Flooding emergency; helping family farms

Flood disaster declared in eastern 106th district
Late last week Governor Rauner declared areas in the eastern part of the 106th district to be disaster areas due to the heavy flooding on local rivers. The declaration covered Vermilion and Iroquois counties in the 106th, as well as Kankakee County. Governor Rauner came to Watseka on Thursday night to see the damage first hand, and together we toured some of the hardest hit areas and met with those who have been forced out of their homes by the floodwaters. My thanks to Watseka Mayor John Allhands for showing us around the community.

The state disaster declaration makes more state resources available for local governments to use in holding back the floodwaters and later on in the cleanup stage. The Illinois Emergency Management Agency has activated the State Emergency Operations Center to coordinate the state response to the flooding in our area as well as in different parts of the state that have been affected. Some of these state resources that are being used in flooded areas of the state include pumps from the Department of Transportation, sandbagging crews from the Department of Corrections and rescue boats from the Department of Natural Resources.

In Vermilion County, those in need of assistance can contact the Vermilion County Emergency Management Agency at (217) 443-6010 or the American Red Cross at (217) 431-5600. In Iroquois County, contact the Iroquois County Emergency Services and Disaster Agency at (815) 432-6997 or the Iroquois County Red Cross at (815) 432-4659. A big thank you to the first responders and local volunteers who are working so hard to protect their communities and assist in the recovery.

For more information on recovery from this disaster as well as information about how to prepare for future emergencies of all kinds, please visit www.ready.illinois.gov.

Bill would repeal inheritance tax on family farms
Our area is home to many family farms. In many cases, these farms have been in the same family for several generations. But when a farmer passes away and the family farm is handed off to the next generation, there are often steep taxes at both the state and federal level which can make it hard to keep the farm operating.

State Rep. Avery Bourne has filed HB 4219, legislation which would repeal the state’s share of the estate taxes and inheritance taxes paid by the family-farm portion of an estate bequeathed to a descendant. As the law currently stands, when a farm exceeds a certain size in value, its heirs must pay a sliding-scale tax of between 7.2% and 16% to the Illinois Department of Revenue. This payment comes on top of the 35% tax owed to the federal government.  All these taxes must be paid before the farm can clear probate and be distributed to the descendants.

Rep. Bourne’s legislation calls attention to the fact that farms subjected to this tax are properties that have already paid substantial income and property taxes to both the state and to local governments. Recent studies indicate that family farms are an increasingly endangered species in Illinois. In 2018, less than 1% of all employed Illinoisans are full-time farmers. Due in part to these taxes, more and more Illinois farmland is coming under the ownership of trusts and corporations. This legislation could help to reverse that trend.

How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $8,894,192,103 in unpaid bills to state vendors. 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 estimated to be more than $100 billion.

House acts on hospital assessments, gun legislation
The House took action on two important issues this week. One major piece of legislation which passed on Wednesday was the Hospital Assessment bill package. These were Senate Bills 1573 and 1773. This legislation was the product of a negotiated compromise between both parties in the House and the Senate. This important legislation governs the way in which Illinois hospitals claim a Medicaid match for services they provide. It will bring close to four billion dollars to Illinois hospitals and health care services in the coming years.

The process that brought together many interested parties along with Republicans and Democrats in good faith negotiations is the kind of method we need to see more of as we work in Springfield to solve the state’s problems.

We also saw some gun control legislation brought to the House floor this week. Unfortunately, these bills were not the product of bipartisan negotiations. The recent tragedy in Florida makes it clear that we need action to make schools and other public places safer, to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and dangerous individuals, and to improve the mental health system. I hope we can see legislation in the near future that achieves these goals, while protecting the rights of law-abiding Illinoisans.

More CUB seminars coming up
I have joined with the Citizens Utility Board to host a series of seminars around the 106th district to help local consumers bring down their energy bills. Below is a list of our upcoming events:

Friday March 9 at the Moyer Library at 618 S. Sangamon Avenue in Gibson City

Wednesday March 14 at the Watseka Public Library at 201 S. 4th Street

Friday March 16 at the Pontiac Public Library, located at 211 E. Madison Street

Monday March 19 at the Hoopeston Public Library at 110 N. 4th Street

For more information or to RSVP, contact either of my district offices or visit www.repbennett.com.

All seminars are from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Those interested in attending should bring their utility bills, such as electric, gas and landline phone.

Did You Know?
The Illinois Industrial University held its first classes on March 2, 1868. It was the first institution of higher education in Illinois that was publicly-funded. The school’s curriculum mostly focused on agriculture and a few other vocational programs. In the years since then it has grown and added many new programs and campuses around the state. You probably know the school by its present name: the University of Illinois.