5/30/2007 11:26:00 AM Guest column Tough decisions needed this week on state budget
By Rep. ROGER EDDY For the Daily News
With the deadline for a budget to be completed looming Thursday, there are very few who believe an agreement will be reached before the scheduled end to the 2007 spring session of the Illinois General Assembly. That is not to say that there are not some who believe that the Democratic majority in the House and Senate will not figure out a way to craft a budget in time to meet the deadline and send it to the governor. Stranger things have happened. Also, don't forget that after May 31, a two-thirds majority, rather than a simple majority, will be necessary to pass the budget. There will undoubtedly be a strong push by Senate President Emil Jones and Gov. Rod Blagojevich to force a compromise that would fund huge increases in health-care expansion and education spending.
The problem has never been finding ways to spend money or start new programs. In fact, there even seems to be some agreement on how increases in education funding should be spent. More money for the foundation level in order to allow for more equity in funding between land-wealthy suburban districts and less-wealthy rural areas would likely occur. There would be increases in special education funding, an attempt to fund important induction and mentoring programs for teachers and administrators and funds available to build new schools and renovate aging buildings. In addition, there is some agreement on other important accountability measures for schools.
The real problem is where to find the revenue. With gas prices too high, the electric rate issue still unresolved (more on that later), and property taxes soon due, raising the income tax has pretty much been taken off the table. The focus last week was on expanded gaming. In fact, the Senate Democrats have pushed a bill that would add up to four new casinos on Illinois. They say it would bring in around $3 billion in new revenue. However, Hose Speaker Michael Madigan has stated that a huge expansion is not likely to have enough support in the House.
So, with no GRT, likely no income-tax or sales-tax increase, and a gaming bill that seems to also face trouble, it really does not seem likely a compromise will be reached that would allow for huge new government spending. What about a budget that would hold the line on spending, would not raise taxes and would allow for a modest increase for education spending? That approach was introduced last week by House Republicans as an option. The plan also includes a modest expansion of gaming positions on existing casinos in order to fund a capital construction program for schools, roads and public safety infrastructure. It would require the state to make the scheduled pension payments as well. This measure basically relies on using $700 million to 800 million in natural revenue growth expected in FY 2008.
As the deadline fast approaches, your input is more important than ever. Let me know what you are thinking, E-mail me at email@example.com) or call us at either 618-563-4128 or 217-558-1040.
Last week the House passed SB 172. This bill makes major changes by adding tough new standards for driver's education and first time drivers. Under the new law, students will have to hold an instruction permit for nine months instead of the current three months and will face a new curfew of 10:00 PM on Sunday-Thursday and 11:00 PM on Friday and Saturday. More details are available at www.ilga.gov.
There was also some breakthrough last week on the septic permit issue. Both SB 184 and HB 613 had amendments attached that were designed to grandfather existing septic systems into compliance while requiring some new permitting, maintenance and inspection measures for new systems after a certain date. It remains to be seen if the current version is passed by both Houses and signed by the Governor. The IEPA remains opposed to this bill. They would like to see all systems under the new permitting rules. I am chief sponsor of these bills and will push hard this week for passage.
SB 17 is also moving and could be passed this week. It would make significant changes to the Department of Revenue's recent attempt to impose huge new increases in wooded land assessments. This legislation is a result of a task force that was formed last year after I co-sponsored a bi ll that required the task force. When the Senate bill reaches the House, I will assist in sponsoring that measure as well. The details are too lengthy to get into this week. I think you will be pleased with the way we have handled this on behalf of wooded land owners. The legislation really brings some common sense to the issue.
On the electric rate front, I can report that Ameren has made an offer to roll back the huge increases in rates for all-electric homes and offered a plan for bill paying assistance. This offer amounts to rescinding the huge price increases to the 35-40 percent increases that were planned for the start of the year. They are also offering to reduce the scheduled increase to summer rates for this summer only. Ameren plans to bring this proposal to the ICC. If that occurs, there would be no legislation necessary.
The original measures that would require Ameren to roll back prices to the pre-January rates is not being called for a vote in the Senate. Those bills were passed out of the House months ago. Jones continues to oppose a rate freeze.
In the meantime, Madigan is trying another angle. Last week, he introduced a measure that amounts to a multi-billion dollar tax on electric power generation. That Bill (SB 1592) also contains the same rate freeze language that would likely mean that it would never be called for a vote in the Senate. Once again, we see more failed leadership on this issue.
Many things will be decided in the next few days. I will report on as many as I can. You can also keep up with important issues at my Web site (now with audio clips) www.peopleforeddy.com.