From State Rep. Mike Tryon:
Legislative Update: December 22, 2015
Madigan a No-Show at Most Recent Budget Meeting
Governor Bruce Rauner held another meeting last week with the legislative leaders to discuss issues standing in the way of the enactment of constitutional balanced budget. While House Speaker Mike Madigan was in attendance for the first two meetings, he was a no-show at the meeting in Chicago on December 17.
The high-level meeting took place a few days after sharp criticisms were leveled against the Speaker, who told attendees at a recent gathering at the City Club of Chicago, that the State needed to look at re-instituting a 5.0% personal income tax rate on individual Illinois incomes. Madigan’s move in January 2011 to pass a bill to enact the first 5.0% individual income tax rate was the largest tax-hike law in Illinois history.
IDOT Considers Adding Toll Lanes on Stevenson Expressway (I-55)
The freeway that serves much of the city of Chicago, as well as the Chicago area’s southwest suburbs, has become increasingly clogged in recent years. Owners of greater-Chicago commercial and warehouse space have concentrated much of their operations along Interstate 55. Many additional employees use I-55 to commute to and from work. The “Stevenson Expressway” includes all of I-55 that stretches between the north-south Interstate 355 and the Dan Ryan Expressway.
With current motor fuel tax revenues completely inadequate to construct additional free lanes on the existing expressway, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) is now formally studying an alternative strategy: the grafting of Express Toll Lanes onto the Stevenson. Toll lanes such as these, which are carefully marked, have been built in many other cities in the U.S. and abroad. Motorists that wish to use these lanes are often required to purchase transponders and to deposit electronic payments into accounts with the local toll highway authority.
$3.1 Billion Appropriation Bill Signed by Governor
The enactment of SB 2039 appropriated $3.1 billion in what are called “other state funds,” which are funds that flow into Illinois from taxes and fees other than sales, income, and other general-revenue taxes. An example of this cash flow is the hundreds of millions of dollars paid annually by motorists who buy diesel fuel and gasoline for their cars and light trucks in Illinois. Release of this money has been “frozen” so far this year due to the lack of an approved balanced budget.
Passage of SB 2039 into law unblocked these program lines and allowed the money to flow. The move released funds for streets, roads, and highways; 9-1-1 call centers; firefighter training; lottery payouts; and other moneys for local first-responders and local governments. The bipartisan House vote of 107-1-1 was one of the key moves sending this bill to the Governor for his signature. Governor Bruce Rauner signed SB 2039 on Monday, December 7.
Just as the Governor was signing the bill into law, Illinois Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger announced her office will swiftly process payments. “I have directed our staff to process payments for domestic violence shelters, local governments, 911 services and Lottery winners as soon we receive the necessary vouchers,” Munger said. “Domestic violence shelters have entered their sixth month without payments and are turning away women and children. Local governments also provide critical services to our families and communities. I am committed to ensuring these organizations and local governments are paid promptly so they can avoid further hardship.”
Munger noted that payments for local governments, 911 services, and the Lottery can be made swiftly because the necessary dollars are set aside in independent state funds dedicated to those purposes. However, domestic violence shelter payments come from the state’s General Revenue Fund, which currently has a nearly $7 billion bill backlog. To provide relief to those social service organizations, Munger has directed that domestic violence shelter payments be prioritized and paid upon receipt of a voucher from a state agency.
Munger encouraged shelters and other vendors with payment questions to contact the Budget Hotline she established at 1-855-IL-ASK-US.
Chicago Teachers Vote on Willingness to Strike
The 24,750-member Chicago Teachers Union voted last week to authorize a strike during the 2015-16 school year. The results of the vote were announced on Monday, December 14. The union stated that 96.5% of the ballots were cast to authorize a walkout, and 88% of the total membership voted in this direction. Following a mandatory cooling-off period, the union members could walk out as early as late March 2016. Further discussions during the cooling-off period could avert the strike or could delay it through the spring term and into September 2016.
Issues dividing the teachers’ union from the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) center on money. CPS believes that demands presented so far by the union would cost an additional $1.3 billion/year at a time when there are not enough funds to roll over the existing contract. The union demands that additional nurses, psychologists, and social workers be hired throughout the school system. The Chicago Public School budget is being squeezed by catastrophic or near-catastrophic fixed-cost challenges, including pension costs and the continued operation of brick-and-mortar infrastructure in city neighborhoods with sharply declining population rates. At the same time, pupil counts are moving sharply higher in other sections of the city – especially neighborhoods with majority Hispanic and Asian-American ethnic identities – and the public school system is required to make additional investments in these neighborhoods.
House Bill would Allow Chicagoans to Recall Mayor Emanuel
HB 4356, introduced on Wednesday, December 9, would create a ballot procedure for Chicago voters to circulate a petition and place a question on the ballot to remove an incumbent mayor. The bill follows revelations of interplay between the Chicago Police Department and the mayor’s office in relation to the death of Laquan McDonald on October 20, 2014. I am a top line sponsor of this bill.
The McDonald shooting was captured on videotape. After an extensive period of delay, the videotape was publicly released in November 2015, more than one year after the death of McDonald. The video release has sparked intense emotions in the Chicago area. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is serving his second four-year term in office, and under current law will be mayor until May 2019.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
As we end 2015 and prepare to usher in 2016, I hope you are able to spend quality time these next few weeks with family, friends and other loved ones.
While this has indeed been a difficult year for the State of Illinois, we have very much for which we can be truly grateful. From my family to yours, I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a bright and prosperous new year!