As always, you can reach me through the contact form at repbennett.com, or by phone at (815) 432-0106 (Watseka) or (815) 844-9179 (Pontiac). Thank you for the honor of serving as our district's representative in Springfield.
A disappointing end for the property tax relief task force
Six months ago I was appointed to a new Property Tax Relief Task Force to study the state's property tax system and look for ways to provide relief to Illinois taxpayers. Illinois' property taxes are the second highest in the nation. The full task force met three times, and members brought forward proposals which were further studied by subcommittees. We were given a December 31 deadline to finish our work and report our recommendations.
Unfortunately, most of the dozens of suggested reforms from the Republican members of the task force were left out of the draft of the task force report, including proposals to reduce the property tax burden on senior citizen homeowners and the burden of state mandates. Meanwhile, recommendations and proposals which were never discussed by the full task force were included in the draft report. The task force failed to meet its October 31 deadline for an initial report, and a draft of the final report was only circulated to members late on December 23, with little opportunity for input or transparency.
The final product did not address the core issues impacting our broken property tax system and it was improperly presented by a few members of the task force without the kind of process and public consideration which an issue of this magnitude deserves. Accordingly, the House Republican members of the task force refused to approve the report, telling the task force's leaders that, "meaningful, substantive property tax relief for beleaguered Illinois homeowners is critical, and the issue deserves serious and meaningful deliberation and reform ideas."
In the past we have seen issues which the General Assembly's leadership does not wish to address get shunted aside into task forces and "blue ribbon commissions," which then predictably fail to produce any kind of solution to the problem they were charged with studying. I am sorry to report that it appears this is what has happened with the property tax relief task force. No reform, no relief. We need to do better on this issue in the new year.
Pension consolidation signed into law
Just before Christmas, Governor Pritzker signed Senate Bill 1300, which consolidates more than 600 downstate police and fire pension funds. This action will reduce the cost of managing these funds and increase the investment returns they can expect. The bill was the product of long hours of negotiations and the compromise which emerged passed both houses by wide, bipartisan margins.
The legislation is expected to produce anywhere from $820 million to $2.5 billion in additional investment returns over the next five years. This means lower contributions from property tax payers. It also shows that we can find ways to come together on the important issue of pension reform, and that we can find a solution without raising taxes or cutting benefits. Pension reform will continue to be an important issue on our agenda in 2020.
How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $6,741,126,803 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $7.4 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 more than $137 billion.
Another pay raise donation
I was proud to donate my most recent legislative pay raise to Shepherd's Closet thrift and consignment store in Gibson City. My thanks to John and Annie Barnett and the volunteers at the store on Sangamon Avenue in Gibson City for all they do for our community.
Last summer I pledged that I would not keep the pay raise which legislators were given, and that I would instead donate it to a local non-profit which helps our neighbors throughout the 106th District. I appreciate the good work that John and Annie and their volunteers do, alongside the efforts of so many others in our communities.
Committee investigates misuse of "seclusion rooms" in schools
On Tuesday I attended a hearing of the Elementary and Secondary Education - School Curriculum and Policies committee to hear an update on our continuing investigation into the troubling reports of Illinois students being mistreated in "seclusion rooms" in schools around the state. A media investigation revealed in November that students were being locked in these rooms for extended periods or were otherwise mistreated. An emergency order is now in place to temporarily ban the use of these rooms while lawmakers work on a long-term legislative remedy.
We heard testimony from social workers who explained the intended uses of these rooms, namely to give students a chance to "cool off" before they come back to a classroom. But we also heard details about restraints and the use of the rooms as punishment for students, and the harm that such misuse can cause. Legislation has already been introduced in the House and Senate to address this issue, and it will be one of our top priorities when the spring session begins in a few weeks.
Speaking with students in Milford
Just before the holiday break I visited with Kathy Brown and Kristi Van Hoveln's 8th grade students at Milford Grade School. We talked a lot about state government, but also about issues like freedom of speech and the 2nd Amendment, budgets and Presidents past and present. They were a great group of students with thoughtful questions.
Did You Know?
The newest member of the U.S. Senate, Kelly Loeffler, might represent Georgia, but she is originally from Illinois. Senator Loeffler was appointed to fill a vacancy from Georgia and was sworn in this week. She grew up in Stanford, Illinois, just west of Bloomington, and is a graduate of the University of Illinois and DePaul University in Chicago. Senator Loeffler was a financial services executive in Atlanta and co-owns the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA.