old ways, the same "ways” that have attributed to Illinois’ current fiscal plight. For instance, some employee health care payments will be deferred to FY 2016, inter-fund borrowing has made an encore appearance after a few year hiatus, some employee raises are not funded, and bill payment backlogs are expected to grow. The Governor’s Office isn’t happy with the new budget but he has no option but to sign it. Ironically, once again the General Assembly took budget making into its own hands and, for all intents and purposes, left the Governor out in the cold.
The final budget approved exceeded the original estimate that was adopted by the legislature a few months previously by $887 million. But not to worry. In another attempt to relive the "good old days” of budgeting the General Assembly passed the budget first, then amended the revenue estimate to match the final budget number/ They accomplished that feat by adding to the bottom line an additional $167 million in additional resources from COGFA estimates, an additional $40 million that will come from the new hospital assessment, and $650 million in inter-fund borrowing. So, technically, the FY 2015 budget is balanced but the snowball toward FY 2016 has started to roll. And those who feel that the legislature will come back after the November elections and "do the right thing” should be cautioned. Doing the right thing has never been in the forefront of Illinois policy decision making. Pay heed to the impact of who wins the general election on the prospects of the tax extension. Legislators, no doubt, will look at the results as a referendum so any future action or inaction may largely be determined by what happens between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. on November 4.
"Hail Mary” Pass Intercepted
When Governor Quinn laid down the tax gauntlet in his budget address a few months ago it was akin to a last second "Hail Mary” football pass hoping to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. For whatever strategy was discussed and devised, the Governor grossly misestimated how much pre-election support could be garnered for making the tax extension permanent. There was little, and certainly nowhere near what was needed to make it happen.
In a way, the Governor had to do something as drastic as the tax increase to try for a game changer in his upcoming election contest. After a term and one-half as governor both Quinn’s job performance and likeability polling numbers are in the tank. Not only are Illinoisans dissatisfied with the way the Governor has run the state, but they don’t like him either ... recipe for electoral disaster. In order to try to change his fortunes the Governor is going to have to frame the election as a choice and the income tax provides the impetus with which to do that. In fact, there is a school of cynics who are convinced that the intention was never to have the legislature approve the tax extension in May because it would have taken the "choice” factor out of play, and without it Quinn could be toast. Rather, making the election one of contrasts and consequences may be the only credible strategy that he has, making November 4 a referendum on the tax issue as well as providing the legislature with some guidance.
For as long as Quinn has been involved in government, both as an elected official and as a "watchdog/advocate” and particularly with his role as the "Referendum King” in his more youthful days, you would have expected that he would have painted a doomsday picture to the public right out of the budget address gate, traveling statewide to spread the message that fiscal disaster would strike on July 1 without the continued influx of revenue. Surprisingly, or maybe not, he pretty much stayed at home and when making pronouncements about the budget it was generally a message about where the extra money could go,, rather than what would happen without it. Democratic leaders suggested Plan A. Quinn chose Plan B. The legislature approved a hybrid budget that could be called Plan C.
At a recent debate with Bruce Rauner, his general election opponent, Quinn remarked that he should not be compared "with the Almighty, but with the alternative” suggesting that the November election will be one where voters consider choices. Yet, if the Governor would have been successful in the tax extension quest then the choice question in November would most probably be moot and voters would be making choices based on their perception of capability because the money issue would have already been decided. And that makes you wonder whether the Governor really wanted that tax extension to pass in May.
November Preview: No Plan v. No Clue?
Now that the listless legislative session has ended pretty much all of the focus for the next five months will now be on the race for governor. Early polling shows the race as being fairly tight with Bruce Rauner in the lead by a smidgen. Rauner has spent millions on television ads in an attempt to portray himself as one who would run the state like a business, control career politicians, enact term limits, and be a preferable alternative to Pat Quinn. Pat Quinn, on the other hand, has attempted to portray himself as someone who was thrust into the Governor’s office under extraordinary circumstances, has faced almost insurmountable problems, and has done the nest he could, all things considered, and has portrayed his opponent as someone who doesn’t understand government, has no idea what he’s getting into, and who would be a threat to vital state services.
Thus far, Rauner has done a good job sticking to his script of efficiency and putting career politicians in their place. Even when pressed for details he has provided little and has segued to his major themes. In doing so he is following the game plan of every candidate challenging an incumbent office holder. Be coy, avoid specifics as long as possible, and paint your opponent as an incompetent bungler. The big question this year is how long he can continue to criticize but not provide any specifics on how he would govern differently, and the pressure to provide some kind of detail may be mounting. He opposed the pension reform law but has offered no alternative. The same is true with the budget. He wants the temporary income tax to expire but so far has given no clue as to how he would manage state resources without the $3.2 billion that would disappear without it or with it for that matter. When pressed he says that he’ll announce a plan well before election day, but there is no idea as to when. In fact, it’s in his best interest as a candidate interest to wait as long as possible to provide specifics because there are no good or easy choices to be made and being too specific about hard choices will not work in his favor. The media is now pressing for detail and the Springfield Journal-Register recently chided him in an editorial for refusing an invitation to appear before the editorial board to discuss specifics of his plans. It will be an interesting summer and fall as the cat and mouse game of details continues.
In the 1970s, 80s and even into the 90s no Sunday was complete without a Pat Quinn press conference championing some cause and starting petition drives to put advisory referenda on the ballot. He was a hard charging consumer advocate who verbally pummeled "politicians” and created an aura of a taxpayer’s friend with a stiff backbone who would stand up to anyone or anything in order to do the right thing. He even succeeded in an effort in 1980 to amend the constitution to reduce the size of the Illinois House. Then, he became Governor and everything changed.
Quinn’s leadership style since he became governor has been characterized by some as pandering, self-serving, and sometimes nonexistent. He likes to make everyone happy and doesn’t take well to criticism. For instance, rather than focusing on the tough choices that would occur if the temporary income tax was not extended and providing a plan to rid the state of its debt and fiscal morass, he instead tried to paint a rosy picture of how the additional funds could be used, said nothing about paying the backlog of bills, and offered to give more than half the money away in tax credits and rebates. He tries to be Santa Claus when a Nurse Ratched type is more in order. With the pressure on to convince Democratic House members to support his call for a permanent tax extension he appeared before their caucus last week and instead of "fire and brimstone” gave them gobbledygook. He started the caucus with 43 votes in favor and lost ten by the time he was finished and any chance of the increase went up in flames.
As election day nears and as these two candidates make their cases to the electorate we may be hearing voters wish that there was an alternative to both. But both these candidates survived the nominating process. And the selection of one of them begins and will end in a shade over five months.
Just Sign Here, Regardless
Rules can be the darnedest things. Just ask the advocates of the proposed Constitutional Amendment to change the redistricting process in Illinois. The effort needed to secure somewhere in the neighborhood of 300,000 signatures to qualify the question for the November ballot (and further court consideration) and filed about 550,000 thinking that it was more than enough to take the process to the next step. Then the rules got in the way.
A law passed last year required that the State Board of Elections is required to do a 5% random sample of petition signatories to determine whether or not there is a sufficient number of qualified signatures. Anything over 50% is the goal, although 60% or more is almost golden. After the SBOE finished the sampling the percentage of good signatures was only at 46% and obviously creates a huge problem. The first reaction of the advocates was not to review their own processes to determine if there was a glitch but to lash out at the SBOE and calling its procedures into question with righteous indignation.
Seasoned politicians and advocacy groups know that there is more to collecting petition signatures then standing at train stations, shopping malls and other high traffic areas asking people to sign. You can’t control who signs and how many times they sign, and you also can’t verify if they are registered voters who are the only ones who are supposed to sign. Candidates and others know that the best way to get good signatures on petitions is to go door to door with registered voter lists and have those individuals sign. And, the odds that are you’ll survive a challenge is much greater if you do it the right way. With the remap question, there should have been so many households where the proposed question resonated that it should have been like shooting fish in a barrel. Unfortunately, they may have shot themselves in the foot instead.
In a Chicago Tribune editorial this past week the newspaper took issue with the SBOE for its petition review. Yet, in their own editorial they cited statistics that petition drives in other states regularly have signature validity rates of 60% to 75%, So rather than criticize the advocates, who also raised a ton of money to fuel their effort and could not do better than 46%, they took a swipe at the State Board instead.
But doing a successful petition drive to qualify a constitutional amendment for the ballot can be successful. Pat Quinn did it in 1980 and he didn’t have the funding, data availability and the communications capability that exists today. So there should be no excuse for a well funded effort to fall so short. Maybe before they point fingers they should be looking in the mirror.
There has not yet been a definitive decision or last word yet on the fate of this proposal, but regardless of being a supporter or opponent it would have been (or could be) an interesting debate on the merits.
A second proposed Constitutional Amendment petition initiative, the one dealing with term limits and legislative structure changes is currently going through the SBOE review process.
Illinois citizens will have plenty of other opportunities to voice opinions and another opportunity to amend the Constitution courtesy of the General Assembly. The legislative constitutional initiative concerns voting rights. The legislature also approved three advisory referenda that address raising the minimum wage, the 3% millionaire surcharge, and whether or not health care insurers should offer contraceptive coverage.
Casino gaming expansion sunk again, for the fifteenth year in a row. Wait ‘til next year? Yeah, right. Everyone wanted something. No one got "nothin’”.
Pension Reform Update
A Sangamon County judge has issued a stay of the provisions of the pension reform act until the constitutionality can be decided by the circuit court. There is no estimation as to how long that process will take.
Session Schedule/Deadline Dates
Here are relevant dates for the legislative session:
- November 19, 20, 21 – first veto session week
- December 2, 3, 4 – second veto session week
Bills of Interest
Note: Proposals that did not move out of committee could resurface on other bills as amendments before the end of the session.The deadlines for bills introduced in the House and Senate has now passed. Listings reflect current status of bills.
HB 3635 – Rep. W. Davis/Sen. Sandoval (Status – Passed Both Houses)- Provides that the Illinois Commerce Commission shall require all gas, electric, and water companies with at least 100,000 customers under its authority, all local exchange telecommunications carriers with at least 35,000 subscriber access lines, and a person or entity providing cable or video service to submit an annual report by April 15, 2014 and every April 15 thereafter, in a searchable Adobe PDF format, on all procurement goals and actual spending for female-owned, minority-owned, veteran-owned, and small business enterprises in the previous calendar year. Provides that each participating company shall include certain specified information in its annual report. Provides that each annual report shall include as much State-specific data as possible. Provides that the Commission and all participating entities shall hold an annual workshop open to the public in June of 2014 and every year thereafter on the state of supplier diversity to collaboratively seek solutions to structural impediments to achieving stated goals.
HB 4382 – Rep. Nekritz/Sen. Kotowski(Status – Passed House; Senate – Committee on Assignments - Dead) - Amends the Environmental Protection Act. Removes a provision requiring rule to include a requirement for a local match of 30% of the total project cost for projects funded through grants. Adds to the definition of "treatment works". Provides that the Water Pollution Control Loan Program shall be used and administered by the Environmental Protection Agency to provide any financial assistance that may be provided under a specified provision of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act for any projects eligible for assistance under that provision.
HB 4699 – Rep. Tryon(Status – House – Environment Committee - Dead) - Amends the Public Water Supply Operations Act. Provides that every community water supply in Illinois, with specified exemptions, shall have on its operational staff, and shall designate to the Agency in writing, either (i) one Responsible Operator in Charge who directly supervises both the treatment and distribution facilities of the community water supply or (ii) one Responsible Operator in Charge who directly supervises the treatment facilities of the community water supply and one Responsible Operator in Charge who directly supervises the distribution facilities of the community water supply. Defines "Responsible Operator in Charge". Establishes duties of Responsible Operators in Charge. Provides that a violation of the Act by a Responsible Operators in Charge shall be enforceable by administrative citation.
HB 4717 – Rep. Cassidy(Status – House - Rules Committee - Dead) - Creates the Urban Flooding Awareness Act. Defines "urban flooding". Provides that, by June 30, 2015, the Department of Natural Resources, in consultation with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the Illinois Housing Development Authority, the Department of Commerce and Economic Development, the Department of Insurance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, the Illinois State Water Survey of the University of Illinois, and other State, regional, and local storm water management agencies, thought leaders, and interested parties, shall submit to the General Assembly and the Governor a report that reviews and evaluates the latest available research, laws, regulations, policies, procedures, and institutional knowledge concerning issues of urban flooding.
HB 5454 – Rep. Poe/Sen. Manar(Status – Passed House; Senate – Committee on Assignments - Dead) - Amends the Illinois Municipal Code. Provides that each water commissioner shall receive the same compensation that shall be determined by the water commission (currently, the appointing authority).
HB 5629 – Rep. Gabel(Status – House - Rules Committee - Dead) - Creates the Water Loss Accounting Awareness Act. Provides that, before July 31, 2015, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, in consultation with the Department of Natural Resources, the Illinois Commerce Commission, the Illinois State Water Survey of the University of Illinois, and other local and regional water management leaders and interested parties as the Agency deems appropriate, shall submit to the General Assembly and the Governor a report that reviews and evaluates the latest available information on water loss in Illinois including existing data, policies, procedures, and institutional knowledge (including publicly available reports from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the American Water Works Association, and the State archives).
HB 5785 – Rep. Franks/Sen. Biss - Amends the following Acts and Codes to provide that, upon a majority vote of the boards of the entities created under the following Acts and Codes in favor of the proposition to annex or consolidate, then that entity shall cease: Property Tax Code, Counties Code, Cemetery Maintenance District Act, Civic Center Code, Conservation District Act, Downstate Forest Preserve District Act, Public Health District Act, Tuberculosis Sanitarium District Act, Museum District Act, Illinois International Port District Act, River Conservancy Districts Act, Solid Waste Disposal District Act, Street Light District Act, Surface Water Protection District Act, Water Service District Act, Water Authorities Act, Water Commission Act of 1985, and the Illinois Highway Code. Provides that on the effective date of the annexation or consolidation, all of the rights, powers, duties, assets, liabilities, indebtedness, obligations, bonding authority, taxing authority, and responsibilities of the entity shall vest in and be assumed by the governmental unit assuming the former entity's functions. (Status – Passed Both Houses)
HB 5875 – Rep. Yingling (Status - House – State Government Administration Committee - Dead)- Amends the Freedom of Information Act. Provides that "public body" includes any State-wide organization which receives 75% or more of its funding through contributions from taxing bodies for the sake of membership or dues in order to participate in the organization's activities, including, but not limited to, educational endeavors, legislative initiatives, or a general liability insurance pool.
SB 2770 – Sen. Althoff/Rep. Tryon(Status – Passed Both Houses) - Amends the Public Water Supply Operations Act. Provides that every community water supply in Illinois, with specified exemptions, shall have on its operational staff, and shall designate to the Agency in writing, either (i) one Responsible Operator in Charge who directly supervises both the treatment and distribution facilities of the community water supply or (ii) one Responsible Operator in Charge who directly supervises the treatment facilities of the community water supply and one Responsible Operator in Charge who directly supervises the distribution facilities of the community water supply. Defines "Responsible Operator in Charge". Establishes duties of Responsible Operators in Charge. Provides that a violation of the Act by a Responsible Operators in Charge shall be enforceable by administrative citation.
SB 2780 – Sen. Kotowski/Rep. Nekritz(Status – Passed Both Houses) - Amends the Environmental Protection Act. Removes a provision requiring rule to include a requirement for a local match of 30% of the total project cost for projects funded through grants. Adds to the definition of "treatment works". Provides that the Water Pollution Control Loan Program shall be used and administered by the Environmental Protection Agency to provide any financial assistance that may be provided under a specified provision of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act for any projects eligible for assistance under that provision.
SB 2928 – Sen. Link/Rep. Osmond(Status – Passed Both Houses) - Creates the Lake County Prescription Drug Disposal Pilot Program. Provides that the program shall facilitate the collection, transportation, and disposal of pharmaceuticals by law enforcement agencies. Requires the Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health to submit a report on the collection efforts and overall effectiveness of the program to the General Assembly and the Governor by January 1, 2016.
SB 2966 – Sen. Steans/Rep. Cassidy(Status – Passed Both Houses) – Creates the Urban Flooding Awareness Act. Defines "urban flooding". Provides that, by June 30, 2015, the Department of Natural Resources, in consultation with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the Illinois Housing Development Authority, the Department of Commerce and Economic Development, the Department of Insurance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, the Illinois State Water Survey of the University of Illinois, and other State, regional, and local storm water management agencies, thought leaders, and interested parties, shall submit to the General Assembly and the Governor a report that reviews and evaluates the latest available research, laws, regulations, policies, procedures, and institutional knowledge concerning issues of urban flooding.
SB 3047 – Sen. Kotowski(Status – Senate – Re-referred - Committee on Assignments - Dead) - Creates the Water Loss Accounting Awareness Act. Provides that, before July 31, 2015, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, in consultation with the Department of Natural Resources, the Illinois Commerce Commission, the Illinois State Water Survey of the University of Illinois, and other local and regional water management leaders and interested parties as the Agency deems appropriate, shall submit to the General Assembly and the Governor a report that reviews and evaluates the latest available information on water loss in Illinois including existing data, policies, procedures, and institutional knowledge (including publicly available reports from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the American Water Works Association, and the State archives).
SB 3055 – Sen. Biss/rep. Fortner - Amends the Illinois Water Well Construction Code. Changes the definitions of "modification" and "closed loop well". Makes other changes. (Status – Passed Both Houses)