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Clock ticks on big decisions

Lawmaker gives updates on guns, budget, pensions

Published: Friday, April 12, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
Tom Demmer

Let me give you a quick update on what has happened in Springfield since session began on Jan. 9. We’ll start with the state budget.

The first step in setting a state budget is to pass a resolution that sets a projected income level for next year. We have to agree on how much money we’ll bring in before we decide how much we’ll spend.

While that may sound like common sense, it’s a relatively new step for the state. But it’s a good one, and I’m glad we finally do that.

For Fiscal Year 2014, which runs from July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014, we project the state will bring in $35.08 billion. Using that number as a spending limit, we reserve some money for required contributions to things like Medicaid, the state pension system, and the payment of some old bills.

After we’ve set aside money for those payments, we divide the money based on percentages and assign the budget responsibilities to one of five appropriations committees.

The work of the appropriations committees will now really pick up, and the budget will start coming together.

I sit on the Appropriations for Human Services Committee, which is responsible for half the state budget and oversees spending for Medicaid, mental health, developmental disabilities, and more. We’re working to find ways to cut spending and increase efficiency as we deliver those critically important services to the public.

Since January, we’ve also made a few steps of progress toward pension reform. The state faces $100 billion in unfunded pension liability – and adds $17 million a day to that total. Without reforms, the pension system will collapse, and in the future, retirees simply won’t get a check in the mail.

Some drastic pension changes were proposed, like totally eliminating cost-of-living adjustments, and I did not support those. Instead, I supported a compromise solution that will preserve cost-of-living adjustments for the first $25,000 of pension income.

That compromise would save the state billions of dollars while still protecting lower-income pensioners who are most vulnerable to a rising cost of living.

We still have a lot of work to do on pension reform. There are multiple proposals for reform that could come for a vote in the House, while other proposals are circulating in the Senate. It’s a challenge to find an effective, comprehensive, constitutional reform package – but it’s a challenge we simply must rise up and address.

As for gun legislation, we still have a ways to go to allow for the concealed carrying of a firearm. We’ve debated and voted on dozens of amendments, but we don’t have a workable bill in sight yet. I’m a co-sponsor of House Bill 997, a widely supported, comprehensive concealed-carry bill.

It’s my hope that a responsible bill like that be allowed an up-or-down vote on the House floor. We have a federal-court-imposed deadline of June 9 to create a concealed-carry law, so the clock is ticking on a resolution to this issue.

Note to readers – State Rep. Tom Demmer, a Dixon Republican, represents the 90th House District. The telephone number at his Rochelle office is 815-561-3690; his email address is tom@tomdemmer.com. This column is a condensed version of a “Mid-Session Update” emailed by the House Republican Caucus.

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