Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”
Info has been shared on our second candidate luncheon on Wednesday, March 22nd with the candidates for the five Joliet City Council Districts. Again, questionnaires will be sent to candidates and answers will be shared for those not able to participate in person. We will once again be partnering with WJOL for a live broadcast and follow-up podcast. Link to rsvp:
In Springfield, a review of the General Assembly’s website, ilga.gov, shows 1,600 bills moved through committee last week ahead of a legislative deadline. Of those, 1,022 moved in Senate committees Thursday. While the deadline marks a milestone each legislative session, as well as the end of the road for some bills that fail to gain popular support, there are multiple avenues for reviving a bill’s language later in the process.
In fact, hundreds of the bills that moved last week were so-called “shell bills,” which can quickly be amended to include substantive bill language that otherwise may not have passed by the deadline. As well, sponsors of many of the measures advanced this week noted their proposals will be amended as the session progresses.
*Government Affairs Roundup brought to you by CITGO & Silver Cross Hospital*
Joliet Mayoral Candidates Forum
Thanks to our partnership with WJOL 1340 AM, you can all listen to the three mayoral candidates discuss their vision for the future of Joliet. Last weeks’ luncheon was very successful and we hope all in attendance walked away as more informed voters. Listen here: https://www.wjol.com/podcast/
Illinois Earns Credit Upgrade from Moody’s Investor Service
Governor JB Pritzker hailed Moody’s Investor Service upgrade of Illinois bonds to A3, the second major rating agency to return Illinois’ credit to the ‘A’ category. The action also represents the eighth upgrade in less than two years under Governor Pritzker following eight downgrades under the previous administration.
Moody’s said Illinois’ improving governance was a key consideration in the action. “We consider improving governance to be a key consideration in this action.” Illinois, it said, is “displaying improved management of its budget by making conservative revenue assumptions and applying surplus revenue towards the payment of debt and growth in reserves.”
“This credit upgrade, our second one this year, is the result of the steps we’ve taken in Illinois to put ourselves on firm fiscal footing. We have balanced our budget, paid our bills on time, cleared out decades of debt, made extra pension payments, and saved billions for a rainy day,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “There’s more work to be done, but it’s clear we have undone decades of damage and ushered a new era of fiscal responsibility in Illinois. I look forward to building on this record by working with the General Assembly to pass the state’s fifth straight balanced budget later this spring.”
Moody’s Investor Service announced a ratings upgrade to A3 (stable outlook) from Baa1 for Illinois’ General Obligation bonds, its third upgrade of Illinois’ bonds since June 2021. The last time Illinois had an A3 rating from Moody’s was prior to September 2015. Moody’s also upgraded Build Illinois sales tax bonds to A3 (stable outlook) from Baa3 (stable outlook).
S&P Global Ratings announced a ratings upgrade to A- for Illinois’ General Obligation bonds last month, its third upgrade of Illinois’ bonds since July 2021. Fitch Ratings upgraded Illinois’ bonds by two notches last spring, the first Fitch upgrade for Illinois’ General Obligation bonds since June 2000. Illinois received two upgrades from Moody’s Investor Service in two separate actions in April 2022 and June 2021.
The rating of a state’s bonds is a measure of their credit quality. A higher bond rating generally means the state can borrow at a lower interest rate, saving taxpayers millions of dollars.
Between 2015 and 2017, the State of Illinois suffered eight credit rating downgrades and sat at the top of many analysts’ lists of the worst managed states in the nation. At its worst, Illinois’ bill backlog hit nearly $17 billion.
Governor Pritzker signs measure requiring paid leave for workers beginning January 1, 2024
Governor J.B. Pritzker on Monday signed into law a bill that mandates paid leave for Illinois workers. The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, grants employees of businesses of any size one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked up to a maximum of 40 total paid hours per year.
“Today, we will become the third state in the nation to require paid time off and the first among the largest states,” Pritzker said during a signing ceremony in the Loop. “I’m exceptionally proud that labor and business came together to recognize the value of this requirement to employees and employers alike.”
Pritzker’s office said this bill will provide “approximately 1.5 million workers” paid time off once it takes effect in 2024. Pritzker was joined by several lawmakers who worked to pass bill, which was approved by both legislative chambers on the last day of the lame-duck session in January. Some told personal stories about having to miss work to take care of a family member.
“I stand here today particularly proud as a working mom who has a young daughter who is in the hospital and the doctor’s office far (more) often than I would ever like her to be,” Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, a Democrat from Peoria, said. Gordon-Booth said the bill will allow Illinoisans the ability to take care of family while also “being able to put food on the table.”
Critics of the bill have argued it could hurt small businesses. “(Small businesses) put our people to work, and we need to make sure that we are supporting our small businesses and our small-business employers,” then-state Sen. Jason Barickman, a Bloomington Republican, said during the Senate floor debate. “And this legislation unfortunately goes in the wrong direction for that.”
Pritzker on Monday said the mandatory paid leave law is good for both businesses and workers. “Let’s remember that these are earned days off,” he said. “So it’s not as if you take a job one day and all of the sudden have five days off.” He said both small and big businesses benefit when their workers “deal with their stresses and emergencies at home so they can be better and more productive at work.”
The law provides paid leave to workers “for any reason.” Employees can take paid leave 90 days after starting a job and must be paid their regular hourly rate. Penalties for violation of the law start with a $500 fine.
Illinois Supreme Court Hears Arguments Over Eliminating Cash Bail
The fate of whether cash bail will be eliminated in Illinois is now in the hands of the state’s Supreme Court justices, who Tuesday heard arguments about the constitutionality of the pretrial detention provisions of the 2021 criminal justice overhaul titled the SAFE-T Act.
Per the law, Illinois was supposed to do away with cash bail at the start of 2023, but just before the measure was set to go into effect, a Kankakee County court ruled the pretrial bond provisions unconstitutional.
The lawsuit over cash bail pits the state’s Democratic governor, attorney general and legislative leaders against roughly half of Illinois’ state’s attorneys, as well as county sheriffs. Both sides can agree on this much: The justices’ decision on the case will have major ramifications on the future of the criminal justice system in Illinois.
The plaintiffs fighting the law want the court to weigh two main arguments. The first argument is that the legislature can’t just abolish monetary bail because the state constitution references “bail.” Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe told justices such a change requires a constitutional amendment, as he said the state did in 1982 and 1986 when voters approved bail changes.
“The simple way for the legislature to accomplish all of these reforms: Take the question, put it on a ballot, propose it to the people, let ‘em vote on it in an election,” Rowe said. “It quite simply is that easy. In this instance, this time, they’ve not only tried to expand the list of non-bailable offenses, but they have all but abolished the condition of monetary bail as a surety, and they tried to do so through mere legislation. They literally tried to drive the reform by filing 764 pages of directions at 4 a.m. in the middle of the night, in the dark, with an hour to get there. And unfortunately, they took a few unconstitutional turns along the way.”
Plaintiffs also argue the General Assembly violated the separation of powers, meaning lawmakers can’t unilaterally remove a tool like money bail from the judiciary’s toolbox and direct judges as to when they cannot detain someone pretrial. (The law allows defendants to be detained when accused of certain violent crimes but forbids pretrial detention for other crimes.)
“The judiciary has an inherent judicial authority to set bail, to deny bail, to control the proceedings before it, because it is necessary to maintain the administrative functions of the court, to maintain an orderly process of criminal procedure,” said Will County assistant state’s attorney Alan Spellberg. “Under the provisions that have been adopted in the SAFE-T Act and the follow-up amendatory provisions, every judge in the state of Illinois is prohibited from considering monetary components of pretrial release. And, in fact, in some instances, the judges are prohibited from holding a defendant or from imposing bail even if they believe that there are no set of conditions which are available to safely ensure the defendant’s return for trial.”
Deputy Solicitor General Alex Hemmer, arguing on behalf of the state in defense of the law, said critics didn’t prove their case and that the Supreme Court should therefore reverse the lower court’s decision, which would mean no more cash bail in Illinois.
When it comes to the separation of powers issue, he said the plaintiffs took too expansive a view of judicial power and too narrow a view of the legislature’s scope. “The legislature is charged with making big decisions about the way that things should operate in this state, and that is the kind of fundamental point here,” Hemmer said. “The legislature has made exactly that decision about the way that people should be treated while they are pending trial and presumed innocent. There is nothing in the constitution that prohibits that decision.”
Hemmer argued that the General Assembly has a long history of setting public policy that governs what happens when a defendant is awaiting trial. He said overturning major provisions of the SAFE-T Act would jeopardize years of law that serve as the scaffolding of Illinois’ sentencing procedures, such as laws that set mandatory minimum sentences.
“It would grant plaintiffs an extraordinary windfall to find the statute facially unconstitutional, and strike it down as to all parties in its entirety just because there might be some hypothetical case in which a court would want to detain a low-level misdemeanant and lacked statutory authority to do so,” Hemmer said.
Most of the court’s justices frequently interrupted lawyers on both sides with questions. Rowe, for example, got out a single sentence, about why he brought the lawsuit — he said he was compelled to contest the law due to his state’s attorney’s “oath and my interest of public safety” — before chief justice Mary Jane Theis interjected to question whether state’s attorneys and sheriffs have standing to bring forward the suit.
Rowe answered by saying that state’s attorneys are in “unique positions” because they are the only officers who can file petitions to deny bail. Rowe said that to wait for a victim — who would have more definite standing to sue — would force state’s attorneys to “sit on our hands and wait for a victim’s constitutional rights to be violated or a defendant’s constitutional rights to be violated. I go to work every single day to prevent that very injury.”
President Biden’s $5 trillion tax gambit catches Congress by surprise
President Biden went big in his $6.8 trillion annual budget proposal to Congress by calling for $5 trillion in tax increases over the next decade, more than what lawmakers expected after the president downplayed his tax agenda in earlier meetings. It’s a risky move for the president as he heads into a tough reelection campaign in 2024.
Senate Democrats will have to defend 23 seats next year, including in Republican-leaning states such as Ohio, Montana and West Virginia, and Americans are concerned about inflation and the direction of the economy. Republicans say Biden’s budget plan marks the return of tax-and-spend liberal politics; they warn higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy will hurt the economy.
Biden, however, thinks he can win the debate by pledging that he won’t raise taxes on anyone who earns less than $400,000 a year. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, called Biden’s ambitious tax plan “jaw-dropping.” Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, a group that advocates for lower taxes, said “in dollar terms, it’s the largest tax increase in American history.”
Many lawmakers were expecting Biden to propose between $2 trillion and $2.5 trillion in tax increases, based on what he said in his State of the Union address on Feb. 7 and on what media outlets reported in the days before the White House unveiled its budget plan. The $5 trillion in new tax revenues is more than what the president called for last year, when Democrats controlled the House and Senate. In October of 2021, when Biden was trying to nail down a deal with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on the Build Back Better agenda, he proposed a more modest $2 trillion in tax increases.
The headline number even surprised some Democratic policy experts, though they agree the federal government needs to collect more revenue. “I didn’t expect to see a number that big, but I’m not alarmed by it. I think it’s a negotiating position,” said Jim Kessler, the executive vice president for policy at Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank.
Biden told lawmakers at his State of the Union address that his budget plan would lower the deficit by $2 trillion and that he would “pay for the ideas I’ve talked about tonight by making the wealthy and big corporations begin to pay their fair share.” The president then surprised lawmakers with a budget proposal to cut $3 trillion from deficit over the next decade and to do it almost entirely by raising tax revenues.
Biden has called for a 25 percent tax on the nation’s wealthiest 0.01 percent of families. He has proposed raising the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent and the top marginal income tax rate from 37 percent to 39.6 percent. He wants to quadruple the 1 percent tax on stock buybacks. He has proposed taxing capital gains at 39.6 percent for people with income of more than $1 million.
Kessler noted that Biden’s budget doesn’t include significant spending cuts nor does it reform Social Security, despite Biden’s pledge during the 2020 election to reduce the program’s imbalance. Kessler defended the president’s strategy of focusing instead on taxing wealthy individuals and corporations. “The amount of unrealized wealth that people have at the top dwarfs anything that we’ve ever seen in the past,” he said.
Senate Republicans are trying to chip away at Biden’s argument that his tax policy will only hit wealthy individuals and companies. “It’s probably not good for the economy. Last time I checked, most tax increases on the business side are passed on to consumers, and I think we need to control spending more than adding $5 trillion in new taxes,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
Norquist, the conservative anti-tax activist, warned that if enacted, raising the corporate tax rate would reverberate throughout the economy. “The corporate income tax, 70 percent of that is paid by workers and lower wages,” he said. He said raising the top marginal tax rate and capital gains tax rate would hit small businesses that file under subchapter S of the tax code. “When you raise the top individual rate, you’re raising taxes on millions of smaller businesses in the United States,” he said. “Their employees end up paying that because that’s money they don’t have in the business anymore.”
Executive Vice President
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry