With the Legislature entering its final week before a scheduled May 31 adjournment deadline, several major issues yet to be resolved continue to hang over the General Assembly.
Despite state government’s one-party control, the Governor and his House and Senate allies have yet to move the ball forward on almost every major issue. To date, no state budget draft has been produced, fostering concerns that a spending plan will be dropped on legislators at the last minute. Senate President John Cullerton has indicated we will get our first look on Monday or Tuesday. The state continues to accumulate pension debt while the Senate President, House Speaker and Governor all appear deadlocked over competing reform plans.
In the House, the Speaker has declared that his priority is to shift pension costs to local school districts and state universities and colleges. He continues to insist downstate and suburban schools get a “free lunch” even though that claim was thoroughly debunked by an extensive study prepared by Senate Republicans. Some form of “cost shift” may make sense as it is good economic policy to have responsibility for costs as close as possible to where they are incurred.
Illinois faces a June 9 federal court deadline to adopt legislation giving Illinoisans the right-to-carry a concealed weapon in public. The House has made progress on a proposal, but it may face stiff resistance in the Senate, where anti-gun hardliners hold more power. Though it is certainly not a perfect bill, it does have a “shall carry” provision and would be uniform for the state. I will probably vote in favor of the bill unless it is further amended, which is certainly possible.
Although a major expansion of gambling, including a Chicago casino, cleared the Senate May 1, the House has not taken up the measure. Similarly, the Senate President muscled a same-sex marriage bill through his chamber on Valentine’s Day, only to have it sit idle in the House for more than three months.
In the meantime, as if to summarize the mismanagement that has characterized Illinois over the past decade, a national legislative research organization has issued its annual study of state economic outlooks, ranking Illinois 47th in the nation in Economic Performance and 48th in Economic Outlook.
The sixth edition of “Rich States, Poor States” is produced by the American Legislative Exchange Council and co-authored by respected economist Arthur Laffer.
To rank states by Economic Performance the study looked at three statistics: Gross Domestic Product, Absolute Domestic Migration and Non-Farm Payroll Employment. Illinois ranked 42nd for Gross Domestic Product, then fell to 48th in both Domestic Migration (which measures whether more people are leaving the state than are coming to the state) and Non-Farm Employment, which measures job growth.
The Economic Outlook ranking is based on 15 policy areas that state lawmakers can influence or control. These include tax rates and policies, the legal environment, workers’ compensation costs and minimum wage rates. Illinois was ranked at or near the bottom for imposing a 66% income tax increase and continuing to charge “death” taxes on estates. The state scored its best ranking (ninth in the nation) for its relatively low ratio of public employees – less than 5% of the population.
While most major issues remain unresolved, lawmakers have made progress on some important issues. Lawmakers of both parties strongly endorsed and sent to the Governor a measure I sponsored that will bring Illinois’ speed limits more closely into line with much of the nation. Senate Bill 2356 increases the maximum speed limit to 70 mph on interstates and toll highways. Cook and the collar counties could opt out of the higher speed limit. Passed by the House of Representatives on May 22 with an 85-30 vote and by the Senate on April 23 with a 41-6 vote, the legislation now moves to the Governor’s desk and will become law with his signature. The other sponsors and I worked very hard to get veto-proof majorities in both chambers houses and we did even better than we had hoped.
The progression of this legislation is a good example of what can be accomplished when lawmakers work together in a bipartisan manner for the good of our state. It was sponsored by lawmakers from both political parties who represent all regions of our state, and now it is up to the Governor to give this measure the serious consideration it deserves. Senate Bill 2356 was also sponsored by Senator Martin Sandoval (D-Cicero), the Senate Transportation Committee Chairman, and 28 other Senators; and Representatives Jerry Costello (D-Red Bud), C.D. Davidsmeyer (R-Jacksonville) and 40 other House members.
Lawmakers have also approved a number of child protection measures, including allowing evidence of past offenses to be used in child abduction cases (SB 1814) and banning sex offenders from playgrounds or recreation areas within private buildings, such as a McDonald’s play land, a Chuck-E-Cheese or a video game arcade (HB 3023).
To help children receive the support to which they are legally entitled, House Bill 2843 would allow gambling winnings to be withheld to pay back child support. The bill is sponsored by State Sen. Darin LaHood (R-Peoria).
llinois is finally taking the first steps to build the long-sought western access to O’Hare International Airport. With approval of House Joint Resolution 9, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority is given the green light to undertake the Elgin-O’Hare Western Access, which would link the Elgin O’Hare Expressway to Interstate 90 and Interstate 294 to create an entrance to O’Hare Airport from the west. The project is expected to cost $3.4 billion.
Lawmakers also overrode the Governor’s veto of a measure that clarifies the “smart grid” legislation previously passed by the General Assembly, affecting electric utilities. Senate Bill 9 addresses the concerns of legislators that the Illinois Commerce Commission did not implement the “smart grid” law as the General Assembly intended.
The latest updates on legislation being considered and passed by the General Assembly can be found on the Senate Action page of the Senate Republican Web site.