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E-Splash February 2014 - Legislative Report
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Illinois Section AWWA - E-Splash - February 2014


Legislative Report
Terry Steczo and Maureen Mulhall

Crystal Ball Time

Does 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 following:

How 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.

How 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.

Legislative Reports

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The Water Utility Council and our legislative representatives present reports on a regular basis of the status of legislation in Illinois and on a National scale.
Item Name Posted By Date Posted
043017_Legislative Report PDF (189.02 KB) Administration 5/1/2017
Clean Water Initiative Fact Sheet PDF (315.51 KB) Administration 10/31/2012


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