As always, you can contact me via webform at www.repbennett.com, or by phone at (815) 844-9179 (Pontiac) or (815) 432-0106 (Watseka). Thank you for the honor of serving as our district's representative in Springfield.
101st General Assembly sworn in
The members of the House and Senate for the 101st Illinois General Assembly were sworn in on Wednesday in Springfield. It is a privilege to stand on that stage being sworn in with my colleagues, but also a reminder of the responsibility we have as legislators to make good policies for our districts and for the state as a whole.
As expected, Mike Madigan was chosen for another term as Speaker of the House. Speaker Madigan has held that post for 34 of the past 36 years. I cast my vote for our House Republican Leader Jim Durkin. Speaker Madigan will now go about choosing chairpersons for all House committees and deciding which legislation will make it to the floor of the House for debate and a vote.
As this General Assembly starts, we are confronted with many different issues; some of them are new, others have been around for a long time. Our economy and unemployment rate are better than they were two years ago, but we still trail our neighboring states with friendlier job-creation climates. Illinois' pension system remains dangerously underfunded and state government's spending and budgeting process is still in need of improvement. We lost 45,000 residents last year: the fifth year in a row that our population has declined. We need to act to reverse the bad policies that are driving people out of Illinois.
We will have a lot of work to do in the Capitol this spring. I am eager to get started, and I continue to hope that we can put excessive partisanship aside and get some good legislation passed.
Year-end reports shows where we stand compared to other states
The year-end report, compiled by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA), gives us an idea of where Illinois ranks against the other states in the Union across a variety of categories including population, revenue, and spending. It is particularly relevant to compare Illinois with similar large states in our part of the country, like Ohio and Michigan, as well as our neighbors Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, and Wisconsin.
Illinois is the 6th most populous state in the Union, with 12.8 million people. But unlike some of the other large states like Florida, Georgia and Texas, our population is in a slow decline as workers and retirees leave Illinois for the Sun Belt in the south and west.
One challenge is Illinois' high taxes. Our personal income tax rate is 4.95%, sales tax rates approach 10% in some areas, and our property tax burden comes in as either the highest or the second-highest in the nation (competing with New Jersey for that top spot). The COGFA report has a large amount of data which Illinoisans can use to see exactly where we stand relative to the rest of the country.
How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $7,496,290,456 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $8.2 billion. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is subject to a wide range of factors and has been estimated to be approximately $130 billion.
Champion of Free Enterprise Award
I was glad to meet with Gibson City Chamber of Commerce President Bill Kirby and give a Springfield legislative update to members of the local chamber about what may be happening in state government with the incoming General Assembly and our new Governor. During that meeting, I was presented with the Champion of Free Enterprise Award by Tyler Diers from the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.
This award is presented to legislators who, "have made special contributions in the defense of free enterprise, and the furtherance of economic opportunities for Illinoisans." Small business is a key ingredient to growing our economy, and I am proud to stand up in Springfield for small businesses and the jobs they support.
New Legislative Inspector General selected
The Legislative Inspector General is the official charged with investigating allegations of wrongdoing by General Assembly personnel. When persons within the General Assembly as well as member of the public report evidence of wrongdoing within the legislative branch of the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act, the Legislative Inspector General has the duty to examine these reports and take action.
The current Legislative Inspector General, Julie Porter, recently expressed her intention to return to the private sector after a busy year in this post. After a two-month search by the Legislative Ethics Commission for a replacement, retired Circuit Court Judge Carol Pope has been chosen as the new Legislative Inspector General-designee. Judge Pope served as a judge in Menard County, near Springfield, until 2017. Judge Pope has 17 years of experience as a circuit judge and nine years as an appellate justice in the Fourth Appellate District. She is also a member of the Illinois Judicial Ethics Committee. In order to become the new Legislative Inspector General, the selection must be voted upon by the General Assembly.
Did You Know?
Ford County was the last of Illinois' 102 counties to be created when it was organized in 1859. Though no more counties were created after that, county boundaries were shifted around somewhat over the next few years, with the last changes happening in 1869. The map of Illinois counties has now looked the same for 150 years.