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Political Rewind: Drought Lingers, Pension Reform in Limbo

As we start a new week, it's always good to get caught up on state politics. Here's an easy guide to what happened last week.

  • Editor's Note: This article was created by aggregating news articles from Illinois Watchdog, formerly Illinois Statehouse News.

IL: Drought Lingers, Pension Reform in Limbo

SPRINGFIELD — A severe drought devastating crops throughout Illinois prompted concerns about the potential costs of disaster aid and crop insurance payouts later this year.

And House lawmakers will take up pension reform when they return to the Capitol for a special session Aug. 17. Here is the week in review:

Taxpayers on the hook for millions in crop insurance payouts

An environmental watchdog says taxpayers nationwide, including Illinois, will be on the hook for millions, if not billions, of dollars in crop insurance for grain farmers hit hard by this summer’s devastating drought.

Government aid, mostly in the form of low-interest loans, will not provide much help for farmers suffering through the drought because of the slow, creeping nature of the disaster. Taxpayers foot much of the bill for crop insurance premiums, overhead costs for the insurers and more. About 80 percent of Illinois farmers have crop insurance.

“And when losses get really big, like they’re likely to be this year because of this horrible drought, taxpayers are going to end up on the hook for the vast majority — over 90 percent — of the loss,” said Craig Cox, senior vice president of the Environmental Working Group, which tracks farm subsidies.

But safety nets, like crop insurance, help eliminate some of the risk for grain farmers, said John Hawkins, spokesman for the Illinois Farm Bureau.

“If we have another year like this, you’d probably have a lot of people just get out of the business. People wouldn’t be very eager to enter (farming) either, because of the investment and time,” Hawkins said. “Whenever you have a disaster like this you’re always glad there is crop insurance or some kind of cushion there that farmers can depend on to get them through the short times, so that when we have normal crops we’ll still be there.”

It could be a record year for insurance payouts because of the drought, which stretches across much of the country. Estimates run from nearly $20 billion by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to $40 billion by the Iowa Farm Bureau. No one will know, until the harvest is in and the insurance companies make their payments.

House lawmakers may take up pension reform in August

State House lawmakers may vote on a pension-reform measure when they convene for a special session Aug. 17 here.

The House will meet to consider expelling indicted state Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago. But Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, also could call a vote on pension reform.

We Are One Illinois, a consortium of unions representing state workers, issued a statement this week, saying Madigan told the coalition that he is considering calling the matter for a vote — but only regarding pensions for lawmakers and state workers. Teacher pension reform would not be included.

“We have no certain knowledge of (Madigan’s) intent,” the statement read. “We reiterated to him today our willingness to work with the legislative leaders to develop a fair pension solution.”

The state Senate approved a pension bill in May with bipartisan support. That bill allows state employees to retain compounded cost-of-living adjustments to their pensions, if they give up state-sponsored health insurance and have future pay raises count toward their pension. Workers who accept lower cost-of-living adjustments would keep their insurance and have their raises count toward their pension.

The House’s attempt to pass pension reform faltered in the final hours of the legislative session over a plan to shift pension costs from the state to local school districts. Legislative leaders have been meeting regularly in Chicago since to hammer out their difference about the reform.

Ronald Holmes, spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said the Senate has no plan to convene Aug. 17 because the pension-reform bill they passed is in the House’s hands.

“We’ve done this, and now we’re encouraging the House to do the same,” he said. “At the same time, we can continue trying to figure out how to solve this cost-shift issue. This is real savings that we’re talking about here.”

Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said Gov. Pat Quinn wants lawmakers to take up pension-reform as soon as possible.

“The governor will continue to push until we resolve this and restore fiscal stability to Illinois,” she said.

Feds subpoena two state lawmakers

Federal investigators have subpoenaed records for at least two state lawmakers, according to news reports this week.

A July 18 subpoena requested records of state Rep. Connie Howard, D-Chicago, who resigned from her lawmaker post on July 9 The subpoena requests records to and from the “Constance A. ‘Connie’ Howard Technology Scholarship Fund.”

Investigators also want notes, meeting minutes, transcripts and reports issued by the state House Computer Technology Committee from 2000 through 2007. Howard was chairwoman of the committee some of those years, according to reports.

A 2010 subpoena, obtained by the Chicago Tribune, showed investigators sought financial records from Howard’s 34th District, including vouchers, employee time sheets and communication between 2006 and 2009.

Investigators also are looking at college tuition waivers awarded by state Rep. Dan Burke, D-Chicago, according to the Tribune. A Chicago grand jury on March 21 subpoenaed information about Burke’s “procedures for the establishment, awarding and operation of the Illinois General Assembly Scholarship,” as well as records “pertaining to receipt of any funds or gift in connection with the award of the scholarship, including the identity of any person/entity giving any funds or gift, the amount or gift received, and the date received.”

In addition, federal investigators last month subpoenaed the scholarship records of state Sen. Annazette Collins, D-Chicago.

— Jayette Bolinski

Tim August 03, 2012 at 06:04 PM
Ruth, the pension payments are being made by the board of Education. It is lumped into the entire levy. The 'pension' broken down on your tax bill is for administration pensions as Mr. Ethics stated above. You are paying 100% of the teachers contribution to their own pension, they are paying $0. It is a 'benefit' that the BOE has agreed to pay for the teachers so that it does not come out of their salary. They then take the rather confusing step of listing the payment on the individual paychecks of the teachers, to satisfy the legal requirements of IL pension laws. In reality, the teachers are paying $0, and the board of education is paying 100% of the employee amount.
80% of highest for years August 03, 2012 at 06:34 PM
We cant help the farmers who actual need help.Cause we need to pay the school administrators more.my poor administrators in my district are only averaging 150k a year...you know they have to save for retirement(oh wait we pay that also)
Ann Paul August 03, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Lemont Districts 210 & 113a, the taxpayers are footing the bill on teachers' pensions. We are paying for their contributions. The teachers are not payingin it. Every school district is different, but you will be amazed just how many districts pay the teachers' 9.4% contribution.I'd trade my feeble social security for a teachers TRS pension anyday. Some may argue they aren't getting pay increases, but the TRS payments continue and I would rather have that going rather than a let's say 4% salary increase.
Mickey August 06, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Interesting. When I went to Missouri quite a few times this year, everything "seemed" cheaper. Guess I was just imagining it. Let's see I paid $39 for my kids season passes at Six Flags St Louis yet for my pass at Six Flags Great America it was $59. Carton of cigarettes. $22 ILL-ANNOY $50 Yep. Lot cheaper in ill-annoy. I can do the math. :-PPPPPP
Tara Tompson February 11, 2014 at 05:28 PM
It must have been hard for the farmers to be going through that drought. I'm glad they are getting help now. They still have to provide for their family, and get their kids into good schools. It's good when a community pulls together and helps each other out. Tara | http://www.montessoriofwoodridge.com

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