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.
USDA reports improvement in crop conditions
Earlier this year we were all very concerned about the extremely wet spring and the potential damage to the 2019 planting season in our area. We are still feeling those effects, but a recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests that conditions have improved over the late summer and early fall.
Corn and bean fields showed signs of improvement, with almost three quarters of the fields considered to be in "fair" or "good" condition according to USDA's weekly crop survey. However, the rough spring is still holding back harvesting, as only 13% of Illinois corn was harvested by the end of last week. That is far below the average of 46% over the last five years. Soybeans were 11% harvested, compared with a five-year average of 40%. Still, as I have traveled around the district this week I have been encouraged by all the harvesting activity I have seen in the fields. As the harvest continues, the important question we will be eager to have answered will concern the size of the yield from this year's growing season.
Donating the latest pay raise
Members of the House and Senate were given a pay raise this year, in spite of my efforts to prevent it. My legislation which would have cancelled the pay raise was not called for a vote, and so the raise went into effect. I do not believe that the performance of the legislature this year was in any way deserving of a raise, and so I have determined to donate my raise each month to a deserving group here in the 106th district.
This month, I donated my raise to the Mustard Seed Christian Daycare and pre-school in Rossville. They are a non-profit group which runs day care and early education programs for children as young as six weeks old, all the way up to 12 years of age. I was joined by board members Cindy Sellers-Evans, Cathy Douglass, Rose Holycross, Janice Ray and Sandy Morris for the presentation. A big thank you to them and the entire staff for the important work that they do.
High property and sales taxes drive Illinois to #50 in tax-friendly states rankings
Illinois has been ranked as the least tax-friendly state in the entire nation according to a recent study by Kiplinger magazine. The magazine cited our property taxes, which are the second highest in the nation. Kiplinger found that it is routine for homeowners to pay over 2% of their home's market value in taxes every year.
Kiplinger also cited Illinois' comparatively poor economy as a deciding factor in ranking us #50. A recent ranking of states' fiscal health by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University put Illinois in last place for overall fiscal health. Ironically, our state income tax of 4.95% is not among the highest in the nation, but any benefits that come from that standing are eliminated by the high property taxes as well as high sales taxes.
The state has a sales tax of 6.25%, with a portion of that going to the local governments where it is collected. But many local taxing bodies add on additional levies which drive the overall sales tax amount upward. For example, someone buying a taxable product in Chicago will pay the state sales tax, but also a tax to the Regional Transportation Authority, Cook County and the city of Chicago, adding up to more than a 10% sales tax burden, which is one of the highest in the country.
I continue to work as a member of the Property Tax Relief Task Force to find ways to reduce the property tax burden on Illinois residents. The task force will be presenting its initial report in a few weeks.
CDC issues vape warning for Illinois
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been closely monitoring the outbreak of vaping-related respiratory illnesses, and has issued a warning about e-cigarettes and vaping in Illinois and Wisconsin. This week, the Illinois-based pharmacy chain Walgreens announced it was joining the list of retailers which would no longer sell e-cigarette products.
The warning comes after CDC investigators interviewed 86 patients in the two states and found that more than 70 had used THC-loaded e-cigarette cartridges, many sold under the name "Dank Vapes." Law enforcement agencies are still trying to determine the origin of the cartridges and what cutting agents or adulterants have been added to them. While the investigation is ongoing, CDC is recommending that people, "consider refraining from using e-cigarette or vaping products," and they especially stress that recommendation for cartridges which contain THC chemicals.
Good news for University of Illinois engineering school
Foxconn Interconnect Technology, a division of Foxconn, has announced an investment which will finish off the financing needed in order to construct a $100 million artificial-intelligence lab on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The new AI lab will be connected to the Grainger College of Engineering on the Urbana campus. The university's new Center for Networked Intelligence Components and Environments will allow researchers to take on a wide variety of significant challenges, ranging from nanotechnology production processes to robotics to fuzzy-logic data processing.
Grainger is the sixth-ranked engineering school in the nation, in league with schools like Stanford and MIT. It was this prestigious ranking which helped encourage Foxconn to make their investment, in partnership with the new Discovery Partners Institute, a high-tech university affiliate announced just a few years ago. Foxconn is a Taiwan-based global technology firm which has been making significant investments in the Midwestern United States in recent years, including a large facility just over the border in Wisconsin.
Speaking in Eureka and Ashkum
I was glad to have the opportunity to deliver a Springfield update to the Rotary Club in Eureka and the Lions Club in Ashkum recently. There was a lot to talk about: both from a very busy spring session and also with the fall "veto" session coming up at the end of October. I very much appreciate the conversations and the questions when I report to our local civic clubs and groups of local residents about the latest developments in state government.
How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $6,273,622,943 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $7.1 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.
Did You Know?
Public cellular telephone service was first introduced in Illinois. The Illinois-based company Ameritech launched cell phone service on October 13, 1983, in Chicago. Cell phones have dramatically evolved since then from the bulky, brick-sized phones of that era to the smartphones and other devices nearly all of us easily carry around every day.