A town hall meeting was held with State Rep. Will Guzzardi last week at Haas Park Fieldhouse, giving the community a unique opportunity to learn and engage in conversation on the status of bills and budgeting from the state legislator’s meeting earlier this year in Springfield.
“The reason why I am here is that I believe I can make a difference as a local resident, where I do not have a lot of control at those upper levels of government,” said Jill Brady, a Logan Square resident. “If I could be an influencer, to influence my neighbors, talk to my neighbors, tell them what I know, share experiences, I believe we can make a difference.”
Guzzardi said these community meetings are important to keep that local conversation going and get feedback. “Springfield is really far away and it is really hard to find reliable sources of news about what is going on there,” he said.
Among the topics brought up by Rep. Guzzardi, education was at the forefront of the discussions. Major changes in education came in the form of funding increases and other budgetary innovations.
A plan to step away from property tax was one of the considerable changes. Guzzardi referred to the system of property taxes as “inequitable” since places with high property value are able to gather more money for their public schools while communities with low-land wealth have a harder time raising much-needed resources. To step away from the burdensome reliance of property tax, he said there was a new formula created that better distributes state money to prioritize districts with higher needs. In addition to this change, $250 million for K-12 education will be placed in the funding formula every year for the next 10 years; over that time about $100 million will be going directly to Chicago Public Schools.
Another budget increase will be directed at early childhood education to the tune of $50 million, Guzzardi shared.
As for higher education, the state legislator has placed $25 million into a new matching scholarship fund. This helps by matching scholarship increases from public universities. This plan will hopefully encourage public universities to increase scholarship amounts for high achieving low-income students for Illinois residents only.
There were also increases for human services in the budget, such as violence prevention programs, mental health grants and community intervention programs.
Some budget increases were allocated from cuts coming from the defunding of the governor’s administrative agencies, as it was seen as a priority that can be delayed.
Other non-budgetary issues discussed pointed toward gun violence and ways for the state to reduce the growing problem. A number of legislative measures were directed at gun violence, many of which are pending for the governor at this moment. These measures include raising the age limit to purchase automatic weapons from 18 to 21, instituting a 72-hour waiting period between the purchase of all firearms, a ban on bump stocks, a new licensing program for gun shops and a temporary action where if a person is deemed a threat by court order, law enforcement would be able to seize firearms from their home.
One of the landmark moments in this past legislative session, according to Guzzardi, was the ratification of the equal rights amendment. The ERA was initiated almost 50 years ago, and had not been passed by Illinois until this year.
Immigration was on the table at the legislator this past session as well. Guzzardi carried a bill this year allowing DACA recipients and other undocumented individuals to receive professional licenses so they will be able to practice as teachers, social workers, barbers and so on.
As for future legislation sessions, there are plans aiming to implement a tax bracket system for income in the state of Illinois, which will prove difficult to execute as the current income tax system is implemented in the states constitution.
Overall, the town hall meeting was quite vocal, with many residents raising important questions and suggestions to Guzzardi.
“I don’t want to just govern in a vacuum, I want to be representing the interest of my constituents,” Guzzardi said. “So hearing from people about their thoughts, soliciting their ideas for the issues we want to work on is really an important part of the job for me.”