5/24/2007 12:35:00 PM Guest column Prospect of late session only part of budget puzzle
By Rep. ROGER EDDY For the Daily News
Most of the discussions in Springfield this past week centered on the realization that now that the governor's gross-receipts tax has been defeated, a budget still must be crafted within the next couple of weeks to avoid an overtime session of the General Assembly. The scheduled adjournment date for the spring session is May 31.
After that date, it will take a super-majority rather than a simple majority to pass a budget for FY 2008. The Democratic Party holds a simple majority (66 of the 118 seats) in the House and a super-majority (37 of the 59 seats) in the Senate. So, if the Democrats can agree on a budget before May 31, that budget can pass without a single Republican vote. That is what has happened the past two years; Republicans simply refused to vote for a budget that relied on revenue sources like raiding dedicated funds, borrowing money and raiding the state pension funds. Those budgets were passed with all Democrat votes.
After May 31, it takes 71 House votes to pass a budget. Since the Democrats have only 66 votes in the House, the fact that they have a super-majority in the Senate is of little consequence during overtime sessions. What this means is that if the Democrats are going to raise significant revenue through an income or sales tax increase, they will have to find at least 60 votes for that proposition before June 1. Add to this the fact that the governor has already pledged to veto any increase in income or sales tax, and one can safely assume that House Speaker Michael Madigan has to find 71 votes to ensure that a veto-proof majority is on board with any budget that increases income or sales tax.
The speaker is unlikely to find 60 House Democrats willing to vote for a budget that includes an income or sales tax increase, let alone finding additional votes on the other side of the aisle to get the 71 votes necessary to override the governor's promised veto. With record increases in gas prices, and the fact that Senate President Emil Jones has blocked all attempts to roll back electric rates, citizens cannot be asked to provide the state with more money via a tax increase.
A couple of months ago, the idea of education funding reform, coupled with some important accountability measures, was something that many in the General Assembly wanted to pursue. There were those interested in making sure every person in Illinois had access to affordable health care and coverage. The governor supported these concepts. I said all along that his goals were laudable, but I also said that the GRT was the worst possible way to fund these goals. Those two goals are now in serious jeopardy because we have not been able to confront the rising costs of energy and neither the state nor the federal government has taken the necessary steps to end the corporate greed which allows for record increases in electric rates and gas prices. We have not pursued a national energy policy that supports ethanol production to the level that we could. Even in Illinois, an agricultural state that would benefit greatly from making ethanol a first choice in fuel, there are still very few service stations that provide E-85 as a pump choice. Have you ever asked yourself why?
The resources that could have provided school funding reform and accountability, and possibly provide health-care options for all citizens in Illinois are being consumed by record increases in energy costs. Our citizens cannot be asked to pay these costs and provide more money for health care and education. Citizens have only so many resources, and right now, most of those resources are being eaten up by energy costs while the entities providing the energy are making record profits! While officials in Springfield talk about taxing the people or imposing a GRT on all receipts no matter if the business or entity makes a profit, energy interests are laughing all the way to the bank as their profits soar. Shame on us for allowing this to happen. There should not be a single vote taken on any piece of legislation (barring a true emergency) until the electric-rate issue is solved.
Unfortunately, that will likely not happen. In fact, it is possible that the General Assembly will act on matters like SB 1007 while the air conditioners kick on and electric companies make even more money. SB 1007 is another attempt to restrict Second Amendment rights that I will oppose. We will also likely discuss and debate a number of other measures that will impose new unfunded mandates on counties, municipalities and school districts.
I have introduced two pieces of legislation (HB 4097 and HB 4098) to suspend the 6.25 percent sales tax on gasoline starting July 1 to provide at least some relief for consumers from the increases in gasoline prices. That bill is bottled up in the Rules Committee - not deemed by Madigan to be vital enough to the people to be enacted or even debated, I suppose.
However, HB 920 did pass last week (99-17) and you will be happy to know Illinois will provide tax credits for the Hollywood film industry if movies are made here in Illinois. I voted "no." When citizens in Illinois are paying record energy costs, Hollywood can wait for its tax credits! Maybe they will figure it out, too, when they pay these high rates for the air conditioning in the stars' dressing rooms this summer.
Talk in Springfield has also occasionally turned to the possibility of passing a "no-growth" budget. The term "no-growth budget" is a bit misleading. Illinois expects about $900 million in natural revenue growth in the next fiscal year. It is true that much of that increase will be eaten up by payments necessary to pay off debt related to record borrowing and about $550 million will go to make up for skipping the last two years' pension payments. Under this scenario there would be very little to spend on new programs. Education would get some new money though, likely for the foundation level and special education costs. At this point, this seems like the most reasonable approach.
Let me know what you are thinking, E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org; write to me at Box 125, Hutsonville, IL 62433; or call us at (618) 563-4128. You can also keep up with important issues at my Web site (now with audio clips), www.peopleforeddy.com.