This week I wish I could report to you that the Illinois General Assembly passed a long-term solution to the state budget crisis. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Instead of fixing the problem, the House voted to pass another stopgap spending plan House Bill 109 – one that funds some of higher education and social services but effectively kicks the budget can down the road for six more months.
This legislation was passed by the House and is headed to the Senate which will most likely vote on the bill later this month. To be clear, this bill does nothing to address any of the problems Illinois is facing other than education and social services – and even those are being addressed inadequately. The Governor called the stopgap spending plan a “failure.” He shares the same opinion as many of us in the legislature who want a balanced budget that actually ensures, as he says, “the problem (can be) fixed.”
Though I was disappointed to see the passage of yet another “duct tape fix,” as the Governor refers to the stopgap measure, there was some positive legislation that came out of Springfield this week. Earlier this year I introduced HB 465, a bill that would amend the municipal code to extend Pearl City’s tax increment financing (TIF) district which is set to expire. I am pleased to announce that the bill passed the House and will be presented to the Senate by Senator Bivins.
Another bill that received a lot of attention this week was HB 496. This bill, which passed the House almost unanimously, would allow voters the right to dissolve a township by referendum. The township and municipality must be coterminous (or mostly coterminous) for this to happen, and the township trustees or 10% of registered voters in the township must initiate the referendum.
I received some calls this week that involved some misunderstanding surrounding the bill. To clarify, there is no automatic consolidation attached to this bill. The bill merely gives citizens the right to choose whether or not they wish to operate a Township if their municipality could provide the same services.
It's not every day that you see a bill of such magnitude passing the Illinois House with only two objections, but this bill was seen as an obvious choice for many in the General Assembly. Illinois has more units of government – almost 7,000 – than any other state. According to the Illinois Policy Institute, these units of government create a cumbersome bureaucracy that drives up property taxes statewide.
By contrast, Florida (which has a higher population than Illinois) has roughly one quarter the units of government compared to Illinois. It is also little coincidence that Illinois – the state that has more units of government than any other state – has been found to have the highest overall tax burden of any state.
Each year WalletHub conducts a state by state study of effective tax rates. Their findings include all state and local taxes and rank each state by taxpayer-friendliness. According to the study, Alaska is the most taxpayer-friendly state with an overall effective tax rate of 5.64%. Illinois finished dead last – ranking 51st, with our overall effective tax rate estimated to be 14.76%.
After seeing this, it should come as no surprise that our state is losing population to our neighbors. We must address this growing problem, and I believe that this week we took a small step towards doing just that. Now it’s time for the Senate to pass this bill so Illinoisans can decide for themselves.
Though I am encouraged about some small victories this week, I find myself repeating the same refrain I have been singing since I first was elected to the Illinois House – we need a balanced budget! Then – and only then – can we become successful in bringing our state back and making Illinois a better place for all of us.
This week, the House made a mistake in not working on a long-term solution to the budget, but we also took a positive step on the journey of reforming Illinois. I am proud to see that there was bipartisan support – almost unanimous support – behind a commonsense reform bill this week. But we still have a long way to go. As someone once said, “To get through the hardest journey, we need take only one step at a time… but we must keep on stepping.”
As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815-232-0774 or e-mail us at email@example.com. You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or on Facebook.