Senate Week in Review: End of Session

SPRINGFIELD, IL – State Senator Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said Illinois legislators wrapped up the spring session last week, passing a last minute budget that spends $35.4 billion and does not include a tax increase extension.

For months Illinois Democrats painted a picture of draconian cuts if they kept their promise to allow a portion of the 67 percent 2011 tax hike to expire.  Then in the final days of the 2014 legislative session, they reversed course and passed a budget without those tax revenues.  However, the budget they assembled is loaded with increased spending, earmarks, unidentified lump sums and a variety of other questionable allocations with no doomsday scenario as was painted.  

Taxpayers can breathe a temporary sigh of relief, but no one should be under the impression that this “no tax” budget is in reality anything close to a responsible budget that forces the state to live within its means.  This budget, like in many years past, spends more than the state will collect in revenue and pushes bills past the next election.  

The FY15 budget is based on a revenue estimate of $35.352 billion and the total General Revenue Funds spending of this year’s budget is approximately $35.4 billion – allowing the Democrats to call the budget “balanced.”

Unfortunately, the budget continues the pro-ration of the state’s General State Aid Formula’s foundation level grants for schools, giving schools just 89% of the foundation level.  In fact, since Pat Quinn became governor, education funding for the state’s elementary and secondary schools has fallen by $621 million (FY 09 – FY 14).

In Sen. Rezin’s district, schools have suffered greatly under the state’s practice of pro-ration.  Currently, the Foundation Level set by the General Assembly is $6,119 per student, which is the base amount that schools should have to educate a student.  However, in recent years Illinois has prorated that base, providing school districts with less than the minimum needed.  As a result, school districts have had to close schools, borrow money, layoff teachers and administrators, and cut their budgets, leading to program cuts and larger class sizes.  

For example, Streator Elementary School District #44 has been pro-rated to the point where they had to cut their budget by over $5.3 million in the last five years.  Their budget cuts have translated into closure of one school, dismissal of 15 full-time and five part-time teachers, dismissal and reduction of 11 and 49 full-time support staff positions to part-time, and elimination of one principal and reduction of five administration building positions.  

In response, Sen. Rezin co-sponsored Senate Bill 3664 which would re-establish the Foundation Level as the number one funding priority in Illinois and end pro-ration of funding to Illinois schools.  The measure requires the Foundation Level grant to be funded at 100 percent before directing education dollars to any other grant lines or programs.  Sen. Rezin noted that since the 2011 income tax increase was enacted, the state has brought in over $26 billion in new revenue, but none of that was used to increase funding of Illinois schools.  

Regrettably, Senate Bill 3664 was held in the Senate Assignments and was never given a fair hearing.  

Also in the last week of session, the Senate voted on Senate Bill 16, which would reallocate school aid creating winners and losers throughout the state. It would also continue the controversial practice of “prorating” school funding and offers a number of special benefits for the Chicago Public Schools that are not available to other school districts.

Sen. Rezin voted against the measure, saying that the bill was a good first step toward school funding reform, but more work needed to be done.

“The work that has been done over the last year with the Education Funding Advisory Committee (EFAC) affirmed that something must be done to address how we fund education in the state,” Sen. Rezin said who was a member of the EFAC created by the Senate after Senate Republicans issued a report last year that revealed gross inequities in the way Illinois distributes education dollars.  

“This measure addresses many of the issues raised in the EFAC report, but it’s not the complete package and does not address all the funding concerns that Senate Republicans raised last year.  Superintendents and school administrators will tell you that proration is the biggest issue facing many school districts. Until we discontinue this practice, there’s only so much progress that can be made when it comes to changing how we fund our schools. They need to be funded 100 percent before we go about switching how much money each school district gets.”

Senate Bill 16 was not called for a vote in the House and is likely dead.  

While the extension of the tax increase has been stopped for now, Sen. Rezin said Democrat legislative leaders have made it clear that their intentions are to eventually extend the income tax increase some time after the election.  

For now, Sen. Rezin said taxpayers can look forward to their tax rates decreasing in January.  

For more information on legislative action in the final week of session, visit the Senate Republican Senate Action Page on the Senate Republican website.  

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