As always, you can contact me via webform at 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.
Graduated income tax increase passes House committee
The proposal to raise income taxes through a graduated income tax system passed the House Revenue and Finance Committee this week with every Republican including me voting no. The proposal would change our tax system from a flat tax where everyone pays the same percentage in income taxes to a graduated tax where Springfield politicians get to choose which groups will pay which rates. Supporters have claimed that their plan will raise taxes by $3.4 billion.
I have spelled out a number of times the reasons why this is bad policy. It is unwise to trust the same Springfield politicians who have raised your taxes twice in this decade with a blank check to do so again and again in the future. It is unnecessary to raise taxes now because we balanced our budget without any new taxes last year, and we have brought in enough extra revenue this year to do so again. Recent history shows that all this tax increase will do is lead to more wasteful spending and more tax hikes down the road.
It is still unclear when this amendment might receive a vote in the full House. Because it is a proposal to amend the state Constitution, it will require a super majority of 71 votes to pass the House. If that should occur, the final step would require the approval of the voters at the 2020 election.
Working groups meeting to hammer out a budget
Every year the General Assembly is Constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget. The budget must fund all facets of state government: from education to public safety, state parks to housing, transportation to health care. This year, I have been involved with the working group considering the budget for elementary and secondary education. To try and work out a budget that spends taxpayer dollars as wisely as possible, meets our important priorities and complies with the requirement that it be balanced, bipartisan working groups in the legislature have been meeting throughout the spring to focus on each area of the budget.
In some recent years, legislators have cooperated in the working groups and produced a bipartisan, balanced budget. Some other years, they have not. The work is ongoing this year, and I am hopeful that it will again produce a balanced budget. Each working group is charged with examining a different aspect of the budget and then determining what its needs are, and how those needs fit into the available resources. At the end of the process, each of these pieces is assembled like a giant puzzle into our state budget.
The House and Senate are scheduled to adjourn next Friday, so we need to have this work done by then. The new fiscal year begins on July 1.
Upcoming meeting in Watseka
I will be hosting a meeting in Watseka on June 4 for residents of the 106th district to come and share their thoughts or ask questions about legislation in this year's spring session of the General Assembly. The meeting is set for 5:15 p.m. on Tuesday June 4 in the County Board Room of the Clifford Bury Administrative Center located at 1001 E. Grant Street in Watseka.
More meetings will follow in different towns around the district. Everyone is welcome to attend for a Springfield update and to share your comments and questions about legislation in the General Assembly this spring. I hope to see you there!
How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $6,839,386,508 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $6.9 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.
Capital plan for infrastructure improvements introduced
Governor Pritzker has unveiled his plan for a public works program for the state. The plan, called "Rebuild Illinois," is a $41.5 billion proposal which is split roughly 70-30 between roads and buildings. The Governor proposes to fund the new construction partially from existing revenue streams from federal, state and local sources, but also through adding 19 cents to the existing Illinois gas tax and changes to the price schedule for automobile registrations.
Proponents contend that the plan will create more than half a million jobs and fix roads and bridges throughout the state which are in need of repair. Concerns have been raised, however, about the complexity and even the Constitutionality of a proposed tax on media streaming for part of the revenue required by the plan. Legislators are reviewing the plan and taking input from many interested parties while a final version of the proposal is worked out.
Watseka awarded flood prevention grant
Persistence, commitment and dedication paid off for the city and the citizens off Watseka this week as we celebrated the official awarding of $5.3 million to the city for a flood mitigation buyout grant. Watseka has been especially hard hit by flooding in the past few years and this grant will help the city in its efforts to prevent a future disaster. We are all very thankful to Ron Davis, of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Mayor John Allhands and the City of Watseka, and Iroquois County Board Chair John Shure for all of their hard work. This was a great event and it will be very helpful to Watseka and its residents.
Work continuing on several important bills
Some other bills continue to be worked upon in the legislature, but have not yet reached a resolution. Negotiations continue on the issues of legalized marijuana and sports gambling, but a final proposal has not been introduced as yet. Another bill moving through the process is Senate Bill 9, which concerns cleanup of coal ash in rivers in our area.
The House passed two of my bills this week; a bill I told you about a few weeks ago which would lead to more thorough investigations of the deaths of small children, and a bill to adjust the membership of the board overseeing diversity in higher education.
There is a lot of work left to do with just one week remaining in session.
Honoring those who serve
On this Memorial Day weekend we remember those who gave their lives for our nation, and recognize those who serve today. This holiday began here in Illinois in May of 1868 when General John A. Logan of Murphysboro issued General Order Number 11 calling on local citizens to decorate the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers with flowers as a way of remembering their sacrifice for the republic.
Every day we cherish the freedoms and liberties which so many have sacrificed so much to safeguard. While we mark this important holiday, we should remain mindful of those who are far from home keeping us safe, and also think of their loved ones. From the minutemen at Lexington and Concord right up to our present-day service members on the front lines of freedom all around the world, America must always honor those who have given so much to make this the greatest nation in the world. We thank you for your service.
Did You Know?
May 25 marks the birthday of the Illinois State Museum and the institution that later developed into the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Legislation creating the Illinois State Historical Library and the Museum of Natural History was enacted on May 25, 1877, when legislators recognized the need for an agency to better protect the state's historical artifacts. Both were originally located in the brand new Capitol building, but have since moved to their own state-of-the-art facilities.