Initially, there was fear in the Illinois Statehouse that 2013 would be a typical season of getting little done in the Budget Session. Although some significant issues were dealt with then, the biggest were still unresolved. In the end, a lot got done. Here are some of the highlights:
Although it passed relatively early in the Budget Session on May 17th, Governor Pat Quinn did not enact it until August 2nd. The law, which establishes a four-year trial program starts on New Year’s Day 2014, will allow 22 marijuana growing operations to open with 60 businesses throughout the state handling distribution. With physician approval, Illinois residents with 40 medical conditions can seek relief through this new option.
The Illinois General Assembly actually didn’t have much choice on this. They faced a July 9th deadline set by a federal appeals court to pass a conceal carry gun law and met the deadline during the Budget Session. It makes Illinois the last state in the U.S. to have some version of conceal carry.
It may not be a big deal in the Chicago metropolitan area, but it could be huge downstate. By passing legislation to regulate hydraulic fracturing to conduct high-volume oil and gas drilling in the Budget Session, it could lead to 70,000 new jobs in Southern Illinois. The State of Illinois could also benefit from the largesse through fees on drillers. Although some environmentalist groups are still fighting this, fracking is going to be a regulated industry in Illinois.
It didn’t pass in the Budget Session as was expected, but on November 5th, Illinois became the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage. It was a very strange vote in both chambers with some legislators opening themselves up for reelection challenges because of their votes. The political impact will be gauged after the 2014 elections are over - something that Illinois Statehouse junkies will be watching.
On December 3rd, the “big deal” got done. A pension liability reform bill was passed. It is expected to save $160 billion over 30 years to eliminate $100 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, which is the worst in the nation. But, this isn’t over. The first lawsuits were filed last Friday questioning the constitutionality of the law.
2014 gubernatorial race
Some of the issues that remain in 2014, such as reducing unemployment and a Chicago casino will be secondary in the Illinois Statehouse. The big topic will be the 2014 gubernatorial election. It was framed in 2013 when Governor Pat Quinn initially saw challenges within his own party from Attorney General Lisa Madigan and William Daley. Then suddenly they disappeared. Madigan decided to opt out and then Daley did the same.
The GOP side saw solid contenders emerge. A state-wide office holder (Comptroller Dan Rutherford), two state senators who had run for governor before (Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard) and a really, really wealthy businessman (Bruce Rauner). While these four battle it out, Quinn and his surprise pick of former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas to replace current Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon as his running-mate can concentrate on raising money and running around the state meeting voters.
More specifically, Quinn can tout the legislative victories in 2013 as proof that he should keep his job. To a certain extent and to the chagrin of the GOP gubernatorial contenders, those victories hurt their chances of victory over Quinn. How they attack each other and Quinn will be very interesting – which is something the Illinois Statehouse insiders can’t wait to see.