SPRINGFIELD, IL – Illinois lawmakers returned to the state Capitol to a series of budget-related hearings as leaders begin debate about how to fix the $6.3 billion budget shortfall for Fiscal Year 2016.
The same week of the April 15 deadline for filing taxes, Illinoisans learned that they live in the worst state in the nation to be a taxpayer.
Also during the week, Gov. Bruce Rauner continued the state’s response to the April 9 tornadoes that ravaged three northern Illinois counties. State agencies are continuing to respond on the ground, and on April 14, the Governor’s office issued an order that allows residents and businesses affected by the storms until October 31 to file their taxes.
Senator Barickman welcomes dozens of students to take part in mock legislative hearing at the Capitol
State Senator Jason Barickman(R-Bloomington) welcomed more than 40 Illinois high school students to the Capitol April 15 to act as legislators, staffers, governor, lobbyists, concerned citizens, and reporters during a mock Senate committee hearing.
“Our hope is to engage these bright young students in the process by letting them actually take part in a simulation of the very process that passes laws in Illinois,” said Sen. Barickman. “I was amazed at how enthusiastic the students were in playing their roles, whether they were lobbying to get their bill passed, or acting as a reporter and asking tough questions about the legislation.”
Sen. Barickman’s Youth Advisory Day simulated an Education Committee meeting, which focused on legislation that was proposed by the students at the fall Youth Advisory Day in Bloomington.
Before the committee hearing, students were taken on a tour of the Capitol, which included spending time on the Senate floor, as well as meeting several lawmakers, lobbyists, staff members, and Gov. Bruce Rauner.
“It was exciting to see the inner workings of Springfield, it was enlightening to see how much our local legislators do influence our daily lives, it was really insightful,” said Eureka High School student Christian Engel. “I’d always grown up thinking lawmakers don’t really work well with others, but we saw with Senator Barickman, how he was always thinking about he could cooperate with other people and what thing he could do to collaborate with others. It was really nice to see that, it was really encouraging.”
“We got to meet a lot of really cool people, a lot of really important people, and we got to hear a lot about the legislative process. We got to simulate it ourselves, and there was a lot of really good debate,” said Normal Community West student Emily Schroeder. “Just overall, a really good insight into the process. If I could, I would definitely come back next year, it was very cool.”
Appropriations Hearings Scheduled Around Illinois
A series of appropriations committee hearings were held in Champaign, Springfield, and Edwardsville this week. Each of the marathon hearings dealt with the current and proposed fiscal adjustments intended to bring Illinois’ budget back from the abyss.
After 12 long years of fiscal malpractice by former Governors Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn and Democrat supermajorities in the General Assembly, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are now working to establish spending priorities and balance the state budget. Since taking office in January, Governor Bruce Rauner has worked with both Republican and Democrat lawmakers to tackle the state’s serious financial problems.
While a legislative fix to balance the current state budget and keep government operations running was recently signed into law, passage of that measure was just the beginning of the difficult budget decisions legislators will be required to make in the coming months. On April 14, the Director of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget told lawmakers that an additional $100 million in statutory fiscal reductions may be needed.
Republican Senators acknowledged that the magnitude of the state’s fiscal problems make difficult spending reductions necessary. Senate GOP legislators underscored the need to first identify ways to reduce inefficiencies and redundancies in state government, pointing out there are often six, eight, or even a dozen different state agencies or grant programs dealing with the same issue.
For the second straight week, Senators Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) and Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) asked university leaders and agency grant recipients about Illinois’ severely lopsided workers’ compensation and unemployment costs, which negatively impact their “bottom lines.” It’s estimated that much-needed reforms to workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance would result in significant rate reductions; the State of Illinois would save millions in reductions to associated employee costs.
Land of Lincoln’s Taxation Blues
Online financial tool WalletHub produced another scathing review of Illinois residents’ tax burdens, following last week’s study showing our property tax bill as being the second highest in the nation. Their newest study shows that Illinois ranks dead last - 51st among states for our combined state and local tax rates.
The study shows the average Illinoisan will pay an estimated $7,719 in state and local taxes just for the privilege of living in Illinois. This adds up to 2.5 times more than the most tax-friendly states. Sadly, WalletHub also found that Illinois residents don’t get much bang for their buck—the state ranks 41st for return on taxpayers’ investment.
Renegade, Fraudulent Truckers Face Log Book Crackdown
In an effort to combat fraudulent trucking log books, State Sen. Chris Nybo (R-Elmhurst) passed Senate Bill 1582 to increase the penalties for violations on motor carriers who “cook the books.” Fraudulent log books can easily become an issue when an overtired trucker exceeds legal limits on driving hours—distracted driving or falling asleep at the wheel has caused accidents resulting in bodily harm and death.
For those who violate motor carrier drivers’ hours-of-service regulations, Nybo’s bill would increase the current Class 4 felony to a Class 3 felony, which requires tougher sentencing requirements. Senate Bill 1582 is now awaiting action by the House of Representatives.
Anderson passes first bill
Freshman State Sen. Neil Anderson (R-Moline) celebrated his 33rd birthday during the week by passing his first piece of legislation, which aims to make life a little easier for veterans coming back home.
Senate Bill 1603 would allow returning combat veterans to have their Illinois license plate fees waived for one year following their return from service. The legislation follows a long line of bills to help make adjusting to civilian life slightly easier for Illinois-based service personnel.
Anderson’s bill now awaits action by the House of Representatives.