Democrat legislative leaders pushed more than 70 spending bills through the House of Representative May 15, passing what is essentially the Governor’s permanent tax increase budget.
Because the spending bills rely on money from the extension of the 67% tax hike passed in 2011, opponents said voting for the budget was synonymous with voting to make the tax hike permanent.
The tax-hike budget narrowly passed the House, with most of the individual bills receiving the minimum 60 votes needed to win approval. The budget bills the House approved represent $3.5 billion over the revenue estimates they adopted earlier this year, and are $2.5 billion over the Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 budget passed last year.
The House Speaker advanced this budget with the intention that lawmakers who supported the appropriation bills must vote for an income tax increase to fund them. Republican lawmakers also linked the votes to a tax hike, arguing that a vote to spend the money was identical to voting for the taxes.
Approval of this budget is irresponsible and likely unconstitutional—because the Illinois Constitution requires that “appropriations for a fiscal year shall not exceed funds estimated by the General Assembly to be available during that year.”
Not only does the recommended FY 2015 budget violate this constitutional requirement, but it also increases general funds spending by nearly $2.5 billion over the enacted FY 2014 spending plan.
At the time the tax hike was approved in 2011, proponents pledged that the tax hike would be temporary; that the money would be used to pay down the state’s bill backlog; that it would boost the state economy; and it would improve the state’s credit rating. None of those promises has been kept.
Despite receiving $26 billion in new revenue since then, there is still nearly $6.9 billion in unpaid bills. Illinois has the worst credit rating in the nation and has been downgraded five times since the tax increase. Governor Pat Quinn now owns more credit downgrades than all other Illinois governors combined. The state’s unemployment rate is higher than any other Midwestern state, far above the national average and the third highest in the nation.
In the Senate, lawmakers acted on a variety of issues as they continued reviewing measures that have already passed the House. One issue generating interest involved independent ridesharing providers.
Legislation requiring safety regulations for ridesharing companies passed the Senate on May 15. House Bill 4075 and House Bill 5531 create statewide safety regulations for ridesharing companies, like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar, which are defined as Commercial Rideshare Arrangements (CRA).
The measures were introduced after hearings in March raised concerns that customers and drivers of these companies may fall into an insurance gap. Other safety concerns about these services, like ensuring proper background checks and vehicle safety, have also been raised in recent months.
Under the legislation, CRAs are required to carry commercial liability insurance, effective from the moment the driver turns on the ridesharing application, with primary coverage for the dispatcher, driver and vehicle. The legislation also establishes legal liability for CRAs.
Obama’s State Senate Memorabilia
The Senate also approved a proposal that would assure that furniture and other items used by President Barack Obama when he was a State Senator will be preserved and available for future display and research.
Obama served in the State Senate from 1997 to 2004, which was longer than he served in the United States Senate.
Senate Bill 125 allows the Secretary of the Senate to loan or donate to a presidential library or museum any books, items, furniture, equipment or other materials or property used by Obama if such items are in the possession or control of the Senate. The loan or donation will be on the terms and conditions which the Secretary of the Senate deems to be in the best interest of the state.
If the full Senate approves a committee-passed reform, 11-year-old “Cupcake Girl” Chloe Stirling could be back in business.
House Bill 5354 is the result of a case where the Madison County Health Department shut down Chloe Stirling’s homemade cupcake business, because she was not in compliance with the state’s sanitation code or regulations for cottage-food operations.
She primarily sold her products to friends and occasionally at fund-raisers. This legislation is an attempt to loosen the regulatory burden on small, home-based food-preparation operations by permitting home-kitchen operations to sell food if they meet certain requirements, including limiting sales to no more than $1,000 a month and notifying the buyer that the food was produced in a home kitchen.
Other Committee Action
In other action, committees approved legislation—House Bill 8—to require employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees, and a measure—House Bill 5622—aimed at protecting workers who receive their pay in the form of reloadable payroll cards. House Bill 5622 seeks to address a problem where some employees find they must pay high bank card fees in order to access their pay.
More information on these and other measures acted on by the Senate is available on the Senate Action Page on the Senate Republican Web site.