Democrat legislative leaders continue to embrace the status quo, refusing to discuss job-creating, economy-boosting reforms, and focusing instead on tax increases as a way to balance the state budget.
As a result, political gridlock continues to block reforms proposed by Governor Bruce Rauner to turn the state around. While there has been little momentum, the Governor and Republican leaders remain open to compromise and continue to advocate for reforms that will make Illinois more competitive, create new jobs and improve the overall economy.
Comptroller weighs-in on budget impasse
As legislative leaders and the Governor try and find common ground, Comptroller Leslie Munger outlined how a failure to reach a budget agreement by July 1 will impact residents and organizations throughout the state. Munger echoed the Governor’s calls for reform, saying that these structural changes are critical to making the state more competitive and should come before any discussion about new revenue.
While the Comptroller said the state will continue to make payments authorized in the current Fiscal Year 2015—which includes the state’s existing $5 billion backlog—she will not have the appropriations authority to make new payments beginning in the new fiscal year that begins July 1. This could result in delayed payments to Medicaid providers, and beginning July 15 she would be unable to issue paychecks for state employees.
However, Munger noted that not all payments would automatically cease. Debt payments and payments for pension and retiree benefits would continue, as well as checks for some programs that provide assistance for needy families, senior citizens and people who are blind. Certain payments to local governments would also continue.
Political gridlock blocks reform in Illinois
During the second week of the overtime session, Democrat leaders continued to block critical reforms that would freeze property taxes and reform the state’s workers’ compensation system.
On June 9, the Senate convened a rare “Committee of the Whole” hearing, inviting testimony from tax experts and education and local government representatives. However, Illinois taxpayers—those most dramatically impacted by high property taxes—were notably absent from the panel.
The overtime sessions are clearly for “optics.” Nothing is being accomplished. Nothing will be accomplished until Senate President John Cullerton, House Speaker Michael Madigan, and Governor Rauner reach some type of accommodation. In my opinion, that is unlikely until August. The rest is all show, with the legislative leaders pretending to do something so that voters are appeased. Absolutely ridiculous. The good news is that the state planes will no longer be carrying Cullerton and Madigan back and forth to Springfield after June 30. Maybe then, an agreement will be reached because they will be a little more inconvenienced like the rest of us.
Illinois has some of the nation’s highest property taxes. The Tax Foundation and the Taxpayers’ Federation of Illinois’ latest study shows that over a five-year period, Illinois had the third-highest residential property tax rate in the nation, behind only New Jersey and New Hampshire. Other recent studies show Illinois having the second-highest property tax rates in the nation.
Property tax relief is critical to keeping more families and businesses from fleeing the state. Senate Bill 1046 is founded in Governor Rauner’s plan to freeze property taxes, allowing residents to choose through referendum whether they want to increase taxes for education, libraries or other services. The proposal would also directly address several of the contributing factors to high costs at the local level.
However, Senate Democrats rejected Senate Bill 1046, and have so far refused to work with the Governor and their Republican counterparts on compromise legislation.
The Senate Judiciary Committee also met June 9 to discuss workers’ compensation legislation being pushed by the House Speaker. Codifying what is already current law and making no real reforms, House Bill 1287 fails to address the issues that contribute to Illinois having the seventh-highest workers’ compensation rates in the nation—a distinction that employers say increases their costs and drives jobs out of Illinois.
Governor Rauner’s proposal (Senate Bill 994) is a more effective option that would have reduced workers’ compensation rates for businesses by instituting a number of reforms, including a provision that would ensure the workplace is the major contributing cause of the injury.
Synthetic drug ban to be sent to Governor
While the spring session hasn’t technically concluded, nearly 500 bills were approved by the General Assembly before the scheduled session deadline of May 31.
One of the last measures to receive approval was Senate Bill 1129, which would give law enforcement officials a new tool in combating the sale, distribution and possession of synthetic drugs by banning their underlying chemical structure.
Synthetics mimic marijuana, cocaine and meth but with significantly higher potency and significantly more danger to the user. In the past, efforts to outlaw the drugs failed because only specific synthetic drug formulas were made illegal.
Subsequently, the creators of the drugs altered the formula to skirt the law. Known side effects of the drugs include suicidal thoughts, confusion, violent behavior, hallucinations and chest pains.
Senate Bill 1129 received overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate and the House, but to date, it has not been sent to the Governor’s office for consideration.