Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Lawmakers keep busy on the second day of veto session

By Jamey Dunn

During a busy veto session day today, lawmakers voted to override Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget vetoes, approved a bill that would require publicly traded corporations to share some tax information with the public and passed a resolution that could bar the way for pay raises for public employees.

Budget vetoes
The Senate voted to override some of Quinn’s changes to the budget they approved in the spring. Quinn signed the budget sent to him by the General Assembly, but he vetoed $19.4 million that was included to run the state’s only super-maximum security prison, located near Tamms, and the $21.2 million included to operate a women’s prison in Dwight. In addition to the prisons, he plans to close three transition centers meant to help inmates reenter society. Quinn also cut $8.9 million for a youth prison in Joliet and $6.6 million for a youth prison in Murphysboro. The chamber approved putting funding back for the corrections facilities.

“Our prison population is at an all-time high, our prisons are severely overcrowded and our staffing levels are down,” Sen. Gary Forby, who called for the override, said in a prepared statement. Tamms is located in Forby's district. “I hope that today’s Senate vote sends a clear message to the governor that he needs to stop fighting us on this issue. He needs to use these funds to manage the overcrowding of our prison system and ensure the safety of employees and inmates.”

The governor has been lobbying lawmakers to uphold his changes. “I had to make those vetoes in order to have money for the Department of Children and Family Services, and also because we can’t be spending millions of taxpayer’s dollars on prisons and juvenile justice camps that are half empty and in one case totally empty,” Quinn said. “The concept that we’re going to keep open Murphysboro, which is a juvenile justice camp, at a cost of millions of bucks and then take away money from neglected and abused children is I think really upside down. So I hope we prevail. We have two [chambers], and we’re going to fight hard in both places to uphold my decision.” The bill will now go over to the House.

Quinn is under no obligation to spend the money even if the General Assembly votes to restore it. However, he cannot spend the money elsewhere, such as on DCFS costs, without the approval of lawmakers.

DNR funding 
After a failed attempt at the end of the spring legislative session to approve revenue to fund the state’s struggling Department of Natural Resources, the bill passed in the Senate today. Senate Bill 1566 would increase vehicle registration fees by $2, which would bring the cost of registration for a standard passenger vehicle to $101 annually. The proposal would also allow the DNR to charge out-of-state visitors park entrance fees and charge all visitors access fees for certain park features, such as beaches and horse trails. A previous plan of charging entrance fees for all park visitors was scrapped in lieu of the proposed increased vehicle registration fee. “If you live in Illinois and you have an Illinois plate, it’s open season. Go to any park you want to,” Hutchinson said of the plan the last time it was up for a vote. The measure has already passed in the House, and a Quinn spokesperson said the governor plans to sign the bill.

Republicans who opposed the bill said that the Quinn administration chose to underfund DNR and spend the money on other programs.

Corporate tax info 
The Senate approved Senate Bill 282, which would require publicly traded corporations doing business in Illinois make some tax information public.

Senate President John Cullerton, who sponsors the bill, says that the measure is meant to help legislators make more informed tax policy decisions. “It’s not a gotcha to the business community. It’s actually something that helps us have a better tax structure.”

Under the proposal, corporations would submit tax information such as their incomes, tax liability and tax credits they receive to the secretary of state. The information would not be made available to the public until two years after the information is filed. At that time, it would be available to the public through a searchable online database.

Leaders of business organizations have balked at the idea of having to release information they say is private. “I think tax information is proprietary and confidential and should not be publicly released,” said Mark Denzler, vice president and chief operating officer of the Illinois Manufacturers Association. “The reaction from the business community ... has been pretty reflexively negative,” said Palatine Republican Sen. Matt Murphy. He said that he recognizes that Cullerton is not trying to hurt businesses, but he said, “I think at its core it sends the wrong message.” Murphy called on Cullerton to compromise with businesses.

Cullerton said business groups have not come to him with any suggestions for compromise so far, but he said he hopes that might change. “Sometimes, people’s willingness to negotiate increases after it passes one chamber.” The bill has an influential House sponsor in Chicago Democratic Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie and also has the support of Quinn.

Cullerton said he is open to changes being made to the bill in the House. “If there is some reason why some of these things that we’re asking to be disclosed should not be, and there’s a rational basis for that, I can take it out.”

State workers pay raises 
The House approved a resolution stating that it will not include money for state employee pay raises in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget, which takes effect in July. House Speaker Michael Madigan, who sponsors House Joint Resolution 45, said it is “a clear message from the House, to both the negotiators, both sides, that we don’t see room for salary increases. We just don’t see it.”

Quinn is currently negotiating a new contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Quinn said today that he told the union there is no money for raises under the new contract. “I honor the workers all the time. I have never said anything other than I really appreciate their public service. At the same time, if the state has these severe financial challenges, we’re all going to have to realize that that’s the reality and we’re not going to be able to have raises.” Union officials say the resolution undermines collective bargaining.

Anders Lindall, spokesman for AFSCME Council 31, said the union has offered to forgo pay increases in 2013 in exchange for concessions from the state. “In reality, state employees have voluntarily done more than anyone to help the state close its budget gap — agreeing in 2010 and 2011 to unpaid furlough days, wage deferrals, health plan changes and other concessions that saved the state more than $400 million, and offering in the current round of negotiations to accept no pay increase in 2013 as part of a comprehensive settlement,” Lindall said in prepared statement.

Assault weapons ban 
The Senate also voted to override a veto that Quinn used to tack an assaults weapon to another bill.

SB681 would allow Illinois gun owners to purchase ammunition from in-state dealers through the mail. However, after a mass shooting in Colorado movie theater in July, Quinn used his veto pen to attach a ban on semi-automatic rifles, high-capacity magazines and .50-caliber guns onto the bill. Many lawmakers agreed that Quinn overstepped his authority by hijacking a bill that is at best tangentially related to the issue. “If the governor wants to do that, then he probably needs to find someone who introduces that bill and then we have a discussion about that bill,” said Okawville Republican David Luechtefeld, who sponsored SB 681. If the House also votes to override the veto, the underlying legislation would become law.

Quinn plans to keep pushing for a ban. “In the past six months, our nation experienced two violent shootings with an assault weapon in everyday settings: A gunman used a semi-automatic assault weapon to kill six worshipers at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Illinois also lost one of its own, Petty Officer 3rd Class John Larimer, in the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater massacre with an assault weapon that left 12 dead. As the governor has said, there is no place in Illinois for weapons designed to rapidly fire at human targets at close range,” Brooke Anderson, a spokeswoman for Quinn, said in a prepared statement. “A statewide ban on assault weapons is good public safety policy, and we will vigorously pursue this cause.”

The House has canceled its session for tomorrow, but the Senate is scheduled to start its session at 10 a.m. 

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