In the upcoming weeks, the Austin Weekly News will feature a Q and A with some of our elected officials representing Austin. This week, state Sen. Kimberly Lightford discusses issues including whether taxpayer’s will support the president’s budget proposal and Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to raise income taxes in the state.
Gov. Pat Quinn’s state budget: where does it stand right now and are you close to agreeing on it?
We have a lot to consider when looking at the 2010 fiscal budget. Right now, the state is facing an $11.5 billion deficit and a $4.5 billion loss of revenue. We need to balance the budget, provide tax relief for property owners, and invest more funding into our public school system. It may take another three months before a budget is actually agreed upon.
One of the most discussed elements of the governor’s budget is his proposal to raise personal income taxes-would you support that decision?
Right now, I am noncommittal with regards to the state budget. Currently, the budget seeks to raise personal income taxes as well as the cigarette tax and sticker fees. I think that if you are going to ask that much from the taxpayers, there has to be a sense that they are getting some relief elsewhere. No one likes to hear lawmakers talk about raising taxes, but they would be more open to it if they know what they can gain from them, especially during the current recession.
Speaking of the burden on taxpayers, what were your thoughts on the $165 million in American International Group (AIG) bonuses?
I actually heard about it a few weeks ago on CNN. I think President Obama was forthcoming about these bonuses and took responsibility for not addressing them in a timelier manner.
In light of the AIG controversy, and the looming deficit projected from the president’s budget, does he face an uphill struggle to get the taxpayers on board with his economic plans?
I think the American people are mindful enough to know how important this stimulus package is to jump-starting our economy. I know that he will face opposition because of the size of the package, but when you look at his intention to invest in health care, education and infrastructure, not to mention investing $1 trillion in ridding the toxic assets from the books of banks to allow them to begin loaning again, it is very necessary.
Where would you like to see funds from the stimulus package allocated in the Austin community?
Following a particularly harsh winter, there are numerous construction projects that need attention in Austin, especially on Chicago and Roosevelt. Potholes need to be filled. We need to provide financial relief to the banks so they can renegotiate some of the mortgages that are facing foreclosure, and begin to lend to aspiring small business owners.
What piece of legislation are you currently working on in the Senate?
I am supporting The Percentage of Income Payment Plan. The legislation will allow Commonwealth Edison Company’s (ComEd) customers to pay a percentage of their electric bills based on their income. This past winter, many customers were hit with escalating energy bills during the winter and found them difficult to afford. This legislation will assist those forced into hardship due to mounting bills or job loss, and allow them to keep their utilities on when they are struggling. Those eligible for the plan can adjust their payments to a more manageable rate. Currently, the legislation would aide electric bills, but I would also like to expand it to include gas bills as well.