Senator Jim Oberweis reviews his first year as State Senator for the 25th District, and looks at the spring 2014 legislative session, in his Online Report from Springfield.
CLICK HERE to view Senator Oberweis' Online Report From Springfield.
State spending issues are already dominating the spring legislative session. Recent economic progress in our nation is encouraging, but Illinois still faces a grim financial outlook that Governor Pat Quinn ignored during his Jan. 29 State of the State speech.
While the Governor touted a modest decrease in the state’s backlog of unpaid bills, he skipped over projections from his own budget office that show the backlog is on pace to reach $16 billion in three years. Although the Governor will not present his budget until March 26, his budget office released its annual three-year budget projections Jan. 6, showing continued spending growth and massive deficits ahead for Illinois.
And it should be noted that the budget office was required to assume that the state will lose the major portion of a 67% income tax hike enacted during a lame-duck session in 2011, because it is set to expire automatically. Republican leaders are hoping to rein in spending so the tax increase will be allowed to expire, as promised. Democrat leaders are championing a change in the state Constitution that will allow them to impose a graduated rate income tax, instead of the current flat rate income tax.
I oppose a graduated income tax and am skeptical of claims that a majority of taxpayers would see their income taxes go down under such a scheme. In other states with a graduated tax, the rates are actually much higher than in Illinois for most middle-income taxpayers. And in Illinois, the specific legislation placing a graduated income tax on the ballot does nothing to define what the actual tax rates would be. We deserve more information!
A key focus of budget cutting is likely to be the state’s burgeoning Medicaid program, which absorbs the largest portion of the state budget. Concerns have been raised that the Quinn Administration has been negotiating side agreements with public employee unions that will undercut bipartisan reforms adopted in 2012.
Another issue with major spending implications is the state’s school-aid formula. A bipartisan Senate committee has been examining discrepancies in school funding. Changes that have occurred in the past decade give a smaller percentage of state school-aid dollars to basic education while more dollars go to targeted programs that benefit specific school districts – most notably the Chicago Public Schools – at the expense of other districts.
On these and other issues, I will continue to push for long overdue reforms to a system that clearly does not work. Please let me know what you think. I look forward to hearing from you.