Springfield, Ill. -After 12 years of a one-party-rule system, bipartisanship was finally restored to the law-making process when Republican Governor Bruce Rauner was sworn into office on Jan. 12. Years of fiscal mismanagement and partisan decision-making has left Illinois in dire economic straits; however, there is a new sense of optimism that change is coming, and hopefully with it, fiscal recovery, State Senator Dave Syverson (R-Rockford) said.
In his first days in office, Governor Rauner took swift action to address the state’s fiscal hole by halting what he called “non-essential” state spending, as well as tightening ethical requirements between state employees and the lobbying industry and increasing transparency of certain Executive branch hires.
The 99th General Assembly was also sworn in this week on Jan. 14, and the following day Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno announced her Leadership team. She affirmed they look forward to collaborating with Governor Rauner and their Democrat colleagues to develop bipartisan solutions for the state’s problems.
Governor Pat Quinn ended his term in office with an 11th-hour veto of legislation that would have established a bobcat hunting season to help better regulate the bobcat population in Illinois. In addition, medical marijuana proponents were dismayed he left office without acting on medical cannabis licenses, which they say could present a roadblock in the implementation of the state’s medical cannabis pilot program.
Governor Rauner ushers in optimism for change
A new sense of optimism radiated throughout the Prairie Capitol Convention Center on Jan. 12, when Governor Rauner became the first Republican governor in 12 years to be sworn into the state’s highest office.
After more than a decade of one-party-Democrat rule, Illinois may finally see bipartisanship restored in the legislative process with the gubernatorial changing of the guard. Governor Rauner has pledged his commitment to serving the people of Illinois by helping to reestablish a once-thriving economy.
In his Inaugural Address, Governor Rauner pointed out the journey to fiscal recovery will not be easy. With a record high state employee pension deficit and the lowest credit rating in the nation, Governor Rauner stressed that tough decisions will have to be made to correct the years of fiscal mismanagement and poor decision-making that landed Illinois in economic crisis.
Joining Governor Rauner in the inaugural festivities, Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti (R) also took the oath of office, along with Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D), Secretary of State Jesse White (D), Comptroller-Designee Leslie Munger (R) and Treasurer Mike Frerichs (D).
Rauner’s first actions target fiscal crisis, tighten ethical requirements, transparency
On Jan. 13, Governor Rauner sought to establish his administration’s commitment to ethical government, signing an Executive Order targeting what’s known as the “revolving door” between state employees and the lobbying industry.
The prohibition, which applies to the executive branch and state agency employees, stemmed from legislation advocated by State Sen. Darin LaHood (R-Dunlap) who had introduced similar proposals in the past, which were stymied by Democrat leaders. The revolving door ban, which takes effect Feb. 15, states that employees within government agencies cannot negotiate positions or accept a position in a lobbying firm until one year after leaving their government position.
Executive Order 15-09 will also further restrict gifts to state employees; require all employment contracts to be reviewed and approved by the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB); and require state workers to disclose on their statement of economic interests any non-governmental positions they hold. Workers must also divulge a personal interest of more than 5 percent in state property.
Additionally, state employees must disclose any ongoing litigation in which they are a named party with the State, and every agency and employee under the Governor is required to cooperate with the Special Master recently appointed by a federal court to oversee hiring at the Department of Transportation
On Jan. 12, Governor Rauner kicked off his term in office by taking steps to combat Illinois’ financial crisis. Rauner signed Executive Order 15-08, which ordered a financial freeze on all state discretionary spending.
In addition to halting what he called “non-essential” state spending, the newly sworn-in governor also turned his attention to state-awarded contracts and grants. The order suspends agencies’ ability to award, enter, amend or renew any state contracts or grants not specifically required by law, with a few minor exceptions. The contract and grant suspension is issued until July 1, 2015.
Governor Rauner also called for a review of past state agency spending to identify what can be eliminated or modified to help eliminate the state’s current budget deficit. Agencies are required to review all contracts and hiring decisions since Nov. 1, 2014.
To further cut spending, Governor Rauner also called for Central Management Services (CMS) to take stock of the surplus property for auction, determine potential consolidation of state-owned or leased properties, and the Governor called for agencies to be conscious in their energy consumption as a way to conserve state resources.
Finally, Rauner signed an Executive Order requiring CMS to add Rutan-exempt hires under the Executive branch and state agencies as a separate list on the Illinois Transparency and Accountability Portal (ITAP) website. Rutan-exempt employees are those who can be hired based on subjective standards, which can include political affiliation (or not), and are often placed in high-level administrative and management positions.
99th General Assembly sworn-in
Eight new and returning Senate lawmakers were sworn in Jan. 14 in the Senate Chambers, during the official convening of the 99th General Assembly. Illinois Supreme Court Justice Mary Jane Theis administered the oath of office.
Two Republican lawmakers were sworn in to serve their first full term in the Senate—Senator Neil Anderson from Rock Island and Senator Chris Nybo from Elmhurst. Six returning Senate Republican lawmakers were also sworn in: Senator Matt Murphy (R-Palatine), Senator Tim Bivins (R-Dixon), Senator Michael Connelly (R-Wheaton), Senator Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon), Senator Karen McConnaughay (R-St. Charles) and Senator Chapin Rose (Mahomet).
Senator Syverson again named to Republican leadership
State Senator Dave Syverson (R-Rockford) has once again been chosen to serve as Assistant Republican Leader in the Illinois Senate.
“Sen. Syverson is a recognized expert in health care – both public and private—and how the two interact. He’s always willing to think outside the box when looking solutions,” said Senator Radogno. “His years of service in the Illinois Senate are an invaluable tool as we work to forge bipartisan solutions to our state’s biggest issues.”
Senator Syverson has been a member of the Republican leadership team since 2009, and is currently the longest serving member of the Senate GOP caucus.
“It has been an honor to serve as part of the Republican Leadership team working on behalf of the best interests of the taxpayers,” said Senator Syverson.
Governor Quinn vetoed bobcat legislation in final hours
Illinois will not join the other 42 states with a bobcat hunting season, as Governor Quinn vetoed legislation on his last day in office that would have created a bobcat hunting season in Illinois.
Sponsored by State Sen. Sam McCann (R-Carlinville), House Bill 4226 aimed to address the overpopulation of bobcats in the state of Illinois by allowing the Director of the Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to set the bobcat season between Nov. 1 and Feb. 15. The bill also sets a limit of one bobcat per hunter per year.
Sen. McCann argued, “This legislation was a win for Illinois. It helps preserve our state’s natural resources, empowers our agricultural community, and will likely spur economic development.”
Despite IDNR’s report that the state’s bobcat population is now growing 4-9% per year, Governor Quinn cited that “Illinois should not reverse its 40-year-old prohibition on bobcat hunting” because it would threaten the ecosystem that relies on a thriving bobcat population.
Under the Rauner Administration, it is possible similar legislation could be proposed during the 2015 spring session.
Failure to Act on Medical Marijuana Licenses
A Jan. 13 press conference highlighted what medical marijuana proponents say could be a roadblock in the implementation of the state’s medical cannabis pilot program. Proponents say Quinn’s failure to act may have doomed the fledgling program, which was advanced as a four-year pilot program.
In fall of 2014, the state received hundreds of applications from those seeking licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana. While it was widely speculated that former Governor Quinn would issue the licenses for dispensaries and cultivation centers prior to January 1, Quinn left office without acting on the licenses.
Advocates for the medical marijuana program said they intend to meet with Governor Rauner and his administration to discuss the future of the program, which a Rauner spokesman said is “under review.” However, Rauner previously stated he most likely would have vetoed the medical marijuana bill.
To date it has been reported that the state has accepted nearly $5 million in fees for applications from those hoping to obtain a license to grow or sell medical marijuana through the program.