Week in Review for February 24, 2018

Education – “Storytellers”
Rep. Norine Hammond calls for State Board of Education to drop its plan to hire three “Storytellers.” The State Board has developed a budget that includes funding for three employees, described as “Storytellers,” to create what the Board asserts will be compelling, persuasive, relevant, and accurate communications content that will increase local school district engagement with the goals of the State Board and its educational professionals.

In HR 808, the House Republican member from Macomb points out the growing shortage of conventional teachers in many districts throughout Illinois. Many districts are having trouble developing adequate funding and recruiting personnel to meet their current responsibilities. Challenges are especially great in the areas of special and bilingual education. Rep. Hammond and her 15 House Republican co-sponsors are calling on the State Board of Education to redirect this spending and move the money allotted to “Storytellers” to other essential educational purposes.

Flooding – Melting snow, rain Severe floods hit wide regions within Illinois. Both Downstate and regions of the suburban Chicago area were affected by floods and standing water this week. Affected rivers include the Illinois River, which flows through much of Downstate, and the DuPage and Fox Rivers, which drain much of Chicago’s southern and western suburbs. Heavy rain, melting snow and melt runoff from an ice storm on the night of February 20-21 were blamed for the weather conditions.

The National Weather Service publishes a continuously updated series of online weather warnings to describe approaching weather hazards – including floods – throughout Illinois and the U.S. Access to the Weather Service’s weather warning map is free and conveys much of the information that is also broadcast on widely-watched television weather reports in each local area.

General Assembly – Maps
“Chicago Tribune” renews call for a fair mapping system in Illinois. The State of Illinois is required to redraw maps every decade to reflect population changes in the districts that elect members to the U.S. Congress, the Illinois House of Representatives and the Illinois State Senate. Under provisions of the Illinois Constitution of 1970, before the invention of modern computer software, these maps are drawn by politicians. In the 2010s, these political maps are always drawn with the help of specialized electronic programming that generates non-compact electoral districts with odd, twisted lines in a process known as “gerrymandering”.

Gerrymandered districts are drawn so as to reward one party and its politicians, to the distinct and purposeful disadvantage of opposing party and independent candidates. Gerrymandering results in most incumbent Illinois lawmakers being virtually assured of re-election, despite widespread voter concerns and overall dissatisfaction with state government.

A “fair map” system exists in many other U.S. states to take control of mapmaking away from politicians. The alternative procedures take steps to move the complex cartographic process into the hands of a nonpartisan panel. The panel is typically tasked with drawing lines that protect minority rights under the federal Voting Rights Act, preserve the compactness of districts, and reflect the overall partisan balance within the state as a whole. In a recent editorial, the “Chicago Tribune” renewed its call to the Illinois House and Senate to allow the people of Illinois to cast a ballot to amend the Constitution and confirm the adoption of a nonpartisan mapping procedure. HJRCA 21 is an example of what a nonpartisan mapmaking procedure would look like for the Illinois General Assembly.

Jobs – Community colleges
Rep. Tony McCombie sponsors bill to create job training for the 21st century. McCombie’s HB 5736, filed on Friday, February 16, amends the state Income Tax Act to create a tax credit for employer–community college cooperation. Under this measure, an employer that enters into an agreement with a community college within Illinois to establish a cooperative job training project may file for and claim partial relief from state income taxes withheld from pay of the newly-trained employee. The credit would not exceed 1.5% of the wages paid by the employer. The bill requires the amount of the credit to be remitted to the community college. The community college would receive support from this remittance that will reduce their need to exact moneys from local property taxpayers and from State general tax funds, while the employer will get better-trained employees to perform work relevant to a global marketplace.

Enactment of this credit will create a substantial financial incentive for local community colleges to work with local employers to train and retain their employees. Many employers have already developed cooperative relationships with community colleges. An increasing percentage of Illinois and United States jobs in manufacturing, logistics, construction, health care, building and vehicle maintenance and other fields – jobs that were traditionally filled by persons with high school diplomas – are now jobs that require junior-college-level training and specialty certifications.

Local Government – Consolidation
Bill introduced by Rep. Mark Batinick to help local citizens fight to consolidate units of local government. With an estimated 6,963 units of local government, Illinois has more layers of general-purpose local government (such as townships) than any other U.S. state. Current state law typically mandates that local taxpayers maintain and keep up these units through their property tax payments.

Rep. Mark Batinick’s Citizen Empowerment Act, filed by the Will County Republican on Friday, February 16, provides that registered voters may initiate a petition to get rid of a unit of local government that has ceased to serve its purpose. The petition must be circulated among local citizens and, if a minimum number of valid signatures have been gathered, the election authority would be required to place the question of the dissolution on the ballot at the next general election. The bill provides for the seamless transfer of the property, assets, obligations, and liabilities of the dissolving unit. The bill was filed as HB 5801.

Taxes – Estate taxes
House Republican member sponsors bill to repeal State estate tax/inheritance tax on family farms. Rep. Avery Bourne has filed HB 4219 to repeal the estate taxes and inheritance taxes paid by the family-farm portion of an estate bequeathed to a descendant. Under current law, once an estate exceeds a certain size in value, the estate and its heirs must pay a sliding-scale tax of between 7.2% and 16% to the Illinois Department of Revenue. This is in addition to the 35% estate tax owed by the same estate to the federal government. The tax must be paid before the estate can clear probate and be distributed to the descendants.

Rep. Bourne’s initiative highlights the fact that farms subjected to the estate tax are properties that have already paid substantial income and property taxes to State and local governments. Furthermore, the family farm is an increasingly endangered species in Illinois. In 2018, less than 1% of all employed Illinoisans are full-time farmers. Partly due to the estate tax, more and more Illinois farmland is falling into the hands of trusts and corporations.

Taxes – Interstate sales tax transactions
Case set for arguing before federal Supreme Court. Under existing law, the 45 states that charge sales taxes are not allowed to order retailers to enforce the collection of these taxes on many of the goods and services that cross state lines. In a 1992 federal Supreme Court decision, Quill v. North Dakota, the Supreme Court attached a strict condition upon state attempts to use retailers to charge these sales taxes. The state must present evidence that the retailer has a physical presence, called by lawyers a “nexus,” within the state that seeks to use the retailer to charge the sales tax.

One of the core arguments set forth in Quill is that the Constitution forbids the states from charging a tax on interstate commerce and that any transaction that lacks a nexus is a pure interstate transaction that falls within the guidelines set forth in this prohibition. Furthermore, mail-order firms at the time of Quill argued convincingly that it would be unreasonably burdensome for them to keep up with sales tax laws in all U.S. jurisdictions in which sales taxes are charged. In Illinois, a multitude of sales tax rates are charged by different counties and municipalities.

With the coming of the Internet age, an increasing number of goods shipments cross state lines after being ordered through electronic means. In addition, automation has made it possible for each retailer to know what the tax rates are in each jurisdiction to which they can ship their products, decreasing the burden upon retailers that affected the Quill decision. Furthermore, some legal scholars now assert that when a customer sees a product depicted on a screen and pushes a button to buy it, the acts of seeing the product and pushing the button all take place within one state and the transaction is no longer a purely interstate transaction that is protected from one-state taxation by the language of the Constitution. The state of South Dakota has begun to assert what it says is its right to enforce the charging of sales taxes on products shipped into their state by customer order, and the legal question has been packaged as a case for federal Supreme Court review. The name of the case is South Dakota v. Wayfair, which is being closely watched ahead of its scheduled oral arguments before the high court in April 2018.

Illinois Bicentennial
Illinois residents invited to participate in “200 greatest” online poll. Voting on the first round of the poll opened this week and will conclude on Friday, March 2. Results will be announced on Monday, March 5. The first round of the online survey will measure voters’ support for movies filmed or produced in Illinois. The second round of voting, to begin in March, will give participants the chance to select their favorite Illinois private-sector business firm. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the State Journal-Register and the Illinois Bicentennial Commission are co-producing this set of nonscientific surveys in honor of each fortnight in the State’s bicentennial year. There will be room for as many as 20 online surveys to be run prior to the conclusion of the Bicentennial and celebration of the actual 200th birthday on December 3, 2018.

Winter in Illinois – Olympics
Oak Lawn native Kendall Coyne wins gold medal at Pyeongchang. Coyne plays forward for the U.S. Women’s National Team. Skating for Northeastern University, she was named the top female college hockey player in the U.S. in 2016 and became the recipient of the Patty Kazmaier Award. During her university career she was selected for the U.S. women’s hockey team, playing for them since 2011. Coyne and the U.S. team were awarded a berth in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, winning a silver medal. After leaving Northeastern she continued active on the national hockey team, keeping her eye on the Olympics. In the climactic Olympics victory on Wednesday, February 21, Coyne’s team beat a squad from Canada. Coyne has participated in six International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championships and eight Four Nations Cups. Her family lives in Palos Heights, Illinois.

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