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ILLINOIS GOVERNMENT

Illinois lawmakers approve $42 billion budget, ethics and election measures

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State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, discusses the state budget on May 27. Rose and other GOP senators advocated for maintaining various pro-business tax incentives that were rolled back in Gov. JB Pritzker's initial budget proposal.

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers blew past their May 31 adjournment deadline, working into early Tuesday morning to approve a $42.3 billion budget and a menu of other significant items, such as an election omnibus that would move the state’s 2022 primary election from March to June and a long-promised ethics reform package.

The flurry of legislation came in the waning hours of the spring legislative session and ultimately spilled into overtime, with the House adjourning just before 2:40 a.m. and the Senate following just after 3 a.m. Tuesday morning. 

The Senate will reconvene later this morning to wrap up unfinished business, which includes a gaming bill that would permit in-person betting on Illinois college teams, among other provisions. 

Left unsettled is the future of clean energy in Illinois, with a deal to provide subsidies for three of Exelon's nuclear plants along with a larger road map to a carbon-free future falling apart at the eleventh hour. 

The budget proposal, which ended up being more than 3,000 pages after several amendments, dropped around 1:30 a.m. Monday, giving lawmakers less than a day to consider its contents.

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It came up for a vote just a few minutes before midnight in the House, where it passed 72-44-1 with only Democrats voting in favor. The Senate approved just before 2:30 a.m. Tuesday with a 37-21 vote. All Republicans and three Democrats opposed it. 

It now heads to Gov. JB Pritzker's desk. 

House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, the lead budget negotiator for House Democrats, said that the proposal was “balanced” and features less cuts than Pritzker’s initial proposal after better-than-expected economic performance produced additional revenue along with a flood of federal stimulus funds from the American Rescue Plan.

“The world is beginning to open back up. We are seeing a bright, sunny day outside,” Harris said. “And there's a lot to talk about that we've accomplished in the last year as a state that has put the state of Illinois in a far more stable place financially, and a responsible place fiscally.”

"We tried to plan conservatively, and when the governor gave his budget address on (February 21), things were looking better in the economy, but no one expected — I don't think — the recovery in some of the revenues that we saw," Harris said. 

With the rosier financial picture, the proposal includes an additional $350 million in K-12 education funding as called for under the state’s evidence-based funding formula, bringing total funding to $9.2 billion. Pritzker’s initial proposal kept education spending flat.

The budget also allocates $7.5 billion in general revenues for Medicaid, $7.4 billion for human services, $1.9 billion for higher education, $1.9 billion for public safety and $1.4 billion for general services.​ 

The budget utilizes about $2.5 billion of the state's $8.1 billion allocation of ARPA funds, with about $1 billion going towards the Rebuild Illinois capital construction program and the rest split between violence prevention, business relief and affordable housing programs. 

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Some of the cuts from Pritzker's budget proposal, released earlier this year, have been taken out.

For instance, there will be no 10% cut — as initially proposed — to the local government distributive fund, which is the portion of state income tax received by cities and counties.

The budget also restores some tax incentives initially on the chopping block to the dismay of Republicans and business groups. 

But some, such as the capping deductions on net operating losses at $100,000, which would bring in an additional $314 million in revenue, remained. 

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In all, about $666 million worth of tax loopholes and incentives for businesses were closed in the budget. 

The budget passed on a partisan roll, with Republicans opposing over concerns about the sunsetting of tax incentives, which they view as tax increases, as well as the lack of time to evaluate the proposal. 

They were also critical that several priority projects of Democratic members were included among the $1 billion capital bill allocation. Republican input was not solicited. 

"Our side represents four million people in this state," said state Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet. "3000-page bill and there's four million people that aren't including that billion dollars."

"The Democrats have come up with dozens more new pet projects and a billion dollars in additional pork," added state Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington. "At a time when most Illinoisans have tightened their belt, the majority Democrats have instead shown their unquenchable desire to tax and spend.” 

The bill also calls for the paying down of $2 billion in debt that was incurred after borrowing from the federal government during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. States are not allowed to use ARPA funds to pay debt.

Beyond the budget, significant bills on ethics and elections were approved while gaming and clean energy remain up in the air. 

Stakeholders were close to a deal on energy late Monday evening, but negotiations reportedly hit a snag over whether two downstate coal plants should be exempted from 2030 retirement deadlines. 

City Water, Light and Power, the city-owned utility that serves Springfield, just opened its newest coal plant in 2009 and is still paying off bonds used to fund its construction, for instance. 

There's a lot at stake. Beyond the need to transition to a carbon-free energy future, Exelon has threatened to close at least two plants in its Illinois nuclear fleet without a deal. 

House Speaker Chris Welch, D-Hillside, in a press conference after adjournment, acknowledged that it was "a complex issue."

"We were close, and we're going to continue to work on it, and hopefully we'll have something soon," Welch said. 

Ethics legislation, on the other hand, cleared the House 113-5 Monday evening and passed the Senate unanimously in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

The package comes as several current and former lawmakers face a variety of criminal charges and amid an ongoing criminal probe into the lobbying activities of Commonwealth Edison, which sought to influence House Speaker Michael Madigan by hiring his friends and allies.  

Among other things, the legislation would ban public officials from lobbying other units of government; ban legislators and executive branch officials from lobbying for six months after leaving office or the conclusion of their term; and bans fundraisers on days before and after session. 

The legislation also lets the Legislative Inspector General to initiate investigations without approval from the Legislative Ethics Commission. Though in order to obtain subpoenas, the LEC approval would be required. 

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It also greatly increase financial disclosure requirements for lawmakers.

The bill contains a carve-out for the city of Chicago, which has its own ethics standards.

The legislation had wide bipartisan support, but many Republicans supported in grudgingly, saying it does not do near enough. Democratic bill sponsors agreed that it would be the last ethics bill they take up.

"This is our first step forward, and our focus was to get a bill that we could get agreement on and get passed," said state Sen. Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights. "There's important provisions in here. We didn't get everything we wanted ... but we got a good, solid bill that addresses many of the issues that we've seen over the last couple of years."

In another major change, Illinois’ 2022 primary election would be moved from March to June as part of a larger elections bill considered by the House and Senate. 

The move is necessitated by the delay in U.S. Census redistricting data, which is needed for the General Assembly to redraw congressional districts for the next 10 years.

Though lawmakers approved new state legislative districts that utilized the census’ 2015-2019 American Community Survey data, they held off on congressional redistricting reportedly due to litigation concerns from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Unlike state legislative lines, there is no June 30 constitutional deadline, meaning the supermajority Democrats can take up a congressional redraw without concern for losing control of the process.

Candidates for office will be able to start passing petitions in January and filing will be in March, followed by a June 28 primary election.

The legislation would also make curbside voting permanent and allow people to be added to a permanent vote-by-mail list and make election day a holiday. 

It also requires every county to have at least one universal voting center for the 2022 primary and general elections, makes Election Day a state holiday for schools and universities and allows jails outside Cook County to set up polling places in their facilities if they choose. 

The legislation passed the House 72-46 and the Senate 41-18 with all Republicans opposing. 

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Republicans lambasted the proposal as "all about redistricting" and the Democrats' desire to "maintain and sustain power."

"This is not a bill about moving the primary, it's not a bill about voter empowerment," said state Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria. "This is protection for redistricting."

Meanwhile, gaming legislation allowing in-person betting on Illinois college teams easily cleared the House 96-11 early Tuesday morning. It heads to the Senate, where it will likely be taken up before adjournment today.

The legislation partially reverses a provision that carved Illinois schools out of the 2019 law that legalized sports betting in the state. It was done at the request of university athletic directors.

However, the provision has proven unpopular, perhaps best highlighted by the lack of ability for Illinois residents to bet on the Illinois-Loyola basketball game in March. 

Betting on Illinois college teams would only be allowed at physical sportsbooks. Wagering on individual performance would not be allowed. 

The legislation would also allow a sportsbook to be hosted at Wintrust Arena, the venue that's home to the WNBA's Chicago Sky and the DePaul University men's basketball program. 

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