State Roundup: House passes proposal to fill current fiscal year budget gap

From Illinois News Network

The Illinois House passed several measures meant to fill a current budget shortfall of more than $1.5 billion. House Speaker Mike Madigan says 80 percent of the correction comes from special funds being swept. The remainder of the funds come from cuts with three notable exceptions that remain uncut.

“These would be developmentally disabled, mental health and The Autism Program. At the same time in a later bill we will address the current need for additional funding in child care, at the Department of Corrections to make payroll and in the area of court reporters for the court system.”

Madigan says the bills are not perfect. A spokesperson for Senate Democrats says Senate President John Cullerton “will be meeting with his caucus to measure support for passage” and there will be a subject matter hearing Tuesday evening. The earliest the bills could make the Senate floor for a vote is Thursday.

Failsafes in place for current fiscal year

The passage of the measures comes with some failsafes. Democratic Representative Barbara Flynn Currie says if federal dollars would be kept from the state in the face of a possible fund sweep, the money would stay in the fund. Currie also says there is no borrowing to cover the budget hole.

“Which is important if the goal is to make sure we start the next budget year discussions without being encumbered by earlier responsibilities.”

Currie says the measures pale in comparison to the funding issues for the next fiscal year that starts in July. But, Democratic Representative Jack Franks says he’s bothered by the process, which he felt was not open.

“I don’t want to go back to the days when George Ryan did the budgets and they were all behind closed doors, when we have these agreements, because I believe the Speaker has really opened up the process in the last few years and I’d like to see it remain so.”

Franks says he learned the particulars of the bill reading a blog with insider information, not from an open process. Franks ultimately voted for the measures.

Opposition to current budget year fix

Not everyone is on board with the measures to fill the current fiscal year budget shortfall of more than $1.5 billion. The two measures that passed the House Tuesday did so with more than forty-five no votes each.

Representative Robert Martwick says he voted no because of policy and process. Martwick says lawmakers moved to sweep from funds that had a specific purpose. Regardless of the funds not having to be paid back in the current fiscal year, Martwick says it will cost somewhere.

“Inevitably, one way or another, we’re going to pay for that. So again, it wasn’t really — it plugged the hole with chewing gum but it certainly not a permanent patch.”

Martwick also decried the process he says was not as open as it should be.

“This bill was filed late last night, it was the first bill called on the floor, and none of us had really any information about it. To me that subverts the democratic process and I don’t’ think it’s proper. I don’t think the bill had the right amount of vetting.”

All but one republican representative voted yes for the measure. Representative Joe Sosnowski was not on the House floor Tuesday.

Coalition opposes Road Fund sweep

In a statement released before the House floor vote Tuesday the Transportation for Illinois Coalition said they oppose the proposed Road Fund sweep saying “every dollar in the Road Fund is needed for maintenance and repair.”

The Coalition says previous sweeps and diversions have already contributed to the decline in the condition of the state’s transportation network and the proposed sweeps would only add pressure for policy makers to craft a comprehensive and sustainable funding solution for transportation projects for the years ahead.

Several Democratic representatives, including Brandon Phelps and Robert Martwick, pointed to the Road Fund sweep as part of their opposition to the measures.

Chicago Police using controversial cell phone intercepting tech

The Chicago Sun Times reports the Chicago Police Department has used a device known as StingRay since 2005, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment and technical support.

A source tells the Sun Times the high tech device is used for investigating kidnappings, murders and other serious crimes, but activists worry they could be tracked during political protests.

CPD isn’t the only law enforcement entity in Illinois to utilize the cell phone tower mimicking devices. Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act indicate Illinois State Police have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on cell phone intercepting technology since 2008.

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