A Weekly Update on Issues with Illinois State Senator Gary Forby...
Last week, we wrapped up the spring session of the Illinois General Assembly. I believe we got a lot done. We passed a balanced budget, reduced Medicaid costs, and sent hundreds of pieces of legislation to the governor on a wide range of topics. It’s possible that we’ll return to Springfield for a day or two this summer to deal with a few left-over issues like state park funding and the governor’s push to reduce state employee pension costs, but I look forward to spending most of the summer here in the district, listening to your concerns and ideas.
In the end, I supported the budget plan that passed the General Assembly, even though there were some areas that I think we cut too much. The budget is balanced. We expect to take in $33.7 billion for the state’s major checking account, and we only spend $33.7 billion. It pays our full pension payment, so the state won’t sink deeper into debt. It even has funding to pay down the backlog of overdue bills the state owes small businesses, schools, and universities. It also has money to keep open important state facilities like Tamms Correctional Center and Murray Developmental Center that provide good-paying jobs and important services to Southern Illinois families.
However, I do still have some concerns. I think the budget shortchanges education, which is a bad move. If we don’t invest in our children now, we’ll have to pay for it later. It also cuts funding for MAP grants—the state’s main need-based financial aid for students at Illinois’ universities and community colleges. If we price working families out of higher education, it will be harder and harder for them to find good-paying jobs. A budget plan I supported earlier in May had funding available for these key programs, but unfortunately, the final budget compromise the Senate reached with the House took it back out.
The Medicaid cost savings plan was also a mixed bag. Unlike the budget, I supported parts of the Medicaid package while opposing others. I supported the final cost-savings package that cut $1.6 billion in expenses. Some of the cutbacks are tough, and will have a real effect on real people, but others were fairly commonsense, like only allowing Medicaid recipients to get a new pair of glasses once every two years. If we’re ever going to get Illinois back on track to complete financial stability, we have to find savings in Medicaid—its expenses go up faster than the cost of living every year. However, I did not support a cigarette tax increase to pay for Medicaid, mostly because I think it will drive people away from Illinois businesses. The district I represent shares a border with Indiana, Kentucky, and Missouri. People will cross the border to by their cigarettes, taking money away from local companies.
Now that I’m back home, I look forward to hearing from all of you. Please feel free to visit my office in Benton, to call me, or to visit my website at www.SenatorForby.com.