2/15/2006 2:12:00 PM Guest Column Ideal: A responsible, bipartisan budget
By Rep. ROGER EDDY For The Daily News
The governor will deliver his budget address this week in Springfield. I will provide some thoughts next week after hearing specifics of the budget proposal. This week, I want to talk about the budget and the direction of the state, and to pass along some information regarding a couple of other bills being discussed and review action from the past week.
As far as the budget is concerned, I think it is best stated that Illinois is at a crossroads. We can either continue to go down the road of more spending and more debt, or we can right the course by living within our means and bringing down our debt.
The general obligation bond debt for Illinois stands at $20.3 billion. When the governor took office, that debt was $7.6 billion. Our Medicaid debt has risen from $1 billion to $1.8 billion during that same time. That is an $800 million increase! The percentage of state revenue that it takes just to pay interest on the debt is now almost 7 percent, compared to 4.7 percent three years ago. Think about that in terms of your personal finance.
Recently, several major newspaper editorials around Illinois have warned that Illinois is swimming in debt. Add to the debt the fact that we shorted pension payments last year by more than $1 billion and plan to do the same this year, then it is easy to see the terrible position we are in.
The state expects to have about an $800 million dollar increase in revenue this year from "natural growth." I sincerely hope that we use a portion of that revenue to pay down some of the debt we have created. That would be responsible.
In addition, I hope we begin to work on undoing the damage done by the egregious five-year planned raid on our pension systems. We are only headed into Year 2, so there is time to get us back on a responsible pension payment schedule. Earmarking a portion of the additional $800 million in projected revenue would be a good start. That would be responsible.
Most of all, I hope the governor is ready to follow his own directive that for any new spending there is an identified revenue source in the budget. That would be responsible.
During my time in Springfield, I have learned a few things by observing. One of them is that good things happen when we work together. We have done so in the fight against meth and passed very good legislation to help in this battle. I have had the privilege of working on education budgets that have provided a fair distribution of new revenue to schools in Chicago, the suburbs and downstate in a bi-partisan manner. Another prime example is the package of bipartisan medical malpractice reforms we were able to pass into law last year.
It would be great to pass a fiscally responsible bipartisan budget this year. For that to happen, both sides need to have a seat at the table when negotiations begin.
As far as action this past week, we passed HB 4561 unanimously. This measure makes it illegal for anyone to falsely claim to have been awarded a military decoration in order to get a special state license plate bearing the honor. Can you actually imagine someone stooping so low as to falsely claim to be a Purple Heart winner? If they get caught after the effective date of this bill, the fine is $1,000.
HB 4121 takes the concept a step further and makes it unlawful for a person to falsely represent himself or herself as a Purple Heart recipient or to wear a Purple Heart medal that was not awarded to that person by the U.S. government. A violation is a petty offense for which the offender shall be fined at least $100 but not exceeding $200.
Besides the budget address, next week promises to be interesting as many important deadlines approach to move bills. I think we are going to pass a joint resolution regarding timberland assessment that will cause assessments to be held for two years while a task force studies a fair way to assess all types of timberland property.
We could also see a vote on a measure designed to ban smoking in indoor areas statewide. HB 4338 would essentially ban smoking from most indoor facilities in the state. I would be interested in your feedback on this proposal. I have heard from many restaurant and bar owners who are understandably against the bill. I am interested in hearing what my constituents think about this proposal.
If you have any comments, please write me at either P.O. Box 125, Hutsonville, IL 62433 or 222-N Stratton office Building, Springfield, IL 62706, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will also keep you updated on my web site: www.peopleforeddy.com.
Rep. Roger Eddy (R-Hutsonville) represents the 109th District in the Illinois House of Representatives.