Senate Week in Review: April 28-May 2

Subpoenas, investigations and audits created an unfortunate feeling of déjà vu in Springfield as scandals swirled about the Quinn administration, overshadowing most legislative action during the week, State Senator Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said.

At the top of the news was the revelation that federal prosecutors are seeking financial records related to Gov. Pat Quinn’s controversial anti-violence program, the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.

Rezin to host district-wide Recycling Day with Ottawa Mayor Robert Eschbach

Sen. Rezin is sponsoring a Recycling Day on Saturday, May 3 from 9:00 a.m. to noon in Ottawa where residents will be able to bring unwanted items to recycle.

The event is co-sponsored with Ottawa Mayor Robert Eschbach and will be at the Woodward Memorial Parking Lot located at 300 Woodward Memorial Drive, Ottawa.

Most electronics may be recycled, including televisions, monitors, computers, VCRs, radios, tape players, fax machines and telephones. Automobile batteries can also be recycled.  A partial list of items that cannot be accepted includes hazardous materials, paint, household batteries, liquid or chemical waste, fuel, oil, and any monitor or television with a cracked or broken screen.  For a full list of acceptable and unacceptable items, please CLICK HERE.

Also participating in the event will be several charitable organizations accepting household and personal items for reuse. Illinois Valley PADS is seeking gently used household items, such as books, dishes, kitchen utensils, cookware and sheets and towels. They are also looking for cleaning supplies, toiletries, and food.  Vintage Tech is accepting several different types of electronic and household items such as copiers, external drives, satellite dishes, bread makers, fryers, hair cutters, holiday lights and much more.  The Ottawa Police Department will be collecting unwanted or left over prescription drugs.

Federal probe revealed

Following an inquiry from the Chicago Sun-Times, a spokesperson for the state Comptroller confirmed that the office had been contacted by, and has provided information to, the U.S. Department of Justice about the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. The Comptroller processes payments for all state agencies, including those under the purview of the Governor.

CLICK HERE to view a timeline of the program

The confirmation of a federal investigation followed an earlier report that the Cook County State’s Attorney has also opened a criminal investigation of the same program.

Roughly two months ago, Senate Republicans called for a criminal probe into the program after a scathing audit found serious management and implementation problems within the program; at that time they said evidence of potential criminal activity could merit further review by the U.S. Attorney. Shortly thereafter, Auditor General Bill Holland turned over his audit to U.S. Attorney James Lewis and Illinois Executive Inspector General Ricardo Meza

Graduated tax stalled

Taxpayers did receive a small reprieve during the week when the deadline for advancing a graduated income tax passed with no vote on the proposal. Lacking necessary support, and facing a strict May 5 deadline to advance the initiative, the measure’s sponsors opted not to call the amendment for a vote.

Proponents had hoped to place a state constitutional amendment on the ballot allowing Illinois to move from its current flat rate tax to a graduated system, in which tax rates would rise with income.

The proposal was sold as a “Fair Tax” that would amount to tax breaks for many Illinoisans; however, a closer look at the measure showed that simply was not the case. While the constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 40, did not contain any tax rates, the sponsor of the amendment floated proposed rates that would be approved by the General Assembly.

However, opponents stressed there was nothing to limit or restrict the Governor and the General Assembly to those rates.

A closer look at the thirty-four states (plus the District of Columbia) that have graduated income tax rates shows that in many of those states a graduated income tax simply means slightly lower rates for those at the bottom of the income scale, but higher rates for middle income earners. In fact, in a majority of states with a graduated income tax middle income taxpayers pay more than they do in Illinois, both under the current 5 percent rate and under the 3.75 percent rate that Illinois income taxes were supposed to roll back to next January.

Term limits for constitutional officers blocked

A constitutional amendment that would allow Illinois voters to decide whether to impose a two-term limit on the state’s Executive Branch officers stalled in a Senate Executive Subcommittee on April 29, when the measure was blocked by majority Democrats.

If the constitutional amendment (SJRCA 69) had been adopted by both chambers of the General Assembly, Illinois voters would have been asked to decide whether or not to add these provisions to the Illinois Constitution. Constitutional amendments require either a three-fifths majority vote of those voting on the constitutional amendment or a majority of those voting in the election.

The Constitutional Officer term limit amendment was similar to the federal constitution’s 22nd Amendment, which restricts presidents to two terms.

Citizen initiatives advance

While the legislative effort to impose term limits was blocked, a citizen-backed term limit proposal was filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections April 30. The proposed amendment would limit all legislators to eight years in office. However, the proposal goes beyond term limits, also requiring a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a governor’s veto, and reducing the size of the House of Representatives from 118 members to 123 members, while reducing the Senate from 59 members to 41.

Another citizen initiative – seeking to reform the redistricting process – was also expected to be filed by week’s end.

Under redistricting, the boundaries for state Senate and House seats must be redrawn every decade to reflect changes in population. However, in Illinois the process is controlled by legislators. Critics contend this results in politicians picking their voters, rather than the voters picking their representatives.

Senate Republicans have long supported redistricting reform and sought unsuccessfully to change to the system to allow for an independent commission to draw legislative maps after the last census.

Presidential library funding

Taxpayers would be allowed to voluntarily donate a portion of their tax refund to finance the building of future presidential libraries in Illinois under recently introduced legislation supported by Sen. Rezin.

An amendment to Senate Bill 2010 creates an income tax check-off that will appear on tax returns in 2015 to allow taxpayers to choose to contribute to the Capital Development Fund for the purpose of constructing a future presidential library in Illinois. The General Assembly would still have to appropriate the money from this fund for that purpose. Should less than $100,000 be collected, the check-off will fall off tax forms on October 1, 2015.

Supporters of the measure say the state’s serious fiscal problems conflict with legislation moving through the General Assembly that would dedicate $100 million in taxpayer dollars to finance construction of the Barack Obama Presidential Library. Additionally, they questioned why state tax dollars would be used to finance a presidential library, pointing out that federal law prohibits federal tax dollars from being used to build a presidential library.

Those in favor of Senate Bill 2010 also said that a Barack Obama presidential library would be a great boon to Illinois, providing amble tourism opportunities to attract people from around the country and the world. They stressed that setting aside the President’s policies or political leanings, there would be significant benefits to locating the library in Illinois. However, instead of placing the burden for paying for the library on the taxpayers without their consent, the legislation would allow them to make the choice to donate to the fund.

“We want the library in the state, make no mistake,” Sen. Rezin said.  “But clearly we have financial challenges in our state and that money could be used elsewhere.  Look at the tax increase.  This year, we’re being told that we must make the income tax increase permanent now or else disastrous things will happen, yet we have enough money to set aside $100 million for the library?  That just doesn’t make sense.  This initiative gives the taxpayers the option to help fund the library while still being able to dedicate taxpayer dollars to areas that greatly need it, such as education and human services.  This is the best way to fund a presidential library in the state.”

Income tax check-offs have been commonly used on tax forms to fund things like breast and cervical cancer research, the National WWII Memorial Fund,  and Habitat for Humanity. Should Brady’s legislation pass the legislature, future presidential libraries would be among the choices for taxpayers in 2015.

Bills pass both chambers

Most legislative action took place in Senate and House committees during the week, as each chamber began reviewing measures that had won approval in the other body – Senate committees focusing on House bills and House committees focusing on Senate bills.

Still, a handful of bills did pass the Senate and will now go to the Governor. Among these were:

Red Cross Support (HB 4590):
Creates the “Illinois Gives” initiative” to provide a means for public employees or retirees to withhold a portion of their salary, wages, or annuity for payment to Illinois Chapters of the American Red Cross to provide assistance in areas affected by a declaration of disaster issued by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA).

Mental Health Services (HB 4403): Corrects language in a property tax formula established in P.A. 96-1548, the Community Expanded Mental Health Services Act, to allow the tax to be collected if approved in a referendum.

This is an initiative of the Coalition to Save our Mental Health Centers. In 2012 the North River community in Chicago approved a referendum to support expanded mental health services with 74% of the vote. However, the Cook County Clerk has indicated that he cannot collect the additional property tax because of the way the tax formula was worded in the original legislation.

Biofuel Production (HB 4505): 
An initiative of the Department of Agriculture to establish a provision in the Dead Animal Disposal Act that allows an entity to pick up and transport used cooking grease and oil to use for something other than rendering or blending, which would include biodiesel production. Currently, there is no provisions that allow for the licensing of grease and oil collectors to transport these products.

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