Senate Week in Review

November 19, 2014
[Sen. Kyle McCarter]


Illinois hit the “reset” button on November 4. A new chief executive takes office in mid-January; and while the state legislature remains essentially unchanged, new leadership inspires hope in a new vision and innovative approaches moving Illinois forward.

Unfinished Business
Members of the Illinois Senate and House return to the Capitol for the fall Veto Session on November 19. There are very few pieces of legislation vetoed by the Governor that lawmakers will consider so the attention is likely to focus on other pending and controversial issues.

Minimum Wage Increase
There is legislation pending in the Senate that would increase the state’s minimum wage from the current $8.25 per hour to $10.65 per hour by 2016. I’m concerned the increase imposes higher costs on employers who are already struggling in a state economy burdened and besieged by years of taxes, fees and regulations. It’s going to make job creation more difficult. Basic economics and real life tell us if you raise the cost of something – an item or a service – you will see lower demand for that item or service. This also applies to the cost of hiring. Most minimum wage workers are employed by small businesses. Small businesses, which are responsible for most of the hiring in our economy, will see their competitiveness damaged and their ability to weather the current economic climate harmed.

The Bare Minimum or Creating Opportunity?
The minimum wage should never be looked at as the American Dream. Most parents don’t challenge their kids to aspire to the minimum wage. Why would anyone do that? Parents want more for them, for their families.
The minimum wage is meant for entry-level workers and those wanting to gain experience so they can move upward. Typical minimum wage jobs are entry-level positions most often filled by teens. Most people graduate from them as they gain experience and work skills. Raising the minimum wage could very well choke off those opportunities to grow and move up.

Instead of raising the minimum wage, let’s raise people OUT of the minimum wage.

The solution to Illinois’s problems is to rejuvenate the economy. We need an opportunity-minded approach to addressing our economy and weak job market. The entry level wage in North Dakota is $14 per hour. This did not take place because of a referendum on the ballot or new legislation. It took place because of a technology-driven energy boom. New methods of extracting oil and natural gas through fracking created thousands of energy jobs and thousands of secondary jobs throughout the North Dakota economy. Job growth increased demand for workers causing wages – even for entry-level positions – to increase.

Illinois’ advisory question on the ballot regarding minimum wage was nothing more than a ploy by the Democrat majority to get their constituencies out to vote by invoking class warfare. It was an insincere effort to encourage voting in an election they knew they could lose.

Taxes: A Warning Worth Repeating
It is human nature that we tend to repeat ourselves when warnings are warranted. So, let me restate as lawmakers get ready to return to Springfield for the fall Veto Session to watch your wallet. Had Pat Quinn won reelection, I believe most Capitol watchers expected an extension of the 67% state income tax increase first imposed on families and employers in January of 2011.

The 2011 tax hike took a week’s pay from the average family and siphoned off precious resources from employers. Since its inception state government gained nearly $30 billion ($30,000,000,000) in new revenue. Yet, Illinois remains deeply in debt and we still can’t pay our bills. Clearly, the 2011 tax hike is proof you can’t tax your way to prosperity. However, the facts didn’t diminish the enthusiasm by my Democrat colleagues to keep the full tax hike in place, even though it was passed with a promise to begin rolling it back at the end of this year. Since the Nov. 4 election results, the legislation push for the tax hike extension has not been as aggressive. I believe the Democrat majorities in the Senate and House will instead force the new Governor to lay out his own plan to balance the budget without the additional tax revenues. What I hope we don’t see and the motivation behind my “watch your wallet” advice is what a “lame-duck” legislature may do before the new General Assembly is seated and begins its work in mid-January. Lame-ducks – lawmakers who lost a reelection or retired after the November 2010 election – helped to pass the 67% state income tax hike in the first place.

Vetoed Legislation
This year, Gov. Quinn vetoed just 11 of the 243 Senate Bills and 268 House Bills sent to him for consideration. Notably, the Governor vetoed bills that would have established regulations for ridesharing companies like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar and brought uniformity to speed limits on Interstates and toll highways. He also partially changed legislation I sponsored that would have equalized the charges imposed by local governments providing water and sewer connections for development opportunities. Under current law, there is a great imbalance in how water and sewer connection fees are assessed between municipalities and townships. I support a solution that provides fairness and encourages growth opportunities. I believe the Governor’s actions will bring all sides together to find an acceptable solution in the debate over about how local connection fees are assessed.

Education Funding: Senate Bill 16
Testimony is expected Nov. 18 during a House Committee hearing about changes to Illinois’ School Aid Formula included in Senate Bill 16 (SB16). While the legislation has passed the Senate its House sponsor from the Chicago collar counties has indicated she does not intend to call the bill for a vote in its current form. However, the hearing suggests that Senate Bill 16, or some version of the legislation, could be called during a January lame-duck session. I have concerns about SB16 because although the School Aid Formula needs to be rewritten and reformed, what the Senate was allowed to vote on this spring failed to bring about real fairness and equality to the process of how we fund our children’s education.

I have a number of concerns that begin with the assumption that more funding is going to change education. This has been proven to be incorrect. One example is East St. Louis. They gain $4 million with SB16 but the district has been taken over by the state and we are already spending nearly twice as much on students there than students in the neighboring community of O’Fallon. Another concern is the communities penalized under SB16. These are schools which have sacrificed the most by passing referendums to increase taxes so they can invest more in their kids. Does anyone in Chicago remember the last time they approved a referendum for schools? Another uneasy part of SB16 is that it continues the funding disparity between Chicago and the rest of the state. The reworked funding formula is more convoluted than the current formula. SB16 also fails to address unfunded mandates which are routinely loaded onto the backs of our local schools and local taxpayers by the education bureaucrats and like-minded politicians in Springfield. The quickest way to improve the finances of our schools is to relieve them of unfunded mandates. Relief was promised in early negotiations on SB16, only to be withdrawn from consideration on the Senate floor minutes before a final vote. It was sham politics at the expense of our children.

I will continue to be involved on behalf of our schools and what’s in the best interest of our students.