Senator McCarter: Week In Review

January 12, 2016

More than six months after the start of the Illinois’ fiscal year (July 1, 2015) and state government is still without a full budget in place. Is that a record? Perhaps. Based on legislative archives, this is the longest time without a complete and constitutional, 12-month state budget since at least 1970. While that’s a disappointment, I believe 2016 is full of promise.

Optimistic About 2016
My fellow Senate Republicans and I are committed to passing a balanced and constitutional budget. We will work with the Governor’s office and our Democrat colleagues to end the current impasse and set the stage for further progress on a state budget that must be in place before July 1, 2016. I am also committed to continue efforts in passing fundamental government and business reforms to return prosperity to Illinois for everyone. Job creation and business investment are two sides of the same coin. We can’t have one without the other.

In this new year, we must also insist on fiscal responsibility. Actually balancing our state budget would put an end to the overspending occurring over the past dozen years. It would change the direction of our state from the stagnation and economic loss of the recent past to the progress and hope a new year inspires. Obviously, Republicans and Democrats must work together toward a common goal of renewal. It’s in the best interests of Illinois’ 12 million-plus citizens. That’s you, me, our families and friends.

There are a number of important issues with great potential that can move our state forward including, property tax relief; education funding and reforms that prepare young people for careers; workers’ compensation and regulation reforms that encourage business growth and jobs.

I believe 2016 is full of promise and could be a turning point for better days ahead for the Land of Lincoln.

Report: Efficient and Accountable Government Possible
The final report from Governor Rauner’s Task Force on Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandates was made public Jan. 4. The 29-member group met over a period of 11 months, held meetings and public hearings where they heard from more than 30 experts representing government associations, nonprofit think tanks, researchers, and state agencies. Their report outlines more than two dozen recommendations for streamlining local government, empowering communities and saving taxpayer dollars. The recommendations could become legislative proposals during the 2016 spring session. I look forward to seeing the details and how the state might implement positive change.

Did you know there are more local units of government in Illinois than any other state in the nation? There are 6,963 local units of government, according to the Rauner Administration, which cites those numerous layers of government as a reason for Illinois’ second-highest effective property tax rate in the nation. You can view the final Task Force report and check out all of the recommendations

Illinoisans Continue to Leave
Clearly, our sluggish economy, a state unemployment rate (5.8%) that lags behind the national average (4.8%) – according to the most recent state analysis – coupled with the United Van Lines report (see below) are indicators that Illinois needs reforms to turn around its economic prospects.

About a year ago in this column, I reported on a study by United Van Lines of customer moves into and out of Illinois. A year ago, Illinois ranked in third place among the 50 states for out-migration – more people moving out of Illinois than moving into the state. This year, according to the nation’s largest mover, Illinois is holding onto that third place spot based on their National Movers Study for 2015. The St. Louis-based company also reports that Illinois ranked in the top five states for out-migration for the last seven years. Only New Jersey and New York fared worse than Illinois for 2015.

Winter Flood Update
Although the water in rivers, streams and lakes are beginning to recede, Illinois communities and citizens continue to deal with the aftermath of flooding triggered by heavy rains during the last week of 2015. The Governor added 11 new counties, including Marion County, to the list of State Disaster Areas on Jan. 5 bringing the total to 23 counties. The affected counties are eligible for state assistance to battle flood waters and support their local communities. Resources include sandbags, sand, pumps, trucks, inmate crews and other assistance to ensure public safety.

Governor Rauner also announced during the week that the State will waive penalties and interest for taxpayers who cannot file tax returns or pay taxes owed on time as a result of the December 2015 and January 2016 floods. The waiver applies only to taxpayers in the 23 disaster declared counties for payments or returns due between December 23, 2015 and June 30, 2016. Counties in the 54th Senate District that received the Disaster Declaration and are included in the tax filing decision are Clinton, Madison, Marion and St. Clair.

Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) Legislative Liaison Erik Murphy said the agency is briefing local authorities on the assistance available for public entities and individuals. IEMA is also in the preliminary stages of disaster assessment with an eye toward eligibility for federal assistance if flooding damages warrant. Murphy expects the disaster assessments to continue over the next several weeks.

The State Emergency Operations Center in Springfield remains in operation. It was first activated Dec. 28 to coordinate the state’s flood response.

State Tax Refunds Delayed
The Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) announced Jan. 4 a delay in state income tax refunds. The agency cited concerns about fraud and identity theft. Tax filers submitting their returns electronically before March 1, 2016 will be issued refunds within two to three weeks of that date. Refunds for those filing returns on or after the March 1 date will be issued within two to three weeks from the date the return was submitted.

IDOR Director Connie Beard said in an agency press release, “By delaying tax refunds by just a few weeks, we’ll be able to better detect attempts at identity theft and ensure taxpayer refunds do not fall needlessly into the hands of criminals.” Beard also commented that fraud prevention measures helped the agency save nearly $5 million during last year’s tax season.

According to IDOR, tax refunds are not impacted by the current budget impasse because they are not subject to budgetary appropriations.

Vandalia Chamber of Commerce Meeting
I appreciate the invitation and opportunity to meet with members of the Vandalia Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 6. The ongoing budget impasse and Workers’ Compensation reform dominated our discussion. Even though we have no complete and constitutional budget in place, most state services and programs are being funded because of previous court rulings and consent decrees. However, that’s not the way to govern nor is it fiscally responsible. As you know, I am a strong advocate for reforming our Workers’ Compensation System. I’ve sponsored a number of proposals to do just that. The way Workers’ Comp is currently structured, it’s a roadblock to job creation and business growth in Illinois. I’ll continue to work toward common sense reforms in 2016.

Notable Quotable
“In executing the duties of my present important station, I can promise nothing but purity of intentions, and, in carrying these into effect, fidelity and diligence.” – George Washington, First President of the United States; Speech to a joint session of the Massachusetts State Legislature, July 9, 1789.

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