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.
Improving national economy leads to more state revenue
The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) released its report for the final month of 2019 last week, and it found that the strong national economy and its resulting job-creation trend had a positive effect on revenue for the state of Illinois. In December, personal income tax payments to the Illinois Department of Revenue increased by 11%, and receipts from the corporate income tax were up by 6%. Money collected from the sales tax went up by 4% as well, indicating a strong Christmas shopping season.
We also got a reassuring note from COGFA, which is the General Assembly's fiscal watchdog and forecasting agency. COGFA reports that the state budget remained in balance for the first half of the year and further projected that the economic conditions look favorable for it to continue to be balanced through the end of the fiscal year on June 30. Of course, we must take all future projections with a grain of salt and continue to look for efficiencies and be on guard against wasteful spending.
Keeping the heat on the property tax task force
Last week I told you about the disappointing failure of the Property Tax Relief Task Force to work in a truly bipartisan, transparent manner and produce recommendations for relieving the property tax burden on Illinoisans. This week I joined with some of my Republican colleagues at a Springfield press conference to continue calling attention to the issue, which remains one of the most significant issues we need to address.
The commission met only a few times and then released a draft report at the last minute which ignored many suggestions and ideas for ways to help Illinois taxpayers. This week we called on the House leadership to get serious about this issue and show some willingness to truly work together to implement substantive property tax reforms. This failed task force was at least the ninth such effort dating back to 1982. High property taxes are going to remain a critical issue of importance to Illinoisans as we go into 2020. We stand ready to work for real reforms and relief for Illinois families.
How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $6,706,305,299 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $8.3 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.
Discussing land banks
I was glad to have several of our local county treasurers join us in Springfield last Friday to meet with the Illinois Housing Development Authority for a discussion about land banks. These lenders can help with local economic development and can get more properties on the tax rolls, which in turn helps our local governments. It was a good discussion and one which has the potential to provide some valuable assistance to communities in our area.
Illinois Conservation Foundation now accepting scholarship applications
Students throughout Illinois are now able to apply for a college scholarship from the Illinois Conservation Foundation. The annual Conservation Achievement Scholarship is awarded each year, "to encourage the next generation of leaders to preserve and enhance a sustainable outdoor environment."
The foundation awards three scholarships of $2000 to college-bound Illinois high school seniors who have demonstrated their commitment to preserving and promoting Illinois' natural resources. The deadline to apply is March 1. More information is available at https://ilconservation.org/.
Small equipment grant for fire departments now available
Illinois fire departments and fire protection districts are eligible to apply for the Office of the State Fire Marshal's Small Equipment Grant program through February 29. Certain not-for-profit ambulance services are also eligible for grants through this program, which has a total of $3.5 million available to be awarded this application cycle.
More information on this program and how to apply is available from the Office of the State Fire Marshal, or by calling (217) 785-0969.
House of Representatives reconvenes January 28
The House will be back in Springfield to kick off the spring session on January 28, and we will hear Governor Pritzker's annual State of the State address the next day. I am eager to hear the Governor's proposals for the many challenges facing state government this year, including our pension crisis, high property taxes and our poor job-creation climate compared to our neighboring states.
Once we get started, the House will be in session during 14 of the following 18 weeks, with the scheduled adjournment set for May 31. It looks to be another busy session at the Capitol this year.
Did You Know?
Illinois' state mineral is fluorite. The material which is used to make steel, aluminum, glass and a long list of chemicals is mined here in Illinois. In fact, Illinois is the nation's leading producer of fluorite. Fluorite was named the state mineral in 1965.