Winkel meets with local activists

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Online Poster

By Shannon Smith

Illinois State Sen. Rick Winkel(R-Urbana) discussed his proposed legislation for school funding reform Monday night at a program at Urbana Middle School hosted by the Champaign County Chapter Coalition for School Funding Reform.

Winkel offers an amendment to the proposed House Bill 750, which attempts to assist the public schools in achieving fiscal solvency. Winkel said that 80 percent to 85 percent of public schools are deficit spending.

Winkel’s amendment would generate income tax revenue of about $5.8 billion by raising the personal income tax rate from 3 percent to 5 percent and the corporate tax rate from 4.8 percent to 8 percent.

“It’s based on ability to pay,” Winkel said.

The $5.8 billion will be put into a protected fund – the Education Assistance Fund (EAF) – that will exempt it from being used to pay for other expenses. The money will be used for property tax relief, K-12 education and higher education. Funding for K-12 education will also be increased to $5,964 per student per year. Eighty percent of the revenue reserved for higher education will go to public universities and 20 percent will go to community colleges.

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    “These are big numbers and our best estimates,” Winkel said. “That money can only be used for these three things.”

    The initial HB 750, proposed by two other senators, anticipated a 20 percent reduction for education on property tax relief. People on poverty lines would be able to receive up to a 25 percent reduction on property tax relief for the Senate Bill 750 with the highest property tax relief. Winkel’s proposed amendment would increase property tax relief to 33.3 percent.

    “At that level … I go way beyond what they’re proposing, even for poverty,” Winkel said.

    The higher education fund has “a second layer of protection” that ensures the money is not played with, Winkel said.

    The basic deadline for filing registration is this Friday. From there, the Senate will vote on the proposed amendment. If passed, it will go to the House for a vote.

    Winkel said Gov. Blagojevich promises to veto any measure of increase in taxes, which would include Winkel’s plan. The House and Senate would have to override the veto in order for the proposed bill to become law.

    Winkel said one of the biggest difficulties is the lack of a “geographical alliance.” Wealthier communities end up paying more money, and Winkel said the representatives for these wealthier communities will most likely vote no to his proposal.

    “They’re going to vote no, and in some cases, hell no,” Winkel said.

    Winkel said individuals will calculate how the increase will affect them.

    “There’s going to be winners and losers,” Winkel said. He added that he does not plan to support any other sort of tax increase.

    Winkel said his proposal is a strategy to get resources to the schools.

    “I think there needs to be a steady drumbeat from the community that there is a need,” Winkel said. “I think we’ve got a story to tell and we have to tell it again and again and again.”

    Kathy Wallig, public relations coordinator for Urbana School District 116, said she was pleased that Winkel was able to discuss his proposal with the community.

    “I think what’s so interesting about the senator’s plan is it includes funding for higher education,” Wallig said. “The U of I is our (Urbana’s) largest employer. This is something that is vital for the community and they should really support it.”

    Wallig said that the district has spent the last three years cutting about $3 million of its spending. A portion of Urbana’s property belongs to the University and is not taxed for the school system. She said Winkel’s plan would help that.

    “For us, it eliminates that 25 percent tax exempt issue,” Wallig said. “If you have income, you have the ability to pay.”

    Brad Uken, a member of the Champaign County Coalition for School Funding Reform, said Winkel is putting his neck on the line to try and do something. Uken hopes that some sort of reform is able to happen this year.

    “We hope whatever that is happens this year through session,” Uken said. “But this is something that has been brewing for years now.”

    Uken said the organization has been putting on meetings similar to the one held Monday night.

    “Our goal is to bring awareness that there needs to be changes,” Uken said. “We want them to be informed, so people will be able to contact their legislation.”