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Crunch time starts next week in Illinois Statehouse

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Starting this upcoming Tuesday, the Illinois General Assembly will meet on 25 days over a 33 day period to finalize a fiscal year 2015 budget by May 31st. This is when the Illinois Statehouse comes alive with an array of governance decisions weighed against political implications. In essence, this is crunch time with wheeling and dealing being the norm. Here are some things to pay attention to:

CHICAGO PENSION DEAL

The semi-private tension between Governor Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel became public because of this issue. Emanuel needs to resolve Chicago’s pension problems and the bill that was passed earlier this month can help avert a crisis.

The details of the original plan pushed by Emanuel would have put the onus on the General Assembly and Quinn to raise property taxes in Chicago. The legislators balked on that and Quinn said even if they had he would have vetoed it. A compromise bill was approved in the Senate and the House to allow the Chicago Aldermanic Council and Emanuel to do whatever they need to do to fix three of the city’s hemorrhaging pension systems. But, Quinn is taking his sweet time to sign it, much to the consternation of Emanuel.

OBAMA LIBRARY

In what is probably a bit of political gamesmanship, House Speaker Michael Madigan pushed a bill through his chamber to provide $100 million to attract the President Barack Obama library. He got it through committee, but because GOP members were not at the session, it may have to be voted on again. This action, if it goes to the floor for a full vote, could be used to hurt Republicans who will not vote for it as anti-Obama.

Even with the president’s low approval ratings nation-wide, at the end of the day, he is a ‘favorite son’ of Illinois. The irony of this is that the Obama library site selection team didn’t ask for any public money because they won’t need it.

PROFILE IN COURAGE

If the State of Illinois does not keep the current temporary income tax rate enacted in 2011 that is scheduled to go away in January 2015, the state will have a $2 billion budget hole. Governor Quinn announced in his budget address that he wants it to become permanent. Most members of the General Assembly agree. But, with an election looming in November, the House and the Senate may delay this until the fall Veto Session after the General Election. So, a budget may be passed at the end of next month that will not be the ‘real’ budget.

CASINO DEAL

Once again, as it has over the past two decades, there is discussion about putting a casino in Chicago. In his budget address this year, Quinn opened the window for it as a way to help fund fixes for both the state and City of Chicago pension systems. This issue has been alive through two Chicago mayors (Daley and Emanuel) and five Illinois governors (Thompson, Edgar, Ryan, Blagojevich and Quinn). Maybe what politics prevented will be trumped by the need to find revenue.

TERM LIMITS

GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner got a lot of support by pushing for term limits. According to polls, it really resonates with voters (although they go against that when it comes to the legislators that represent their district). In what the Illinois Statehouse insiders call the ‘anti-Madigan’ proposal, it will be discussed a lot. Even Governor Quinn has shown support for some form of term limits. But, it will be the shocker of all-time in the ‘Land of Lincoln’ if this goes beyond this election cycle.

BBQ

There is a possibility that the beginnings of a capital bill may emerge for the fall Veto Session to fund road and infrastructure projects. It would also be developed to fund special projects, also known as pork. The General Assembly and voters love pork. But, how will they pay for this barbecue with the bond rating firms still holding their noses at Illinois’ finances?

EMANUEL IN THE PATCH

At some point, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel will need to go to Springfield to lobby for his wish list. He weighed in on the Obama library, but didn’t even send an intern to a hearing across the street from City Hall on the casino. Next week is doubtful, but Emanuel will have to make a trip down I-55 in May. When he does, a lot of the issues mentioned will be affected and probably resolved.

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