Pritzker after Legislature adjourns: ‘Illinois is back’

SPRINGFIELD – Minutes after the Senate put the final touches on first-term Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s sweeping legislative agenda Sunday, June 2, the governor addressed media and delivered a message: “Illinois is back.”

“Today, the people of Illinois can be proud that we are putting state government back on the side of working families,” Pritzker said at the news conference. “They can be proud that we are restoring fiscal responsibility after many years of crisis and deficits.”

Pritzker stood beside Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, a Bloomington Republican, and several senators of both parties as he addressed the media in his office after receiving overwhelming bipartisan approval on several key measures.

“Throughout this session, Senate Republicans were not afraid to speak up when needed, and were not afraid to stand together when warranted,” Brady said in a statement. “I commend Governor Pritzker for working across the aisle on those key issues that produced bipartisan support. Now, as we move forward, Senate Republicans will continue to fight for the issues important to Illinois residents.”

Pritzker touted the bipartisan process and the working groups that negotiated the budget behind closed doors. The 1,500 page document was released publicly just 12 hours before it was approved.

Legislative leaders from both parties called the $40 billion operating budget a balanced, responsible state funding effort, and Republicans emphasized the inclusion of several pro-business reforms and tax incentives that were added to the package upon their request.

Those measures include tax incentives aimed at enticing data centers to locate in Illinois; eliminating reporting of the retailer's discount in the comptroller's tax expenditure report; eliminating the franchise tax; reinstating the manufacturers purchase credit; and a “Blue Collar Jobs Act to help attract large scale projects.”

While the passage of the budget itself gave Pritzker a major victory, it often seemed an afterthought as the General Assembly passed a slew of other hot-button issues.

Those include a $45 billion capital infrastructure plan for road, bridge, building and broadband internet projects, a massive gambling expansion, legalization of recreational marijuana, a reproductive rights expansion bill, a graduated tax constitutional amendment and a minimum wage increase.

The infrastructure plan is the first in more than 10 years and is made possible by revenues expected to come from sports betting licenses, a $1 increase to the state’s cigarette tax and a doubling of the state’s motor fuel tax to 38 cents from 19 cents along with increased driver’s license fees among others.

Upon adjournment, Pritzker said he will work to ensure new policies are implemented correctly before returning for the fall veto session and the second legislative session of his first term.

“Make no mistake. We still have a lot of work ahead,” he said. “Our budget and pension challenges unfolded over many years, and they won’t go away overnight. We have more big things to do: to bring more efficiencies to state government, to grow our economy at a faster rate, to create jobs, to invest in our future.”

Gambling expansion

Six new casinos, along with legalized sports betting, are coming to Illinois after Senate lawmakers approved a massive gambling expansion bill Sunday, June 2.

Senate Bill 690, sponsored by Indian Creek Democratic Sen. Terry Link, passed that chamber on a 46-10 vote after being approved by House lawmakers the day before. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has already announced his intention to sign it into law.

“I’ve only been doing this for 20 years to get this done, and it’s a little emotional,” said a teary-eyed Link during floor discussion of the bill.

Link estimated that gambling expansion along with other revenue-raising measures in the bill could net Illinois more than $12 billion in the next six years.

“This key piece of legislation really is going to make an economic difference of keeping our dollars home,” he said, adding he expects “thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in construction across the state.”

That construction would go toward the six new casinos authorized by the bill in Waukegan, Rockford, Danville, South Suburbs, Williamson County and downtown Chicago.

Casinos, race tracks and sports facilities that seat more than 17,000 people – such as Wrigley Field or United Center – would also be eligible to buy sports betting licenses under the bill, making Illinois one of about a dozen states to legalize the practice after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year allowed it.

Revenues raised from the new casinos, the selling of sports betting licenses, and a higher tax on video gambling machines would go toward funding the vertical components of a long-term capital infrastructure plan, such as state building renovations. Sports betting licenses would range from $3.2 million to $20 million and be offered to both brick-and-mortar facilities and to online operators, with taxes of 15 percent.

Under the bill, race tracks in the state would be able to install slot machines and table games, turning them into racinos. A pilot program will also assess sports betting through the Illinois Lottery, a plan that was considered but dropped by lawmakers earlier in the session.

House passes budget

The Illinois House closed out what was perhaps the most monumental legislative sessions in recent memory Saturday, June 1, after passing the final pieces of a budget for the upcoming year and a $45 billion capital improvements program that will be partially funded by expanded gambling.

Those measures, though, were only the finishing touches on a session that also saw passage of a minimum wage increase, a constitutional amendment to overhaul the state’s income tax system, legalization of recreational marijuana and a sweeping expansion of abortion rights.

“This has been an extraordinarily productive session of the General Assembly. Simply historic,” House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said just before the House adjourned.

Saturday’s action in the House effectively marked the end of an intense competition between Democratic and Republican leaders that had threatened to send lawmakers into extended overtime.

The final 48 hours were marked by heated discussions and intense negotiations between Democrats and Republicans and a constant flurry of back-door meetings with House and Senate caucus leaders and Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Although Democrats hold supermajorities in both chambers, Republican votes were needed on some key measures to get them over the finish line, especially after the session stretched into Saturday, June 1, which triggered a constitutional requirement that bills taking immediate effect receive three-fifths majorities in both chambers – 71 votes in the House and 36 votes in the Senate.

But Republicans held out because they wanted Democrats to agree to a number of pro-business initiatives that included tax incentives for businesses hiring construction workers for major projects, other incentives for developing high-tech data centers and phasing out the franchise tax, to name a few.

When Democrats finally agreed to those measures, the final pieces of the budget package fell into place with broad bipartisan support.

One of the pieces needed to make the budget work was a revenue bill, Senate Bill 689, which included, among other things, a new tax on Medicaid managed care organizations that will allow the state to draw down additional federal matching funds, freeing up about $390 million in general revenue funds for other purposes. It passed by a vote of 107-to-9.

Another was what’s known as a “budget implementation bill,” Senate Bill 1814, that spells out specifically how money appropriated to various agencies is to be spent. That bill includes pay increases for home care providers who deliver home and community-based services to the elderly and disabled. It passed by a vote of 97-17.

The final piece was House Bill 142 authorizing the state to issue $1.7 billion in bonds, the proceeds of which will be used to pay down the state’s backlog of unpaid invoices, a measure that is expected to save the state hundreds of millions of dollars a year in interest costs.

The capital improvements program also consisted of a package of three bills.

House Bill 62 spells out how the $45 billion will be spent. It calls for $33.2 billion, or about 74 percent of the total, to be spent on roads and bridges, what lawmakers refer to as “horizontal” infrastructure. Another $3.5 billion, or 8 percent of the total, would be spent on K-12 and higher education facilities.

The remainder would be divided between state facilities, environmental conservation projects, deployment of broadband internet, and health care and human service facilities.

The other two bills provide the funding for those projects.

Senate Bill 1939 provides funding for the horizontal projects through a combination of a 19-cent per-gallon increase in the state gasoline tax, increases in vehicle registration fees, especially for electric vehicles, plus a variety of other miscellaneous fees. It passed the House, 83-29.

And House Bill 690 provides funding for the “vertical” infrastructure projects. It includes legalized sports betting and expansion of casino gambling, a $1 per-pack increase in cigarette taxes, new taxes on parking fees, and extending the state sales tax to purchases made remotely, including online purchases from out-of-state retailers that do not have a brick-and-mortar nexus in Illinois. It passed the House, 87-27.

Abortion Bill

Legislation that backers and detractors agree will be the most liberal reproductive health statute in the country is headed to the governor’s desk after about 80 minutes of impassioned debate by the Illinois Senate late Friday night, May 31.

The abortion repeal-and-replace measure was a source of controversy this session. From its introduction in February, the Reproductive Health Act drew calls of support from advocates looking to the General Assembly to respond to restrictions enacted by some states across the country, and those of warning from opponents concerned about protections being struck from current law.

Sen. Melinda Bush, a Democrat from Grayslake and the bill’s sponsor in that chamber, said she hopes passage of the legislation will make the state “a beacon for the country.”

“I’m so proud that Illinois is standing up and saying, we’re not going back, we’re going to continue to fight and we’re going to make sure that women are equal here. Their reproductive rights are part of that,” she said.

In a statement, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he will sign the measure.

“In Illinois, we trust women to make the most personal and fundamental decisions of their lives — and now, that will be the law of the land, even as it’s under threat in other states,” he said.

Chicago Democratic Rep. Kelly Cassidy, the initiative’s sponsor in the House, was on the floor during the debate. In the back of the chamber were a handful of other Democratic representatives who supported the legislation — they stood and joined hands during Bush’s closing remarks.

“That was amazing to have them all over here — I was there when it passed in the House — because it was so important to all of us,” Bush said. “To have that amazing camaraderie and support and really love for each other; I’m just so proud of all these amazing women. It really felt like a sisterhood.”

The measure received 34 Democratic yes votes. Twenty senators voted no, including lone Democrat, Bunker Hill Democrat Andy Manar. Three Democrats voted present.

The measure, Bush said, “codified current practices” and repealed parts of Illinois law enjoined by courts.

Sen. Dan McConchie, a Republican from Hawthorn Woods, said if that was all the bill aimed to achieve, it would be one page — not 126.

McConchie sought clarification on whether any provisions of the legislation would render toothless the Parental Notification of Abortion Law, which requires a minor to consult her parents before getting the procedure. Bush said no part of her bill would impact that statute.

“This proposal leaves me stunned,” McConchie said. “For anyone who wants abortions to be legal and safe, this bill will do exactly the opposite.”

Republican Sen. Jil Tracy, from Quincy, called the bill “extreme.”

“It goes far beyond the current practice in Illinois. It has provisions that could endanger rather than protect a pregnant woman and it’s not needed under current Illinois law or federal law,” she said. “Once again in Illinois, we are passing bills looking to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Recreational Marijuana

Legalized recreational marijuana is on its way to the governor’s desk, and by all indications he will sign it.

In the first legislative action in the Illinois House of what had been scheduled as the last day of the session, Senate Bill 1438 passed on a 66-47 vote after more than three hours of debate Friday, May 31.

Marijuana legalization was one of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s marquee campaign points. It joins a graduated income tax constitutional amendment as one of the major campaign promises that have passed both houses.

Once the governor signs the bill, the goal will be to have marijuana available to consumers by Jan. 1, 2020. Per the bill, Illinois residents could possess up to 30 grams, or roughly one ounce, of marijuana flower, five grams of THC concentrate and five grams of THC in a marijuana-infused product.

The bill authorizes the state to issue a limited number of licenses for cultivators, processors and retail dispensaries, and to charge excise taxes on the retail sale of marijuana products.

Medicinal marijuana patients would be allowed to grow up to five cannabis plants in their home.

The bill also allows for expungement through the governor’s clemency process if the case involves less than 30 grams of marijuana. For cases involving amounts greater than that, up to 500 grams, individuals and state’s attorneys would be allowed to petition a court to vacate a conviction.

The Senate passed the bill Wednesday, May 29. The vote was 38-17, with two Republicans joining 36 Democrats in supporting it.

“This bill is going to set the model, I believe, the gold standard for how to approach social equity issues, relating (to) cannabis legalization,” Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, the bill’s chief sponsor, said in her closing statement on the Senate floor.

The action came just hours after a new, revised version of the bill was made public, and it is substantially different from the one Steans introduced on May 3, a proposal that sparked strong resistance from law enforcement, business groups and some local governments.

“I think what is proposed today is a significant shift from what was proposed, what, two or three weeks ago,” Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, told reporters following a committee hearing on the bill Wednesday. “Moving that off the table, I think, paved the way for us to resolve a bunch of other issues that were very important that weren’t resolved initially.”

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit news service operated by the Illinois Press Foundation that provides coverage of state government to newspapers throughout Illinois. The mission of Capitol News Illinois is to provide credible and unbiased coverage of state government to the more than 400 daily and weekly newspapers that are members of the Illinois Press Association.

This Week's Circulars