Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
District Office 815-748-3494 or E-Mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
October 12, 2009
As the legislature convenes this week to consider bills vetoed by the Governor, there will be time to debate legislation not yet brought to a vote and other pressing issues. One item I will raise is a multi-million-dollar tax increase on small businesses and professionals that was literally “snuck through” the General Assembly this spring.
Several realtors and insurance agents affected by the legislation brought this issue to my attention last week. The increase was part of technical changes in state law to bring it in compliance with the 2010 annual budget. No mention was made about the tax increase in floor debate nor did any business group discover it so I can only assume it was a drafting error.
Nevertheless, the legislation needs to be corrected in the next two weeks or the tax increase will be collected. The change in law will now tax personal service income by partnerships and limited liability companies. They will be required to pay the personal property replacement tax which will add 1.5 percent to the tax already paid.
The millions of dollars in additional revenue from the tax does not go to the state but rather to local units of government. I believe we need to be open about solving the state’s growing list of unpaid bills, set spending priorities and assure fairness in how we balance our budget.
Details about Prisoner Release Plan Revealed
Governor Quinn has begun implementing the early release of prison inmates in his efforts to cut $5 million from the state budget. I was given details about the program recently by Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) Director Michael Randle.
State law already specifies that those convicted of certain crimes are not eligible for early release. The governor has gone beyond that requirement by instituting a screening process that also includes a 10-year look-back at an inmate’s record. Inmates previously incarcerated for any of the following crimes will automatically be ineligible for early release: crimes against a person, sex offenses and domestic violence.
Anyone who has violated an order of protection or is currently subject to an order of protection will also be ineligible for parole.
The IDOC will notify the County State’s Attorney of anyone who will be released in their area but will not make the information available to the public. The State’s Attorney can file an objection to any inmate’s release.
Those released early will have to use an electronic bracelet to monitor their movement 24 hours per day. A released inmate must remain at home or at sites authorized by the parole officer. Any infractions of the rules will trigger a warrant for the prisoner’s arrest.
The new program is projected to save the state about $5 million in prison operating costs, but the governor has allocated about $2 million of the savings for increased costs such as counseling, job placement and drug treatment. No funding was provided for extra parole agents to do the monitoring.
While I do not think the program will save the state significant dollars it does provide at least some much needed support for the parolee. We must do more to change the lifestyle of inmates if we ever hope to break the cycle of crime.
Governor Promotes Emergency Student Loans
Another of the issues to be considered during the veto session is restored funding for college student Monetary Assistance Program (MAP) grants. The governor has been traveling around the state explaining the impact of reduced MAP funding in this year’s budget and encouraging students to attend a rally in Springfield on October 15 to ask the legislature for restored funding to last year’s levels.
With 138,000 college students set to lose MAP financial aid in the spring semester, Governor Quinn has been telling citizens that many of those students will drop out of school. As a result, businesses will not be able to find qualified workers, there will be less economic growth in Illinois and the state will receive less tax revenue.
New Legislation to Infuse Money for MAP
In the next three weeks, the legislature could pass a bill I have introduced (House Bill 4622) that would restore half the $200 million needed revenue for the MAP grants without a tax increase. This legislation uses a tax amnesty to allow delinquent taxpayers to pay what they owe in income and sales taxes to the state during a month and a half period in early 2010 with NO interest or penalty.
The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability estimates this amnesty program for individuals and corporations that didn’t pay their taxes on time between June 20, 2002 and January 15, 2010 could bring in approximately $104.9 million in revenue. Furthermore, the governor has the balance needed to fund MAP just sitting in a discretionary fund.
Cigarette Tax Would Increase MAP Funding
Another bill that could be considered during the Veto Session (SB44) would increase the cigarette tax from $0.98 to $1.98 per pack. While the proceeds could fund MAP grants or pay state bills, it will also deter smoking and push cigarette sales to other states.
Illinois cigarette taxes have dropped $31.3 million in the last year due to laws about where people can smoke. Studies show higher taxes will also contribute to lower cigarette tax revenue as smokers buy in other states, on line or on the black market. As a result, there could be insufficient tax revenue to pay the MAP grants.
Local Libraries Help in Down Times
Our Illinois State Library system has certainly not been immune from budget cuts during these economic times. Federal grants that used to go to local libraries for programming and technology are now redirected to the State Library to replace lost state funding.
Loss of state or federal grants affects small libraries the most but even libraries the size of Sycamore, DeKalb or Rochelle feel the effects. This loss of funding for our local libraries means shorter operating hours, fewer staff, or less local programs.
Sarah Tobias, Director of the Sycamore Public Library, reminded me of how local libraries help citizens especially when the economy slows. Local libraries support unemployed residents by providing Internet access and newspapers to look for jobs. Libraries also offer a place to type resumes on a computer, and to escape for a little while to forget about the everyday worries, fears and concerns of life.
This summer, the attendance at Cortland’s Library increased to over 5,500 patrons per month according to Barb Coward, Librarian. That was a 60 percent increase over the summer of 2008 due in large part to the economy and new computers. I had provided Cortland and every town in my district a technology grant for their library the prior year.
Coward reports dozens of new patrons came in to get email and apply for jobs online. Construction workers who had never touched a computer before used library computers to apply for unemployment and find new jobs.
Libraries offer invaluable services to all ages in the community, especially in economic tough times. Stop by the library and see for yourself this week.
Sycamore Receives Community School Award
It was my privilege to witness Sycamore receive one of nine state awards last week for its efforts to involve the community in educating students. The Sycamore School District has followed the “Community Schools” model for many years and developed a partnership among stakeholders, parents and school staff. The program focuses on student academic development, healthy minds and bodies, family support and engagement, and community involvement.
Besides school staff, representatives from Ideal Industries, the YMCA, and University of Illinois Extension were recognized. I have supported legislation encouraging schools to engage their communities in improving student education outcomes.
Stay warm and engaged in pulling our state out of its fiscal and ethical hole.