By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois House closed out what was perhaps the most monumental legislative sessions in recent memory Saturday after passing the final pieces of a budget for the upcoming year and a $45 billion capital improvements program that will be partially funded by expanded gambling.
Those measures, though, were only the finishing touches on a session that also saw passage of a minimum wage increase, a constitutional amendment to overhaul the state’s income tax system, legalization of recreational marijuana and a sweeping expansion of abortion rights.
“This has been an extraordinarily productive session of the General Assembly. Simply historic,” House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said just before the House adjourned.
Although the Senate still needs to return Sunday to concur with some of the amendments that the House made to the final bills, Saturday’s action in the House effectively marked the end of an intense competition between Democratic and Republican leaders that had threatened to send lawmakers into extended overtime.
The final 48 hours were marked by heated discussions and intense negotiations between Democrats and Republicans and a constant flurry of back-door meetings with House and Senate caucus leaders and Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
Although Democrats hold supermajorities in both chambers, Republican votes were needed on some key measures to get them over the finish line, especially after the session stretched into Saturday, June 1, which triggered a constitutional requirement that bills taking immediate effect receive three-fifths majorities in both chambers – 71 votes in the House and 36 votes in the Senate.
But Republicans held out because they wanted Democrats to agree to a number of pro-business initiatives that included tax incentives for businesses hiring construction workers for major projects, other incentives for developing high-tech data centers and phasing out the franchise tax, to name a few.
When Democrats finally agreed to those measures, the final pieces of the budget package fell into place with broad bipartisan support.
“You can see here that a lot of strongly held ideas were batted back and forth,” House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, told reporters after a committee hearing Saturday. “At the end of the day, we ended up with a very good compromise, because clearly you have all four caucuses and the governor in agreement, and I think it’s a good thing.”
One of the pieces needed to make the budget work was a revenue bill, Senate Bill 689, which included, among other things, a new tax on Medicaid managed care organizations that will allow the state to draw down additional federal matching funds, freeing up about $390 million in general revenue funds for other purposes. It passed by a vote of 107-to-9.
Another was what’s known as a “budget implementation bill,” Senate Bill 1814, that spells out specifically how money appropriated to various agencies is to be spent. That bill includes pay increases for home care providers who deliver home and community-based services to the elderly and disabled. It passed by a vote of 97-17.
The final piece was House Bill 142 authorizing the state to issue $1.7 billion in bonds, the proceeds of which will be used to pay down the state’s backlog of unpaid invoices, a measure that is expected to save the state hundreds of millions of dollars a year in interest costs.
The capital improvements program also consisted of a package of three bills.
House Bill 62 spells out how the $45 billion will be spent. It calls for $33.2 billion, or about 74 percent of the total, to be spent on roads and bridges, what lawmakers refer to as “horizontal” infrastructure. Another $3.5 billion, or 8 percent of the total, would be spent on K-12 and higher education facilities.
The remainder would be divided between state facilities, environmental conservation projects, deployment of broadband internet, and health care and human service facilities.
The other two bills provide the funding for those projects.
Senate Bill 1939 provides funding for the horizontal projects through a combination of a 19-cent per-gallon increase in the state gasoline tax, increases in vehicle registration fees, especially for electric vehicles, plus a variety of other miscellaneous fees. It passed the House, 83-29.
And House Bill 690 provides funding for the “vertical” infrastructure projects. It includes legalized sports betting and expansion of casino gambling, a $1 per-pack increase in cigarette taxes, new taxes on parking fees, and extending the state sales tax to purchases made remotely, including online purchases from out-of-state retailers that do not have a brick-and-mortar nexus in Illinois. It passed the House, 87-27.