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It is my pleasure to present to you my 2016 End of Session Report. My staff and I prepared this report for you, to give you an in-depth look at this past legislative term and to ask for your feedback in the enclosed survey.

These are truly challenging times, but as you will see in the enclosed pages, we had some key successes this year. You may access the report by clicking on the image to the left.
Legislation sponsored by State Representative Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) that offers college-bound high school students an opportunity to earn college credit while saving on college tuition costs was signed into law on Friday by Governor Bruce Rauner.

Students applying to some Illinois public universities are required to complete two years of foreign language studies to be considered for admission. HB 4330 would allow students to meet that admissions requirement based on a proficiency exam, and those who earn high marks on the test would receive college credit for their proficiency. “The cost of a college education is out of reach for a growing number of Illinois families, and to help combat those costs this legislation offers significant savings to students who have shown proficiency in a foreign language,” said Wheeler. “The cost of the average foreign language class at the University of Illinois last year was $5,553. Those are real dollars that can be saved when students do well in their high school foreign language studies.”

According to Wheeler, the college credit obtained through the foreign language proficiency exam would be similar to credit earned through success on an Advanced Placement test for college level high school classes.

“In addition to providing an opportunity to save on tuition costs, the Seal of Biliteracy is an impressive achievement that can be listed on college applications,” Wheeler said. “With admissions becoming more and more selective, this type of accomplishment will look very good to admissions counselors.”
High School Students to Stop Taking PARCC Tests
The State Board of Education announced on Monday, July 11 that beginning in the spring of 2017, high school students would no longer have to take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests. Instead, the State will subsidize and supervise the administration of a statewide SAT college entrance exam in spring 2017. Students in 11th grade will take the SAT. The SAT is administered according to an established nationwide protocol and its results are published in numbers that are relatively accessible and familiar to students and educators. SAT tests will be administered in compliance with the State law evaluating high school student body performance and progress. Students in grades 3 through 8 will continue to take separate PARCC tests geared to their age groups. 

Wheeler Co-Sponsors Resolution to Remove Auditor General for Cause
Questions have multiplied concerning the campaign fund of former State Representative Frank Mautino. After his appointment to the post of Illinois Auditor General in late 2015, the former lawmaker and his campaign fund were placed under criminal investigation by a federal grand jury. Charges against Mautino include misappropriation of campaign funds, ethical concerns and potential conflicts of interest. Citing the activities of himself and his counsel before the grand jury, Mautino has refused to respond to questions from the General Assembly relating to the investigation and his fitness to remain in office.

The Auditor General is an office created by Article VIII of the Illinois Constitution to audit the spending and operations of State agencies, including compliance with the laws that authorize their operations. In addition, past Auditor Generals have been asked to undertake additional investigations and submit additional reports to the General Assembly on questions involving public policy, including the operations of units of local government that represent parts of the State. Mautino is serving a ten-year term that is not set to expire until December 31, 2025, but he can be removed by a vote of three-fifths of the members of both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly for cause. HJR 158, filed on Wednesday, July 13 by Representative Dwight Kay has more than a dozen House Republican co-sponsors.

Gov. Bruce Rauner Establishes School Funding Commission
A new 25-member bipartisan commission established by Gov. Rauner will study Illinois’ school funding formula, the law used to divide and distribute Illinois school aid money into payments made to Illinois school districts. Illinois’ 863 school districts, the local units of governance that operate public elementary and secondary schools, depend on biweekly school aid payments to keep their doors open. Increasing concerns about the school aid formula contained in the current School Code spurred the creation of this commission. The five House Republican members appointed to the bipartisan commission are Representatives Avery Bourne, Sheri Jesiel, Dwight Kay, Bob Pritchard, and Christine Winger. The school funding formula last saw major structural changes in 1997, although the overall distribution of money to Illinois schools has been repeatedly ‘tweaked’ and modified since. The Illinois School Funding Reform Commission has been asked to report its findings to the Illinois General Assembly by February 1, 2017. 

State of Illinois Completes Rollout of New Job Opportunity for Unemployed Illinoisans
Illinois JobLink is a resume-posting platform operated by the Department of Employment Security (IDES) that is open to persons seeking employment in Illinois. Under a new policy going into effect on Sunday, July 17, persons filing for Illinois unemployment benefits after being laid off are going to be asked to fill out and post their resumes on Illinois JobLink as a condition of completing their application for benefits.

The Department is aware that people who need to file for benefits may have questions about how to complete the JobLink process and resume. The JobLink home page can be found here. In past years, nearly 60% of Illinois unemployment benefit filings did not include a work history or resume, despite the importance of these documents to potential employers. IDES believes that linking JobLink resume filing with unemployment benefits will speed up the hiring of unemployed persons.

New I-Refi Program from IHDA Will Help Some Under-Water Homeowners
The program, from the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA), is aimed at homeowners who owe more on their mortgages than the home is worth. Eligible homeowners, starting August 1, will be invited to apply for admission to the “Hardest Hit” program. Residents and families helped by the program could see a reduction in the amount owed on their mortgages. A mortgage financing data tracker, CoreLogic, reports that approximately 14% of all Illinois home mortgages are currently underwater.

The Illinois program is being backed by $45.7 million in U.S. Treasury funding. It is projected that 1,800 homeowner applicants will successfully apply for admission to the program and will get debt-reduction assistance of approximately $25,000 per home. Applicants to the program, which is targeted towards modest and middle-class home in challenged geographic areas, will be granted a maximum of $50,000 in debt-reduction assistance. The assistance will be credited towards the debt owed on a new, private-sector 30-year mortgage. Twenty-five participating mortgage-finance lenders have been mobilized by IHDA. These firms will refinance the homes of participating homeowners at market rates.

To qualify, applicants must owe at least 10% more than the value of their home, up to $50,000. Despite being under water, they must be current on mortgage payments for at least the past 12 months and must live in the home. Household income eligibility is determined by a sliding scale keyed towards the number of persons in the household and the geographic location of the household. The maximum purchase price of the home is also one of the variables used to gauge overall potential eligibility for admission to the program.

Representative David Welter Appointed to Serve Northern Illinois Legislative House District
Republican leaders in the 75th District have appointed David Welter to represent the district in the Illinois House of Representatives. The district centers along communities close to Interstate 80, including Morris and Seneca, comprising portions of Kendall, Grundy, LaSalle and Will Counties. Welter’s appointment came after former 75th District Rep. John Anthony resigned in June to accept a new job as executive assistant to the Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Under State law, the appointment was made by the four GOP chairpersons from the counties located within the 75th District. The chairpersons cast a weighted vote by population of their counties within the vacant district. The selection of Welter, the current Grundy County Board Chairman, was unanimous. Welter will maintain a district office in Morris to serve his constituents. Committee assignments are pending. Welter, who had served on the Grundy County Board since 2010, will also run for a full term as state representative on the November 2016 ballot. Welter was appointed State Representative on Saturday, July 9.

State’s Affirmative Markets Initiative Strengthened through Executive Order
The Executive Order, signed on Wednesday, July 13, affects small businesses owned and controlled by minorities, women, and persons with disabilities. EO 16-08 directs the Department of Central Management Services (CMS) to reform and reorganize its existing Business Enterprise Program. This reorganization is meant to streamline Illinois affirmative markets policies. Among many other changes, EO 16-08 asks CMS to create a standardized procedure to potentially set aside certain procurement contracts for solicitation to firms with enumerated standing. The “Sheltered Markets” set-aside program is supported by a wide variety of business groups. CMS has been asked to monitor its compliance with the Sheltered Markets Initiative and other changes implemented by this Executive Order, and to report annually to the Governor’s office on July 1 of each year, starting on July 1, 2017.
The stopgap State budget, enacted and signed into law on Thursday, June 30 in Springfield provides a full 12 months of funding for Illinois K-12 public schools. This plan will fully fund the foundation level for the first time in many years, ending the unfair practice of proration and will ensure that all school districts get at least as much funding from the State as they received last year. Every school district within the boundaries of District 64 will see an increase in funding.

The school aid includes both general State aid (GSA) and a series of categorical grants provided to many school districts to cover parts of the costs of mandates imposed by the State and other costs of school district operation. In addition, the FY17 K-12 education bill appropriated $361 million over what was distributed last year in FY16 for the 2015-16 school year. It also allocates $250 million for a new statewide equity grant that will be distributed to school districts based on the State Board of Education’s low income grant formula. The plan also includes a $75 million increase for early childhood education. It does not include a state bailout of Chicago Public Schools.

This chart illustrates the estimated increase in funding that District 64 schools will receive for 2016-2017:


New FY17 Spending Bills will Enable Full K-12 School Operations for Entire School Year
The General Assembly took action on June 30 to fund K-12 Education for Fiscal Year 2017 at record-high funding levels. By contrast, however, the legislation funds most other State operations only through December 2016. The “stopgap” bills do not balance the budget and do not solve Illinois’ fiscal woes. The State’s leaders believe that the current Springfield policy gap has achieved dimensions great enough that only the voters of Illinois, in the November election, can choose which path the State should follow. The key bill that actually appropriated money for FY16 and FY17 was SB 2047. Some elements of the package appropriated money so that it could be legally used to match spending/spending commitments made in FY16, which ended on Thursday. Other bills in the package contained “substantive” legislation, effective starting on Friday, intended to implement the FY17 portion of the package and match State law to appropriated spending.

The stopgap budget package was signed by Governor Bruce Rauner before the end of the day and prior to the start of FY17. The measures include funding to ensure that Illinois schools, including the troubled Chicago public school system, will reopen on time. Money is included to resume or maintain operations at Illinois state universities and other essential public facilities. Funds are earmarked to enable the fulfillment of this summer’s construction schedule for the repair and maintenance of State roads, bridges, and mass transit facilities. Some money is provided for community social services. The House vote on SB 2047 was 105-4-1. After unanimous approval in the Senate, the appropriation bill became law as P.A. 99-524.

District 64 Schools to Receive Record-High Funding in FY17
One key element of the funding package approved on June 30 allows every Illinois School District to open on time in the fall with record-high levels of funding. In fact, for the first time in seven years, funding sent through the state aid formula will not be prorated. Every District 64 School District will see an increase in funding for the 2016-2017 school year. The chart below shows an estimate of how each of my school districts will benefit:

Comptroller’s Count Shows Illinois Now Owes More Than $7.8 Billion in Past-Due Bills
The running count, which is frequently updated, is included in the public website operated by Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger. As Illinois’ cash-flow superintendent, Munger is informed daily of the due-bill situation facing the State. The total of $7.81 billion, counted as of Wednesday, June 29, counts vouchers tabulated by the Comptroller’s office and payable from Illinois general funds that are classified as “backlogged” – vouchers on file for significant periods of time without State payment. The Comptroller’s office currently counts 66,971 backlogged State vouchers. These numbers are constantly changing as funds move in and out of various State coffers.

The $7.8 billion figure does not represent the totality of debts owed by Illinois and its taxpayers. Additional debts owed by Illinois included monies obligated by ongoing State programs but not yet billed to the State. In addition, pension actuaries warn that Illinois’ unfunded pension debts now total more than $110 billion. Illinois Republicans, led by House Republican leader Jim Durkin and Governor Bruce Rauner, point to these mushrooming debts and obligations. They continue to insist that the State enact structural reforms to its laws governing job creation and public-sector labor relations.

Chicago Board of Education Could Approve Massive Property Tax Hike for Owners of Chicago Real Property
The Chicago school board move, expected to raise $250 million annually, was authorized as part of SB 318. This measure, which was amended with the tax-hike language and passed by the Illinois House on Thursday, June 30, was part of the end-of-fiscal-year package to enact spending measures for FY17 and enable Illinois schools to open on time. The Chicago Public Schools budget gap necessitated action to enable the city to raise an additional $250 million/year from local resources.

If the School Board adopts this property tax increase, statewide taxpayers outside Chicago will not be responsible for this $250 million. Rejecting a “bailout” of the troubled Chicago system, House Republicans took the lead in rejecting the push by Chicago lawmakers to impose this burden upon the suburbs and Downstate. Part of the budget gap comes from a massive increase in the level of unfunded pension liabilities borne by Chicago Public Schools, and the Illinois House enacted the amendment in such a way as to require that the money raised by the tax hike must be deposited directly into the pension fund and cannot be diverted or used for any other purpose. Chicago Public Schools currently owes a $669 million pension payment to the teachers’ pension fund. The House vote to enact SB 318 was 82-29-0. Senate approval by a vote of 40-14-0 allowed Gov. Rauner to sign the measure into law as P.A. 99-521.

Governor Signs Enhancement to Open Meetings Act Spurred by College Turmoil
The new State law will require that any and all available minutes and verbatim recordings of meetings closed to the public must be made available to a newly elected official who has been selected to fill a seat in a public body. The new law grants a “level playing field” to access to confidential board-of-directors information to newly chosen members of the body’s board of directors. This is significant when a newly chosen member or members have been chosen as part of a reform effort aimed at questionable or improper actions affiliated with the previous board.

HB 4630, sponsored by Republican Rep. Jeanne Ives, was approved unanimously by both houses of the General Assembly this spring. It was inspired by recent management events at DuPage Community College and the election, by local voters, of a “Clean Slate” who took a majority position on the college’s board of trustees. Governor Rauner on Thursday, June 30, signed HB 4630 into law as P.A. 99-515.

House, Senate Vote to Waive Vehicle Sticker Delinquent Registration Renewal Supplemental Late Fees if No Warning Mailed
The waiver is only effective if the Secretary of State has not previously mailed a motor vehicle license sticker-renewal notification to the affected motor vehicle owner. These notification letters, which had been familiar elements in the mailboxes of Illinois drivers, were suspended in 2015 due to Illinois’ budget situation. Many Illinois residents have complained about no longer getting the letters and then facing penalties for late sticker-renewal actions. In addition, police are authorized to stop motor vehicles with expired stickers.

The supplemental late-fee waiver bill was approved by the House on Thursday, June 30. The House vote on HB 4334, as amended, was 111-0-0. As the Senate had previously approved the final language of the bill, the House vote marked the final legislative step necessary to send the measure to the desk of Gov. Bruce Rauner for final action.

Happy Independence Day!
On Monday, people across the nation will celebrate Independence Day. As you gather with loved ones, please take a moment to remember those who have made the decision to serve their country and who have taken steps to defend the freedoms we enjoy. 

Let us all honor all service men and women who continue to defend the liberties proclaimed by our Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and through the United States Constitution. It is important that we not only recognize their service; but also respect their devotion to duty.
In the final hours of Fiscal Year 2016, Republican and Democrat lawmakers came together and approved a package of bills that funds K-12 education at record-high levels for all of FY17, and provides for six months of funding for all other key budget areas. In response to the approval of the bill package on Thursday, State Representative Barbara Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake) has issued the following statement:

“As is the case with any negotiation, there are some good and some not-so-good elements of this budget package. I am very pleased to see a 12-month, clean education bill that funds our schools at the highest levels in Illinois history with 100% of the foundation level included. As budget negotiations for the second half of FY17 continue, it is reassuring to know that our school children will be removed from the crossfire.”

“Social service providers that limped by in FY16 due to the lack of a budget can now plan for FY17 knowing they have funding at least through the end of December. These agencies provide critical services to our most vulnerable citizens, and with the approval of SB 2047 they can now return to the wonderful work they do in our communities. As budget talks for the second half of the year continue, I will continue advocating for solid funding for these agencies.”



Speaker Madigan Once Again Cancels Session; General Assembly to Meet This Week
After the House and Senate failed to enact a budget bill for FY17 prior to the their May 31, 2016 adjournment, Speaker Madigan reassured his colleagues that they would be called upon to meet once a week on the Wednesdays of June to discuss the spending situation and debate alternatives. However, no public budget discussions have taken place and each of the three session days scheduled for June 8, June 15, and now June 22 have been cancelled.

The cancellations of these three scheduled session days have taken place as the June 30th deadline for the adoption of a spending plan for FY17 grows closer. Illinois has not appropriated any operating funds for State facilities such as prisons and residential homes since July 1, 2016, and has not spent any funds other than stopgap funds for Illinois institutions of higher education since the same date. Existing appropriations for Illinois school districts and institutions of elementary and secondary education will expire on June 30.

The Illinois House and Senate are both scheduled to return to Springfield for session next Wednesday, June 29, to consider possible education funding and stopgap budget measures.

State Education Funding to End June 30th; Republicans Offer Full Funding Bill
Year-round learning programs, known as “summer school” to many older Illinois residents, are put at special risk by the pending shutoff of State school aid funds on July 1, 2016. While many areas of State spending are not protected by court orders, consent decrees, and continuing appropriations and have already been cut off by the inability of the majority party in the Illinois General Assembly to enact a balanced budget, the State did pass a spending bill in FY16 just for schools. Illinois elementary and secondary schools, with the help of General State Aid and other school aid programs, operated on schedule during the 2015-16 school year. However, the school aid payments authorized by this FY16 bill will end on June 30 with the end of the fiscal year.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and his colleagues are fighting for action on HB 6583 to provide full funding for Illinois schools for the 2016-2017 school year. HB 6583 would allow every Illinois school district to be fully funded at 100 percent of the foundation level for the first time in seven years. Additionally, the bill holds harmless those school districts that would lose state funding in 2017 due to rising property values along with a decline in poverty. But most importantly, it removes K-12 schoolchildren from the crossfire of the larger budget impasse.

Governor Rauner has said he will sign the clean education funding bill and HB 6583 has the full support of House and Senate Republicans, who are urging Speaker Madigan and Senate President Cullerton to pass the bill next week.

With No Funding after June 30th, Road Projects Prepare for Shutdown
The announcement from the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) came on Tuesday, June 21, as the close of FY16 approached. IDOT’s lawyers have advised the Department and the Rauner administration that, as of the close of the current fiscal year, the State cannot count on having legal authority to spend money for ongoing capital projects in the absence of explicit appropriations authority encompassing the projects being worked on.

Most State operations have continued throughout FY16 in the absence of an enacted budget. This spending has continued and has been based upon court orders, consent decrees, and continuing appropriations. With the end of this fiscal year, with regards to most road projects and transportation capital spending, the ability to legally spend money in these areas is coming to an end. House Republicans have called upon their Democrat counterparts in the General Assembly to immediately enact a stopgap appropriations bill, HB 6585, to enable essential IDOT road project work to continue during the summer construction season. HB 6585 is fully funded from existing revenues sources and funding streams.