The sticky business of overhauling the state’s employee pension systems wasn’t the only thing left undone when legislators gaveled the spring session to a close in the wee hours two Fridays ago.
Although members of the House and Senate approved a series of spending bills to keep state government operating in fiscal year 2013, they also left some significant gaps in the state’s budget plan that will have to be addressed in the coming months.
The Illinois State Board of Elections budget serves as an example.
Like other state agencies, the board’s budget was reduced by a couple of percentage points, largely because so much of the state’s money is being squeezed by rising pension costs and growing Medicaid expenditures.
But, there are three statewide elections this fiscal year and there was no money set aside to pay election judges.
There also is no money in the election board’s budget to pay the state’s share of the salary for county clerks.
For now, it is not known whether the General Assembly will take up issues like this when members return to Springfield later this summer to address the issue of pensions.
Cell phone hang-up
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Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said earlier this year it is inevitable that Illinois will some day completely ban the use of cell phones while driving. But, he said at the time that he didn’t think momentum existed for that to happen in Illinois this year.
His prediction is correct so far.
In March, the House narrowly approved a ban on hand-held cell phone use while driving, but the initiative faltered in the Senate. The legislation was never debated in a Senate committee and it was quietly shelved in the final week of the spring session.
A limited cell phone ban was sent to the governor.
It would make it illegal for drivers to make calls within 500 feet of an accident scene. It also bans sending picture and video messages while driving.
Cell phone use by drivers already is banned in construction and school zones.
The money pit
Once again, the new state budget contains no money to repair the Executive Mansion.
Gov. Pat Quinn, who rarely uses the 155-year-old downtown Springfield structure, had initially called for $13 million in construction money for various upgrades many of which haven’t been done for 40 years.
In recent months there have been sewer backups, the elevator has been broken and hot water comes and goes.
In the budget approved by the General Assembly on May 31, the $13 million appropriation for mansion upgrades was eliminated.
That might be a politically savvy move, since fixing up a barely used mansion seems kind of silly when Quinn is talking about closing prisons and other large state institutions because of the state’s budget woes.
But, as any homeowner knows, the longer you leave problems unfixed, the costlier it is to repair them.
Maybe the state should just sell the thing. We’re not sure who would want to buy a home on a block-size lot that needs $13 million in repair work.
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White is working to ensure the motoring public doesn’t notice he is laying off 90 people at locations throughout the state because of an $8 million cut to his budget.
“We’re making every effort not to have people being able to notice longer times at facilities. I think it’s a little early to see if that’s going to be the case, but we’re trying really not to impact those services,” White spokesman Dave Druker said last week.
In addition to the layoffs, White has frozen hiring, leaving at least 160 positions unfilled. We’ll see if a return to the days of long lines at driver’s facilities is in the offing.
Cleaning it up
You might recall last week when we printed a verbatim transcript of a portion of state Rep. Mike Bost’s now-famous rant on the House floor.
Here’s what the Republican from Murphysboro said: “Once again, total power in one person’s hands not the American way,” Bost ranted. “These damn bills that come out of here all the damn time come out here at the last f-ing and I got to try to figure out how to vote for my people.”
His taxpayer-paid press staff, however, says he didn’t say the “f” word. Rather, they claim he said “second.”
There you go.
Kurt Erickson can be reached at kurt.erickson@ lee.net.