The Legislative Action
The Edgar agenda
By MICHAEL D. KLEMENS
Gov. Jim Edgar calls it "an ambitious agenda.'' In his State of the State address February 13, the moderate Republican mostly reiterated campaign themes. Nevertheless, his ambitious though unrevolutionary agenda will give lawmakers plenty to work on throughout the spring session.
Edgar's boldest initiative calls for action to limit property tax growth. Edgar told lawmakers he wanted action by the end of March, so that this year's tax bills would show the results. He accented its importance and fulfilled a campaign pledge by calling lawmakers into special session starting that evening. While several Democratic representatives grumbled during the governor's speech about the short notice, most showed up for the 20-minute House session.
Edgar proposed the Property Tax Extension Limitation Act. It is similar to the measures pushed by both Democrats and Republicans last year to place caps on property taxes, but those failed. Edgar's proposals would:
• Limit local government (cities, villages, counties, school districts, townships, etc.) authority to increase their 1991 property taxes (extended, or billed) to no more than 5 percent.
• Limit local government authority to increase property taxes billed in 1992 and thereafter to either 5 percent or the growth in the consumer price index, whichever is less.
• Allow the 5 percent limit to be overridden only by voter referendum.
• Exclude from the extension limit any taxes raised by assessments on new construction.
Edgar told lawmakers that property taxes were rising too fast: "The only protection our homeowners will have is for this General Assembly, now, to approve a limitation on local government's ability to raise property taxes." By calling for action by the end of March, Edgar sought to separate the issue of limitations on the local property tax from the question of extending the state income tax surcharge. Edgar himself had suggested during the campaign that to find the votes to continue the surcharge, some property tax relief would have to be included. It will be difficult to convince cities, villages and counties to accept limits on their property taxes when the fate of the surcharge and their nearly $400 million annual share of it is unknown. The surcharge expires June 30.
Gov. Edgar also addressed education issues. Emphasizing the prevention aspect as he did throughout his address, he proposed increased attention to preschool programs. At present, 25,000 children judged at risk of failure are served by state prekindergarten programs that are supposed to help them succeed when they begin school. Another 75,000 children go unserved. "By 1996, I want every boy and girl entering an Illinois kindergarten ready to learn," Edgar said.
A second education goal calls for increasing parental involvement. School report cards should carry an assessment of parental involvement, Edgar said. Parents should be advised each semester of what their children are to learn and how parents can help.
He also wants to establish a system to measure school performance. Edgar calls it an "outcome oriented" system to replace what he calls a "Midas Muffler checklist of bureaucratic requirements."
These education initiatives require action by lawmakers, either to appropriate money or to change laws. To help him push his education agenda, Edgar said he would call on Lt. Gov. Bob Kustra. Specifically Kustra will monitor Chicago school reform and coordinate the efforts of higher and lower education in improving public schools.
The new administration plans an anti-drug campaign, with Kustra tapped as its leader. Edgar proposed to crack down by suspending driver's licenses for drug offenders. He also said he would seek legislation to make it impossible for first-time offenders to get court supervision. Now, with good behavior, those convictions can be expunged later from individuals' records, making it difficult to track repeat offenders.
Edgar also proposed that use of hard drugs should carry a minimum $1,000 fine and/or 100 hours of community service. He told lawmakers that drug offenders on probation should be subject to mandatory drug testing and that drug "kingpins" should be made eligible for the death penalty.
Other Edgar proposals that lawmakers will confront include:
• Requiring lawmakers and other elected officials to make the same, more stringent disclosures about income, gifts, property and loans now required by the Board of Ethics for upper level employees under the governor.
• Broadening the lobbyist disclosure act to require reporting of all spending in excess of $25 for any lawmaker or candidate for state office, replacing the loophole-ridden current requirements.
• Upgrading the state's personnel system to attract and retain talented individuals and to provide training and advancement opportunities.
• Streamlining the Department of Commerce and Community Affairs (DCCA) and changing its focus from attraction of new business to retention of existing Illinois firms.
• Agreeing bipartisanly on the maps under which state and U.S. lawmakers must run for office in Illinois in 1992.
• Shortening political campaigns by moving the 1994 primary to September, thus endorsing a proposal made by Senate President Philip J. Rock (D-8, Oak Park).
Fiscal news was bleak. Edgar cautioned lawmakers that they would have to move forward with little money to spend. "We are going to put our fiscal house in order," he told them. Edgar said that the budget they would see in March would be lean and that his tough budget talk was not a ploy to extend the income tax surcharge.
Some believe that the spring session will be limited to the big three issues: redistricting, extension of the surcharge and the budget. The logic is that bold action is precluded by lawmakers' worries about redistricting: All 177 House and Senate seats will be up for election from the new districts next year. If little else is done this session, however, it will not be because Gov. Edgar failed to make legislative proposals.
March 1991/Illinois Issues/25