2/22/2006 2:16:00 PM Guest Column Budget contains "more of the same"
By Rep. ROGER EDDY For The Daily News
As I reported last week, the buzz in Springfield was the governor's budget address. I was hopeful the governor would change course and provide us with a budget proposal that would show some fiscal responsibility. Unfortunately, what we heard was much more of the same. The governor laid out a plan that called for hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending without identifying any responsible way to pay for the increases.
The governor has some good ideas: universal preschool and college tuition tax credits are examples. But, we have nearly $2 billion in unpaid Medicaid bills, we have not fully funded the basic per pupil foundation level recommended for our schools, and he is asking for new programs.
These increases in spending are once again based on the majority party's plan to raid another $1.1 billion out of the Illinois employee pension system, including the downstate teacher's retirement system. This is the second year of the $3.5 billion raid. For every dollar that we short the payment, it will cost us at least $11 in the future to make up for the irresponsible plan. Once again, this does not include any shorting of the Chicago teacher pension system.
The governor also churned up some tired old ideas that did not work the first time they were proposed. He is floating the idea that we should take the proceeds from the sale of a 10th riverboat casino license and use those funds to help repay funds to the pension system. At least he is admitting that the pensions have been raided. However, proposing to use license proceeds to pay back the raids is disingenuous at best. The sale of the 10th license is held up in court and the governor knows that. He also talked about the sale of public assets, like his idea of selling the Thompson Center that went nowhere three years ago.
We must restore funding to the pension systems now to avoid the additional costs being passed on to our children. If the 10th license is sold someday, then we can use the proceeds to fund new programs. Until then, we must exercise some restraint and show fiscal discipline.
It is not too late to get our finances back on track. As I mentioned last week, good things happen when we work together. We can pass a fiscally responsible budget this year. There are signs that the economy is turning around and there is additional state revenue expected in FY 2007. We can create a climate that will bring jobs to Illinois through private enterprise and not simply from public-works projects. To do that, both parties need to work together and we need to stop the irresponsible fiscal behavior that has caused record debt.
There was nothing new from the governor as far as a proposal to pay for the $3 billion dollar capital development program he is pushing for. Funding proposals in the past have included increases in tobacco taxes and expanding gambling in the form of keno.
One of the proposals which is supposed to create a revenue stream is the idea that the Illinois Student Assistance Commission would sell some of the loans it holds. It is expected that this could bring in between $300 and $500 million. Of course, these loans create revenue each year and, if sold, future stable revenue would be traded for a one time infusion of money. The ISAC loan department also employs about 140 people in Illinois who could lose their jobs as a result of this sale. I am hearing a lot of concerns regarding this proposal from college students. I wonder what some others think about this idea. We could use the money now, but are we once again trading fast cash for future problems?
The attempt to fix the large property-tax increases on timberland property comes now in the form of House Joint Resolution 95. That resolution, which contains many of the ideas in the bill I originally introduced, passed out of the House Revenue Committee last week. I expect some action this week on that measure. The resolution directs the Department of Revenue to send a letter to local assessors that will allow them to hold off on reclassifying all timberland next year. A task force will be named in order to come up with an equitable solution to classification of timberland. I will continue to work hard to make sure that this solution makes it through the House.
The next couple of weeks are important as deadlines to move House bills over to the Senate are approaching. It is likely we will begin to deal with some very controversial proposals. I am still very interested in hearing from you regarding the governor's proposed ban on semi-automatic weapons (HB 2414), the proposed statewide ban on indoor smoking (HB 4338), a bill that would create an instant lottery scratch-off game to benefit endangered species (HB 4363), another attempt to ban diesel engine idling for more than five minutes during any hour-long period (HB 4782), or any other of the dozens of proposals that we will act upon in the next few weeks.
Thanks for the hundreds of contacts last week regarding your thoughts; please keep them coming. If you have any comments, please write me at either P.O. Box 125, Hutsonville, IL 62433 or 222-N Stratton Office Building, Springfield, IL 62706, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will also keep you updated on my web site: www.peopleforeddy.com.
Rep. Roger Eddy (R-Hutsonville) represents the 109th District in the Illinois House of Representatives.