Legislators returned to Springfield February 4 and 5 primarily to consider a request by Governor Pat Quinn to delay his annual budget address until the week after the March 18 primary election.
It is not unusual for a governor to request that the date be pushed back; however, the circumstances of this year’s five-week delay seem like a political move on the part of the Governor, which allows him to determine his Republican opponent for the November election before detailing his spending plan.
And in a time of fiscal uncertainty, was the money spent convening the General Assembly a responsible use of scarce resources?
My Senate Republican colleagues and I voted against Senate Bill 1227, the legislation that moves the date from February 19 to March 26, but it passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The Governor has promised to lay out a five-year spending plan. I offered a compromise, suggesting that the Governor present the first-year of his five-year spending plan on the originally scheduled date of February 19 then continue with the second through fifth years of his spending plan on March 26. No action was taken on my suggestion.
Important budget year
This year’s budget process will be especially important as the 67 percent income tax increase passed by Democrat legislators in January 2011 will expire halfway through the next fiscal year. Debate on the budget this spring will determine if that tax is temporary as Illinoisans were promised, or if the tax will be made permanent or replaced with a new graduated tax structure.
Critics of the move say that postponing the address cuts in half the time the General Assembly will have to discuss and adopt a budget. No matter when the Governor gives his speech the Legislature must still adopt a budget on the same deadline.
Chicago-only school grant
A special bipartisan committee examining school-funding fairness has recommended that a special “block grant” awarded only to the Chicago Public Schools be eliminated.
Ending the Chicago Block Grant to establish more uniform treatment of school districts was one of several proposals in the report from the Education Funding Advisory Board. That block grant is a separate funding stream granted to Chicago Public Schools and allows the school district to bypass funding formulas used for other school districts in the state.
The elimination of the special block grant was part of the report’s first recommendation – that Illinois move to a single funding formula that is more streamlined and need-based.
The Advisory Committee was created in response to a 2013 Senate Republican study of state education funding, which revealed significant inequities in the state’s school funding system and a disconcerting lack of budget transparency when it came to education funding dollars.
Six months of hearings to probe the state’s education funding system culminated in the January 31 release of the report making recommendations intended to improve the equity of state school funding. While lawmakers on the committee agreed the evidence demonstrated a need to level-out the educational playing field in Illinois, consensus on specific steps to achieve that goal wasn’t as easily established. The report itself notes that committee members did not unanimously support each of the recommendations made within the final document.
Lawmakers learn ‘money walks’
Lawmakers from the Senate and House of Representatives received a special briefing Feb. 5 from the author of “How Money Walks,” a book that explores how wealth and people move between the states.
Travis H. Brown, a St. Louis-based researcher, reviewed federal Internal Revenue Service tax statistics that reveal that since 1992, Illinois has been losing about $29 billion each year as taxpayers flee to more revenue-friendly states. During that same time period, he indicated Illinois has lost about 356,000 taxpayers, which represents more people than the state’s second and third largest cities combined.
Brown’s numbers revealed that the five states that are drawing the most taxpayers away from Illinois are Florida, Arizona, Wisconsin, Indiana and Texas.
Comptroller Helps Taxpayers Track Refunds
Taxpayers can now check the status of their individual Illinois income tax refunds with Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka’s new “Find Your Illinois Tax Refund” Web site.
By entering your name and Social Security number, the Comptroller’s Office will let you know if your 2013 tax return has been processed. Taxpayers can also leave contact information to be notified by text or e-mail once a return has been processed.