Illinois schoolchildren are returning to the classroom with an advantage that has eluded students and educators for the last seven years – full funding from the state.
Every single school district is getting the same or more money than it did for the previous year. This was an important step we were able to achieve as part of the compromise stopgap budget, approved June 30, that has supplied critical funds to keep some of our most important programs operating.
But the General Assembly’s work is not done. To ensure other state priorities receive state assistance and support, the same spirit of bipartisanship and compromise that led to the temporary budget plan must be part of a budget compromise for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2017.
Also during the week, a recent decision by the board of the Teachers Retirement System will increase the state’s pension payment by millions; and new laws impact sportsmen and life insurance beneficiaries.
Bipartisanship must extend beyond education
Even with the historic investment in education funding we achieved in the stopgap budget, more work must be done to ensure that schools – and other Illinois programs and services – receive the state resources they need.
Some of that work is already underway through the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission, which is scheduled to meet for the third time on September 7. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle continue to meet with stakeholders in the education community to develop a new school-funding formula that will ensure that every student in Illinois, from Chicago to Carbondale, has access to a quality education. This bipartisan Commission will present its recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly by February 1, 2017, allowing lawmakers to take action in advance of the 2017-2018 school year.
It is important that this bipartisan collaboration extend beyond education. To truly recover from the state’s year-long budget impasse and restore Illinois' fiscal house, lawmakers and the Governor must work together to pass a balanced, full-year budget that incorporates the needed structural reforms that will help improve our state’s economy, while also drawing employers to Illinois and creating good-paying jobs.
The stopgap budget, and the willingness to come together, demonstrated to Illinois residents that change is possible. Now, the General Assembly and the Governor must show the public that compromise wasn’t fleeting, but indicative of a positive way forward.
TRS changes investment rate of return assumption
Lawmakers are working with the Governor’s office on options, in response to the recent decision by the non-elected Teacher’s Retirement System Board that will cost taxpayers additional millions in future pension payments.
The board voted 10-0 on August 26 to reduce the rate of return assumption on its investments from 7.5 percent to 7 percent. The change may seem small, but that half a percent will add millions of dollars to the state’s budget obligations – a significant blow to the state’s already shaky finances.
Though the Governor urged the TRS Board to refrain from acting until the public was given an opportunity to weigh in, the board chose to move forward. It is imperative lawmakers explore options in response to the recent TRS board decision, which forces the state to direct scarce resources to cover the obligation. This will direct precious state dollars away from education and social service providers, many of whom were hit hard during the budget crisis.
New sporting bills enhance conservation efforts
New sporting bills were recently signed adding trapping to the youth license program, including various species for hunting and increasing hunting season for landowners with 40 acres or more.
Senate Bill 2410 adds trapping to the youth license program. Hunters age 18 and younger may apply for a Youth Trapping License, as well as the current hunting and fishing licenses available for this age category. Anglers will now be able to catch catfish using bow-fishing equipment under House Bill 5788, and hunters are now permitted to hunt three additional species of birds on public hunting grounds. Landowners with 40 acres or more will now be able to obtain free landowner permits for both deer and turkey, according to Senate Bill 3003.
Law requires insurance companies to locate beneficiaries
A recently signed law requires insurance companies to more quickly locate beneficiaries of unclaimed life insurance policies and distribute amounts are owed by the policy.
The Treasurer’s Office has been conducting hearings across the state after identifying more than $550 million in unpaid benefits owed to Illinois residents since 2011. The General Assembly also responded, advancing a new law requiring companies to be more diligent about determining the death of a policyholder and distributing funds in a timely manner to beneficiaries.
Proponents of the law pointed out that people who have purchased life insurance policies expect the benefits to be paid to intended recipients. The new law requires insurers to utilize federal death records to identify deceased policyholders. Companies must conduct an initial check after January 1 and then twice each year moving forward in order to locate beneficiaries of the policies.