Illinois lawmakers take time on budget with tax relief, smash-and-grab retail crime bill
SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois General Assembly was prepared to adopt a state budget of more than $45 billion Friday on lawmakers' last day of a scheduled spring session.
But all day and night, the Senate was taking action on other matters and filled time with approving resolutions. House Republicans spent an extended period meeting in private, and after 10 p.m., Senate Republicans called for a caucus and left the chamber floor, according to reporters tweeting from the capitol. House Republicans did the same again later.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Democratic leaders Thursday night had announced a deal on the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Relying on a robust post-pandemic economy and healthy tax revenues, it includes $1.83 billion in tax relief. It tracks closely with Pritzker's election year proposal last winter, but the amount going back to taxpayers has nearly doubled.
"We engaged in a true give-and-take, which led to genuine compromise," Pritzker said Thursday in an appearance with Senate President Don Harmon and House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch.
No bottom line amount for operating expenditures had been announced Thursday, and Democrats didn't give one Friday, either. A 3,479-page budget bill was sent to the full Senate Friday night, awaiting a vote. After another amendment, a 3,448-page version was posted a little after 11:30 p.m.
The plan, as announced by Democrats Thursday, suspends the 1% sales tax on groceries for a year but scales back a freeze on an automatic increase in the motor fuel tax to six months instead of the year the governor proposed. The property tax rebate would be doubled to as much as $300 per household.
Lawmakers added provisions to double the earned income tax credit, which goes to low- and moderate-income working families to lessen their tax liability, and nearly everyone would get checks of $50 (individuals earning up to $200,000 and joint filers making less than 400,000) plus $100 per child, up to three kids.
Organized retail theft bill
Legislation that creates the offense of "organized retail crime" for stealing with the intent to resell items, whether it be by the thieves or by someone else, passed the Senate after midnight. It next was to go to the House.
The proposal had been a bipartisan measure targeting the smash-and-grab robberies seen at suburban malls over the past year. It would make the crime a felony, and it would also apply to someone who organizes such an effort.
But records out of Springfield Friday night showed at least some Republicans were pulling their support of the measure while it was in committee. Reports said the legislation was amended. The measure also calls for stricter regulations of online third-party marketplaces -- such as Amazon Marketplace and eBay -- where criminals often sell the stolen goods.
The legislation is attached as an amendment to House Bill 1091, known as the "Fix the FOID Act," which makes changes to the firearm owners identification card law. The Senate was to vote on it, but then the House must vote on the amended bill before it heads to Pritzker's desk. State Sen. Suzy Glowiak Hilton, a Democrat from Western Springs, introduced the bill this week. Her district includes Oakbrook Center mall, where 14 thieves took part in the smash-and-grab robbery of a Louis Vuitton store in November.
Also in the budget
After nearly 20 years of shaky fiscal pictures in Illinois, Pritzker has promoted the budget's moderation and responsibility. It puts $1 billion into a budget stabilization, or "rainy day" fund, and aids deficits in state pension systems with a $500 million additional payment that is calculated to save $1.8 billion down the road. In separate legislation, lawmakers paid off $898 in backlogged bills from the employee group health insurance program and made an overdue payment of $230 million to the College Illinois savings program.
Answering Republican criticism that they were not doing enough to address rising crime, Democrats plan to increase public safety spending over what Pritzker proposed by $200 million.
Local police agencies would have money for body cameras, automatic license plate readers, and nonlethal equipment such as stun-guns, said Deputy Majority Leader Jehan Gordon-Booth, a Democrat from Peoria.
Other major action this week included a plan to pump $700 million more annually into Medicaid funding for nursing homes to boost staffing. The state's 45,000 residents who live in long-term care homes are in some of the most understaffed nationally, a situation made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state provides about $2.5 billion. The legislation, on its way to a supportive Pritzker for his signature, would add more than $500 million in federal Medicaid funding, $100 million in general state funds and the rest from assessments on nursing homes.
The House sponsor, Elgin Democratic Rep. Anna Moeller, said funds are shifted to pay higher wages to workers and facilities get more money from the formula by adding staff. The measure also ties funding for the first time to health equity, increased staffing and accountability and requires increased homeownership disclosure.