There’s been chatter almost since the November election that the majority Democrats in the General Assembly wanted to hand Gov. JB Pritzker some quick victories early in his term.
The winner of that sweepstakes now appears to be an increase in the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. Pritzker has reportedly told Democratic leaders he wants to sign that into law before he gives his budget speech, which is scheduled for Feb. 20.
If that deadline is going to be met, lawmakers are going to have to act quickly. As of late last week, negotiations were still going on about just what the bill will look like. A wage of $15 an hour is the target and sponsors said it will be phased in to give businesses some time to adjust. But there still have to be discussions about a lower wage for teens and tax credits to small businesses to help cover the cost.
The bill’s pretty much going to have to pass the Senate this coming week if it is going to get to Pritzker on time. The Senate is taking off the following week and then will be in session one more day before Pritzker does the budget address.
Supporters may say the bill isn’t being rushed through, but that’s a pretty quick turnaround for lawmakers this early in the session.
Billions in bill backlog
As Pritzker gets closer to delivering his first budget, Comptroller Susana Mendoza offered an update of state finances.
A lot of it isn’t necessarily new, but it serves to again underscore that the state’s financial problems didn’t disappear with the end of the budget impasse.
Mendoza pointed out that the bill backlog — estimated at $7.9 billion at the end of 2018 — requires her office to still juggle bill payments, even if the backlog is down significantly from its all-time high.
There’s also the matter that the state won’t get all of the revenue it expected to receive when the budget was passed. For example, the state will again fail to unload the James R. Thompson Center on someone, which means any money that was expected from the sale won’t materialize.
The report summary concludes “The budget deficit will continue to grow, and the state risks future credit rating downgrades, in the absence of realistic and responsible budgets.”
We’ll see in a couple of weeks if Pritzker delivers a “realistic and responsible” budget.
No missed work
Last week’s cold weather didn’t disrupt the first week of real work for the new General Assembly. At least, not much.
Both the House and Senate were due in Tuesday to get everything going. Only two of the 118 House members didn’t answer the attendance roll call that day. The Senate doesn’t take an attendance vote the way the House does, but keeps its own record of attendance for the sake of paying out daily expense money. The Senate said all members were in attendance that day.
After that, the two chambers went their own way. The Senate stuck around through Thursday as originally planned. By the time they left town the official wind chill warnings had expired, at least around Springfield.
Meanwhile, the House left on Tuesday right after adopting its rules of operation for the session. (Republicans complained they were unfair, but what else is new?)
It’s not like the House actually missed any work by canceling Wednesday and Thursday sessions: As of early last week, the chamber still hadn’t assigned any of the hundreds of bills that have been introduced to House committees so they can start working on them.
From now on, though, the House is scheduled to be in session just about every week until the end of May adjournment. The only exception is the traditional two-week spring break scheduled around Easter and Passover.
Contact columnist Doug Finke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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February 2, 2019 at 04:56PM