The 2014 election in Illinois was a watershed. A state standing on the brink of insolvency decided to elect a Governor with no political experience, but with the message “Shake Up Springfield, Bring Back Illinois”.

Bruce Rauner carried the 63rd District by 36%, which is a mandate in anyone’s books. The district also re-elected its incumbent legislator to a 9th term, with the expectation that he’d help the governor enact the legislative agenda they so clearly supported. It hasn’t worked out that way.

The time for upholding the status quo is past, and Jack Franks is nothing if he’s not the status quo. He’s voted 9 times for the current Speaker, he’s voted 9 times for the rules that allow the Speaker to keep needed legislation from getting a fair hearing. He’s not made any substantive proposals for fixing the way we fund schools, and has not only stood in the way of true pension reform, he’s voted to divert money from the pensions to fund teachers’ salaries. It’s time for a change.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

Posted on by Steve Reick | Leave a comment

Providing Some Breathing Room to Seniors

Property Tax Credit

Click Image to Enlarge

As we search for ways to lower property taxes for everyone, there’s a simple remedy to allow those who live on fixed retirement incomes to gain some relief.

If you take a look at your Illinois income tax return, you’ll see that there’s a credit (a dollar-for-dollar reduction of tax) equal to 5% of your home’s property tax bill that you can claim to reduce your income tax liability. For instance, if your property tax bill is $5,000, you can claim a $250 credit against that liability.

However, the credit is “non-refundable”, which, as is stated in Publication 108 from the Illinois Department of Revenue:

“If your property tax credit exceeds the tax you owe, you may not receive a refund for that amount, and you may not carry unused credit to other years. Your property tax credit may only reduce the tax you owe to zero.”

The problem for most retirees, however, is that since Illinois doesn’t tax retirement income or social security, they don’t pay any state income tax. All retirement income taxed on their Federal returns is shown as a subtraction on their Illinois returns, often leaving them with zero taxable state income. Thus, the credit offers no relief to offset their ever-escalating property tax bill.

I would propose allowing the credit to become refundable for anyone over age 65 whose income Federal adjusted gross income (the starting point for calculating Illinois taxable income) is below $50,000, and when reduced by the subtraction for retirement income results in no state income tax. This would allow those seniors most affected by rising property taxes to gain some measure of relief.

The image at the top of this post is from the tax return of a client of mine whose adjusted gross income in 2015 was a little under $50,000, consisting mostly of a private pension, IRA distributions and social security and who paid over $9,500 in property taxes here in McHenry County. Had the credit been refundable, my client would’ve gotten a state tax refund of $477. Not a lot, but better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Until we have real property tax relief for everyone, which can only come when we change the way we pay for education in this state, measures such as this will at least help those most in peril of losing their homes some small respite.

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“Mort de la Guerre”

GraveForty years ago while bicycling through eastern France, I took a break and walked into a small grove of trees which grew in the middle of a wheat field. There, sitting in a small clearing was a simple stone, inscribed with the phrase “mort de la guerre”.

There was no name, no date and no means of identification, just a simple stone marking the final resting place of someone who had fallen in defense of Liberty.

Since then, the men and women of the United States armed forces have been sent to the far corners of the world to defend the Liberty that we so often take for granted. It’s only appropriate that we dedicate at least one day a year in remembrance of those who didn’t come back.

This weekend there will be remembrances, parades, and family gatherings. To those of you for whom that family gathering will be to honor one of their own who, in words attributed to Lincoln: “laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom”, we should all offer a silent moment of thanks.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said in 2003:

“Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return.”

Cemeteries around the world stand as testimony to the price our country has been willing to pay for our freedom. But whether it’s the beautifully manicured grounds at Arlington or Normandy or an anonymous grave in eastern France, our obligation is the same: to remember the cost of freedom and to honor all who were “mort de la guerre”.

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Lame-Duck Jack Franks Provides Preview of Upcoming Attractions

Lame DuckWhen the Capitol Fax blog announced that Jack Franks would not run for re-election, one wag commented:

“Jack Franks managed to do what Lee Daniels, Tom Cross and Jim Durkin couldn’t do: Get rid of Jack Franks.

That said, what’s a loose-cannon, lame duck Jack Franks gonna do?
Vote with Democrats?”

It didn’t take long to find the answer to that question. Today Franks voted with the majority as the House passed the bill 72-40 (with 2 voting present and 2 excused absences) to pass S.B. 2964, which, from LegiScan:

“(P)rovides that the prevailing wage shall not be less than the rate that prevails for similar work performed under collective bargaining agreements in the locality provided that the agreements cover at least 30% of the workers. If bargaining agreements do not exist in the locality, the Department of Labor shall ascertain the prevailing wage to be paid under the Act. Applies to public works performed without a written contract (and) requires that the Department publish prevailing wages schedules on its website.”

This is the kind of bill that just screamed for a “Present” vote before last week. Now that he’s freed from the shackles of running for re-election, we’re seeing his true colors.

Jay Shattuck, writing for the Illinois chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors points out that:

  • The majority of construction workers in the state are non-union. A report released last May found that over 60% of construction workers in Illinois are non-union. If the majority of construction workers are non-union why are wage rates paid by government based on work performed by a minority of workers?
  • (SB 2964) locks in a rate that may not necessarily be the typical rate of pay in a given area, especially in downstate Illinois by using only rates from collective bargaining agreements.
  • Requires use of nearest and most similar neighboring locality of rates where no collective bargaining agreement exists: This causes collective bargaining agreements to reach into counties where little or no union worker presence exists, establishing wage rates potentially beyond what local construction wage rates are, causing the inflating of construction project costs and harming local property taxpayers.
  • SB 2964 eliminates the voice of local government in determining local wage rates.
  • The Department of Labor is thrust into adopting classifications which places the Department in the middle of jurisdictional battles between various unions.
  • SB 2964 only assumes increases in the collective bargaining agreement. What happens if there is a reduction in the agreement?
  • After being published on July 15th, the prevailing wage rate must change as often as changes are made to a collective bargaining agreement resulting in inflated bids and greater record keeping issues for contractors and local government units.

You may ask: “Hey, you aren’t running against Jack anymore, why should you care?” The answer is simple: Franks still represents this district in Springfield, and is in a position to do a lot of damage before he leaves town. This is one example.

Also, in light of the County Board’s recent vote to rescind its earlier support for the Governor’s “Turnaround Agenda”, it’s important to keep the people of McHenry County informed as to what’s in store if Jack Franks is elected as County Board chairman and brings along his slate of Board candidates to rubber-stamp his agenda.

Jack may talk big about freezing property taxes, but votes like this one give the lie to that rhetoric. Unless local governments are allowed to climb out from under the burden of wage scales imposed from afar, they’ll never be able to provide true property tax relief.

Posted in 2016 Election, Cost of Government, Public Sector Unions | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

The Political Landscape Has Just Changed

State SealAfter weeks of speculation, it’s official. Jack Franks has been slated by the Democrats to run for Chairman of the McHenry County Board and will not seek re-election to his legislative seat here in the 63rd District.

First off, I wish to thank Jack for his 18 years of service to McHenry County. Public service requires personal sacrifice, and we should acknowledge the sacrifices Jack and his family made in furtherance of that service. I wish him and his family well.

Though I lost to him in 2014 and was prepared to go toe-to-toe with him in the fall, I was never running “against” Jack Franks. I was, and still am running for the things that I believe will make Illinois and McHenry County a better place to live, open a business and raise a family. Those things include:

  • Lowering property taxes. Until we see a reduction in local property taxes, we will continue to lose businesses and population to states with lower taxes. Property tax reform can only come about if we:
  • Change the way we pay for education. The state constitution puts the primary responsibility for funding education on the state. The only way to enact true education funding reform is to put that responsibility where it belongs and to expand parents’ role in determining where and how their children are educated.
  • Pension reform: So long as 25% of our general revenue budget goes to pay our underfunded pensions, we’re never going to get a budget that meets the legitimate needs of those who rely on the State for their funding.
  • Regulatory relief: Illinois’ businesses are burdened with out of control workers’ compensation costs, an unrealistic prevailing wage system and other regulatory burdens which make it almost impossible to compete. Governor Rauner carried this District by 36% in 2014, and he did so by promising to enact those reforms. I pledge to help him fulfill that mandate.

It’s time to get serious about the future of this State and McHenry County. I pledge to the people of the 63rd District that I’m committed to representing you and no other, and that I’ll carry on the tradition of having a strong, independent voice for you in Springfield. I ask for your support.

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Here’s How Jack Franks Keeps You in the Dark About His Legislative Record

On April 20, the McHenry County Blog posted a story about a bill (H.B. 5529) which, according to Tim Dwyer, an attorney who successfully brought a tax protest suit against Harrison School District in Wonder Lake:

“This bill allows school districts to transfer money via intra-fund transfers between the Educational Fund, the Operations and Maintenance Fund and the Transportation Fund. It can be found at Section 5/17-2A of the School Code.

Originally adopted in the 1960’s, the Intra-fund Transfer Section originally provided for a one-time intra-fund transfer for unforeseen, non-recurring expenses.

In 2001, it was amended to allow any transfer for any reason until 2003. Since that time (2003), it has been extended five times. H.B. 5529 seeks another three-year extension and passed through Committee unanimously (22-0, with 7 members absent).”

Further quoting Attorney Dwyer:

“(T)his bill allows (taxing bodies), and has allowed for 16 years…to circumvent the taxing requirements of the School Code and PTELL. One perfect example in McHenry County is Harrison School District 36 in Wonder Lake.

School District 36 had amassed 3.6 million dollars in its Transportation Fund when its actual Transportation costs were $337,000 annually.

Under normal circumstances, District 36 would have so much left in its Transportation budget that it could not, legally, adopt a levy for its Transportation Fund until such time as that fund was reduced.

This, of course, would have saved all taxpayers in District 36’s tax code 20% of future tax bills.

But under Section 5/17-2A, District 36 transferred its excess transportation funds, an amount in excess of three million dollars, to its Education and Operations and Maintenance Funds.

In its 2015 levy, District 36 levied for Transportation funds.”

The bill passed overwhelmingly in the House (108-4). The Blog posted the roll-call of the vote, and Jack Franks was one of the 4 dissenting votes. Good for him.

However, since this provision has been routinely extended for a number of years, I thought it would be instructive to see if Franks has been a consistent “No” vote on this obvious attempt to keep our real estate taxes from ever coming down. And what do you think I found?

As far back as votes are registered on the Legislature’s website, Jack Franks has voted for the extension. He voted for it in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2010. In 2013, he not only voted for it, he co-sponsored the bill! 

I find it ironic that this is the same guy who couldn’t wait to post a press release about a bill he sponsored which he claims will stop PTELL increases. He actually had the gall to say: “[t]he system is broken. It means government doesn’t have to be efficient. When our citizens have less, our government gets more. And that’s not fair.”

What’s not fair is to have a representative who votes 5 times for an extension of a bill that allows taxing districts to rob Peter to pay Paul, allowing them to stockpile hordes of cash, allows it to be used for unintended purposes and then sponsors a “freeze” bill intended to both hide his past votes and to keep that system in place. That’s hypocrisy, pure and simple.

Posted in 2016 Election, Property Taxes | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment