Senate Week in Review: April 14-18

The Easter and Passover holidays afforded state lawmakers an opportunity to return to their districts and meet with constituents to get feedback on major issues, before they return to Springfield for the final month of the legislative session, State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said.

As part of an ongoing push to rationalize the permanent extension of what was promised to be a temporary income tax hike, Illinois Senate Democrats released figures that purport to show unavoidable education cuts if the hike expires.

However, critics point out that the cuts would only occur if legislators are unwilling to prioritize education spending; something that Senate Republicans say they are willing to do.
State government takes two new hits

In the meantime, the management of Illinois by Gov. Pat Quinn and his legislative allies took new hits. The Wall Street Journal, one of the leading newspapers in the nation, asked in an April 15 editorial, “What’s the Matter with Illinois?”

And, a recent Gallup survey showed that Illinoisans have the least trust in their state government of any state in the nation, with 70% saying they have either “none at all” or “not very much” trust in their government.

Democrats push tax hike

Interestingly, some politicians seemed to be working overtime to highlight that trust issue.

Illinois Senate Democrats released figures which purport to show that schools in Illinois would lose $451 million if Democrats kept their promise to allow the tax hike to roll back in 2015.

It was the latest effort to justify reneging on the promised rollback of the 67% income tax hike enacted in 2011.

With the Governor, Senate President and House Speaker all pledging to extend the 67% tax increase, budget hearings have been used by majority Democrats to justify extending the tax – parading a series of witnesses before the committees to testify to dire consequences if taxes were rolled back as promised.

Opponents say it’s a matter of priorities

Tax hike opponents, including Senate Republicans, have generally pointed out that an underlying premise of recent budget hearings has been that there is little to no flexibility in state spending and that legislators are incapable of setting priorities and making difficult choices.

That vision of a rigid budget with no flexibility and lawmakers whose hands are tied when it comes to setting spending priorities, is a premise many Republicans take issue with.

They remind taxpayers that within months of the 67% tax hike being enacted, Senate Republicans began warning that lawmakers needed to set priorities and control state spending to allow the tax hike to roll back.

Now, Senate Republicans looking at the proposed budget point out that the Governor’s plan contains costly new program expansions and relies on one-time revenues to fund ongoing expenses. They warn that such policies are likely to lead to more tax hikes in the future – which is consistent with recent pushes by majority Democrats to impose new taxes, including two recent attempts at amending the state Constitution to allow for higher taxes.
Education cut under Quinn

Education spending has not been a priority under Governor Quinn even with the tax hike. The state’s base spending for education has actually fallen since the tax hike went into effect. In Fiscal Year 2010, the state’s General Funds budget for the State Board of Education was $7.308 billion. In the current year, with the tax hike in effect, the budget is now $6.687 – a cut of $621 million.

Even under Governor Quinn’s “recommended” budget – which assumes the tax hike remains in effect – the General Funds education budget would fall short of the Fiscal Year 2010 figure by $330 million.

Illinois compared to fellow Great Lakes States

In an April 15 editorial the business-oriented Wall Street Journal looked at five Great Lakes states – Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio and concluded “a great comparative policy experiment is taking place.”

While other Great Lakes states have focused on reducing taxes and controlling spending, the newspaper points out that Illinois has been raising taxes and growing government.

“The comparison is especially apt because Illinois Democrats are doubling down on their strategy in this election year. Governor Pat Quinn has announced plans to make permanent the ‘temporary’ tax hikes that were supposed to sunset at the end of this year,” the newspaper said.

And how has that strategy been working for Illinois?

The Wall Street Journal editorial ran through a litany of sobering statistics including Illinois’ 8.7% unemployment rate – the second highest in the nation and well above every other Great Lakes state. They also keyed in on Illinois’ sluggish growth in personal income and loss of 31,000 workers while other states have been gaining.

Gallup survey: No trust in Illinois government

If Illinois is falling behind its neighbors, it’s probably no surprise to most of its citizens.

A recent Gallup survey shows people living in Illinois have less trust in their government than those living in any other state.

The depth of that distrust is sobering.

When asked how much trust and confidence they have in their state government, 70% of Illinoisans surveyed said they had either “not very much” or “none at all.”

But, with 35% of respondents saying “none at all,” Illinois was far worse than any other state – a full 15 percentage points below the next two worst states. In Rhode Island and Maryland, 20% of respondents said they had no trust in their state government.

Only 4% of Illinoisans said they had a “great deal” of trust in their state government.

Rezin holds second flood zone coalition meeting

Sen. Rezin held a second flood zone coalition meeting on April 14 in Ottawa to continue the discussion of how communities can best prepare for future flooding.  Like the first meeting, Sen. Rezin said the turnout was great and the community leaders seem interested in joining together to take a regional flood preparation approach. 

Officials heard from Mike Sutfin with the City of Ottawa’s Building and Zoning Department regarding flood damage prevention ordinances and from Paul Osman, the Floodplain Manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, concerning ‘Floodplain 101.’  

Rezin celebrates 25 years with Make-A-Wish

Sen. Rezin is celebrating her 25th year as a wish granter with Make-A-Wish Illinois. 

Sen. Rezin became involved with the Make-A-Wish organization shortly after starting her family.  With four young children, she thought it was a good opportunity to give back to the community but also flexible enough to fit her busy schedule.

“Over the years, the wish families we’ve met have been amazing,” Sen. Rezin said.  “It’s one of the biggest reasons I’ve stayed involved.  These people are going through extraordinarily hard times, but they are still positive, smiling and they want to give back to others as well.  It’s rewarding to be there for families at such a trying time and be able to put a smile on kid’s faces.”

As a wish granter with the organization, Sen. Rezin is paired with children who have life-threatening medical conditions, learns what their wish is, and then fulfills the wish to the best of her ability.  

Sen. Rezin says she plans to continue her involvement with the organization and grant many more wishes to ill children in the community. 

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