NEW LAW ENDS LEGISLATIVE SCHOLARSHIPS
Illinois’ controversial legislative scholarship program has finally been eliminated.
House Bill 3810, which I cosponsored, ends the century-old program. Approved by lawmakers in May, it was signed by the Governor July 11.
I was one of the first lawmakers to call for eliminating the scholarship program, and in recent years have sponsored several bills addressing that issue, including House Bill 3810. The other bills were never allowed a vote, but Democrat leaders finally agreed the program must be ended.
My Senate Republican colleagues and I quit participating in the legislative scholarship program in early 2012.
Illinois media have uncovered a number of abuses of the program stretching back to at least the 1980s, including allegations that lawmakers awarded the scholarships to friends, lobbyists, campaign donors, or students outside their districts.
To avoid any questions of impropriety, I had asked a panel of community and education leaders to be responsible for evaluating applications and selecting the recipients of the legislative scholarships awarded by my office over the years.
The scholarships are also a financial drain on Illinois’ higher education system, as the state does not reimburse colleges for the cost of the program, which is more than $13 million per year.
A better approach would be getting the state’s finances under control to improve access to and affordability of higher education. Illinois’ fiscal woes have led to reductions in state financing for higher education in recent years, which are further exacerbated by significant delays in the state’s reimbursement to universities. Many institutions have had to increase tuition and fees.
INFORMATION AVAILABLE ABOUT FINANCIAL AID
Students and parents looking for information on financial aid, scholarships, grants, prepaid tuition and loans should visit the Illinois Student Assistance Commission’s Web site at www.collegezone.com and What’s Next Illinois at www.whatsnextillinois.org.
HIRE A VETERAN
The Governor also signed legislation I cosponsored to offer Illinois employers a tax incentive for hiring a qualified unemployed veteran.
Senate Bill 3241 will offer a tax credit of up to $5,000 to employers who hire a qualified veteran who has been unemployed for an aggregate of four weeks or more during the year prior to their date of hire.
The tax credit will be equivalent to 20 percent of the veteran’s gross wages during the tax year, not to exceed $5,000. As a continuation of current law, employers who continue to employ a veteran can collect a credit equal to 10 percent of the gross wages paid to the veteran, not to exceed $1,200.
The law will also allow a county or municipality to reduce or eliminate the property taxes for the surviving spouse of a soldier who dies while on active duty serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Currently, these entities have the authority to offer property tax relief to surviving spouses of fallen police officers and firefighters.
Qualified veterans include members of the U.S. Armed Forces, Illinois National Guard, or members of any reserve component of the U.S. Armed Forces, who served on active duty in Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom, or Operation Iraqi Freedom.
OTHER NEW LAWS
Other legislation signed into law during the week includes:
Alzheimer’s disease (HB 4548): Creates an Alzheimer’s Disease Assistance Plan and an Advisory Committee to hold public meetings throughout the state and to use Web casts and online surveys to solicit feedback from patients and healthcare providers.
Infrastructure investment (HB 4568): Authorizes $1.6 billion in bonds to finance state infrastructure repairs and improvements. Half of the total would be used for state and local roads (transportation “D”) and half would be used for rail and mass transit statewide. These bonds are part of the remaining bond authorization approved in the 2009 capital program.