Statehouse

Illinois Times

Illinois is racking up more debt than even its comptroller knows about. Hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of bills are awaiting payment. They're part of a little known program that has lawmakers asking questions.

Amanda Vinicky

Mixed messages came out of a meeting Tuesday between Illinois' governor and legislative leaders. It was their first meeting in months, even as Illinois is in the midst of an unprecedented budget standoff.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki
Diocese of Springfield, Illinois

Since the high middle ages, the Catholic Church has celebrated a “Red Mass” — attended by lawyers, judges and politicians. One of the best known such services happens every fall in Washington, D.C., the day before the U.S. Supreme Court opens its annual term.

Illinois' capital has a growing tradition in that area, with its own Red Mass set for Wednesday evening. 

Amanda Vinicky

For only the second time this year, Gov. Bruce Rauner and the four legislative leaders are set to meet, Tuesday, in Springfield.  It comes as Illinois' historic budget stalemate yawns into May, with two weeks left in legislators' regular session schedule.

These "leaders' meetings" are private, but NPR Illinois Statehouse Bureau Chief Amanda Vinicky had the chance to get some perspective about where the leaders stood going into the confab. 

School desks
Flickr user: dcJohn www.flickr.com/photos/dcjohn/

Illinois' leaders are divided over school funding as ever, even as superintendents continue to sound the alarm about fears education funding will get caught in the political stalemate.

Gov. Bruce Rauner wants to increase how much Illinois sends schools overall, by $120 million.

Even then, some districts -- including the financially beleaguered Chicago Public Schools -- would see their state funding drop. Senate President John Cullerton Monday nixed that as a viable option.

Amanda Vinicky

A rough outline of budget ideas for Illinois may already be on the way to a dead-end;  Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is giving a cool reception to a potential budget framework drafted by a group of state legislators.

AFSCME Council 31

A dispute involving labor and a majority of lawmakers on one side, and Gov. Bruce Rauner on the other, is playing on repeat. On Monday, Rauner vetoed legislation backed by AFSCME for the second time in a year.

The legislation may sound innocuous to those not directly impacted.

It would send contract disputes (like one that's going on now) between the Illinois's largest public employees union and the state, to a binding arbitrator, who is supposed to be neutral.

But to Rauner it's "stunning, its atrocious legislation."

House floor
Brian Mackey / WUIS

Ever since the Great Recession of 2008, Illinois state government has been going from one fiscal crisis to the next. While crisis can force action, it can also lead to decisions that may not be best in the long term.

flickr/b0r0da

A potential framework for a balanced state budget relies on both cuts, and bringing in more money to state coffers. That does include an income tax hike. But there are other revenue ideas too.

Legislators who've been unable to reach a budget deal since last July have about two weeks left to agree on a new plan, or risk taking the state into a new phase of uncertainty and political gamesmanship.

Video Poker
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Online betting on horse-races would continue to be legal in Illinois, under legislation advancing at the state capitol.

That's despite concerns of anti-gambling activities like Anita Bedell.

"This legalizes bookmaking on the internet, which is available 7 days a week non stop," she said at a recent Senate hearing.

Without legislative action, that authority expires early next year.

The measure is one of several up for debate that affects the gambling industry.

John Hanlon, Illinois Innocence Project
Illinois Innocence Project

This year, the Illinois Innocence Project is making its 15th anniversary. In January, the program helped win freedom for Teshome Campbell. He had been convicted of murdering James Shepherd in Champaign back in 1997, and spent more than 18 years in prison.

Amanda Vinicky

A state senator's attempt to snuff-out youth smoking fell short when it came up for a vote Thursday.

Sen. John Mulroe, D-Chicago, wants to raise the smoking age from 18 to 21 "to prevent tobacco-related disease and death."

Printed budgets
WNIJ

Human service agencies are hopeful legislation approved Thursday by state lawmakers will finally get them money, but they shouldn't start spending just yet.

NPR Illinois State Week logo (Capitol dome)
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Legislators and top Rauner administration officials are acknowledging what it’ll take to solve Illinois’ budget mess: billions of dollars in spending cuts and tax hikes. But they're also insisting it's just a possibility, not a bill, and certainly not a deal.

In other news, a familiar name is suing over the "Independent Maps" ballot initiative.

WUIS

  Billions of dollars in cuts are part of a possible budget for next year.  So are higher taxes. 

Jenna Dooley/Ill Public Radio

Illinois lawmakers approved $700 million to partially finance various human service programs that haven't received funding since last summer because of the budget stalemate.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey / WUIS

Illinois legislators today Thursday approved stopgap funding for human services.

After ten months without state funding … after-school programs, local health departments and substance abuse treatment centers are in critical condition.

Democratic Representative Greg Harris says Senate Bill 2038 would pay social service organizations just under half of what they're owed.

Amanda Vinicky / WUIS / Illinois Issues

Billions of dollars in cuts are part of a possible budget for next year. So are higher taxes.

Illinois built up a deficit over the years; the current impasse has only exacerbated it. A bipartisan group of legislators chosen to craft a solution has a potential path for fiscal year 2017.

Members are cagey about sharing details. It's politically sensitive; members say they're hesitant to share details out of respect for their private negotiations.

hourglass with dollar signs instead of sand filtering through
Bill Brooks / Flicker

Bipartisan working groups are currently trying to find a way out of the budget impasse. But the crisis could have been prevented long before the battle between Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic leaders began.

Amanda Vinicky

Lawmakers' latest bid to mitigate the damage of the budget impasse centers on helping social services.

Court orders have kept money flowing to certain social services, but many others have had to scale back or close after waiting more than ten months for the state to pay their bills. These autism, drug-treatment, and housing programs would get about $700 million under a measure advanced on a bipartisan basis by an Illinois House committee.

The use of solitary confinement has drawn increasing scrutiny nationwide. And last week, the John Howard Association issued a statement (PDF) on the practice in Illinois prisons.

The John Howard Association is an independent watchdog, monitoring conditions and advocating for more humane treatment in Illinois prisons. We spoke to the group's director, Jennifer Vollen-Katz.

Trump by Michael Vadon/Flickr / Rauner by Brian Mackey/WUIS

Now that it seems Donald Trump will be his party’s nominee for president, Republicans have a decision to make.

Rep. Frank Mautino reviews a COGFA report.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino told lawmakers Tuesday he doesn't want people to question his integrity. But he declined to respond to questions about alleged misuse of campaign funds.

Illinois Republican lawmakers used a legislative audit hearing to continue pressuring Mautino on what his critics call excessive, and possibly unethical, spending listed in his campaign finance reports.

Mautino, who took office in January after years as a Democratic state representative, said he'll answer those questions on May 16 at a hearing with the State Board of Elections.

Amanda Vinicky moderated a City Club of Chicago conversation on the current state budget impasse featuring a panel with  Republican State Rep. Patti Bellock, Democratic State Sen. Daniel Biss,  Democratic State Sen. Andy Manar, and Republican State Rep. David McSweeny.   

flickr/picturesofmoney

Because of the lack of a budget, social services providers have not been getting paid for some of their work, even though they have contracts with state to continue providing these services. Some are now suing Illinois.

These organizations help the state's most vulnerable populations. But they are also businesses that have to make payroll, keep the lights on and balance their books for yearly audits. 

Illinois Municipal League

Illinois cities want legislation that would give broad legal protections to government employees like first responders. It's a response to an Illinois Supreme Court decision in January.

Sarah Mueller WUIS

An Illinois citizens group on Friday moved a step forward in its aim to change the way the state draws legislative boundaries. The constitutional amendment its pushing would take the task of creating new maps from the state legislature and give it to an independent commission. But the proposal still faces hurdles to get on November's ballot.

woman at Capitol with "People Not Politics" sign
Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault

Sixty four agencies are suing the state for $100 million. They've got contracts that say they're owed that money, but Illinois hasn't paid up: The funding is caught in the prolonged stalemate between lawmakers and the governor.

One of those agencies is the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

NPR Illinois' Amanda Vinicky spoke with its director -- Polly Poskin -- about the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed last week in Cook County.

Rep. Frank Mautino reviews a COGFA report.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

  Republican lawmakers are piling the pressure on Illinois' Auditor General. They're pressing him to respond to allegations of improper campaign spending.

Legislators chose one of their own, former Democratic State Rep. Frank Mautino, to take over as the state's financial watchdog. He started in January.

Almost immediately, some came to regret that choice. Published reports detail what critics say appear to be excessive, unethical -- some say possibly illegal -- campaign finance reports.

wikimedia

Legislators have ratified an amendment to the Illinois constitution but it's up to voters whether the provision will be enshrined in state law.

Over the years, when lawmakers have been short on cash for state needs, they've dipped into funds that are supposed to pay for infrastructure.

The idea is to put an end to that practice.

The proposed constitutional amendment would put transportation funding in a figurative "lock box."

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