Clock ticking on serious budget deal, Pontiac students’ legislation passes
As always, you can contact me via webform at www.repbennett.com. While there, I hope you will take a moment to take my short survey on issues affecting the state.
Time running out on chance of Constitutional, balanced budget
The cautious optimism of earlier this month; when bipartisan working groups were said to be hammering out a budget deal; began to fade last week as Democrat leadership in the House rejected their proposal as “insufficient.” This week, Democrats advanced a wildly-unbalanced, unconstitutional budget that increased spending to more than $40 billion (about $7 billion more than the available revenue). We would have to raise taxes by around 47% to close that gap.
This amounts to more of the games that Democrats in the House have been playing since last spring. This situation is unacceptable: we haven’t had a budget in nearly a year, and now all the House has done is pass a budget that violates the Constitution’s balanced-budget requirement and explodes our already out-of-control deficit. It moves us no closer to ending the budget standoff.
Instead of continuing these games, we need to get a balanced budget in place, with the kind of structural reforms that will allow the state to grow again. The simple truth is that we need reform in order to grow jobs and have more people working and paying taxes. The more people working and paying taxes, the less taxes we need to have in order to fund state government.
As of this writing on Friday morning, there is still time to work together and pass a real budget; if the Democrats who run the House will permit it. I hope they will do so soon and take into consideration the negotiations that have been ongoing as we work toward a compromise and a real, balanced budget.
Legislation for Pontiac students passes House
On Tuesday I was honored to be joined in the House Chamber by Paul Ritter and his students in the Environmental Science class from Pontiac Township High School. They had presented to me the idea for a resolution creating Recycle Thin Film Day, an effort to reclaim used thin-film plastic bags and encourage consumers to use reusable bags. As the resolution states, “a unified and coordinated education, advocacy, and recycling program of this nature will reflect a meaningful and positive step forward towards reducing litter and plastic bag waste.”
After unanimous passage in committee last month, the resolution, HR 1139, was adopted by voice vote on the House floor on Tuesday. I want to thank the students from Pontiac for their hard work, and to congratulate them on this achievement.
Tax-hike advocates look at penalty on sugary beverages
The proposed new Illinois tax, which would be levied on a per-ounce basis, would be levied on sodas, energy drinks, and sweetened beverages. Syrups and powders used to make sweetened beverages would be taxed in line with the volume of beverage created by following the preparation recipe. Advocates say the new levy would not only raise needed revenue but would also improve the health of Illinoisans by discouraging the consumption of what are allegedly “junk beverages.”
The proposed tax could raise the price of a typical sweetened beverage, such as canned or bottled soda, by approximately 50%. A tax enacted at this rate could bring in as much as $375 million to $600 million/year. Advocates say the increasing problem of obesity among Americans needs action. In Illinois, 28% of all adults and 20% of all children are classified as obese under criteria published by the federal Centers for Disease Control. Four states (Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia) have enacted taxes on the distribution of sweetened beverages.
Jobless rate increased again in April
The Illinois Department of Employment Security reported that the State’s unemployment rate had risen slightly in April, from 6.5% to 6.6%. With continued recession-level joblessness in Illinois, the state continues to support fewer jobs than the number of people who were working here more than 15 years ago in September 2000. Furthermore, Illinois unemployment numbers have increased 0.7% over the most recently-measured six-month period.
Illinois added a net of 5,400 new jobs to its paycheck workforce in April. Continued strength in professional and business services (up 7,600 jobs in April) was held back by net weakness in other sectors of the economy, including construction, financial activities, and other services. Illinois is one of only three states that have not regained the employment levels enjoyed during the 2000s.
So what do all these deadlines mean?
Throughout the spring, I have told you about bills, resolutions and amendments to the state Constitution. Each of these have different schedules and deadlines for proceeding through the General Assembly, and keeping them all straight can be a little confusing.
As of this week, there had been just over 10,000 bills introduced, as well as more than 3000 resolutions and 91 proposed Constitutional amendments. In order to bring some order to the process and to keep bills moving throughout the year, the House sets a series of deadlines for each step of the process. Any bill which does not meet the deadlines is automatically returned to the Rules Committee, where it will likely stay for the duration of the General Assembly.
A House bill had to be introduced by February 11 in order to be considered this year. It had to have passed a committee by April 8, and the full House by April 22. When Senate bills began arriving in the House, they faced a May 13 deadline for committee action, and Friday was the deadline for action by the full House. Constitutional amendments face a different deadline, as the Constitution requires all amendments to clear both the House and Senate six months before they are submitted to voters at the November election; meaning that those had to be voted on in both chambers by May 8.
Now we are up against the biggest deadline of them all: the May 31 adjournment deadline. After that date, the task of passing a bill gets much more difficult, as legislation must receive a 3/5 vote to pass (71 votes in the House instead of the 60 it would need before May 31). It is because of that deadline that we see such a crush of legislation in the final days of session, as dozens of bills come before us for a vote.
Passing a budget becomes harder after May 31, as it, too, requires more votes in both chambers. That is why I and so many of my colleagues were so outspoken back in March when the House took an ill-advised month-long recess. It is also why I have been so disappointed at all the time that has been wasted on sham budget votes, false promises, and unconstitutional budgets like the one passed Wednesday, instead of serious work on a budget. Time is running out, but an agreement is still possible if all sides are willing to get serious.