Capitol Update

New ‘balanced’ budget includes more tax increases, expiration of election-year tax relief

The recent Fiscal Year 2024 State Budget, which takes effect July 1, contains more tax increases, along with the expiration of the one-year sales tax holiday for groceries and the non-renewal of the back-to-school sales tax holiday. These developments were due in large part to new spending pressures for undocumented immigrants’ health care and were supported by Democrats.

The impact of the tax hikes will be felt by all Illinois families, with the expiration of the gas and grocery tax holiday alone costing residents already dealing with out-of-control inflation over $400 million. Numerous Republican proposals to offer sales tax relief on gasoline were not taken up by the Democratic supermajority this spring. The sunset of the back-to-school tax relief will hit the taxpayers for $30 million more. Clearly, the support Illinois families were given was, once again, an election-year carrot dangled by the Democrats.

Democratic lawmakers and Gov. JB Pritzker have boasted about passing another ‘balanced’ budget, but the budget’s impact on hard-working families is nothing to celebrate at all. With inflation, tax hikes, and gimmicks, Illinois residents will continue to be negatively impacted financially with no relief in sight.

Governor signs Rep. Elik and Sen. Harriss legislation into law

Three bills sponsored by State Rep. Amy Elik and State Sen. Erica Harriss were signed into law by Governor Pritzker. The Metro East lawmakers’ legislation was included in ninety bills recently signed into law.

Rep. Amy Elik and Sen. Erica Harriss’ legislation signed into law by Governor Pritzker includes honoring Constitution Day in the state, addressing the teacher shortage, and improving background checks on contractors providing transportation for foster children. Read more here.

With a wink and a nod, Governor Pritzker gets unfettered powers

One way for lawmakers to get what they want without having to be responsible to voters is to abdicate their Constitutional authority to the governor. This is the latest scheme: Give the governor the power to spend taxpayers’ money without legislative oversight and legislators won’t have to take responsibility with the voters.

Under the state Constitution, the governor introduces the budget and the legislature appropriates the funds. It’s a checks-and-balance system among equal branches of government. Over the years, when there were hard budget decisions to be made, the Democratic-controlled legislature has increasingly handed over more and more of its appropriations authority to the governor. The outcome of this “wink and nod” system is reduced transparency and accountability in our state government. 

The surrender of the legislature’s appropriation responsibility offers individual lawmakers cover with their constituents. They can throw up their hands and proclaim the increased spending on unpopular programs was not in the budget when they voted on it. They, of course, are being both disingenuous and deceptive because they knew all along that the plan to give more authority to the governor would result in more spending not only on the things they couldn’t vote for but wouldn’t have voted for otherwise. A wink and a nod. Read more here.

Jury convicts politically connected James Weis of attempted bribery; longtime state senator wore a wire for feds

Last week, a federal jury convicted politically connected businessman James Weiss of attempting to pay off two state legislators to pass a bill beneficial to his sweepstakes gaming company and then lying about it to the FBI.

Weiss is the son-in-law of former Cook County Assessor and Chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party, Joe Berrios. He is married to former State Representative Toni Berrios,

Weiss’ attorney Ilia Usharovich defended his client telling the jury in his closing remarks: “This is a dirty place (the Illinois General Assembly) where the rules seem to be gray, where a contribution can be considered a bribe, a bribe a contribution… It is all messed up.”

The bribery scheme included payments made to then-State Representative Luis Arroyo, who was sentenced in May 2022 to five years in prison for wire fraud, connected with the act of taking and offering bribes. 

A second person with a criminal connection to Weiss was longtime State Senator Terry Link, who served for more than 23 years in the Illinois Senate. Link resigned in September 2020, following his conviction on a criminal charge of income tax evasion. He is awaiting sentencing for this offense. As a star witness against Weiss, Link revealed in court this week that as a state senator, he had worn a wire as an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as they probed facets of the Weiss bribery network. It is possible that Link’s status as an FBI informant could reduce the criminal penalty that will be imposed on him at sentencing.

The convictions of former Representative Arroyo, former Senator Link, Weiss, and others reflect the current ethical crisis facing the Illinois General Assembly. Despite the fact that ongoing investigative work by the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies has already led to the indictment of many major Illinois political figures, up to and including former Speaker Michael J. Madigan, the Illinois House and Senate once again refused to consider or debate meaningful ethics reform legislation in the 2023 spring session. House Republicans will redouble their efforts in the fall 2023 veto session to pass tough ethics reforms, to finally put an end to the culture of corruption in Illinois.

New terminal building space at Mid-America Airport

The passenger airport, which serves the Metro-East and the St. Louis metropolitan area, has ongoing service in 2023 to eleven airports within the Allegiant Air system. The 41,000-square-foot Mid-America terminal expansion adds two new boarding bridges and creates opportunities for other airlines to serve the more than one million residents who live in and around the Metro-East region.   

The newly-added terminal space nearly doubles the size of the Mid-America terminal infrastructure. In planning the expansion, architects made it a priority to reduce security queues by creating a larger Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint space. Mid-America will now concentrate on developing a secure space adequate to meet U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) guidelines to greet planes coming in from outside the U.S. The ribbon was cut to open the new Mid-America terminal space on Tuesday, June 13.

Chicago-to-St. Louis Amtrak train running times reduced by up to 30 minutes

The faster train schedule was announced this week and will go into effect on Monday, June 26. The reduction of up to 30 minutes in the running time of the Lincoln Service trains, which span most of Illinois’ length, reflects the fact that these trains can now travel at speeds of up to 110 miles per hour in some rural areas. This reflects a massive investment in track re-laying and safety upgrades that has spanned Illinois Departments of Transportation (IDOT) administrations operated by both political parties.

Need assistance with State Government?

If you have an issue or need help navigating state government. My office is here to help you. If my office may be of assistance please contact my district office in Alton at 618-433-8046.

-Rep. Amy Elik