Legislative News from Senator Don DeWitte

Democrats approve largest tax on jobs in Illinois history
The  Majority Party continues to shirk its fiscal responsibilities to the people of Illinois. Last week they passed legislation that only partially pays down the $4.5 billion debt in the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. This is the fund that is used to pay unemployment benefits to out-of-work Illinoisans. The fund, which previously had a healthy balance, was decimated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though the federal government sent Illinois enough American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to fully address the deficit, Gov. Pritzker and his Democrat leaders in the Senate and House made a conscious decision to only pay part of the debt. They spent the remaining money, which was supposed to be earmarked for COVID-related relief, on pet projects and other election year gimmicks. For example, over $1 billion of the funds went to pork projects in Democrat legislative districts.

Due to this irresponsible act, there is a remaining deficit in the fund of $1.8 billion. With the negative balance, employers and workers who suffered through COVID-related shutdowns for so many months will end up being the ones who have to pick up the slack, with what could become the largest tax increase on Illinois’ employers in history (they will have to pay higher unemployment insurance taxes to replenish the fund).

Lawmakers should have used the billions of federal COVID-19 relief money to fully pay its unemployment trust fund debt, similar to how most states spent the money. Currently, Illinois is one of only nine states to have an unemployment insurance deficit and, and even after the $2.7 billion allocation that was approved last week, Illinois still has the fourth largest Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund debt in the country.

Following the party-line vote to only partially fund the debt, I issued the following statement:

“It’s incredibly disingenuous for Governor Pritzker and his Democrat legislative leaders to paint this vote as a victory. This action will lead to the largest tax increase on jobs in Illinois history. Employers who have been treated poorly and with complete disregard throughout the pandemic will be left holding the bag and left responsible for filling the remaining multi-billion-dollar deficit in the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.

“Responsible states across the nation took their federal ARPA funds and prioritized the replenishment of their states’ unemployment insurance funds, but not Illinois. Governor Pritzker and legislative Democrats made a conscious choice to use the majority of the ARPA funds on pork projects and other election year gimmickry to buy support and votes from constituents in an election year.

“Yet again, Governor Pritzker and the Democrats are turning their backs on the business community. Their action guarantees a significant tax increase on every Illinois job through higher employment insurance costs, and a decrease in benefits for every Illinois worker. Especially as we head towards what many believe will be another recession, when unemployed workers turn to Illinois’ unemployment system, their benefits will be reduced due to the greed shown by the majority party. Even if the majority party chooses to borrow funds to plug some or part of the remaining hole, the result is the same: a huge tax increase and millions and millions in new interest costs.”

Click here to listen to my full Senate floor comments.

 

Visitors return to Capitol as things begin to return to normal
For the last two years, the halls of the State Capitol have been pretty empty. On most days, only lawmakers and legislative staff could be seen in the building. But with the lifting of mandates and loosening of rules, groups and visitors are beginning to return to the Capitol.

Last week I enjoyed seeing school groups from the Future Farmers of America roaming the halls, and we also were treated to visits from motorcycle and outdoor recreation enthusiasts from ABATE (upper left photo). The Leadership Team from the City of Chicago and the Suburbs for the Illinois Association of Firefighters were in town visiting (upper right photo), and so were a few families from the 33rd District that visited the seat of state government during breaks from school.

Several of my local mayors and village managers were also in town for Metro West’s annual Drive Down Day (left). I, along with Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie and State Senator Dave Syverson, had an opportunity to meet with this group of municipal leaders while they were in town. We discussed the importance of the Local Government Distributive Fund, maintaining local control, and the benefits of Tax Increment Finance Districts to spur economic development and ultimately reduce property taxes. There are 34 towns in Kane, Kendall, and DeKalb Counties in the Metro West Council of Government, and together they represent the voices of 750,000 Illinoisans.

 

Senate rejects Governor’s Prison Review Board appointee
Gov. Pritzker received a major blow last week when his Democratic legislative allies joined Republicans to address the serious issues surrounding the Prisoner Review Board, which is charged with determining parole for some of the state’s most violent criminals.

On March 22, after nearly a year of calls from Senate Republicans, the Senate Executive Appointments Committee took up six of Pritzker’s unconfirmed Prisoner Review Board (PRB) appointees; however, only one appointee was presented before the full Senate last week.

PRB appointee Jeff Mears was voted down by a 22-19 vote. He needed 30 affirmative votes for confirmation. Eighteen Democrats did not vote. Following the vote, Senate Democrats said their intent on Monday, March 28, is to take up some of the remaining unconfirmed appointees—two of which are the most controversial members on the board and will reach their deadline for confirmation on Monday, March 28.

The Illinois Constitution requires that appointees be confirmed by the Senate within 60 session days. Pritzker has often pulled his appointments right before the deadline, just to turn around and reappoint them to reset the 60-day clock—intentionally skirting the process outlined in the Constitution.

 

Addressing the shortage of volunteer emergency workers
Last week I joined a bipartisan group of legislators who stood with Illinois Association of Firefighters officials to call for the passage of legislation to help alleviate the critical shortage of volunteer fire and EMS workers in Illinois.

Modeled after legislation passed in New York, Senate Bill 3027 would provide a $500 state income tax credit for volunteer emergency workers who earn less than $10,000 in stipends for their service to the fire department. I am a proud co-sponsor of this important legislation.

Senate Bill 3027 passed the Senate by a unanimous vote on Feb. 23, but a vote has been put off in the House of Representatives.

While most people run from fire, these volunteer firefighters run toward danger in their efforts to keep their friends and neighbors safe. Many do this heroic work with little or no compensation. This tax credit is a small yet meaningful way we can show our appreciation while helping to drive new qualified applicants to this important field of work. The House needs to join the Senate in passing this bill so it can be sent to the Governor for his signature.

Founded in 1889, The Illinois Association of Firefighters is dedicated to the advancement of the Fire Service by providing leadership through education, training, benefits, and information networking at the local, state, and national levels.

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