By SAMANTHA SMYLIE
Rain didn’t deter constituents from hustling over to Robust Coffee Lounge, 6300 S. Woodlawn Ave., to listen to and ask questions of State Representatives Curtis Tarver (25th) and Kam Buckner (26th) about the state budget proposal.
Tarver and Buckner viewed the gathering as a listening session to hear what concerns constituents had about the budget and appropriation process before they voted on the budget.
“It’s very easy to get stuck in a silo when you’re in Springfield and not have your finger on the pulse of what is going on in your community.” Buckner said. “It’s important to go out and talk to people. We want to do this throughout the year to keep in touch with folks and hear their ideas and their concerns. ”
Since Tarver and Buckner sit on the Childhood Access and Early Childhood and Appropriation for Elementary and Secondary Education committees, they are concerned about how K-12 education will be funded throughout the state.
“The last (legislative) session they passed a funding formula for schools. The goal is to get schools to be fully funded at an adequate basis over the course of 10 years. So, every year for the next 10 years, there is supposed to be money put towards the school funding formula,” Tarver explained. “We are nowhere near adequately funding schools. Right now, we have a formula, but we need actual money.”
Buckner also sits on the Higher Education committee and has seen how lack of funding has negatively impacted institutions of higher education. He witnessed how the budget impasse affected Chicago State University.
“For the last two years, I’ve served on the board of trustees at Chicago State University. During the budget impasse, we saw how much lack of funding hurts schools like Chicago State. Just being able to pay for staff was affected by the budget,” Buckner said. “We got to find a way to fund higher education. We got nine universities in the state, and if we aren’t smart about the way we move forward then we won’t have them.”
Buckner sees the inability to properly fund public universities throughout the state as one of the main causes for population decrease over the last five years. Since universities and colleges outside of the state are attracting talented Illinois students, Buckner believes that this will impact the economy and drive out more residents.
“It’s going to make corporations and businesses leave us at an alarming rate. It’s going to have an all-encompassing effect that we are going to look back and ask ourselves why we didn’t do something earlier.” Buckner said.
In the budget plan, a graduated income tax, sports gambling, and recreational marijuana sales are proposed sources for revenue. Even though both representatives are looking forward to new streams of revenue to fund k-12 educations and higher education, they are unsure if the newly proposed revenue streams are sustainable.
When asked about their position on a graduated income tax, Buckner said “In theory, it makes great sense. I think we have to work through what that looks like because one of things that you have to look out for is unintended consequences. We don’t go down the road and look back 20 years from now and say: ‘We really messed up.’ We have to figure out what the right answer is.”
On the question of sports betting and recreational marijuana, Buckner said “When we talk about these future revenues, nobody knows what that really looks like. The [projected numbers] could change.”
Buckner and Tarver are looking forward to hosting more community forums to talk about priorities in the budgets. They want to sustain communication with constituents to gain insight into what questions and concerns that they should take back to Springfield.