Springfield scramble: Crunch time for legislators on pot, gaming, budget, other issues
The clock is ticking. Legislators will have to quickly digest the budget. And there are still changes being made to a capital plan that currently includes a gas tax hike, a $1 tax on cigarettes and vaping and several other controversial taxes.
SPRINGFIELD — Legislators are going down to the wire — a Friday midnight deadline — to try to pass major legislation, including a budget, a capital plan and controversial measures that would expand abortion provisions and legalize recreational marijuana.
There’s also a gaming expansion that’s seen its fair share of hiccups — and numerous disputes over taxes within a capital plan that have sent stakeholders and lobbyists in a tizzy.
The clock is ticking. Legislators will have to quickly digest the budget, with language trickling out of the Illinois House on Thursday evening. And there are still changes being made to a capital plan that currently includes a gas tax hike, a $1 tax on cigarettes and vaping and several other controversial taxes.
The Illinois Senate must still take up an abortion measure that stirred up an emotional and lengthy debate on the House floor on Tuesday. The measure would repeal the state’s current abortion law, adopted in 1975. In its place would be language in which certain elements are removed, such as: spousal consent; criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions; waiting periods; and other restrictions on facilities where abortions are performed. A new provision says abortions can be performed after viability only if necessary to protect the health or life of the pregnant woman. It also defines the viability as the fetus having a significant likelihood of survival outside the uterus without extraordinary medical measures.
And after clearing changes to a recreational cannabis legalization measure, the Illinois House must debate it on the floor. Facing opposition, bill sponsors scaled back expungement provisions in the measure and narrowed down home grow for just medical marijuana patients, among other changes.
The Illinois House planned to take up the cannabis measure at a Thursday night committee meeting, to clear it for a vote on Friday. Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who helped to shape the expungement changes, came to Springfield to testify on the measure.
The original language would have automatically expunged an estimated 800,000 convictions. The revised language means those with convictions for cannabis possession convictions under 30 grams can get pardoned by the governor. States attorneys would then be able to petition the court to expunge the record. A judge would direct law enforcement agencies and county clerks to clear their record.
While the bill sponsor remained optimistic about its passage, House Democrats met during a lengthy caucus about the bill earlier Thursday. It’s unclear whether there’s enough support, so a close vote is anticipated, sources said. But Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan will likely play a big role in helping Gov. J.B. Pritzker secure enough votes for passage since it’s considered one of the governor’s key legislative priorities this session.
But changing the state’s income tax structure to a graduated income tax — or one in which those with higher incomes pay more — is the freshman governor’s No. 1 priority, and it appears he’ll see a big win. The Illinois House on Monday approved a November 2020 ballot question that will ask voters if they wish to change the state’s income tax structure from a flat tax to the graduated tax Pritzker is championing. The Senate passed the resolution, as well as two corresponding measures on May 1.
On Thursday, the Illinois House took up part of that package, a measure that includes the new income tax rates should voters adopt a graduated income tax referendum. Republican lawmakers likened the increased taxes to “hyenas” in the wild and “like giving an alcoholic an ATM card that’s fully loaded.”
Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, called the tax plan “the final stake in the heart of our small businesses.” And state Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, complained it won’t address the state’s pension crisis or improve the state’s business climate. He called the tax change a way to open up revenue “like we’re a young kid that hit the lottery and went to Vegas.”
The governor’s plan, which he calls a “fair tax,” would tax income between $250,000 and $500,000 at 7.75 percent. Income from $500,000 to $1 million would be taxed 7.85 percent and income over $1 million would be taxed 7.99 percent. The Senate’s version separated rates for single and joint filers, an issue many brought up when Pritzker unveiled his preferred rates in March. The corporate tax rate within the package would also be raised to 7.99 percent.
Under current law, all personal income is taxed at 4.95 percent and corporate income at 7 percent.
During debate, State Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville, likened taxing the wealthy to the wild: “That’s what hyenas do to animals in the wild.”
“They divide them, they sanction them up and they after after the small group because they’re easier to attack,” Davidsmeyer said.
But bill sponsor State Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, championed it as a way for voters to have a say in a historic way: “I would suggest stability is better than what we have right now.”