State budget passed; New “opportunity zones” in our area

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.


Two new “opportunity zones” in our area
Last week, the U.S. Department of the Treasury approved several areas of Illinois for new “Economic Opportunity Zones,” to encourage economic development and long-term investment. Two of these new zones are located in the 106th District: a section of Livingston County including part of Pontiac and points to the northwest, and another in Iroquois County which takes in a large part of the city of Watseka.

These areas were selected based on a formula which took into account factors such as poverty rates, unemployment, crime, population and more. The idea behind these opportunity zones is to take areas of the state which have underutilized potential and help them to secure more economic development. More information about the program is available by contacting the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity at opportunityzones@illinois.gov.

The program was created by the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which President Trump signed into law in December.

General Assembly honors local law enforcement officers, fallen soldier
Last spring I was honored to introduce to the House Larry Hale of Paxton, a police officer who was wounded in a shootout on Interstate 57 in 1979. State Trooper Michael McCarter, Paxton Patrolman William Caisse and a civilian, Donald Vice, lost their lives in that shootout. This week, the General Assembly honored those who fell in that shootout by adopting House Joint Resolution 21, which re-names the overpass at the site of the shooting the McCarter-Caisse-Vice-Hale Memorial Overpass. It is a long overdue recognition of their sacrifice, and a reminder of all that our law enforcement officers do each and every day to keep our communities safe.

I am also the House sponsor of Senate Joint Resolution 9, legislation to name a section of Illinois 116 in Woodford County in honor of U.S. Army Specialist Phillip J. Pannier, a 2006 graduate of Roanoke-Benson High School who lost his life in Iraq in January 2008. Specialist Pannier was survived by his parents, brothers, sister-in-law, nieces and nephews and his fiancee. This designation will serve not only to honor his memory, but to remind all who pass through the area of the tremendous sacrifice that so many brave Americans have made for our nation.

IDOT announces five-year highway improvement program
The Illinois Department of Transportation announced this week a series of highway improvements to be made throughout the state over the next five years. The list included several projects here in our area.

Several projects are planned for I-55 in Livingston County in addition to some ADA improvements to state highways in Cornell and Dwight. In Iroquois County, IDOT will be resurfacing a large portion of I-57 and replacing the bridge on U.S. 45 at Prairie Creek. IDOT will be resurfacing areas of I-39 in Woodford County and replacing the bridge over Panther Creek in Roanoke. Some Vermilion County projects include resurfacing, culvert replacement and bridge repair on Illinois 1 near Rossville. In Ford County, the plan calls for culvert replacement along Illinois 115 and ADA improvements to Lott Boulevard in Gibson City.

The full list of projects can be viewed at www.idot.illinois.gov/myp2019-2024.

How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $6,646,909,731 in unpaid bills to state vendors. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is estimated to be more than $100 billion.

Opposing newly-proposed tax increases
Earlier this month, three economists published a paper which encouraged Illinois legislators to enact a 1% statewide property tax – on top of the local property taxes already in effect. This idea would have devastating consequences for Illinoisans, particularly farmers.

In response to this terrible idea, a bipartisan group of legislators introduced House Resolution 1072, which expressed the legislature’s opposition to a statewide property tax. Right now Illinois is #2 in the nation in having the highest average property tax bills – right behind New Jersey. Putting in place this additional tax would just put even more of a burden on working families and middle class taxpayers.

We also continue to hear talk about adopting a graduated, or progressive income tax. This would do away with the current 4.95% Illinois flat income tax rate and instead let the legislature set different tax rates for different income earners. So far, there has been just one set of proposed tax brackets filed in the Illinois General Assembly: House Bill 3522, which would raise taxes on as many as 77% of Illinois income tax payers.

Though the House did take a party-line vote in support of a non-binding resolution supporting the graduated income tax (I voted against), I am pleased that we reached the end of the spring legislative session without either of these tax increase plans being brought to the floor. However, I am confident that we have not seen the last of either proposal.

Upcoming public meetings
I will be hosting two more public meetings in the next couple of weeks. The first will be on Thursday June 7 in Watseka, with another on Thursday June 14 in Eureka. Both meetings will start at 5:15 p.m. They are open to the public and no RSVP is required. I encourage anyone with ideas, comments or questions about this year’s legislative session to drop by.

In Watseka, we will be meeting in the County Board room of the Clifford Bury Administrative Center, located at 1001 E. Grant Street. In Eureka, we will be at the Apostolic Christian Home at 610 W. Cruger Avenue. I hope to see you there!

Did You Know?
Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is named for Navy Lieutenant Commander Edward “Butch” O’Hare, a fighter pilot who earned a Medal of Honor during action in 1942. The Chicago native was credited with shooting down five Japanese bombers and damaging another while protecting his ship, the USS Lexington. O’Hare was killed in action in 1943. The airport was formally named for O’Hare during a ceremony on September 18, 1949.

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