Tuesday, May 1, 2012

CIRCLE Takes Issues to Springfield

Business and community leaders representing eighteen chambers of commerce attended the April 26th CIRCLE Legislative Day in Springfield. This is the third year the Central Illinois Regional Chamber Legislative Effort (CIRCLE) has gone to Springfield.  A video summary of the trip is available at:

The event was sponsored by AT&T, CEFCU, Benefit Planning Consultants, Tate & Lyle, and State Farm. A continental breakfast and the four issues sessions were held in the Howlett Buyilding's Hall of Flags.

The participating chambers in CIRCLE are from Canton, Champaign County, Chillicothe, Clinton, Decatur, East Peoria, Jacksonville, Lincoln/Logan County, Macomb, Manito, McLean County, Morton, Pekin, Peoria, Peoria Heights, Quincy, Springfield, and Washington.

The first issue session dealt with the need for pension reform in Illinois' state government. Representative Elaine Nekritz (D-57), Senator Bill Brady (R-44) and Representative Darlene Senger (R-96) spoke about the need for reforms. In fact, both sides of the aisle are focused on this issue and seem to recognize and acknowledge that the State can't continue down the same path.

Governor Pat Quinn recently announced his proposed pension reforms, and the legislators commended him for taking some courageous stands. While not agreeing on all of the governor's proposals, both sides of the aisle did find some common ground in his list. One proposal that is getting mixed reaction is the shift of pension costs for teachers to the local school and community college districts. Some see this as an equitable, fair shift of the pension burden from the State to the appropriate local taxpayers, while others view this as a property tax increase or unfunded mandate.
Tom Neely, the President of the Morton School District Board, made that point to the legislators. He believes that shifting the pension cost to the local school districts will be a burden - particularly to those districts with tax caps. The only two options he sees are a property tax increase or cuts to programs, staff, salaries, and benefits.

Senator Dave Koehler (D-46), Senator Darin LaHood (R-37) and Representative Adam Brown (R-101) all participated in the session on Enterprise Zones. Jim Mamer, President and CEO of Morton Community Bank, discussed the success of enterprise zones and the positive economic development that results. He touted East Peoria's enterprise zone as an example. Tom Harrington from Coldwell Banker echoed those comments and urged the legislators to extend the expiration dates on the enterprise zones. While the session continued, Senators Koehler and LaHood left to vote on an enterprise zone extension bill. It passed the Senate 55-0 and now goes to the House.

Workers compensation reform was the subject of the third session. Senator Christine Radogno (R-41), the Senate Republican Leader, Senator Kirk Dillard (R-24), Senator Kyle McCarter (R-51) and Representative David Leitch (R-73) all summarized their thoughts on the issue. Jason Shallenberger from Morton Buildings gave some real-life examples of the high cost of Illinois' workers comp system compared to other states. Jim Runyon from Easter Seals told of the challenges Illinois' workers comp system presents for not-for-profit organizations.

The final issue session was unemployment insurance reforms. Representative Jil Tracy (R-93) detailed recent reforms by the legislature, and the need for additional reforms.
Also attending parts of the CIRCLE issue sessions were Representative Mike Unes (R-91) and Keith Sommer (R-106).

Lunch was held at the Inn at 835. Senator John Cullerton (D-6), President of the Senate, and Representative Tom Cross (R-84), Republican Leader of the House, were the featured speakers. Speaking about 15 minutes apart, and not hearing the other's speech, both legislative leaders indicated the three big issues they are dealing with are pensions, medicaid, and the budget. They both told essentially the same story of how the State of Illinois got itself into this financial condition. They both acknowledged Governor Quinn's bold proposals and leadership on these issues. And, finally, they both acknowledged the seriousness of the situation and that something must be done now.

While there appears to be some middle ground and common solutions in some areas, these two leaders presented stark and dramatic differences on most of the significant, major solutions. However, they both ended their presentations with essentially the same comment:. It is going to be an interesting six weeks. That is the amount of time left in this legislative session.