Illinois lawmakers hand Pritzker another tax loss, pass Chicago pension hike

Illinois lawmakers hand Pritzker another tax loss, pass Chicago pension hike

Lame duck session was busy even when House Democrats weren’t focused on replacing Mike Madigan as speaker. Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s small business tax hike died as 23 bills were passed, including one making Chicago’s pension woes worse.

As the 101st Illinois General Assembly’s lame-duck session came to a close, lawmakers rushed to send 23 bills to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk – but not the one he wanted.

In session overnight from Jan. 12 and into the morning Jan.13, lawmakers failed to support a small business tax increase, which was Pritzker’s top priority for lame duck session. Pritzker wanted to eliminate state-level tax benefits created as a form of economic relief when Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. He estimated the tax revenue loss at $500 million, but during floor debate early Jan. 13 the number was projected as high as $1 billion.

The bill fell 10 votes short of the 60 needed, with 18 House Democrats either voting “present” or not voting before putting Senate Bill 1199 on “postponed consideration.” The failure could push the budget deficit from $3.9 billion to as much as $4.9 billion, sponsoring Rep. Mike Zalewski said. While he said the bill could resurface in March, the idea that taxpayers could feel double-crossed would make it a tough sell to lawmakers.

In addition to the “fair tax” defeat by voters Nov. 3, this is the second tax hike loss suffered by Pritzker.

Lawmakers did hand Chicago taxpayers two potential hikes: increasing firefighter pensions and expanding bargaining powers for teachers. They also allowed for some numbing of the pain by legalizing home alcohol delivery as one of the 23 bills now awaiting Pritzker’s signature.

Here’s a recap of the major bills.

Police and justice reform

In a push led by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, the state Senate passed House Bill 3653 and the House voted to concur.

Most prominently, the bill abolishes cash bail. The state will have until Jan. 1, 2023, to fully abolish cash bail, phasing in new pretrial procedures during a two-year period.

The police reform package requires every police officer in the state to wear a body camera, as well as making it official misconduct to knowingly fail to turn on an officer-worn body camera or to turn off the camera when one reasonably must act in accordance with the body camera policy.

Additionally, the sweeping criminal justice reform bill also overhauls the system for decertifying officers who engage in misconduct and intensified law enforcement training standards.

More controversial measures, including repealing qualified immunity for law enforcement and changes to police collective bargaining agreements, were removed in the final version of the bill.

“This criminal justice package carries with it the opportunity to shape our state into a lesson in true justice for the nation,” Pritzker stated.

The Black Caucus also shored up support for five other bills that spanned education and the economy. House Bill 2170 was targeted at racial disparities throughout the state’s K-12 and higher education system, creating a number of new mandates spanning social studies by forming the Inclusive American History Commission, as well as adding computer literacy programs and curriculum standards.

The bill also directs the State Board of Education to create a grant program to provide grants to “public schools, public community colleges, and not-for-profit, community-based organizations to facilitate improved educational outcomes for Black students” in grades K-12.

On the economic front, Senate Bill 1792 amended the Predatory Loan Prevention Act to limit the annual percentage rate lenders can charge on consumer loans, which include payday and car title loans, to 36%. The bill also provides for disparity studies for particular industries. “These payday loan lenders need to be under strict, strict regulation,” said state Rep. Andrew Chesney, R-Freeport, in support of the rate cap.

Senate Bill 1480 limits the use of criminal background records as a basis for employment and housing decisions. Senate Bill 1608 created a number of new commissions focused on financial access and included additional racial diversity requirements for state purchasing policies. Senate Bill 1980 requires housing authorities to collect information on denial of assistance on the basis of criminal history.

Pensions and collective bargaining

House Bill 2451, introduced by Rep. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, spikes the pensions of 2,200 active and retired Chicago firefighters. The bill was first introduced nearly two years ago and removes a provision that restricts the firefighters born after 1966 from receiving a 3% automatic annual cost of living adjustment, or COLA, on their pension – a spike from their current 1.5% yearly increase.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the measure “irresponsible,” releasing a statement criticizing it as a “massive, unfunded mandate to the taxpayers of Chicago at a time when there are no extra funds to cover this new obligation.”

The Mayor’s office estimates this pension spike will cost the city $18 to $30 million per year, or over $850 million by 2055.

After being passed by the House in April 2019, the bill lay dormant in the Senate until it was resuscitated in the last days of the lame-duck session.

While the Chicago Teacher’s Union continues to protest Chicago Public Schools’ efforts to return students to their classrooms after 10 months, lawmakers rewarded the union by sending House Bill 1559 to the governor’s desk.

HB 1559 expands the collective bargaining rights of the CTU, allowing teachers to bargain regarding the length of work, school day and school year. HB 1559 was conditional upon the passage of House Bill 2275, which repealed provisions in the 1995 Illinois Education Labor Relations Act that limited Chicago teachers on the permitted subjects of collective bargaining.

Booze at home, on the tracks

With the passage of Senate Bill 54, Illinoisans will now be able to have their alcohol of choice delivered right to their door.

During the summer, in an effort to support bars and restaurants closed under COVID-19 restrictions, state lawmakers passed and Pritzker signed into law House Bill 2682, allowing cocktails and other drinks to-go. SB 54 goes farther, permitting alcohol delivery by third-party vendors such as GrubHub and Uber Eats by pre-empting municipalities from prohibiting third-party alcohol delivery.

On a related issue, lawmakers also passed House Bill 3878, repealing the Railroad Intoxicating Liquor Act. The 1911 law allowed conductors to arrest any person caught drinking or caught intoxicated in train cars or at train stations and slapping them with a misdemeanor charge.

Although the law was rarely enforced today, the more than century-old law enacted penalties for conductors who refused to enforce it.

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