My New Year’s Wish for Illinois

Bumper StickerIt’s January 1, and we’re a little over a week from starting a new General Assembly and less than two weeks from swearing in a new Governor. Republicans in Springfield have no choice but to hope that despite being in a super-minority in both Houses and not having a single Republican in a state-wide office, the Governor-elect is serious with his promise that we’ll be consulted on how we’d try to move Illinois out of its fiscal mess. I’m skeptical. It’s hard to avoid the feeling that Democrats want our cooperation simply as a means to provide “bi-partisan” political cover for bills that they won’t want to take sole responsibility for, and for which we’ll be rewarded in the next election cycle with negative mailers trashing us for our bipartisanship. But, if he is serious, here are a few suggestions:

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Before the Governor-elect tries to implement all his new programs, perhaps he should take some time to see how well the agencies of State government under control of the executive branch are doing with the money they already get. During the last session, I laid out a proposal for a private-sector cost study of Illinois’ government, much along the lines of the 1984 “Grace Commission”, which came up with almost 2,500 recommendations for streamlining the operations of the Federal government, and which would have saved $450 billion ($1.088 trillion in 2018 dollars). I’m not saying we’d find enough savings to solve our fiscal woes, but don’t you think it’d be a good idea to let taxpayers know that we’re serious about being responsible with the money we already give them before asking for more?

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Pension Reform: In February of 2017, Representative Mike Fortner presented a bill that provided a means by which people who were currently in “vested inactive” status (being vested in one of the State plans but not currently receiving benefits nor currently employed by the State) to be bought out of their future benefits at some percentage of the present value. A limited variation of that bill was included in the most recent budget, but this bill would be an expansion of that. If the intention is to flatten the “Edgar Ramp”, maybe we should first clear out some of the low-hanging fruit.

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Property Tax Relief: Property taxes continue to be one of the most pressing issues facing residents in Illinois, and school costs continue to be the main driver. In May of 2017, another Republican-sponsored bill was introduced which would limit the amount of property taxes which could be levied for education to 4% of equalized assessed valuation (EAV). The reduction in property taxes would be offset by state appropriations.

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Of course, none of the above proposals ever made it out of Speaker Madigan’s lock box known as the Rules Committee.

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Perhaps Mr. Pritzker could sit down with Republican legislators and listen to our ideas, and then sit down with the Speaker and tell him he’d like to see some of these ideas get a fair hearing and not get bottled up in Rules. It’s a new year, and who knows, maybe there’s reason to hope that we might actually accomplish something.

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