Legislative Update: Feb. 25, 2019

Governor Pritzker’s Tax, Borrow & Spend Budget More of the Same From Failed Democrat Playbook
Governor JB Pritzker delivered his first Budget and State of the State Address to a joint session of the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield on Wednesday, February 20th. His introduced Fiscal Year 2020 budget proposal estimates general funds revenue at $38.9 billion and proposes $38.7 billion in general funds spending.

Leading up to the speech, Governor Pritzker promised a truly balanced budget proposal with no gimmicks. Unfortunately, rather than providing a responsible path forward for Illinois, the Governor presented a budget plan that relies on more than $1 billion in new revenue from initiatives he hopes the General Assembly will approve this year. His budget includes new revenue tied to the approval of recreational marijuana and sports betting. He’s also counting on higher taxes on a wide variety of products and services, a sharp increase in the video gaming tax, and a 5-cent tax on plastic grocery bags. None of these items has been presented to any House or Senate committee, and none has been brought to either chamber for a vote.

The Pritzker budget also presumes lawmakers will approve a significant change to the Illinois Constitution, by providing for the implementation of a graduated income tax. He wants legislators to approve a graduated tax system, but provides no information of what new rates would be. Every Illinoisan should be wary of any tax proposal that does not include new proposed rates up front.

Perhaps the most troubling element of the Pritzker budget is a recommendation that the pension ramp be extended out another seven years. The proposal would save almost $900 million per year on the front end, but cost the state in the tens of billions or more in new debt over the long term. This “kicking the can down the road” is exactly the kind of irresponsible behavior that created Illinois’ pension crisis in the first place.

Our local teachers are also shortchanged through this budget. The Governor wants to decrease funding to the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) and funnel more money toward Chicago’s pension system. TRS money belongs to teachers who work hard to educate our kids and I will fight any effort to reallocate those funds.

Governor Pritzker offered no solutions that would increase jobs or the economy, or stop the out-migration of Illinoisans to other states. As proposed, this budget tells me our state’s finances will continue to decline. This is not OK with me, and I want to work collaboratively toward responsible solutions to our state’s fiscal problems. But unfortunately, I heard nothing in the budget address that would put Illinois onto a better path. We need real solutions, not more taxes and gimmicks, and definitely not a return to the failed policies that send Illinois businesses and residents fleeing for other states.

Click here to watch an interview I did following the budget address.

Wehrli Champions Improved Ballot Transparency through Taxpayer Advocate and Empowerment Act

Last week I signed on as the primary Chief Co-Sponsor of legislation that would create a searchable database where Illinoisans could go to learn about every issue that will come before them on an election ballot. HB2726 would create the Taxpayer Advocate and Empowerment Act, and through the office of an appointed Taxpayer Advocate, Illinoisans could access an online, comprehensive, easy-to-use database to obtain complete descriptions of ballot questions that will come before them.

Illinois currently has more than 8,000 individual units of government and an average property tax bill could include more than 10 different taxing districts. With the passage of HB 2726, rather than doing research on several different web sites, taxpayers would be able to go to one site and learn how various ballot issues would affect them.

Through HB2726, a Taxpayer Advocate would be appointed to an eight-year term through a joint resolution approved by a three-fifths majority of the House and Senate. That individual could hire two Deputy Taxpayer Advocates, and the office would establish the comprehensive web site.

Rep. Wehrli Joins House Republicans in Opposing 82% Increase in Minimum Wage
Earlier this month, as House Democrats pushed through an 82% increase in the Illinois minimum wage. SB01 will incrementally increase Illinois’ minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, driving labor costs to be the highest by far in the Midwest. When SB01 is fully enacted, Illinois will join New York and California with the highest minimum wage in the nation.

Naperville is home to a social services agency called Little Friends, which operates Spectrum Services in Downers Grove. This organization provides jobs to adults with intellectual disabilities. The approved wording of this bill puts their ability to provide meaningful jobs to disabled adults in real jeopardy. Nearly 175 adults with intellectual disabilities may soon be out of a job because the bill sponsor refused to slow down the process and respond to legitimate concerns that were brought to his attention during the committee hearing. Had the committee taken the time to address serious issues about the wording of this bill, Spectrum Services might not be facing the real possibility of closing their doors. Instead, it was made clear that it was more important to hand the Governor a minimum wage bill he could tout during the budget address. Our vulnerable populations deserve better. I was vocal with my opposition to this bill when it was debated on the House floor. Click here watch my bill debate.

Minimum Wage Hike: Bad for Business, Bad for Low-Wage Workers

Numerous studies have demonstrated that increasing the minimum wage leads to job losses for low-wage workers. After Illinois raised its minimum wage in 2010, unemployment among teenagers and part-time workers went up. No wage is enough if there isn’t an opportunity for a job.

Business owners cannot simply absorb the higher cost of doing business. They are forced to cut their workforce or go out of business. Businesses also have a limited ability to raise prices to make up for the cost of a higher minimum wage. Two-thirds of Illinois’ population lives within a 40-minute drive of the state border. With higher gas, liquor, tobacco and sales taxes, this will create yet another reason for these people to shop across the border.

Beyond the lost jobs and higher costs to Illinois businesses, the Democrats’ minimum wage hike will have a massive fiscal impact to the State of Illinois. Every year one of the most difficult votes we take is on the passage of a state budget. SB01 adds hundreds of millions of dollars in new budgetary pressures. We already have billions in unpaid bills on our shoulders, and we simply cannot afford the expectations built into this bill. If we don’t come up with a sufficient increase in appropriations to meet these new obligations, the responsibility falls to social service providers, to non-profits, to school districts and local governments to pay the new minimum wage. SB01 puts incredible pressure on these providers.

The effective date of this bill would not have changed if Democrats would have slowed down, listened to valid concerns, and ensured that the best bill possible was sent to the Governor. But for reasons that were purely political and which had nothing at all to do with good public policy, this bill moved at rocket-speed to the Governor.

The House vote on the minimum wage bill was 69-47-1. The measure has already been signed into law.

District 41 Survey: Reject Minimum Wage Hike
Prior to the minimum wage vote, I polled my E-Newsletter subscribers to learn their stance on the minimum wage proposal. Of the 348 individuals who participated, 219 said they were opposed to an increase in the minimum wage (63%), and 129 people said they favored it (37%).

I appreciate the input, and will continue using the survey feature tied to my E Newsletter subscriber list to gauge opinions from my constituents on key issues.

Mobile Office Hours Coming to the 41st District
Don’t forget that my office will be hosting mobile office hours on Friday, March 8, from 10:00 AM until noon at the Warrenville Public Library, 28W751 Stafford Place in Warrenville. If you would like to stop by for a brief conversation about the issues and priorities that are important to you, I’d love to talk with you. If you are having issues with a state agency, my staff can provide assistance. No appointment is needed for these events. Future mobile office hours events will be posted to my web site at repwehrli.com.

Naperville Police to Educate Residents on Recognizing Scams 

The Naperville Police Department will host two scam awareness and prevention presentations as part of the department’s commitment to make Naperville “A Safer Naper” through education. Presentations will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 26, from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. at the 95th Street Library, 3015 Cedar Glade Drive, and Wednesday, Feb. 27, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Municipal Center, 400 S. Eagle St.

At the scam awareness and prevention presentations, Naperville Police will address various scams being reported in the Naperville area, and educate participants on the best ways to safeguard their personal information and reduce the risk of victimization. Presenters will also be available to answer questions. For more information, visit www.naperville.il.us/asafernaper.

State Champion Naperville North Varsity Dance Team Honored through Wehrli House Resolution

I recently had an opportunity to honor the members and coaches from the Naperville North High School Varsity Dance Team through the passage of a House Resolution in recognition of their first ever State Title.

HR93 congratulated the team and coaches for an excellent competitive season that culminated with winning the 2019 Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Class 3A State Championship in Bloomington, Illinois. The Naperville North Huskies finished first out of a field of 30 teams, with a final competition score of 95.42. Their self-choreographed, award-winning routine was done to Ruelle’s “Live Like Legends.”

The Varsity Dance Team is coached by Alexis Linder, Rebecca Paul, and Elida Vandenbergh. Dancers include: Anna Bramlett, Caroline Byrne, Julia Cameli, Emme Camp, Emma Connelly, Caroline Corcoran, Caroline Findling, Bri Grove, Brenna Hill, Maizie Keane, Hailey Kilian, Izzy Marcus, Megan Melnikoff, Francesca Romano, Julia Sassen, Tess States and Megan Wachtel.

Sterigenics Plant Shuts Down Amidst Intensified Scrutiny
Following renewed reports of toxic emissions, the Illinois Environmental Protection Authority (IEPA) took steps last week to shut down a controversial sterilization plant in Willowbrook. The southwest Chicago suburb, adjacent to Interstate 55, has been rocked by reports of ethylene oxide, a toxic chemical, being released by the plant. 

Samples of air from the immediate neighborhood near Sterigenics have shown small, but detectable, quantities of the chemical in the air. Ethylene oxide is completely banned from release into the atmosphere. The IEPA has issued a Seal Order to shut down sterilization cycles at the factory that uses the toxic substance. The order was announced on Friday, February 15.

Metra Launching Surveys to Gather Customer Feedback about BNSF Schedule

Metra has launched two online surveys to gather customer feedback on the BNSF Line schedule and weekend service. A new BNSF Line schedule was adopted last June to accommodate the federally mandated Positive Train Control (PTC) safety system, which was just being implemented on the line. Initializing the new system adds to the time it takes to turn a train around for a trip in the opposite direction, and that added time had to be built into the schedule.

The BNSF survey asks questions about customers’ riding habits, including origin and destination stations, their usual trains, their preferred arrival times in the morning, preferred departure times in the evening and their use of any connecting service. It also asks them to identify the most important scheduling feature that Metra could address to improve their experience and contains room for them to provide any general comments. The BNSF survey will remain open through March 17.

The weekend service survey asks how and why customers are riding – or not riding – on weekends so Metra can identify ways to improve weekend service and boost weekend ridership. Ridership on Saturdays has fallen about 9 percent in the last 12 months, and ridership on Sundays has dropped by about 7.5 percent. The weekend survey also will remain open until March 17. Metra hopes to use the results to explore weekend options later this year.