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Illinois lawmakers hold hearing on Sterigenics facility

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Hearing chairwoman, Rep. Carol Sente

Illinois lawmakers heard from experts and people affected by the chemicals being released by a suburban Chicago facility at a Friday hearing.

Willowbrook-based Sterigenics has been using a cleaning agent called ethylene oxide, known as ETO, to clean medical supplies. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said exposure to the chemical over time can cause cancer.

Naperville real estate agent Jeanne Hochhalter told a joint House Committee on Friday that she and many of her families have suffered from cancerous effects of the chemical Sterigenics has been releasing.

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Illinois News Network, publisher of ILNews.org, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media company dedicated to the principles of transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility in the state of Illinois. INN is Illinois’ pioneering non-profit news brand, offering content from the statehouse and beyond to Illinoisans through their local media of choice and from their digital hub at ILNews.org. Springfield Daily was granted republishing permission by INN.

State

Veto session for Democrats could include ‘football spiking,’ waiting for new governor

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Most of the election dust has settled, and lawmakers are headed back to the capitol on Tuesday to address some of the 78 bills that outgoing Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed over the summer.

Rauner lost reelection last week to Democrat J.B. Pritzker.

State Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, said Democrats will likely heap on more losses for the governor.

“We’re going to be united in overriding the governor’s vetoes pretty much the way the state overrode his tenure as governor,” Ford said.

State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, called that attitude tacky.

“If they’ve still got aggression to get out after Tuesday, one would have thought they would have gotten all that aggression out, but I guess not,” Rose said. “Maybe they want to go in and still spike the football, do a victory dance.”

Rose said taxpayers won’t like seeing that, and it’s not productive.

State Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, who serves as the Senate president pro tempore, said with all the challenges facing the state, he doesn’t think there will be gloating during the veto session.

Harmon said Rauner’s loss takes away his leverage in trying to keep Republicans from supporting bills. Aside from “counting noses” on bills to see what measures have enough support for an override, some may consider holding off until next year, he said.

“I think members will also look at their bills and then decide or consider ‘what compromises did I make to pass this bill in a bipartisan environment where we knew we needed a Republican governor to sign it and when I do things differently if I need only a simple majority and have a friendly governor,’ ” Harmon said.

Rose expects Democrats to pass a few bills over Rauner’s veto.

“And then close up shop early and just wait to get their complete all-Chicago, all-the-time domination back,” Rose said.

Several bills are expected to be brought up for an override, including one that would make starting pay for teachers $40,000 over time, another that would address immigrants rights, and a measure to regulate private citizens wanting to rent their car out through car sharing platforms online.

Veto session runs through the end of the month.

Article by Greg Bishop with Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org

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Two days after election, Pritzker forms budget working group

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Illinois Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday that dealing with the state’s financial problems will be a top priority.

To that end, Pritzker said he created a Budget and Innovation Committee that will work to address the state’s dire finances before he takes office.

Two days after beating Gov. Bruce Rauner by 15 points at the polls, he’s formed a transition team and has said more working committees on different issues will be established in the days ahead.

The Democrat appeared in Springfield at the AFL-CIO headquarters for the announcement flanked by various members of the newly announced committee, including former Democratic Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes. Also on the committee will be former Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, a Republican. She was not at the event.

“The Budget and Innovation Committee will mold the guiding moral document that is our state budget and develop inventive solutions to move Illinois forward,” Lt. Gov.-elect Juliana Stratton said in a statement.

Pritzker said the group will evaluate the state’s existing finances and how to address shortfalls while keeping an eye on various ways to bring about innovation in government.

Illinois’ financial picture is bleak. The state has more than $200 billion of unfunded public employee retirement liabilities, and more than $7 billion in backlogged bills. That bill backlog is accruing interest of up to 12 percent a year. Plus the state budget approved this Spring has already been reported to be more than $1 billion out of balance.

Pritzker said there can only be one governor at a time and he will do what he can to provide input on how to deal with the current budget shortfall headed into the next fiscal year that will begin July 1, 2019.

Asked about tax rates for a proposed progressive tax that would require a change to the state constitution, Pritzker said he’s still listening to all sides and didn’t want to provide any rate structures. All during the campaign while promoting a progressive tax he had refused to provide rates.

He also said he didn’t have any comment about possible cuts to the budget to make up for the shortfall, or to address the pension debt.

Pritzker reiterated his support for legalizing sports betting and recreational marijuana use for adults. As to the possibility of funding infrastructure through a vehicle miles traveled, or VMT, tax, he said he never proposed such a thing, but he said he’s open to all options to find investments for critical infrastructure.

He also said taxpayers shouldn’t be concerned he will give away the store to a union that endorsed his campaign. Pritzker said he will be negotiating on behalf of taxpayers for a fair contract with the union. The largest state employee union, AFSCME, doesn’t have a contract as negotiations with Rauner broke down over nearly 3 years ago and the dispute is mired in court proceedings. Rauner had said AFSCME was asking for more than what taxpayers could afford.

Pritzker said he wants a report from the budget working group before the inauguration in January.

The budget committee includes Hynes, Radogno, state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, state Senator Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hills, Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara, Decatur Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe, Chicago Treasurer Kurt Summers, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan Chief of Staff Jessica Basham, Chicago Budget Director Carol Brown, Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois President Pat Devaney, Center for Tax and Budget Accountability Executive Director Ralph Martire, Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery, Civic Federation President Laurence Msall, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton Chief of Staff Kristin Richards, CCM Grosvenor CEO Michael Sacks and Springfield Park District President Leslie Sgro.

Article by Greg Bishop with Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org

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Transparency group warns of ‘zombie’ governments

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A transparency group is using the season to warn about risky practices employed by what the group calls “zombie governments.”

Truth in Accounting has updated information that shows some states, Illinois included, have such large amounts of hidden debt that they’re essentially insolvent. The term “zombie bank” comes from the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. It was used to describe a bank that was broke but still operating thanks to accounting gimmicks and government support.

Bill Bergman, director of research with Truth in Accounting, said some states and units of local government are effectively insolvent, but able to make themselves appear “alive” using similar accounting tricks.

“We have many of them,” he said. “Especially in Illinois.”

Truth in Accounting qualifies a state as a “zombie” using measurements of taxpayer burden, timeliness of filing financial reports and their trend of doing so, transparency of reports and a 10-year average of debt to revenue.

Bergman said the key is often “hidden debt,” like pension obligations that have not historically been included in financial reports.

These government entities have the incentive to take what money they can and gamble on high-risk, high-return investments, potentially making things worse, Bergman said.

“The riskier asset classes have grown increasingly popular in pension plans including troubled plans in part because of the incentives to take higher risk,” he said.

The most common form of state and local debt is unfunded pensions, to which the state of Illinois has more than $130 billion.

Article by Cole Lauterbach with Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org

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