Terry Steczo and Maureen Mulhall
anyone know how to contact Puxatony Phil?
It may take either a crystal ball or Phil’s prognostication skills to
figure out what is in store in the 2014 Illinois General Assembly. There appear to be more unanswered questions
than answers at this point. Consider the
and when will the Supreme Court rule on pension reform? Will they find the newly passed law
unconstitutional and thus re-open this issue for debate? Or will they make what many would describe as
a "political decision” finding the law constitutional and thus free up an
anticipated $1.5 billion annually to pay State bills? Multiple lawsuits have already been filed,
but there is a debate on when exactly a plaintiff has standing since the law
doesn’t become effective until June 1, 2014.
Will the Court find the current lawsuits timely, or will they conclude
that no one has standing until June 1?
If that’s the case, the outcome of these lawsuits could linger well into
the fall and perhaps past the November 4 election.
and when will the General Assembly address the expiration of the temporary
income tax increase? The increase is set
to expire on January 1, 2015, halfway through the State’s 2015 fiscal year. The
Governor may tip his hand on his desires, either during his January 29 State of
the State Address, or more likely three weeks later during the February 19
Budget Address. Groups have already
formed to advocate for the extension of the tax increase. The loss of approximately $7.5 billion
annually from this source of funding could prove to be a disastrous blow to
social service agencies, medical providers, schools, and many others who in one
way or another rely on State funding.
This question, along with the yet to be determined constitutionality of
the "pension fix”, make budgeting for FY 15 nearly impossible.
Speaking of taxes, beyond the question of the
fate of the temporary income tax increase, is the call from some to move
Illinois to a graduated income tax, which would require an amendment to the
Illinois constitution. A movement is
afoot to get this question on the November 4 ballot, but there is a very uphill
road to climb in order for this to be considered. First, the Legislature by a
three-fifths vote must approve the wording of a possible Constitutional
Amendment in order to place it on the November 4, 2014 ballot. Second, the
amendment must be approved in the general election by a majority of those
voting in the election, or 60% of those voting on the question, in order to
become possible. Then, it would be up to the Legislature to do something with
that permission, if they so chose. In the past, the language of these
amendments has been permissive, so even if voters provide the permission to
allow a graduated income tax, the Legislature would be under no mandate to do
so. Is this the year when the stars will
finally align to make this proposed change a reality? The crystal ball isn’t clear but it will be
interesting to follow.
Besides the outcome of the gubernatorial
election and the many legislators who face challengers, there is yet another
election issue on the horizon – term limits.
Candidate Bruce Rauner has set up a separate PAC to help gather enough
signatures to qualify a term limit question for the ballot in the November
election and has been focusing on the issue in his television commercials. The
commercials seem to simplify the process of championing terms limits, but Mr.
Rauner may have over simplified the issue for the sake of taking advantage of
public opinion. Two big questions loom. First, can he get enough valid
signatures to qualify for the ballot? And second, will the question itself
survive an Illinois Supreme Court challenge?
Because of constitutional restrictions, the only
apparent way that term limits can be brought forth is by the Legislature.
However, in 1994 Governor Quinn, as a then-candidate for Secretary of State,
sought to have a term limits amendment placed on the ballot via the initiative
route, the same route being pursued by Mr. Rauner. The effort failed when the
Illinois Supreme Court disqualified the question. But candidate Rauner thinks
he has been able to overcome the constitutional issues that caused the Supreme
Court to say "no” in 1994.
In order to qualify his term limit question for
the ballot Rauner needs to gather signatures of at least 8% of those who voted
in the last gubernatorial election. With his apparently unlimited resources, it
may be likely that he’ll be able to achieve that, although he should also
expect a rigorous and expensive challenge of signatures he collects. It is
still very possible that he may succeed.
The second question may be much more difficult
to withstand. Illinois does not have initiative and referendum, as do other states,
with one exception … the Legislative Article (Article IV) of the Illinois
Constitution. But even that is limited to "structural and procedural subjects contained in Article IV”. The 1994
effort was apparently rejected because it went beyond "structural and
procedural”. But the Rauner effort seeks to overcome this limitation by adding
other provisions to the term limit proposal that seemingly does address other
structures and procedures of the General Assembly, hoping that when the Court
looks at the totality of the package they will say "yes”.
What does Rauner’s term limits proposal do?
Beside the 8-year term limit proposal, it also reduces the size of the Illinois
Senate from 59 to 41; increases the size of the Illinois House from 118 to123;
carves three House districts out of every Senate district; makes all Senate
terms four years instead of the current two, four year terms and one, two year
term out of every ten years; and changes the number of votes required to
override a gubernatorial veto from three-fifths to two-thirds. All of these
"extras” are designed to persuade the Court that his proposal has what it takes
to be allowed on the ballot.
The Court wasn’t very explicit when rejecting
the Quinn effort in 1994, so whether or not Rauner will have accomplished his
objective won’t be known until May when his petitions are filed and the process
of objections and lawsuits begins.
Puxatony Phil isn’t offering any insight here.
Term limits is an issue that has been debated in
Illinois for decades. Proponents argue
that 8-10 years is enough for any elected official and new faces keep the
processes fresh and bring forth new ideas. Opponents, on the other hand, argue
that arbitrary time limits don’t work, voters have the opportunity each
election to turn out incumbents, the loss of institutional knowledge will hurt
lawmaking, and the more new faces the more power is placed in the hands of
legislative "insiders”, such as lobbyists.
Beyond these arguments, many people ignore the natural turnover that occurs
without term limits. From the election
of 2008 until the election of 2012, in four short years there was nearly a 60%
turnover in the Illinois General Assembly.
And now in 2014, 25% of the Republicans will not be returning to the
House in 2015. One has to ask whether
term limits are really a necessity at all.
An election year is usually very interesting in
Illinois, and 2014 is shaping up to be as interesting as ever. Stay tuned as decisions, whether judicial,
legislative or electoral, are made.