Week in Review: State budget, judicial access, corruption & more


Pritzker signs unbalanced FY24 Illinois State Budget. Earlier this week, Governor JB Pritzker signed the Democrat-crafted budget into law. The more than $50 billion budget is one of the largest spending packages in Illinois history. It includes a 5% pay increase for lawmakers, on top of the 16% hike they received in January. It also includes $550 million to provide free healthcare to undocumented immigrants, which is expected to grow to $1.1 billion by year’s end. Not included is relief for Illinois taxpayers as Democrats siphon off money intended for local governments and reinstate sales taxes on groceries, medicine, and gas to pay for the new programs and legislator pay raises.

House Republicans pointed to an obscure feature of the State’s spending plan that is expected to lead to property tax hikes on Illinois homeowners. The Democrats’ budget reallocates $700 million from State aid to local governments to the State’s General Revenue Fund. Illinois local taxing bodies can be expected to make up for these lost funds by increasing locally-generated taxes and fees to make up the lost income. Property tax rates are by far the largest segment of taxation power that can be used to raise money. According to the Chicago-based Civic Federation, Illinois’ property tax burdens are already the 2nd highest among the 50 states, second only to New Jersey.

Lawmakers from around the state respond to budget signing:
  • House Minority Leader Tony McCombie (Savanna)
    “Today Governor JB Pritzker signed one of the largest spending plans in our state’s history. An unbalanced budget that shortchanges many, but particularly our hospitals and direct support persons (DSP workers) who serve our most vulnerable citizens. Another budget filled with broken promises, accounting gimmicks, and a lack of structural reforms to address the systemic outmigration of Illinois families. House Republicans voted no in order to stand up for the residents of the 102 counties we represent. This budget puts the state’s fiscal outcome at risk and all but guarantees future tax hikes.”

  • State Representative Dan Ugaste (St. Charles)
    “Delivered in the middle of the night and filled with gimmicks instead of structural changes to improve our state’s finances, the Democrats’ budget prioritizes new spending over existing commitments. We are seeing local government funding sleight-of-hand that shorts these governments and the state playing shell games with the General Revenue Fund and COVID costs to hide the actual spending. While our constituents continue to battle inflation, Democrats gave themselves an unconstitutional pay raise late on a Friday night. Illinoisans deserve better than smoke and mirrors and this disgraceful budgetary circus. We need a transparent, accountable budgeting process.”

  • State Representative Paul Jacobs (Pomona)
    “Democrats say the budget is balanced, but they got there by allowing for increased taxes on gas, groceries, and medicine. Illinoisans will also pay higher fees to access state services because of how this budget is drafted.”

  • Deputy Republican Leader Norine Hammond (Macomb)
    “Despite their statements to the contrary, the Democrats’ budget is not balanced. It relies on a series of fiscal fabrications and schemes, such as only funding half-a-year’s-worth of Medicaid costs and shifting $700 million from local government funds into the State’s General Revenue Fund.”
  • Assistant House Republican Leader John Cabello (Machesney Park)
    “…With the stroke of a pen, he and Illinois House Democrats have massively raised taxes, embraced wasteful spending, and granted inappropriate pay raises for Springfield Politicians.”

Newly-signed budget includes Democrat-backed pay hikes for lawmakers. The Illinois state budget that looks to spend $50.4 billion in the next fiscal year was signed by Governor JB Pritzker this week. Included in the spending plan was a pay hike for lawmakers, something the majority Democrats approved for themselves.

House Republicans have been vocal about their opposition to the pay raise, which brings the base pay for a state lawmaker to nearly $90,000 when the new fiscal year starts July 1st.

House Republican Leader Tony McCombie was outspoken during the debate of the budget bill, calling the pay raise unconstitutional – as lawmaker pay was already increased once this year starting January 1st and was above 5% making it above the constitutional limit.

“This raise is in direct violation of the Illinois Constitution. A raise can only take effect the next General Assembly,” McCombie said during the budget debate. “You have created a constitutional problem with this budget.”

Article IV, section 11 of the Illinois Constitution dealing with the legislature states, “A member shall receive a salary and allowances as provided by law, but changes in the salary of a member shall not take effect during the term for which he has been elected.”

It is up to state lawmakers to pass legislation to deny that automatic pay hike, which the Democrat majority prevented from moving forward.

Before signing the budget this week, Governor Pritzker had to issue a reduction veto, reducing the lawmaker pay raise to 5% to keep it constitutional.

“While Illinois families struggle, Governor Pritzker decreased the politician pay raise a paltry .5%,” said McCombie. “While this change may make it constitutional, it does not make it right. House Republicans will continue to hold the majority party accountable to not only our constitutional rights but also to Illinois taxpayers.”

May 2023 revenue numbers. As Illinois prepares for FY24, the State begins to wind up tax collections and spending for FY23. The current fiscal year will end on June 30, 2023. Revenue numbers compiled by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA) for May 2023, the next-to-last month of FY23, showed a largely flat revenue picture in the year-to-date. With personal income tax payments having taken a big hit in April 2023 from a reconciliation of end-of-year amounts owed, year-to-date personal income tax payments were down $1.1 billion for the first eleven months of FY23.

A net increase of $597 million in sales tax payments to the State, and an increase of $513 million in corporate income taxes, during the same period made up for this deficit but could not pay for significant new expenses imposed on Illinois by Gov. Pritzker and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly. A new expense item covered by a recently-enacted law, the provision of free medical care to undocumented immigrants, will have an estimated cost of $1.1 billion in FY24. This single budget line item is a sum equivalent to the entire increase in corporate income tax payments and sales tax payments to the State for all of FY23. As a result of trends like these, the Illinois State budget has fallen back into deficit and is no longer balanced as required by law.

Those turning to the courts to protect their constitutional rights shouldn’t have to travel far for judicial access. During the final week of the Spring Session of the Illinois General Assembly, House Republicans, led by House GOP Floor Leader Patrick Windhorst and State Representative Dan Ugaste, vigorously opposed legislation that would prevent Illinois citizens from filing lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of laws or executive orders issued by the Governor in any county besides Sangamon or Cook County. The Representatives are both licensed attorneys and fought hard against HB 3062 during the House Floor debate on the legislation.

The sponsor of the measure argued that questions involving the constitutionality of laws or executive orders often end up before the courts in Sangamon or Cook County due to consolidation of lawsuits. Rep. Windhorst argued that just because lawsuits eventually end up in a Springfield or Chicago courtroom, denying individuals the right to petition their government at the local level when they feel their rights have been infringed upon is itself unconstitutional.

“In my community, if the legislature passes a constitutionally questionable piece of legislation, which happens quite often, HB 3602 says that if someone wishes to file a lawsuit based on the constitutionality of a law or executive order of the governor, then that person will have to file that lawsuit in Springfield or Chicago,” Windhorst said.

“The Democrats in Illinois have received some rulings that didn’t go in their favor on things like the SAFE-T Act, and the Governor’s COVID Executive Orders, or on the recent firearms and ammunition ban. So, instead of passing laws that meet constitutional muster, Democrats are changing the rules, denying due process and local court access, and trampling on the rights of the citizens that I serve.”

Representative Ugaste also spoke against HB 3602 during the debate. He says the effort to limit an individual’s ability to seek legal action against the State seeking declaratory or injunctive relief against laws, rules, or executive orders is fundamentally wrong and unconstitutional.

“The constitution applies to every citizen in every county and every city in the state,” Ugaste said. “Rather than using an existing remedy to assist the Illinois Attorney General’s office with an abundance of cases, the state legislature has instead decided to limit a crucial right of millions of Illinoisans to challenge the constitutionality of laws from their home counties. This takes away the rights of the constituents of 100 counties in Illinois by limiting their venues to just two places in our entire state. We must be more concerned about citizens’ rights in our state and I’m extremely disappointed to say that was not the case in Springfield today.”

HB 3062 applies to actions brought against the State or any State employees, officers, or agents acting in an official capacity. The actions must be based on alleged violations of the Constitution of the State of Illinois or the United States. There is an exemption in the legislation for claims arising out of collective bargaining disputes between the State of Illinois and representatives of its employees.

“What’s also concerning about this legislation is how it impacts lower-income Illinoisans,” Rep. Ugaste continued. “Perhaps a person wants to challenge a state law and can only afford their local law firm. This denies them the opportunity to challenge the constitutionality of legislation that impacts their lives. We should not deny Illinoisans access to the courts and must work to preserve the rights of the people we serve with our best efforts.”

House Republicans voted in unanimous opposition to HB 3602 because the legislation would disregard local interests and increase legal costs and burdens on individuals that would otherwise be able to seek remedy at their local courthouse.

“To uphold the principles of fairness, equal treatment, and consistency in the legal system, it is important that constitutional challenge lawsuits are heard in appropriate local venues,” Rep. Windhorst said. “If HB 3602 is signed into law, it would deny those very principles to the citizens of the state of Illinois.”

Latest high-profile public corruption trial hits Illinois amidst Democrats’ inaction on ethics reform. The trial for allegedly corrupt businessman Jimmy Weiss began this week in Chicago, and it is yet another example of the rampant corrupt pay-to-play politics that has existed in state government circles in Illinois for decades. Weiss, who is married to former Democratic state Rep. Toni Berrios, stands accused of bribing two Democratic lawmakers in an effort to boost his electronic sweepstakes business.

The trial is expected to feature testimony from one of the two ex-legislators Weiss is alleged to have bribed, former Democratic State Senator Terry Link, who happened to be cooperating with the government and wearing a wire when then-Democratic State Representative Luis Arroyo offered him a bribe in an attempt to further the cause of legalizing sweepstakes machines. Arroyo pleaded guilty to bribery charges in 2021.

The Weiss trial comes on the heels of the recent ‘ComEd Four’ verdict tied to former Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan. That was also a high-profile bribery case, with four ComEd employees and lobbyists found guilty on a total of 30 corruption charges. House Republicans have consistently advocated for sweeping corruption and ethics reform, as our state’s reputation for public corruption is, sadly, well-earned.

There is no more transformational change that can be made to state government in Illinois than enacting stronger ethics reforms and returning mapmaking to the people. Despite numerous Illinois legislators being indicted or imprisoned on corruption charges since 2019, Illinois lags behind other states in enacting meaningful reforms. Among the reforms that would create a more honest and transparent government include eliminating conflicts of interest and empowering the Legislative Inspector General with subpoena powers.

Ethics reform should be open and transparent, and it should be a bipartisan issue. House Republicans believe legislators should not be lobbyists, and we also believe in public service over self-interest. The time for pay-to-play politics must end.

“We have numerous bills to address ethics reforms, but Democrats will never act until the courts or the public force their hands,” stated Rep. Blaine Wilhour. “They have shown themselves totally unwilling to clean up the mess they have created.”

Spring session adjourns. On Saturday, May 27, the Illinois House concluded its 2023 spring session business and adjourned. Prior to adjournment, the General Assembly passed 566 bills through both houses. All of these bills have been sent, or will soon be sent, to Gov. Pritzker for the Governor’s signature or veto.

Many of the Spring 2023 bills were worked out through bipartisan discussion and negotiation, leading to the creation of agreed language. However, key measures involving the State’s FY24 budget, State government operations during the approaching fiscal year, medical care for the indigent and undocumented immigrants, and other aspects of state tax policies and legal policies were not debated in public. The majority Democrats often exercised the power of getting a caucus “yes-vote” pledge behind closed doors before revealing language to the public. Republican members often voted “no” against bills jammed through the process in this fashion.

Tickets on sale for August lineup at Illinois State Fair. Illinois’ largest summer fair will be held at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield on August 10 through August 20, 2023. The fairgrounds’ Grandstand, which traditionally specializes in country-Western music and experiences, will do so again in 2023. Headliners include three-time Grammy winner Tim McGraw, who will appear on August 17. Tickets for Grandstand acts and events on the main motorsports track are on sale. In addition to the Grandstand shows, a wide variety of free entertainment stages are scattered about the fairgrounds.