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 delivers his 2020 budget address
On Wednesday we heard Governor Pritzker's 2020 state budget address, the Governor's proposal for next year's state budget. It is important to remember that this speech is just a wish list at the beginning of the process, and it is a process that has many twists and turns. Last year, the final draft - 1500 pages in all - was not presented to us until just a few hours before it was called for a final vote. I hope we do not repeat that mistake again this year.
The Governor's budget increases spending by more than $2 billion compared to last year. I am concerned that these spending increases will cause us to spend money we don't have and make promises that we cannot keep.
As the national economic boom continues, Illinois has been reaping the benefits: more people are working and paying taxes, and the state is bringing in more revenue from economic growth. This year, if we work together in a bipartisan fashion, we can balance the budget without using accounting gimmicks or raising taxes. We have to resist the temptation to rely on hypothetical revenues instead of realistic projections, and we must not allow irresponsible spending to inflate the budget.
One specific item I was happy to hear was the Governor's request for increased funding for the Department of Children and Family Services to protect abused children. But money alone is not going to be enough to address the well-publicized shortcomings at DCFS which we have heard about in the past few years.
This year, we shouldn't wait until the closing hours of session to produce a massive budget bill. We should work together through the spring to come up with a balanced budget with no tax increases. If both sides are committed, we can get it done.
Bill would repeal the new â€˜trailer tax'
On January 1, the registration fees for trailers in Illinois went up by $100. This higher fee has added a significant burden onto small businesses and local drivers. Accordingly, I have joined with my colleague Rep. Avery Bourne and more than 20 other legislators from both parties in sponsoring House Bill 3851 which would repeal the increase. The bill is currently in the House Revenue and Finance Committee where it is awaiting a hearing.
FOID card fees â€˜lockbox amendment' proposed
A few years ago, the General Assembly and the public amended the state Constitution to create a "lockbox" for transportation funding. The state Constitution now prohibits money collected for transportation from being swept away for other purposes. I co-sponsored this amendment, and I am glad that it has helped make sure that the money raised for our new transportation infrastructure improvement plan has actually been spent on transportation.
This year, I have joined with several downstate legislators to propose a similar Constitutional amendment to protect the fees and other funds collected for processing Firearm Owners' Identification (FOID) cards. We learned a few months ago that millions of dollars were swept away from these funds to be spent on other projects, something which contributed to the long delays many applicants are now facing in when applying for or renewing a FOID card. House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendments 39 and 40 would prohibit this kind of funds sweep from happening in the future. Both amendments are in the House Rules Committee awaiting action.
How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $7,328,170,996 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $8.4 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.
School construction task force meets
I am glad to be a member of the state's School Construction Task Force, which has been meeting since the fall. We met again last week to continue the discussion on how to proceed with providing funds for past, current and future construction needs. The capital infrastructure plan we passed into law last year contained additional funds for school construction, including money for some school districts who have been waiting years to get their projects underway. We have some significant challenges ahead, but we are making progress. Our final report is due in a few weeks.
Grain Bin Safety Week
This week we marked Grain Bin Safety Week in Illinois, with the Illinois Department of Agriculture using the occasion to remind farm workers to exercise property safety techniques in and around grain bins. Crop conditions this year are reminiscent of 2009, when a wet season for grain storage created dangerous conditions around grain bins. According to a national study by Purdue University, there were 59 entrapments and 26 deaths that season. IDOA reminds farmers to never go into a grain bin or storage facility alone and to turn off and secure all unloading equipment before going into a grain bin.
More information is available from the Grain Handling and Safety Council at www.grainsafety.org.
Did You Know?
Springfield became Illinois' state capital city on February 24, 1837, when the General Assembly voted to move the capital from Vandalia. State Rep. Abraham Lincoln and eight other legislators from the Springfield area successfully pushed for the re-location. Because all nine were men of exceptional height, they went down in history as the "Long Nine."