2019 laws in review, Illinois lawmakers passed both nice and naughty bills
The Illinois General Assembly passed over 600 new laws in 2019. Some helped taxpayers, but many more hurt as they spent $85 billion while doing little to fix the pension crisis.
2019 was a busy year for the Illinois General Assembly. Between regular session and veto session, the General Assembly passed a total of 637 bills. The governor signed all but nine of them.
When the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Day, Illinoisans will have to adhere to more than 250 new laws resulting from those bills. Some of the new laws taking effect in 2020 are beneficial for taxpayers. Some are not. Here is a recap of the Illinois General Assembly’s good and bad bill behavior during 2019.
Cook County Expungement Fee Waiver Pilot Program
Senate Bill 482, now Public Act 101-0306, creates the Cook County Expungement Fee Waiver Pilot Program, which waives fees for expunging and sealing records for those in Cook County who have been acquitted of a crime, had their convictions reversed or whose charges have been dropped or dismissed.
Open Illinois Checkbook Act
House Bill 313, now Public Act 101-0212, creates the Open Illinois Checkbook, which requires the state comptroller’s office to maintain a publicly accessible online ledger that documents all state expenditures. The new law also requires additional information to be published, such as salaries of employees and graphical data.
House Bill 2209, now Public Act 101-0134, requires each property tax bill to have a list of each tax increment financing (TIF) district that property resides in. This new law will give taxpayers more information about which TIF districts they pay taxes to, and how much.
Local pension consolidation
Illinois has more than 640 local police and fire pension systems, which were consolidated into two investment pools when the governor signed Senate Bill 1300, now Public Act 101-0610. While the bill could lighten the tax burden of the many funds by boosting investment returns, the local pension systems represent only 5.5% of the state’s public pension debt and enhancements for newer employees were approved without knowing the costs.
Though not technically a new law, this list includes state leaders’ decision to ask voters to give them greater taxing power. They are asking voters to scrap the state’s constitutional flat tax protection and pass a progressive income tax amendment. Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 1 was passed by the General Assembly during the last few days of the spring legislative session and will be on ballots Nov. 3, 2020. If voters approve, the amendment would give lawmakers power to divide and conquer taxpayers rather than suffering the political fallout from raising everyone’s income taxes at once.
Lawmakers could have given voters a say in matters critical to fixing state finances, such as desperately needed pension reform or enacting a true balanced budget amendment. Instead, voters were only offered a $3.4 billion tax hike.
Gas tax hike
On July 1 Illinoisans began paying 38 cents per gallon of gas, double what the state tax was and an extra annual cost averaging $100 per driver. Gov. J.B. Pritzker also signed Senate Bill 1939, charging each Illinois passenger vehicle owner an extra $50 per year for their license plate sticker.
Additionally, under Senate Bill 690, now Public Act 101-0031, Illinoisans on Jan. 1 will start paying a vehicle trade-in sales tax on the value above $10,000. Car dealers decry the change as double taxation, because car owners already paid sales taxes on their vehicles when they were purchased new.
These tax and fee hikes were among 20 passed to fund Pritzker’s record $40 billion state budget and $45 billion infrastructure plan, both of which were in lawmakers’ hands for 12 hours before they passed. The spending plan is at least $1.3 billion in the red and infrastructure plan was passed without scoring the projects’ need and with at least $1.4 billion in waste such as pickleball courts, dog parks and renovations to a privately owned theater.
Two lawmakers who were key to moving the infrastructure bill through the House and Senate are currently the subjects of federal corruption investigations. State Sen. Martin Sandoval has resigned effective Jan. 1 after already resigning chairmanship of the Senate Transportation Committee, a position he used to get relatives jobs. Former state Rep. Luis Arroyo resigned from the House after he was charged with bribery.
Restricting union worker rights
Senate Bill 1784, a bill to limit public employees’ free speech rights, was signed into law Dec. 20 by Pritzker. The law gives unions the ability to restrict when a person may opt out of a union and also gives unions the authority to process those requests. It gives unions an hour with new employees but stops employers from providing information about unions. Additionally, this law requires employers to hand over personal information about employees to the unions, such as email addresses and cell phone numbers.
All of these provisions create hurdles to public employees exercising the freedoms guaranteed in June 2018 by the Janus v. AFSCME decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. About 20,000 workers exercised those freedoms within months to distance themselves from public employee unions and union politics.
Looking ahead, lawmakers have an opportunity to make 2020 a good year for state government reform and transparency that could save Illinois at least $550 million a year lost to dishonesty and insider deals.
It could also be the year Illinois voters reject the progressive income tax scheme and lawmakers stop trying to raise more revenue and start controlling spending. That new path for a new decade is possible if lawmakers act to implement a constitutional amendment that protects earned pension benefits while allowing for changes in the growth of future, unearned benefits.