As the legislature entered its final week before a scheduled May 31 adjournment deadline, the list of major issues yet to be resolved continued to hang over the General Assembly.
Despite state government's one-party control, the Governor and his House and Senate allies had yet to move the ball forward on almost every major issue.
By week's end, no state budget draft has been produced, fostering concerns that a spending plan would be dropped on legislators at the last minute, with little opportunity for lawmakers or the public to know details.
The state continued to accumulate pension debt while the Senate President, House Speaker and Governor all appeared deadlocked over competing reform plans.
In the House, the Speaker declared that his priority was to shift pension costs to local school districts and state universities and colleges. He continued to insist downstate and suburban schools get a "free lunch" even though that claim was thoroughly debunked by an extensive study prepared by Senate Republicans.
Illinois faces a June 9 federal court deadline to adopt legislation giving Illinoisans the right-to-carry a concealed weapon in public. The House made approved legislation May 24, but it may face stiff resistance in the Senate, where anti-gun hardliners hold more power.
Although a major expansion of gambling, including a Chicago casino, cleared the Senate May 1, the House had not taken up the measure. Similarly, the Senate President muscled a same sex marriage bill through his chamber on Valentine's Day, only to have it sit idle in the House for more than three months.
In the meantime, as if to summarize the mismanagement that has characterized Illinois over the past decade, a national legislative research organization issued their annual study of state economic outlooks, ranking Illinois 47th in the nation in Economic Performance and 48th in Economic Outlook.
The sixth edition of "Rich States, Poor States" is produced by the American Legislative Exchange Council and co-authored by respected economist Arthur Laffer.
To rank states by Economic Performance the study looked at three statistics: Gross Domestic Product, Absolute Domestic Migration and Non-Farm Payroll Employment. Illinois ranked 42nd for Gross Domestic Product, then fell to 48th in both Domestic Migration (which measures whether more people are leaving the state than are coming to the state) and Non-Farm Employment, which measures job growth.
The Economic Outlook ranking is based on 15 policy areas that state lawmakers have influence or control over. These include tax rates and policies, the legal environment, workers' compensation costs and minimum wage rates. Illinois was ranked at or near the bottom for its imposition of a 66% income tax increase and continuing to charge death taxes on estates. The state scored its best ranking (ninth in the nation) for its relatively low ratio of public employees – less than 5% of the population.
While most major issues continue to hang, lawmakers have made progress on important issues. For example, lawmakers of both parties strongly endorsed and sent to the Governor a measure that will bring Illinois speed limits more closely into line with much of the nation.
Sponsored by Senator Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove), Senate Bill 2356 increases the maximum speed limit to 70 mph on interstates, toll highways and four lane divided highways. Cook and the collar counties could opt out of the higher speed limit.
Lawmakers have also approved a number of child protection measures, including allowing evidence of past offenses to be used in child abduction cases (SB 1814) and banning sex offenders from playgrounds or recreation areas within private buildings, such as a McDonald's play land, a Chuck-E-Cheese or a video game arcade (HB 3023).
In an effort to make sure children receive the support they are legally entitled to, HB 2843, sponsored by Sen. Darin LaHood (R-Peoria), would allow gambling winnings to be withheld to pay back child support.
Illinois is finally taking the first steps to build the long-sought western access to O'Hare International Airport. With approval of HJR 9, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority is given the green light to undertake the Elgin-O’Hare Western Access, which would link the Elgin O’Hare Expressway to Interstate 90 and Interstate 294 to create an entrance to O’Hare airport from the west. The project is expected to cost $3.4 billion.
Lawmakers also overrode the Governor's veto of a measure that clarifies the "smart grid" legislation previously passed by the General Assembly, affecting electric utilities. Senate Bill 9 addresses the concerns of legislators that the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) did not implement the smart grid law as the General Assembly intended.
These represent just a few of the measures that have already been approved this year in the legislature. The latest updates on legislation being considered and passed by the general assembly can be found on the Senate Action page.