Two new laws will make it easier for Illinois taxpayers to review public-sector salaries and state tax breaks doled out to companies.
Both bills, signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn, require agencies to put the information online.
House Bill 222 requires county, municipal and township governments to submit employee salaries to be added to the state’s searchable Transparency and Accountability Portal. Under House Bill 3934, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has to publish online the terms of incentive agreements reached under Illinois’ primary economic development program.
State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, said he was happy that the bills – of which he is the chief sponsor – were signed into law Friday.
“We need more sunshine at all levels of government, including the local levels,” Franks said.
Under the law, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity must post each agreement made under its Economic Development for a Growing Economy program, which gives tax break incentives to companies that create or retain jobs. The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity in the past has released lists of companies receiving credits under the program, but not the details.
State tax breaks became more controversial after Quinn and fellow lawmakers in January 2011 raised the income tax 67 percent on individuals and 46 percent on businesses. Large employers such as Motorola Mobility, Navistar, Sears Holdings Corp. and CME Group asked for, and received, tax breaks to keep them in Illinois.
Motorola Mobility received the largest tax break at $113.7 million.
The first version of Franks’ bill called for the creation of a five-member committee to examine tax break agreements before their implementation, but the idea did not gain traction and was opposed by business lobbying groups.
Lobbyists representing governments fought against House Bill 222 to add local government salaries to the state accountability portal. The portal, created in 2009 by legislation from state Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, includes items such as salaries of state employees, state expenditures and state contracts.
Salaries of teachers and school administrators are posted on the websites of the Illinois State Board of Education and individual school districts.
Metro Counties of Illinois, of which the McHenry County Board is a member, and Township Officials of Illinois, opposed adding county and township salaries to the portal, as did the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union representing 75,000 public-sector employees.
Local governments belonging to the lobbying groups pay their dues through tax revenue.
Franks and Tryon have argued that information that has long been public record under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, such as salaries, should be available instantly.
“I think it’s imperative that citizens have more knowledge and more openness, and be able to get knowledge without filling out FOIA requests, which ultimately will save governments money,” Franks said.
Another pro-transparency bill, House Bill 4687, is awaiting Quinn’s signature. The bill tweaks the Illinois Open Meetings Act to require local governments’ meeting agendas to set forth the “general subject matter” of any issue up for a final vote.
The bill, filed by Rep. Sandra Pihos, R-Glen Ellyn, was inspired by complaints from constituents and journalists that governments were using one-word descriptions on agendas regarding the public’s business.
About this series
“No More Excuses” is an ongoing Northwest Herald series on the public’s right to know in Illinois.
On the Net
While McHenry County government’s website has received an A+ grade for transparency from a national watchdog group, an Illinois watchdog group is not so impressed. Read more on the Opening Doors blog at NWHerald.com.
You can visit the state Transparency and Accountability Portal at accountability.illinois.gov.