State Senate passes 2-year property tax freeze, with exceptions
SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois Senate on Tuesday approved a two-year property tax freeze, with some exceptions allowed.
Also Tuesday, the House approved a proposal that would raise the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour over five years.
And a House panel endorsed a plan to make it easier to consolidate local governments.
All this before both the House and Senate adjourned with fewer than 30 hours before their constitutional deadline -- midnight Wednesday -- to pass a budget without requiring a three-fifths majority in both chambers.
Democratic Senate President John Cullerton of Chicago pushed two property-tax freezes measures through the Senate Tuesday. One would freeze property tax levies for school districts, but they'd be able to seek a waiver from the Illinois State Board of Education.
The other would freeze taxes for other government bodies with exemptions to allow them to pay down debt and make contributions to employees' pensions.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has insisted on a freeze on local property taxes for more than two years. Illinois has among the nation's higher rates.
Rauner's spokeswoman calls the plan a "phony two-year freeze."
Rauner has demanded a permanent freeze. Democrats say that would cripple local governments. Cullerton says senators could adopt a new freeze if a two-year freeze works.
"This is a full property tax freeze," Cullerton said, according to the Springfield Journal-Register. "The question is the length. My philosophy is two years is a really good start, and if it is so popular, we can come back and do it again."
That wasn't good enough for Senate Republicans, most of whom voted against the bills.
"We have the highest property taxes in the entire country," said Sen. Karen McConnaughay, of St. Charles, the Journal-Register reported. "It's one of the driving reasons why people leave the state of Illinois. If we are going to pass a massive income tax (hike), don't we think the very least we can do for the people of Illinois is to give them more relief than what is being presented?"
Sen. Melinda Bush, a Democrat from Grayslake, said Republicans were unwilling to buck Rauner in the name of compromise, the Journal-Register reported. "The Senate Democrats have stood up and done the right thing," Bush said.
The measures, which the Journal-Register reported would not apply to Chicago, move to the House.
The bills are SB482 and SB484
Also Tuesday, the Illinois House approved a proposal that would raise the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour over five years.
House lawmakers voted 61 to 53 Tuesday.
Democratic state Rep. Will Guzzardi of Chicago says the plan would help working people make ends meet.
Illinois' minimum wage is $8.25. Under the plan, workers age 18 and over would see the wage jump in increments until 2022. The plan also includes a tax credit for businesses with 50 employees or fewer.
Opponents, including retail groups, say raising the wage hurts businesses.
Republican state Rep. Keith Wheeler of Oswego says the plan will make Illinois more uncompetitive.
It's unclear whether Gov. Bruce Rauner will sign the bill. The Republican has said he'd support a minimum-wage increase in conjunction with other regulatory changes.
The bill is SB81.
Earlier Tuesday a House panel endorsed a plan to make it easier to consolidate local governments.
The Executive Committee approved a proposal that eases the process of merging or dissolving townships or for cities to absorb townships of the same geographical area.
Grayslake Democratic state Rep. Sam Yingling's measure also would allow county boards to create townships that are larger than the current limit of 126 square miles.
Brian Costin is deputy chief of staff to Republican Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti. She led a task force studying how to reduce Illinois' most-in-the-nation number of local governments. Costin says the legislation should include the ability for voters to act to dissolve or merge governments.
GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner wants government bodies consolidated as part of efforts to streamline government.
Sanguinetti also touted passed legislation that would allow township trustees to initiate referendums to consolidate township road districts in all Illinois counties, not just Cook County.
Since November 2016, two townships in Cook County -- Wheeling Township and Hanover Township -- have successfully initiated and passed proposals via referendum to consolidate their road districts, Sanguinetti said in a news release. The legislation now goes to the governor.
Sanguinetti said she also supports separate legislation that would empower citizens to initiate similar referendums.
A spokeswoman says Rauner will sign a plan to automatically register qualified Illinois voters.
State lawmakers have already approved the proposal. It calls for registering individuals automatically when they visit one of several state agencies unless they opt out.
Rauner vetoed a different version of the plan over concerns that it didn't do enough to prevent voter fraud.
Rauner spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis thanked bill sponsors and stakeholders in Tuesday statement saying the "sanctity" of the election process must be protected.
Roughly half a dozen other states, including Oregon and West Virginia, already automatically register voters.
200 miles to protest
Meanwhile, protesters pushing for plans to close so-called corporate tax loopholes and tax the wealthy at higher rates have disrupted proceedings at the state Capitol.
Roughly a dozen chanting protesters were removed from the House gallery as lawmakers were in session. Illinois Secretary of State spokesman Henry Haupt says no arrests were made.
Some protesters were seen being dragged out of the gallery by security staff.
The protesters are part of a coalition called Fair Economy Illinois. Some members marched from Chicago to Springfield for the final days of the legislative session to urge lawmakers to pass a budget that helps working people.
Rauner and the Democrat-controlled Legislature have been deadlocked on a spending plan for two years.
Roughly two dozen protesters are also are sitting outside of Rauner's Capitol office.
The Illinois House is considering how to handle a $37 billion spending proposal with just hours left in the General Assembly's spring session. If there's no deal by Thursday morning, action will require a three-fifths majority in both houses.
The full House adjourned until 10 a.m. Wednesday. The Senate returns at 11 a.m.
The Democratic-controlled House had several options Tuesday. Democrats advanced late Monday a plan to raise income and sales taxes by more than $5 billion to deal with a mountainous deficit.
But party leaders also said they're considering other options.