Despite the May 31 adjournment of the regularly scheduled spring legislative session rapidly approaching, a great deal of work remains on controversial legislation and the resolution of many major issues is unclear.
Also during the week, action on several bills sponsored by Senate Republican members put them one step closer to becoming law, including legislation that helps service members and spouses earn professional licenses, a measure that cracks down on school bus safety violators, and a bill that would provide fire safety protections at kennels.
Overspending at heart of major issues
As lawmakers continue to hash out ideas to address Illinois’ fiscal mess, no one seems willing to talk about the fact that years and years of tax-and-spend policies are at the heart of most of our state’s problems. Like it or not, Illinois does not have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.
In trying to be all things to all people, our state leaders have set us on a fiscal course that has shown itself to be unsustainable … even though Democrat leaders keep searching and searching for more and more revenue.
This idea was explored in a recent column by Dan McCaleb, news director of The Center Square, a project of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, a non-profit media company dedicated to the principles of transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility.
Another Illinois legislative session is winding down. So too is another fiscal year when state lawmakers refuse to do the difficult work necessary to right the state’s fiscal ship.
With barely a week remaining until the May 31 deadline to pass a budget through a simple majority, there’s been no movement on addressing the out-of-control spending that’s driving Illinois’ dire financial situation.
The tax burden on Illinoisans is not new information. The state owes billions of dollars in unpaid bills. The state’s pension systems are underfunded by at least $134 billion. To be clear here, Illinois residents already are paying higher taxes than other states, and the taxes they pay do not cover the obligations that the state has undertaken.
Despite the high levels of taxation, there’s been plenty of movement in the legislature on a host of tax-increase proposals that would further place the burden of politicians’ poor policy decisions on the state’s hard-working, middle-class families – and further prompt more taxpayers to flee Illinois.
High taxes are in part responsible for five consecutive years of declining population in the Land of Lincoln – a trend that places an additional burden on those who remain.
That fact isn’t stopping Gov. J.B. Pritzker from pushing to change the state’s constitution to allow for a progressive income tax with significantly higher rates on higher wage earners. That effort is a House vote away from going to voters in November 2020.
And the governor’s $41.5 billion capital projects bill would be paid for by doubling the state’s gas tax, nearly doubling vehicle registration fees, increasing taxes on beer, liquor, wine and cigarettes, and creating a new tax on streaming services.
Illinoisans pay the second-highest property taxes in the country and among the highest combined local and state sales taxes. Doubling the state’s gas tax would increase the cost of fuel by another 19 cents per gallon and make it among the highest in the country, as well.
At what point do the taxpayers say “ENOUGH”? At what point does this sort of tax-and-spend mindset become confiscatory? We cannot keep returning to the taxpayers to shell out more and more of their hard-earned money. Priorities must be set, and that process will be difficult. My Senate Republican colleagues and I stand ready to make the tough decisions necessary to pass a balanced budget with structural reforms that will boost the economy and jobs.
Unresolved issues remain as adjournment looms
With just five days remaining until the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn the spring legislative session on May 31, several controversial issues remain unresolved.
Lawmakers have not yet acted on issues like an overhaul of the Illinois income tax system from a flat tax rate to a graduated tax rate, legalization of recreational cannabis, sports betting, or a much needed capital plan. Additionally, lawmakers must approve a budget for Fiscal Year 2020 in the remaining days.
Throughout the coming days, Senate Republicans will continue to meet on these issues and hope to resolve them in the best interests of the state and their constituents.
Helping service members and spouses
Members of the Armed Services and their spouses who are stationed in Illinois may soon have an easier time finding work in their field, under legislation passed by the Senate unanimously. House Bill 1652 creates an expedited professional license application process for service members and their spouses. The applicant must be licensed in another state, stationed in Illinois, and otherwise eligible for licensure in this state. The legislation will also require the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to designate a staff member to serve as a military liaison to review and report on the process of the expedited licensure program. House Bill 1652 is now headed back to the House of Representatives for a concurrence vote.
Public safety bills move
Those who do not properly stop for school buses on the roadway will be fined twice as much if Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs House Bill 1873. The legislation seeks to crack down on those who ignore the stop arm on school buses by increasing the fine from $150 to $300 for the first offense, and from $500 to $1,000 for the second or subsequent offense.
According to the Illinois State Board of Education, on average, 33 school-age children are killed every year nationwide in school-bus related crashes, many of which are caused by a passing vehicle in violation of the school bus warning systems. House Bill 1873 passed the Senate unanimously with a vote of 53-0 and now heads to the Governor for his consideration.
Another public safety measure, House Bill 2383, which would crack down on drivers who violate right-of-way rules and injure pedestrians in crosswalks, passed the Senate during the week. House Bill 2383 would require a one-year suspension of an individual’s driver’s license if they commit a right-of-way violation at a crosswalk or a crosswalk in a school zone that results in bodily harm or death. The legislation was filed in response to the death of an Iroquois resident who was killed in a traffic crash when a semi-trailer truck failed to obey a posted stop sign. House Bill 2383 passed the Senate unanimously on May 21 and is now headed back to the House of Representatives for a concurrence vote.
Protecting pets at kennels
Legislation aimed at better protecting pets housed at kennels is on its way to the Governor’s desk. House Bill 3390 requires pet boarding facilities that do not have 24/7 staffing to be equipped with a fire sprinkler system or a fire alarm monitoring system that triggers notification to local emergency responders. Current law requires owners to have these systems installed when they build a new facility; however, there’s nothing in current statute that forces owners to install these systems if they open their business in an already existing structure. House Bill 3390 was filed in response to a recent fire at a West Chicago kennel that killed several animals.