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.
Governor Pritzker offers State of the State Address
On Wednesday Governor Pritzker offered his vision for the state as we enter the new spring session. There were some items I was pleased to hear, and others I would have liked to have heard more about.
After several months in which corruption in state government was back in the headlines again and again, Governor Pritzker expressed his support for three ethics reforms bills proposed by Republicans. This is the kind of bipartisan commitment to reform that we need to clean up Springfield. With the Governor's support, it now remains to be seen if Speaker Madigan will finally allow these bills to move forward.
One issue I wish the Governor had talked more about was the need for redistricting reform, also known as "Fair Maps." Every ten years, House and Senate districts are re-drawn to reflect changing population. Currently, legislators are able to draw districts to ensure their re-election. I support a system where an independent commission would draw districts, ensuring that legislators are accountable to the people. This is a long-overdue reform that has support from large majorities of Illinoisans from across the political spectrum. With another round of re-districting coming up in 2021, we need to take action this year. It would also have been nice to have heard something about the Governor's plans for agriculture, as it is the state's number one industry.
I was encouraged by the Governor's comments about the need for property tax reform. Our property taxes are the second highest in the nation, and they are a big factor in our slower job creation and economic growth compared to neighboring states. As I have written before, this is an issue that affects every single Illinoisan and it is an issue that is not going to go away.
It sounds like the Governor wants to work together to address some major issues this spring, but only time will tell if that produces the results we need. I am looking forward to getting the job done.
New legislation this spring will include bills on land banks, carbon sequestration
The House reconvened to start the spring session this week, and members have been busy drafting and filing legislation which will now start working through the legislative process. We have much work to do, including crafting and passing a truly balanced budget. I want to tell you about a couple of the bills I am working on this spring which I believe will help our region and the state as a whole.
The first has to do with land banks, which local governments establish and use to acquire, restore and repurpose vacant properties. These land banks help to get properties back in use and back on the tax rolls, which revitalizes the community and helps the local government. Michigan and Ohio have both successfully implemented a program like this and I believe Illinois can do the same.
Another bill in the works concerns carbon sequestration, the process of injecting carbon dioxide into geologic storage deep underground to dissolve, thus preventing it from reaching the atmosphere and contributing to global warming. The federal government has begun providing tax credits to entities who operate sequestration projects. Illinois is a prime location for these types of projects because most of the state sits above porous underground sandstone formations which are themselves topped by a layer of shale, creating a favorable environment for safely sequestering these gases more than a mile underground. Legislation I am planning to introduce will set up a regulatory process in Illinois to protect landowners and help smaller companies who have been issued permits by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $6,176,032,500 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $7.2 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.
Speaking at 8th grade career day
Every time I speak to a group of students I am encouraged about the future of our state and our nation. Our democracy can only endure if the younger generation takes an interest in the issues and the responsibilities that come with public service. That's why I was so glad to speak at the 8th grade Career Conference last week in Champaign. This conference gave 8th graders from around our region a chance to learn more about different kinds of jobs and the skills needed, as well as a chance to ask questions.
It was a great program, and my thanks go to Nick Elder for the invitation to talk about what a state legislator does. I enjoyed presenting with Phillip Edwards, Matt Kopmann, Nathan Stevens and Preston James. As always, the students had great questions, and I really enjoyed helping them think more about their future and the future of our communities.
Figures in from deer season
The Department of Natural Resources has reported that Illinois deer hunters harvested 153,048 deer over the archery and firearm seasons this year, up from 151,709 last year. In our region, hunters took 1510 deer in Vermilion County, 1379 in Woodford, 973 in Iroquois, 670 in Livingston and 175 in Ford County, roughly in line with the figures from last year.
Deer season in Illinois began with the opening of archery season on October 1, and ended with the conclusion of the late-winter season on January 19.
Did You Know?
President Ronald Reagan's birthday is coming up on February 6. Reagan was the only President born in Illinois, and the only one to earn a college degree here. He graduated from Eureka College in 1932 with a degree in economics and sociology. Today the school honors him with its Ronald W. Reagan Leadership Program, the Reagan Museum, and the Reagan Peace Garden, which contains a section of the Berlin Wall.