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Column

In the homestretch, May will be busy, important

Legislature has a hectic five weeks left

Rich Miller
Rich Miller

From the looks of things, the fine print of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s most important legislative priorities should start becoming public not long after state legislators return from spring break on Tuesday, April 30.

Legislators, the governor’s office and stakeholders have been negotiating the nuts and bolts of numerous items for weeks, and they’re just about finished.

So, we’ll apparently start to see specific language pop out in public for things like the legalization of cannabis and sports betting.

The statutory language for the governor’s graduated income tax, which will set the various tax rates, will also likely be unveiled around that time.

We could maybe even see parts of the infrastructure bill by early May, and possibly some language for a new graduated tax on video gaming.

Those unveilings will all be followed by a couple of weeks of hearings in both chambers and then floor votes will commence.

There are actually five scheduled post-break session weeks ending on the final deadline of Friday, May 31, which is fortuitous for the Pritzker administration because they’re going to need every possible day they can get.

Everything has a long way to go before any of this is a done deal. Successful negotiations don’t automatically guarantee majorities in both chambers. And some negotiations are still not finished.

Nobody yet knows for sure how the infrastructure bill will be funded, for example, which is pretty darned important. Infrastructure costs real money, and that money has to come from somewhere.

Some legislators are pushing for more property tax relief from the governor’s income tax plan, which, if they’re successful, would mean less money for state programs or higher rates than the governor originally proposed, or both.

Big decisions

And, as I write this, big decisions still need to be made about cannabis and sports betting legalization, although proponents hope to circulate a draft of the cannabis bill to stakeholders sometime this week.

As you can clearly see, this is not a light load, particularly since the governor’s office, and not legislative staff, appears to be drafting the final versions of their bills, and the governor’s staff is not exactly brimming with extra people just waiting around for assignments. I think Pritzker’s staff is probably the smallest one I’ve ever seen.

There’s also this thing called the budget that still must be worked out. Gov. Pritzker’s budget proposal seeks to plug some big fiscal holes by using revenues from cannabis, sports betting, the new tax on video gaming, and a bunch of other things that aren’t easy to pass.

And that’s just the revenue side. There will be disagreements over spending as well.

Amanda Kass, the associate director of the Government Finance Research Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, crunched the governor’s pension proposal numbers this month and didn’t have good news.

The governor has claimed he wants to put about $900 million a year less into the pension systems than state law requires, but Kass’ research turned up a significantly higher $1.1 billion projection for next fiscal year (and for six years after that), which is giving folks heartburn.

Not that Pritzker’s fellow Democrats (or the Republicans) have anything serious to counter the governor’s proposals with, except on the edges. There are no real competing ideas out there, so the task at hand is convincing members of his own party to just grit hard and vote for these bills.

The governor’s budget also proposes stuff like phasing out the private school tuition tax credit program, which has strong support among some Catholic, Jewish and other legislators.

Shopping bag tax?

He would also impose a tax on disposable plastic shopping bags, which has the potential to anger millions of Illinoisans every week for the grand revenue total of a mere $20 million a year.

And he wants to pick yet another fight with the powerful Illinois Retail Merchants Association over how much sales tax money that retailers can keep as payment for collecting the sales tax.

Not to mention that the Senate may be combining some energy-related bills into an omnibus package. And the House is working on a massive ethics/sexual harassment proposal.

And don’t forget the hundreds and hundreds of bills that were passed during the first few months of the spring session and are now awaiting committee hearings and floor votes in the opposite chambers.

This could turn out to be the busiest and most consequential final month of session I’ve ever seen.

Note to readers: Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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