Illinois’ new Governor outlined his spending plan for the coming year during the week, after signing a controversial minimum-wage measure into law.
In other action, Senate committees continued their work of hearing public debate of bills to determine if they will advance to the full Senate for a vote.
Also during the week, two environmentally-minded legislative packages, which have gained bipartisan support, would offer communities greater protections from ethylene oxide, and would help protect the primary water source for Central Illinois.
Governor J. B. Pritzker delivered his first Budget Address February 20 to a joint session of legislators in the House of Representatives Chamber.
Governor Pritzker has said time and time again he is willing to negotiate, ready to listen. This is his chance to prove it, because we have yet to see much compromise. Initial impressions of his spending plan seem to be more of the same old tax-and-spend policies at the root of Illinois’ fiscal crisis. It is our hope that he will keep his promise and reach out to us, and listen to our ideas on this and other important issues.
Right now, his plan calls for almost a billion dollars in new taxes and new revenue sources that many people do not support, almost a billion dollars in new spending, $2 billion in new borrowing, and a further deferral of about $800 million in required pension payments.
The Governor promised a balanced budget. To “balance” it, he is proposing reducing our contribution to the pensions system by $800 million (here we go again) and then borrowing $2 billion more and calling that borrowed money “revenue” to balance the budget. Don’t my colleagues on the Democrat side understand that borrowed money is not revenue and that this budget proposal is far from balanced?
Here’s an idea! As the legislative budget process gets under way, lawmakers could be working together to make the tough decisions necessary to pass a balanced budget with structural reforms that will boost the economy and create jobs – thus increasing revenues for the state without falling back on more and more and more taxes.
Fiscal Year 2020 runs from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020.
Governor signs controversial minimum wage hike
Less than a week after Democrat legislative leaders forced through a minimum wage hike, Governor Pritzker signed Senate Bill 1 into law on February 19. The controversial legislation was advanced by the Senate and House on party-line votes, despite economic concerns from employers and public groups. The plan would raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour over six years, and to $13 per hour during the same period for those employees younger than 18.
Opponents of the plan noted the vast differences in the cost of living across Illinois. They also raised concerns that the incremental increase could have far-reaching implications for employers across the board, including an increase in annual costs for state agencies, local school districts, human service providers and hospitals, potentially adding hundreds of millions of dollars to our deficit.
I’m not opposed to an increase in the minimum wage. In fact, I sponsored legislation to increase the minimum wage to $10 over several years. The $15 proposal will make some workers who get an increase happy. But other workers will lose their jobs, a disaster. And many other entry-level workers will not be able to get that first job, which would allow them to start moving up the income ladder.
The Governor did not listen to our concerns on the minimum wage bill. In fact, in his Budget Address he said, “The minimum-wage job is a lifetime ticket to poverty.” But what that overlooks is that minimum-wage jobs are entry-level jobs so that workers can learn new skills and move on to higher-paying jobs.
Greater protections from ethylene oxide
A package of legislation unveiled February 19 will address the public health crisis caused by the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook and its release of ethylene oxide into surrounding communities.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issued a seal order February 15 against Sterigenics, which provides sterilization techniques for medical devices. The legislation will also ensure the proper policies and protections are in place to safeguard Willowbrook and all Illinois communities from the impact of this public health hazard.
Senate Bill 1852 requires:
· A facility to notify all affected property owners and local governments within 2,500 feet when an ethylene oxide leak has occurred.
Senate Bill 1853 provides that:
· The IEPA shall reevaluate the current CAAPP (Clean Air Act Permit Program) permit of any facility emitting ethylene oxide, and conduct a 90-day public hearing process on such permits.
· No permit shall be renewed if the facility is in violation of any federal or state standards or current studies pertaining to ethylene oxide.
· A facility emitting ethylene oxide at levels higher than federal or state standards must cease operations until the level of emissions are reduced below the federal and state standards.
Senate Bill 1854 provides that:
· No facility shall have fugitive emissions of ethylene oxide above zero.
· Each facility is subject to regular and frequent, unannounced inspections and testing by a third party to ensure that no fugitive emissions of ethylene oxide exist.
· Each facility is subject to fence line ambient air testing, at random, once within every 90-120 days for a duration of 24-hour samples of no less than six consecutive days. Again, testing is done by a third party chosen by the municipality.
Protecting Mahomet Aquifer
Also during the week, a legislative package was introduced to protect the Mahomet Aquifer, the primary water source for Central Illinois. Based on recommendations from the final report of Mahomet Aquifer Task Force, the package of bills is supported by a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Senate Bill 2073 would create the Mahomet Aquifer Council to serve as a watchdog and to provide oversight for the Mahomet Aquifer.
Senate Bill 2071 would provide $1 million in funding for equipment for the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute (PRI) so that the organization can continue to research and study the Aquifer. Senate Bill 2072 would provide $2.3 million in funding for ongoing PRI operations.
Senate Bill 2070 would appropriate $4 million for the utilization of helicopter-based time-domain electromagnetics technology for the purpose of mapping and studying of an area of the Aquifer known as Zone 2, where a recent leak of natural gas occurred.
Senate Bill 2074 would allow the State Treasurer to accept restitution payment from Peoples Gas, if a court finds the company liable for a recent leak of natural gas into the Aquifer.