It’s hard to believe that at the beginning of the year, lawmakers met in Springfield’s BOS Center to adequately maintain “social distance” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Needless to say, it was great to be back in the Capitol building in April and May. A lot has happened that I want to share with you.
Democrats literally waited until the 11th hour to pass the Fiscal Year 2022 budget that begins July 1. Just minutes before midnight on the May 31 deadline, House Democrats passed a partisan $42.3 billion budget that adds a billion dollars in pork projects (exclusively for Democrat districts), includes a nearly $1,200 pay raise for legislators, and raises taxes on Illinois businesses by more than $650 million.
Displaying their disdain for Illinois taxpayers and the legislative process, the Democratic supermajority rammed their budget through in less than 24 hours. House Democrats filed their first budget amendment after 12:30 AM on Monday, May 31 (Memorial Day). Their final budget amendment was filed less than an hour before the midnight deadline for passage. Democrats moved to suspend the House Rule 21 notice requirement so they could vote on the final budget prior to the deadline. Legislators and the public were given no time to review the 3,088 page budget before its passage. This is exactly why I introduced the 72-Hour Budget Review Act months ago…to avoid situations like this. Unsurprisingly, the Democrats in control did not allow my bill to even be heard in committee.
The Democrats’ tax-and-spend budget was drafted behind closed doors, at the last minute, without any openness, transparency or accountability to taxpayers. In an affront to the legislative process, Democrats ended debate on their massive spending bill in less than 15 minutes. Republicans were only permitted one speaker to ask questions about the bill. The FY22 Budget and capital plan were contained in SB 2800, which did not receive support from a single Republican in the House or the Senate.
We didn’t see any honest attempt at addressing key issues with a huge impact on the budget such as meaningful pension reform. Public pensions eat up roughly a quarter of the state’s budget, yet elected officials continue to refuse to rein in this ballooning cost. The longer we wait to enact real pension reform, the greater the risk to the essential government services that people depend upon. Similarly, for years, we have heard constituents tell us that property taxes in this state are too high, and for years, the Democrat-controlled General Assembly has refused to provide relief.
Any budget that fails to address these priorities falls short of what the people of this state deserve. Decade after decade of unbalanced budgets and wasteful spending have landed Illinois in a dire financial situation. Unfortunately, this isn’t going to be the year that changes that. Democrats added hundreds of millions in new discretionary spending and intend to ask job creators to pay for it.
Democrats are relying on four tax increases on Illinois businesses, totaling more than $650 million:
- Reinstating the onerous and burdensome franchise tax on any business making more than $1,000;
- Capping the amount of losses a business can deduct;
- Stifling immediate investment in the economy by backloading when business can depreciate purchased assets; and
- Raising taxes on foreign income brought back to the U.S. from overseas.
Meanwhile, the Unemployment Insurance (UI) Trust Fund is running on fumes, with a $5 billion deficit–despite the fact that American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds can be directly deposited into the UI Trust Fund. Many other states did just that. But Illinois Democrats were more interested in funding their pork projects with the magic federal money, instead of using ARPA funds responsibly. Democrats added $1 billion in pork projects for their districts, paid for by federal ARPA funds meant to help states struggling with the negative fiscal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One bright spot of this year’s budget is the preservation of the state’s Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program. Gov. Pritzker proposed to cut the program by $14 million, reducing the tax credit donors receive from 75 cents on the dollar to 40 cents. Fortunately, we were able to preserve the program as is in the FY22 budget. The tax credit was set to expire in 2022, but the budget extends its sunset for one year and expands scholarship eligibility to include career and technical education! I support this program because it has provided more than 20,000 scholarships to low-income students since its inception in 2017. Our task now is to remove the sunset from the program and make it permanent.
Another bit of good news is that we succeeded in pressuring the Governor to fund public education by appropriating $350 million for the state’s K-12 Evidence Based Funding formula, which he had left out of the budget he proposed in February.
Competing proposals in the House and Senate that would have made sweeping changes to Illinois’ gun laws were held up, meaning there will be no changes to existing requirements for Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) cards or Concealed Carry Licenses (CCL).
You can watch my remarks on the House floor discussing the substance of these bills and the flawed process they were subjected to below.
I will never stop fighting to protect your 2nd Amendment rights!
Trailer Fees Reduced, Vehicle Trade-in Cap Eliminated
The House and Senate passed a bill that would lower small trailer license fees from $118 to $36. In 2019, the fee for licensing a small trailer in Illinois was raised from $18 to $118 as part of Gov. Pritzker’s Rebuild Illinois capital infrastructure plan. The compromise reached was to lower the annual fee to $36, along with removing a $10,000 cap on vehicle trade-ins. Under this bill, individuals can keep their same license plate and simply renew it.
Gov. Pritzker is expected to sign a proposed constitutional amendment on workers’ rights that will set into motion a question being placed on the November 2022 ballot. If approved by voters in 2022, SJRCA 11 would codify in state statute that employees have the fundamental right to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing for the purpose of negotiating wages, hours and working conditions, and to protect their economic welfare and safety at work. The proposed constitutional amendment would also ban right-to-work laws and ordinances at the state and local level from ever being considered. I think this is something for future local governments to decide; it should not be banned by the current General Assembly and/or sitting Governor. The right of an employee to join a union and participate in its organizing work is already protected under existing law so this exercise is unnecessary. All the major business groups opposed the bill and so did I.
Illinois’ proposed telehealth law applies to the medical procedures covered by workplace-based health care insurance and insurers, but not Medicaid. As approved by the General Assembly, HB 3308 gives health insurers the tools and legal standing to negotiate future contracts with medical care providers and employers. Under these future contracts, some of the contacts between a doctor or other health care providers on the one hand, and a patient on the other, can be done over a video screen. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some of these contacts were successfully completed by video conferencing throughout Illinois. Patients were happy to know that they were getting professional medical care and advice from home without putting themselves in possible harm’s way. If signed into law by Gov. Pritzker, this bill–approved unanimously by the General Assembly–will make this telehealth care pathway permanent in Illinois.
It’s no secret that Illinois is in desperate need of comprehensive ethics reform to end the culture of corruption in our state. In just the past two years, several current and former state legislators have been indicted on federal corruption charges. Enter Senate Bill 539, an omnibus ethics reform bill. The legislation prohibits in-person fundraising on any day the legislature is in session, in addition to the day before and the day after legislative session (in-person or virtual, covering the entire state). Also included is a six-month revolving door prohibition for legislators and executive branch officers and a prohibition on legislators from lobbying for compensation on behalf of a lobbyist or lobbying entity that is registered to lobby the General Assembly or Executive Branch. SB 539 grants the Legislative Inspector General the authority to initiate an investigation without the approval of the Legislative Ethics Commission.
SB 539 was approved by the Senate unanimously and passed the House nearly unanimously. I voted in favor of this legislation, but was disappointed because it barely scratches the surface of what needs to be accomplished. Debate on the bill revealed that the revolving door prohibition outlined in the legislation would allow current members of the legislature to become lobbyists for the General Assembly one day after their retirement. Many headlines bemoaned the “baby steps” bill as not going “anywhere near far enough”. Even the state’s Legislative Inspector General called the bill “a mixed bag”.
It is a sad but true fact that an ethics bill being sent to the Governor can be considered a step forward, but this small step was as far as the Democratic majority could tolerate. While something is better than nothing, this development is by no means an indication that our work on improving the culture of corruption in Illinois is anywhere near finished. House Republicans have introduced more than three dozen ethics reforms in this General Assembly alone. And our proposed ethics reform platform actually has teeth. We are committed to continue sounding the alarm and keep pushing for more!
House Bill 642 provides a perfect example of how disingenuous the Democrats are about ethics reform. In April, the House overwhelmingly approved legislation that would impose term limits on legislative leaders so that no person may serve more than 10 consecutive years as Speaker of the House of Representatives, President of the Senate, Minority Leader of the House of Representatives or Minority Leader of the Senate. Lawmakers patted themselves on the back, blasted a press release out to media outlets and their constituents, only for the bill to die. Shockingly, the Senate committee to which the bill was assigned never got around to taking it up. I’m sure House Democrats knew this would be the case, that they could politically benefit from voting for “change” in Springfield without that change ever actually coming home to roost. They were never serious about getting that done.
I wish I could say this was unexpected, or something I haven’t seen before, but it’s an all too familiar playbook. House Republicans began this spring legislative session with the promise of a “new day” from then-newly elected Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch. Sadly, the Speaker’s words ring hollow.
As a candidate for Governor in 2018, J.B. Pritzker was asked the following question regarding redistricting: “Will you pledge as governor to veto any state legislative redistricting map proposal that is in any way drafted or created by legislators, political party leaders and/or their staffs or allies?”
Then-candidate Pritzker’s verbatim response: “Yes, I will pledge to veto. We should amend the constitution to create an independent commission to draw legislative maps, but in the meantime, I would urge Democrats and Republicans to agree to an independent commission to handle creating a new legislative map. That designated body should reflect the gender, racial, and geographic diversity of the state and look to preserve the Voting Rights Act decisions to ensure racial and language minorities are fully represented in the electoral process.”
Last Friday, Gov. Pritzker abandoned his promise to Illinois voters by signing into law partisan redistricting maps drafted and passed by House and Senate Democrats. These maps were drawn by Democrats behind locked doors. They were crafted using incomplete and flawed data. To add insult to injury, the maps were then rammed through the legislature less than 24 hours after being released. The Democratic supermajority ignored repeated requests and testimony from nonpartisan reform groups that the legislature should wait until the U.S. Census data is released in August before drafting the legislative maps for the next decade. A flawed process resulted in a flawed product.
House and Senate Republicans and Illinoisans of all political stripes repeatedly urged the Governor to uphold his promise and reject these partisan maps. Instead, Gov. Pritzker chose to side with his Democratic allies over the will of the people of Illinois. The Governor and Speaker keep punting by calling out Republicans for never putting forward a proposed map of their own. They’re missing the point entirely. Republicans don’t think politicians should be in the business of handpicking their voters, which is why they have called for the map to be drawn by an independent coalition all along–a sentiment Gov. Pritzker once purportedly shared. Ultimately, he cares more about keeping power for his political friends than fair elections. Through bad data, fake transparency and a false sense of urgency, Democrats pulled the wool over voters’ eyes. They assume they can get away with it because this is Illinois. The next election must be a referendum on whether or not voters will tolerate the officials they elect to public office to lie to them.
Fortunately, we were prepared for this disastrous turn of events. This week, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie filed a lawsuit in Federal court to challenge the legislative maps. The lawsuit is being filed against House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch (in his official capacity), Senate President Don Harmon (in his official capacity) and the Illinois State Board of Elections and its members (in their official capacities).
The lawsuit argues that the use of American Community Survey (ACS) estimates violates federal law, including well established “one-person, one-vote” principles under the U.S. Constitution. More than 50 good government and community advocacy organizations and leaders implored the General Assembly to wait for the release of official census counts, which are expected by August. The use of ACS estimates will undercount minority, rural and growing communities and will result in a population disparity between districts that exceeds what federal law allows. Even the U.S. Census Bureau has said that ACS estimates are not appropriate for drawing legislative boundaries. This is something I have argued from the very beginning.
This is why I urged lawmakers to reject the gerrymandered maps.
The lawsuit requests that the court declare the Democrats’ plan to be unconstitutional, invalid, and void. The lawsuit also requests that the court direct Speaker Welch and President Harmon to make their appointments to the Illinois Legislative Redistricting Commission as required by the Illinois Constitution. That commission has been used in every redistricting cycle but one since the constitution’s adoption in 1970. Leaders Durkin and McConchie will make their appointments soon and have pledged to work with those commissioners and the Democratic Leaders to adopt a transparent, bipartisan and independent process for drawing and approving a legislative map after the release of official census data in August. Stay tuned!
Speaking of elections…Democrats also passed omnibus elections legislation that will move the 2022 General Primary to June 28 (from March 15). This change was necessary because the U.S. Census data will not be released until August, thereby delaying passage of the U.S. Congressional redistricting maps.
In addition to moving the 2022 Primary date, Democrats added “vote-by-jail” language that will allow jails outside of Cook County to set up polling places in their facilities. The bill allows election authorities to create permanent vote-by-mail lists that voters may opt into. The legislation makes Election Day (November 8, 2022) a state holiday for schools and universities and requires closed schools to be available for use as polling places. It requires high schools to permit voter registration on premises and provide application information to students. It requires every county to have at least one universal voting center for the 2022 Primary and General elections. The legislation extends the county deadline for redistricting to December 31, 2021 (from July 1) and allows counties to use reasonable data including the most recent ACS 5-year data (currently, counties are required to use census data).
In a particularly egregious example of legalizing previously illegal activity, this bill allows political committees to use funds to make expenditures related to vehicles not owned or leased by the committee. This change was made after the current Auditor General’s former political committee spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on vehicle servicing and repairs during his decades in office as a state representative.
As of this writing, more than 11.8 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Illinois. 54% of Illinois adults are now fully vaccinated against coronavirus and nearly 63% of Illinois adults have received at least one dose.
Public health leaders continue to urge all eligible adults to get the free vaccination services provided by health care providers statewide. All persons age 12 and up are now eligible for vaccination.
Gov. Pritzker has announced officially that on Friday, June 11 (yesterday), Illinois will reopen fully (also known as Phase 5, the final phase of the Governor’s Restore Illinois plan). This means that capacity limits on businesses, large-scale events, conventions, amusement parks, and all other venues have been eliminated. Businesses and communities can learn more about Phase 5 recommended public health practices by visiting IDPH’s website.
On May 19, the Illinois State Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution in support of an upcoming declaration from State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala making it a requirement that schools reopen their doors in the fall.
Back to Springfield
Several items were not addressed by lawmakers before the May 31 deadline. One of those items is a controversial energy bill. So on Tuesday, the Senate will return to the Capitol to vote on the 866-page omnibus package. This language was only filed on Thursday and there are two different versions of the bill, so I am still reviewing the proposals. The House will return the following day to presumably take up that bill, among others, as indicated by Speaker Welch. One is House Bill 2908, which sets up a fully elected 21-member school board in Chicago by 2027. This bill already passed the Senate so all that stands between it and Gov. Pritzker’s desk is House approval.
Since the first of the year, I have received 4,292 emails expressing opinions on legislation! My district office has fielded 469 phone calls in support or opposition of legislation being considered by lawmakers. I received 105 calls just to say hi and let me know that you saw me in the news. My extraordinary legislative assistant, Carrie, has worked tirelessly on 140 constituent cases to make sure residents of the 63rd district get the help they need. I am honored to serve you. Please continue to send me your ideas and feedback about things you like and/or things you don’t. Your input is always appreciated and helps inform how I represent you in Springfield. Thank you for engaging in the democratic process!
Save the Date!
The McHenry County Fair will be held August 3-8. I hope to see you there!
On Saturday, August 21 I will be hosting a FREE Shred Event. This is an environmentally-friendly way to protect you and your loved ones from financial fraud and identity theft. Be on the lookout for more to come!
Rep. Steve Reick