Chris Essig

Walkthroughs, tips and tricks from a data journalist in eastern Iowa

Legislative session in full swing

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The first month of the new decade in Illinois politics has been dominated by primary election coverage and for good reason. There were so many close races, it was hard to keep up with all of them. But now that the elections are done and most of the winners have been announced, it’s time for our local politicians to the return to the Capitol for this year’s legislative session. True, they were in session for a few days in January but very little got done because of the lingering February primary. But that is in the past. And, boy, do the lawmakers have a big agenda to tackle.

The issue that will dominate this session is the state’s budget woes, which are among the worst in the nation. Our deficit is a whopping $12 billion and every state entity under the moon is starting to fasten their belts…in a big way. Many universities are still waiting millions of dollars worth of payments from the state and are implementing furloughs and layoffs until the money comes through. And that is just one, tiny example.

Democrats are somewhat united behind an income and corporate tax increase, which would give the state much needed breathing room in its finances. But tax increases are terribly unpopular, especially during a recession that has produced 11 percent unemployment across the state. And the general election coming in November makes it even more difficult for lawmakers to approve a politically-suicidal tax increase. The Senate did pass an increase last session, but the House has refused to bring it to the floor.

Republicans, on the other hand, are try to cut, cut, cut their way out of the deficit, which would mean spending reductions that could affect nearly everyone. But every little bit helps, they argue. One such proposal I’ve been covering  would remove front license plates on registered cars and trucks. I’ve blogged about this before but today it was brought up in committee. And it failed:

SPRINGFIELD — A proposed law that would have removed the front license plates on Illinois cars and trucks failed an early test Tuesday.

A House committee voted 4-2 against the measure, which would require drivers have just one plate in the rear of their vehicle. State Rep. Jerry Mitchell, R-Sterling, sponsored the measure and said it would save the state $800,000.

The committee was concerned the measure would hinder the police force and compromise public safety. It could be brought up in the future, but we will see.

Obviously, every cut you make affects someone or something. For every cut there is a compelling argument for why so-and-so or such-and-such really needs the funding. And some are easier to argue than others. But if a cut like this can’t even make it out of committee, it’s going to be very tough to implement enough cuts to get the state out of this fiscal nightmare. I would assume much more drastic and controversial cuts would need to be implemented to trim a deficit that is tens of billions of dollars.

I could be wrong. But many contend a tax increase is the only way to realistically shore up the state’s deficit. But even then, cuts may be needed. And who is to say a tax increase would really bring down the state deficit? Could lawmakers just spend the money on local pork projects to help win favor in their district and leave the state’s finances in dismal shape? In short, is a tax increase really the answer?

But before we get too ahead of ourselves, we have to realize that many lawmakers won’t vote for something so controversial because their job will be on the line in nine months. In the mean time, the state continues to wobble along, barely scraping by…

As the saying goes, it make “blood on the sidewalks” for lawmakers to vote on something that is damaging enough to get the state out of the red ink.

Image posted by Flickr user klynslis. It is used under a Creative Commons license.

Written by csessig

February 10, 2010 at 8:38 pm

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