Local lawmakers are predicting quiet on the Springfield front when it reconvenes later this week in the months before the January swearing-in of the new General Assembly – and the new governor.
For the most part, local legislators said they believe that the fall veto session which begins Wednesday, and the subsequent lame-duck session in January, will be uneventful. Both the House and the Senate have canceled days in the veto session, which typically consists of two weeks of three days each in which lawmakers take up bills the governor vetoed, or other legislation.
State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, said he anticipates an attempt to override outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto of a bill aimed at further regulations on ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. But while the agenda in Springfield still is developing, he does not see lawmakers touching contentious issues like extending the 2011 income tax increase and overhauling the school funding formula.
“I see very little. I think Uber will be the one main thing we do, even if we get that far, but we already canceled that third day [of veto session],” Franks said.
Quinn began pushing lawmakers during his 2015 budget address to make permanent the 2011 income tax increases – 67 percent on individuals and 46 percent on businesses – that are set to substantially expire Jan. 1. He said during his campaign that he would push to extend the rates after the election, but voters chose Nov. 4 to elect his Republican challenger, Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner.
Rauner, who opposes making the increase permanent, has asked lawmakers not to enact any substantial legislation before he takes office. Besides the fact that Senate President John Cullerton already has said the Senate will not extend the increase should Rauner win, the Democratic lawmakers who dominate the House and Senate with veto-proof supermajorities are unlikely to approve extending a tax hike to make Rauner’s political life – or his job of drafting a budget – easier. The plan Rauner unveiled during the campaign decreases the tax back to its original rates of 3 percent for individuals and 5 percent for businesses over four years.
Without an increase, tax rates will dip effective Jan. 1 from 5 to 3.75 percent for individuals and from 7 to 5.25 percent for businesses. The income tax rate for businesses does not include a 2.5 personal property replacement tax, which brings the present corporate tax rate to 9.5 percent. The dip would leave the cash-strapped state without billions in income, but critics point to the fact that the increase did not do what was promised, namely straighten out the state’s finances and pay down billions in unpaid bills. Most of the money generated by the increase was swallowed by the state’s ballooning public pension obligations, which now account for more than 20 percent of general fund spending.
State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, said he hopes no increase in taxes or fees comes before lawmakers in the coming months.
“Bruce Rauner was elected because he supports lower taxes, and no matter what, I will vote against any tax increase. We need to lower taxes, not raise them,” McSweeney said.
Local GOP lawmakers are wary that Senate Bill 16, which would alter the school funding formula in a way that local districts allege would strip millions from their budgets, will get called for a vote. But Franks, who like his Republican colleagues opposes the bill, said it is dead and will have to start over with the next General Assembly. While it passed the Senate, House sponsor Linda Chapa La Via, D-Aurora, has stated that she does not intend to bring it forward for a vote.
“It’s a terrible bill for the collar counties. It was only designed to create discussion, and the House sponsor has personally told me, and put it in writing, that she’s not calling the bill,” Franks said.
However, Rep. Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, said she and others are not letting down their guard. The bill is going Tuesday before two House committees for testimony.
“If they do a hearing on Tuesday, and maybe schedule another hearing in December, my fear is that I see [a vote] coming in lame-duck,” Wheeler said.
Besides overriding gubernatorial vetoes, the vote threshold for legislation that takes immediate effect increases as of June 1 of each year from simple majority to three-fifths. But it reverts back to simple majority with the new year, which gives lawmakers a window to pass controversial legislation before the Jan. 14 seating of the new General Assembly. The original 2011 income tax increase was passed in the final hours of the lame-duck session.
Another possibility for the last months of session is that Democratic lawmakers attempt to raise the minimum wage from $8.25 to $10 an hour, after voters backed the idea in an advisory referendum. But given that it did not have the votes to pass before the election, any attempt would likely be made until the lame-duck session.
Rauner, who originally opposed increasing the minimum wage, now says he is willing to do so if an increase is coupled with business-friendly legislation such as tort, tax and workers compensation reform.