Springfield, IL – As Illinois is now in its seventh month into the fiscal year without a state budget, based on legislative archives, this has been the longest time without a complete and constitutional, twelve month state budget since at least 1970. While the lack of a budget at the start of the fiscal year is a serious disappointment, 2016 is full of promise on a number of fronts, and could be a turning point for better days and a more vibrant economy in the Land of Lincoln.
Optimism For 2016
Senator Barickman remains committed in 2016 to passing a balanced and constitutional state budget and fundamental reforms to move Illinois forward and put the state back on track for more job creation, business investment, and economic prosperity.
A new calendar and legislative year is also the perfect time to renew a pledge for fiscal responsibility and end years of overspending beyond what taxpayers can afford. Senator Barickman continues pushing for reforms to change the direction of the state from the stagnation and economic loss of the recent past. This effort requires working closely with the Governor’s office and colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
“We all know what the issues are, and if everyone can come together in good-faith, there is no reason we can’t reform our government and pass a balanced budget,” said Senator Barickman.
In addition to the work on a state budget, other key legislative issues in 2016 include: property tax relief; education funding and reforms that prepare young people for careers; and workers’ compensation and regulation reforms that encourage business growth and jobs.
Efficient and Accountable Government
On Jan. 4, the final report from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s task force on local government consolidation and unfunded mandates was made public. After 11 months of meetings, public hearings and study, the Task Force’s 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, allowing lawmakers the time to give them a thorough review.
There are more local units of government in Illinois than any other state in the nation at 6,963. The Rauner Administration cites the layers of government as a reason for Illinois’ second-highest effective property tax rate in the nation.
The Task Force-endorsed 27 recommendations were the result of testimony during public hearings in 2015 from more than 30 experts representing government associations, nonprofit think tanks, researchers, and state agencies. The 29-member panel of state and local elected officials was chaired by Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti. The final report can be found at www.illinois.gov.
Economic Realities Send People Packing
A sluggish economy, a not seasonally adjusted Illinois unemployment rate (5.8%) that lags behind the national average (4.8%) – according to the most recent state analysis – and a consistent top ranking for out-migration, are telltale signs Illinois needs reforms to turn around its economic prospects.
United Van Lines, the nation’s largest moving company, recently released its annual National Movers Study of customer state-to-state moves over the past year. Like last year’s report on 2014 moves, Illinois ranks third highest among the 50 states for 2015. According to the St. Louis-based company, Illinois ranked in the top five for out-migration – more people moving out of Illinois than are moving into the state – for the last seven years. Only New Jersey and New York fared worse than Illinois for 2015.
Winter Flood Update
Although the flood waters are beginning to recede, Illinois continues to be plagued by flooding triggered by heavy rains during the last week of 2015. The Governor added 11 new counties to the list of State Disaster Areas on Jan. 5, bringing the total to 23 counties. These counties are now 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.
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 assistance. Murphy expects the disaster assessments to continue over the next several weeks.
Governor Bruce Rauner also announced that the State will waive penalties and interest for taxpayers who cannot file or pay on time as a result of the December 2015 and January 2016 floods. The waiver applies to taxpayers in the 23 disaster declared counties for payments or returns due between December 23, 2015 and June 30, 2016.
IEMA also manages a public website that is a great resource for updates on severe weather situations across the state and to find assistance and preparedness information. The Ready Illinois website is www.ready.illinois.gov.
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.