Illinois lawmakers near midnight deadline on budget, other issues

With only hours to go before a midnight deadline to adjourn, Illinois lawmakers on Monday were still working to put together a state budget and packages on ethics, sports gambling and elections that include moving next year’s primary to June 28.

Negotiations also were ongoing with Exelon over ratepayer subsidies the utility seeks for continued operation of its nuclear power fleet amid a push for a carbon-free future, and debate continued on changes to a significant policing law approved in January.

The number of issues awaiting a final decision left in question whether everything would get done by midnight. After that time, it takes a three-fifths majority of the House and Senate to approve legislation that would take effect immediately. Democrats have those majorities in both chambers, but it would require almost universal party support for bills in the House.

On top of the list of things to get done was constructing a new state spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1.

Democrats on Monday introduced a roughly $42 billion budget as part of a spending package that would use $2.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds for infrastructure projects and other programs.

The plan also counts on separate approval of a measure that would generate more than $600 million in revenue by closing what Gov. J.B. Pritzker and fellow Democrats have called corporate tax loopholes. That’s less than what Pritzker had originally proposed after Democrats dropped several items from his plan that had drawn the ire of Republicans, including limiting a tax credit for people who donate to private school scholarship funds.

Illinois is in line to receive $8.1 billion in relief from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, but the latest proposal calls for spending only a portion of that, with $1 billion to be used for infrastructure projects. The other $1.5 billion would be used for programs such as business relief, violence prevention and affordable housing, Rep. Greg Harris, a Democratic majority leader from Chicago, said before the spending plan was sent to the House floor on a party-line vote.

Illinois House Majority Leader Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, delivers remarks May 28, 2021, on House Bill 2777, the bill redrawing the legislative districts in the state.

Illinois House Majority Leader Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, delivers remarks May 28, 2021, on House Bill 2777, the bill redrawing the legislative districts in the state. (Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register)

Harris said discussions would continue over the summer about how to use the remainder of the federal relief money, which can be spent through 2024.

Federal relief and a stronger-than-expected economy were key to putting together a balanced spending plan for the new budget year, Harris said.

The spending plan was introduced just after midnight Monday, prompting GOP lawmakers to voice their perennial complaint about not having enough time to review the proposal.

Republicans also objected that members weren’t given an opportunity to add projects in their districts for the $1 billion in federal relief money being dedicated to infrastructure spending.

Democrats “certainly would be happy to come talk,” Harris said in response.

The plan lawmakers are expected to vote on late Monday would meet the goal of increasing school funding $350 million over the current year, for a total of $9.2 billion. Pritzker earlier had proposed holding school funding flat, which for the second straight year would have missed the target set in the new funding formula approved in 2017.

The proposal includes $7.4 billion for human services, $1.9 billion each for higher education and public safety, and $1.4 billion for other state operations.

Local governments would receive their full share of state income tax revenue, and the state would make its full contribution of nearly $9.4 billion to its severely underfunded pension plans.

The state also would pay $2 billion in outstanding debt on an emergency Federal Reserve loan taken out in December with its own funds rather than the coronavirus relief money, as previously planned. The U.S. Treasury Department’s draft rules would prohibit states from using the money to pay down debt.

The final budget package drops tax changes Pritzker proposed in February that received fierce pushback from Republicans and some Democrats. In addition to the scholarship tax credits, the package would retain an additional credit for companies receiving state incentives that produce construction jobs and remove a cap on the amount retailers receive for collecting state sales tax.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers questions at a news conference March 26, 2021.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers questions at a news conference March 26, 2021. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

But separate legislation that is expected to be introduced later Monday incorporates other proposals made by Pritzker. Those include freezing the phaseout of the state’s corporate franchise tax; limiting the amount of operating losses businesses can deduct per year; treating foreign dividends the same as domestic ones for tax purposes; and rolling back a provision that allows business to write off the full cost of eligible equipment in a single year rather than in smaller increments over time.

A possible deal on clean energy legislation hinged on the most contentious and politically challenging issue: whether the governor’s office could reach an agreement with Commonwealth Edison parent Exelon on subsidies for the company’s nuclear power plants. The company has said it will shut down its Byron and Dresden nuclear plants if it doesn’t get help from the state.

Pritzker had upped his offer by roughly $200 million to $540 million over five years and agreed to include a third plant that an independent audit he commissioned showed didn’t require support to be financially viable. Exelon has pushed for larger subsidies over 10 years, which it says are necessary for greater stability.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are wary of giving more money to Exelon in the wake of the ComEd bribery scandal, but Republicans face pressure to preserve thousands of jobs in GOP districts and Democrats face similar pressure from the unions that represent the workers and are among the majority party’s strongest backers.

Election legislation passed by the House on a 72-46 vote Monday would move the state’s March 15 primary next year to June 28. The delay was sought by Democrats because of plans to use delayed federal census data to redraw the state’s 17 new congressional boundaries and maintain control of the delegation. Hard census data isn’t due until mid-August, which runs up against the late-August start for candidates to circulate candidacy petitions for the primary.

The move to a late June primary, which will be for one year only, will cause a number of campaign dates to get pushed back, with Jan. 13 the first day to circulate petitions, March 7 the first day to file petitions, vote-by-mail ballot requests starting March 30 and in-person early voting beginning May 19.

The election legislation would create a vote-by-mail registry for people to automatically receive a mail-in ballot. The legislation also would make curbside voting permanent and set up voting centers on Election Day where anyone within the election’s jurisdiction could vote, regardless of the precinct of their residence.

The measure also would make the general election date of Nov. 8, 2022, a state and school holiday, as it was last year, making it easier to use school buildings as polling places without having to deal with student security. In addition, it would allow sheriffs to set up voting in jails for people awaiting trial.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is backing the ethics legislation, which would require more financial disclosure from lawmakers and ban them from working to lobby other units of government if the lobbying firm also lobbies the General Assembly.

It also would prohibit those leaving jobs in government from going to work for a government lobbyist for six months, and would drop the requirement that the Legislative Ethics Commission give permission for legislative inspector general’s investigations.

The measure would require financial statements of economic interest for officeholders to include assets, debt, creditors and income as well as any public employment or work of a spouse as a lobbyist as well as naming any lobbyist in which the officeholder is a financial partner.

Republicans had sought a stricter revolving door ban for those leaving government. But the move to allow the legislative inspector general to investigate complaints without permission from a panel of lawmakers was in response to criticism that legislators used the ethics commission to try to protect themselves.

Illinois state Sen. Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights, center, speaks about Senate Bill 539, a bill dealing with ethics, along with state Sen. John Curran, R-Downers Grove, third from left, as they are joined by fellow Republicans and Democrats during a joint news conference May 31, 2021, at the Illinois State Capitol.

Illinois state Sen. Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights, center, speaks about Senate Bill 539, a bill dealing with ethics, along with state Sen. John Curran, R-Downers Grove, third from left, as they are joined by fellow Republicans and Democrats during a joint news conference May 31, 2021, at the Illinois State Capitol. (Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register)

“Glaring corruption that has allowed far too many people to prioritize themselves, their special interests and their pocketbooks has to come to an end,” state Sen. Ann Gillespie, an Arlington Heights Democrat, said in a statement. “Today is the beginning of the end — and the first step toward restoring people’s faith in their elected officials.”

State Sen. John Curran, a Downers Grove Republican, called the package a “positive step forward in raising the ethical standards in public service” but said “there is still work to be done.”

Under the plan, a legislative ban on session-day fundraisers, currently prohibited in Springfield’s home county, Sangamon, would be expanded statewide and also would be prohibited on the day before and after legislative sessions. In addition, legislators would receive prorated pay when they resign, rather than being entitled to a whole month’s pay.

Lawmakers also proposed changes to the state’s gaming and sports betting laws that would allow people to bet on Illinois collegiate teams, but not on an individual athlete’s performance. The wagers would have to be done in person rather than on a mobile device.

The measure also would allow the Wintrust Arena near McCormick Place, the home of the women’s Chicago Sky pro basketball team, to open a sportsbook as is allowed at the city’s larger sports venues.

The measure does not change the provision that those seeking to create a mobile sports betting account must do so in person at a sportsbook or casino — a provision that had been lifted during the pandemic.

Lawmakers also were advancing legislation that would allow college athletes to hire agents and pursue endorsement deals, a move that comes as the NCAA has signaled a willingness to allow athletes to cash in on their image and likeness. If passed and signed by Pritzker, Illinois would join 15 other states that have passed similar laws. The Illinois law would become effective July 1.

The Senate voted 42-17 to approve a package of changes to a policing reform law set to begin in July. The new law, a major plank of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus social justice platform, included a ban on police chokeholds, a requirement that police wear body cameras by 2025 and expanded training on use of force and crisis intervention. It also allows for anonymous police misconduct complaints.

The proposed changes, which awaited a House vote, would allow an officer to view his own body camera video before writing a police report, require that a felony violation of body camera requirements be intentional and an attempt to obstruct justice, revise the definition of chokeholds and remove a ban on targeting someone’s back with a Taser.

The measure retains language allowing anonymous complaints against police officers — a provision of the new law effective in 2023.

Rick Pearson has been the Tribune’s chief political reporter since 1998, after joining the paper a decade earlier as a state legislative correspondent. He’s covered Illinois and national politics for more than 30 years, including four presidential races. He also hosts a Sunday show on politics on WGN AM-720 and is frequently on WGN-TV.

Dan Petrella

A Lombard native, Dan Petrella has written for newspapers from Chicago to Carbondale. Before joining the Tribune in 2017, he was Springfield bureau chief for Lee Enterprises newspapers. He’s also been an editor and reporter at The State Journal-Register in Springfield. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Bill Ruthhart is a political reporter for the Chicago Tribune. He previously covered the 2020 presidential race and Rahm Emanuel’s tenure as Chicago mayor. Prior to joining the Tribune in 2010, Ruthhart covered politics for The Indianapolis Star. He is a native of Rock Island, Ill., a graduate of Eastern Illinois University and lives in Chicago.

Recommended on Chicago Tribune


May 31, 2021 at 09:23PM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s