Parker Junior High School students raised their hands Monday and then took a stab at the size of the Illinois state budget.
$250,000? $500,000? $3 million?
State Rep. Will Davis shook his head.
“No, you’ve got to go higher than that,” said Davis, a Homewood resident who is running for his eighth term in the Illinois House next year.
More hands went up and student estimates climbed into the billions.
“You’re on the right track,” Davis said.
Finally, he gave an approximate final number for the state’s spending plan: $60 billion. Students, impressed by the size of the number, let out an appreciative cry.
During his visit to the Flossmoor junior high on Monday, Davis touched upon a number of topics. How bills are passed. How young people can get involved in state or local government. Whether state legislators can do anything to improve food in the school cafeteria.
However, he did not mention that Illinois has officially been without a state budget for the last five months. And that the correct answer to his question about the size of the budget might actually be, “There isn’t one.”
The Illinois General Assembly, controlled by Democrats, approved a budget this spring but Gov. Bruce Rauner, a first-term Republican, refused to sign it. The budget impasse between the governor and legislature shows no sign of ending anytime soon.
Still, Davis, a Democrat whose 30th District includes portions of Homewood and Flossmoor, was totally upbeat and positive with students about the role of state government in their lives.
The state, he said, provides money for schools, roads, human services, health care and many other functions. State representatives are responsible for making sure that the state’s budget is fair, equitable and delivers on important services across Illinois.
“You name it, and there is some part of state government that impacts your life,” he said.
Davis said education and the state’s schools are an important part of what he does as an elected representative. He is the chairman of the Illinois House Appropriations-Elementary and Secondary Education Committee and the Health and Healthcare Disparities Committee.
He encouraged students to get involved and to make a difference in their schools and in their communities.
“Civic engagement starts now for all of us,” Davis said. “If you know this, you will want to get involved.”
Davis said state representatives have two important functions, to approve and amend laws, and to pass the state budget each year.
Laws, he said, are passed because people all around Illinois come up with ideas about how to make the state better.
“Laws don’t fall out of the sky,” he said. “Some laws are a result of people seeing things that affect their lives. They want to see change.”
Davis came to Parker in response to an invitation from Social Studies teacher Tara Peacock.
“She saw one of my newsletters and wondered if I would be interested in coming to Parker,” he said. “So she reached out to me. That’s what civic engagement is all about.”
Following the end of the assembly, a reporter asked Davis if he thought Illinois would have a budget by the end of 2015. Davis predicted a budget would be approved by the end of December.
“It might be the world’s worst budget,” he said. “But I think we will have one.”
Photos by Tom Houlihan/HF Chronicle.