Week in Review for week of 5/12/14 through 5/16/14

House Democrats pass unbalanced budget, blowing up agreed revenue cap. Abandoning their pledge to adhere to projected FY15 general funds revenues of $34.5 billion, the House Democrats passed a series of appropriations bills on Thursday, May 15 that anticipate spending approximately $37.4 billion. Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15) begins on July 1, 2014 and continues until June 30, 2015. The Democrats’ spending plan is $2.9 billion more than agreed to by the General Assembly in its previous FY15 revenue estimate.

In response to the Democrats’ massive spending bills, House Republicans called for keeping lawmakers’ previous promises to enact a balanced budget. “We must stop this reckless pattern of insane spending,” House Republic Leader Jim Durkin told his colleagues. The budget bills were narrowly passed despite bipartisan opposition, with individual Democrats joining all House Republican members in opposition to the unbalanced budget.

House Republicans argued forcefully that the Democrats’ budget will lead to a tax increase. Any member who voted for these spending increases voted to extend the 67% income tax hike. If not, then the Democrats’ budget is clearly unconstitutional. The Illinois Constitution mandates that the General Assembly enacts a balanced budget, in which spending does not exceed anticipated cash inflows. All of the members of the General Assembly took an oath to uphold the Constitution at the commencement of their terms of office.

Sign our petition against the Democrats’ threatened tax hike. The $2.9 billion size of the Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15) “budget hole” opened up by House Democrats almost exactly matches the revenue that would be raised by extending Illinois’ “temporary” income tax hike to cover the second half of FY15, and possibly longer. Under current law, the income tax hike is scheduled to roll back starting on January 1, 2015, and money raised by these tax rates – in particular the 5.0% tax rate imposed by the State upon individual incomes – will not be available for State budgeting. The action of the Democrat-controlled Illinois House on Thursday, May 15 indicates a desire to renew the use of this money anyway.

Sign the petition here

Hardworking taxpayers cannot afford another tax increase. Stand with House Republicans by signing our petition to let the “temporary” tax increase expire.

Civic Federation opposes Quinn budget, tax policy. The Institute for Illinois’ Fiscal Sustainability, a panel of the Chicago-based nonpartisan Civic Federation, opposed Governor Quinn’s budget plan on Tuesday. Falling under special scrutiny is a proposed $1.3 billion “homeowner’s grant program” that, if enacted into law, could lead to checks being mailed to Illinois voters prior to 2014 Election Day. The Institute points out that the grant program is scheduled to be paid for by borrowing money from other State funds, further delaying the repayment of past-due bills presented to the State from providers of goods and services, and abolishing the current property tax relief line on Illinois individual income tax forms.

The current 5% property tax credit on Illinois individual income taxes is one of the most popular remaining tax benefits provided to Illinois residents. It authorizes homeowners with property tax bills to multiply the bill by 5% and subtract this sum from income taxes due. As noted by the Sustainability Institute, the Quinn budget would abolish this income tax credit. Even after abolishing this popular credit, the Institute estimates the additional annual cost of the Quinn budget at $715 million/year in addition to existing State operating expenses – money the State does not have.

Poll shows strong opposition to taxpayer funding for Obama library. HB 6010, Speaker Madigan’s bill to appropriate $100 million in State taxpayer-funded capital funding for the future Obama Presidential Library, continued to draw opposition with the publication of significant new polling data in opposition to the Speaker’s proposal.

A Capitol Fax/We Ask America survey showed only 29% support contrasted with 67% opposition against the controversial measure, which is seen by many as an example of unnecessary State spending. Even groups allied with President Obama failed to show majorities for the Illinois presidential library spending bill. For example, Democrat respondents opposed the measure 48% – 44%. Chicagoans did not show a clear majority in support of the bill; the numbers from the Windy City were 48% in support to 43% in opposition. African-Americans surveyed were statistically tied, with 45% in support and 44% in opposition.

Most Illinoisans support bringing the Obama Presidential Library to Chicago. However, we simply can’t afford to spend $100 million in taxpayer funds on this project, especially at a time when Illinois can’t pay its existing bills. Speaker Madigan argued that State funds were used to construct the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. While that is true, the Lincoln museum is different from other presidential libraries as it falls under the authority of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.

Our last two presidents used private donations to build their libraries. In fact, no National Archives presidential libraries have received direct funding from either the federal government or their respective states. President Obama has proven himself to be a prolific fundraiser. His foundation should raise the money needed to bring the Obama Presidential Library to Chicago.

Criminal Law
Electronic search warrant law approved by General Assembly. SB 2852, sponsored in the House by Rep. John Anthony, allows judicial authorities to transmit search warrants to police by e-mail. If this bill is signed into law, it will replace the cumbersome current law that required these warrants to be transmitted by paper facsimile.

The federal and State constitutions require police to have a search warrant in hand before conducting most searches of a person’s private surroundings, such as a house or apartment. Speeding up the transmission of a search warrant is a way of helping police work while also protecting the constitutional rights of Illinois citizens. A unanimous House vote on May 9 sent this measure to Gov. Quinn for final action.

Bill to prevent 911 dispatchers from tipping-off criminals sent to Governor. The Illinois House passed SB 2695 (Koehler/Unes) on Friday, which makes it a crime of official misconduct for an employee of a law enforcement agency to tip off a criminal of pending law enforcement action against them.

This legislation was necessary because of a 2010 Illinois Supreme Court decision that a 911 dispatcher tipping off a criminal of pending law enforcement action was not an act the employee could be charged criminally for committing. The Court’s decision in People vs. Williams was troubling to law enforcement agencies throughout Illinois and this legislation addressed that situation.

“This is not only important to restore trust in the law enforcement system, but also to ensure the safety of officers involved in criminal investigations,” said Rep. Mike Unes. “The safety of law enforcement officers involved in an investigation is paramount and I am proud to help to ensure their safety during the course of their investigations through this bill.” Read more about SB 2695.

April Unemployment Rate was 7.9%. The new numbers, announced by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) on Thursday, marked a 0.5% reduction from March 2014 levels. However, weakness in Illinois manufacturing job creation continued to drag down Illinois’ performance relative to other U.S. states, particularly neighboring states. IDES admitted this week that Illinois manufacturing jobs dropped by 3,500 from March 2014 and by 8,900 from a year ago.

Illinois’ jobless rate remains worse than the national rate (7.9% versus 6.3%). Many neighboring states are posting even better numbers: Indiana’s current rate is 5.7% and Iowa’s rate is 4.3%. Both neighboring states, which continue to win jobs away from Illinois, currently enjoy jobless rates at least 2 points below Illinois.

Energy – Nuclear Power/Renewable Energy
Negotiations lead to acceptance of continued key role, for now, of Illinois nuclear power plants. These six generating-station complexes, which contain reactors that can generate more than 1,000 megawatts of electricity each, produce much of the electricity supplied to residential, commercial, and industrial customers throughout northern Illinois. All six complexes are located north of Springfield; Illinois’ less-densely-populated southern half gets much of its electricity from coal-fired power plants.

Renewable energy advocates have called for Illinois to pass a law mandating that more of our electrical power come from solar and wind sources. This push fell short on Thursday, May 15, when advocates of renewable energy agreed to postpone their push and electrical conglomerate Exelon, aware of increasing threats and capital-intensive mandates upon operating nuclear plants as a condition of continued long-term operation under federal license, agreed to maintain operation of all six generating complexes for at least 12 months.

These dual postponements mean that Northern Illinois electrical customers are likely to be consuming power that comes (at least in part) from one of these six complexes. Illinois nuclear reactors can be found at Braidwood, Byron, Clinton, Dresden, LaSalle County, and Quad Cities, Ill. Crain’s Chicago Business has the story.

General Assembly
No pay raises for legislators. Rep. Dwight Kay filed legislation this week in response to efforts by House Democrats to sneak through what would have amounted to a legislative pay raise among the dozens of state budget bills being advanced through the House. HB 6235, sponsored by Kay and other Republican representatives, specifically calls for a continuation of furlough days and rejection of the automatic cost of living adjustment (COLA) to legislative salaries.

“First, Democrats broke their promise by going back on their pledge to let the income tax hike expire,” Rep. Kay said. “As if that wasn’t enough, they’re rushing through budget bills to spend more than the bipartisan revenue number we agreed to earlier this spring – to the tune of $2.9 billion and climbing. Now, on top of that, they’re using an unprecedented series of politically-motivated budget maneuvers to slip in a pay raise for themselves before they go home for the summer. As usual, their priorities are in the wrong place. It’s beyond reckless and irresponsible.” Read the rest of the story.

O’Hare Airport
Lawmakers call for renewed noise study in wake of new runways, flight patterns. Noise mitigation efforts, including soundproofing aid, are provided to some (but not all) neighbors of O’Hare International Airport. This aid, which is funded by a tax imposed on passengers who take off from and land at O’Hare, is provided to residents of a “footprint” of land that is meant to cover real estate that lies underneath the flight paths of planes whose engines are roaring as they take off from or land at the airport. The “footprint” used for eligibility for this aid is based on an environmental impact study first published in 2004.

Since 2004, air travel conditions have changed. Jet fuel has become much more expensive, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has advised pilots using O’Hare to modify their flight patterns to further reduce the risk of mid-air incidents. Many residents of suburbs and Chicago neighborhoods adjacent to O’Hare are advising their lawmakers that local airport noise is coming down from the skies in different patterns from those projected by computer model in 2004, when the current airport expansion push began.

In response to these concerns, Representatives Dennis Reboletti and Michael McAuliffe filed HB 6234, a new measure that requires the State to conduct a new study of O’Hare airport noise. Participants in the study, to be carried out by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), will be asked to set up noise microphones in areas outside the official O’Hare noise “footprint.” The goal is gather evidence to show that a widened circle of local residents deserve help from noise and other environmental effects caused by aircraft takeoffs and landings from the Midwest’s busiest airport.

Cook County, some employee organizations tentatively agree to language that reduces county unfunded liabilities. An outline of the proposed language was circulated to key members of the General Assembly on Thursday, May 15. As with previous legislation enacted by the General Assembly that affects many state workers and City of Chicago employees, the measure centers on adjustments to the formula previously used to compound vested pension payouts to beneficiaries over time.

Advocates for fiscal stability point out that the proposed Cook County measure does not eliminate unfunded liabilities and exposes county taxpayers to potential tax increases to help pay for increased pension payouts that will continue to be mandated by the new law. In addition, the question of pension reform for Chicago teachers, police officers, and firefighters remained on the table with no solution this week.

Public Health
Senate panel advances “Cupcake” bill. Current State law does not provide a legal pathway for local public-health officials to allow home bakers to sell baked goods and other unlicensed food supplies prepared in home kitchens. HB 5354, which closes this loophole, advanced in the Senate Public Health Committee on Tuesday, May 13.

The food-prepared-at-home issue made headlines earlier in 2014 when Madison County officials turned off the oven of then-11-year-old pastry chef Chloe Sterling. Church suppers and other Illinois community activities are threatened by the absence of a law allowing home food preparations to be sold for the purposes of meeting expenses or fundraising.

Compromise language developed by Rep. Charlie Meier creates a pathway for local governments with direct jurisdiction over home kitchens to enact an ordinance allowing home food preparation by trained and registered nonprofessional food preparers. If an ordinance of this type is enacted, the home kitchen will be allowed to prepare and sell a limited quantity of baked goods, labeled by written notice to the purchaser as having been prepared at home. Local health officials will continue to have the right to inspect a kitchen if there is a health complaint.

State Government
Press finds high percentage of Quinn hires could be patronage hires; complaint filed. The story, published by Crain’s Chicago Business on Monday, showed a high percentage of the hires in the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) were carried out through pathways other than the Personnel Code civil service pathway and the “Rutan” pathway established by statutory and case law. These are two pathways built, over many decades, by the General Assembly and the courts to make sure that a person who is newly hired by the State for a position not related to the creation of public policy was not hired by a process that involved formal or informal political patronage.

Crain’s and the Associated Press have combined to scrutinize the hiring practices of the Quinn administration, particularly with respect to IDOT. Media interest in this issue follows the April 2013 publication of a report by the Illinois Auditor General listing 1,858 State positions that were wholly or partly exempt from State legal protections against patronage hiring. News stories also followed the filing of a legal motion, in April 2014, by longtime private-sector watchdog Michael Shakman seeking an investigation of the Governor’s current hiring practices and calling for the naming by federal court of an ongoing monitor, with the standing of a Special Master, to review and investigate the hiring practices of the State of Illinois.

Illinois Bicentennial
Twenty-one-gun salute as Illinois begins countdown to 200th birthday celebration. On December 3, 1818, Illinois was admitted to the Union as the 21st state. Illinois’ centennial in 1918 and sesquicentennial in 1968 were marked by major State and federal observances celebrating the State’s heritage and achievements. For example, in 1918 the U.S. Mint struck a special silver half dollar in honor of Illinois. In 1968, educational resources were distributed to Illinois schools to increase statewide knowledge of our heritage.

A proclamation issued by the Governor’s office on Monday, May 12 begins the countdown to Illinois’ bicentennial. Members of the Illinois Bicentennial Commission will be appointed in the coming weeks. This panel will oversee planning for the 2018 observance and will assist in the coordination between history professionals, the State, the federal government, schools and local governments, and the private sector. Members of the commission will serve without compensation or reimbursement.

Other states have bicentennial programs well under way. Indiana’s Bicentennial Commission, which is leading the effort to celebrate the 200th year of the Hoosier State in 2016, has set up a multifaceted array of programs that could be used as a model for Illinois.

Week in Review
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