Friday, 05 04, 2012
As Illinois lawmakers start the final push toward the scheduled May 31 adjournment, the Senate voted to eliminate the General Assembly Scholarship Program, and advanced a Constitutional amendment that would make it more difficult for lawmakers to increase employee pension benefits in the future, according to Senator Sam McCann.
Also during the week, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) issued its opinion on Governor Pat Quinn’s proposed closure of several state facilities, and Senate Republican lawmakers and the Illinois Policy Institute highlighted the need for greater fiscal transparency at the local level.
Lawmakers are one step closer to eliminating the scandal-plagued General Assembly tuition waiver program. On May 3, the Senate approved House Bill 3810, which would end the controversial program. The measure now returns to the House of Representatives for approval of a change made to the original bill, which creates a Tuition and Fee Waiver Task Force to review the use of tuition and fee waivers at Illinois’ public universities.
Senate Republican lawmakers voluntarily walked away from the controversial program in early 2012.
The Illinois media have uncovered a number of abuses relating to the General Assembly Scholarship Program, including allegations that lawmakers awarded the scholarships to benefit friends, lobbyists and campaign donors; or awarded the waivers to students outside their district.
Senator McCann said the legislative scholarships are also a financial drain on Illinois’ higher education system. The state does not reimburse colleges for the cost of the program, which totals more than $13 million a year. Instead, those costs are passed on to other students in the form of increased tuition and fees.
The Senate also advanced Constitutional Amendment 49, which seeks to further restrict the Legislature’s ability to approve future pension benefit increases. Having been approved by the Senate, Illinois voters will be given the opportunity in November to weigh in on the measure. If approved by voters, the measure would require a three-fifths vote of the General Assembly to pass increased pension benefits for employees in the future.
Fiscal transparency is the focus of legislation highlighted this week by Senate GOP lawmakers and the Illinois Policy Institute. Allegations that a Dixon city official stole $53 million from city coffers highlights the need for Senate Bill 3392, which would require all local governments – including school boards, townships and municipalities – to post their checkbooks online.
On May 1, COGFA voted against Governor Quinn’s proposed closure of four correctional facilities, an Illinois Youth Center and the Murray Developmental Center.
The bipartisan, bicameral legislative panel was supportive of the Governor's proposals to save the state money, but at the same time expressed deep concerns about the economic impact on the communities of Centralia, Tamms, Dwight, Peoria and additional job losses in the suburban areas.
COGFA’s recommendation is only advisory. The final decision rests with the Governor.