NEW and returning legislators in Illinois and Missouri took their oaths of office this week.
As different as the two states appear to be, there are a lot of similar issues facing the lawmakers.
At first glance, only the differences are evident. Illinois is a deep blue state, with Democratic majorities in both the Senate and House and with a Democrat in the governor's mansion. Missouri is a red state, with Republicans holding majorities in the legislative chambers and a GOP governor.
Infrastructure needs are big in both states. Roads and bridges have been deteriorating. In Illinois, some elected officials have floated the idea of a double-digit fuel tax increase.
In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson wants to see lawmakers find more transportation funding. But the Hancock Amendment caps any legislative tax or fee increases and would only allow about a 2-cent fuel tax increase per year. It might take several years of those incremental hikes to generate the needed revenue.
Schools and their funding are priorities in both states. Illinois legislators approved school finance reforms last year that base state dollars on student enrollment, rather than attendance.
This year, Illinois public schools will have two additional instructional days for a total of 176. While educators welcome the extra time to teach, school boards note that it will add two days to payroll obligations, lunches and transportation costs.
Public universities will get a boost from Illinois' Aim High scholarship program, which provides $25 million in matching funds for merit-based scholarships. The scholarships are designed to be renewable for four years.
Missouri fully funded its Foundation Formula for schools last year, but that was only after lowering the funding target in 2016. Many educators and legislators believe inflation has been higher than the increase in school funding. Rural districts were hurt in some recent years as the Legislature drew down funds from school transportation to boost classroom spending.
Both states have low unemployment rates but also have lots of job openings that require skilled workers. Workforce development is needed to teach new workers or retrain existing ones.
Going forward, lawmakers and other elected officials must show leadership to address their priorities and overcome the challenges that face their states. They also need to hear from constituents, who will remind them why they were elected.