As the General Assembly enters what should be its final week of the spring legislative session, majority Democrats appeared to be in disarray and disagreement over the fate of the state’s 2011 “temporary” tax hike.
After the Governor called for a permanent extension of the tax hike in his annual budget address and the House Speaker and Senate President immediately endorsed the extension, most observers assumed that the permanent extension would be a foregone conclusion in the Democrat-controlled Legislature.
The administration and majority Democrat leaders also orchestrated a series of budget hearings to portray doomsday scenarios that would occur if they kept their promise to allow a major portion of the tax hike to expire.
A series of budget bills that endorse and spend the revenues from the tax hike cleared the House, but were put on hold. The House Speaker has said he does not have enough votes to pass the tax hike extension, even though a majority of House Democrats voted to spend the money from the tax hike.
Republicans, who unanimously opposed the 67% tax hike and its extension, remained skeptical that majority Democrats would leave Springfield without the tax increase.
Throughout the spring legislative session, Republican lawmakers have argued that the drastic cuts outlined by the Governor and his allies exaggerate the impact of allowing the tax hike to expire. They point to new and expanded spending that the Governor inserted in his budget, and say that with state revenues coming in higher than originally projected a budget could be crafted that allows the tax hike roll back in January.
Call for basic school funding reform
The best way to help all Illinois schools is to fully fund the state’s “Foundation Level” education grant say Senator Dale Righter of Mattoon, Senator Jason Barickman of Bloomington, and Senator Chapin Rose of Mahomet, who have introduced legislation to re-establish the Foundation Level as the number one funding priority in Illinois’ education system.
Senate Bill 3664 requires the Foundation Level grant within the state’s General State Aid formula be funded at 100 percent before directing education dollars to any other grant lines or programs. The lawmakers say this would be a simple, common sense approach that could be implemented in this year’s budget.
When the current debate over the allocation of school funding got its start with the March 2013 report “School Funding in Illinois: An Examination,” the top problem identified was the steady erosion of the Foundation Level, as more and more funds were diverted to special programs that aid specific school districts at the expense of overall state funding.
The school aid formula was originally designed to ensure that every school district in the state is provided with a base level of funding per student. The current formula takes into account local property wealth, so that communities with fewer local resources receive more state aid.
However, as the legislature expanded other programs without restraint, cannibalizing funding from the Foundation Level portion of the formula, school districts have had their Foundation Level grants “prorated.” The result is greater inequity and fewer resources.
‘Cupcake Girl’ getting burned?
What began as an effort to stop overly-zealous local authorities from shutting down the homemade cupcake business of 12-year-old Chloe Stirling of downstate Troy, may be turning into a new nightmare of regulations and rules, a group of Republican lawmakers say.
When House Bill 5354 was approved by the House it would have allowed smaller bake sales or lemonade stands to operate without burdensome rules, provided customers were made aware of the homemade nature of the items. However, as the measure worked its way through the committee hearing process in the Senate, it was loaded down with additional rules and regulations.
Now, Senator Kyle McCarter of Lebanon, Senator Dave Syverson of Rockford, and I say it’s time to restore the measure to its original intent – that of reducing, rather than increasing, regulation.
Who hasn’t bought a cup of lemonade from a child in the neighborhood or purchased some cookies from a local bake sale? I understand the desire to inform potential customers that the goods were baked in a private home, and to disclose the ingredients to avoid allergies. But not surprisingly, this childhood tradition is being “Illinois-ized” – loaded down with ‘red tape,’ fees and regulations that undermine any initiative or entrepreneurial spirit.
Back to the future with the ERA
In a diversion from the tax hike debate, some lawmakers sought to turn back the clock and resurrect a 40-year-old debate over the long-dormant ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
The measure, Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 75, was seen by many as a hollow gesture given that the deadline for ratification of the ERA expired in 1982. It was approved May 22 and its fate will now be decided by the House.
Several women legislators rose during debate to say they saw this as an attempt by Governor Pat Quinn to distract women from the Governor’s mismanagement of the state and its economy.
They pointed out that since Democrats took control of Illinois government in 2003, state debt has increased from $55 billion to $130 billion, meaning that a baby girl born in Illinois today is immediately responsible for $10,000 in State of Illinois debt. They also noted that in 2013, Illinois had the sixth highest unemployment rate in America for women. At 8.2%, unemployment for women was over a full point higher than the national average unemployment rate for women of 7.1%.
Legislation going to Governor
As the Legislature counted down to its scheduled adjournment on May 31, dozens of measures were receiving final approval and were set to go to the Governor for his review. A running list of bills passed by the legislature is maintained on the Senate Action page of the Senate Republican Web site.