Madigan’s rules kill reform efforts

Madigan’s rules kill reform efforts

A post-mortem on Illinois’ 2017 regular legislative session shows missed opportunities for taxpayer savings.

In July the Illinois General Assembly passed a budget that includes a 32 percent income tax hike. The legislature also passed 577 other bills in the first half of 2017. Yet, despite voting on and passing so many bills, few of these have been reforms Illinois taxpayers need.

The lack of reforms was not due to a lack of good bills introduced during the 2017 session. In fact, lawmakers had numerous opportunities to vote on and pass legislation that could have provided much-needed relief for Illinois residents. But in some instances these bills were never released from the Rules Committee, and in others they were immediately put into subcommittees, which often do not even meet.

Unfortunately that is by design. All bills introduced in the House of Representatives go through the Rules Committee, which is meant to sort bills and send them to the appropriate committees. But the Rules Committee, controlled by House Speaker Mike Madigan and his allies, can choose to not release bills the speaker opposes.

There is only one way to get a bill out of the Rules Committee without approval. To do this, three-fifths of lawmakers from both the minority and majority caucuses must sign a petition and also sign onto the bill as co-sponsors. This is an extremely difficult requirement to meet, and no attempts have succeeded thus far.

Subcommittees provide no relief either. Most subcommittees never even meet and thus do not get a chance to vote on the bills before them. When a bill the speaker opposes is put in a subcommittee, the bill often goes there to die.

In this way, bills opposed by the speaker and his allies are never even given a chance to be heard or voted on – they effectively die through inaction.

Here are a few examples of 2017 bills that never saw the light of day:

  • House Bill 442 would have increased transparency by requiring local governments to post key information, including officials’ contact information, Freedom of Information Act procedures, budgets and other financial documents on their websites.
  • House Bill 380 would have made Illinois’ estate tax, or “death tax,” less burdensome by raising the value of estates that are subject to the tax and aligning with the federal exemption level. Illinois is one of only 14 states to levy a death tax.
  • House Bill 3707 would have established a 401(k)-style retirement plan for members of the General Assembly. Of the five state pension systems, the General Assembly Retirement System is in the worst condition. This bill would have enabled lawmakers to take the lead in enacting meaningful pension reform by fixing their own retirement system first.

In addition to these, there were also several bills introduced during the 2017 session that would have brought relief to property taxpayers by freezing or reducing the property tax burden. For example, House Bill 359, introduced by state Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, would have prohibited any unit of local government from raising property tax rates, unless first approved by voter referendum. This bill was put into a subcommittee and never received a hearing.

There were also numerous bills introduced relating to pensions, such as House Bill 2405, which would have established a 401(k)-style retirement plan for new public employees. This bill would have brought desperately needed reform to Illinois’ broken pension systems. Unfortunately, this bill also did not receive a hearing and never made it out of the committee to which it was assigned.

Additionally, there were 17 constitutional amendments introduced regarding term limits for elected officials, such as Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 5. This legislation would have imposed term limits on members of the General Assembly and the executive branch. Another example, House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 2, would have set term limits on how long a person can serve as the speaker of the House, Senate president, minority leader of the House and minority leader of the Senate. None of these proposed constitutional amendments were ever called for a vote or discussed by lawmakers.

Illinois lawmakers need to quit the games and get serious about bringing necessary reforms to the state.

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