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State Representative Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) will be holding mobile office hours throughout the 81st Legislative District this year to provide residents with easy access to his knowledgeable staff. Mobile office hours will be held on Friday, July 10 at the Woodridge Public Library, 3 Plaza Drive, Woodridge, from 10:00AM until noon.

“While my District Office staff always welcomes questions and concerns and are always available to assist constituents with state services, I understand that the office location is not convenient for all residents of the 81st legislative district,” said Sandack. “At these events, my staff will collect questions and concerns and help residents access state services.”

No appointment is needed, and office hours are open to all residents near the designated locations. “Additional mobile office hours will be scheduled throughout the year, and I encourage anyone who is having problems with a state agency or who wants to know more about available state programs to take advantage of our mobile office hours,” Sandack said.
As Illinoisans face the very real possibility that there will not be a comprehensive FY16 budget in place when the new fiscal year begins next week on Wednesday, July 1, I wanted to let you know about some important developments that have occurred over the last few days.

On Wednesday, Governor Rauner signed HB3763, which makes FY16 appropriations for the Pre-K-12 Education part of next year’s budget. By signing that bill, he put funding in place to ensure that schools will open on time, teachers will get paid, and funding for General State Aid, Early Childhood Education and Bi-Lingual Education is in place for the next school year. Most importantly, by signing the bill, our state’s students are removed from the crossfire of this budget battle. Through HB3763, K-12 Education will see an increase in funding for FY16 of almost $300 million.

The following day, citing the $4 billion deficit in the spending plan sent to him by House and Senate Democrats, the Governor issued full vetoes to the remaining budget bills. “For too long, the state of Illinois has made spending promises that exceed available revenues, relied on accounting gimmicks to make budgets appear balanced, used borrowing and cost deferral strategies to push costs into the future, and delayed payments to vendors,” Rauner said in his veto message. Those vetoes increase the likelihood that some state services will be disrupted when the fiscal year begins next week.

Later in the day on Thursday, representatives from the Governor’s office and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) issued a joint statement announcing a temporary, one-month agreement that prevents the possibility of a strike or lockout when the current AFSCME contract expires on June 30. The agreement ensures that services will continue through the end of July while both parties continue to negotiate a new contract. AFSCME represents more than 40,000 unionized state employees.

Today, with just four days remaining in the fiscal year, we still have a budget stalemate. The Governor, acting on behalf of the Illinoisans who elected him to right the Illinois financial ship once and for all, is insisting that some cost-saving, waste-reducing and job-growing reforms be put in place before any talks of new revenue for the budget occur. On the other side we have a House Speaker and a Senate President who have rejected all reform initiatives and only want to discuss a tax increase as a way to plug the budget hole. In his comments to the media, Speaker Madigan has chastised Governor Rauner and called him “extreme.” In response, Governor Rauner and the Republican Caucus have repeatedly asked the Democrats to return to the negotiation table so that a compromise deal can be found.

Over the last several weeks, as a gesture of compromise, Governor Rauner has removed some items tied to his “Turnaround Agenda” from the table. The signing of the Pre-K-12 portion of the budget this week was an additional, significant showing of compromise by a Republican Governor who said he would not sign an unbalanced FY16 budget. And by agreeing not to implement a “lockout” of the state’s AFSCME employees, Governor Rauner has shown again that he is willing to compromise and be reasonable during these difficult days.

House Speaker Mike Madigan is clinging to his soundbite of calling Governor Rauner “extreme,” when the Governor’s actions over the last several weeks paint a very different picture. The Governor has negotiated and compromised on several fronts. In response, Speaker Madigan has refused to budge. It is the Speaker who has been intransient, unyielding and extreme in his positions. The days of one-party rule are over, and the sooner Speaker Madigan accepts the mandate for shared policy-making and shared governance that was handed down by Illinois voters last November, the sooner we will have a budget in place that protects Illinois’ working families and provides services for our most vulnerable citizens.
State Representative Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) will partner with House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) on Wednesday, June 24 for a 7:00 PM Teletown Hall Meeting.

A call will be made to households located within the 81st and 82nd Legislative House Districts at 7:00 PM on Wednesday, June 24, and residents will be able to stay on the line and be connected to a live call with Leader Durkin and Representative Sandack. “I enjoy these teletown hall meetings because they offer people an opportunity to learn about issues affecting Illinois, and they can ask questions and speak directly with their elected officials,” said Sandack. “With the serious issues now facing our state, I’m looking forward to a lively conversation on a variety of issues.”

Those who stay on the line can choose to just listen to the call, or they can push a number on their touch-tone phone to be placed into a queue for those wishing to ask a question. “This is an outreach effort that allows us to connect with our constituents from the comfort of their own homes,” said Sandack. “I hope to have widespread participation on Wednesday night’s call.”

If a resident does not receive the 7:00 PM call and wants to participate in the teletown hall meeting, they may dial in at (877) 229-8493. If asked for a PIN number, use 112825.

Polish off your resume and plan to attend a huge jobs fair on Wednesday, July 22 in Willowbrook. Complete with 127 employers, and workshops on resume-building, successful interviewing and networking, this fair will help pair job seekers with companies that are hiring. Let's put Illinoisans back to work!

Mark your calendar for this upcoming Jobs Fair on July 22 from 9:30-12:30 at Ashton Place, 341 75th Street in Willowbrook. Additional details will follow.

Usually this is the time of year when residents of the 81st Legislative District find my comprehensive End of Session Report in their mailboxes. Since session has extended into summer, this year I thought I would send out the report electronically, and then distribute an updated report once session ends and we have a budget in place.

This year’s Spring Legislative Session brought together a Republican Governor and a decidedly Democrat House and Senate. In choosing two-party control, the citizens of Illinois sent a message that they wanted bipartisanship, compromise, and shared governance. After 12 years of one-party rule, this culture shift was not without its trials and difficult days. However, we did see progress toward bipartisanship and a definite new layer of checks and balances in Springfield. Important legislation, especially spending bills, did not sail through the legislative process. A more deliberative and thoughtful process emerged and will carry forward as the transition toward shared decision-making continues.

The new era of bipartisanship was very evident this year in the adoption of legislation that addresses malfeasance at the College of DuPage. After learning about overly-generous severance packages, fine dining at the taxpayers’ expense and preferential contract awards at COD, lawmakers rolled up their sleeves and worked together to ensure issues like those uncovered at COD would never happen again. House Resolution 55 was approved unanimously, and the cooperation shown in the House on that issue is a testament to what can happen when lawmakers put partisan politics aside and work together.

On a personal level, I was able to gain House and Senate approval for a few of my own initiatives. Those measures should be signed into law over the summer months. Still, many of my bills did not advance through the process as swiftly as I would have liked, and I plan to resurrect many of them during the second year of this 99th General Assembly.

Sandack Files Comprehensive Bill Package in 2015
The bills I filed in Springfield this year sought to change the culture of how government operates in Illinois and improve the quality of life for the people who live here. My 2015 bills fall into the following categories:
  • Taxpayer Protection
  • Government Consolidation
  • Ethics/Campaign Finance Reform
  • Government Term Limits
  • Job Creation
  • Workers Compensation Reform
  • Energy/Environment
  • Veterans Protections/Assistance
  • Education Funding Fairness
  • Ending Pensions for Legislators

Without a Balanced Budget for FY16, Session Continues into Summer
After walking away from bipartisan budget working groups put together by Governor Bruce Rauner for the purpose of negotiating a balanced FY16 budget, rank and file Democrats pushed through a budget they admitted was unbalanced by close to $4 billion. In fact, in a press conference where he announced their intentions, House Speaker Mike Madigan said, “We will publicly acknowledge that we don't have the money to pay for this budget." Counting on an increase in revenue to fill the $4 billion budget hole, the passage of the bills  has set the stage for a summer showdown between a Governor who does not want to explore new revenue until cost-saving and waste-reducing reforms are enacted, and Democrat House and Senate leadership that has balked at Rauner’s recommended reforms and is insisting that new revenue is the answer to closing the gap in spending. I recently published a piece called "What's Really Happening in Springfield," which attempts to explain why, as we approach the end of the 2015 fiscal year (June 30), we still don't have a budget. You can read that article here

Bill to Halt New Layers of Government Sent to Governor

With Illinois having more units of government than any other state, a bipartisan group of legislators sent a bill calling for a four-year moratorium on the creation of any new unit of local government to Governor Rauner. I am the Chief Co-Sponsor of HB228, which prohibits the creation of any more units of government and sets the stage for an eventual decrease and consolidation of units of government. Illinois currently has about 7,000 units of government, which is 2,000 more units than the runner-up state of Pennsylvania.

Majority Party Blocks Term Limit Legislation
On the very first day of this 99th General Assembly, I filed HJRCA1, which would allow voters to decide if the Illinois Constitution should be amended to allow for 10-year term limits for Senators and State Representatives. Two other House Republicans also filed term limit bills this year. HJRCA28 (Andersson), called for 12-year term limits, and HJRCA10 (Sosnowski) called for 20-year term limits. All three pieces of legislation, plus an additional term limit proposal straight from the Governor's office, were stalled in the Rules Committee and never scheduled for hearings. The way these bills were buried in the Rules Committee speaks to why term limits are so necessary. When one person has complete control over what legislation moves and which bills are ignored, that is a concentration of power that should not be allowed to go unchecked. Term limits would allow for a healthy turnover of leadership and representation, and I will continue to champion this cause in Illinois.

Municipal Bankruptcy Bill Incorporated into Rauner Agenda
This year I filed HB298, which would have made Illinois the 25th state that allows municipalities to seek bankruptcy protections under Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. The provisions of my bill were later incorporated in Governor Rauner’s Reform package as HB4214. Chapter 9 allows for bankruptcy protection, but includes a provision that requires a municipality to gain state authorization as part of the filing. Currently, Illinois statutes do not allow for such authorization for municipal governments. Passage of the bill would have provided debt-ridden municipalities with a last-resort plan to help them stabilize and reorganize financial affairs without imposing huge tax increases on taxpayers. The bill was not fully introduced for consideration this year, but I remain hopeful that the need for this provision in our statutes remains a topic of conversation. I recently appeared on Chicago’s “In the Loop,” and was part of a panel that discussed Chicago’s financial crisis and whether the time was right to allow for municipal bankruptcy. You can watch that interview here.

Join Me for Our Summer and Fall Community Events
My staff and I have many events planned this summer and fall for the residents of the 81st District. Upcoming events include:
Check my web site often for details about these and other events.

Sandack Sponsors Several Bills to Freeze Taxes and Protect Taxpayers
Taxpayers in Illinois are at their limit in the amount of taxes they can pay, and in Springfield I am a strong advocate for tax relief and tax freezes. This year I was a chief sponsor or co-sponsor of several initiatives, including:
  • HB136: Freezes property taxes in years when to total equalized assessed value (EAV) of a taxing district is less than the EAV in the previous year, and uses a three-year average to determine when the freeze may be lifted. Allows for exceptions through voter referendum.
  • HB137: Identical to HB136, but also provides that referendums to raise taxes during these periods cannot be held in primary elections and must also include language warning voters they are voting to lift property tax caps.
  • HB156: With respect to the Senior Citizens Assessment Freeze Homestead Exemption, reduces the taxpayers’ household income by any amounts paid as Medicare premiums. 
  • HB493: Beginning in tax year 2016, increases the maximum income limitation under the Senior Citizens Assessment Freeze Homestead Exemption from $55,000 to $75,000.
  • HB2434: Increases the Senior Citizens Homestead Exemption maximum reduction from $5,000 to $7,000
  • HB2454: Similar to HB2434; Raises the Senior Citizens Homestead Exemption maximum from $5,000 to $7,000.
  • HB3579: Changes the way property tax assessments are evaluated and corrected; provides that 1/3 of fair cash value is determined by the lesser of current law or the valuation of the property in the year immediately preceding the assessment year.
  • HB4119: Provides that the Senior Citizens Assessment Freeze Homestead Exemption also applies to disabled persons.
Unfortunately, taxpayer protection bills like these are not well-received by the controlling party, and the Speaker of the House bottled all of them up in the House Rules Committee where they were never scheduled for a hearing. I will continue to be a leading voice in Illinois on property tax relief issues.

House Approves College of DuPage Reform Legislation
In response to public outrage over perceived malfeasance at the College of DuPage (COD), the House of Representatives worked cooperatively this year to approve a package of legislation.

Thousands of COD taxpayers and several state legislators were shocked in January when a $763,000 contract buyout deal for COD President Dr. Robert Breuder was rushed through the COD board process with no transparency for stakeholders. Public outcry intensified a few weeks later when it was learned that Dr. Breuder, his top administrators and the college trustees had also enjoyed close to $200,000 in high-end dining on the taxpayers’ dime. Shortly thereafter, the media broke a story about a COD Foundation board member who received a no-bid $630,000 contract for sign design and installation work at the college. The contract made reference to the trustee’s experience as an architect, when, in fact, the trustee was not an architect and did not do architectural work.

COD Legislation approved in the House includes:
  • HR55 (113-0): Directs the Auditor General to conduct a thorough performance audit at the College of DuPage paid for by COD. The audit includes the activity of the COD Foundation Board.
  • HB303 (114-2): Adds transparency to publicly-funded severance agreements by making them subject to the Freedom of Information Act. The Senate failed to act on this bill.
  • HB3593 (still pending): Limits the term of a community college employment contract to no more than three years and caps the amount of a severance agreement to no more than one year. The bill also prohibits automatic renewal clauses and requires that renewal or extension discussions occur during open meetings. This bill initially passed in the House and Senate, but a recent amendment to the bill is still pending.
In my recent interactions with constituents in my legislative district, I have repeatedly been asked “What’s really going on in Springfield?” In this legislative report I will try to clear up some confusion about what is going on in Springfield and explain why some of the votes Republicans are taking right now may appear on the surface to be contrary to our platform.

Illinois voters elected a Republican Governor and a Democrat-controlled House and Senate. That means there are Democrats who voted for Bruce Rauner because they want the state’s fiscal crisis addressed once and for all. Divided, or I prefer shared, government is still very new in Illinois and there have definitely been some growing pains. Because the majority party has controlled the House, Senate and the Governor’s office for the last 12 years, there formerly was a noticeable lack of checks and balances. Democrat lawmakers could push their agenda through knowing former Governors Quinn and Blagojevich would likely sign it. Simply put, they’ve been used to getting their way. Now, the majority party must deal with a Republican Governor who has pledged to veto bills that keep Illinois on a bad financial path. This is not sitting well with House Speaker Madigan and Senate President Cullerton.

Governor Rauner came to Springfield on January 12 ready to tackle important issues, and formed numerous bipartisan working groups which included Republicans and Democrats from both the House and Senate. He wanted these bipartisan and bicameral groups to negotiate and compromise until common ground could be found in several areas. Governor Rauner’s plan to turn things around in Illinois includes several reform initiatives that aim to reduce fraud, waste and abuse, and make Illinois a business-friendly state to increase job growth. The Governor also said he would entertain an increase in revenue, but only after some of his reform initiatives were approved by lawmakers. To that end, the following reform bills were filed in the House in May by Republicans:
  • HJRCA39: Term Limits (very similar to HJRCA1, which I filed this year) 
  • HJRCA40: Fair Maps (very similar to HJRCA2, which I filed this year) 
  • HB4223: Workers Compensation Reform
  • HB4224: Property Tax Freeze and Voter Empowerment for Local Collective Bargaining
  • HB4214: Allowing for Municipal Bankruptcy (very similar to HB298, which I filed this year)
  • HB4222: Lawsuit (tort) Reform
Speaker Madigan has said he does not think budget talks should be tied to non-budget issues, but the Governor is adamant that they be discussed together. Why? Because Illinoisans need only look back at the temporary tax hike of 2011 to see that simply pouring more money into the state’s coffers does nothing to fix the structural reforms that have driven the state into the ground. Budgeting without reforms means the status quo continues. The voters of Illinois sent a clear message in November that the status quo is no longer acceptable.

Rauner and Republican lawmakers have shown a willingness to compromise. Empowerment Zones, or right to work zones, were an initial element of the Rauner reform agenda, but he has since agreed to remove that item from the table for consideration. In fact, recently the Governor unilaterally removed other items from the table too. These compromises were met by Speaker Madigan with more digging in of his heels and a renewed refusal to budge.

Democrats ultimately walked away from the bipartisan working groups and said they are not interested in reforms. In fact, in spite of the Governor’s clear directive of reform before taxes, Speaker Madigan has held all six reform measures in the Rules Committee and has refused to even bring them to the House floor for full consideration. By not allowing the reform bills to be heard, Speaker Madigan, by his own actions, took discussions of reform, and therefore new revenue too, off the table.

At about that same time, House and Senate Democrats pushed through a FY16 budget that was $4 billion out of balance. They created this budget with zero input from the Republicans and zero input from the Governor’s Office. Speaker Madigan said “no” to bipartisanship and “no” to reforms, but now he wants bipartisan votes on a tax increase that he knows will be incredibly unpopular. Without reforms, the Republicans are not going to support an increase in revenue. If the Democrats want to raise taxes, they have the supermajority votes in both chambers to make it happen.

With the normal session adjournment date of May 31 now passed, the Speaker is calling the Representatives back to Springfield one day each week. Are we being called down so we can negotiate a balanced budget prior to the end of the current fiscal year on June 30? No. Are we being called back to consider the reform bills that represent the Rauner plan to help fix our state? No. We are being called to Springfield for a series of show trials where the Speaker is making a mockery of the process, and is collecting sound bites and roll call votes for the next election cycle where he hopes to strengthen his super-majority. It truly has been Springfield at its absolute worst.

What you’re seeing on the House floor right now is insincere legislation, sponsored by Madigan’s leading allies and masked as “Rauner bills,” that are part of a plan to thumb their noses at bipartisanship and reform. Their bills are not just insincere; they are sham legislation meant to embarrass the Governor. The bills that are coming to the House floor are not the Governor’s bills. The Governor’s bills are HJRCA39, HJRCA40, HB4223, HB4224, HB421 and HB4222, which have been denied a fair hearing by Speaker Madigan. As a House Republican Caucus we are not supporting the sham legislation that is being sponsored by the Democrats that Madigan controls. We are standing together and refusing to be bullied into maintaining a status quo that has all but destroyed our state.

At this point we have a spending plan of $36 billion, projected revenues of $32 billion, and a controlling party that has said no to spending discipline, no to job-creating reforms, no to fair maps/redistricting and no to term limits, while asking for bipartisan votes on a tax hike. In a negotiation, each side needs to give something up. Governor Rauner took several of his reform measures off the table; now let’s see the Democrats give something up. Republicans remain ready to negotiate, and hope the Democrats return to the table so we can engage in an honest discussion about compromise and get past this stalemate.

The citizens of Illinois voted for shared policy-making and lawmakers now need to work together to make that happen.
Last week State Representative Ron Sandack spoke with Chris Bury of the PBS show "In the Loop" about Chicago's financial crisis and how legislation he introduced this year could help insolvent municipalities and cities regain their financial footing by filing for Chapter 9 protections under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

You can watch the entire interview here.