Senate Week in Review: January 20-24
Lawmakers will gather in Springfield January 29 for the Governor’s annual State-of-the-State message, and State Senator Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said if the speech follows the typical pattern, it will be long on positive rhetoric and short on details.
Sen. Rezin said lawmakers would like to hear more about three-year spending projections that the Governor’s own budget office says will create a $16.2 billion bill backlog by the end of Fiscal Year 17. But, Sen. Rezin she is not optimistic that Gov. Quinn will provide any details or a clear path to balance spending with available revenues and avoid massive deficits.
More likely, the Governor will accentuate any available positive news about the state and eliminate any negative assessments. That could be a tall order in a state that has been identified as having the worst prospects in the nation for job growth in 2014.
It’s also unlikely that Quinn will mention that he has presided over more credit downgrades than any Governor in the state’s history; that the state’s unemployment rate remains above both the national and regional averages; and that Illinois ranks 42nd in the nation in job growth over the past decade.
Details about the state’s upcoming budget are likely to be put off until the Governor must deliver his annual budget message next month.
Rezin tours LyondellBassell Industries in Morris
Sen. Rezin made a visit to LyondellBassell Industries on January 23 for a tour she said she tries to make every year.
“I like to visit the plant every year to see new projects that have been completed and discuss issues they face as well as what the company plans for the future,” she said. “As I represent businesses in the district, it is important for me to meet with the workers and executives to understand their operations and what products they produce,” she said. “In discussing issues with them, I can better learn how to represent and help them while in Springfield.”
Sen. Rezin noted that LyondellBassell’s influence extends beyond being a business in the area.
“LyondellBasell Industries has made such a positive impact on our community in more ways than one,” Sen. Rezin said. “They continually provide new, good paying jobs and they are active in community service. They’ve participated in our summer internship program and given students the opportunity to learn their trade. I appreciate what they do for the workforce, the economy and the community. The tour today only strengthened my high regard for their operations and involvement in our area.”
She is pictured above during her tour of the facility.
Start of income tax filing delayed
The Internal Revenue Service and the Illinois Department of Revenue have postponed the start of income tax filing to Jan. 31 – a 10-day delay for federal returns and two weeks for the state.
The delays are the result of the October 2013 federal government shutdown. State Revenue Department spokeswoman Sue Hofer said the agency usually begins processing returns in mid-January, but taxpayers cannot complete state forms without information from federal returns.
The tax filing deadline is still April 15. Federal and state tax agency spokespeople have said refunds should not be affected.
Comptroller breaks down spending
State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka says her office will provide taxpayers with a breakdown of state spending in income tax returns received in 2014. The tax return inserts will show what state agencies spend each year, and an analysis of the state’s unpaid bills over time. That information will also be made available on the Comptroller’s website.
FEMA extends disaster assistance deadline
The deadline to apply for disaster assistance from FEMA has been extended for those individuals who were a victim of the November 17 tornadoes.
According to FEMA’s website, there are three ways victims can apply:
• Go online to DisasterAssistance.gov.
• Visit m.fema.gov from a smartphone or tablet.
• Dial 800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 800-462-7585. Toll-free numbers are operated from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
For more information, visit FEMA’s website.
Free tax assistance for military personnel
With tax season upon us, the Illinois CPA Society’s "CPAs for the Public Interest" offers a program called the Military Service Tax Preparation Project that provides free personal income tax return filing assistance to certain members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
The project matches military personnel and/or their family members with CPA volunteers who will provide free personal federal and state income tax filing assistance.
In order to qualify, individuals and their families must have recently returned or still be serving on active duty in a combat zone or qualified hazardous duty area and must be an Illinois resident.
To learn how to take advantage of this program, visit the Military Service Tax Preparation Project’s website.
Protecting family farms and businesses
State Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) says Illinois needs to ease the estate planning burdens on family farms and small businesses by re-coupling Illinois' Estate Tax, or Death Tax, to federal law.
For many years, the taxing threshold in Illinois for things like farmland and business assets was identical to, or coupled with, the federal government guidelines. But, when Democrat leaders passed a record tax hike in early 2011, they decoupled the state rate from the federal rate, raising tax liability for families that own farms and small businesses in Illinois.
Today, the state taxes estates valued above $4 million, while the federal government only taxes estates valued above $5.25 million.
Barickman, who grew up on his family's farm in Livingston County, says the difference results in a more complicated estate plan and drives up the planning costs for farm families and small business owners.
“It is common sense to pair the Estate Tax rate with the federal government to ease the planning burden for farm families and business owners,” Barickman said.
First Medical Marijuana Rules Released
The Illinois Department of Public Health released the first in a series of guidelines governing how medical marijuana can be legally grown and sold to patients. Under the proposed rules released Jan. 21, qualifying patients would have to be fingerprinted for a background check, pay $150 a year for a permit, and possibly give up their right to own a gun in order to access medical marijuana.
Under Illinois’ new law, medical marijuana can be made available to adults who suffer from one of 41 specified medical conditions. Serious medical conditions like cancer or AIDS may qualify patients to apply for a patient registry identification card to purchase the drug.
The majority of the rules cover the qualifications a patient needs for an ID card. The card allows a patient with a prescription to buy up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.
One proposal that has generated controversy would prohibit a patient or caregiver from possessing a firearm even if they have a FOID card or concealed carry permit.
The Department of Public Health will hold an informal public comment period before submitting the rules to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR). Once the rules are submitted more public comments will be accepted before regulations are finalized. The Illinois Department of Agriculture still needs to develop further rules for cultivation centers while the responsibility for regulating dispensaries falls to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation which has yet to create laws for dispensaries.
Secretary of State warns of possible cancellation of Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDLs)
The Illinois Secretary of State says thousands of individuals with commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) could see their license cancelled in late February.
According to their office, per federal regulation, all existing CDL holders must visit a Secretary of State CDL facility and declare which one of four categories of driving they engage in before January 30, 2014. If the driver engages in interstate driving, the driver must also provide the Secretary of State with a medical certification completed by a physician. If the CDL holder does not declare their type of driving or, if required, submit a medical card, the Secretary of State will be required to cancel the CDL.
Currently, 43,000 CDL holders have not complied with this mandate, which is approximately 9 percent of all Illinois CDL holders. Any CDL holder that has not visited a Secretary of State facility by January 30, 2014, will have their CDL privileges cancelled. Cancellations will be processed in batches in early February, with all cancellations taking effect on February 28, 2014.
To find the nearest CDL facility, visit the Illinois Secretary of State’s website.