Tuesday, October 22, 2013

First week of veto session shaping up to be a bust

By Jamey Dunn

The Illinois General Assembly's fall veto session was off to an anticlimactic start today, as hearings on some of the most closely watched issues were canceled.

The House Revenue and Finance Committee did not take up a proposed tax break for Archer Daniels Midland. Committee chair Marion Democratic Rep. John Bradley had few details to share about the proposal, which supporters hope would persuade ADM to put its corporate headquarters in Chicago. ADM announced earlier this month that it plans move its headquarters out of Decatur. The company would leave most of the current jobs in Decatur, but about 100 positions would go with the transfer. “They’re under consideration at this point,” Bradley said of several tax breaks being pitched to lawmakers. OfficeMax and Office Depot are planning a merger and have approached lawmakers for a tax break. OfficeMax is based in Naperville and Office Depot is headquartered in Florida. So the two states are now in competition for the headquarters of the final merged company. The two office supply companies area seeking a tax break similar to the one ADM is looking for. In the end, a tax break omnibus bill may emerge.

However, Gov. Pat Quinn has said that he will not sign “special” tax breaks for businesses until lawmakers approve changes to the state’s public pension systems. But Bradley did not seem phased by Quinn’s statements. “We’re used to rhetoric like that coming out of the governor’s office.”

A hearing on a proposal, backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, to increase penalties from some gun crimes also did not occur today. The sponsor, Chicago Democratic Rep. Michael Zalewski, is reportedly in talks with the National Rifle Association. If the negotiations are productive, a compromise bill could emerge as early as tomorrow.

Several budget hearings were held today, and a picture of what Quinn’s office would like to see in a supplemental appropriation became clearer. Ben Winick with the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget told a House committee that $97 million in unexpected revenues have been transferred into the General Revenues fund, and the budget office expects an additional $262 million in sales tax revenues that were originally underestimated. However, he said that telecommunications tax receipts would likely come in $46 million shy of estimates. Still, by Quinn’s budget staff’s count, there is about $313 million in funds to potentially spread around. The governor is asking lawmakers to approve about $112 million to pay back wages to state workers. A judge ordered the state to pay the wages with interest. Quinn’s staff is urging lawmakers to pay them sooner, so less interest is piled on.  Some agencies have already been able to find the money for back pay in their budgets. Senate Bill 2603 would fund back wages for the Department of Human Services, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Natural Resources. Other supplemental appropriations bills have not been filed, meaning that the details are likely not worked out yet. The governor’s office is also looking at spending some of the money on setup costs for the state’s licensing system for concealed carry of firearms.

Meanwhile, Quinn and several other elected officials spoke at a rally at the Statehouse for same-sex marriage. Quinn has called on lawmakers not to be distracted from pension reform by other issues, but he said today that same-sex marriage is an exception. “I think this is a civil rights issue, and anytime there is an issue about rights of people, that deserves important consideration.” Opponents to same-sex marriage are scheduled to hold a rally tomorrow. It is not clear if same-sex marriage supporters will be able to find the votes needed to pass a bill during veto session.

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin was officially sworn into his new leadership role today. His statement to Illinois Issues earlier today that veto session is "generally overhyped" seems to be proving true at this point. The House and Senate have already canceled their Thursday sessions, indicating that little is likely to happen this week. Lawmakers are scheduled to return for the last week of the veto session on November 5.

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