House Republicans call for vote on fair maps. Members of the House Republican Caucus called on House Democrats to respect the wishes of Illinoisans by allowing redistricting reform, HJRCA17, to be called for a vote immediately.
“This is one of the strongest statements we can make about reforming Illinois,” said State Rep. Tim Butler. “This isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue, so it’s time for the Democrats to decide if they stand for the status quo or for a stronger, better Illinois for generations to come.”
HJRCA 17 would allow voters to decide, by statewide referendum, to amend the Illinois Constitution to create the Independent Redistricting Commission for the purpose of drawing legislative districts. A poll conducted by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute last fall found that 72% of voters, including a majority of both Republicans and Democrats, supported the creation of an independent commission to draw legislative district maps.
Members noted that redistricting reform is directly tied to the state budget and the failure of having unbalanced budgets for more than 10 years.
“When people are no longer able to hold their representatives accountable due to the political leanings of their district, the people have lost,” said State Rep. Tom Demmer. “That’s especially true when it comes to the fiscal issues of this state. Instead of being held accountable for taking vote after vote after vote to spend money that the State doesn’t have, far too many elected officials get a pass as soon as they go home for no other reason than the letter behind their name on the ballot.”
“Democrats in Illinois like to tout that they and they alone stand for the little guy, but how can they say that with a straight face when it’s clearly not the case,” said State Rep. Keith Wheeler. “It’s time for Illinois Democrats to stop hiding and letting ‘surrogates’ fight this crucial constitutional amendment. The question that House Democrats now need to answer is who do you stand with? Do you stand with a million reform-minded Illinoisans or Mike Madigan?”
Illinois House Education Task Force holds first meeting. The 26-member bipartisan Task Force has been asked to develop proposals that can be offered to the General Assembly as legislative language to implement the recommendations of the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission. Earlier this year, the Reform Commission proposed that Illinois take steps to reduce the dependence of Illinois school districts on property tax revenues. Many Illinois lawmakers, citizens, and taxpayers believe that the current pattern of means used to fund Illinois schools is outdated in relation to other states.
The panel held its first meeting on Tuesday, March 14. Representative Bob Pritchard, the House Republican spokesman on the Task Force, called for key revisions to the Illinois school funding formula. The House Education Task Force is scheduled to meet again on Tuesday, March 21.
Bill backlog hits all-time high of $12.8 billion. The Office of the Comptroller reported this week that Illinois’ backlog of unpaid bills has reached $12.8 billion, representing $1,000 for each of the 12.8 million men, women and children who call Illinois home.
Money owed by the State and awaiting payment includes monies to Illinois health service providers, institutions of higher education, providers of social services, and many other program service providers. The last full Illinois General Assembly budget expired on June 30, 2015, and the last partial Illinois budget ceased to operate on December 31, 2016. The Illinois General Assembly is currently debating budget action for FY18, starting July 1, 2017. Challenges facing Illinois budgeteers include a pattern of flat Illinois tax revenues, reflecting few new jobs created, and rising Illinois spending commitments, particularly commitments relating to medical services provided under Medicaid and other programs.
With one of the highest tax burdens in the nation, property tax relief must be priority. Speaking at a press conference at the Capitol, State Rep. Mark Batinick and his House Republican colleagues drew attention to the number one issue for many Illinois homeowners: the need for property tax relief.
A recent poll from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute found that 47 percent of registered voters in Illinois say they want to move out, with 27 percent of them citing property taxes as their top reason. The Tax Foundation, the nation’s leading independent tax policy nonprofit, reported just this week that Illinois has one of the highest property tax burdens in the country (third), which contributes to the 5th highest overall tax burden in the nation.
“Families and seniors are being forced from their homes, not because they cannot afford their mortgage, but because they cannot afford their property taxes increasing each and every year,” Rep. Batinick said. “If we’re going to be asked to support a budget package, whatever that may end up looking like, we’re here to say there must be real, significant property tax relief for our constituents.”
The impact of property taxes is not limited to homeowners. Businesses are moving across state lines or closing entirely partially due to the high cost of property taxes in Illinois. The recent Tax Foundation analysis shows that Illinois’ property tax burden ranks as one of the least favorable for businesses, coming in at 46th in the nation.
Alderman-At-Large Richard Irvin and Assistant Chief of Staff Rick Guzman placed first and second, respectively, in the Feb. 28 Primary Election, according to unofficial results. The two will face off in the Municipal Election on April 4. According to the Chicago Tribune, with 116 of 116 precincts reporting, race results were
Richard Irvin: 3,502 votes (31.8%)
Rick Guzman: 3,131 votes (28.4%)
Linda Chapa LaVia: 2,821 votes (25.6%)
Mike Saville: 1,566 votes (14.2%)
The Chamber and its partners are scheduling a meet-and-greet opportunity with Irvin and Guzman for later this month. Other meet-and-greets are being discussed include the following races: Alderman At-Large, Tenth Ward Alderman, District 131 and District 129 School Boards, and Fox Valley Park districts 2 and 3.
State Senate passes five “grand bargain” bills. The measures were passed on Tuesday, Feb. 28. House consideration could be delayed, however, by the insistence of many proponents that the bills be discussed as part of an overall package of spending and budget reforms. The Senate has not approved several of the key elements of the “grand bargain” reform package, including changes to future public-sector pension plans and benefits. Senate President John Cullerton, as the keeper of the Senate clerk’s desk, may choose to exercise his right to delay moving the bills over to the House for further action.
The Senate bills, if enacted into law, would appropriate some emergency spending lines for the second half of FY17, ending June 30, 2017. The bills are intended to raise money for these spending needs through various means, including a major expansion in legal gambling in Illinois. SB 7 would allow for the licensure of major new casino operations in Chicago and various locations in Downstate Illinois and Chicago’s suburbs. The familiar “video gaming” machines installed in many Illinois taverns and restaurants would be allowed to make jackpot payouts.
The Aurora Chamber remains opposed to gambling expansion and works in partnership with other regional and local chambers to oppose this effort.
Budget challenges continue to affect the State of Illinois. The February 2017 monthly revenue report and estimate released by the nonpartisan Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) indicated a continued decline in State general funds tax revenues in February 2017. Personal income tax revenues decreased in February 2017 by $129 million from the same levels of taxes paid in one year earlier. Illinois corporate income tax revenues have practically dried up, with only $9 million (down 81 percent) received from this source in February 2017.