As we head into the heart of summer, much is going on that I’d like to share with you, both in our district and across the state. I share this information in hopes that it helps to keep you informed on issues that are important to you and our communities. Thank you for taking the time to read this newsletter, and for the honor of allowing me to serve as your State Representative.
Rep. Schmidt Open House
I was grateful to meet many of my constituents last week at my District Office Open House. There was a great turnout with many new faces. We had wonderful conversations, and it was an exciting opportunity to connect with one another. I am always available to the people of my district, and I look forward to getting to know them more and more. Thank you to everyone who came out and know that you are always welcome to drop by for anything you need!
Rep. Schmidt Around the District
Pictured with TraVonn Jones of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice
Pictured with the Senior Citizens Group of Freeburg
Pictured with Angela Russell Perry of the East St. Louis Housing Authority
Pictured at a Freeburg Chamber event
Applications for Illinois State Board of Education Preschool Funding Grants Extended to June 30th!
Illinois ranks 8th in the nation for preschool enrollment – that’s pretty awesome! But some areas do not have enough publicly funded preschool spaces to serve at least 80% of low-income children. We call these areas “preschool deserts.” To turn them into preschool oases, the Illinois State Board of Education has grants available to expand existing programs and to launch new ones.
The Illinois State Board of Education has extended the application deadline for the Early Childhood Block Grant to June 30th! A wide range of entities are eligible to apply, with $75 million available in FY 2024 to expand preschool access to 5,000 more children.
The 2024 Early Childhood Block Grant from the Illinois State Board of Education is aimed at increasing access to preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds across the state and filling critical gaps in underserved areas. Organizations such as schools, daycares, churches, community centers, and more can apply for funding to start or expand a preschool. And there’s help available for new applicants!
Learn more and apply at https://isbe.net/preschool.
Spring Session Adjourns
On Saturday, May 27, the Illinois House concluded its 2023 spring session business and adjourned. Prior to adjournment, the General Assembly passed 566 bills through both houses. All of these bills have been sent, or will soon be sent, to Gov. Pritzker for the Governor’s signature or veto.
Many of the Spring 2023 bills were worked out through bipartisan discussion and negotiation, leading to the creation of agreed language. However, key measures involving the State’s FY24 budget, State government operations during the approaching fiscal year, medical care for the indigent and undocumented immigrants, and other aspects of state tax policies and legal policies were not debated in public. The majority Democrats often exercised the power of getting a caucus “yes-vote” pledge behind closed doors before revealing language to the public. Republican members often voted “no” against bills jammed through the process in this fashion.
Pritzker Signs Unbalanced FY24 Illinois State Budget
Earlier this week, Governor JB Pritzker signed the Democrat-crafted budget into law. The more than $50 billion budget is one of the largest spending packages in Illinois history. It includes a 5% pay increase for lawmakers, on top of the 16% hike they received in January. It also includes $550 million to provide free healthcare to undocumented immigrants, which is expected to grow to $1.1 billion by year’s end. Not included is relief for Illinois taxpayers as Democrats siphon off money intended for local governments and reinstate sales taxes on groceries, medicine, and gas to pay for the new programs and legislator pay raises.
House Republicans pointed to an obscure feature of the State’s spending plan that is expected to lead to property tax hikes on Illinois homeowners. The Democrats’ budget reallocates $700 million from State aid to local governments to the State’s General Revenue Fund. Illinois local taxing bodies can be expected to make up for these lost funds by increasing locally-generated taxes and fees to make up the lost income. Property tax rates are by far the largest segment of taxation power that can be used to raise money. According to the Chicago-based Civic Federation, Illinois’ property tax burdens are already the 2nd highest among the 50 states, second only to New Jersey.
Included in the spending plan was a pay hike for lawmakers, something the majority Democrats approved for themselves.
House Republicans have been vocal about their opposition to the pay raise, which brings the base pay for a state lawmaker to nearly $90,000 when the new fiscal year starts July 1st.
House Republican Leader Tony McCombie was outspoken during the debate of the budget bill, calling the pay raise unconstitutional – as lawmaker pay was already increased once this year starting January 1st and was above 5% making it above the constitutional limit.
Article IV, section 11 of the Illinois Constitution dealing with the legislature states, “A member shall receive a salary and allowances as provided by law, but changes in the salary of a member shall not take effect during the term for which he has been elected.”
It is up to state lawmakers to pass legislation to deny that automatic pay hike, which the Democrat majority prevented from moving forward.
These are taxpayers’ dollars, and taxpayers deserve to know that their money is being spent efficiently. While Illinois families are forced to tighten their belts due to inflation, we should not be funding politician pay raises as the Democrats are doing again. Accountability matters.
This budget contains no significant structural changes to our spending pressures, like our long-term pension obligations. Nor does it include permanent property tax relief or regulatory relief.
Republicans came to work. We repeatedly called for reforms to fund our shared priorities and keep government functioning effectively by living within our means.
I voted “NO” because I refuse to be a willing accomplice in setting up residents for tax hikes to fund an aggressively liberal agenda.
Before signing the budget this week, Governor Pritzker had to issue a reduction veto, reducing the lawmaker pay raise to 5% to keep it constitutional.
Friends of Educational Opportunity Mobilize to Save Scholarship Program
Invest in Kids is a State-backed scholarship program for children, including at-risk children and children from disadvantaged households, to gain the opportunity to participate in private-sector schooling. Large tuition bills make it impossible for many families to send their children to private schools, even when they have high prospects and achievement levels. With scholarship assistance, many of these grade-school and high-school-aged students can continue their educational pathway. The program is backed by a State income tax credit. Provision of the credit gives approved Invest in Kids scholarship programs an incentive to create partnerships between private schools and their donors.
The Invest in Kids scholarship program is scheduled for phase-out starting December 31, 2023. Invest in Kids scholarship programs, and the educators and families that are part of these programs, are acutely aware of this phase-out and are taking action to engage with the General Assembly. Action by the Illinois General Assembly during the fall 2023 veto session will be necessary to enable the program to continue to help Illinois students. Many comparable and neighboring states, including Indiana and Iowa, have enacted permanent scholarship tax credit laws.
New Terminal Building Space at Mid-America Airport
The passenger airport, which serves the Metro-East and the St. Louis metropolitan area, has ongoing service in 2023 to eleven airports within the Allegiant Air system. The 41,000-square-foot Mid-America terminal expansion adds two new boarding bridges and creates opportunities for other airlines to serve the more than one million residents who live in and around the Metro-East region.
The newly-added terminal space nearly doubles the size of the Mid-America terminal infrastructure. In planning the expansion, architects made it a priority to reduce security queues by creating a larger Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint space. Mid-America will now concentrate on developing a secure space adequate to meet U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) guidelines to greet planes coming in from outside the U.S. The ribbon was cut to open the new Mid-America terminal space on Tuesday, June 13.
The new terminal will generate economic activity in the Metro East by bringing more commerce and visitors to our region. More tourism and business activity supports thousands of local jobs — and showcases all the great opportunities our community has to offer to local families and visitors alike. We are truly the heart of the Midwest here in the Metro East.