Thursday, November 14, 2019
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Cymbals in Morton & the IL state budget

Board members in Morton, Illinois, applauded five grants at their regular meeting yesterday totaling $8,450 received last week from the Morton Community Foundation in the foundation’s annual spring grant awards, reports Steve Stein in the Peoria Journal-Star.

Cymbal players in a Texas marching band, 2009 (Andy via Flickr Creative Commons)

At that meeting, the board announced the planned acquisition of six cymbals for the nationally recognized band program at Morton High School, thanks to a donation of $860 from the foundation. It’s not the biggest amount the foundation is giving, but it’s the one that will make the most noise. The board also recognized the following gifts:

  • $2,500 to Morton Potter Television to help purchase a high-def camera
  • $2,995 to Morton Junior High for a robotics module for the new CareerMaker STEM lab

But not all the news was good, as the board also discussed the very real possibility that a property tax freeze in Illinois will be part of Gov Bruce Rauner’s compromise plan to get a state budget passed.

The governor’s comments in the past few months have been mixed, including a reference in his February budget address to not being able to “tax our way to prosperity. Nor can we just cut our way to a better future. We must grow our way to the future we want.”

That’s what I’ve been saying for almost two years. In order to “grow our way to the future we want,” the state needs to invest in education in STEM disciplines and in the humanities and arts, as they’re doing in Morton with community help. But not every community or school district has the Morton Community Foundation to step up to the plate and buy musical instruments, a TV camera, or a robotics kit.

Lately there has been talk about a compromise, with Mr Rauner suggesting he would be open to expanding the state sales tax base, as has happened in neighboring states like Wisconsin, “if we stand together to make the job-creating changes we need,” including the aforementioned property tax freeze, he believes. (He has also proposed changing the state’s workers’ compensation laws and imposing term limits on certain political office holders, which would appear to be more closely related to a job-creating engine.)

Yet the biggest job-creating engine a state can find is an investment in education and the programs public schools put together for students in every community. Make no mistake: There are places in the US that are prospering right now, where donations aren’t required for schools to buy cymbals. It’s just not happening in Illinois, because schools are hampered by the current budget impasse, which began in about June 2015.

How would the property tax freeze affect the Morton community? The Journal-Star noted that if the district couldn’t increase its property tax levy by the maximum 2 percent allowed under tax caps for the 2017-18 school year, the owner of a home with a $270,000 market value would see a $90.72 reduction in property taxes, or $7.50 per month, and the school district would lose nearly $530,000 for 2017-2018, including $429,000 in the education fund.

That amount equals the payroll expenses for seven full-time teachers and represents about half the district’s annual budget for athletics and band.

State Senator Heather Steans, a Democrat from Chicago and an appropriations committee chair who has worked on a plan, said achieving a balanced budget needs both cuts and tax hikes to balance. “It certainly sounds like (the governor is) in campaign mode rather than actually trying to solve the budget,” the Courier in Lincoln quoted him as saying. “Clearly, revenue is going to have to be part of any grand bargain to get us out of (the budget mess). And he knows that. I think the public needs to be aware and not given alternative facts about the fact that the only way we’re going to get out of this budget crisis is a combination of cuts and revenue.”

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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