Illinois Democrat leaders pushed through yet another hollow promise during the week, approving a nearly $4 billion spending plan without the funding to cover it.
In other news, the Senate Executive Committee considered one of several anticipated proposals to change the state’s flawed education funding formula.
Earlier this week, the four legislative leaders had their first meeting of 2016 with Governor Bruce Rauner. Though the budget stalemate is far from resolved, the meeting was viewed as a small but positive step.
The Rauner Administration has been working to bring a new direction to our state, but has come up against a wall of politicians who are quite comfortable with the status quo and don’t want things to change. Governor Rauner continues to stress the need for economic recovery and comprehensive government reform, which I support.
Key to turning Illinois around is promoting the kind of economic climate that encourages job creation and growth. Other legislative issues that should be part of the conversation this year are property tax relief; education funding and reforms that prepare young people for careers; workers’ compensation and regulation reforms that encourage business growth and jobs; and reining in state spending.
One issue that has generated strong opinions on both sides of the debate is raising the state’s minimum wage. As a long-time business owner, I have seen first-hand the impact of across-the-board minimum wage increases. As a lawmaker, I know how divisive this issue is, both across party lines and within party caucuses.
I am offering a workable compromise. I am asking business leaders and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to see if a minimum-wage increase is possible without the very real economic harm that other minimum-wage proposals would cause.
My legislation would increase Illinois’ minimum wage to $10 per hour for workers ages 26 and older. At 26, young adults must pay for their own healthcare and can no longer be covered under their parents’ plan. By 26, they will hopefully have had a couple of jobs and will be more experienced employees. By increasing the minimum wage for adult workers in steps over three years, Senate Bill 2552 will help young workers, but will not kill jobs. These are minimum-wage, learning jobs, not jobs meant for feeding a family on a long-term basis.
Other minimum-wage proposals out there right now – like Senate Bill 2145, which would increase the minimum wage to $11 per hour by 2020, with no age requirements – will result in significant job losses and is particularly unfair to young minority workers who already face high unemployment rates.
It is important for working men and women to be able to support their families; however, we must be careful to not hamstring employers to the extent that jobs are lost. The stark fiscal reality is that Illinois has one of the higher minimum wages in the country and is underperforming nearly every state in jobs, while the number of people in poverty grows.
There is also a similar bill under consideration that would increase costs to our state’s jobs providers. Senate Bill 2147 would require all employers to provide paid sick days to employees. This measure would apply to all employers in Illinois, regardless of size.
These kinds of changes to our state’s business climate — already viewed by many as hostile to employers — will definitely accelerate the exodus of jobs from Illinois. Let’s be honest, Illinois. How have the past 12 years of tax-and-spend budgets and anti-business rhetoric and policies worked out for us?
More of the same empty promises
On April 13, Democrat legislative leaders advanced yet another empty promise, once again pushing through a massive spending plan without the funds to cover it. The latest proposal promised nearly $4 billion to human service providers and higher education, but failed to identify a way to pay for the spending. The proposal has been sent to the Governor, who has indicated he intends to veto the measure.
One alternative is a proposal recently introduced by Republican legislative leaders to fund certain social service programs, accompanied by a way to pay for the spending.
The Republican proposal would fund senior citizens in the Community Care Program; veterans; services for those with mental health issues and developmental disabilities; support for homeless youth and veterans; programs like Adult Redeploy that are critical to recent criminal justice reform efforts; addiction treatment; sexual assault services and prevention; and the Special Olympics.
Education funding proposal heard
The first of what is expected to be several education funding reform plans was heard during the week in the Senate Executive Committee.
We have long called for fixing the formula, but are concerned that the proposal is moving forward without critical data from the State Board of Education that would provide a more complete picture of how the legislation would affect Illinois’ school districts. School administrators and teachers, taxpayers, education experts and other key stakeholders should be at the table when crafting a new education funding reform proposal.
While truly reforming the state’s education funding formula will take time, Republicans have a proposed a solution to provide funding to school districts now. Governor Rauner has proposed fully funding General State Aid (GSA) to schools for the first time in seven years. The Republican plan, which includes full 100%, Foundation Level funding and Low-Income Grants, provides more money for K-12 education now.