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SPRINGFIELD – Illinois’ legislative leaders and the governor were set to meet Dec. 1 to talk about the state budget impasse, but several factors could delay action on passing a budget until early next year.

In other news, the state’s ranking on an annual assessment of how states’ tax structures impact businesses climates improved.

And, residents are encouraged to make donations to their local food pantries.

Youth Advisory Council kickoff

For the second year, I kicked off my “Youth Advisory Council” by inviting students from across the 53rd District to join me in Bloomington-Normal to propose new laws to improve their state.

Adults often complain that our younger generation isn’t engaged in what’s happening in their state government. This is a way to bring them into the process and let them know that they have a voice and can make a difference on issues important to them.

More than a dozen schools from throughout the 53rd District were represented at the event Nov. 20 at the Illinois State University Alumni Center. Students were divided into several groups and tasked with proposing new legislation to tackle an issue important to them.

“There’s actually a very healthy discussion between people of different views,” said Normal West High School senior Shea Grehan. “And views haven’t gotten in the way of discussing and proposing issues.”

The proposed bills ranged from reforming state assessment tests to legalizing assisted suicide. All the groups then voted on the various ideas in a runoff to pick one proposal to move forward with. The students eventually selected a plan to change college entrance exams. The students will come to the Capitol in Springfield during the regular spring legislative session for further action on their plan.

Dwight Township High School sophomore Faith Rowland said she was “hoping to gain more knowledge of politics itself” and how she can “influence things” and have her voice heard. “Though I am only 15, and I can’t vote yet, I still want my voice to be heard,” Rowland said.

Students at the event also learned more about the legislative process through discussions with State Representative Dan Brady (R-Bloomington) and also heard a presentation from Central Illinois businessman Habeeb Habeeb.

“Not that many students know about their state or local government,” said Normal Community High School junior Aishwarya Shekara. “I think this gives us more insight into our state government, and what the senator is doing and what we can do to help our own people.”

The spring session of the Youth Advisory Council is tentatively scheduled for April 13 in Springfield.

Budget resolution

With the state’s budget impasse about to enter its sixth month, a budget meeting between the four legislative leaders and Gov. Bruce Rauner was set to take place Dec. 1 in Springfield.

In addition to the challenges of coming to an agreement on spending and revenue levels for fiscal year 2016, there is also the difficult task of getting lawmakers back to Springfield during the holiday season, as well as getting the support of individual lawmakers who are concerned about constituent backlash over tough fiscal decisions.

Waiting another month, however, would ease the pressure to forge a compromise. Illinois’ constitution states that after May 31, a three-fifths vote, not a simple majority vote, is required in both chambers to pass a bill that will take effect before July 1 of the next year. In January, a budget agreement would require fewer votes, a simple majority—60 in the House and 30 in the Senate.

Senate Republican members are hoping the Democrat legislative majorities will negotiate in good faith, so Illinois can achieve progress on structural reforms needed to right the state’s fiscal ship, create jobs, boost the economy and move Illinois forward.

Tax ranking improves

The Tax Foundation is giving Illinois a better ranking this year in its assessment of how states’ tax structures impact business climates. Illinois moved up from 31st to 23rd this year, because the state’s temporary income tax hike was allowed to expire after four years.

In January 2011, Democrat leaders forced through a temporary hike in the individual and corporate income tax rates. The temporary increase was supposed to be used to address the state’s pension crisis and start paying down Illinois’ staggering pile of unpaid bills.

The increase generated more than $32 billion over the four-year period, but under Democrat control during that time, the state’s fiscal problems remained. Today, the state’s pension debt is $132 billion, the credit rating has been downgraded several times, and unpaid bills are estimated at more than $7 billion (expected to grow to $8.5 billion by the end of the year).

The combined corporate income tax rate now stands at 7.75 percent, and the individual income tax is 3.75 percent.

Many experts believe the key to boosting revenue in the state is making structural reforms to state government and creating a better business climate so more jobs are created and the state’s economy moves forward.

Food pantries

Senator Barickman is asking Illinois residents to help those less fortunate by donating to a local foodbank. During the holiday season, many foodbanks suggest donations of canned pumpkin, canned yams, cranberry sauce, boxed stuffing and other non-perishable holiday food items.

Throughout the year, foodbanks are always looking for donations of shelf-stable proteins like canned tuna, chicken and other meats, canned and dried beans, peanut butter, nuts and trail mix, as well as pantry staples like rice, oatmeal, pasta, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, canned vegetables, flour and cooking oils.

Safe Shopping Guide

The Attorney General’s office has released the annual “Safe Shopping Guide,” highlighting hazardous toys, children’s products and household items that have been recalled over the past year to help Illinois families ensure their home is safe for the holidays.

The 2015 Safe Shopping Guide includes descriptions and photographs of nearly 100 children’s products recalled in the last year—from popular children’s toys and games that pose choking hazards, to children’s furniture and playsets that pose entrapment or falling risks.

The guide also details practices that should be used with many popular holiday gifts with Internet access, including smartphones, gaming consoles and tablets.

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