Illinois lawmakers go into overtime, approve $42 billion budget, elections changes and an ethics package

·13 min read

Illinois lawmakers went into overtime Tuesday, missing a midnight deadline to adjourn the spring session but approving a $42 billion state budget, a plan shifting next year’s primary to June and an ethics package requiring more financial disclosure of officeholders.

Strains between the Democratic-controlled House and Senate, under two new leaders, were evident when the House indicated its work for the spring session was largely finished and members headed home. The Senate, under President Don Harmon of Oak Park, planned to return to work later Tuesday and assess an unfinished legislative landscape.

Left unresolved were plans for future energy policy for the state, efforts to strengthen gun laws, an elected school board for Chicago and law-enforcement backed changes to a sweeping police reform law approved just months ago.

Despite the unfinished business, House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, who took over in January from embattled veteran Michael Madigan, said “this has probably been one of the most successful sessions around here in a long time.”

Welch chalked up disagreements between House and Senate Democrats to “diversity” in the two caucuses.

“We’re not going to always agree. Sometimes we disagree,” he said. “I don’t want to discourage disagreement because disagreement actually sometimes makes you stronger.”

Welch indicated that the House would return to work when a deal was reached on energy legislation that could decide the fate of Exelon’s nuclear fleet at a time when the state is pushing toward carbon-free energy sources. When that might happen was an open question.

A new state spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1 was the main agenda item.

It was after 2 a.m. Tuesday when senators began ratifying the earlier action of the House in approving a series of budget-related bills with partisan votes.

Just 24 hours earlier, Democrats introduced the 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 generating 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, said Rep. Greg Harris, a Democratic majority leader from Chicago.

Harris said discussions would continue over the summer about how to spend 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.

Republicans repeated their perennial complaint about not having enough time to review the massive document. But they were louder in their criticism that Republican members weren’t given an opportunity to add projects in their districts from the $1 billion in federal relief money being dedicated to infrastructure spending.

“Our side represents 4 million people in this state,” said state Sen. Chapin Rose, a Mahomet Republican. “A 3,000-page bill and there’s 4 million people that aren’t included in that $1 billion.”

The budget plan 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.

The budget package 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.

State Senator Elgie R. Sims, Jr., a Chicago Democrat, defended the spending plan as a reflection of Democratic priorities against Republican interests.

“This budget absolutely funds our priorities, because we are fighting for individuals who cannot fight for themselves,” Sims said. “This budget absolutely invests in individuals and young people and the working men and women of this great state, because that’s what our priorities should be — not taking care of big businesses who are more profitable than they have ever been.”

Late Monday, a possible deal on clean energy legislation appeared to hinge 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.

As the calendar turned to June, the governor’s office and Exelon had reached an agreement on subsidies for the company’s nuclear plants, sources said, though the details were not made public. But a new wrinkle emerged in negotiations.

An 11th-hour disagreement over whether the Prairie State Generating Station in southern Illinois and city-owned power plant in Springfield should be exempted from deadlines for shutting down coal-fired power plants had the potential to derail the deal.

Supporters were pushing the exemption because of outstanding bond debt on the facilities, but the governor’s office said Pritzker would not sign a bill that gives them special treatment. In the end, neither chamber took up energy legislation.

Election legislation passed by the House on a 72-46 vote and by the Senate on a 41-18 margin would roll back the traditional March 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.

With bipartisan support, the House voted 113-5 and the Senate followed on a unanimous vote to send the governor an ethics package which that 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.

Despite voting in favor of the measure, several House Republicans argued it doesn’t go far enough.

“If we’re going to show the public that they can have a renewed sense of trust in state government, we’ve got to do something a whole heck of a lot better than this,” Rep. Avery Bourne of Morrisonville said.

The bill 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.

“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.

Before adjourning, the House voted 96-11 to send to the Senate 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 in-state college betting provisions would sunset in two years.

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.

The Senate could consider the legislation later Tuesday.

Lawmakers also sent Pritzker 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, and the House followed with a 79-36 vote, to approve a package of changes to a policing reform law set to begin in July. But reflecting tensions within the Democratic caucus, a parliamentary hold was placed on the bill, keeping it from being sent to the governor.

The new policing law was a major plank of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus social justice platform. It 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 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 proven to 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.

“I beg of you, respect the hard work of the stakeholders who came together on a product where there are no winners, or no losers, on a bill where no one gets everything that they want,” sponsoring state Rep. Justin Slaughter, a Chicago Democrat, urged his colleagues.

But the changes caused some tension, particularly within the Black Caucus. State Rep. Curtis Tarver, D-Chicago, noted that law enforcement, which opposed much of the original law, didn’t oppose the new changes. “People don’t oppose things when we start clawing them back and watering them down,” said Tarver, who voted against the measure.

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

Efforts to create an elected school board in Chicago had failed to get the floor of either chamber for a vote. The legislature’s Latino caucus and some city progressives support an all-elected board. But Senate President Don Harmon has focused on trying to find a compromise that would start with a hybrid board of both appointed and elected members before moving to an all-elected panel.

Though she campaigned in support of an elected board, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has backed a hybrid approach that leaves her in control.

The last public iteration of a plan would create a 21-member board, 11 appointed by the mayor including the board president, and 10 elected members starting in 2023. The system would be evaluated in 2025 before a decision was made on whether to move ahead with an all-elected board in 2027. But it appears such a proposal doesn’t satisfy proponents of an all-elected board.

“We’ll have to get with the House and see what we think can pass both chambers,” state Sen. Rob Martwick, the Chicago Democrat who sponsored a bill to create a fully elected 21 member board, said early Tuesday.

Senators approved a measure aimed at updating a backlogged firearm owner’s identification card and concealed carry license system, including the use of voluntary fingerprinting as an enticement to have their licenses extended. But the House finished its work without considering the measure.

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dpetrella@chicagotribune.com

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