Illinois Lawmakers Have 5 Days Left, 5 Big Issues Left to Tackle

Lawmakers have until May 31 to solve an assortment of issues on their docket

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The Illinois General Assembly commenced its spring session in January with a bold directive from new Gov. J.B. Pritzker for a balanced budget, legalized marijuana and sports betting, a revamped income tax system, and a multibillion-dollar state construction program.

It enters its final week with most of that work uncompleted.

It's nothing new. Illinois lawmakers, whose scheduled adjournment is May 31, invariably push their heaviest work off to the closing hours. Once, faced with a midnight end-of-session deadline on a key vote, a Capitol wall clock was stopped so that the vote could be recorded before both hands hit "12."

Here's a look at the workload:

BALANCED BUDGET

Pritzker proposed in February a $39 billion spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1. With billions of dollars of debt serving as the aftershock to a 2015-2017 budget deadlock between Democrats who control the General Assembly and Pritzker's Republican predecessor, the incoming executive called for financial stability and new tax revenue to pay old bills and chase rising costs. Republicans say the new taxes are unnecessary and would simply fuel runaway spending.

An unexpected $1.5 billion increase in April income tax revenue apparently took care of a deficit in the current budget and relieved the need for Pritzker to pursue a plan to delay some of next year's required payments to pension systems. Republicans contend that the "April surprise" and estimated increases in next year's revenue eliminate the need for any new taxes.

Pritzker's plan for the 2020 fiscal year still banks on $212 million from sports gambling and $170 million in licensing fees for nascent recreational marijuana growers and retailers. Legalizing those two industries are on the list of issues awaiting action.

GRADUATED INCOME TAX

The governor campaigned on amending the Constitution to replace the state's flat-rate income tax — currently 4.95% — with a graduated ladder to hit wealthy taxpayers harder. He promises it will generate $3 billion more annually while most taxpayers would not pay more. The Senate this month approved the constitutional amendment , which would need voter approval in November 2020, and proposed graduated rates for the new system, but the House has yet to take up either measure.

The three-fifths majority vote required by the House isn't needed for a year — ballot questions must be finalized six months prior to an election — but Pritzker says he wants it done now to give voters plenty of time to consider its impact.

STATE CONSTRUCTION PROGRAM

Pritzker has outlined a preliminary plan for a six-year, $41.5 billion state construction program to fix and build roads, bridges, mass transit, schools and other public works. It calls for a panoply of new and increased taxes, such as doubling the gas tax to 38 cents per gallon and vehicle registration fees for the newest cars to $199 a year.

Critics fear that while revenue would be enough for "horizontal" road and bridge work, proposed sources for "vertical" projects including schools, recreational facilities and sewer plants are insufficient. And the unpopularity of the taxes, such as on ride-share trips and cable, satellite and video streaming services, make approval dicey. A key Senate Republican advises reviving a proposal to expand casino gambling to shore up financing.

SPORTS BETTING

There's been no shortage of discussion about a proposal to legalize sports betting after the U.S. Supreme Court OK'd it outside of Nevada in a ruling last year. Legislators have heard hours of testimony on the proposal, but a final plan has yet to appear. A proposal for expanding existing gambling, likely featuring added casinos in places such as Chicago and its south suburbs, Rockford and Danville and expanding table games at horse racing racks, could be revived Monday.

RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA

Legalizing adult use of marijuana was another Pritzker campaign pledge and he detailed a plan this month . But it's been a slow go, with House members urging proponents to slow down, frustrating Democratic sponsors who have publicly worked on the issue for years, and pushback from law enforcement over a provision to allow people to cultivate small amounts of cannabis at home. A plan to limit home-grow to the 65,000 medical-marijuana program patients has yet to be filed.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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