ROCKFORD — The Democratic Party will strengthen its hold on the Senate and House of Representatives when the 101st Illinois General Assembly is sworn in on Wednesday in Springfield.
Democrats will have a 40-19 supermajority in the Senate and a 74-44 supermajority in the House. The party’s control of state government will extend to the executive mansion when J.B. Pritzker is sworn in as governor Jan. 14, replacing Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
The Democrats’ tighter grip on state government is expected to result in an increase in the state’s minimum wage, passage of expanded-gambling legislation, a capital construction bill and discussion of a state income tax hike.
“It’s a new era and it’s an opportunity to get some things accomplished that haven’t been done during the past few years,” said state Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford. “The bottom line is we just need stability in state government.
“Things have been so toxic in Springfield the past several years that we need to stabilize government, get our finances in order and get things accomplished.”
State Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, said he is pleased that Pritzker has pledged to work with Republican legislators on several items, including a capital construction program.
“I think that is certainly one of our major priorities — to get some road construction and bridge projects going again,” Sosnowski said. “That’s going to be a very strong bipartisan issue.”
How to pay for the capital program is unclear.
An increase in the state’s gasoline tax is one possibility, according to state Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford.
‘We’ve heard as much as 20 cents a gallon to fund a capital program,” Syverson said. “That would take care of roads and bridges. We’re falling behind and we have to do something. But (a tax hike) of that magnitude is too big.”
Syverson predicts the Democratic-controlled General Assembly will raise the state’s $8.25 minimum wage and may propose an increase in the state’s 4.95 percent income tax.
He doesn’t expect that anything important will be done to address the state’s unfunded pension liability, estimated to be $250 billion in 2017.
The state doesn’t have a revenue problem — it has a spending problem, according to state Rep. John Cabello, R-Machesney Park.
“We need to start looking at the duplication of services, which unfortunately are many,” Cabello said. “We need to do everything we can to protect the taxpayers. There isn’t a never-ending pool of money that we can keep going back to.”
Freshman state Rep. Maurice West Jr., D-Rockford, is ready to support a state income tax increase for upper-income Illinois residents.
“‘What I’m interested in seeing is what the formula will be,” West said. “We’re currently at 4.95 percent. What I want to see is less of an impact on the middle class and more help for our lower-income residents.”
A major concern, West said, is the underfunding of mental health programs.
West is proposing a 1 percent surcharge on firearm ammunition purchases, with the revenue funding mental health programs.
“One of the biggest struggles I’m seeing is that our mental health programs in our state are suffering financially,” West said. “We need to find ways to increase funding for mental health.”
There appears to be momentum toward passing legislation that would legalize sports betting and expand the number of casinos in Illinois.
“We want to make sure that a Rockford casino is included in any gaming-expansion bill,” Stadelman said. “I remain optimistic that will be the case.”
Stadelman estimates an expanded-gaming bill would generate $500 million to $1 billion a year for the state.
A more realistic figure, according to Syverson, is $200 million to $300 million annually.
Ken DeCoster: 815-987-1391; firstname.lastname@example.org; @DeCosterKen
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Region: Northern,Politics,Region: Rockford,City: Rockford
via Government – Rockford Register Star http://bit.ly/2AbcFcx
January 5, 2019 at 09:43PM