For this historic four-day session, the House convened at the Bank of Springfield (BOS) Center in downtown Springfield, and the Senate met at the Capitol. We wore masks, practiced social distancing, and had plenty of hand sanitizer available to help ensure a safe environment. It was an enormous task to make the BOS space functional for the House of Representatives last week, and my thanks goes out to those who put this off-site meeting space together for our use.
Republicans came to Springfield with hopes that bipartisan efforts could lead to the creation of a balanced budget, a legislative vote on Governor Pritzker’s “Restore Illinois” plan, and action prohibiting the Governor from unilaterally continuing to lead the state via executive order while shutting out the other co-equal branches of government. Sadly, several party-line votes last week only codified JB Pritzker’s role as the sole decision-maker during the pandemic, and our requests for an up or down vote on the “Restore Illinois” plan were rejected.
Republicans were also pushing for a deep audit into the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES). As Illinoisans continue to struggle to successfully apply for and certify unemployment benefits, we recently learned that names, addresses and full social security numbers of as many as 32,000 unemployment filers were accidentally made public. A data breach of this magnitude requires an investigation, and since it was the latest in a series of missteps at IDES, it should have triggered an audit. Democrats weren’t interested in an audit.
Lastly, Republicans wanted the General Assembly to take action on HJR 123, which would have removed the graduated income tax question from the fall 2020 ballot. Raising taxes on businesses is the absolute last thing we should be doing right now. But rather than taking up our bill, Democrats plowed forward with their plan to heap new taxes onto business owners at a time when many have either already gone into bankruptcy or are hanging on by a thread.
Majority party lawmakers had an opportunity last week to take some responsibility for future COVID-19 decisions and help govern the state through this current crisis. Unfortunately, when presented with this opportunity, Democrats instead ran in the other direction and abdicated a great deal of authority to the Governor. Illinoisans, who sent 177 lawmakers to Springfield to work on their behalf, took a very distant back seat during this session to self-serving agendas. While there were a few bright spots, overall it was an incredibly disappointing week.
Pritzker Withdraws Controversial Emergency Rule
As session was starting on Wednesday, we learned that the Pritzker administration withdrew a contentious Emergency Rule that would have imposed a Class A Misdemeanor (a fine of up to $2,500 and up to 264 days in jail) on small businesses owners who were out of compliance with his stay home order. The controversial provision had evoked considerable public outcry and pushback by House Republicans and by Illinois residents who felt the Governor had overstepped his authority. Legislative offices, mine included, received thousands of emails and hundreds of phone calls from Illinoisans who were irate that the Governor would take steps to criminalize business owners who were doing what they had to do to feed their families and keep their businesses afloat.
We were originally told that similar enforcement rules would be filed through legislation, but that bill never materialized. This “win” belongs to the people of Illinois, who sent emails and made phone calls at unprecedented levels. It was due to this immense pressure that the Governor ultimately rescinded the rule and Democrat lawmakers declined to put the enforcement rules forward through legislation.
Democrats Pass Unbalanced Budget that Increases Spending by $2 Billion
Despite the economic downturn Illinois and the rest of the country is facing due to COVID-19, Illinois Democrats passed the largest spending plan in the state’s history. This irresponsible budget increases spending by 6.8%. The budget spends $42.9 billion while revenues are expected to be only $36.8 billion, including $5 billion in new borrowing from the Federal government to be paid back over the next decade. Even with the $5 billion in borrowing, the budget is unbalanced by $6 billion. The budget does not provide any stability or certainty for taxpayers, schools, local units of government, social service providers and those who rely on critical state services. During a time when Illinois families and businesses are cutting costs, the majority party in Illinois went in the opposite direction. All Republicans and one Democrat voted against the budget.
Legislators to Receive Pay Increase in 2021
We are in the midst of a public health crisis, our economy is in shambles, and unemployment has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression. Nonetheless, last week Democrats increased legislator pay for Fiscal Year 2021.
The automatic pay increase is written in the statutes, and the only way to remove the increase is for the General Assembly to pass a bill to reject it. This year I co-sponsored HB 5777, which would reject the automatic legislator pay hike and reduce our pay down to 2019 levels. We asked that this bill be called, but House Speaker Mike Madigan refused to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. As a result, on July 1, 2020, all 177 members of the House and Senate will see an increase in pay. It is a slap in the face to taxpayers across Illinois who have been forced out of work or are struggling to get by. There is no provision to individually refuse the raise, so I think you’ll see most if not all Republicans donating the raise to local non-profits.
Democrats Strengthen Governor Pritzker’s Power During Health Pandemic
While Republicans were trying to restrict the Governor’s unilateral control during the health pandemic, Democrats passed bills last week that strengthened his ability to continue leading the state via executive order and emergency rule-making. In addition, through the budget, members of the majority party ceded an enormous amount of spending authority and discretion over State and Federal Coronavirus recovery funds to the Governor. It represents a complete abdication of the General Assembly’s responsibility to direct the Governor on how to specifically spend taxpayer dollars.
Massive Expansion of Vote-By-Mail Program Coming this Fall
Through a partisan vote on Thursday, a massive expansion to Illinois’ vote by mail system was approved for this fall’s election. Despite well-founded concerns about increased voter fraud, when SB 1863 was brought to the floor for a vote, every Democrat voted in favor of the bill. Republicans voted no.
As I said earlier in the week, Republicans are not opposed to voting by mail or suppressing votes. To the contrary, we support efforts that allow ballot access to every registered voter. But we could not support a vote by mail expansion with no provisions for ballot safety, and no provisions to ensure ballot applications are being sent only to properly registered voters.
Through SB 1863, millions of dollars will be spent to mail ballot applications to an estimated five million voters who voted in any election in 2018, 2019 or 2020. When asked about the cost of the program, the bill sponsor could not provide a cost, though she did admit that federal CARES Act money coming to Illinois to help cover voting issues would not cover the full cost of the program. It’s a new unfunded mandate during a financial crisis for state and local governments.
Pritzker Softens Provisions Stay Home of Order
Throughout the week, Governor Pritzker announced a series of steps that soften some provisions of his Restore Illinois Plan. Again, I believe he was forced into these decisions by mounting pressure from irate Illinoisans. On Wednesday the Governor announced that as the entire state moves to Phase 3 on May 29, he will now allow limited outdoor seating at restaurants, the full opening of state parks, and the opening of gyms for personal training among other openings. Barbershops and salons will also reopen. This was welcome news, but it doesn’t go far enough. Click here to read more about Phase 3, and click here to learn the specific Illinois Department of Public Health rules for businesses that reopen in Phase 3.
On Friday we received great news for child care providers. These businesses, originally listed for reopening in Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan, can now open on May 29 when all four regions of the state move to Phase 3. On May 18, I joined 28 House Republicans in sending a letter to Governor Pritzker, urging him to do this. With the Governor’s announcement, all 5,500 of Illinois’ child care centers that were not deemed as “essential” will be back in business on May 29.
The reopening of child care facilities does come with some protective measures, though. From May 29 through June 26, centers will be limited to 10 children per classroom, which reflects approximately 70% of pre-pandemic capacity. I’m glad the Governor recognized the importance of childcare as people return to work in higher numbers, and am pleased to know that more people will now be able to return to work on May 29, whether they are child care providers, or parents who require child care so they can return to their own jobs.
Legislation to Remove Graduated Income Tax Question from Fall Ballot Blocked by Democrats
Last week members of the House Republican caucus tried to push a resolution to remove the graduated income tax question from the November ballot, but our legislation, HJR 123 was denied a hearing and vote. We need to provide a framework that allows our businesses to get up and running again so they can bring their employees back. But rather than giving business owners time to recover from the financial devastation they have endured due to COVID-19, Democrats plowed ahead with plans to heap a new tax increase on them. OurHJR 123 was not granted a hearing or vote.
As you may recall, through a party-line vote last year, Democrats voted to place a referendum question on the 2020 November ballot that would change Illinois’ income tax system from a flat tax to a graduated tax structure. The 100,000 small businesses that file as “pass-through” entities would see tax hikes of up to 47% under the proposed tax rates approved by Democrats last year. Additionally, C-Corps would face an initial 10% tax increase. If approved and implemented, corporate income taxes, already among the highest in the nation, would increase to a point where Illinois businesses pay the highest income taxes in the United States.
Legislators are back home in their legislative districts now until the fall veto session, which begins on Tuesday, November 17. My staff and I are available to assist you with any state-related issue you may be experiencing and we are glad to help with unemployment and other issues. My office can always be reached by email at Wehrli@ilhousegop.org, or by phone at (630) 696-4160.