State lawmakers return to Springfield November 5 for the final week of the fall veto session with no vetoed bills left on the agenda, and uncertainty over whether other major issues will be acted on now or delayed until the January session.
One complicating factor is that Illinois’ constitution imposes a higher vote requirement on measures that are approved between July 1 and December 31. Bills passed during those months must have a 3/5 majority vote to go into effect immediately. On January 1, only a simple majority is required. The extra hurdle means that controversial measures, such as a major reform of the state’s pension system, could have an easier time passing in January than in November.
Bills Sent to the Senate
During the first week of the fall session, the House of Representatives sent four measures to the Senate, which must now approve or reject amendments added in the House. These include:
Doctor Licensing (SB 1496): Extends the Medical Practice Act to December 31, 2014.
Sex Offender Treatment (SB 1600): Provides alternate methods of meeting qualifications for licensure under the state’s Sex Offender Evaluation and Treatment Provider Act. Without these changes, there is concern that the state will not have enough evaluators and treatment providers to provide the needed services to meet the state’s mandates for treatment and evaluation of sex offenders.
Tracking Local Government Finances
The Illinois Comptroller’s Office is making it easier to track local government finances with the release of an online public information website called the “Warehouse.” This site compiles more than 9,200 financial reports from local units of government across the state. It is designed to increase accountability measures for local spending in counties, municipalities, and special taxing districts.
Governor Wants More Money
Governor Pat Quinn is reportedly seeking to add about $221 million in new spending to the current fiscal year budget. Just over half of those funds, $112 million, would be used to pay back wages owned to about 25,000 state workers as a result of a lawsuit the Administration lost. Governor Quinn had refused to pay workers raises required under the state’s labor contract arguing that the Legislature’s failure to include the money in a previous budget allowed him to skip the payments. However, the Governor’s request could fall on deaf ears as some in the Legislature believe the Quinn Administration should find the money in existing agency budgets rather than add funds to the budget.
The Administration also wants to add about $40.5 million to the state Department of Corrections budget, which is likely to be controversial since the Governor closed several correctional facilities last year saying it would save the state money. Another $34 million is being sought by Governor Quinn in order to implement the state’s new Right-to-Carry law.
Study Finds Agreement on Spending Priorities
While the Governor seeks to increase state spending, Senator Pam Althoff of McHenry joined with a Democrat colleague to publicize a new study showing major agreement among Illinois citizens on state budget priorities. The study from the Center for Innovation and Public Value sought to identify the outcomes that Illinois taxpayers want from government and how they want their tax dollars spent.
The Public Value Monitor survey directed respondents to assume the role of state budget director and allocate tax dollars according to their preferred outcomes. Those responses revealed that Democrats and Republicans both ranked increased employment as the top priority for the state. Closely following attracting and growing business was ensuring public safety and improving infrastructure.
Perhaps surprisingly, the sample of approximately 1,000 Illinois residents showed that members of both parties want to spend less on education and healthcare outcomes and basic government support functions.
Paying for Road Improvements
An Illinois group comprised of business and labor organizations associated with road construction, local governments and economic development agencies is backing a plan to change the way Illinois taxes motor fuel. The Transportation for Illinois Coalition wants to replace Illinois’ current 19-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax with a 9.5% fuel wholesale tax, which would be applied to the fuel purchased by the service station. It’s not clear how this new tax structure would be applied to the price at the pump.
The point of the new tax structure from the Coalition’s point of view is to generate more revenue for road and bridge projects and other transportation improvements. The organization says reduced funding for transportation from state and federal dollars is putting the integrity of the state’s 16,000 miles of roads and thousands of bridges at risk.
Legislation to implement the Coalition’s plan has already been introduced as Senate Bill 2589 and House Bill 3637. Both measures are pending before their respective legislative chambers.
New Chief Justice for State Supreme Court
Illinois has a new Chief Justice for the state’s Supreme Court. Justice Rita Garman of Danville was sworn in as the new Chief Justice October 28 at the Vermilion County Courthouse in Danville. Garman has served on the state Supreme Court since 2001 and is the first of the state’s top jurists to have served in virtually every judicial capacity on circuit, appellate and Supreme courts. She began her legal career with the Vermilion County Legal Aid Society and has been a judge since 1974.