Governor delivers budget address; students fighting opioid crisis

Governor delivers budget address
Governor J.B. Pritzker spoke to a joint session of the House and Senate on Wednesday to offer his budget proposal for the coming year. The Governor’s speech was upbeat and he indicated that he was looking to bring people together. The Governor talked a lot about compromise. Unfortunately, his administration did not worry about compromise when they pushed the minimum wage through the General Assembly just a few days ago over the objections of those of us who are concerned about its effect on downstate communities, small businesses, seniors and family farms.

I appreciated that he wanted to increase the evidence-based funding for education. Education is key to our future. He also talked about increasing money for pre-K, community colleges and universities. I would like to hear more about how he plans to pay for these ideas.

Some areas of the speech caused me some real concern. One of these was on the subject of pensions. He offered no real new ideas to one of the biggest challenges we face, and one which is growing every day. I also didn’t hear any realistic plan to bring down the $8 billion dollars in unpaid bills that we owe. We need to focus on helping our communities.  The key is to help our economy to grow, to invite people to start businesses in Illinois, to help those businesses to succeed and attract people with strong work skills. We need to encourage businesses that can grow and create more jobs down the road.

I am concerned that the Governor mentioned a number of new taxes including his desire for a graduated income tax which would allow politicians to set different tax rates for different groups of people.

I will continue to fight for fiscal responsibility and good government, and I will continue to look for ways to work with the Governor for the good of our great state.

Pontiac students fighting the opioid crisis
We have seen lots of news coverage about the opioid crisis which has been hitting Illinois and the nation in recent years. This is a problem which we as state policymakers have attempted to tackle, but it is also one which can be fought with education and prevention at the local level. The efforts of a group of students and teachers in Pontiac are a great example.

I was honored to be in Pontiac earlier this month as high school teacher Paul Ritter and his class held a pharmaceutical opioid summit. This program was led by the students. We were joined by Sheriff Tony Childress, Police Chief Jim Woolford and Patrick Doggett from Congressman Adam Kinzinger’s office. The purpose of the summit was for students to come together to take a stand on abuse, misuse and disposal of unwanted or unused medication. It is through education efforts like this one that we can begin to get a handle on this crisis which has affected so many Illinoisans.

How much do we owe? 
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $8,323,840,346 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 approximately $130 billion.

Raising the estate tax exclusion
Illinois is one of about a dozen states which levies an estate or inheritance tax on top of a similar federal tax. Both the state and federal governments set a figure which excludes inheritances smaller than that amount from being subject to the tax. But Illinois’ exclusion figure is much lower than the one used by the federal government. House Republicans have been trying for years to either eliminate this tax or raise its exclusion amount. This year, I am sponsoring a bill which would raise our exclusion amount to the same as the federal level, thus keeping smaller inheritances from being taxed by the state.

House Bill 238 would change state law to require that all inheritances which are excluded from the federal estate tax would also be excluded from state tax. The federal Internal Revenue Code sets an exclusion amount which is adjusted for inflation each year. My legislation would create parity with the federal law so that planners would not have to consider two different sets of tax laws. A good example of a beneficiary of this change is a farmer who might wish to leave the family farm to his or her children in the event of the farmer’s death. If signed into law, this change would take effect on January 1.

Did You Know?
If you had lived in the western part of the current 106th district during the 1920s, you might have had your mail delivered (at least part of the way) by the most famous American of the decade. A year before his solo New York-to-Paris flight, Charles Lindbergh was an airmail pilot flying the St. Louis-to-Chicago route, with stops to drop off mail at cities in between. On at least three occasions Lindbergh crashed his World War I-era biplane in Illinois, but walked away unscathed and still managed to make his delivery.