Republican Tom Bennett, On Illinois’ Budget, & Other Notes From The Spring Legislative Session
For State Representative Tom Bennett, the last few days of the Illinois General Assembly’s spring session were a mixed bag. The Gibson City Republican was in the minority last week, voting against bills that would legalize recreational marijuana and send a graduated state income tax amendment to the voters. Lawmakers passed both measures, and Governor JB Pritkzer is expected to sign them. But Bennett says he supports a new six-year infrastructure program, including the higher taxes and fees needed to pay for it. And while the lawmaker voted against the new 2020 state budget --- which passed with some Republican support --- he says he now supports the spending outline, due to some last-minute concessions obtained by Republican leaders.
Rep. Bennett represents the 106th House District, which covers all or parts of Ford, Iroquois, Vermilion, Livingston and Ford Counties in central Illinois. This interview, which has been edited for clarity and length, was conducted on Monday, June 3.
JM: With the passage of a budget, is that a budget that you support?
BENNETT: The actual budget, originally I did not vote for it. But what happened on Friday night and Saturday, we were able to get a number of business reforms. I guess you could say that Jim Durkin, our leader from the House, was able to get worked out with the Democratic folks, the creation of a Blue Collar Job Act, creation of a datacenter tax incentive, a reinstatement of the Manufacturers Purchase Credit, elimination of the antiquated Illinois franchise tax, the elimination of the cap on the Retailer’s Discount. And there's a number of good reforms that we believe would help business. And we were able to get those resolved. And so, as part of this effort, this is where the sausage starts. There's something for everybody. And there's something for everyone to like, and something for everyone to hate, I totally understand that. But that's what got this going. And then from there, we went to two bills, Senate Bill 690, and Senate Bill 1939, that were revenue raising funds. They dealt with money for schools, money for the roads, the bridges. And that's where the 38 cent tax on gasoline came about, the tax on cigarettes. And of course, those are very tough to take. But the same time, I talk to people every week, about the roads that we have the conditions that we have, just throughout our district, something needed to be done before we lose our infrastructure.
JM: I guess the doubling of the gasoline tax had a big target on it for a lot of critics. But you're saying that this will lead to revenue and projects that will make a difference in your district?
BENNETT: Oh, I believe it will. There's like 45 projects that are coming (to the 106th Illinois House District). I think it's over $100 million of funding coming to help with the roads and bridges in other ways. These are just projects in my district over the next six years. So we just got to get some things worked on, but nothing is free. We've been working on these projects. But with this additional funding, this will help move some things forward as well.
JM: I wanted to ask you about the graduated income tax amendment, which you voted against, but which passed the General Assembly anyway. And, of course, that's not the last word on this, it's now up to the voters to decide whether to ratify an amendment on this to the state constitution. Looking ahead, what's the arguments you want to make to voters who might be on the fence on this issue?
BENNETT: Well, I'll tell you what. The last graduated income tax was 30 years ago that was put in place in Connecticut. Think about this for a minute. At one point. Their business was growing. Their economy was fine. The jobs were there. This took place. And you can see the drop of jobs, you can see the drop of the economy. And I have not seen the study on this exactly. But you can see the connection there. There's not been a lot of graduated income tax states anywhere in the recent future or the recent past that have done this. And so I don't recommend it. There are a few around us. Some of the graduated income tax states that that do have that, have their maximum number lower than our flat tax. So, you know, other states will have graduated income tax, but it depends where the brackets are, and what the salaries are that they're looking at. So that is something to look at from history's perspective. And along with that, Jim, this is something else I'm concerned about. We're looking at $3.4 billion (the amount of new revenue that Gov. Pritzker projects a graduated state income tax will raise-JM) And we have no improvements on business. No ways to have the economy grow. Just nothing. A number of other states have gotten rid of their graduated tax systems. Colorado tried to do it twice and it failed. So I'm just concerned about the history that we've gone along with, there's been nothing to help the business and climate, nothing at all.
JM: Another bill you voted against was one to legalize recreational marijuana. But it's a bill that looks like it's headed towards being signed by the governor anyway. What next, as far as you and anybody else that has concerns about this issue, about how the state handles marijuana as a legal commodity?
BENNETT: Well, we'll see how this goes. This probably splits our districts in several ways. But I voted against it primarily because of two things. The medical associations, from the doctors of pediatrics, just a number of groups, came out against this. And of course, they're there to help protect us or help us with our health. And they just flat out, in no uncertain terms, said that this is not good for us at all, in a short story. Our law enforcement came out and said we're going to have more accidents, you're going to have more deaths, you're going to have more issues with this. And they're responsible for our safety. So there you have our groups that are concerned about our health and our safety against this. To me, we're not ready for this at all. So where we are in the future with this, we'll have to see. But I'm very concerned on the impact this is going to have on our state and our youth.