State Budget, School Funding Among Topics at Franklin Park Town Hall

State Rep. Camille Lilly (at left) and State Sen. Don Harmon (at right) speak with residents June 12 after a town hall meeting in Franklin Park. (Rachel K. Hindery/Pioneer Press)

Early in Franklin Park’s town hall meeting on June 12, state Sen. Don Harmon made the first reference to what would be a major discussion point for the next two hours.

“We’re all committed to find a way to pass the budget,” Harmon said.

Harmon, joined by state Reps. Camille Lilly and Kathleen Willis, addressed approximately 30 constituents at the Franklin Park Community Center between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. on June 12.

The agenda included a brief update from Springfield, a focus on four bipartisan laws, details on a school funding bill and time for questions and answers.

Harmon shared a PowerPoint presentation about expenses and revenues in Illinois. Major expenses included school funding, pensions, Medicaid and human services. Harmon said that cutting state government would not greatly impact the budget.

Representatives stated the importance of bipartisanism throughout the town hall.

“The energy of a bipartisan approach is bringing forth new ideas,” Lilly said.

“We need to be able to work together, because the people that need the care aren’t Democrats or Republicans …,” Willis said.

Representatives focused on four bills that are receiving bipartisan support:

Automatic voter registration, in which a citizen showing proper identification may be automatically enrolled to vote when obtaining a driver’s license (Senate bill 1933).

Investment in wind energy (SB 71).

A bill to require licensing for gun dealers, which Harmon said could support local police (SB 1657).

Criminal justice reform; sentencing various types of crimes (SB 1722).

Details on each bill, including sponsors, is available through the Illinois General Assembly website (www.ilga.gov/legislation).

School funding reform, specifically Senate bill 1, which would increase funding for all Illinois schools, was also a focus.

“Kids’ education should not be dependent on the ZIP code in which they live,” Harmon said, describing the bill as “evidence-based funding reform” that could help school reach academic goals.

Harmon and other representatives said they are doing their part to reach a budget agreement, describing how Illinois Senate Democrats produced each reform included in a bipartisan “grand bargain.”

Constituents expressed disappointment that Illinois continues to lack a budget, mentioning consequences including people moving out of Illinois and a lack of funding for areas such as early intervention, during a question-and-answer time.

Representatives addressed concerns by acknowledging their validity, sharing examples of their work to resolve partisan disagreements or expressing that they experience similar emotions.

“I just want you to know we’re listening to you. … I appreciate you sharing,” Lilly said, adding that she recently attended two bipartisan meetings to continue dialogue.

Lilly also encouraged constituents to share town hall meeting information with others and to keep engaging in the political system, including letting the governor know their wishes.

Willis said that Republicans also want to pass a budget.

“The Senate is often frustrated with the House and the speaker,” Harmon said, adding that some Republicans understand the importance of compromise.

Harmon said that Illinois is among a minority of states without a graduated income tax and that raising the income tax could bring in revenue, also saying, “nobody likes to vote to raise taxes.”

Willis agreed.

“It [a graduated income tax] is the least painful and probably safest way to go,” Willis said, adding “we cannot cut ourselves to a balanced budget …”

Other discussion topics included consolidating local government and pension reform.

Despite challenges, “We have so much going for us. We can recover, and we will,” Harmon said.

Rachel K. Hindery is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.

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