SPRINGFIELD–After nearly 18 months without a full budget, a broad ranging bipartisan package of reforms, spending and revenue was unveiled in the Senate. Legislators from both sides of the aisle hailed the legislation as the first step toward ending the state’s historic budget impasse.
Meanwhile, the 99th General Assembly came to an end as the 100th General Assembly was sworn into office with several new faces.
Budget compromise unveiled in Senate
If the state’s historic budget impasse is to end any time soon, it could largely be due to a package of legislation unveiled in the Senate for the first time on January 9th. In addition to providing a full year budget with matching revenue, the measures tackle a broad range of issues, including term limits for legislative leaders, a statewide two-year property tax freeze, pension reform, and other reforms to trim the cost of government.
The legislation was largely the result of meetings between Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago). The negotiations were based on the framework developed by bipartisan, bicameral working groups throughout the year.
The package of bills marks the first time any of the recent bipartisan agreements have linked reforms, a budget, and revenue together. The legislation also features language linking the entire package together, so that all of them must be passed into law for any of them to take effect.
Many lawmakers and good-government organizations had previously criticized the General Assembly for taking up controversial and major legislation during the lame-duck session. In light of that, in addition to time constraints due to the ending of the 99th General Assembly, the two legislative leaders agreed to wait until the 100th General Assembly was sworn in on Wednesday to re-file the legislation. The delay will allow lawmakers, reporters, and residents to see the bills before they are voted on.
Leader Radogno stated that while there is no firm timeline to pass the full slate of bills, she hoped action would take place on or before February 1st.
“I want to personally thank Senate President Cullerton and Republican Leader Radogno for their leadership in bringing the Illinois Senate a compilation of legislation that is a framework to get the impasse behind us”, said Senator Chuck Weaver. He added, “Negotiations between the two leaders continue, and I look forward to these ideas being vetted in a public process as we work toward real solutions.”
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has been briefed on the legislation, and he offered support for the efforts of the Senate leaders to continue negotiating to find common ground.
Madigan pushes stop-gap budget
Despite the show of bipartisan cooperation in the Illinois Senate, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) used the lame-duck session to instead push through another stop-gap budget proposal.
The House legislation, sponsored by Representative Greg Harris (D-Chicago), would provide $258 million to human service programs and another $400 million to higher education. The package would not, however, provide any new revenue streams or offer a full balanced budget, nor any reforms to shore up the state’s long-term financial instability.
The Senate did not take action on the House legislation.
EDGE program extended
Senate Bill 513, legislation to reinstate the EDGE (Economic Development for a Growing Economy) tax credit program, which has been hailed by supporters as the state’s best tool in bringing businesses to the state and encouraging exiting companies to expand, was passed by both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly. The action was necessary because the EDGE program had expired at the end of 2016.
The program offers tax incentives to businesses for adding jobs in Illinois. Illinois has offered $1.3 billion in tax credits to create 34,000 jobs and save another 46,000 since the launch of the program back in 1999. Governor Rauner is expected to sign the legislation.
100th General Assembly inauguration
A new General Assembly was sworn in on Januray 11th with several new faces. The Illinois Senate Republican Caucus has three new members.
Senator Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg) was elected to serve the 59th Senate District, which covers the Southern tip of Illinois. Fowler most recently served as the mayor of Harrisburg, but spent decades in public service with the Department of Juvenile Justice, Department of Corrections, and the office of the Secretary of State.
Senator Paul Schimpf (R-Waterloo) was elected to fill the 58th Senate seat vacated by retiring Senator Dave Luechtefeld (R-Okawville). Schimpf, a lawyer, is a retired Marine who served as the United States lead prosecutor in the trial of Saddam Hussein.
Senator Jill Tracy (R-Quincy) was elected to represent the people of the 47th Senate District. Tracy served as a State Representative from 2006 – 2015. She also previously served as the Director of the Illinois Attorney General’s West Central Regional Office under both Republican Jim Ryan and Democrat Lisa Madigan.
After the Senate was sworn in, Governor Bruce Rauner presided over the chamber during the election for Senate President. Senator John Cullerton was reelected to the body’s top post, while Senator Christine Radogno was again elected to serve as minority leader.
Senate institutes term limit rule for leaders
After the swearing in of new members, the Senate adopted its new rules, including for the first time term limits for legislative leaders. The new rule limits both the Senate President and Minority Leader to a maximum of five terms.
Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 2, which would permanently create leadership term limits via constitutional amendment, is part of the larger budget/reform package unveiled earlier in the week. State Senator Chuck Weaver (R-Peoria) is a cosponsor of that legislation and said that he hopes it will be voted on soon.
Senator Weaver takes the oath of office during the inauguration of the 100th Illinois General Assembly.