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, provides for six months of funding for all other key budget areas, and freezes lawmaker pay. In response to the approval of the bill package on Thursday, State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) has issued the following statement:

“This is not a perfect plan. In fact, there are parts of this comprehensive agreement that I do not like. However, this was a negotiation, and we met in the middle to allow every school in Illinois to open on time in the fall, to provide bridge funding to the charitable agencies that serve Illinois’ most vulnerable citizens, and to freeze lawmaker pay.”

“In particular, K-12 education will be funded in FY17 at the highest level in our state’s history. For the first time in seven years, the funding formula will not be prorated. This means that each of our schoolchildren will receive 100% of the funds promised to them. Most importantly, this measure removes children from the crossfire of the budget and reform negotiations, which have been put on hold by Democrat legislative leaders until after the November elections.”
At midnight on our regular adjournment date of May 31, lawmakers in the House of Representatives were told to keep our Wednesdays open for overtime session in Springfield. Since that announcement, Speaker Madigan has cancelled our first two overtime session dates, June 8 and June 15. The Speaker, who had spent weeks calling the budget and reform working groups “unpersuasive,” has done an about face and is now claiming that the working groups are making progress and need to continue their work uninterrupted.

The purpose of these groups is to reach compromise on a balanced budget deal that funds vital services, while also agreeing to reform initiatives that will root out the waste, fraud, and abuse that plagues Illinois government and will improve the jobs climate and economy. I hope a comprehensive budget bill is forthcoming that accomplishes all of these goals.

Breen Joins Governor Rauner in Demanding Approval of Balanced Emergency Budget
On Tuesday I attended the annual meeting of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce in Chicago, where business awards were given in recognition of outstanding development projects that were completed during the year.

After the luncheon, I was proud to stand with Governor Rauner, Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, and other members of the House and Senate Republican caucuses in demanding the consideration of a balanced emergency budget that will allow schools to open on time in the fall and allow critical services to continue running while we work toward needed reforms in Illinois. The reason for these bills is that Democrat leaders have told us that they refuse to take any votes on substantive reform measures until after the November election. It’s shameful, and the people of Illinois deserve better.

Speaker Mike Madigan has refused an up-or-down vote on HB 6583 (school funding for FY17) and HB 6585 (emergency funding for agencies and services). Both of these bills are balanced and will not increase Illinois’ debt load. Speaker Madigan’s decision to block these two measures from being heard is a purely political stunt, and it shows clearly that Madigan is more interested in politics than good, responsible policy.

Numbers Don’t Lie: Democrats Continue to Ignore Funding for Education and Vital Human Service Programs
For years, Democrats in Springfield have clamored for more taxes, to support higher spending for those who utilize government services. They claim Illinoisans aren’t taxed enough. I couldn’t disagree more. I believe money is not being spent wisely and that lawmakers have their priorities wrong.

I read a very enlightening article the other day that I would like to share, called “Why Illinois Shortchanges People Dependent on Government Services.” It was written by Ted Dabrowski, a budget and tax expert from the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI), a non-profit think tank based in Chicago. IPI supports limited government and free-market principles.

At its core, this article makes a convincing argument that Illinois has had more than enough revenue coming in over the years to support operations and social service programs. A clear case is made that over the last 30 years, unrealistic promises made to state government workers has led to skewed budget priorities and less available money for state programs for Illinois’ most vulnerable citizens. The writer is correct in pointing out that the one constant during this timeframe is House Speaker Mike Madigan. According to the article, since 1983, when Madigan took the reigns as House Speaker, state per capita revenues have grown at a rate that is more than double the rate of inflation. So why is Illinois broke? Why are Democrats insisting that a tax hike is the only solution to our budget problems? The problem stems from misplaced priorities.

During the Madigan era:
  • Spending on state worker pensions increased 586% as compared to a 10% increase in human services funding
  • Spending on state worker insurance increased 166% while funding for higher education during the same timeframe was cut by 8%.
The article states that state worker retirement benefits have grown 900% since 1987, or an average of 9% per year. Those numbers just aren’t seen in the private sector.
A key responsibility of state government is to provide bridge programs to disadvantaged and disabled citizens. But in Illinois, we’ve failed in that responsibility while spending more and more on unsustainable state government worker benefits. We should instead aim to properly and fairly compensate our state workers, without hurting our young people and the most vulnerable among us. 

Please take a moment and read the IPI article. You may access the article by clicking here.

Breen’s Summer Reading Safari Program in Full Swing
There’s still time to enroll in my summer reading program for 2016. Children from pre-K through 5th grade who live in District 48 are encouraged to participate. Those who achieve the summer reading goal of reading eight or more books by Friday, August 19 will be invited to attend a fall reading celebration party. To sign up, click on the Summer Reading Safari icon at reppeterbreen.org. District 48 encompasses all or part of the following municipalities: Downers Grove, Glen Ellyn, Lisle, Lombard, Oakbrook, Oakbrook Terrace, Villa Park and Wheaton. Information about the program was mailed to District 48 households, but additional brochures are available at my office at 929 S. Main Street, Suite 101-A, in Lombard, and at local libraries.
About a week before the end of this past legislative session, students from St. John Lutheran School in Lombard came to visit me in Springfield. It was great to see and speak with such wonderful and bright children.
 
The people of Illinois are blessed with one of the most beautiful and historic State Capitols in the country, and we had an impromptu question and answer session, on one of the grand staircases in our State Capitol. I was asked to explain the budget impasse facing our state, and so I presented the children with a question: “does 36 equal 32?” (meaning, does the $36 billion that the General Assembly majority wanted to spend last year equal the $32 billion in tax revenue that we took in?) The children, with quizzical looks on their faces, all said, “no!”
 
The schoolchildren understand the problem, even if some of us adults don't quite get it.
 
But little did I know that those budget numbers I discussed with the schoolchildren earlier in the day would change drastically. That night, Speaker Mike Madigan and his majority caucus would pass a bill to spend $40 billion next year, against estimated tax revenues of roughly $33 billion. Yes, the House Majority passed a budget that was $7 billion dollars out of balance.
 
And, that 500-page budget bill was dropped on our desks with roughly an hour to review. The resulting debate and tumult made national news. That night was as close to as I have seen to individuals getting into fisticuffs on the floor of the House. The whole thing had that sense of the federal debate over Health Care reform, where one representative famously said, “you'll have to pass it to find out what is in it.” In the following days, the newspapers and our staff did a more thorough analysis of this budget bill, and it was reported that numerous members of the majority party in the Illinois House had “goodies” for their districts sprinkled throughout the $40 billion plan.
 
A few days later, on the last official day of session, May 31, this severely out of balance budget was voted down in the Senate. One Chicago Democrat even went so far to call Madigan’s budget a “fantasy.” 
 
After all that, I continue to think about those schoolchildren. Our state’s young people are the primary concern for many of us who serve in the General Assembly. But right now, many representatives on my side of the aisle have shared with me their dismay at their children headed out of state for college. These representatives are proud graduates of our state universities, and their children are leaving to attend Mississippi State, University of Missouri, or one of the many other state schools elsewhere. Often, these young people are even paying less for these out of state schools than they would pay at an equivalent state university here.
 
We all know that state government is broken. It’s well past time for representatives from both parties to come together to create a sensible plan to save our state. The people of Illinois, most especially our children, deserve better!
Today, State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) joined 21 Illinois lawmakers to demand Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino step aside and take an unpaid leave of absence. Mautino recently confirmed he is under federal investigation for his irregular campaign expenditures and reporting procedures, dating back to his time in the Illinois House of Representatives. The lawmakers stressed that Mautino cannot effectively do his job while simultaneously answering state and federal investigations. Breen drafted the latest letter from lawmakers to Mautino.

“Even apart from the scent of scandal—and your refusal over the past four months to answer the reasonable requests of the General Assembly—there is no practical way you can competently govern and administer the Auditor General’s Office, while simultaneously defending yourself against federal criminal charges, a state Election Board investigation, and whatever other legal problems you may face going forward," Breen's letter stated.

In May, Breen drafted a letter joined by numerous other lawmakers demanding answers, after months of delay by Mautino in responding to the numerous allegations of improprieties in his finances. At the time, Mautino responded that the issue would be resolved by the State Board of Elections. Since that time, however, it was revealed that Mautino’s finances are under investigation by the federal government.

The end of our regular session came and went on Tuesday with no agreement on a balanced budget. We remained on the floor of the House until midnight, hopeful that bipartisanship and reason would prevail, but as the night progressed, the only bills brought to us for votes were politically-motivated bills that mocked Republicans’ insistence that spending be limited to available revenues. 

Speaker Mike Madigan blocked a balanced education bill sponsored by House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, which would fund our schools at 100% of the foundation level and ensure that school would start on time this fall. This refusal on the part of the Speaker was very telling, and illustrated very well that his concerns are purely political—and have nothing at all to do with the welfare of Illinois families.

Another politically-motivated bill that was heard in the House this week was SB 2604, which would create a requirement that every chamber of commerce with government members must include 2 union representatives on their boards of directors, even if the unions aren't members of the local chamber and even if they refuse to pay the same fee all the other chamber members pay. This is a blatant attack on the First Amendment, as it relates to the freedom of association. I was vocal in my opposition to the bill. You may watch my floor comments by clicking on the image above.

Since we've again been prevented from considering a balanced budget by Speaker Madigan, the House and Senate will now enter our second year of “continuing session,” which means we will return to Springfield regularly over the summer. I remain ready and willing to work toward a budget solution that is fair, funds vital services, and meets our constitutional requirement of being balanced. I urge all lawmakers from both parties to join me in working toward this goal.

Democrat Caucuses at Odds While Republicans in House and Senate Stand United
If there is a silver lining to come out of the chaos in Springfield, it is that Illinoisans are witnessing the continued crumbling of the walls of “Madiganistan.” While House and Senate Republicans stood united for balance and responsibility this week, Speaker Madigan and Senate President Cullerton could not get their respective caucuses to support each other’s initiatives.

On Tuesday, our final day of regular session, the Senate rejected Madigan’s SB 2048, a budget bill that spent $40 billion, with only $33 billion in tax dollars expected to come in next year. One high ranking Senate Democrat was quoted as saying that, “I am not a fan of the (Madigan) budget. I think it’s a fantasy budget but the reality is that it really hurts people. There’s not the revenue to support it, and it delays us to getting to a real solution.”

Then, the House rejected a Cullerton bill to bail out Chicago schools and pensions. HB 2990 spends roughly $1 billion more than available funds, including at least $0.5 billion for Chicago schools and pensions. In spite of the fact that 60 House districts include all or portions of the City of Chicago, HB 2990 failed 27-92 in the House.

Governor Vows to Veto Bill to Increase Welfare Benefits by $700 Million
A few days after House Democrats voted in favor of a budget that was $7 billion out of balance, they OK’d a Democrat-sponsored bill that would allow people with higher incomes to receive TANF, one of the state’s welfare programs. The new standard would add roughly $700 million in new spending to the program, with no source of new tax revenue to pay for it. While SB 730 was approved in the House, it was one vote shy of the veto-proof majority needed to withstand the veto that Governor Rauner said is coming. One shocking element of the bill’s debate was that a fiscal note had been filed to get the exact cost of the measure—but the Democrat majority voted that the note should be held “inapplicable.” You see, when lawmakers place a fiscal note on a bill, the rules require that the bill’s progress be halted until a fiscal analysis is shared with legislators. These fiscal notes are important, as they outline the true fiscal impact of the bills before us. If I had to pick a theme for my first term in the Illinois House, this move highlighted it: the governing majority in the General Assembly thinks that costs of government programs are irrelevant and will continue to spend, presumably until reality catches up with them.

Breen Finishes Spring Session with Eight Approved Bills
In spite of gridlock at the top, individually I had great success this year with my own initiatives. Eight of my bills were approved in both chambers and are expected to be signed over the summer by Governor Rauner. I'll let you know as these become law.

Pension and Reform Working Groups to Continue Meeting Over the Summer
While regular session ended without a budget in place for Fiscal Year 2017, the bipartisan and bicameral budget and reform working groups will continue working throughout the summer. These groups made significant progress over the last month, and the rank and file lawmakers who serve on them have all expressed a desire to continue working on compromises that will ultimately bring us to a budget solution.

Sign Up for my Summer Reading Program!
Brochures announcing my Second Annual Summer Reading Program for children in grades pre-K-5 were recently mailed to families in the 48th House District. Reading is a wonderful way to keep minds sharp during the summer months, and it offers people an opportunity to go on amazing adventures without ever leaving home. Participation is free, and those who reach the goal of reading eight or more books this summer will be invited to a reading celebration party in the fall. Please sign up today by clicking on the “Summer Reading Safari” icon on my website at reppeterbreen.org.