The Week in Review For Week of 12/15/14 - 12/19/14

Illinois Comptroller – Succession

Quinn appoints Stermer Comptroller; Rauner to appoint for full term.  The incumbent and recently-reelected Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka passed away on Wednesday, December 10.   A legal consensus calls for her office to be refilled in stages.  In the first stage, urgently required to carry on essential State cash flow business, departing Gov. Pat Quinn named longtime aide Jerry Stermer as temporary Comptroller on Friday, December 19 to serve the remaining days of Topinka’s first term.  Stermer will voluntarily step down as Comptroller on January 12, 2015.

The second stage of replacing Topinka will cover the four-year term for which she was elected in November 2014, starting on January 12, 2015 (the inauguration day for Illinois statewide elected officials).  The Constitution has given Governor-elect Bruce Rauner the right to make an appointment during this four-year period.  The newly-appointed Comptroller will have the heavy responsibility of supervising the State’s money during a time of unprecedented demands on the cash flow of the State.  Topinka revealed, before her death, that the State’s total of unpaid bills had climbed above $6 billion (Monthly Money Matters).

Illinois Comptroller – Succession – Special Session

Governor Quinn calls special session; Constitution stands in way.  Some advocate creating a special election to add the office of Comptroller, on a one-time-only basis, to the presidential ballot that Illinoisans will vote on in November 2016.  Retiring Gov. Quinn has called a special session of the General Assembly to consider legislative measures to provide for an off-term election for the office of State Comptroller.  The General Assembly has been directed to meet in Springfield on Thursday, January 8.

The Constitution of Illinois does not, however, currently provide for an off-term special election.  Section 2 of Article V of the Constitution provides explicitly that the Comptroller and the other statewide elected officials shall be elected at the general election in 1978 and every four years thereafter.  Section 3 of the Constitution’s transition schedule, approved by the voters in that year, moved the election dates for Statewide elected officials, including the Comptroller, from presidential election years to midterm election years.  The change became effective in 1976-1978 and was the only time in the history of the current Constitution that statewide officials have been elected to a two-year term.       

Although the retiring Governor has called upon Illinois lawmakers to assemble to pass a legislative bill to enact a special election, constitutional language and precedent does not allow them to do what he is asking them to do.  The Constitution directs incoming Gov. Bruce Rauner to appoint a new Comptroller to serve a four-year term ending in January 2019, and Rauner is preparing to fulfill his constitutional responsibilities.           

Illinois Comptroller – Memorial

Judy Baar Topinka honored at memorial service.  Friends of Comptroller Topinka gathered to honor her memory on Wednesday, December 17.  The lifelong Republican had achieved many ties with fellow leaders on both sides of the political aisle, and remarks were made by incoming Governor-elect Bruce Rauner, who had hoped to work with Topinka; by Topinka’s longtime chief of staff, Rauner transition team member Nancy Kimme; by outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn; and by retired Gov. Jim Thompson.   

A lifelong resident of western Cook County, Topinka was remembered in suburban Countryside.  It was from this region that she began her public service, in Thompson’s time, as a state representative chosen by voters in the election of 1980.   The Suburban Life covered the memorial service and gathering.   

Constitution of Illinois

Proposal to merge statewide offices, save money.  The Topinka succession situation has renewed interest in longtime proposals to reduce the size of Illinois state government by merging the two offices of Comptroller and Treasurer.  Under the Constitution, Illinois has two elected statewide fiscal officers.  The Comptroller specializes in cash flow, the Treasurer specializes in cash management, and the two officials monitor each other.  Changes in the terms of office, or the work responsibilities, of these officers will require the General Assembly to approve a constitutional amendment and approval of this amendment by the people.  

In the 98th General Assembly, many proposals were made to merge these two offices.  Modern business practices have tended to commingle the formerly separate functions of cash flow and cash management, and greater adherence to accounting standards is reducing the necessity for two separate sets of eyes to look at the same financial books.  Proposals to merge the Comptroller and the Treasurer into a single statewide elected office, that of the Comptroller of the Treasury, were made by lawmakers such as House Republican Adam Brown in HJRCA 44.  The changing political status of these offices in the wake of the 2014 general election, and Comptroller Topinka’s death, may change the way Springfield lawmakers look at proposals like these in the near future.

Governor-Elect Bruce Rauner – Inauguration, Budget

State’s chief executive position to change hands on Monday, January 12, 2015.  The office of Governor-elect Bruce Rauner has unveiled their inauguration website.  Events, to be held on Sunday, January 11 and on Inauguration Day, will be held at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, the Lincoln Presidential Library, and the Old State Capitol. 

The swearing-in ceremony itself will be held at Springfield’s Prairie Capital Convention Center on Monday, January 12.  Attendees at the space-limited facility are requested to be present at 11:00 a.m.  In addition to Rauner, Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti, Secretary of State Jesse White, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and Treasurer-elect Mike Frerichs will take their oaths of office. 

It is expected that the ceremony will include a moment of silence in honor of the late Comptroller-elect Judy Baar Topinka, and that Governor-elect Rauner will be granted the opportunity to appoint a new Comptroller soon after taking the oath.  

Among other innovations, Bruce and First Lady-elect Diana Rauner are moving away from the Inaugural Ball traditionally held on the evening of the swearing-in day.  Instead, they will host an Inaugural Concert at the Convention Center.

Rauner tackles budget crisis, promises scrutiny.  As plans for the inauguration move forward, Governor-elect Rauner and his leadership team are concentrating on urgent budget challenges.  The FY15 State of Illinois budget approved by Democratic legislators and signed by Governor Quinn contained unrealistic expenditure numbers; many agencies are reporting that their money is running out and are asking for additional taxpayer funds.  Funds for some of these requests could be provided in the form of a “supplemental appropriations” bill, but this measure would have to get the approval of both houses of the General Assembly and be signed by the new Governor. 

Speaking at a Springfield forum hosted by the Better Government Association (BGA), an NGO watchdog organization, Governor-elect Rauner announced his opposition to these “fundamentally dishonest” budget numbers on Tuesday, December 16.   The incoming chief executive indicated that he and his campaign team were carefully scrutinizing the agencies’ requests and that many of his responses would be “a little bit painful” to established interests in Springfield. 

As the Comptroller’s office has reported that the State already has more than $6 billion in unpaid bills, it is not clear where money would come from to meet spending requests by agencies needing additional funding.  The BGA describes Rauner’s remarks here.

General Assembly – Inauguration

Lawmakers to be sworn in separately from Executive branch.  The Constitution assigns the General Assembly, a co-equal branch of government, a swear-in date that is different from the slate of statewide constitutional officers headed by the Governor.  The new 99th General Assembly will be sworn in on Wednesday, January 14, 2015, two days after Governor-elect Rauner.

The Illinois House inauguration ceremony will be held in the Auditorium Hall of the University of Illinois at Springfield.  Many friends and family members of lawmakers from both parties are expected to attend.  Watch the Week in Review and our sister publication, The Caucus Blog, for more information about these approaching events.

The incoming leadership of the Illinois House has posted a schedule for the newly-elected lawmakers’ expected work activities in spring 2015.  The calendar has been posted on the General Assembly’s website.

Flu Season

Flu season hits Illinois with medical warnings.  Infectious disease specialists point out a gap between the strains of flu protected against by each fall’s flu vaccine and the strains that actually hit the United States.  The Associated Press and its partner, the Northwest Herald, reported an increase in flu-related hospital admissions on Saturday, December 13.  The Department of Public Health reports that 115 of these patients have been admitted to intensive care treatment units.  Cases of flu often need to be monitored with special care when the victim or potential victim is already facing other long-term or acute health challenges. 

Persons with infectious diseases are encouraged to stay away from public places, including schools, workplaces and especially health facilities.  The Chicago Tribune reported climbing absentee rates at Illinois primary and secondary schools on Wednesday, December 17 as parents withdrew pupils from classes and activities.  Persons who have been vaccinated will continue to be partly protected from this year’s flu threat.   

Gambling – Video Gaming

Controversy as secondary-liquor-license applications pile up.  Under the Video Gaming Act, passed in 2009, many Illinois taverns with owners in legal good standing are eligible to apply for a license to install up to five video gaming machines.  Illinois-licensed video gaming machines must be owned and serviced by a licensed terminal operator; the tavern hosts the machines, and the terminal operator pays rent to the host for the right to operate the machines.  When the General Assembly enacted this law, they intended the new machines to provide entertainment for customers, raise tax money for State and local governments, and rescue many small businesses and community gathering-places from the economic challenges of the “Great Recession.”  

The law, in its current form, contains a loophole that has begun to encourage other businesses to apply for secondary liquor licenses, separate from the main focus of their business.  Once a successful applicant obtains a license from its local government to sell cans of beer from a cooler, the applicant can use this liquor license as a platform to apply for permission to install up to five video gaming machines.  The Illinois Gaming Board and local alcohol-zoning panels have noted increased video gaming applications from offices and businesses that have the alleged intent of selling alcohol as a sideline business, secondary to the underlying goal of hosting the machines.  An unverified accusation of this type against a local auto body shop, made in Springfield, has been covered by local radio station WMAY-AM and the State Journal-Register. More than 100 signatories have petitioned against granting a liquor license to the body shop.  

The Video Gaming Act authorizes local governments with zoning control over their jurisdictions to control the spread of video gaming within their boundaries.  Some municipalities and counties have even “opted out” of the Video Gaming Act altogether.  However, the share of video gaming tax revenues paid to local governments makes controls of this type a serious decision for a revenue-pressed county or municipality to make.    

Medical Cannabis – Coordinated Administration of Act

Deadline approaches for eligible patients and their physicians to submit applications.  The cannabis-card division of the Medical Cannabis Pilot Program, operated by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), imposes strict controls on potential card applicants.  Only patients with certain clearly defined and diagnosed medical conditions, independently recommended for this treatment by a medical doctor, will be eligible to apply for a cannabis card.  The IDPH has set up a website for eligible patients to begin the application process.

Under the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, applicants must comply with the rules and regulations promulgated by the Department.  IDPH is strongly encouraging patients to begin the application process prior to December 31, 2014, as they have staff in place now to conduct the verification process necessary to confirm a patient’s eligibility to receive a cannabis card.  Only patients with cards, and their caregivers, will be eligible to enter the dispensaries that will be authorized to sell cannabis and cannabis medications to approved patients.  Dispensaries, regulated by the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation  (DFPR) will be highly secure facilities under the provisions of the Pilot Program Act, and part of the cost charged to patients will be used to maintain 24/7 security in dispensaries and cultivation centers.  Cultivation centers will be regulated by the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA).  

Nothing will prevent newly diagnosed patients from commencing an application process after December 31, but they may face delays in getting cannabis cards.  It is expected that a network of approved cultivation centers and dispensaries will be in place shortly throughout Illinois.  Patients diagnosed with cancer, glaucoma, HIV, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, post-concussion syndrome, seizures (including seizures characteristic of epilepsy), spinal cord injury, and certain other diagnoses are eligible to start the application process.  IDPH has posted a list of frequently asked medical-cannabis questions and answers, including a complete list of eligible diagnoses.


“Tax rollback day” approaches.  Under the terms of Illinois’ largest-ever tax increase law, P.A. 96-1496 (SB 2505) Illinois income taxes paid by individuals and corporations are scheduled to be partly (not completely) rolled back on January 1, 2015.  Under the terms of the tax-hike law, passed by legislative Democrats and signed by Gov. Quinn, the income tax paid by Illinois residents on their individual income is scheduled to be partly rolled back from 5.00% in calendar year 2014 to 3.75% in calendar year 2015 and following years.  The corporate income tax rate is scheduled to be partly rolled back from 7.00% to 5.25% at the same time.  The new rates created by this rollback are supposed to remain in place for 10 years, until December 31, 2024, when a second rollback cycle is supposed to take place.

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