Terry Steczo and Maureen Mulhall
More Money for Water
In a year during which all of the news about State finances seems depressing, at best, Governor Quinn announced a Clean Water Initiative that will make $1 billion available through the State Revolving Fund for low cost loans to local governments for waste water and drinking water capital projects. These dollars are on top of $19 million in federal funds that the Governor announced in January available to small and rural communities. Both programs together will immeasurably improve drinking and waste water infrastructure, put thousands of people to work, and greatly enhance the safety of the Illinois water supply. Making the Clean Water Initiative even more attractive is the fact that no new State funding is required. This program is being funded by the equity built up in the State Revolving Fund, which in turn will support additional borrowing capacity.
More Budget Woes
The State budget continues to be a moving target, with dollars being repositioned like pieces in a 10,000 piece puzzle. For example, the proceeds from the sale of the Thomson prison was originally planned to finance capital projects. Whoops! In the meantime, the pile of unpaid bills continued to grow. This week's plan for the proceeds is to spend those dollars to pay off some of the outstanding bills. Another example of this moving target involves the Medicaid budget. The General Assembly passed, and the Governor signed, the SMART Act a few months ago. This version of Medicaid reform was expected to plug much of a $2+ billion hole in the Medicaid budget by limiting many medical services and much more thoroughly verifying eligibility of clients, among other changes. The administrative rules to implement the SMART Act have, for the most part at this time, been suspended by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. Failure to fully implement the SMART Act in a timely way may have a devastating effect on the current State budget, let alone exacerbate the problems already anticipated in the FY 2014 budget. And how about prison closures that have been halted, state employee layoff notices that were rescinded, etc, etc.? Every one of these reversals carries its own budget implication.
Water Issues May Be On Tap in Veto Session
Two important issues that could have an impact on water quality may be on the agenda for the fall legislative veto session.
- The hydraulic fracturing (fracking) industry has been trying to gain a foothold in Illinois and has been very active in Wayne, Hamilton and Saline counties in southeastern Illinois, but other parts of the State may also be in play soon. Senate Bill 3280 has been introduced to attempt to create the rules and regulations necessary to prevent environmental hazards and possible contamination of water and air. The legislation was approved by the Senate, but with the understanding that discussions and negotiations would continue. Thus far, there has not been an agreement on guidelines and regulations; but there could be some pressure to pass legislation before the Legislature's January 8 adjournment.
- In an effort to stop PCBs from being disposed of in the DeWitt County landfill, and possibly compromising the potable water drawn by 14 governmental entities from the Mahomet Aquifer, House Bill 6153 was introduced in the waning days of May. DeWitt County was able to provide permission for the PCB disposal because the landfill is located within its jurisdiction. The legislation will upend that capability by either providing others communities that draw water from the aquifer with a voice in the decision, or by banning the disposal in the Mahomet Aquifer period.
Happy New Year??
From inauguration day 2009 until inauguration day 2013 there will be a 40% turnover of legislators. Only a few of those are legislators who are moving from the House to the Senate or vice versa. For the most part, we are looking at a remarkable number of never-before legislators. But those newly elected members won't be sworn in until January 9. From January 2 through January 8 there will be an equally remarkable number of lame duck legislators. And with the number of votes necessary to pass a bill back down to a simple majority after January 1, the first week of January could be filled with wheeling and dealing. Will that be the week that pension reform is finally addressed? How about school funding reform? To quote Bette Davis, "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night”. Stay tuned.
The lame duck General Assembly will return to Springfield for their annual veto session on the following dates.
· November 27-29 – Veto Session – 1st week
· December 3-4 – Veto session – 2nd week
The schedule for the newly elected 98th General Assembly should be published sometime during the second week of veto session. If you live in a district with a new legislator be sure to take some time in December to introduce yourself and strive to be the go-to person on water issues for your legislator(s).