Senate Week in Review: February 3-7
Senate Republicans expressed disappointment after legislators returned to Springfield Feb. 4 and 5, primarily to approve legislation to delay this year’s Budget Address. State Senator Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said that while it was not unusual for a governor to request that the date be pushed back, the circumstances of this year’s delay were particularly troubling.
“These were the first session days following the Governor’s State of the State address and it was a total waste of time and money,” Sen. Rezin said. “It’s just more of the same in Springfield. We have major issues facing our state and yet all we did this week was vote to push the Governor’s budget address back five weeks. It would be laughable if it wasn’t extremely frustrating. Our constituents deserve better than this.”
Budget Address move political
Most viewed the request as a political move on the part of Governor Quinn, allowing him to wait until after the March primary to detail a spending plan.
This year’s budget process will be especially important as the 67 percent income tax increase passed by Illinois Democrats in January of 2011 will expire half way 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.
“Delaying the budget address by five weeks is completely unacceptable.” Sen. Rezin said. “We can see through it as a purely political maneuver and the taxpayers of Illinois are the ones that are hurt by it. This budget year is crucial in order for Illinois to continue to strive towards a recovery, particularly as we face the rollback of the largest tax increase in our state’s history. Cutting the time of the budget process in half does nothing to help us achieve those goals.”
Critics of the move, including Sen. Rezin, 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.
“Governor Quinn has known for over a year when the budget address for this year was to be delivered to the General Assembly,” she said. “There are no surprises here – he should have been ready. The five week delay hurts the process and it is not in the best interest of the agencies that depend on the state for their funding.”
The bill, SB 1227, passed 37-15-0 in the Senate with all members of the Senate Republican Caucus voting against the measure. The new date for the Governor’s Budget Address will be March 26 at which point the Governor has promised to lay out a five-year spending plan.
Chicago-only school grant
A special bipartisan committee examining school funding fairness, of which Sen. Rezin is a part of, 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 first recommendation of the report – 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’
Republican lawmakers from the Senate and House 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 refund with Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka’s new “Find Your Illinois Tax Refund" website.
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 email once a return has been processed.
Flood zone meeting to examine response and preparation
Sen. Rezin said all mayors and city and county officials from her Senate district have been invited to meet on February 12 to discuss response to and preparation for major flooding.
Last spring, several areas of Sen. Rezin’s district were devastated by flooding caused by heavy rains. As a result, a coalition has been formed to bring the region together and facilitate a discussion of what worked regarding the response and what the area can learn for future flooding disasters.
Sen. Rezin said it was important for the area to prepare regionally instead of focusing on individual communities.
“I believe that if the area were to prepare in a broader sense for these type of disasters, we would see an even better result,” she said. “These meetings will begin those discussions and ultimately improve how the region responds to uncontrollable disasters.”
Michael Sutfin with the City of Ottawa’s Building and Zoning Department said that representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Illinois Association of Floodplain and Stormwater Managers, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and more will be in attendance.
Rezin to hold remote office hours in Hennepin
Sen. Rezin will hold remote office hours on Monday, February 10 from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m. at Hennepin Village Hall, at the invitation of Mayor Coleman.
The public is invited to stop by during this time and ask Sen. Rezin questions or discuss issues.
Hennepin Village Hall is located at 627 E. High Street in Hennepin.
Rezin to tour water plant in Granville
Prior to the remote office hours in Hennepin, Sen. Rezin will tour the Water Plant in Granville. Village President of Granville Doug Gimbal personally invited Sen. Rezin to tour the facility and discuss their operations.