Legislative Update: December 16, 2015

Governor Rauner and the four legislative leaders will meet for the third time in as many weeks when they sit down on Thursday, December 17 to discuss the budget impasse. While I am encouraged that the leaders are continuing to meet, I was disappointed when House Speaker Michael Madigan declared last week that the state income tax rate should be raised back to at least 5 percent. Following a speech he gave at the City Club of Chicago, Speaker Madigan was asked how high taxes should go. “Let me avoid creating a headline for tomorrow’s newspaper and say that a good place to begin… would be the level we were at before the income tax expired,” the Speaker said. “Starting there, you can go in whatever direction you want to go.”

Raising Illinois’ income tax rate back to the previous 5 percent level would equate to a 33 percent tax hike. It is important to note that Speaker Madigan clearly stated that the 5 percent level would be “a good place to begin…” which suggests the Speaker would like to raise taxes even higher than the record level set by the Democrats’ 2011 temporary income tax hike.

$3.1 Billion Appropriation Bill Signed by Governor
The enactment of SB 2039 appropriated $3.1 billion in what are called “other state funds,” which are funds that flow into Illinois from taxes and fees other than sales, income, and other general-revenue taxes. An example of this cash flow is the hundreds of millions of dollars paid annually by motorists who buy diesel fuel and gasoline for their cars and light trucks in Illinois. Release of this money has been “frozen” so far this year due to the lack of an approved balanced budget.

Passage of SB 2039 into law unblocked these program lines and allowed the money to flow. The move released funds for streets, roads, and highways; 9-1-1 call centers; firefighter training; lottery payouts; and other moneys for local first-responders and local governments. The bipartisan House vote of 107-1-1 was one of the key moves sending this bill to the Governor for his signature. Governor Bruce Rauner signed SB 2039 on Monday, December 7.

IDOT Considers Adding Toll Lanes on Stevenson Expressway (I-55)
The freeway that serves much of the city of Chicago, as well as the Chicago area’s southwest suburbs, has become increasingly clogged in recent years. Owners of greater-Chicago commercial and warehouse space have concentrated much of their operations along Interstate 55. Many additional employees use I-55 to commute to and from work. The “Stevenson Expressway” includes all of I-55 that stretches between the north-south Interstate 355 and the Dan Ryan Expressway.

With current motor fuel tax revenues completely inadequate to construct additional free lanes on the existing expressway, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) is now formally studying an alternative strategy: the grafting of Express Toll Lanes onto the Stevenson. Toll lanes such as these, which are carefully marked, have been built in many other cities in the U.S. and abroad. Motorists that wish to use these lanes are often required to purchase transponders and to deposit electronic payments into accounts with the local toll highway authority. IDOT has created a webpage to describe the proposed study. Interested persons may submit comments here.

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As your voice in Springfield, I’m working to make our state and our communities the best they can be. If you have any questions or concerns or would like to invite me to speak to a group in the 48th District, please contact my office at (630) 403-8135, or visit reppeterbreen.org and click the Contact button.