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

Posted on by Steve Reick | 2 Comments

COVID-19 Update: Local Resources

As you are no doubt aware, the Governor issued an executive order requiring people to stay in their homes until April 7th except for the purpose of obtaining essential needs. A fuller explanation of what constitutes “essential need” and those businesses deemed “essential” can be found by clicking here.  Further information about COVID-19 and what’s being done to address the crisis can be found by clicking here.

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As we get deeper into this crisis, we’re going to depend more and more upon local services and agencies. It’s these resources that I’d like to focus upon.

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  • The McHenry County Health Department has set up a website (click here) which contains information on all local resources. This should be your go-to source for up-to-date information of what’s available in the County.
  • I volunteered at the Woodstock Food Pantry on Monday and learned that while the shelves are very well stocked, there’s a shortage of vegetable cooking oil, cereal (especially Honey Nut Cheerios) and bread. Much of the pantry’s bread supply comes from local grocery stores, but the recent run on staples has cleaned the stores out. If you are sitting on more bread than you need for the week, think about dropping some off at your local pantry. They need it.
  • Speaking of food pantries, here’s a list of the pantries in McHenry County, along with hours of operation and contact info. Give them a call and ask how you can help.

McHenryCoFoodPantries

  • The Family Health Partnership Clinic in Crystal Lake (779-220-9300) is treating people on an emergency basis only. Please call before you come in, and learn more by clicking here to go to the Clinic’s website.
  • If you’re at home with the kids and looking for ways to help them with school work or just to keep them occupied in a positive way, Khan Academy offers free, online lesson plans and schoolwork assistance for kids from 2-18. Click here for more information. This is a great resource.
  • As of now, Illinois has not extended the date for filing and paying state income taxes, even though the due date for filing your Federal return has been extended to July 15th. The best advice I can give you if you won’t have your Federal return done by April 15th (which you need to do in order to prepare your Illinois return) is to file an extension on April 15th and include a payment sufficient to cover the tax liability you had in 2018.
  • My office will remain closed to walk-in traffic for the foreseeable future, but we’re available during normal office hours by phone at (815) 880-5340 and by email at reick@ilhousegop.org .

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You’re probably wondering when all of this will end and we can get back to normal. I wish I knew. We’re all dealing with something we’ve never seen before, and all I ask is that we sit back, take a deep breath and use this as an opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with people and things we may have lost touch with. Call a friend you haven’t talked to for a while. Check on an elderly or disabled neighbor and see if you can run an errand for them. Play a board game, take a nap or read a book. Soon we’ll be back living at the breakneck pace we’ve become used to and may look back upon this as a time in which we reconnected ourselves to our communities, our friends and our families. Stay safe out there.

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Providing Some Property Tax Relief for Low-Income Seniors

Property Tax Credit

Click Image to Enlarge

Property taxes are never too far from the top of the list of things that concern Illinois taxpayers, and there is no shortage of proposals to lower them. As we search for ways to lower property taxes for everyone, I’m sponsoring a bill that will provide a measure of relief for low-income seniors.

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I recently filed H.B. 4289, which provides low-income seniors with a small amount of relief from high property taxes through the income tax code.  .

 

If you take a look at the tax form above, 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.

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

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“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.”

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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.

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H.B. 4289 allows the credit to become refundable for anyone age 65 or over whose Federal adjusted gross income (the starting point for calculating Illinois taxable income) is below $50,000. This would allow those seniors most affected by rising property taxes to gain some measure of relief.

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The image at the top of this post is from the tax return of a client of mine whose adjusted gross income in 2015 (it’s not changed since then) 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. Had the credit been refundable, my client would’ve gotten a state tax refund of $477. Not a lot, but this refund could help pay a utility bill, buy groceries or pay for prescriptions.

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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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When a Judge Issues a Warrant, It’s Serious

jack_franksState Representative Steve Reick (R-Woodstock) issued the following statement upon learning that the Illinois State Police executed a search warrant Wednesday at Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s Capitol offices investigating allegations of wrongdoing, including sexual misconduct and stalking, against McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks:

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“The news that Jack Franks is under investigation because “probable cause exists for the crimes of criminal sexual abuse, criminal sexual assault, official misconduct, stalking and aggravated battery”, according to the Illinois State Police, goes beyond anything that can be easily dismissed with a blanket denial”, Reick said. “These allegations stem from actions that occurred as far back as 2016, and they demand a complete investigation.”

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According to a report in the Chicago Sun Times: “Madigan’s office said it received a complaint in 2018 about alleged sexual harassment by a former state representative, investigated and found the complaint credible. Madigan’s office said appropriate law enforcement agencies were informed the following year.”

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“I have to wonder why it is that predatory actions that allegedly occurred as far back as 2016 took until 2018 to be communicated to and investigated by the Speaker’s office, and why it then took until “the following year” for law enforcement to be informed of them.” Reick said. “Where will this end?”

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“Jack Franks has no choice but to immediately resign as the Chairman of the McHenry County Board.” Reick demanded. “Everything he does in that role going forward will be tainted by the credible allegations of abuse against an innocent victim of what by all accounts is predatory behavior. The people of McHenry County deserve representation that is not tainted by allegations of misconduct of such breathtaking proportions. Until these allegations are fully dealt with, he has no business holding a position of trust. He must immediately resign.”

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Woodstock’s Mayor Wants to “Change Behavior” by Cloaking a Tax Increase as Environmental Concern. I Guess He Really Is a Democrat After All.

Jewel ReceiptWoodstock’s ten-cent bag tax went into effect on January 1st, and I took an informal poll of shoppers as I walked the aisles at my local Jewel. Most seemed to know about it, but still had not brought their own reusable bags. I asked my cashier if there had been an uptick in the use of reusable bags, and she said “no”, and the young man bagging my groceries said the most frequent comment he was getting was that it’s not a big inconvenience to go outside of Woodstock to shop. I asked for a store bag to see how the charge is displayed on the receipt, and there it was.

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In the minutes of the September 17th City Council meeting, Mayor Brian Sager said the context of the program is not to be a revenue generator, but to change behavior. He noted the City distributed a reusable bag to every household and also passed them out to retailers for distribution to the public. He stated there are also many places that give bags away free of charge, providing the public with many opportunities to acquire reusable bags. Mayor Sager noted it a is way to change behavior to reduce the use of plastic and paper bags…which is what is wanted.

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If it’s not a revenue measure, if it’s really about changing behavior, why not allow the store to keep all ten cents, as Edwardsville, Illinois did with the ten-cent per bag fee it imposed in October? According to Edwardsville Alderman S.J. Morrison:

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“We didn’t want this perceived as a tax,” Morrison said. “It truly isn’t a tax. It’s a fee imposed on single-use bags. You can’t get out of a tax. You can avoid a fee by bringing your own bag. And it’s not a money grab by the city. We are not trying to raise revenue. We’re trying to change behavior.”

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Of the ten cents collected for each bag in Woodstock, the retailer keeps three cents and the remaining seven cents goes to the City. That certainly sounds like a revenue measure to me.

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I’m not against reducing the amount of plastic in landfills and streams, and I’m happy to use my own reusable bags, but the sanctimony on display in this instance is just too much. Cloaking a tax increase under the guise of environmental concern is no way to be open and transparent to those you would hope to represent.

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Own it, Mr. Mayor. It’s all yours.

Posted in 2020 Election, Local Government, Taxes | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

There’s a “Red Menace” Made of Ink, and We’re Drowning In It

The Chicago Tribune has published the story of a family trying to obtain services for their autistic son, who “aged out” of Illinois’ special education system when he turned 22, and was put on the State’s “Prioritization for Urgency of Need for Services” (or PUNS) list, a waitlist for disabilities services in Illinois administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS). From the story:

.“Nick is among nearly 20,000 people with developmental disabilities in Illinois who are on a waiting list to get into adult programs. Many of them come from families who don’t have a way to pay for home care, job coaches or other services.

Most wait an average of seven years before they are selected, despite a court order in 2011 that Illinois shrink the list and do other things to improve how it serves developmentally disabled adults.

One family told the Tribune they signed up their child when he was just 5 and he still did not get a spot when he turned 22 this year…”

.The story goes on to describe a lawsuit filed in 2004 to require the State to provide community-based living arrangements and services to the developmentally disabled. Again, from the story:

“While paying lip service to the value of community-based programs, defendants have made paltry efforts to reduce the state’s reliance on large institutions or to expand Illinois’ community-based programs,” the lawsuit added.

.We’re all familiar with the tragic story of A.J. Freund, the little 5-year old who had been in and out of the attention of DCFS since birth. The extent to which the agency’s systemic troubles failed him and others is a story yet to be fully told.

I’ve recently been appointed to the “Task Force for Strengthening Child Welfare Workforce for Children and Families”,  established by Public Act 100-879, the purpose of which is to:

[C]reate a task force to study the compensation and workload of child welfare workers to determine the role that compensation and workload play in the recruitment and retention of child welfare workers, and to determine the role that staff turnover plays in achieving safety and timely permanency for children.

.It would be an easy fix if all we were doing was paying “lip-service” to these and any number of other underfunded programs. But the real and bigger reason for this chronic underfunding is staring us directly in the face.

.A story getting far less attention but which has everything to do with the 20,000 people on the PUNS list and excessive workloads at DCFS is the recent report issued by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) about the state of Illinois’ pensions.

The report discloses that the unfunded liability for its 5 pension funds as of June 30th, 2019 stands at $137.2 billion, up from $133.5 billion in the previous year and goes on to point out that in Fiscal Year 2020, the State is scheduled to contribute $9.223 billion out of General Revenue to fund those pensions.

Debt Payment 2020

That $9.2 billion represents 22 percent of the total amount of state spending in the current FY 2020 budget, which is scheduled to grow to $10.6 billion in 2024 and ultimately rise to over $19 billion in 2045.

When over 20% (and climbing) of your total budget is going towards paying debt, it leaves much less for the ongoing functions of government. The size of our debt is a rough measure of how much money was diverted in the past to dispense the type of goodies that politicians are only too happy to give, goodies which blur and ultimately erase the lines between an encroaching State  and those entities and institutions in which a free people in a healthy society really live: its civic and charitable organizations, community clubs, Little League, churches and a free economy, to name just a few.

.This is money that could be used for the types of programs that would help Nick cope with life in our broader society, allow the State to more adequately fulfill its Constitutional imperative of paying for education and create a more robust and effective program of child protection. But so long as we continue to deal with this albatross around our neck, none of this will be done.

.I grew up at a time when the former Soviet Union was referred to as the “Red Menace”. We now live under the threat of a new Red Menace, one made of ink. We can argue all day about where the responsibility lies and whose fault it is that we’re in this mess, but when the excesses of the past continue to increasingly crowd out our responsibilities of the present and to the future, we’re going to see more stories about people like Nick and A.J. If we don’t do something about our debt and soon, we’d better get used to seeing them.

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