Can a state senator who's not under federal probe sponsor this fire pension bill?

  • Illinois Sen. Martin Sandoval

    Illinois Sen. Martin Sandoval

  • A bill limiting firefighters to one public pension is bottled up in the Illinois Senate.

      A bill limiting firefighters to one public pension is bottled up in the Illinois Senate. Jake Griffin | Staff Photographer, 2013

  • Illinois state Rep. Grant Wehrli

    Illinois state Rep. Grant Wehrli

 
 
Updated 10/19/2019 4:06 PM

A bill that would limit future firefighters to only one pension passed the Illinois House nearly unanimously this year, then a Democratic Senate sponsor tucked it into a subcommittee, essentially to kill it. But there's a way to get a new Senate sponsor. Can it work?

Meanwhile, the first few months of sports wagering receipts are in for Iowa and Indiana. Those states have tax rates on sports bets well below Illinois' planned 15%, so how much will Illinois take back from those neighboring sportsbooks if such betting goes live here?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

And we reported in June how many pensioners from the six statewide pension plans have left Illinois and how much money they are taking with them. Similar data from the Cook County Employees' and Officers' Annuity and Benefit Fund was finally made available.

These are the topics tackled in this week's Suburban Tax Watchdog column.

Sponsorship woes

Naperville Republican state Rep. Grant Wehrli saw his bill to limit firefighters to a single firefighting or municipal pension sail through the House last April by a vote of 115-0, with one representative voting "present."

It mirrors a law also sponsored by Wehrli that went into effect this year that similarly limits police to a single pension from now on.

Wehrli had lined up state Sen. Dan McConchie, a Hawthorn Woods Republican, to shepherd the fire pension bill through as the Senate sponsor. But Democratic state Sen. Martin Sandoval snatched it up instead, filing to be chief sponsor ahead of McConchie, then burying the bill in a "subcommittee on special issues" that has no members, according to the state's website.

The bill has since been moved back to the Senate Assignments Committee, but it never got a vote or even a hearing before the end of the spring legislative session.

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Sandoval received $4,000 in campaign contributions from two firefighter unions in the months after sponsoring the bill, according to Illinois Board of Elections records. Since 2013, Sandoval has received $5,250 from the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association as well, election board records show.

A search of his Capitol office by federal agents last month signaled Sandoval is under investigation. Sandoval has said he has no plans to resign his Senate seat, though he gave up chairmanship of the Transportation Committee. He has not been charged with any crime and did not return multiple calls seeking comment.

But Wehrli wants him to relinquish sponsorship of the pension bill so it can get a vote before the end of the year.

"It's a good piece of legislation and I'm hopeful the Senate will move this bill through the process during veto session," Wehrli said.

Wehrli said he plans to speak with Senate President John Cullerton about his concerns, but he can also work through parliamentary procedure. According to Senate rules, Wehrli can request a new sponsor through the Assignments Committee. He has to enlist a sponsor and inform Sandoval, in writing. The committee has three days to act on the appeal or the substitution automatically is approved.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The veto session begins the last week of October. There are six scheduled days of session.

Sports betting bust?

One of the key components of the massive gambling expansion bill approved by the legislature in the spring to help fund infrastructure was allowing sports betting at casinos and professional sporting venues. The new law also allows for sports betting kiosks.

The plan is to tax sports bets at 15%, as well as charge millions of dollars for sportsbook licenses. While the kinks of the new legislation in Illinois are still being worked out, Iowa and Indiana have begun taking action.

In two months of betting in Iowa, the state has received $480,467 in revenue from its 6.75% tax on sports bets. Indiana has received $813,103 in revenue from its 9.5% tax in just one month of operation. Gaming experts believe Chicago-area bettors are largely responsible for the nearly $200,000 in sports betting taxes generated at the casino in Hammond, the largest sports betting tax generator for Indiana.

Some government finance experts, like the Civic Federation's Laurence Msall, aren't so sure Illinois gamblers will come home even when Illinois sportsbooks go live, because of the higher tax rate.

The operators of the sportsbooks are responsible for paying the taxes to the state, but the money comes out of a bettor's winnings as well.

Meanwhile, Illinois still has no timeline for rolling out sports betting. The state estimates it will get between $60 million and $100 million in annual tax revenue from sports betting when fully implemented.

Stay or go

More than 14% of retired Cook County employees are living out of the state and taking $108.1 million in pension benefits with them this year.

That's according to a Daily Herald analysis of the county's current pension fund financial records, which were released months after a public records request.

Of the fund's 19,457 annuitants -- who can be retirees, spouses or children -- 16,651 still live in Illinois. A similar analysis of the six statewide pension plans in June found more than 18% of those pensioners had left the state, taking $2.4 billion with them this year.

Statewide and in Cook County, pensioners who have left Illinois often head to Florida. According to the analysis, 529 Cook County pensioners now live in Florida and account for $21.5 million of the fund's $819.4 million total benefit payout this year. Other top destinations are Indiana, Arizona, Nevada and Texas.

National studies show about 10% of public pensioners leave their home states after retiring. Illinois' higher migration rate for public pensioners mirrors the ongoing population decline in the state, which has seen a drop of 157,000 residents since 2013, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. The ripple effects of the outbound migration of pensioners is the loss of their buying power, less representation in Congress and decreased federal subsidies.

Got a tip?

Contact Jake at jgriffin@dailyherald.com or (847) 427-4602.

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