As always, you can contact me via webform 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.
Restoring a pathway for paraprofessional educators
Back in the spring the General Assembly passed legislation which eliminated a basic skills test for educators. The bill was passed in part due to concerns about our teacher shortage in Illinois. It was thought that by eliminating this basic skills test we could take away an extra step in the teacher licensing process: a step which some felt duplicated testing which prospective teachers already completed when they obtained their degree. But now that it has become law we have discovered an unintended consequence which is making it much harder for paraprofessional educators in Illinois to obtain their licenses.
Paraprofessional educators are individuals who work in our schools helping teachers with tasks like tutoring or assisting in the classroom. For these educators, passing the basic skills test was an alternative route toward obtaining their licenses. When the General Assembly eliminated the test, it also closed off a pathway for these important members of the education community to be able to get the licenses they need to do their work.
When the legislature re-convenes for the fall session next month, correcting this flaw in the new law will be high on our agenda. Fortunately, the change does not affect those paraprofessionals who already have their licenses: only new applicants who need to take the test in order to complete the licensing process. I hope we can quickly correct this mistake and restore this pathway to licensure for those who do so much to help our local schools.
Doing away with the car trade-in tax
One of the many changes to Illinois tax law that was part of the budget agreement reached back in the spring was the addition of a $10,000 cap on trade-in tax credits for motor vehicles as of January 1. In the past, a person who traded in an old car when they bought a new one would pay sales tax only on the difference between the value of the two cars, regardless of its amount. The Daily Herald newspaper did an analysis which determined that if a trade-in was worth $20,000, the buyer would get hit with another $625 in sales taxes under the new law. I am sponsoring legislation to do away with this cap.
Last week, I introduced House Bill 3890 which would remove this cap and restore the old system. It would make clear that the term "selling price" in the law does not include the value of an older car being traded in while purchasing a new car. If enacted, this legislation would reduce the sales tax burden on Illinoisans when it comes time to buy a new car.
How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $6,483,607,527 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $7.3 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 approximately $133 billion.
Donating September's pay raise
I was proud to donate my legislative pay raise to the Summer in the Park program in Iroquois County this month. For over 25 years, this organization has helped provide activities for more than 120 elementary school and junior high students during the months of summer vacation â€“ free of charge. The group does their work with about a dozen staff members. My thanks to Deanna McIntyre and all those who work so hard to give our local students some positive activities during their time off from school.
Unemployment rate drops to 4.0%
Illinois' unemployment rate continues its decline, falling to a flat 4.0% in August according to numbers just released from the Illinois Department of Employment Security. Compared to this time last year, Illinois has 65,000 more non-farm payroll jobs, and sectors of the economy like educational and health services (+17,900 compared to last year) and leisure and hospitality (+14,300) are the fastest growing in Illinois.
We still trail behind the improving national economy, which posted an August unemployment rate of 3.7%.
Visit to Pontiac Junior High
Every time I visit a school in our district and talk with the students I come away feeling very optimistic about our region's future. Senator Barickman and I had that opportunity again a few days ago when we visited the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) program at Pontiac Junior High. Brian Dukes and Brian Hensley have got a great program there and I enjoyed talking with teacher Tina Mueller and several of the students about the exciting things they have going on.
Did You Know?
September 27 is the anniversary of the completion of the Illinois Central Railroad back in 1856. The line connected Cairo with Galena, while a branch ran from Centralia to Chicago with many stops in between, including through our district. When it was done, the two rail lines were more than 700 miles long. The railroad helped spur the growth of Illinois' population and its economy.