Editor's note: The following commentary exceeds the PCR's 500-word limit for a Letter to the Editor, therefore, the PCR will extend the same opportunity to someone with an opposing view. Contact PCR Editor Terri Simon at 815-875-4461, ext. 6330, before submitting.
To the Editor,
When I was elected on Nov. 8, 2016, I knew I was walking into a political hotbed, but I didn’t fully realize how bad things actually were until I stepped foot in Springfield. The problems facing our state have been decades in the making. For example, Illinois’ pension liability represents 10 percent of the entire nation’s pension debt; the overall tax burden for families and businesses is the fifth highest in the nation; and we have the 48th worst business climate in the country. These statistics aren’t the result of the last two or three years. They are the direct result of years upon years of failed policies and false promises.
It’s important to know Michael Madigan and the Democrats have long been in control of the General Assembly and currently have a majority in the House and a supermajority in the Senate. Due to these majorities, the Democrats have complete control of the legislative process.
In the House, the majority party alone decides which bills are allowed to move through the legislative process through the powerful Rules Committee. And after that, it is up to the sole discretion of the speaker as to which bills are allowed to be called for a vote and when. I have seen this first hand with some of my bills. The majority party didn’t like them, so they refused to call them for a vote. But don’t just take my word on it, last week, the House passed 179 pieces of legislation. Of those, 133 bills were Democrat bills and only 46 were Republican bills.
This concentration of power in the legislature leads to a much larger problem facing Illinois though, and that’s the budget stalemate.
A balanced budget is required in the state of Illinois by our constitution, and there are a number of steps that must be completed in order to make this happen. First, the legislature is required by law to pass a revenue estimate. Then the governor and the governor’s office of management and budget (GOMB) present their budgets.
The next step is for Senate and House Appropriations Committees to meet, hear testimony from state agencies, and determine the funding levels for those agencies based on the previously approved revenue estimate. Finally, the budget bills are filed, receive votes and move on to the governor’s desk to be signed.
If it’s really that simple, what’s the hold up? The fact is, the majority party in the legislature has failed to complete Step 1. As a reminder, the Illinois Constitution states in Article VIII, Section 2, Paragraph B: "The General Assembly by law shall make appropriations for all expenditures of public funds by the state. Appropriations for a fiscal year shall not exceed funds estimated by the General Assembly to be available during that year.”
So instead of focusing on Step 1, the majority party has decided to focus on passing bills totaling $295 million last week alone without identifying how we’re going to pay for it. This has to stop.
My Republican colleagues and I stand ready and willing to negotiate on a balanced budget that will lead to economic growth in all corners of the state. But we can’t negotiate alone. In a divided government we all have to come together and compromise for the people we represent.
I remain optimistic about our future because I believe the people of the 76th District, as well as the people of Illinois, know that we can't keep doing the same thing time and time again while expecting different results. Reckless spending plans, insurmountable debt, and other burdensome legislation have been the norm for too long. I will continue to push to grow our economy and make Illinois a friendly state to do business in, so that we can bring good-paying jobs back to our hard-working families.
For all the people I have come to know, and the ones that have expressed concerns about the future of our state, I can't think of a better place to be able to help than fighting for them in Springfield. The opportunity to turn our state around and bring the certainty that families, businesses and future generations deserve is upon us. I hope that my colleagues recognize this opportunity and join me in making Illinois a national leader again and a state for which we can all be proud.
Illinois State Rep. Jerry Long, 76th District