Editor's Note: This article was created by aggregating news articles from Illinois Statehouse News that were written by various Illinois Statehouse News reporters.
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers took another step toward eliminating the long-scrutinized legislative scholarship program, and state retirees protested a proposed reduction in the amount the state pays for their continued health insurance coverage.
Senate committee votes to end legislative scholarship program
Illinois’ controversial legislative scholarship program is one step closer to extinction, after the Senate Executive Committee on Wednesday voted unanimously to eliminate it.
House Bill 3810, which would end the program next year, now moves to the Senate for a vote. Although the House approved the bill, it must go back for an additional vote in that chamber, because an amendment was added in the Senate.
The legislative scholarship program allows state lawmakers to award full-ride college scholarships to state-run universities to constituents who live in their districts. The program, however, has been abused by lawmakers who awarded scholarships to campaign donors, staff members and families who live outside their districts.
“The best thing we can do right now is to get our state budget under control and begin to fund our state universities properly once again,” said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-. The Senate Republicans have supported eliminating the program this entire session.
The Senate committee’s approval occurred after Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, picked up sponsorship of the bill. Previously, he said he would rather reform the program than kill it outright.
Cullerton’s bill includes a provision to set up a task force to examine all university tuition waivers totaling more than $300 million.
State retirees protest cuts to health care subsidies
Retired state employees protested Thursday at the state Capitol after learning of legislation in the House that would end their taxpayer-subsidized health care.
The measure, which passed out of the Illinois House Executive Committee on Wednesday, allows the state Department of Central Management Services to set premium rates for state retirees, retired lawmakers, retired judges and retired university employees.
Currently, state employees who put in 20 years can get 100 percent of their health-care costs paid by the state. Retirees with eight years of service can get 40 percent of their health insurance covered.
The state covers all health care costs for lawmakers who retire at the age of 62 or older and have served at least four years.
This year the state is paying $876 million to cover health care for 78,000 former state workers, said House Republican Leader Rep. Tom Cross, R-Oswego. “The goal here is to not eliminate health-care coverage but to make sure it’s sustainable,” Cross said.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, which represents most of the state’s workforce, said the proposal interferes with the collective bargaining process now under way.
Barbara Franklin, who worked for the University of Illinois for 37 years, was among the retirees who protested Thursday.
“I paid year in and year out for my insurance, for my dependents’ insurance, with the promise that when I retired, if I had more than 20 years, my insurance would be paid for,” she said.
COGFA bucks Quinn’s facility closure plan
The state’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability voted Tuesday to keep open three state facilities, in spite of Quinn’s recommendation that they be closed to save money.
The commission voted along regional lines to keep open Tamms Correctional Center, a “supermax” prison in deep southern Illinois; Dwight Correctional Center, a women’s prison along Interstate 55 between Bloomington and Joliet; and Murray Developmental Center in Centralia, about 60 miles east of St. Louis.
The commission’s vote is advisory only. State Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg, D-Evanston, who voted to close the three facilities, argued that Quinn has provided the framework needed to shutter the facilities.
Quinn first proposed the closures last year, when the budget passed by the General Assembly was more than $300 million short. He laid out a similar plan to save money in this year’s budget address.
“We have incorporated a great deal of (COGFA’s) input into our facility closure plans; however, we must continue to deal with our budget challenges and make the difficult decisions necessary to restore fiscal stability to Illinois,” Anderson said.
COGFA has voted against most of Quinn’s closure recommendations, but it did vote unanimously to close a Department of Children and Family Services office in Skokie. Employees will be transferred to another office.
— Jayette Bolinski