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The Majority Report 02/10/18 - Budget chief must thread Rauner's $9 billion needle

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Budget chief must thread Rauner’s $9 billion needle

Senator Heather SteansIn a joint hearing Wednesday, the Senate’s budget committees welcomed Gov. Bruce Rauner’s newest budget director, Hans Zigmund, to highlight the fiscal challenges Illinois government continues to face.

Zigmund, who is Rauner’s third budget director since taking office three years ago, told legislators a $9 billion hole must be filled to balance the state’s books.

After nearly an hour of inquiry and references of increased revenue estimates and “unappropriated liabilities,” Senator Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat and chairwoman of the committee, asked Zigmund to provide a simple, big picture of the upcoming budget.

STEANS: “OK, so I want to just get the total picture of what you believe is the total picture of the problem we’re solving. We have an $8.5 billion or so backlog of unpaid bills right now… plus another $600 million of a hole this current year?”

ZIGMUND: “Uh, the number that I saw was, I think, at $8.3 billion and then $600 million in unpaid bills…”

STEANS: “And I’m assuming that whatever else you think is out there, the FY17 that you’re bringing is probably already included in that backlog of bills?”

ZIGMUND: “That’s correct.”

STEANS: “So, you believe the entire picture that we need to solve is the $8.3 billion in unpaid bills, thereabouts, plus what you believe is another $600 million shortfall that we’re adding to it, the current fiscal year, for a total of close to $9 billion?”

ZIGMUND: “Yes.”

But Zigmund’s biggest challenge in designing the governor’s promised balanced budget goes beyond the $9 billon needle he must thread. Since last year, Rauner has promised to cut tax rates that have helped to reduce state debt and invest in critical services like schools.

Although it’s all a tall order, both Zigmund and Rauner have insisted that they can finally present a balanced budget plan to legislators next week.

 


Cullerton demands transparency for veterans

Senator Tom Cullerton

State Senator Tom Cullerton is still fighting for answers about a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the Illinois Veterans Home at Quincy.

Cullerton (D-Villa Park) called another bipartisan House and Senate Veterans Affairs hearing, during which Rauner agencies offered few answers under questioning by lawmakers.

“It seems like the only way to get information from the governor’s administration is to hold a hearing,” Cullerton said. “It sounds awfully bureaucratic, but if this is the only way for us to institute meaningful long-term solutions to protect our nation’s heroes, I will hold a hearing every week.”

Last month, Cullerton requested information from the departments of veterans affairs and public health regarding the veterans home. Gov. Bruce Rauner’s legal team stonewalled the requests.

The senator is sponsoring legislation to authorize infrastructure improvements at Illinois’ flagship veterans home. The improvements would include updates to the water systems or new construction to prevent the spread of Legionella bacteria.

Read more: Castro urges Rauner administration to take charge of Legionnaires' situation
In the news: Castro urges Rauner administration to take charge of Legionnaires' situation

 


Harmon's alternative-to-opioids measure passes committee

Sen. Don HarmonLegislation giving patients access to medical alternatives to prescription painkillers passed the Senate Executive Committee.

Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) introduced the Alternatives to Opioids Act to tackle the opioid epidemic, which killed more than 60,000 people nationwide last year. The measure would allow people who have been prescribed opioids for a medical condition to apply for a temporary medical cannabis card instead.

“This is a commonsense method to address the issue of opioid addiction,” Harmon said. “We know that medical cannabis is a safe alternative treatment for the same conditions for which opioids are prescribed.”

Melissa Burton-Sanders testified to the committee that using medical marijuana to treat her multiple sclerosis symptoms instead of opioids has been a blessing.

“I am no longer in pain. I am a better parent,” said the mother of five. “I am present for my children and that is worth everything in the world to me."

Video: Harmon discusses the proposal
Read more: Harmon's bill offering alternative to opioids passes committee

 


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