As we look ahead to the final few weeks of the spring session, there are several issues of importance that we will be facing. Of course, perhaps the most important issue is the budget for FY 2007. At this point, we have a proposed budget by the governor that calls for more than $1 billion in new spending. The revenue source to pay for this comes from modest growth in state sales- and income-tax revenue, more fund raids and a new pension payment schedule that once again reduces the state's pension payment by over $1 billion.
Some of the new spending goes to education, as the governor has proposed around $400 million in new spending for public education. A great deal of that new funding will go toward increasing the foundation level. In this case, the increase would be around $170 per pupil based on a school district's best three months average daily attendance. There is also an attempt to fund educational categorical spending on such items as transportation and special education related expenses at the same rate as in past years. Of course, that rate is based on an $8,000 reimbursement for a special education teacher and $3,000 for an aide. Those rates were established in 1987 and have never been increased. Schools have had to make up the difference.
There a couple of other educational programs which would receive additional funding as well under the governor's proposed budget. Early-childhood education gets a $30 million boost and the governor's quest for "universal preschool" will receive $45 million in funding; this is the first of several years of that level in order to accommodate this objective. The "Laptops for Seventh Graders" pilot program and a new classroom size reduction grant also gets around $10 million.
I am a huge supporter of early-childhood education and preschool funding. These programs are terrific investments and make much more sense than spending hundreds of millions on dropout programs and incarceration on the back end. However, it is difficult to find the kind of money that the governor is proposing without a real revenue source for the programs. I do not call raiding pension systems of payments or raiding dedicated funds like the road fund a good revenue source.
Other "pressures" on spending come from the extension of health care through the All Kids program. This well-meaning program will increase Medicare spending by tens of millions of dollars in Illinois in the coming year. The state is already around $1.8 billion behind in payments to providers at this time.
For sure, there will be ample discussion of the final budget in the weeks ahead. My hope is that we somehow work together so that a responsible budget is passed. Passing debt on to future generations is not the responsible approach, even if the programs that are being funded are good programs. We need to set some priorities, stay within revenue growth and leave the road fund and pension raids out of the equation.
We can also expect the governor to take another stab at a capital budget. I am a strong supporter of the school-construction grant program and I know that we need to invest in roads, bridges, and other public infrastructure. However, once again, we need a proposed funding source to pay for the program. Early this year, the governor proposed paying for part of the capital program by expanding gambling (keno). He later removed the proposal and has not yet proposed another revenue source to pay for the capital program.
We should not use borrowed money to borrow money in the form of bonds for a new capital spending program. The share of every dollar received by the state that is used for debt service stands at 7.4 cents, compared to 4 cents just three years ago. We must agree on a real revenue source to pay for these proposals. The governor is correct, we would all benefit from a good capital program and we could certainly use the jobs that would be created by his proposal. Perhaps the governor will propose something in the next few weeks and we can work together at a program that specifically identifies projects and has a responsible funding source. I hope so.
There have been many bills passed from the Senate to the House that we will be considering in the coming weeks as well. I invite you to contact me as the final few weeks of the session wind down if you have opinions regarding the budget or any other proposal that is now in the House. We do our best work when we work together, and I best represent the people of the 109th District when I hear from you regarding proposed legislation. I will do my best to keep you informed.
Don't forget, you can track legislation at www.ilga.gov. 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 email@example.com 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.