A new state task force will look for ways to provide property tax relief to beleaguered homeowners and report its findings by the end of the year.
Also during the week, another state task force presented its recommendations for the futures of two major Southern Illinois facilities. And new laws are on the books to protect pets that are staying in kennels, and to prevent coal ash pollution.
In other news, the headlines continue to be dominated by media reports of state leaders who continue to take advantage of the people they purport to serve.
For example, late on the night of May 31, Republican State Senators were surprised to find a $1,600-per-year salary increase in the budget presented to them. The $39.9 billion budget, which includes a 2.4 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to legislators’ base salary, was considered initially in the Senate on May 31 just before the clock struck midnight.
Senator Dale Righter was the first to point out that the previously agreed to COLA freeze was missing from the legislation. In Illinois, COLA increases for legislators are automatic in state law unless the legislature takes action to block them. Blocking these pay increases has become a routine practice and, for a decade, budget legislation has included language to freeze salaries.
Freeze language was added to legislation that the Senate voted to send over to the House; however, the House sponsor filed a motion to reject the freeze, and the bill was never called for a vote. Without language to freeze this pay hike for legislators, all 19 members of the Senate Republican caucus ultimately voted “no” on the budget proposal.
Speaking of pay raises, there is the matter of the lawsuit filed by two former senators who challenged years of votes by lawmakers against automatic pay raises. Former Democrat Illinois Senators Michael Noland of Elgin and James Clayborne of East St. Louis claim that the General Assembly’s decision to freeze lawmaker’s COLAs from 2009 through 2016 was unconstitutional. What is ironic is that both Noland and Clayborne voted for and spoke in favor of the COLA freezes.
Unbelievably, the Court ruled in their favor in July. What that means for the budget has yet to be determined. A hearing was set to discuss the issue and its fiscal implications on August 7, but it has been rescheduled to September 9.
I STRONGLY disagree with this lawsuit. Former Senators Noland and Clayborne got the benefit of the political good will of refusing the raises over the years, but now want the money after the fact. It is something I do not support nor accept. I will continue to monitor the discussion about whether lawmakers will get undeserved back pay or not.
Also last week, more light is shed on the results of a push by Democrat lawmakers for special incentives for the film industry in Chicago. I spoke forcefully against this legislation during debate in the Senate. It is clearly corrupt. An Aug. 2 Chicago Sun-Times article noted that a union leader pleaded guilty recently in an extortion case involving Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, which is located on the site of a former steel plant on the West Side. This legislation was a typical example of how Illinois politicians use taxpayer funds to pay back their friends. I suspect some legislators also voted for the bill without understanding that this was actually a payoff.
State launches Property Tax Relief Task Force
Governor J.B. Pritzker recently signed legislation creating the bipartisan Property Tax Relief Task Force. The panel will be made up of lawmakers appointed by the four legislative leaders, and individuals appointed by the Governor.
Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady appointed Senators Donald Dewitte, Dan McConchie, Dale Righter, Jil Tracy, and Craig Wilcox to serve on the Task Force.
The Task Force has been charged with identifying the causes of increasingly burdensome property taxes across Illinois. Members will review successful public policy strategies from throughout the nation that create short-term and long-term property tax relief for homeowners, and make recommendations about what steps Illinois could take to provide property tax relief.
An initial report is due within 90 days, and the Task Force will submit a final report by December 31.
According to investment site SmartAsset.com, Illinois has the second highest property taxes in the country, with an average effective rate of nearly double the national average.
Long-term strategic plans released for Pyramid State Park and Sparta
A special task force of lawmakers, state officials and other stakeholders has released strategic plans for Pyramid State Park and the World Shooting and Recreation Complex in Sparta. The studies were facilitated by Southern Illinois University-Carbondale’s Innovation and Economic Development office and presented to the Director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources at a ceremony at the Sparta complex on August 5.
The reports focus on the current and future needs of the two facilities and how to best manage and grow them for the future. Pyramid State Park, with a total of 19,701 acres, is the largest state park in Illinois. It was built on reclaimed surface mine land and is popular for a number of activities, including fishing, hunting, sporting dog events, 4-H programs, and re-enactments. The World Shooting and Recreational Complex is a 1,600 acre world-class shooting and recreational facility that welcomes thousands of people per year.
The planning reports can be viewed at https://econdev.siu.edu/.
New law to protect animals in kennels
On August 6, Governor Pritzker signed a new law aimed at making sure pets are safe from fires while staying at a kennel. The new law requires that kennels either have to be staffed at all times or install a fire alarm or sprinkler system that notifies local fire departments. The legislation was inspired by a fire earlier this year at a Chicago-area kennel where 31 dogs were killed.
New protections for coal ash storage
Also signed into law recently are new protections from pollution caused by coal ash. Senate Bill 9 creates new controls for where coal ash sites can be located and how they are run, to prevent issues and pollution from these sites.
The new law requires permits for both the operation and closure of CCR Surface Impoundments, otherwise known as coal ash disposal sites. It also creates fees for the operation and closure of the sites. The fees range from $15,000 to $75,000, depending on the closure status of the site.