In July the Illinois General
Assembly passed a budget that includes a 32 percent income tax hike. The
legislature also passed 577 other bills in the first half of 2017. Yet, despite
voting on and passing so many bills, few of these have been reforms Illinois
The lack of reforms was not due to a lack of good bills introduced during the
2017 session. In fact, lawmakers had numerous opportunities to vote on and pass
legislation that could have provided much-needed relief for Illinois residents.
But in some instances these bills were never released from the Rules Committee,
and in others they were immediately put into subcommittees, which often do not
Unfortunately that is by design. All bills introduced in the House of
Representatives go through the Rules Committee, which is meant to sort bills and
send them to the appropriate committees. But the Rules Committee, controlled by
House Speaker Mike Madigan and his allies, can choose to not release bills the
There is only one way to get a bill out of the Rules Committee without approval.
To do this, three-fifths of lawmakers from both the minority and majority
caucuses must sign a petition and also sign onto the bill as co-sponsors. This
is an extremely difficult requirement to meet, and no attempts have succeeded
Subcommittees provide no relief either. Most subcommittees never even meet and
thus do not get a chance to vote on the bills before them. When a bill the
speaker opposes is put in a subcommittee, the bill often goes there to die.
In this way, bills opposed by the speaker and his allies are never even given a
chance to be heard or voted on – they effectively die through inaction.
Here are a few examples of 2017 bills that never saw the light of day:
House Bill 442 would have increased transparency by requiring local governments
to post key information, including officials’ contact information, Freedom of
Information Act procedures, budgets and other financial documents on their
House Bill 380 would have made Illinois’ estate tax, or “death tax,” less
burdensome by raising the value of estates that are subject to the tax and
aligning with the federal exemption level. Illinois is one of only 14 states to
levy a death tax.
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House Bill 3707 would have established a
401(k)-style retirement plan for members of the General Assembly. Of
the five state pension systems, the General Assembly Retirement
System is in the worst condition. This bill would have enabled
lawmakers to take the lead in enacting meaningful pension reform by
fixing their own retirement system first.
House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 30 would have
created a taxpayer bill of rights, requiring the state, non-home
rule units of government and school districts to seek permission
from voters before increasing taxes or enacting new taxes.
In addition to these, there were also several bills
introduced during the 2017 session that would have brought relief to
property taxpayers by freezing or reducing the property tax burden.
For example, House Bill 359, introduced by state Rep. Mark Batinick,
R-Plainfield, would have prohibited any unit of local government
from raising property tax rates, unless first approved by voter
referendum. This bill was put into a subcommittee and never received
There were also numerous bills introduced relating to pensions, such
as House Bill 2405, which would have established a 401(k)-style
retirement plan for new public employees. This bill would have
brought desperately needed reform to Illinois’ broken pension
systems. Unfortunately, this bill also did not receive a hearing and
never made it out of the committee to which it was assigned.
Additionally, there were 17 constitutional amendments introduced
regarding term limits for elected officials, such as Senate Joint
Resolution Constitutional Amendment 5. This legislation would have
imposed term limits on members of the General Assembly and the
executive branch. Another example, House Joint Resolution
Constitutional Amendment 2, would have set term limits on how long a
person can serve as the speaker of the House, Senate president,
minority leader of the House and minority leader of the Senate. None
of these proposed constitutional amendments were ever called for a
vote or discussed by lawmakers.
Illinois lawmakers need to quit the games and get serious about
bringing necessary reforms to the state.
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