Senate Week in Review: Feb. 15-19

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. J.B. Pritzker used a pre-recorded State of the State and Budget Address to present a $41.6 billion spending plan Feb. 17 that ignores the Illinois Constitution’s requirement that budgets be balanced according to existing revenue. Based on that Constitutional mandate, the Pritzker budget plan is $1.7 billion out of balance.

Less than an hour before the Governor’s speech, the bipartisan and bicameral Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) met to consider a controversial “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards” rule. With eight of 12 votes needed to block the rule, JCAR members came up two votes shy in the party-line vote.

The Senate Labor Committee heard from business and labor representatives Feb. 17 as it continued subject-matter hearings into issues related to Illinois’ unemployment system.

And in the days leading up to Feb. 14, Senate Republicans delivered more than 45,000 Valentine cards and wishes to residents of assisted-living facilities and nursing homes across the state. Tens of thousands of Illinoisans participated in this tremendous outpouring of support that spread a great deal of joy to assisted-living residents who have been largely isolated for almost a year now due to COVID-19.

Pritzker relies on budget gimmicks, backdoor tax hike on businesses

Gov. Pritzker presented his Fiscal Year 2022 budget blueprint in a pre-recorded speech Feb. 17, delivered from a new vaccine clinic at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield. The Pritzker budget calls for $41.6 billion in spending and ignores a Constitutional requirement that budgets be balanced based on existing revenues. Despite the Constitutional mandate, Gov. Pritzker is relying on $1.5 billion in funds that do not statutorily exist today.

The Governor is seeking to generate this additional revenue by diverting money earmarked for local municipalities and for statewide road and infrastructure improvements to the state budget General Fund, as well as through a massive backdoor tax increase on Illinois businesses.

Pritzker wants to hold back 10 percent of the Local Distributive Government Funds (LGDF) that are owed to local municipalities across the state. These are funds generated at the local level through income taxes that move through the state and are channeled back to local communities for the delivery of local services. He also seeks to divert a portion of gasoline taxes and cigarette taxes—both earmarked for state infrastructure projects—to the budget’s General Fund.

But it is the Illinois business community that will be hit the hardest if the Pritzker revenue plan is approved. The Governor recommends walking back previously negotiated tax incentives that assist business and job creation, and eliminating the bipartisan-negotiated Blue Collar Jobs Act of 2019. The estimated hit to the business community is nearly $1 billion.

Republican legislators on JCAR stand against controversial ISBE rule

On Feb. 17, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) considered a controversial rule promulgated by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) for “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards.” Unlike legislation that comes before the entire General Assembly for consideration, JCAR hears rules brought forward by agencies from the Governor’s administration. JCAR includes six Republican members and six Democrat members, split equally between the Senate and the House of Representatives. Eight of the Committee’s 12 votes are required to block a rule’s implementation.

Senate Republicans opposed the rule for “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards” because it creates a burdensome, confusing, and indecipherable set of progressive ideas and buzzwords for educators in Illinois. Many felt the new rule would stifle healthy debate and the fostering of independent critical thinking skills, and would encourage teachers to steer teaching and learning toward specific political ideologies. Click here to learn more about the rule.

Three Senate Republican members and three House Republican members of JCAR opposed the ISBE rule, but their six votes left them two votes shy of the requisite number of eight votes needed to block it. Therefore, the new standards will take effect in 2025 as written and approved.

Senate Labor Committee hears more about IDES problems

The Senate Labor Committee continued gathering subject-matter testimony this week about ongoing problems at the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES). A hearing last week focused primarily on Illinoisans’ ongoing struggle to receive unemployment benefits owed to them; unreasonable response times; and the state’s desire to seek repayment of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) that was overpaid to some small-business owners. This week, the Labor Committee heard from business and labor representatives about the struggles they have endured, and issues tied to the misclassification of workers seeking benefits.

Sharing Valentine cheer with residents of assisted-living facilities

In the days leading up to Feb. 14, Senate Republicans delivered more than 45,000 Valentine’s Day cards and well-wishes to residents of assisted-living facilities and nursing homes across the state. Students from public and private schools, church groups, Scouting organizations, park district programs, National Honor Societies and other groups joined Illinois families in creating homemade cards. It was a tremendous outpouring of support for these residents, who have been largely isolated for close to a year now during the COVID-19 pandemic.