Week in Review: Taxes, Budget, Public Health & More

House Republicans Call for Action, Introduce Property Tax Reform Package. Illinois State Representatives Dan Brady, Deanne Mazzochi, Joe Sosnowski and Dan Ugaste announced new legislative proposals to provide property tax relief to struggling homeowners this week after the Democrat-led Property Tax Relief Task Force failed to present any viable solutions to this crisis.

“We have been waiting, waiting and waiting for Democrats to keep their promise to join us and pass meaningful property tax reform,” said Rep. Deanne Mazzochi. “House Republicans have a package of property tax relief bills stuck in the Rules Committee graveyard that haven’t received the courtesy of even a committee hearing. Those bills are targeted to the very people who told the Property Tax Relief Task Force that they need relief now - particularly seniors who are forced to leave their friends, family, and homes because of skyrocketing property taxes. We are determined to bring real property tax relief to Illinois, and it is sad to see more do-nothing from Democrats, and their refusal to do what it takes to help people stay in their homes."

The first installment of property tax bills in Cook County have already come due and tax bills in counties throughout the state will be due over the next few months, yet zero reform measures have been advanced by the House Democrats this session.

As one piece of the House Republican reform initiative, Rep. Mazzochi introduced House Bill 5293 that creates the senior citizens homestead school levy exemption to tackle the largest part of the property tax bill that is forcing life-long residents out of the homes they have owned for decades.

“Property taxes have been too heavy a burden for Illinois taxpayers for far too long,” said Rep. Dan Ugaste. “Right now we are entering our sixth week of the legislative session and nothing has been accomplished for property tax reform. I have filed six bills to help provide property tax relief—but none of them have moved forward. I am calling on Democrat lawmakers from across the aisle to work with me on real reform, to get this legislation passed so we can begin giving residents of Illinois relief from oppressive property taxes.”

Another proposal presented by Rep. Ugaste, House Bill 4143, gives local school districts the ability to reduce costs by discontinuing state mandates that are not adequately funded by the state or are not improving student outcomes.

“Families and seniors need the property tax relief they have been promised time and time again,” said Rep. Dan Brady. “We all need to hold the Democrat majority accountable and demand they keep their promise to provide real property tax relief. Joining us to pass House Bills 4143 and 5293 would be a big step toward making Illinois a place where everyone can afford to work, raise their family, and retire.”

“The legislation we are introducing today would achieve meaningful, lasting property tax relief for Illinois families and job creators,” said Rep. Joe Sosnowski. “In the wake of the Democrats’ failed property tax relief task force, we are taking the common-sense reforms we’ve been offering from the start and putting them into specific bill form. Now it’s time to let legislators on both sides of the aisle, from every region of the state, debate and vote on proposals that can finally deliver the property tax relief we all know Illinois needs.”

House Republicans have filed more than twenty pieces of legislation comprehensively addressing property tax relief that range from local pension reform, mandate relief, and increased transparency to consolidation and resource sharing among local governments to drive down costs.

A list of legislation is available here.

CGFA releases FY21 economic forecast. The report, by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA), looks at statewide economic trends and their effects on the State of Illinois’ FY21 budget. The report was presented to the twelve-member, bipartisan CGFA panel on March 4.

There has been a good deal of talk in recent days about the impact of the current COVID-19 contagious virus and its possible effects on the global economy. That being said, the trend line picture CGFA presented to the General Assembly this week was one of continued slow growth. Since 2015, the GDP growth rate posted by the U.S. economy on a nationwide basis has grown at a steady rate averaging 2.0% per year. Quarterly-measured U.S. and Illinois economic growth has been matched by new hires, with unemployment numbers hitting record low levels in many regions of Illinois and the nation. The steady growth rate is being managed by central bankers in ways that are preventing a renewal of consumer-goods price inflation, with the U.S. Consumer Price Index (CPI) showing inflation of approximately 2.0%/year. Much of the remaining U.S. price inflation is concentrated in demand-inelastic service sectors of the economy, led by health care. Durable goods, on which sales taxes are charged in Illinois, continue to be good buys, and Illinois sales tax revenues remained strong and healthy s of February 2020.

Interest rates are headed toward record lows. When the CGFA report went to press, U.S. 10-year Treasury notes were trading in a band bounded between 1.50% and 1.75%. Since publication of the report, the U.S. Federal Reserve has taken action to reduce the T-note rate by a further 50 basis points, to 1.00% - 1.25%. Interest rates in these key benchmark securities help to fix the rates charged by lenders who offer home loans and refinancings, indicating a continued positive climate for new-home purchases and associated Illinois variables that include changes in the current market value of real property.

Many sub-regions within Illinois have been negatively affected by continued trends away from manufacturing and away from export-oriented manufactured goods. About 590,000 Illinoisans work in manufacturing today, down from 680,000 in 2007. Illinois manufacturing employment remains depressed in relation to where it was prior to the 2008 global economic downturn. These trends are especially relevant to many metropolitan areas within Downstate Illinois that have traditionally tied their job creation and employment activity to “heavy industry.” The trends also help explain some of the underlying causes behind overall population declines in many regions within Illinois. Although Illinois is currently, overall, a prosperous state, our population is shrinking, both in real terms and in relation to fast-growing U.S. states such as Florida, Georgia, and Texas. Global job creators do not see Illinois as a place that is growing as a market for new jobs and new business.

Combining the potential economic impact of COVID-19 coronavirus, the continuing image of Illinois as a high-tax state, unknown costs associated with an ever-increasing minimum wage, the uncertainty voters will approve the graduated income tax this fall, and significant fixed costs relating to an aging population and outdated model of economic activity and productivity, results in significant economic headwinds in FY21. These factors signal the urgent need for an FY21 spending plan that reflects realistic revenue projections based on current law in an effort to mitigate the potential negative effects of the economic uncertainties outlined above.

CGFA’s FY21 revenue estimate of $40.645 billion is close, in some categories, to the estimate provided by the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget (GOMB) as part of the Governor’s FY21 proposed budget. However, and significantly, CGFA’s overall FY21 revenue estimate is $51 million lower than GOMB has presented for FY21. CGFA expects personal and corporate income tax receipts to be roughly $217 million higher than GOMB anticipated, however those gains are then lost over several other General Revenue categories, including sales taxes (-$47 million), public utility taxes (-$10 million), inheritance tax (-$10 million), and a handful of other sources (-$99 million).

Additionally, CGFA’s projections assume that the income tax transfers to the Local Government Distributive Fund (LGDF) and sales tax transfers to Public Transportation Funds (PTF/DTPF) will be restored to the full amount owed as outlined by statute. This assumption results in a $91 million decrease in available General Funds when compared to the Governor’s proposal - which is to maintain the 5% diversion of income and sales taxes owed to local governments.

CGFA’s FY20 revenue projection revisions lowered our base General Revenues by $58 million for the current fiscal year, when compared to estimates from March of last year. CGFA noted that these estimates are tentative and could change rapidly based upon unexpected factors in April 2020 income tax payments.

House GOP Members Address FOID Renewal Delays, Call for Passage of Bills to Reduce Cost and Regulations for Law-Abiding Gun Owners. State Representatives Mike Marron, Charlie Meier, and Patrick Windhorst held a press conference in Springfield Wednesday alongside fellow Republican legislators and 2nd Amendment supporters to discuss solutions to end delays in FOID card processing, and discussed their shared 2nd Amendment focused legislative agenda. The lawmakers expressed their concerns that fund sweeps of $28 million from the Illinois State Police fund have led to delays in processing FOID card applications and renewals.

Marron says his office is overwhelmed every week with calls from constituents experiencing long delays for FOID renewals.

“My office receives dozens of constituent calls regarding FOID renewals every month,” Marron said. “There has been a steady increase of approval delays leading to many frustrated citizens unable to speak with a live person when checking on their FOID renewal and approval status. The delays are not due to a lack of funding, but because money that was supposed to be used to provide service to Illinois’ two million FOID cardholders was used for spending in other areas.”

Rep. Charlie Meier says the fund sweeps have led to long delays for gun owners to get their FOID cards renewed.

“The FOID program has been used as a piggy bank to fund other programs,” Meier said. “If the State is going to require the fee, and require the FOID, then we owe it to our citizens to run an efficient and effective program. If we can’t do that, the program should be eliminated.”

Rep. Patrick Windhorst said he is sponsoring a legislative package that would eliminate the FOID altogether (HB 913). Barring its passage, Windhorst says his agenda reduces costs and regulations for law-abiding citizens.

“Illinois is one of only four States that still requires a Firearm Owner’s Identification Card (FOID),” Windhorst said. “Though I believe the FOID card is unconstitutional, that issue will ultimately be decided by the courts. Until the courts decide, there are steps we can take as a legislature to address FOID renewal delays and decrease high costs and burdensome regulations on law-abiding gun owners.”

Windhorst says his legislative package aims to reduce fees, eliminate long waiting periods, and allows for automatic FOID renewal if a concealed carry license is still in effect.

“We are here to say, either void the unconstitutional FOID card, or stop the fund sweeps and pass our legislative package to ease the burden on law-abiding gun owners, reduce costs, and improve renewal times,” Windhorst said.

House Republicans strongly urge the State of Illinois to cooperate with federal law enforcement. House Republicans are gravely concerned to learn that the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), at the apparent direction of the Pritzker administration, has stopped cooperating with federal immigration authorities with regards to the releases of inmates with valid detainer warrants. This decision to release non-citizen convicted felons into our communities endangers public safety and threatens vital federal funding for many important programs.

Up until now, IDOC has cooperated with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with regards to the notification and transfer of persons with valid detainer warrants. These valid detainer warrants are law enforcement documents under federal law. Now, however, this cooperation has stopped. This silence from IDOC affects not only ICE but also local law enforcement.

At a hearing of the House Appropriations – Public Safety Committee on Wednesday, March 4, IDOC Acting Director Rob Jeffreys refused to answer questions from Republican legislators about who specifically authorized and directed this dangerous policy decision.

Led by Rep. Lindsay Parkhurst, House Republicans have filed HJR 118 to protest against this new IDOC policy. We strongly urge that the Department comply with federal law, resume its cooperation with ICE and local law enforcement, and stop releasing non-citizens with serious criminal conviction records out onto Illinois streets.

Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) tests for and tracks coronavirus cases in Illinois. The State agency has responsibility for public health in Illinois, including contagious diseases and illnesses. There has been major news coverage in recent days about the COVID-19 coronavirus, a contagious viral disease that can have a lethal outcome. Efforts to stem the growth of this disease were temporarily held back by problems suffered by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and by many states in implementing scientific tests to diagnose this new virus. Many public health experts nationwide have praised IDPH for its pioneering work. Illinois was the first state to successfully test Americans for the disease. Testing labs are now active in Chicago, Springfield, and Carbondale.

In numbers posted by IDPH as of Thursday, March 5, Illinois COVID-19 cases increased slightly in line with trends seen in other states. Of all the persons who have so far believed themselves to have been taken ill, 197 patients have met the diagnostic criteria for the disease and have been tested as of Thursday, March 5. Of these 197 persons, 165 tests have come back negative, 27 results are pending, and IDPH has posted the results of five tentative or confirmed positive cases of the virus.

The IDPH has also issued a series of advisories and descriptions of the disease and what Illinois should do to avoid it. The Department and its public health experts strongly advise people to carefully follow ordinary actions of human hygiene and cleanliness, including careful handwashing.

The great majority of people who contract COVID-19 make a full recovery. IDPH reports that of the five cases described above, two persons have already recovered from the illness.

March is Women’s History Month. Chemist and physicist Leona Woods, a daughter of Illinois, is one of the women whose work helped create victory in World War II. As part of her graduate work, she was recruited into the top-secret Manhattan Project at the campus of the University of Chicago in 1942. In a makeshift bunker, concealed in storage space beneath the bleachers of an unused football stadium, stood a “pile” of carbon graphite that would help win the war.

A Chicago scientific team, using research so new that much of it would not be published until well after the coming of peace, was learning how to put together a maze of carbon blocks, strewn with seeds of metallic uranium. When stacked together according to a precise physical and mathematical formula, the uranium seeds would irradiate each other without blowing up. Leona Woods calibrated some of the equipment that helped measure the pile’s output, called “radiation.” On the morning of December 2, 1942, team leader Enrico Fermi read out data from this machinery, as the pile grew warm in the cold room. The measurements worked and Fermi ordered the experiment stopped and the pile to be disabled.

Leona Woods became Leona Marshall Libby, and went on to a lifelong career in research physics and engineering chemistry. She worked at Argonne National Laboratory and in other locations in Illinois and other states. Born in 1919, she passed away in 1986 at age 67, leaving behind children and grandchildren.

Hammond, Ugaste talk strategies for lowering property taxes. Representatives Norine Hammond and Dan Ugaste identify strategies the State can implement now to provide Illinoisans with much needed property tax relief.

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