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Make nanny-state legislators pay a bill filing fee to help balance budget

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If we have to pay a fee to file a lawsuit in court or file a document with the county, shouldn't our legislators have to pay to introduce legislation?

Bear with me here – you'll be calling your legislators urging them to enact this law once you see how much it can generate.

As we all know, our state is in deep financial trouble. And if the run-up reports are correct, even Gov. Pat Quinn has finally realized it. At noon tomorrow he will present a 2013 budget message to the General Assembly rolling back government spending, closing facilities and taking other long-overdue austerity measures.

Quinn will deliver his budget address to 59 senators and 118 representatives whom, as we have seen over the years, are more willing to draft nanny-state legislation banning foie gras, granting ownership rights to road kill and regulating maximum-strength drain cleaner than addressing the huge budget and pension hole they've dug us into.

In a state where future taxes on breathing, eating and sleeping are not out of the question, why not a tax on legislation? Quinn tomorrow will be staring a cash cow right in their legislation-happy faces.

I got inspired – as in The Blues Brothers, shaft of light in the church, "The Band!" inspired – watching the recent slew of anti-gun bills filed by faithful cogs in the Chicago Machine (which I blogged about here). With courts around the nation throwing out gun bans, some  lawmakers are now seeking to discourage gun ownership through classifying numerous guns as "assault weapons", talking about a $65 registration fee per gun, and a tax on ammunition to pay violent crime victims.

From guns to Drano to goose liver, if our legislators want utopia, it's only fair that they should have to help pay for it.

We're talking a lot of money to be made here. How many bills have been filed in this General Assembly? Ready for it?

9,755.

That's 3,827 in the Senate and 5,928 in the House as of noon today (look here). And boys and girls, we still have 10 months to go in the two-year session of the 97th General Assembly.

(This total of course includes "shell bills" that are merely placeholders for future legislation, but these often become the real thing and carry legislation in the late spring session and the fall veto session).

So, let's crunch the numbers of a hypothetical law – let's call it the Nanny State Implementation Act – that gives each legislator three free bills a year, but requires them to pay $500 to file each additional bill.

Rounding up to 10,000 bills in this 97th General Assembly, that's 1,062 free bills for the state's 177 lawmakers. Take the 8,938 remaining bills at $500 a bill, and that's almost $4.5 million.

That would go a ways toward helping pay Deadbeat Illinois' backlog of bills. As a reminder, the state owed McHenry County vendors $30 million as of October, not counting late Medicaid payments.

Of course, the Nanny State Implementation Act would need some safeguards:

• The fee must be paid by one and only one chief sponsor – none of this two do-gooders splitting the difference garbage.

• The fee increases annually based on the rate of inflation.

• If not paid up front at the time of the bill's filing, the amount will be automatically deducted from the lawmaker's paycheck or per diem reimbursement.

• All revenues will go to paying down the state's backlog of bills.

• This one is for the schools – the filing fee doubles to $1,000 for any bill imposing an unfunded mandate on a local government.

• The fee becomes $2,000 for any bill increasing state spending without an offset.

Would this bill, assuming that the fellow who really runs Illinois would ever let it get to the House floor for a vote, generate all that money? Of course not. Even our most obsessive nanny-state legislator would never want to have to choose between trying to enact their latest whim and Christmas presents for the family.

But on the upside, we'd be rid of this never-ending slew of laws that are making the book of Illinois Compiled Statutes stretch the height of a downtown skyscraper. Our legislators would decide if they want to pay out-of-pocket to continue this assault on our open-records laws at local governments' behest. And maybe, just maybe, our lawmakers will decide to stick to the important issues and knock off this "there ought to be a law" mentality that's killing us.

To heck with raising a few million more to pay down bills – our lawmakers leaving us alone could be more precious than gold.

Senior Writer Kevin Craver can be reached at kcraver@shawmedia.com.

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