Week in Review for 4/28/14 through 5/2/14

Get Week in Review sent to your email inbox. 
Taxes – Graduated Income Tax
So-called “fair tax” will not appear on November ballot.  Although state senators who support a graduated income tax attempted to move a constitutional amendment to carry out this goal (SJRCA 40), Republicans blocked this amendment and helped prevent it from meeting its deadline for General Assembly action. The General Assembly cannot place this amendment on the November 2014 ballot and it will not, therefore, become law.

SJRCA 40 and its companion measure, Senate Amendment #2 to SB 350, would have enacted a multi-billion-dollar tax increase for nearly all individual income taxpayers. Rates would have increased for one category of income from 3.75 percent (the statutory rate after December 31, 2014) to 6.90 percent. Rates for the most-heavily-affected households would have almost doubled. The decision of the chief sponsor of these two measures to pull them from the Senate calendar on the deadline day of Tuesday, April 29 was seen as a victory for taxpayers.

Observers noted that tax-hike proponents are pushing for an extension of the 2011 67 percent “temporary” income tax hike. This is a maneuver that could be used during the remaining weeks of the General Assembly 2014 spring session to extend the life of the 5.00 percent “temporary” individual income tax rate, or even to make the unpopular tax hike permanent for all Illinoisan earners. Visit The Caucus Blog for more information on this continuing story.

Taxes – Tax Freedom Day
Illinois residents celebrate latest “Tax Freedom Day” ever on Monday, April 28.  The national Tax Foundation calculates the day when the average Illinois household has finished earning money to pay the federal, state, and local taxes charged each year. With State income and sales tax rates at record highs throughout Illinois, and property taxes imposing record burdens in many local areas within Illinois, the 2014 “Tax Freedom Day” did not come to Illinois until April 28, three days later than the same observance in 2013.

Illinois’ tax burden is heavier than many comparable states. The Prairie State is the 43rd state, in calendar order, to “celebrate” the day; this reflects lighter tax burdens in most other states. All five states that neighbor Illinois have earlier Tax Freedom Days than Illinois: starting with Kentucky on April 8th and Missouri on April 11th, the sequence continues with Iowa on April 13th and Indiana on April 16th, and concludes with Wisconsin on April 22nd, six days prior to the Illinois “celebration.” Moving from Illinois to any nearby state will generate an earlier Tax Freedom Day for the mover.

Chicago – Scandal-Plagued Quinn Anti-Violence Program Under Federal Investigation
Criminal grand jury, U.S. Department of Justice looking into program; documents turned over to prosecutor’s office.  Law enforcement authorities are looking into the history and operations of Governor Quinn’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI), a $55 million program funded by State taxpayers for Chicago neighborhoods troubled by violent crime.

Amid mounting concerns about the apparent lack of fiscal controls over the money spent by the program, and growing allegations of connections between the program and 2010 Illinois political campaigns by Democrats, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Cook County state’s attorney have launched separate probes into the initiative’s troubled history. Federal authorities have asked to see copies of all contracts and all payments made by the program during its time of active operation. Meanwhile, the office of the Chicago area’s chief local prosecutor has asked for the names and identities of all of the groups and individuals who were selected as recipients of NRI grant funds. One reported recipient, Benton Cook III, is the husband of a key Cook County Democrat elected official: Dorothy Brown, the circuit court clerk of the county.

Representatives David Reis and Dwight Kay have demanded that a full state audit, to be followed up by criminal investigations as appropriate, be performed on the troubled program. Watching the budgets for the Criminal Justice Information Authority, the successor to the defunct NRI program, and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, lawmakers intensified their demands this week. Calling for the audit and investigations to move forward rapidly, they demanded that the questionable spending be scrutinized carefully in the context of the State’s FY15 budget.

On Tuesday, April 29, more than 1,000 documents were turned over by the Quinn administration to State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s office for possible presentation to a grand jury. Gov. Pat Quinn won a full term as Illinois governor in November 2010, as State spending on the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative was peaking.

Citizen Ballot Initiatives
Term limit petitions filed by gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner.  590,000 petition signatures to place a term-limits amendment on the November ballot were filed in Springfield on Wednesday. The measure will impose strict term limits upon State legislators, limiting them to no more than eight years in office. In addition, the amendment will change the number of House and Senate members necessary to override a governor’s veto from three-fifths to two-thirds, and will shrink the size of the Senate from fifty-nine members to 41 members. Each new, term-limited senator will match up with three members of the new- term-limited Illinois House, and the total size of the General Assembly will shrink from 177 members to 164 members.

Although the more than one-half-million signatures filed this week are almost double the number of signatures required by law, observers expect opponents to scrutinize the signatures. Even if the petition is determined to have been validly filed, opponents with close ties to Illinois Democrat leaders filed a lawsuit on April 30 claiming that the legislative term-limit measure does not conform to the rules set forth in Article XIV, Section 3 of the Illinois Constitution for amendment by petition. In addition to this lawsuit, Democrats this week blocked a separate term-limit constitutional amendment (SJRCA 69) for statewide constitutional officers.

Redistricting petitions filed.  Yes for Independent Maps, a nonpartisan citizens’ group, filed more than 500,000 petition signatures on Thursday to place a constitutional amendment on Illinois’ November ballot. If approved by the voters, this amendment will create a permanent, independent commission to remap Illinois’ General Assembly after each population census.

The commission, whose members (when acting as a group) will be separated by several independent layers of protection from being pressured by direct political loyalty, will draw each new map for the Illinois House and the Illinois Senate. The first new map will be drawn shortly after the 2020 census.

As with the term limit constitutional amendment petition, partisan opponents with close connections to Illinois Democrat leaders have filed a lawsuit to try to block this amendment petition as well.

Progress slow on horizontal fracking.  Inundated by an estimated 40,000 separate comments, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is slowly moving through the First Notice process, a necessary stage to generate the rules required to govern the horizontal fracking industry in Illinois. Horizontal fracking is a method, successful in other states, which uses pressurized water and chemicals to shatter tightly-bound shale formations to extract oil and gas.

Although test wells have been drilled into Illinois shale beds to look for oil, production cannot take place in commercial volume until drilling crews are shielded by administrative rules from potential litigation. Oil and gas production can cross property lines and do other things that require the drilling crew to be supported by state law, administrative rules, and case law. The First Notice deadline for DNR to finalize its horizontal fracking rules is approaching in November 2014. Observers expect continued progress in Illinois toward completing and finalizing the DNR rules, but point out that this same process is less cumbersome and time-consuming in neighboring shale-rich states such as Indiana.

Health Care
Growing understanding of COPD as major health threat.  HR 868 (Bellock-Pihos), unanimously approved this week, recognizes chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) as a chronic health condition in Illinois. It instructs the Department of Public Health (DPH) to seek out grants and other funding to increase public awareness and treatment of COPD.

COPD is a family of health conditions that affect the lungs and trachea. Health conditions that often contribute to a diagnosis of COPD include emphysema and chronic bronchitis. People with COPD can face a debilitated quality of life and, in some cases, even a shortened life expectancy. By treating COPD as a public health issue, the State can use existing information pathways, such as public service announcements and advertisements, to educate the public about the potential health consequences of smoking tobacco or other substances. The resolution, supported by the American Lung Association, designates November 2014 as COPD Awareness Month in the State of Illinois.

Labor – Employee Background Checks
63-53-0 vote narrowly approves HB 5701.  This controversial measure would forbid many Illinois employers and employment agencies from performing a criminal background check, or otherwise inquiring into the criminal history, of a job applicant during the prequalification stage of hiring for a new or vacant job position.

While nothing in this bill will forbid performing a criminal background inquiry into the past of a job applicant after the applicant has been determined to be otherwise qualified for a position, the timing and schedule imposed by this bill upon future Illinois employers will add to the expense of carrying out this security procedure. In particular, proponents and opponents of this bill agree that it will forbid many employers from placing the question “Have you ever been arrested for/convicted of a serious crime/violent crime/felony” on a job application form.

Certain employers, such as nursing homes, school districts, and school bus fleets, are excluded from this requirement if they are looking at a position for which the hiring of a person with a criminal history is forbidden by State or federal law.

HB 5701 narrowly passed the House on Wednesday, with many House Republicans voting against the bill. The measure was sent over to the Senate for possible action in that chamber.

Obama Library
Shrugging off Rules violation, partisan House committee again advances $100 million Obama Library bill.  HB 6010 (Madigan) appropriates $100 million in State taxpayer-funded capital funds as incentive seed money to encourage the construction of the Barack Obama Presidential Library and Museum in Chicago. The measure was approved by the House Executive Committee on Wednesday, April 30, on a partisan roll call.

The controversial HB 6010 vote attempted to erase memories of a procedural Rules violation that had taken place two weeks earlier on April 17. Eager to move the bill through committee on a day when Republicans were not present, House Democrats called a special recessed meeting of the Executive Committee in Chicago and used a loophole in House Rules to pretend that the absent Republicans had all voted ‘yes’ to support the bill. After protests led by Executive Committee GOP Spokesperson Ed Sullivan, the majority Democrats rescinded the non-legal vote from the record and re-submitted the bill.

HB 6010 progressed despite records from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the federal agency which will have actual control over funding for the papers to be deposited in the library, that all 13 existing official presidential museums (Hoover through George W. Bush) were constructed and endowed with monies raised from the private sector. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is not an NARA presidential museum, as it falls under the authority of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

House Republicans have made it clear that we support bringing the Obama Presidential Library to Chicago, Illinois. Our opposition to HB 6010 has nothing to do with partisan politics. It has everything to do with the State’s fiscal crisis. Gov. Quinn and Speaker Madigan want to make permanent the 67 percent income tax increase passed in 2011. Despite the last tax hike, Illinois’ backlog of unpaid bills remains nearly $7 billion. Our schools are still being short-changed while the Democrats dump billions into a massive expansion of welfare. We simply cannot afford to spend $100 million in taxpayer funds on the proposed Obama Library.

Quality of Life
Gallup poll finds Illinois residents most dissatisfied.  Numbers generated on Thursday, April 24 by a Gallup poll reflect local responses when questioned whether their state is the best or one of the best possible places to live. While Rocky Mountain states such as Montana, Utah, and Wyoming scored highly in the survey, Illinois notched the largest number of respondents among the fifty U.S. states who believed their state was among the “worst” places to live. The Washington Post, in commenting on Illinois’ dismal showing, criticized Illinois’ high tax rates, reputation for public corruption, crime rates, and deteriorating infrastructure.

Week in Review
The “Week in Review” is available by email!  Sign up today to keep track of major events and trends as the Illinois General Assembly deals with the final weeks of the 2014 spring session. Week in Review subscribers get a first-hand look at the challenges facing lawmakers in Springfield, and what our leadership team and Caucus members are doing about these challenges.