Budget Impasse 1

By Bob Balgemann


BELVIDERE – State Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, was in town Wednesday morning, July 15 to talk about the continuing budget impasse in Springfield.

Ironically, he was at the monthly breakfast meeting of the Belvidere Area Chamber of Commerce held at the Keen Age Center on Henry Lucklow Lane. And he was told in no uncertain terms that the center, which serves many of Boone County’s senior citizens, was feeling the effects of state’s failure to adopt its 2015-16 budget.

Executive Director Joe Fortmann said the money for center programs had been suspended and that the center itself was down to six months worth of operating reserves.

“This is happening right now; people are being hurt now,” he said in a follow-up interview. “When you tell people they’re no longer being served, they’re in tears.”

Meanwhile, the General Assembly, which was supposed to have adjourned May 31 with a new budget taking effect July 1, is in continuing session. Sosnowski, who represents the vast majority of Boone County, said in reality the Legislature only meets once a week. “Most of that is a dog and pony show,” he said.

The Majority Party, better known as the Democrats, had a budget that called for spending $4 billion more than would be taken in next year. Most recently it came up with a one-month budget, which was 1/12th of its full-year budget. That was supported by House Speaker Michael Madigan – who really didn’t want it – for two reasons:

  1. It makes it appear that the Legislature is working.
  2. It is an attempt to make Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who will veto it, look bad.

Sosnowski called that nothing more than “a PR battle.”

Turnaround agenda

He said the Majority Party has labeled Rauner as “extreme” because of the elements in his Turnaround Agenda, designed to get Illinois back on track. The agenda tackles such issues as pension reform, term limits, workers compensation, redistricting and repealing Prevailing Wage.

Rauner wants to ease the mandate burden on local government. Sosnowski pointed to the Prevailing Wage law, which specifies hourly rates counties and municipalities are forced to pay for public works projects. Those wages in effect run up the cost of that work by 20 percent, Sosnowski said.

But he said repealing the legislation, as specified in the Rauner agenda, would be difficult because members of both parties support unions on a number of issues, including that one.

Property tax also needs to be addressed, he said. Illinois’ rate is 1.92 and is higher than other states in the Midwest. Michigan is the closest, at 1.63, while Indiana is 0.93.

And within the state itself there is disparity. The tax on a $200,000 house in Chicago is about half of what it is here, he said.

The Boone County Board supported the Rauner agenda in a 7-4 vote, with one absention, on May 20, despite opposition from union representatives who were at the meeting.

Sosnowski was asked where the state’s going from here.

“I wish I had a good answer,” he replied. “(Speaker) Madigan has said ‘no’ to virtually every reform the governor wants. The governor has backed off on some, but Madigan hasn’t moved. We’re at a stalemate right now.”

“The Majority Party is already planning for next year’s election, so I don’t think there will be much change,” he added.

There were some questions with a woman suggesting the state consider taxing retirees to help with its financial situation. She said they use roads and services more than younger families.

Sosnowski didn’t jump at that idea, saying the state wants to keep retirees here. No tax on retirement benefits is one of the few perks the state offers, he said, adding that the weather wasn’t one of them.

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