Legislative News from Rep. Grant Wehrli

Wehrli Asks IL Judicial Inquiry Board to Investigate Potential Conflicts of Interest of Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke

Last week, a respected news source revealed that since taking her seat on Illinois’ highest court in 2006, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, wife of federally-indicted Chicago Alderman Ed Burke, has heard and ruled on at least 10 cases involving parties that were clients of her husband’s law firm. In response to the news report, last Wednesday I filed a complaint with the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board (JIB) and asked for an immediate investigation into Justice Burke’s refusal to recuse herself from cases where her family received a financial benefit from parties before her.

Ethics laws exist for a reason, and every elected official, from library board trustee all the way up to Justices of the Supreme Court, have a responsibility to avoid any appearance of impropriety. In order to maintain transparency and preserve ethical standards, officials must step away, not only when a clear conflict of interest exists, but also when the appearance of a conflict exists. Justice Burke’s decisions against recusal in these ten cases casts a cloud of doubt over every one of those rulings.

In the letter (click here to read it), I asked the members of the JIB to “open an investigation into allegations of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke’s conflicts of interest regarding cases involving clients of her husband, Alderman Ed Burke, and his law firm, Klafter & Burke.” In the letter I also wrote, “This inquiry is essential to maintain public trust in the independent judicial branch of government and the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois.”

When complaints are filed with the JIB against a sitting judge, an internal analysis is conducted and the results are forwarded to the board members. Board members may then choose to close the case because the allegations do not constitute misconduct, investigate the complaint, or require the judge named in the complaint to appear before the board to answer questions pertaining to the issue.

Rep. Grant Wehrli Renews Effort to Ban Red Light Cameras

Since 2015, more than 15 bills seeking to eliminate or significantly control the use of red-light camera technology in Illinois were blocked from receiving fair hearings in the House of Representatives. The State Senator who chaired the State’s Senate Transportation Committee at the time is now the subject of a massive FBI corruption probe which suggests he may have used his political position and clout to gain favors and state contracts for allies in exchange for campaign cash. When an un-redacted version of the FBI search warrant was made public last week, Senator Martin Sandoval abruptly resigned the chairmanship. He continues to serve in the Illinois Senate.

On more than one occasion over the last several years, it appears Senator Martin Sandoval intervened on his political donors’ behalf, gaining State approval for red-light cameras at safe intersections, and sending business to campaign donors who stood to make millions off the installation of new cameras. As the Senate Transportation Chair for the last several years, he also had a heavy hand in controlling the movement, or non-movement, of bills that address transportation issues. It is now coming to light that the Senator may have also used his political power to influence contracts for the construction of a new casino in Chicago’s southwest suburbs.

As the FBI’s federal investigation into Senator Sandoval’s shady dealings intensifies, it’s time to re-examine the use of red-light cameras in Illinois and consider the type of ban Senator Sandoval repeatedly blocked. I recently filed new legislation (HB 3909) to ban red-light cameras in Illinois. In addition to banning the installation of new red-light cameras, my new legislation would require discontinued use of existing cameras. It would also ban the use of cameras to detect speeding by motorists. Work zone cameras, railroad crossing cameras, and school bus stop arm cameras would still be legal if the bill was enacted. Current laws for Chicago speed zone cameras would also remain.

Metra to Hold Line on Fares for Second Consecutive Year

Earlier this month Metra announced there will be NO increase in fares for 2020. As you may recall, Metra also did not increase fares for 2019. I also wanted to let you know that the state’s new capital program includes $2.6 billion earmarked for Metra improvements over the next five years, with a focus on railcars, locomotives, bridge work, and overall station and service improvements. This should ease wait times and improve on-time arrivals at stations by improving the capacity and reliability of the commuter rail car fleet.

The final list of specific infrastructure improvement projects has not yet been finalized, but I expect to see that list soon. When that information becomes available, I will share it.

Other good news on the Metra front includes the following cost-saving measures:

  • $5 million in operational efficiencies implemented
  • $7 million in upcoming savings by not filling staffing vacancies
  • $9 million saved through reduced overtime and other expenses

The commuter rail stations located in the 41st District are the busiest in the Metra and BNSF systems. Commuter train reliability is a priority and I will continue to work toward minimizing service disruptions and maximizing the safety and efficiency of your commuting experience.

Rep. Grant Wehrli Serves as “Principal for a Day” at Neuqua Valley School in Naperville

On October 10, I had an opportunity to step into the shoes of a high school principal and experience a day in the life of a top school administrator at Indian Prairie School District 204. I visited Neuqua Valley High School, and talked with students about my job as a State Representative, and spoke with teachers and support staff about their issues and priorities.

The visit was made possible through Illinois’ Principal for a Day program, which provides state and federal elected officials with an opportunity to observe, interact, and serve as an administrator in schools within their legislative districts. We have excellent schools throughout the 41st District and it was a privilege to see the hard-working professionals from our schools in action. It was a great opportunity to build important relationships while connecting with a crucial part of my constituency.

Indian Prairie School District 204 serves the communities of Naperville, Aurora, Bolingbrook and Plainfield.

Rep. Wehrli Tours Behavioral Perspectives Clinic

Last week I had an opportunity to tour the Behavioral Perspectives clinic in Aurora. This clinic provides critical services to children with autism, and I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the valuable work they do to provide quality service, support and empowerment to individuals. Programming is individualized and is based on each client’s needs, strengths and priorities. Through a comprehensive approach, they help their clients reach their full potential.

House Committee Holds Hearing on Ethylene Oxide
The House Energy and Environment Committee heard testimony from concerned parties and stakeholders last week in the wake of events surrounding the closure of the Sterigenics plant in Willowbrook. The west suburban facility, which used the controversial chemical to scrub pieces of medical equipment, came under fire in 2019 upon revelations that it had been an active generator of ambient toxic waste. Sterigenics announced plans in late September 2019 to permanently close the troubled Willowbrook plant.

In the Thursday, October 10 hearing, the Energy and Environment Committee heard that other plants within Illinois also use ethylene oxide. Ethylene oxide, if it is emitted outside the walls of the mechanical sterilization cycle where it is used, has been linked to cancer and other life-threatening health conditions. I am a Chief Co-Sponsor of HB 3885, which would allow local home rule communities the ability to ban the use of ethylene oxide so that they can protect themselves when higher authorities won’t. Chief bill sponsor and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin testified during the hearing regarding the impact of ethylene oxide emitting facilities in our communities and why we need to push forward and ensure House Bill 3885 becomes law.

Rep. Wehrli Attends Dong Fang Golden Moon Festival

Earlier this month my wife Sharon and I attended the Golden Fall Moon Concert in Naperville. This annual celebration of Chinese heritage and arts was held at the North Central College Wentz Concert Hall. It featured a combination of dance, music and theatre by the Naperville-based Dong Fang Chinese Performing Arts Association. I am always impressed with the quality of the performances, and if you missed this year’s celebration event I would encourage you to plan to attend the concert next fall.

Illinois Tops the List of Least Tax-Friendly States
Kiplinger magazine ranked Illinois as the least tax-friendly state in the United States. Illinois property taxes are second-highest nationwide among the 50 states when calculated as a percentage of market value, with homeowners routinely forced to pay more than 2% of the market value of a house annually. 

Kiplinger stated that “Illinois’ economic woes are one reason why the Prairie State tops our list of the least tax-friendly states in the country. The state ranks #50 in the latest ranking of states’ fiscal health by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, and residents are paying the price with higher taxes.

The state’s 4.95% flat income tax rate actually isn’t that high when compared to other states…but it goes downhill fast for Illinois residents when you look at all the other taxes they have to pay.”

Illinois’ burden of state and local sales taxes also subtracted from Illinois’ overall rank. To the state sales tax rate of 6.25% are added numerous add-on levies by local governments.  Purchasers of taxable goods in the city of Chicago are forced to pay sales taxes to the State of Illinois, the Regional Transportation Authority, Cook County, and the city of Chicago. The total burden is more than 10%, one of the highest sales tax rates in the United States. 

Report Calls for Consolidation of Police, Fire Pension Funds
One of the largest burdens on Illinois taxpayers, particularly property taxpayers, is supporting the increased burden of public-sector pension payouts. In a potentially controversial move that could reduce the future rate of growth of taxpayer-borne unfunded pension liabilities, a new report calls for consolidating the approximately 650 separate pension funds that handle police officer and firefighter pension costs into a single consolidated fund. The move would affect police/fire pensions across all of Illinois except within the city of Chicago, which would continue to operate separate police/fire pension funds.  

One reason for concern about the proposed Downstate/suburban pension consolidation is that it could involve the police officers and firefighters of comparatively well-funded, prudently-managed pension funds in some localities with the fiscal problems that have cropped up in other areas. These 650 existing pension funds are entrusted to different managers that have practiced different investment strategies. In addition, some municipalities have been more forward-looking with respect to planning for the current era of historically low interest rates than have others. Low interest rates on prudent fixed-income investments have had a negative effect on pension funds worldwide. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has expressed concern about the consolidation proposal.