This week started the final push to a budget by the end of this month for the Illinois Statehouse. But, there was just as much action outside the dome as there was inside it. The hot topics were Governor Pat Quinn, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, term limits, income tax and marijuana.
The big news this week was Tuesday when the Quinn administration responded to a subpoena from Alvarez’s office. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity provided more than 1,000 documents related to Quinn’s $54 million Neighborhood Recovery Initiative that was subject to a scathing audit in February by Illinois Auditor General William Holland.
Needless to say, Quinn’s opponent in November, Bruce Rauner, jumped on this and started to tie it to an inspector general inquiry into Illinois Department of Transportation hiring practices. The Rauner campaign also used it as a way to compare and connect Quinn to former governor Rod Blagojevich. Quinn served as Blagojevich’s Lt. Governor but it is known throughout the Illinois Statehouse that they barely dealt with each other.
Yesterday, another shoe dropped. It was revealed that GOP claims that the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative was politically-motivated and a “slush fund” for Quinn supporters had triggered a federal instigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Central District Office.
In a minor surprise this past Monday, Governor Pat Quinn announced at a luncheon in Chicago that if reelected in November, that it would be his last campaign. The reason it wasn’t a shocker is because Quinn has always been a proponent of term limits. But, the next day, the whole concept was scorched by an Illinois General Assembly sub-committee. Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R – Western Springs) proposed a constitutional amendment to limit state government executive branch members to two terms in office. It did not include the legislative branch, however. It needed two votes to advance. It got one.
In another tale on term limits, Bruce Rauner presented more than 590,000 signatures to the State Board of Elections to get the legislative term-limit initiative on the November ballot. But as a counter, House Speaker Madigan filed a lawsuit against the Rauner move, citing a 20 year old Illinois Supreme Court ruling that term limits are an “improper subject for amendments” thus making Rauner’s efforts void.
In terms of tax news, on Wednesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel responded to an offer earlier in the week from Governor Quinn to give a larger share of state income tax revenue to municipalities to address pension funding issues throughout the state. Quinn did not state how much the shift would be, but Emanuel agreed to accept the money if Quinn delivers. This may just be jockeying because Quinn still hasn’t signed the Chicago pension system bill that would help the city, but also require $250 million in revenue that is expected to come from a property tax hike.
In another issue on the tax front, an attempt to switch Illinois from a flat income tax to a progressive one was squelched on Tuesday– at least for the time being. Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) proposed a constitutional amendment that would have based Illinoisans’ income tax rate on their income, similar to how federal taxes are paid. His reasoning was that there needs to be something to offset the loss of the revenue from the temporary income tax hike set to expire in January. Governor Quinn and others support making the increase permanent. The reason it was pulled was because although Harmon thought he had enough votes in the Senate to pass it, he didn’t think he could pass it in the House by May 5th, which is the deadline for constitutional amendments.
To end on a high note, a group of Chicago-area Democratic officials are pushing the State of Illinois to consider legalizing recreational use of marijuana. The state has already allowed a pilot project of state-sanctioned medical marijuana use. State Representative Mike Zalewski from Riverside and Kelly Cassiday and Christian Mitchell, both from Chicago, support the move. There isn’t a bill yet, but, in the search for more revenue, who knows what might happen.