As the Senate’s scheduled May 31 adjournment approaches, negotiations continue between the four legislative leaders and the Governor to negotiate a balanced, responsible budget compromise.
The good news is that the negotiations have reported positive progress toward a compromise.  Budget negotiators from both sides of the aisle and from both chambers continue the nuts-and-bolts work of drafting a balanced spending plan that we can implement without a tax increase.
I support Governor Bruce Rauner’s call for shared sacrifice, and have already implemented cost-cutting measures in my district and state offices.  Representative Keith Wheeler and I are sharing an office in North Aurora.  In Springfield, Senator Dan McConchie and I share a legislative aide, saving tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars, which I return to taxpayers from my state Senate budget.  This year alone, I will be returning more than $21,400 of taxpayer money from my district budget, which I believe is the highest amount of any legislator except for Senator Bill Brady.

I have also introduced legislation that will end defined-benefit pensions for state legislators, with a potential for huge savings.  On a personal note, I have waived my right to a state pension.  These are small steps, but they show we are willing to make sacrifices to save taxpayer dollars.  Every little bit helps.
Some of our state’s finest hours are the result of working as a team toward a goal.  We need to continue to work together to restore Illinois to its leadership role in the nation.  The changes will not be easy, but they are necessary.  I remain committed to working with the Governor and my fellow lawmakers to face the many challenges, as well as to embrace the many possibilities facing Illinois. 
Voting ‘No’ against ‘Lose-Lose’ bill

During the chaos that often accompanies the closing days of legislative session, I missed an opportunity to warn my fellow lawmakers against a “tax-cut bill” they overwhelmingly approved May 24, despite warnings by the Internal Revenue Service.  The Senate voted 54-1-1 to pass House Bill 4237, a proposed workaround of the newly enacted State and Local Taxes cap of $10,000 in the federal tax code.

This is very short-sighted legislation that was hard to vote against because everybody likes tax decreases.  But it is a very bad idea because the recent federal tax reduction measure has been absolutely critical in keeping corporate headquarters in the United States instead of moving to other countries.  The federal tax bill also lowered tax rates for most people in the US.

In return for those lower taxes, and to help offset the reduction in revenues, the new law put a $10,000 annual cap on state and local tax deductions.  It also simplified tax returns to a certain degree since many of us will no longer have to save certain receipts or do all the extra computations. 

The federal tax bill also may encourage high-tax states like New York, California, Connecticut and Illinois to control runaway spending since those state and local taxes over $10,000 per person are no longer deductible on federal tax returns.
House Bill 4237 requires counties to first authorize the ability of local units to establish charitable funds by ordinance or resolution.  Then, local units (only school districts, municipalities and counties) would be able to establish individual charitable funds by ordinance or resolution.  The local units’ charitable funds would allow donations and those donations would provide a similar state tax credit.  It is a trick to get around the $10,000 federal limitation but, of course, the IRS will not allow it to work.

The Internal Revenue Service has warned states looking to get around the deduction caps – New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and now Illinois – that they could face new regulations.  There is no way the federal government is going to allow states to pull a fast one like that, to find a tricky way around the deduction limits.  Trying to get around the IRS is not a good idea.  This is a “lose-lose” situation.

In the unlikely event that a court upheld the Illinois plan, the federal government could come back and limit all deductions to $10,000, which would negatively impact contributions to charities.

Lawmakers pass legislation to legalize industrial hemp

In an initiative to create more profitable opportunities for Illinois farmers, the Senate and House unanimously passed a proposal to legalize the growth, cultivation and processing of industrial hemp.
With the wide range of uses for hemp, state legislators believe the plant could prove to be a new agricultural commodity in Illinois.  Hemp as a raw material can be used to produce paper and fibers, commercial and industrial products, and construction and insulation materials, and cosmetics.  Hemp seed and oil can also be used as a food ingredient.
Under Illinois law, the growth of industrial hemp has not been permitted, as “hemp” is currently listed under the definition of “cannabis.”  Senate Bill 2298 exempts hemp from that definition to legalize the plant and assigns the Department of Agriculture to create the rules necessary to issue licenses for the growing of industrial hemp.  If Senate Bill 2298 is signed by the Governor, Illinois will join the rankings of 16 states currently growing industrial hemp.
Senate Republicans honor veterans with Wall of Remembrance at the Capitol

In observance of Memorial Day, Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady, Governor Rauner and Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs Chief of Staff Renysha Brown unveiled the fourth annual Wall of Remembrance display in the State Capitol Rotunda on May 24.

The tribute features a video display of photographs in memory of fallen soldiers, and the wall is decorated with written letters from loved ones. Illinois residents submitted photographs and letters to be used in the display.  Those in the Capitol are encouraged to stop by, reflect, or write a message or post a memento on the wall.

Located on the first floor of the Capitol, the Wall of Remembrance display is open to the public from May 24 to July 4, during normal business hours.