May 31 was supposed to mark the end of the Illinois General Assembly’s spring session and the beginning of summer vacation for lawmakers.
But thanks to an unusually contentious few months — ones in which the Democratic super majority in the House and Senate clashed repeatedly with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner over budget priorities — legislators are settling in for an extended session with no end in sight.
Complicating matters is a recent decision by the Illinois Supreme Court that the 2013 pension reform bill is, in fact, unconstitutional. Illinois is once again fully on the hook for more than $100 billion in pension debt.
Inaugurated in January, Gov. Rauner has devoted much of his time in office toward aggressively advocating for his “Illinois Turnaround Agenda.” Among other changes, the plan endorses workers’ compensation reform and the establishment of “right-to-work zones.” If eventually enacted, voters in these zones would be allowed to decide whether workers who benefit from their respective unions’ collective bargaining procedures should be compelled to finance these activities through what are commonly referred to as “fair share fees.” The agenda has encountered heavy resistance from opponents who see the change as an attack on the ability of organized labor to match the influence of corporate interests in government.
On the Democratic side of the aisle, lawmakers are struggling to fill a budget hole estimated in the billions of dollars. In the face of large-scale social service cuts proposed by Rauner, legislators are working to determine how best to proceed. Many have focused on the need to reinstate a personal and corporate income tax hike that expired at the beginning of this calendar year. Under the possible increase — a move many say would help preserve the social safety net — personal income taxes could increase from 3.75 percent to 5 percent while corporate taxes could rise from 7.3 percent to 9.5 percent.
Illinois is in the minority of taxing states in its use of a flat tax system. That is, the majority of states with personal income tax systems impose progressive taxation — a system which ask higher earners to pay a larger percentage of their income. Among those working to determine how Illinois should balance its budget, those in favor of increasing revenue have pushed for the introduction of a progressive tax system. Such a change is unlikely to occur any time soon, however, given the current gridlock and animosity gripping the statehouse.
Specific solutions aside, the remainder of this year’s legislative session will no doubt continue to be contentious. Whether decision makers can put their differences aside and pass a responsible budget remains very much in question.
Illinois residents looking to reach out to their representatives with thoughts on the ongoing budget battle can do so through ilga.gov.