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June 2011 Newsletter

End of Session Wrap-Up

Every session has its own personality, but the session that concluded last Tuesday, May 31 seemed especially unique to me.  We achieved a balanced budget, concluded the redistricting process and passed long overdue reforms to the workers compensation system in Illinois that will enhance the business climate in Illinois.

The Budget

The watchwords in budget making this year were cuts and cooperation.  Despite the new revenues from the tax increase, budget cuts were necessary.   To accomplish that goal, Democrats and Republicans in the House worked together to come up with a mutually agreeable plan.

In the last twenty years, the budget negotiations have mostly involved the four legislative leaders and the Governor.  Those five would basically sit in a room, hammer out a budget and then hand it to legislators to vote on.

This year, the House engaged in a much more open and transparent process.  Back in March, on a unanimous roll call, we agreed on how much money we had to spend for next year.  We then agreed how to divide that up between the various state agencies and put our five appropriations committees to work on individual line items within those state agencies.

The appropriations committees decided on their priorities – again on a bipartisan basis – and put those spending priorities before the House.  All the budget bills passed with strong bipartisan support.

Just the way it is supposed to work!

In my experience, it is as difficult (if not more!) to make budget cuts as it is to raise taxes.   While everyone knows cuts need to be made, it is challenging to put together enough votes to cut any particular line item.  The process this year allowed for the painful decisions to be made in a manner that could best garner both legislative and public support.   This is critically important as we continue to work to put our fiscal house in order.

Redistricting

Following the 2010 census, it was necessary during this legislative session to “true up” the state and congressional legislative maps with population shifts.   To comply with the “one person – one vote” requirement of the Constitution, legislative boundaries are redrawn every ten years so that everyone’s vote counts equally in the legislative process.

The House held 15 hearings on redistricting – listening to input before the maps were drawn as well as after the release of the first draft of the maps.

The City of Chicago and the Cook County suburbs, for the most part, lost population in the recent census.  In some areas, those losses were significant.  Legislative districts in those areas had to add residents.   As each district gets larger, it pushes out against the district next to it.  The result is pretty dramatic changes in many districts – including the 57th District that I represent.  About half of the 57th District will be new  – new communities and new constituents.  You can view the maps at http://www.ilhousedems.com/redistricting/.

These maps will take effect for the February 2012 primary and November 2012 general election.

Workers Compensation

While I am out and about in the district, I rarely have a constituent ask me about reforming the workers compensation system in Illinois.  But the business community in our state put it at the very top of their list for things to improve the business climate in Illinois.

Workers compensation is the system by which employees, injured on the job, are compensated for their injuries and for lost work time.  It is a statutory scheme that avoids the courts.

Our insurance rates for workers compensation are currently second highest in the nation.  In 2008, Illinois’ total workers compensation payout was just under $3 billion.

In the waning hours of the legislative session, after months and months of complex and contentious negotiations, the House passed reforms to the workers compensation system that are expected to save businesses between $500 and $700 million annually.   That money can now be put to use to create and retain jobs here in Illinois.

The legislation, while controversial, was supported by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Manufacturers Association, Illinois Retail Merchants Association and the Illinois Business Roundtable.

 

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