The House of Representatives adjourned the spring legislative session on May 30, and I would like to wrap up some of the key issues that came before us this session. I will conclude with some unresolved issues that may resurface during Veto Session this November.
Majority Party’s Unbalanced Budget
Opposed to making hard decisions that true governmental leaders are elected to make, majority party legislators pushed through a spending plan for Fiscal Year 2015 that once again surpasses available revenue by about $2 billion. This budget uses $650 million in inter-fund borrowing that has to be repaid with interest within 18 months. The budget increases our backlog of unpaid bills and sets the stage for a permanent extension of the “temporary” tax hike the State was sold in 2011. Governor Quinn could not get enough House Democrats to vote for the tax hike extension during the spring session, but that may be revisited during the lame duck session after this November’s election. My fellow House Republicans and I voted against the unbalanced budget, and will oppose any attempts by flip-flopping legislators to push a tax hike after the election.
The “temporary” tax hike was approved during a lame duck session of the General Assembly in 2011, just hours before the 98th General Assembly members took their oath of office. It was approved as a four-year tax hike that would pay down unpaid bills and return Illinois to solid financial footing. That didn’t happen. I will continue to fight against the extension of the tax, because Springfield has shown they are incapable of making wise financial decisions with taxpayer money.
New Ballot Initiatives
Voters may see up to seven referendum questions regarding their state government when they go to the polls on November 4. Some initiatives are great citizen-led questions, while others are non-binding questions placed on the ballot by the majority party for political purposes.
Fair Maps: A citizen-led initiative, this proposal seeks to remove political influence from the legislative map-drawing process. If approved, an independent commission would take the process out of the hands of politicians. Today, maps are drawn by the majority party in ways that maximize incumbent protection for those from the ruling party, and allow politicians to pick their voters rather than allowing voters to pick their representatives.
Term Limits: Also brought forth by citizens, the term limit proposal would limit terms for Illinois legislators to eight years. The question also seeks to change the size of the General Assembly and make it more difficult for legislators to override a gubernatorial veto. Within hours of being filed, the fair map and term limit proposals were challenged in lawsuits filed by an attorney with close ties to House Speaker Mike Madigan.
Voters’ Rights: This initiative would prevent people from being denied the right to register to vote or cast a ballot based on race, ethnicity, status as a minority, sex, sexual orientation or income. Current laws already prohibit the denial of these rights.
Crime Victims’ Rights: This plan would provide for more enforceable victim rights in trials and court proceedings. The constitution already guarantees crime victims certain rights.
Millionaire Tax: A non-binding measure, this question asks voters if Illinoisans who earn more than $1 million per year should pay an additional 3% tax. The constitution currently requires a flat income tax rate for all Illinoisans.
Minimum Wage Hike: Another non-binding question, this initiative will ask voters if the minimum wage for those over the age of 18 should be increased to $10 per hour. The current minimum wage in Illinois is $8.25, the highest in the Midwest.
Birth Control: This non-binding question will ask voters if insurance plans in Illinois should be mandated to cover birth control. Both Illinois law and federal law already have this mandate in place.
Improving Transparency and Accountability
I’d like to discuss an important piece of legislation that I brought to the General Assembly on behalf of District 90.
In response to the $54 million embezzlement scandal in Dixon, I proposed House Bill 5503, which provides that within 60 days from the close of an audit of a local government’s accounts, the auditor shall provide a copy of any financial statements to each member of the city council or county board, and present the information to the council or board in a public meeting. The council or board shall then post the information contained in the audit on their local website, if they maintain one.
This bill, which passed both chambers and has been sent to the Governor, will ensure that audits do not simply collect dust on a shelf, but are made available for public view and better understood by the governing council or board.
Extension of the Temporary Tax: Unable to garner the 60 votes needed to permanently extend the “temporary” tax hike of 2011, House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton have made it clear that the issue will most likely come back during Veto Session or prior to the swearing in of the next General Assembly. Both leaders feel that their members who face re-election in November would be more likely to support the extension after November 4th. I will remain opposed to the extension.
Funding for the Obama Library: No vote took place in May on a proposal to donate $100 million in taxpayer funds to help sell Chicago as the location for the Obama Presidential Library. It is likely that the issue will be brought up again when the legislature reconvenes. I oppose spending $100 million of taxpayer funds on the Obama Presidential Library when we have billions of dollars in unpaid bills and a chronic budget deficit. President Obama should raise private donations to fund the library, just as George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and other presidents have done.
Change in the School Funding Formula: Senate Bill 16 is a significant effort to overhaul how public schools are funded. It passed in the Senate this spring but was not called for a vote in the House. The issue of public school funding is an important one, and the debate over school funding formulas will likely continue in to the next General Assembly.