Springfield, IL – Illinois’ new Governor outlined his spending plan for the coming year. Meanwhile, while I’m all for bipartisanship, I haven’t seen much of an attempt to work together on a controversial bill that’s now law. I’m also concerned that what I heard during the Budget Address merely repeats past mistakes that gave us the unaffordable government we have today. Additionally during the week, there was a small victory for common sense.
The budget plan Gov. Pritzker presented Feb. 20 should represent a starting point for further negotiation. It offers an opportunity for the Governor to fulfill his promise of working together in a bipartisan manner. Unfortunately, the speech outlined an increase in spending, but contained no meaningful government cuts. We also heard about new and higher taxes and more borrowing. These are the practices of the past 15 years that led to our current fiscal crisis.
During the budget address, the Governor called for a new income tax structure in Illinois, moving us from a fair, flat rate tax – where everyone pays the same rate – to a progressive punishment tax that charges higher rates on higher wages. Ultimately, such a scheme will further grow government, and my fear is that it will come at the expense of the middle class. The Governor’s budget plan even includes a 5-cent statewide tax on plastic bags. Commenting about government’s insatiable appetite for ever more tax dollars, the great American author Mark Twain once said, “The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.”
Promised Bipartisanship Falls Short
Since last fall’s election, and certainly since the 2019 legislative session began, we’ve heard a lot of words about bipartisanship. Regrettably, on the recently-passed minimum wage increase, there was virtually no interest in bipartisanship as the proposal was rammed through the Senate and House – along party lines – in just one week of voting. There was no serious negotiation with the other side of the issue. Concerns were raised by Senate Republicans and the small business community about the costs a minimum wage increase would have on employers, state agencies, local schools, colleges and universities and others. I hope the minimum wage issue was just an anomaly and is not indicative of how those who hold different opinions will be treated during the rest of the spring session.
The measure, passed by the Senate on Feb. 7, was signed into law Feb. 19. It raises the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025 for adults and $13 per hour for those 18 years of age and under over the same six-year time period.
Criminalizing Animal Exhibits
In other news during the week, a well-intentioned but misguided effort was made to pass legislation banning the use of exotic animals in traveling animal acts, petting zoos and similar activities. Fortunately, SB154 didn’t get enough votes to move out of committee. I voted no for a number of reasons. Despite the claims of the supporters of the ban, these animals are not captured from jungles or other native habits only to be brought to the United States. On the contrary, they have been bred in captivity for generations. These animal exhibits are already highly-regulated by both the state and federal governments to ensure the animals’ health and safety.
There are only a handful of these exhibitors based in Illinois and most operations are involved in educational outreach. I recently met with one of the operators. These are family-run businesses that care deeply for the animals in their care, spending many hours and thousands of dollars each year on the animals’ welfare. While the legislation didn’t receive enough votes for committee approval, I suspect the effort to pass this unnecessary legislation will continue.
Preventing Environmental Harm
Issue #1 – A package of three legislative measures unveiled Feb. 19 will address the public health crisis caused by Sterigenics and their release of ethylene oxide into surrounding communities.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issued a seal order Feb. 15 against Sterigenics, which forced them to cease operations. The legislation will also ensure the proper policies and protections are in place to safeguard Willowbrook and all Illinois communities from the impact of this public health hazard. The measures include requiring notifications of affected property owners and local governments in and around the area of an ethylene oxide leak, mandating a review of environmental permits and public hearings by the State EPA and facility inspections and regular air-quality testing.
Issue #2 – Also during the week, a legislative package was introduced to protect the Mahomet Aquifer, the primary water source for Central Illinois.
The package of bills has bipartisan support. The legislation is based on recommendations from the final report of the state’s Mahomet Aquifer Task Force. The legislation includes creating a watchdog group to provide oversight, funding for the University of Illinois to help with aquafer research and above ground monitoring. The purpose of the research and monitoring is to help catch and prevent reoccurrences of natural gas contamination, which was the original cause of the concern about the Aquafer and the motivation behind the legislative package.
The Senate concluded it’s week of activity in Springfield on Feb. 21. The Chamber will be back at the Capitol March 5.
Editor’s note: The Senate Week in Review: Feb. 11 - 15, 2019 incorrectly noted that I voted against the minimum wage (Senate Bill 1). While I was and remain opposed to raising the minimum wage, I was unable to be in Springfield for the Senate’s vote on Feb. 7 because of a medical emergency.