Rep Brian Stewart Weekly Column: Student Athletes and the Budget Bamboozle

It was the great UCLA mens basketball Coach John Wooden who said, The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own example. Several area student-athletes set a tremendous example at the IHSA Class 1A State Track and Field Finals.

Carmen DeVries from Lena-Winslow/Pearl City claimed the State title in the 400m dash, and also finished 3rd in the triple jump. Emily Offenheiser from Stockton/Warren took home 1st in discus, and 2nd in shot put. Milledgevilles Rebecca Waite finished 3rd in the 200m dash.

And last weekend, in the Boys Class 1A State Track and Field Finals, Forrestons AJ Christenson took first place in the 300 meter Intermediate Hurdles and in the 110 meter High Hurdles. Lena-Winslow/Pearl Citys relay team of Ty Chrisman, Isaiah Bruce, Gaige Schwartz, and Rahveon Valentine took 2nd place in the 4×100 meter relay, and 3rd place in the 4×200.

Thomas Edison said, There is no substitute for hard work. Our student athletes are proof of that. Congratulations to all our state competitors and finalists for your hard work and success this season.

If Albert Einsteins words, In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity, are true, then Illinois faces tremendous opportunity. Last week I outlined a few of the challenges confronting our state. The legislature adjourned this week, and we have had an opportunity to witness the response to our fiscal crisis.

The Illinois General Assembly passed House Bills 109 (Budget) and 3342 (Budget Implementation) on Thursday, and people should be concerned about the difficulty it will bring for five reasons.

1. Pensions: The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago pegs Illinois pension debt at $111 billion, according to the Illinois Policy Institute. Moodys Investors Service estimates our pension debt at $250 billion. Why the disparity?

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) explains the difference between the Chicago Fed and Moodys estimates in the 10th edition of their report Rich States/Poor States. States and organizations estimate pension debt based on how much money is available to invest at a specific rate of return. The higher the rate of return, the lower the pension debt is.

Organizations like the Chicago Fed are most likely using what the ALEC report calls, the simple, unweighted average discount rate of 7.37%. Moodys is most likely using a more conservative rate of return, similar to the ones used by the Hoover Institute, or the ALEC reports own rate of 2.344%. Both Hoover and ALEC estimate Illinois pensions to be less than 30% funded.

The new budget does not address underfunded pensions, nor have any efforts been made to reform pensions in order to reduce the debt burden.

2. Unpaid Bills: As I mentioned in last weeks column, Illinois total backlog of unpaid bills is topping $204 billion. This amounts to over $41,000 in debt per Illinois family. Nothing in HB109 or HB3342 addresses how Illinois will begin paying its bills on time and the total of what we owe vendors as of today stands at $7.04 billion.

3. Unbalanced: This makes the same $300 million assumption of the Thompson Centers sale value. It also includes over $600 million in interfund borrowing. Such borrowing is a way to cover spending when tax receipts cant. Lastly, the estimate of increased revenue for the next fiscal year is almost double our average economic growth, which puts the budget out of balance by as much as $1.5 billion, according to the Illinois Policy Institute.

4. Waste: This budget appropriates over $180 million from the Road Fund for former President Obamas Presidential Center. It is unclear what the money is for, or how it will be used. One legislative group is being allocated $50,000 to hold a national convention. It is unclear if it is the only legislative group receiving these funds, and if so, why it qualifies, what the process was to qualify, etc

5. Time to Review: JRR Tolkiens Lord of the Rings saga is 1216 pages long. HB 109 is 1245 pages long! The Senate had the bill for 5 hours before voting. The House had it for 4 hours before voting. Combined, the General Assembly took less time to read the budget than the total run time of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. How can we be expected to make the right decisions if we dont take the right amount of time to consider them?

Fuzzy budgeting, wasteful spending, mounting deficits, snap decisions, and a backlog of unpaid bills dont make for a successful business. They dont make for a successful state either. These are some of the reasons I chose to vote no. We need a better process to get better results and I will provide more budget information in future columns.

Thankfully, something good happened in Springfield last week. The General Assembly passed Senate Bill 3105. The legislation, permits a child protective investigator of a Child Protective Service Unit to request assistance from local law enforcement officers. This provides DCFS investigators with some measure of protection to avoid being viciously assaulted, as investigator Pam Knight was last September, which ultimately resulted in her death.

If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, you can reach me or Sally at 815-232-0774, or visit my website at and use the form to send me an e-mail.

Brian Stewart

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