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Partial pension reform passed on final day of session
One of the largest long-term challenges state government faces is the large unfunded pension liabilities in state-managed pension funds. These include the systems which cover pension payments promised to teachers and other public-sector professional workers. We cannot even determine the exact size of these liabilities because they are based on future interest rates and estimated future rates of return on the funds which have already been invested. The current estimate of the unfunded pension liabilities stands in excess of $130 billion, with the largest portion being the $71 billion of commitments made by the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS).

Bill to address teacher shortage headed to the Governor
A bill I sponsored which would make to hire classroom teachers and substitute teachers has passed both houses of the legislature and is on its way to the Governor. Under House Bill 5627, Illinois would recognize out-of-state teacher licenses, allowing licensed teachers from out-of-state to teach in Illinois without meeting additional requirements. The bill establishes a Short-Term Substitute Teaching License and sets out the qualifications for obtaining one from the State Board of Education. It also allows an educator with a Professional Educator License or Educator License with Stipulations to work as a substitute teacher without having to obtain a separate substitute teacher license.

SPRINGFIELD – Rep. Tom Bennett (R-Gibson City) spearheaded the fight over the past several months to ensure that county fairs received the money appropriated to them in the FY18 state budget.

General Assembly passes state budget
For the first time in four years, the House and Senate have passed a full-year state budget before the May 31 adjournment deadline.

This budget was the product of months of bipartisan negotiations between members of the legislature and the Governor. This budget is balanced: Illinois is expected to bring in $38.52 billion in revenue in the next fiscal year, and this budget spends $38.5 billion. It increases funding for K-12 public education, and addresses important priorities like public health and safety, transportation and many others. It also includes a disaster assistance tax credit for the residents of the Watseka area who suffered damages from the flooding earlier this year. It does all of this without any more tax increases. While we still have a series of long-term issues to address, I believe this is a step in the right direction.

Make no mistake: state government still faces a number of significant challenges. They include our bill backlog and our underfunded pensions, among others. I hope this marks the beginning of the long-overdue process of getting our fiscal house in order. Now that we have enacted a balanced budget, we need to be watchful and make sure that state spending does not stray from this plan, or that we do not fall back into our old, bad spending habits once again. Today we can be proud of the fact that elected officials have come together in way they have not been able to do in the past few years and accomplished something positive for the people of Illinois.

State Rep. Tom Bennett (R-Gibson City) recaps the final day of the 2018 spring session of the Illinois House of Representatives. The House passed a bi-partisan balanced budget for the first time in four years before adjourning for the summer.
Session heading into its final days
The House and Senate are scheduled to adjourn on Thursday May 31. Under the Illinois Constitution, both houses must complete their work by May 31 or it becomes much harder to pass bills – they need a three-fifths supermajority instead of just a majority in order to pass. These last days of the scheduled session are always very hectic as members rush to get their bills through the process and on their way to the Governor before the deadline.