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WNIJ's summary of news items around our state.

Northern Illinois Legislators Talk Tax Rates, Higher Ed And Health Care At State Budget Debate

Peter Medlin

Illinois state representatives from both sides of the aisle came to Northern Illinois University this week. They fielded student questions, debated state budget issues and discussed the challenges of the political process.

The Illinois House of Representatives boasts dozens more Democrats than Republicans. But Representatives from both parties said they were encouraged by bipartisan action they saw when working on the budget.

But they all saw politicians take advantage of the numbers game, instead of discussing bills. Even Democrats like State Representative Maurice West were dismayed.

“Instead of respecting our Republican colleagues, he (a Democratic colleague) said, ‘Forget it, we’re going to do anything and everything we want because we have the supermajority.’ That's bullying to me, instead of leading," said West.

West and Republican State Representative Jeff Keicher worked together on higher education appropriations. They said their committee spent 22 hours trimming the budget. Then Keicher said theyran into surprise income tax money and decided to give everything a 5% boost.

“It was literally wiped out in what 15-20 minutes, tops," said Keicher. "Gone because we had that extra money. That's the mentality that we need to break in Springfield.”

While West said he was relieved they could give more money to programs, he agreed he wishes they could have been more strategic.

One of the first questions was about the expansion of Medicaid and how health care fits into the state budget.

For Democratic State Representative Lance Yednock, there’s a more philosophical question he feels needs to be addressed when it comes to health care funding.

“I have a feeling that when the brass tacks hits, people are going to want to have it as a right, not a privilege," he said.

Next year, Illinois voterswill decide on a potential graduated income tax. Republicans, like State Representative Keith Wheeler, are concerned with a lack of taxpayer protections.

“Nothing says that you couldn't really single out a small subset, or even a single person in the state of Illinois and give them a unique tax rate," he said. "To me, those are things we could easily build into that would make it a better process for everyone involved.”

Members of both parties were disappointed by alack of movement on legalized sports betting. Even though it passed, rules are yet to come out and the State has already missed out on revenue during football season.