Week in Review: Budget, firearms, energy & more

Illinois House GOP Leader Tony McCombie and House GOP Budget Team Call for Bipartisan Budget Process. At a press conference in Springfield Tuesday, Illinois House Minority Leader Tony McCombie was joined by members of her newly appointed budget team to call on Democrats to engage in a truly bipartisan budget process and bring reform to the most important legislation passed at the Capitol each year. 
“Many people say Republicans want to vote no. That preconceived notion is false,” said Leader McCombie. “House Republicans are here to govern. We are here to give solutions. We want to help and are willing to share our ideas that address the budget shortcomings and provide tax reform policies that Illinois taxpayers and job creators need to stay in Illinois and need to grow in Illinois.

“The budget process should not be so difficult and it should be bipartisan,” McCombie continued. “The budget bills do not need to come forward in the final hours of the session with little or no Republican input. And, certainly, the budget should not be used as a political football year after year.”

McCombie has appointed Deputy House Minority Leader Norine Hammond as the House Republican Caucus’ Chief Budgeteer. Hammond is a longtime member of the House Higher Education Appropriations Committee and well known for her record of working across the aisle to advance major legislation in the legislature.

“I am honored to have been named a few days ago as Chief Budgeteer for the caucus by our Leader, Tony McCombie,” said Hammond. “I will work tirelessly to ensure that the budget benefits all citizens of Illinois and ensures their needs and concerns will be considered in the budgeting process.”

Hammond laid out some of the caucus’ primary budget reform ideas, which include:

  • Adopting a revenue estimate and budget based off that revenue estimate.
  • Holding REAL, meaningful budget hearings which respect minority voices and provides for public input and transparency.
  • Requiring Balanced Budgets.
  • Restoring quarterly bipartisan briefings by the Governor’s administration to the bipartisan Legislative Budget Oversight Commission. These briefings were eliminated last spring after Republicans asked tough questions about how the administration was spending COVID relief funds.
  • Respecting the voters’ decision to overwhelmingly reject the Graduated Income Tax Hike. 
  • Give taxpayers REAL Tax Reform – eliminate the franchise tax on employers, property tax relief for families and businesses, and reducing the harmful impacts of the estate tax on family farms.
  • Finally, returning excess income tax collections to taxpayers instead of sweeping it to be used to fund things like politician pay raises.

In addition to Hammond, Leader McCombie named State Representative Amy Elik as Deputy Budgeteer. Elik has spent the past twenty-eight years working as a Certified Public Accountant and auditor for businesses and government bodies, and previously served on the House Republican budget team, the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, and other relevant financial committees.

“As a Certified Public Accountant, I know firsthand the importance of good budgeting practices and accountability,” said Elik. “With inflation seriously impacting every families’ household budget, our constituents rely on their elected representatives to enact a state budget that is responsible, balanced and transparent, without gimmicks and shell games, so that state taxes and fees do not cause even greater financial hardships than they are already facing.”

Joining Leader McCombie and the budget team were also State Representatives Martin McLaughlin and Travis Weaver. McLaughlin and Weaver bring a wealth of experience in the financial sector. Both cited the need for the state budget to adhere to essential budgeting principles that take into account long-term realities to improve the state’s fiscal position without reliance on federal bailouts or tax increases.

For more information and to watch the complete press conference, click here.

Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (CGFA) reports on State budget receipts for January 2023. CGFA saw a sharp slowdown in Illinois personal income tax receipts in the first month of calendar year 2023, with this key State income line dropping $566 million from year-earlier levels. Most of this change was attributed to a revision in the January 2022 income tax payment schedule, which was implemented by many Illinois partnerships and other taxpayers in such a way as to swell moneys paid in taxes in that month. However, continuing economic storm clouds on the horizon, associated with rising U.S. interest rates and workforce layoffs, could threaten State income tax receipts during the remainder of FY23 (ending June 30, 2023).

The CGFA report noted a major January 2023 uptick, $987 million, in money coming in from the Income Tax Refund Fund and not spent in giving tax refunds to Illinois taxpayers. This is a one-time-only revenue source that cannot be counted on in any future month. House Republicans continue to point out that the current string of State budgets under Gov. Pritzker are based upon short-term and one-time revenue sources such as this one. Real fiscal reform continues to be necessary if the State is to begin to live within its means.

CGFA staff once again asked lawmakers to pay attention to the significant rates of growth notched by video gaming, casino gaming, and other Illinois industries connected with gambling. The State tax receipts from video gaming, which are deposited in funds that support Illinois roads, bridges, and other capital infrastructure, are approaching $1 billion a year. The Illinois House will respond to this trend in the first full week of February 2023 by organizing its first-ever House Gaming Committee. This Committee will increase the legislative scrutiny imposed on the increasingly profitable gambling infrastructure of Illinois.

Illinois House reconvenes for 2023 spring session.The Illinois House of Representatives reconvened on Tuesday, January 31. The members of the House for the 103rd General Assembly organized themselves into committees in order to discuss the legislation proposed for the 2023 spring session. Members were appointed to the new House committees. More than 2,100 House bills had been filed by Friday morning. Bills filed in the Illinois House are all posted on the General Assembly website.

Changes that will take place with the Illinois House in spring 2023 include a renewed requirement that all members be present to cast votes on the House floor. As with the U.S. House in Washington, D.C., during the pandemic years a “proxy vote” rule allowed representatives to cause distance votes. Like the federal House, the Illinois House will abolish this proxy-vote emergency procedure going forward; Illinois House members will have to be on the floor in person to cast their votes. Committee witnesses will continue to be allowed to testify remotely, with the permission of the committee.

BGA criticizes Illinois’ “weak” legislative ethics oversight. Under the constitutional separation of powers, the Illinois General Assembly is supposed to get first crack at overseeing itself. An in-house panel, the Legislative Ethics Commission, and a watchdog, the Legislative Inspector General, are supposed to oversee the Illinois General Assembly and to take initial action when reports and allegations are heard. House Republicans have long called for the Commission and the Inspector General to receive real powers to match these responsibilities. Unfortunately, the Democrats have not heeded these calls and warnings.

Now, a research analysis and report from the Illinois-based Better Government Association backs up our long-standing concerns and criticisms. Pulling no punches, the BGA report calls Illinois’ legislative oversight “weak compared to other states.” The BGA reaches this conclusion in comparison with what an ideal system ought to look like, but the Association also finds that Illinois’ legislature has a weak ethical setup even in comparison with other self-regulating legislatures in other states. The BGA report was published on Monday, January 30.

Temporary restraining order against gun ban upheld in State appellate court; actions in federal court. The lame-duck measure, passed by Democrats in January 2023, purports to ban so-called “assault weapons” and large ammunition magazines. The bill also subjects a wide variety of firearms to harsh regulation, including mandatory registration and locational pinpointing of the firearms. The law has been stayed by at least two judicial Temporary restraining Orders (TROs). One of the TRO efforts results from a case brought by House Republicans Adam Niemerg and Blaine Wilhourin White County. Another TRO, which also blocks the law, was upheld this week by an Illinois appellate court.

Prior to imposition of the TROs, the new law imposed severe restrictions, including mandatory registration and locational monitoring, on a variety of weapons can are capable for rapid loading and rapid firing; the measure covers various semi-automatic firearms, including so-called “assault weapons.” The federal Second Amendment protects the rights of Americans to keep and bear arms. These rights have been buttressed by a variety of federal court decisions that now make up valid case law. In the General Assembly when the gun ban bill was being debated, opponents of the measure pointed to these case laws and asked the supporters of the bill to defend their measure. In addition to challenges against the law in state court, the course of the debate indicated that the bill could be vulnerable, once passed, to being struck down in federal court.

A challenge to the State gun ban law by McHenry County, originally filed in State court, has now been transferred to federal court. The McHenry County action is only one of many stands by Illinois counties and county officials, including DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick, against the controversial new law.

Gun-rights plaintiffs have now filed at least three separate federal lawsuits against the new State gun ban law. Plaintiffs include the National Rifle Association (NRA). The cases allege that the new law imposes an unconstitutional burden upon the legitimate exercise of Second Amendment rights. The federal lawsuits constitute a backstop against any possible decisions in State of Illinois courts in favor of the new law, as the federal courts possess a jurisdiction on matters involving the U.S. Constitution that is not bound or limited by the decisions of state courts.

Meanwhile, the gun law remains under TRO stay for specified plaintiffs in a decision upheld in state appellate court. The appellate court decision was handed down on Tuesday, January 31.

New State law takes away local control over solar, wind farm zoning. Up until now, the principle of local control has governed the interactions between Illinois and large-scale energy projects. The major effects these projects have on the people living near and around them have been reason enough to listen to the local governments with immediate jurisdiction over the sites used to build wind and solar farms. Typically, this control is expressed through zoning codes and other local ordinances enacted by county government.

That could all change soon with a new law enacted by the lame-duck 102nd General Assembly. With respect to the location of new Illinois wind farms and new banks of Illinois solar panels, the new law provides that from now on, no county in the Prairie State will be allowed to exceed the very limited statewide powers granted by Springfield to the counties with respect to zoning standards for these projects. Most House Republicans voted against HB 4412.

During his re-election campaign, Gov. Pritzker talked about the importance of local control with respect to Illinois capital projects. However, although HB 4412 restricts local control, on Friday, January 27 Pritzker signed the bill anyway. It became law as P.A. 102-1123.

The Champaign News-Gazette editorialized against Pritzker’s flip-flop on local control over wind and solar projects: “Last year, when he was running for re-election, Pritzker specifically rejected the idea of creating statewide controls over the siting of wind and solar projects, saying that he had ‘specifically avoided that’ approach. With his re-election safely behind him, Pritzker is now ready to give the go-ahead to legislation — H.B. 4412 — passed in the recent lame-duck session of the outgoing legislature that bars counties from banning the projects.”

Financial analysis firms post Illinois layoff notices. When larger businesses (100 or more employees) choose to lay off 50 or more employees and the layoff is not an emergency, U.S. federal law requires the employer to post a layoff notice to provide the employees with fair warning and give them the chance to seek additional educational credentials or new employment. The layoff notice requirement is called the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act).

Two major players in the American industries of insurance and risk adjustment have both posted Downstate Illinois layoff notices. State Farm, which is historically based in Bloomington-Normal, will eliminate 451 positions by March 31, 2023. Wells Fargo, which operates an insurance, risk adjustment, and financial analysis office in Springfield, will lay off 140 Central Illinois workers.

Approaching end to COVID-19 emergency. Governor Pritzker, who declared the first of a series of coronavirus emergency declarations and shutdown orders, issued an official declaration on Tuesday, January 31 that anticipates the act of making official the end of the public-health-emergency side of the pandemic. The existing emergency orders will expire between now and May 11, 2023, and will not be renewed. The declaration means that the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) will no longer be able to use extraordinary power to issue decrees and “guidances” over Illinois public spaces and health care communities.

Variants of the COVID-19 virus continue to circulate in Illinois and throughout the U.S. Some of Pritzker’s rules, including controversial State rules that have sparked strong pushbacks, will remain in place as late as May of this year. The virus continues to change and mutate, and a person who has already caught an earlier variant of the disease can catch a new variant. Persons with challenges to their immune systems need to maintain contact with their health care providers to remain informed about the situation.
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