North by Northwestern: Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin supports debt-free college

By Lauren Bally 

Jan. 31 2016

Senate Democrats revealed a new legislative package and campaign on Thursday encouraging Congress to focus on debt-free college and college affordability in 2016. The campaign is named #InTheRed after the name of the legislative package with the RED (Reducing Educational Debt) Act. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois stood alongside those in favor of making debt-free college a top priority this year.

“I hear all the time from young people in Illinois struggling to pay off their student loan debts – young people who aren’t able to find work that pays enough to cover their monthly student loan payments with anything left over for them to live on,” Durbin said in a press release. “They feel helpless and trapped. This campaign is about keeping more American students from winding up in the red, and we’re here to give those students a voice. We hope this Republican Congress will listen.”

The RED Act includes three parts of its legislation aiming to make two years of community college tuition-free, allow borrowers to refinance student loans at a lower rate and ensure Federal Pell Grants keep pace with rising costs.

Under the RED Act, 9 million community college students nationwide could save around $3,800 each year. These colleges would ensure that the skills taught would be compatible with today’s economy and the credits would be transferable to four-year universities in their state.

Eligible students borrowing loans could refinance their federal loans at the same rate as it was in the 2013-2014 year and refinance their private loans into the federal program. Those who participate voluntarily could access the benefits and protections of the federal student loan program.

By indexing Federal Pell Grants to inflation, 9.2 million students will be able to afford college with larger awards each year. This especially helps low-income families pursue higher education, as these are families that rely on Federal Pell Grants to attend school.

Communication sophomore Robert Cunningham, like many other students, has taken out loans to attend Northwestern and is set to graduate with debt. He finds the idea of an almost non-existent debt upon graduation to be very appealing.

“Sign me up,” Cunningham said. “Any way I can save myself and my family money in the long run would be much appreciated.”

The idea sprang from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), which launched acampaign in January 2015 to push for Democratic support. The unveiling of the legislative package came soon after Obama’s final State of the Union address. Over two dozen Senate Democrats brought a local student as their guest to the speech to promote the #InTheRed campaign in social media by posting photos, videos and graphics in their “students in the red” buttons.

“We're thrilled Senate Democrats have launched their national ‘In The Red’ campaign to build grassroots support for the big, inspiring, popular idea of debt-free college,” PCCC Co-Founder Adam Green said in a press release. “Requiring students to go into tens of thousands of dollars of debt to obtain a college degree puts education out of reach for millions – and it hurts people's ability to go into public service, start a small business or start a family after college.”

Senate Democrats also announced that they plan to visit college campuses this year to meet students with loan debt to further push Congress to pass the legislative package. Illinois State representative Will Guzzardi, a Democrat representing the Chicago area 39th District, praised the legislation and hopes to see it become a top priority this year.

“The cost of college is crushing too many families in Illinois and around the country," said Guzzardi said in a press release. "Debt-free college will be a priority for Democrats at the local, state and national levels in 2016. I'm so proud of Senator Durbin for taking the lead in Congress and I look forward to championing this issue in Springfield.”

Bureau County Republican: More power to the Illinois Future Caucus

By Bureau County Republican Editorial Board

Jan. 29, 2016

Illinois, saddled with massive debt and deficits, unfunded pension obligations, and a budget-less state government, needs all the help it can get.

That’s why we welcome last week’s news about the establishment of the Illinois Future Caucus.

State Rep. Tom Demmer, a Dixon Republican, and state Rep. Will Guzzardi, a Chicago Democrat, are co-chairmen of the group, which is associated with the national Millennial Action Project.

They and their new caucus hope to bring to government new ways of thinking based on their experiences as millennials -- those in their 20s and 30s.

Increased political cooperation is one goal they hope to achieve.

Guzzardi said they hope “to transcend the partisanship that has caused such hardship in this state, and to build solutions for the problems that are coming down the road for Illinois.”

Demmer said today’s issues and decisions will impact millennials for the rest of their lives, so it’s important that their perspective helps to shape the future in which they’ll live.

The Illinois Future Caucus intends to focus on such issues as technology, education and criminal justice reforms and regulations.

Millennials are not the first generation of young people to feel frustrated by the world in which they find themselves.

Not so long ago, a generation of young people set out to change the world.

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” they said.

“Don’t trust anyone over 30,” they said.

They protested war, racial injustice, social injustice, poverty, pollution, environmental degradation and “the Establishment.”

They joined movements. They joined the Peace Corps.

And then, the years passed, they grew older, and they gradually became the new Establishment — some seduced by power, others by privilege, still more by money and creature comforts.

And the imperfect world they set out to change? It still needs help — a lot of it.

Transcending political partisanship is easier said than done, particularly in Illinois where partisanship is so ingrained. But that doesn’t mean the attempt should not be made.

And if the Illinois Future Caucus can encourage more like-minded young men and women to run for public office, their chances of success will improve.

Good luck to Reps. Demmer and Guzzardi in their quest to impart idealistic sanity to the crazy, frustrating problems all around us.

More power to them.


ABC 7: With No Budget, Rauner Delivers State Of The State

By Charles Thomas and Ben Bradley
January 27, 2016


Despite no budget deal, Gov. Bruce Rauner made his case Wednesday in his second State of the State address - changes he says will make the state more competitive.

Rauner is also promising to take a more bipartisan approach to solving issues in the coming months.

"To achieve a grand compromise, we must cast partisanship and ideology aside," he said.

But during most of his 35-minute speech, the governor warned that Illinois' economic problems would continue if the state does not adopt his anti-union, pro-business reforms.

"Pretty soon the unions won't have any more jobs to unionize and the trial lawyers won't have any more businesses to sue," he said.

While Rauner spoke, hundreds crowded the capitol rotunda, demanding the governor focus on a budget with enough money to support endangered social programs.

"People are losing their jobs, they're losing their educational opportunities. They're losing the services that they need. And it doesn't seem like this governor is putting together any kind of plan to fix any of that," said State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D).

"What I heard is peace in our time, an opportunity the governor gave to extend the olive branch and try to work in a bipartisan fashion," said State Rep. Ron Sandack (R).

The governor's political "arch-enemy", House Speaker Michael Madigan, said the speech did not address state government's most pressing problem.

"The governor's speech did not deal with the fact that there is no budget for the current fiscal year," Madigan said.

Madigan's Democratic supermajority in the House continues to be threatened by South Side State Rep. Ken Dunkin, who applauded parts of the governor's speech. Dunkin criticized Madigan for prolonging the budget stalemate.

"We should not hold citizens in this state hostage to Mike Madigan's political shenanigans," Dunkin said.

The governor noted efforts to compromise with Senate President John Cullerton on pension and education funding reform as signs of progress. He mentioned no such efforts with Madigan.

And on raising taxes, Rauner repeated it will not happen on his watch without pro-business reforms.

"Raising taxes without improving our ability to compete will not help the people of Illinois. In fact, it will make things worse," Rauner said.



In 26 days, Cedric Henderson expects to be homeless.

"We're all scrambling right now to find a place to go and a lot of places we want to go, they won't accept us or they're full," Henderson said.

Henderson blames Rauner and the Democratic legislative leaders. Their inability to agree means many aid agencies aren't being paid.

The residential care facility where Henderson has received drug and alcohol counseling is closing.

"They didn't make a budget and it's effecting all these people. It affected us, the staff, now they're out of jobs and we're out of a place to live. So it's their fault," Henderson said.

People with disabilities are also impacted. The state owes $4.8 million to organizations that help them move out of nursing facilities and into accessible homes. So some are essentially stuck.

"We know they can't because our quota of bringing people out of nursing homes back to the community is down," said Frances Madnick.

"Many of our sister agencies are going out of business. They have long lines of credit with the banks which can't last forever," said Tom Wilson, Access Living.

On the University of Illinois-Chicago campus, the state promised 8,000 students tuition assistance but hasn't paid a dime. The university is stepping in for now but there's not guarantee how long they can keep it up.

"Sometimes I feel like I should not be here anymore because I can't pay for it," said Christina Rezkalla, a UIC sophomore.

For Henderson, the state budget battle is about much more than money.

ABC7's Ben Bradley: "Do you worry you'll slip back into your old habits?"
Henderson: "Yeah, it's always a worry. It's always there."

Chicago Sun-Times: Doubek - Millennials to the rescue in Illinois?



While Illinois continues to unravel and the state of the state keeps sinking into the depths of a historic budget stalemate, there are a few signs of hope for the future.

After a flare-up last week between Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic supermajority leaders, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton Monday sounded more conciliatory about the prospects of another attempt at cutting some pension debt. At the City Club of Chicago, Cullerton noted House Speaker Michael Madigan has supported pension changes previously, and said he and Rauner had agreed on the outlines of a legislative proposal that would offer state workers a contractual choice between compounding annual salary increases or a pension based on a full salary.

Rauner announced the formation of a state agency, the Department of Innovation and Technology, to bring state government out of the Stone Age and into the digital era. And, more quietly in recent days, came news that the “c” word still exists in state political and government vocabulary.

“C” as in compromise. Consensus. Collaboration. Cooperation.

Democratic state Rep. Will Guzzardi of Chicago and Republican state Rep. Tom Demmer of Dixon recently announced the formation of the Illinois Future Caucus, a group of bipartisan millennial lawmakers who intend to build trust with each other and find topics and areas of agreement so that they might work together.

“I think everybody in the Future Caucus understands that if we can build relationships and trust,” Demmer said in an interview, “we’re more likely to be able to get things done.”

A profound absence of trust is what led to dueling press statements and disagreement about possible pension legislation last week and what has underscored the many months of state budget impasse that continues to endanger Illinoisans.

The Illinois Future Caucus has 12 founding members, including three Republicans, and is the 12th such in the nation. All the future caucuses are supported by the Millennial Action Project, founded by Steve Olikara. He noted the cost of inaction falls most heavily on the younger generation, who will be weighed down by the debt their forebears loaded upon them.

Olikara noted at a press event that millennials make up more than 25 percent of Illinois’ population, are primarily independent and are “fair game for both parties as long as the two parties are becoming more entrenched in gridlock and conflict, and becoming more and more responsible for inaction and disservice to the younger generation.”

Guzzardi, who like Demmer became active in politics at a young age, told reporters, “There’s never been a better time for an idea like this. When I talk to my constituents, people are angry; people are frustrated. They’re just mad at state government’s inability to sit down like grownups and fix the problems were facing. To people who live in my community and Representative Demmer’s community, that doesn’t accomplish anything.”

That said, neither Guzzardi nor Demmer are offering to jump into the budget gulf and build a bridge. They’re young, but apparently not that idealistic. They do, however, believe they can collaborate on things like criminal justice reform, the sharing economy that has fueled start-ups like Lyft and Airbnb, higher education and STEM curricula, business regulation and innovation.

“What we’re looking for here is an opportunity to develop a relationship so we can begin to have conversations,” Demmer said.  Caucus members want to work to “find the issues where we have common ground that will help Illinoisans today, but also help Illinoisans as our generation becomes older and starts raising kids and has families and maybe lives in Illinois for years to come.”

Demmer’s is a rural district in Northwestern Illinois. He tells me he’s heard about the budget impasses from a variety of citizens who have interactions with the state and have been concerned about funding for programs, or being paid for work for the state. He said he encourages citizens to talk with all their elected officials about the impasse, tries to explain the reasons why this negotiation is so difficult and prepare them for the pain that lies ahead in that amorphous future when a budget deal finally brings spending cuts and revenue increases.

Meanwhile, he and Guzzardi and 10 others are hoping to lay the foundation for a more perfect political union in Illinois’ future.

“I think that’s one thing that probably we all have in common, “ Demmer said. “I think everybody in the Future Caucus understands that if we can build relationships and trust, we’re more likely to be able to get things done.”

Madeleine Doubek is chief operating officer of Reboot Illinois

Illinois Radio Network: Illinois Future Caucus

By John Gregory - Illinois Radio Network


The younger members of the General Assembly are forming a new group they hope will represent the viewpoint of millenials on the state's issues.  The new Illinois Future Caucus is co-chaired by two of the youngest state legislators, State Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon) and State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago). The two readily admit they won't agree on some issues, but hope to offer a different perspective on issues like higher education, business regulations, and criminal justice. 

"When you look at the General Assembly, we have members in their 70s, in their 60s, in their 50s, in their 40s," Demmer said. "Why shouldn't we have members in their 20s and their 30s, who bring a different generational perspective to issues?" Guzzardi was asked if the older legislators take the concerns of millennials seriously, and he responded by saying his constituents want younger people involved in state government. "The first time I ran, I was 24 years old. The only people who ever asked me if I was too young to run for office were inside baseball people, politicos," Guzzardi said. 

"When I was going knocking on doors in my community, what people would always say is we need some young blood in there, we need some fresh ideas in there, we need new people in there."  Guzzardi said there's no set age limit for joining the caucus, though he considers 40 to be the "ballpark range" for how old a lawmaker could be and still be a member.  The caucus plans on working with similar groups in Congress and 11 other states. 

Along with Guzzardi and Demmer, the caucus includes Avery Bourne (R-Raymond), Jehan Gordon-Booth (D-Peoria), Sonya Harper (D-Chicago), Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago), Silvana Tabares (D-Chicago), Art Turner (D-Chicago), Litesa Wallace (D-Rockford), Sara Wojcicki Jimenez (R-Springfield), and Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside).

Sauk Valley: New kids on the block in sync - Bipartisan caucus addresses millennials’ concerns

By Angel Sierra

Jan. 15, 2016

CHICAGO – At about a third of the U.S. population, millennials are the largest generation in the country. How will the Uber-riding, smartphone-hugging group of 20- to 30-somethings fare governing the state?

“There’s never been a better time,” said state Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, who appeared Friday with state Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, at a live-streaming news conference at the Thompson Building in Chicago.

Guzzardi and Demmer announced that they will be co-chairmen of the Illinois Future Caucus, in association with the nationalMillennial Action Project (MAP), to bring to government new ways of thinking based on millennial experiences, including increased political cooperation.

“We have a responsibility to transcend the partisanship that has caused such hardship in this state, and to build solutions for the problems that are coming down the road for Illinois,” Guzzardi said.

“We, the next generation of the state, are committed to working together,” he added.

Millennials hold a strong sense of community, are bulldogs when it comes to guarding civil liberties, and show enthusiasm for social contribution. They are technologically connected, value creativity in their work, and have close relationships with family.

But the new kids on the block also hold deep distrust and low confidence in government, according to Steven Olikara, MAP co-founder and president, who said that although they might be the youngest in the Legislature, creating this communications platform is about “being the adults in the room.”


The political logjam is unacceptable.

The Illinois Future Caucus will address some of the key issues for millennials relating to technology, education, and criminal justice reforms and regulations, Demmer said, but this is just the beginning.

“This isn’t about seeing the same way,” or political uniformity, he said.

Demmer recalled his first-term campaign to represent the 90th District in which some people asked questions about his age, skeptical about why “a young guy” would want to get involved in Springfield politics.

His response was always the same.

“The issues that we face today, the decisions that we make today, have a long and profound impact on the state of Illinois,’ Demmer said. “They’re going to be issues that our generation deals with for decades.

“When you look at the General Assembly, we have members in their 70s, 60s, 50s, 40s. Why shouldn’t we have members in their 20s and 30s, who bring a different generational perspective, who have a new way of thinking, who see the world a little differently?”

WREX NBC 13 Rockford: Lawmakers create bipartisan Illinois group to address state issues

By Joseph Edwards
Jan 15, 2016


State Representative Tom Demmer, a Republican from Dixon, joined with a Democratic colleague in order to build consensus on issues facing the state of Illinois.

Will Guzzardi, a Democratic Representative from Chicago, is teaming up with Demmer to form the bipartisan group, called the Illinois Future Caucus. Demmer says cooperation, not conflict, should be at the forefront in addressing the state's challenges.

"This isn't about saying we're all going to see the same way, see eye to eye or see the same perspective on every issue. Really what we're looking for here is to develop a relationship, so we can begin to have conversations," Demmer said.

Demmer and Guzzardi are co-chairs of the group. The Illinois Future Caucus will meet regularly in Springfield to discuss current issues in the state.

Illinois News Network: Governor requests ILRB review; Rep. Sandack: Review could be good for taxpayers

By: Greg Bishop

January 15, 2016

Governor requests Illinois Labor Relations Board review of negotiations
Governor Bruce Rauner says the only agreement his team and AFSCME have been able to reach in the last 12 months is that they would submit their disputes to the Illinois Labor Relations Board. That’s the message the governor has for state employees as he announced he’s taking negotiations with the state’s largest public employees union to the next step. Another option, the governor writes, is for AFSCME to submit the administration’s proposed contract to union members for a vote.

AFSCME, however, disputes the governor’s position that contract talks have hit an impasse. It said in an email to members Friday morning the union remains committed to finding common ground. Both sides claim the other side is putting out misinformation about various proposals. The state and AFSCME have been operating under a tolling agreement since the contract expired last summer.

Rep. Sandack: ILRB review could be good for taxpayers
Lawmakers from opposing sides differ on the impacts to taxpayers from Illinois’ governor requesting review of contract negotiations from the state’s labor relations board.

While the governor’s office renewed its pledge to not lock out state employees, Democratic Representative Lou Lang says in a statement Governor Bruce Rauner wants to provoke a confrontation and disruption of state operations, something Lang says would mean the loss of vital services relied upon by millions of Illinoisans. However, Republican Representative Ron Sandack says taxpayers may actually benefit from the governor’s move.

“This, and other aspects of the cost of governing, needs to be looked at anew, with fresh eyes, to see if we can’t do better for taxpayers.”

Rep. Demmer: Possible impasse shouldn’t overshadow fiscal reality
Meanwhile other lawmakers say ideological differences between Illinois’ governor and the state’s largest public employee union shouldn’t discount the dire fiscal reality facing the state.

Democratic Representative Will Guzzardi says the latest back-and-forth between Governor Bruce Rauner and the AFSCME union over whether there’s an impasse shows both sides have dug in.

“It’s a thorny issue and — again — both sides are coming from very entrenched positions in terms of their ideological perspective about how this ought to proceed.”

Republican Representative Tom Demmer agrees there are ideological differences but they can’t lose site of the state’s financial crisis.

“There’s also just the reality of the current situation the state’s in. The great deal of uncertainty around that is has to be complicating negotiations quite a bit.”

Per a tolling agreement, Governor Rauner asked the Illinois Labor Relations Board to review the current state of negotiations and declare if there’s an impasse, a process the governor’s office says could take months. AFSCME says they’re still willing to negotiate a new contract to replace one that expired more than 6 months ago.

Lawmakers talk about amending constitution to fix pension crisis
With taxpayers being on the hook for nearly $113 billion, one idea is to change the state’s constitution to address the problem moving forward.

Republican Representative Tom Morrison says there could be an amendment to the constitution that would allow for already earned benefits to be kept in place but to amend any future benefits moving forward.

“With the state Supreme Court striking down Senate Bill 1 it looks like amending the state’s constitution is the way to go. It’s just to clarify that we’re not trying to take away benefits that have been earned up to this point. We need to make sure that when that individual reaches retirement age that they get a defined benefit based on those credits. But for future work we should be able to make an amendment to their retirement plan.”

Democratic Representative Elaine Nekritz says there could also be a constitutional amendment proposed to remove the pension protection clause altogether, but that may not solve the overarching question.

“Because other states that have no constitutional protection in their state constitution tried to do the kinds of things we tried to do with Senate Bill 1 and they’ve been struck down because of the federal contracts clause. Whatever avenue you take you’re still going to face a legal challenge. I don’t think there’s anyway around that.”

Any proposed amendment to address the growing unfunded liability for public sector pensions requires three-fifths approval from voters.

Secretary of State owes millions across state, loses secure money transport vendor
The Illinois Secretary of State’s office owes millions of dollars in utilities and rent across the state because of the budget impasse.

Secretary of state Press Secretary Dave Druker (rhymes with trucker) says they immediately started paying some bills when the legislature and governor approved $10 million, but the office
still owes Springfield’s city owned utility $3.7 million. There’s other money they owe elsewhere.

“Around the state we owe $4 million yet in leases and utilities and we’ve reached the point where we’ve made some inroads on that but there’s still a little bit of money we owe on that too. It increases each month. We paid them for the first three months of the fiscal year.”

The state is now nearly seven months into the fiscal year without a balanced budget.

Meanwhile Illinois Secretary of State Police are doing the job a private vendor was doing, but don’t expect that to save taxpayers money.

Druker says they lost the vendor that would transport money from drivers’ facilities around the state to secure locations.

“The firm that would pick up the money at the facilities, they stopped doing work for us because they weren’t getting paid — Garda — and they have been paid and we’re negotiating with them to see if they’ll come back.”

Druker says having the Secretary of State Police pick up the money isn’t a cost savings for taxpayers.

“Because they’re then being taken off of responsibilities that they have with their jobs.”

Druker says overtime may also play a factor in increased costs.

The Illinois News Network is an independent project of the Illinois Policy Institute



Progress Illinois: State Lawmakers Launch Bipartisan House Caucus Focused On Millennial Issues

By: Ellyn Fortino

January 15th, 2016

State Reps. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon), Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) and other young legislators in the Illinois House are spearheading a new bipartisan caucus focused on addressing issues important to millennials. 

Demmer and Guzzardi are co-chairs of the Illinois Future Caucus, which launched Friday and so far includes 11 House members from both sides of the aisle.

"Despite having some differences about our values and how we think that things ought to go forward, we also have profound commonality," Guzzardi said of the new caucus. "We understand that the problems facing the next generation of Illinoisans are not being addressed by the previous generation of legislators."

The caucus, expected to hold its first official meeting in early February, plans to work on issues involving technology, innovation, higher education, criminal justice reform and other areas. More specifically, Demmer said he expects the caucus to find common ground on policies related to the sharing economy, facilitated by smartphones and the Internet.

"Part of the point of this caucus is that there is an opportunity" to "look for areas where you might cross over and might not have traditional partisan labels attached" to them, Demmer said. "A lot of the issues are not traditionally partisan when it comes to millennials."

Other caucus members include state Reps. Avery Bourne (R-Raymond), Jehan Gordon-Booth (D-Peoria), Sonya Harper (D-Chicago), Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago), Silvana Tabares (D-Chicago), Art Turner (D-Chicago), Litesa Wallace (D-Rockford), Sara Wojcicki Jimenez (R-Springfield) and Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside).

Creation of the caucus comes amid the ongoing state budget impasse, now in its seventh month. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders remain at odds over a spending plan for the 2016 fiscal year, which started July 1. 

At the center of the impasse is Rauner's pro-business, anti-union "turnaround agenda" that he wants approved as part of the budgeting process. Democrats oppose Rauner's anti-union proposals, which, they say, should not be tied to passage of a budget. 

Given the partisan political atmosphere in Springfield, now is a good time to form the new caucus, according to Guzzardi.

"As a new and up-and-coming generation of legislators in this state, we have a responsibility to transcend the partisanship that has caused such hardship in this state and to build solutions to the challenges that are coming down the road for Illinois," he said. 

The lawmakers were optimistic about what the caucus can accomplish, despite the budget standoff.

"Even in the throes of these very difficult issues that our state is facing, I really believe that there is room for compromise and legislative achievement that is meaningful and addresses issues that are important to the people of the state," Guzzardi said. "I think we have an opportunity to get that done."

The Illinois Future Caucus plans to work with similar groups of young lawmakers in Congress and 11 other states. 

The caucus has the support of the Millennial Action Project (MAP), a national, nonpartisan organization working to mobilize "millennial policymakers to create post-partisan political cooperation," according to its website.

MAP's co-founder and president Steven Olikara joined Demmer and Guzzardi Friday morning in announcing the creation of the Illinois Future Caucus.

Illinois, Olikara said, is home to more than 3.5 million millennials, representing over 25 percent of the state's population. 

"It's extremely important that this generation has an organized and unified voice in the state Capitol," he said. "This is not about political uniformity. This is about political cooperation. This is about building relationships across party line. It's about building a culture where we can have constructive and quality debate, and I am so inspired by the leadership that we're seeing here."

Progress Illinois: No Budget Agreement In Sight As Lawmakers Gear Up For The New Legislative Session (UPDATED)

Ellyn Fortino

January 11th, 2016

The state's 2016 legislative session begins this week amid the ongoing Illinois budget impasse, but House lawmakers are not due back to Springfield for another two weeks.

House members, who were initially set to reconvene this Wednesday, will return to Springfield on January 27, the day of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's State of the State address. House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) pushed back his chamber's start date because the "workload was not there," according to his spokesman.

The Senate, however, returns Wednesday and has scheduled an Executive Appointments committee meeting that afternoon.

"That can't be a good sign for progress on solving the impasse," John Jackson, visiting professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, said of the House session's cancellation. "There's all kinds of negative impacts of the state not having a budget, and the longer this goes, the worse those impacts get. And so putting it off is just going to prolong the misery, it seems to me."

House lawmakers are sounding off on the schedule change, with state Rep. Sara Wojcicki Jimenez (R-Springfield) saying she was "extremely disappointed in Speaker Madigan's decision to cancel" this week's session.

"Certainly not a good way to start off the new year by making the taxpayers wait even longer for the House to get back to work at the Capitol," she said in a statement over the weekend. "I believe I share the same sentiment with many of my colleagues that it's time to reach an agreement on a state budget, and the only way that can happen is when we come to work in Springfield."

State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) noted that the legislature has been in a special overtime session since June in an effort to reach a budget agreement, and "we're still in an impasse."

"I look forward to getting started on the new legislative year," Guzzardi said, "but this impasse is only going to end when the governor decides to stop holding working people hostage and get to the negotiating table."

Illinois has been without a budget since July 1, the start of the 2016 fiscal year.

Democrats, who have supermajorities in both chambers, passed a budget in May. But Rauner vetoed most of the budget -- including all higher education appropriations -- citing its nearly $4 billion shortfall.

Rauner is trying to win items on his pro-business, anti-union "turnaround agenda" through the budgeting process. The governor wants reforms such as workers' compensation changes, a property tax freeze and limits on collective bargaining before he considers new revenues.

Democrats, who argue that Rauner's reform items are non-budgetary, vehemently oppose the governor's proposals seeking to curb the power of unions. They want a budget that includes a combination of cuts and new revenue.

Most state services and programs are being funded during the budget standoff by a combination of laws, court orders or consent decrees.  

On Monday, Rauner said he plans to release a proposal detailing how to halt court-mandated state spending during the budget impasse. Exactly how the state could get out of such required spending is uncertain, however.

Rauner is also reflecting on his first year in office. In an op-ed published over the weekend, the governor cited several actions taken by his administration over the past 12 months. Among them, Rauner says his administration wiped out a "$1.6 billion deficit inherited from the previous administration" and "ensured record state funding for schools."

As the stalemate continues into its seventh month, Rauner is scheduled to deliver his budget address for the 2017 fiscal year on February 17.

Christopher Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, said he would be surprised if the stalemate ended before Rauner's 2017 budget address. 

"They could come out tomorrow with a deal, but there is no evidence, and nobody I talk to seems to think that would probably happen," he said. "Anything's possible. It's also possible (the stalemate) might go on until the end of Rauner's term, but I don't think that's gonna happen either. I think (the state's finances) will be so bad by that time ... Nobody wants to see that happen."

But, during remarks Monday at the City Club of Chicago, Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno said there is a possibility the state budget stalemate could continue for years if Democrats do not break from what she says is the status quo approach to state government.

"While I hope it doesn't happen, I think it's possible," she said of a multiple-year budget standoff.

Meanwhile, in a more optimistic look at the Illinois budget battle, state Rep. David Harris (R-Arlington Heights) said, in an interview over the weekend with the Associated Press, any budget deal that is reached could include spending plans for both the current and 2017 fiscal years.

"I'm one of those folks who believes there can be a middle ground and that middle ground requires some compromise," Harris added. "And we have to get to a middle ground."

State Rep. Will Davis (D-Hazel Crest) said Rauner's turnaround agenda should be separate from the budgeting process.

Democrats and Republicans "should be able to differ on collective bargaining and it not be a tenet of whether or not we pass a budget," Davis said. "It's an issue, but it shouldn't be the linchpin to the state completely falling apart."

"Republicans," he added, "have to be willing to stand up and say, 'OK, governor, I get it. You're trying to get something done, but we need funding for the state universities.' ... Unless that's a bipartisan conversation, then you're ultimately not going to get anywhere."

Mooney said a high-profile crisis of some sort, such as a state college or university shutting down, could force an end to the budget stalemate.

That being said, neither Rauner nor the legislative leaders appear to know how or when the impasse will end, Mooney stressed.

"We're all hanging right now to wait and see what they do," he said. 

While the legislature has been focused on the budget, other pressing matters have been put on the back burner, including a plan to tackle the state's $111 billion pension crisis.

"It's been hard to see other issues languishing," said state Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago).

Williams is particularly concerned about the financial challenges facing the Chicago Public Schools. CPS' 2016 budget depends on $480 million in pension savings from state government. Some 5,000 teachers could be laid off early this year if the district does not get the financial help it needs, CPS officials have warned.

"I don't know what it will take to fix CPS' budget this year, but I know we do have to fix it, not just in the short term, but over the long haul," Williams said. "However, even more so than all the other issues, it requires all the decision makers to be on board with finding a solution."

For his part, Rauner reiterated last week that he'd be willing to help out CPS financially, but only if Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel advocates in support of his turnaround agenda items.

Williams said she "was shocked to hear" from Rauner "that level of disregard for the hundreds of thousands of students that are going to be impacted if we don't address the CPS budget crisis."

But non-Chicago lawmakers may not be quick to act on relief for CPS either, Davis said.

"I think until members see CPS exhaust all of their avenues, nothing is going to happen until then," he said. "I think that would still be the case even if we had a budget."

Guzzardi, meanwhile, stressed that there is "one solution" to the state's current budget problem.

"The state needs more revenue to pay its bills," Guzzardi said. "And the only question after that is who's gonna pay it?"

Guzzardi said he will be among the lawmakers putting pressure on leadership to ensure that "the answer to that question is the folks who can most afford to are going to be responsible for paying the vast majority of this."

Stay tuned.

UPDATE 1 (1/12/16): The American Civil Liberties Union released the following statement in response to Rauner's announced plans to seek a way out of paying state services as mandated by consent decrees. The organization represents plaintiffs in five cases with mandated consent decrees.

"Governor Rauner should know that adherence to terms of a consent decrees is not a political option to be debated in the media," the ACLU's statement reads. "These agreements exist because the State violated the law - often over decades - in ways that impose significant harms to our clients and others in Illinois. If he possesses a magic wand to fix the challenges faced by children in the child welfare system, youth being incarcerated or people with disabilities after years of neglect by the State, we hope the Governor uses the magic soon. The reality is that the way to make getting out of consent decrees a 'big part of his agenda is to bring the State's dysfunctional systems in compliance with the law by improving the way the State provides services and supports to people who depend on its help.

"We look forward to engaging in that work, rather than debating ideological rhetoric."

Chicago Gazette: Fair Economy Illinois calls for Transaction Tax, holds protest

By Steve Hudomiet

January 1st, 2016

Fair Economy Illinois, a statewide alliance that organizes people around issues that affect the common good, is demanding that State officials stop raising taxes on working people and generate revenue through a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) on trades at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the Chicago Board of Options Exchange, and the Chicago Board of Trade.

To put the demands into action, 150 activists from the Moral Mondays coalition, organized by Fair Economy Illinois, held a protest downtown recently. After a rally at the Thompson Center, the demonstrators shut down LaSalle Street and proceeded to the Board of Trade, where they blocked the entrances to the building. Police officers responded by arresting 41 demonstrators.

A bill proposing an FTT, also known as a “Robin Hood Tax” or “LaSalle Street Tax,” came before the legislature in Springfield but has not garnered much support among elected officials in the city or the state.

According to Fair Economy Illinois, an FTT as small as .002% of the average trade at the exchanges could raise $10 billion annually for Illinois. The FTT proposal comes at a time when Illinois has been without a budget since July, due to an impasse between Governor Bruce Rauner and the State Legislature. The clients of some State agencies, particularly those that provide social services, particularly feel the pinch from the budget cutbacks.

“You and I will soon pay 10.25% sales tax at the store,” said Toby Chow of Fair Economy Illinois. “Right now, big banks and corporations buying stocks and futures in Chicago don’t pay a cent.”

Tiny tax’ could mean billions

“A tiny sales tax amounting to less than .002% of the average contract value would scarcely be noticed by the big corporations that will pay it, but it would generate billions of dollars for vital resources that we need in our communities,” Chow said. “Imagine all the people we could put back to work by rehiring laid-off teachers, fixing our crumbling streets and public transit, and by providing the top quality education, infrastructure, healthcare, and social services we desperately need.”

Fair Economy Illinois is not the first group to call for an FTT. During the 2012 NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) conference in Chicago, National Nurses United called for a tax on securities trades to pay for unmet societal needs. Tax proponents note its fund raising capabilities and point to the cutbacks in Staterun social assistance programs during the current budget stalemate as examples of how its funds could be used.

A majority of social assistance agencies have been forced to curtail services, cut back on employees, or even shut down.
“Rauner and his billionaire friends would have us believe the cuts are necessary,” Chow noted. “We’re told that there is no alternative. We are told that the State just does not have the money to fund vital social services, but we know that that is a lie.

“The wealthiest individuals in this State pay far less than their fair share in taxes, and two-thirds of corporations that do business in Illinois pay nothing, nothing in income tax to the state,” Chow added.

Commenting on what a permanent solution to the budget issue would be, State Representative Will Guzzardi (D-39th, Chicago) said, “We know what a fair solution to this crisis looks like. It looks like progressive revenues that ask the very wealthy and the biggest corporations to pay their fair share and fund the resources we need.”

“The only long-term solution to this crisis is making sure that we have a tax system that moves from being primarily for the wealthy and those who are well connected to one that prioritizes the middle class,” State Representative Christian Mitchell (D-26th, Chicago) said.

Both Guzzardi and Mitchell favor the FTT.

“Right now, too many working families in our state are struggling to get by, and government is making matters worse by balancing its budgets on the backs of these very same families,” Guzzardi added. “Meanwhile, the wealthiest individuals and biggest corporations just keep getting richer, and pay less taxes than we do,” Guzzardi said. “That’s why I support a Financial Transaction Tax: we need share just like the rest of us.”

In an example of the way the tax could work, there could be a $1 fee for a transaction if it was for an agricultural item or a $2 fee if it was a transaction involving a non-agricultural item. These could be flat fees regardless of the amount of the stock. This results in higher tax rates for smaller trades and lower tax rates for bigger trades. So in a trade of $1,000, the tax rate would be 0.1% if it was agricultural or 0.2% if it was nonagricultural.

Fair Economy Illinois points out that most trades on these exchanges are much bigger than that example and that for most trades, the tax rate would be far less than what consumers pay in sales tax at the store.

Business opposition

Large businesses and traders on the Chicago exchanges feel less enthusiastic about the tax on market transactions. In addition to diminishing their profits to some extent, they oppose the tax because they believe it will reduce market trades, resulting in some shrinkage in the economy.

Some also fear the real cost of the tax eventually may be passed on to financial services consumers, such as pension and mutual funds, instead of the tax’s intended targets: large corporate and speculative traders. Also, financial markets could move, relocating to areas that do not have a transaction tax.

Dale Rosenthal, Clinical Assistant Professor of Finance at the University of Illinois at Chicago, contends the tax’s effects could be destructive to the economy.

“By way of example, France and Italy enacted transaction taxes of 0.2% and 0.1% on their stock markets,” Rosenthal said. “Comparing them to the rest of Europe, which did not enact such taxes, our research and others show that France saw volume fall off 20%, and volatility increased by 18% in Italy. Trading costs increased slightly, and we suspect only slightly because we have heard reports of people avoiding the tax. Worst of all, stocks in these two countries are now worth 3.5% to 4% less than in the rest of Europe.

“Economics tells us that if we tax something, we get less of it,” Rosenthal continued. “Well, most academics and central bankers think we need more, not less, of markets like the ones we have in Chicago.

“This proposal misses one key fact. The possible effects that we found in our research are nasty; so nasty that when firms are faced with those costs, they will just move. This might seem unlikely, but New York City repealed a transaction tax because they saw a loss of jobs. Sweden tried such a tax only to see their bond market move to London,” Rosenthal said.

Steve Brown, media spokesperson for House Speaker Michael Madigan, noted that the speaker has not taken a position on the FTT. Brown did say that the concern with the tax is the possibility of driving the exchanges out of Illinois, noting “it’s a mobility issue with the exchanges, and it would be easy for them to flip a switch” on their servers “and they could be gone.”

He added that Rep. Mary Flowers (D-31st), sponsor of an FTT bill, does not at this time have a majority of support for it in the Illinois House.

The Offices of Governor Rauner and Senate President John Cullerton did not respond to Gazette requests for comments.

More FTTs in Europe

Despite the potential negatives, 11 members of the European Union are scheduled to implement Financial Transaction Taxes in 2016.

Addressing the issue of exchanges leaving to flee taxation, Kristi Sanford, communications director for the Illinois and Indiana Regional Organizing Network and part of the Fair Economy Coalition said, “After getting their $77 million annual tax break from Springfield, the CME [Chicago Mercantile Exchange] has no incentive to leave.”

Supporters of the Financial Transaction Tax feel it is fair that the financial services sector contribute revenue for the public good because many view that sector as being responsible for the economic issues of 2008 and 2009. In addition, implementing the tax could reduce short term trading, which could lessen market volatility.

Fair Economy Illinois points out that most of those opposing the Financial Transaction Tax are big money corporations and interests, and that fact has made many politicians leery of supporting the idea. According to Fair Economy Illinois, three out of four North Side voters supported the tax in a ballot referendum.

“We are trying to unite people who are in favor of this tax and the revenue it can produce,” Chow said. “Those that support the idea are certainly a vast majority. We have researched broad economic issues” related to the effects of the tax “and there are myths out there that help perpetuate opposition to it,” Chow stated. “The revenue would be billions of dollars, and heath care, child welfare, education, and the State’s infrastructure would all benefit.”

To learn more about Fair Economy Illinois and the Financial Transaction Tax, go to

Ford County Record: Ford-Iroquois Farm Bureau's 'adopted' legislator visits ethanol plant, two farms


GIBSON CITY — The Illinois Farm Bureau’s Adopt-A-Legislator Program made a stop at Gibson City’s One Earth Energy ethanol plant and two Ford County farms on Thursday.

The Adopt-A-Legislator Program matches legislators in a district containing few, if any, constituents interested in or knowledgeable about agriculture with a rural, agricultural-based county Farm Bureau.  The program allows Farm Bureau members to serve as a resource for the “adopted” legislator on agricultural issues and how proposed legislation will impact their farm operations. The program also gives Farm Bureau members the opportunity to learn more about the legislator’s district and urban issues.

The Ford-Iroquois Farm Bureau first joined the program in 2003 by “adopting” state Rep. Will Guzzardi’s predecessor in the 39th House District — Toni Berrios.

Guzzardi, D-Chicago, was the “adopted” legislator present Thursday in Ford County. Guzzardi was joined by Farm Bureau members and other officials.

The group first took a tour of the ethanol plant, as coordinated by Christina Nourie, Illinois Farm Bureau Northeast legislative coordinator, and state Rep. Tom Bennett, R-Gibson City.

Ford-Iroquois Farm Bureau volunteers taking the tour were John Zumwalt of Sheldon, Bob Lindgren of rural Loda and Don Ulfers of Melvin. The One Earth Energy tour coordinator was Barb Kirkpatrick. 

Guzzardi serves on the House Renewable Energy and Sustainability Committee, so touring the ethanol plant was of interest to him.

After the tour, Guzzardi visited the Miller Swine Farm near Melvin, owned by Bob and Carla Miller. Guzzardi is interested in farmers’ markets, so the Millers’ retail meat business was a good place to go on a tour of the local area.

Guzzardi then toured the Bennett Farm in rural Gibson City, owned by Doug Bennett, brother of Tom Bennett.  As freshman legislators, Bennett and Guzzardi have visited with each other frequently, and Bennett has described his family farm numerous times.  It was important for Guzzardi to walk around the Bennett farm.

Guzzardi was elected to the Illinois House in 2014. He is in his late 20s, is a native of North Carolina, is a graduate of Brown University and is a former reporter for the Huffington Post. He sits on several House committees, including the Renewable Energy and Sustainability Committee

Future plans include Farm Bureau members visiting the 39th District and inviting Guzzardi back in the spring for a farm tour during planting season.