4/10/2006 2:40:00 PM Guest Column Lawmakers late, but not "overtime"
By Rep. ROGER EDDY For The Daily News
The originally scheduled adjournment date for the 2006 Illinois General Assembly was last Friday, April 7. Because of continuing problems constructing a budget for FY 2007, the General Assembly will meet beyond the original adjournment date. However, the fact that we have scheduled dates for this week and have been informed that tentative dates are set for the week of April 17, does not mean that we are in "overtime." The legislature is not really in an overtime session until after May 31. After that date, it takes a "super-majority" of the House and Senate to pass a budget. Until then, while the original adjournment date has not been met, we are not in overtime.
The reasons for the original early adjournment date of April 7 are numerous. First of all, last year the majority party passed a bill that set up a new pension payment schedule which allowed for more than $1 billion less in pension payments for two fiscal years. That way, they would not have to come back to the members of the House and Senate in an election year to ask members to vote for a bill that raided pension funds in an election year. There was some hope that the furor over the raids of the pension, road fund and hundreds of other "dedicated funds" would die down and the FY '07 budget would come together using the $1.1 billion raid of the pension funds along with the anticipated new growth in revenue from income and sales taxes. The idea was to use the money from the pension raid to pay for base spending added in FY '06 and then spend the new revenue.
It seemed like a perfect plan. Diminish the effect of the raids, make it appear as if the majority party has solved a huge budget deficit, spend the new revenue on projects to help protect incumbents and elect new members and let the governor and members of the General Assembly get out of town in early April of an election year to start campaigning.
The problem is that there is never "enough" money available to quench the thirsts of some of the members of the General Assembly. Further, it obviously does not matter where the money comes from. When there are enough "yes" votes put on a budget that raids dedicated funds such as those set up to help abused women and children, raids funding set aside for asbestos removal from schools, raids the downstate teachers pension fund and takes money dedicated to funds for Veterans, then you know there is no limit to what will be done to spend more. And yes, it is worse in an election year.
Another problem is that the governor's introduced budget went well beyond expectations on the spending side. There was not an attempt to set a tone of fiscal responsibility. As I listened to the governor's budget address, I did a little math. At that moment, I knew there was going to be a problem with the budget. Members on both sides of the aisle are very concerned about facts related to the budget. Those concerned include Speaker Michael Madigan.
What are those facts?
1) Over the past three years our state debt for general obligation bonds has nearly tripled from $7.6 billion to $20.3 billion and now 7 cents of every dollar collected by the state goes for debt service compared to around 4 cents just three years ago.
2) Illinois will end the current fiscal year with nearly $2 billion in unpaid Medicaid bills and health care providers are often waiting 5 months for payments from the State.
3) In addition to the $1.1 billion pension raid scheduled for FY '07, we anticipate around $900 million natural revenue increases, making a total of around $2 billion available, and that is still not enough!
4) Despite our escalating debt, along with this year's proposed budget, the four year total spending increase under this administration will be more than $4 billion, with most of the spending being permanent while much of the revenue is temporary.
Another reason being used for the fact that session needs to end is that there are major renovations scheduled for the Capitol this spring and summer. While these artificial deadlines for adjournment are being set, it is important to remember that the state constitution says that we have until May 31 to enact a budget. There is plenty of time to craft a fiscally responsible budget by May 31 that does not further raid the pension system. If we have to work around construction, so be it. Our obligation is to the taxpayers of Illinois first. Whatever it takes to get the job done in a responsible manner should be done, even if it takes until the middle of the summer like it did a couple of years ago.
Last week, we also passed some important legislation. Among the measures headed to the governor for consideration are: SB 2915 which is a bill that I sponsored in the House which sets up a database identifying meth manufacturers; SB 2391 which creates the offense of meth trafficking and enhances penalties to those involved in the trafficking of meth; SB 2962 which would allow for the suspension of driving privileges for sex offenders who do not register annually as required by law; SB 2197 authorizes county boards to impose fines of up to $100 for students truant from school- parents or guardians of students under the age of ten would be fined if their child is truant from school under the measure; SB 2968 will allow first responders like EMT's to be covered under the Good Samaritan Act when trying to help someone needing aide; and HB 4789 addresses constitutional issues raised with last years' Sr. Citizen Homestead Assessment Freeze, the benefits to Seniors are reinstated under HB 4789.
While the budget will continue to take center stage over the next few days or possibly weeks, we will also consider other measures. An important bill regarding eminent domain is likely to be voted on. As always, I will do my best to keep you up to date on what is happening. I do need your input though. If you have comments regarding the FY '07 Budget or anything else, please contact me at Box 125, Hutsonville, IL 62433, e-mail me- email@example.com, or follow developments on my Web page, www.peopleforeddy.com.
Rep. Roger Eddy (R-Hutsonville) represents the 109th District in the Illinois House of Representatives.