Let's keep our eye on Springfield
The work to be done in Springfield during the next month is of great significance. Most significant is the budget. In addition, there is the final crunch to act on bills before the end of the session.
And then there is the redistricting that gets done every 10 years after the Census. There may be diverse opinions on what should or should not be done on the budget, the bills and the redistricting, but I thought I would share some timely thoughts.
The budget affects much of what the state will or will not do, since it is an economic road map. The infusion of some money from the federal government as part of the COVID Relief Bill is also part of the economic mix. On that front, it is important to stress that such money is a pot that won't be there next year.
Though Springfield is still waiting on direction from Washington on strings related to that money, some basic parameters should be considered. First, it was intended to help our state based on the impact of COVID-19.
Second, knowing that it is not a stream of money that will continue dictates that, most logically, it should not be used for starting new programs or expanding old ones. We have a backlog of bills that the state is paying interest on that seems like one prime area the money should be used for. I know the state comptroller has expressed that, and I tend to agree.
Related to COVID, I know that many schools have not been able to address ventilation improvements, which are needed to have all kids back in schools safely. That, too, seems like an area where that federal money would be an appropriate use. For starters, those are a couple thoughts I would urge you to share with the decision-makers in Springfield.
In regards to the budget itself, I remain concerned that Gov. J.B. Pritzker's proposal did not include the $350 million that was supposed to go to our schools based on the Educational Funding reform that was hammered out a couple years ago. The state failed to pay the funds that was due last year. Letting another year go by without the needed money digs us further into a hole.
I urge all to contact their legislators to stress that such funding must be met as part of this year's budget.
Another concern was the governor's suggestion to reduce the distributive fund payment to municipalities. This is a regular payment to cities and towns across the state to provide municipal services based on a percent of the state income tax, which is allocated to each based on population.
To deplete such distributive funds is just wrong, and is an attempt to balance the state's budgets on the backs of municipalities. That can only lead to increased property taxes or reduced services.
I hope you agree with me on this front as well and will share support for not reducing funds to communities that they rely on.
On a related issue, Springfield should be urged not to award increases in benefits in legislation that has to be paid for by municipalities.
Safety net programs and higher education are areas that have been kept flat. The needs on the safety net issues are greater than ever, and there is a compelling need for seeing some increases. On higher education, those institutions are key to creating an educated workforce in our changing economy, and likewise their budgets should not be left flat.
Of course, we need to be able to pay for these areas and many others I have not addressed. All options need to be on the table to insure we can generate the needed revenue. Both the Responsible Budget Coalition and the League of Women Voters have suggested several revenue options, which I would urge the legislature to review and consider.
Both concur, as do I, that support should be given to the governor's proposed cut of various corporate loopholes, which could generate around $932 million.
Raising the corporate income tax from 7% to 7.92% could generate $300 million. Illinois, being a service-oriented economy, should clearly be an impetus for Springfield to consider expanding our sales tax base. According to the Civic Federation, if we expanded sales taxes to the same services as neighboring Wisconsin, we could generate more than $588 million per year.
Decoupling from the Federal Cares Act net operating loss and carryback provisions could recapture between $500 million and $1 billion. There are numerous options for putting additional revenues into our coffers without an across-the-board tax increase at this time. The legislature needs to be considering these options.
Redistricting is another major challenge that will shape maps and boundaries for the next decade, and will be decided in short order. The legislature needs to be encouraged to keep this process open and transparent to insure that traditional gerrymandering is not done in the backrooms, but out in the open in a fair and balanced way.
This issue is compounded due to the delay in the final results of the Census. Though we did not get the chance to vote on a constitutional change for fair maps, keeping this process in the sunshine will contribute to restoring more trust in Springfield.
In terms of trust, on the legislative front I am still hopeful we will see some ethics reform bills emerge and get passed before the sessions end.
Getting bills passed that attack conflicts of interest and more comprehensive disclosures and campaign finance reforms would be a positive development that should be encouraged.
Among the many areas that will be competing for attention in the waning days of the legislature is gun violence prevention. A statewide coalition of more than 200 organizations stands behind the Fix the FOID/Bio Bill, which would require fingerprinting on all FOID cards and universal background checks on all gun sales.
It would also give the state police powers to confiscate weapons from those who have had their FOID cards revoked. It is estimated that more than 27,000 Illinoisans may be armed despite losing their right to own a gun. A similar bill passed the House last session, but was never passed by the Senate. We need to get Springfield to take action during this ongoing gun violence surge.
Yes, the plate is full. We all need to pay attention to what's going on in Springfield and speak our minds. I urge all to do so.
• Elliott Hartstein of Northbrook is an attorney and former Buffalo Grove village president.