"Blackmail" Legislating in Springfield


After a marathon special session in Springfield, legislators returned home, bringing with them a 32% permanent income tax increase. The General Assembly provided no relief on property taxes, no help for small businesses, and no reprieve from our massive pension debt. In response, over the last few days, I’ve had more folks than ever tell me they’re leaving Illinois. Some are angry, others just demoralized, but all are frustrated beyond belief.

During the floor debate, I called the package of tax and spending bills a “blackmail budget.” I did that because, for instance, Eastern Illinois University was on the verge of collapse, loss of accreditation, and eventual shutdown. The state representative covering that university was forced to choose between a massive permanent tax increase on the people of the entire state, on the one hand, and the loss of the primary employer in his legislative district, on the other. He had no compromise choice, no option for reforms, just vote yes for the budget—or lose your university. Take it or leave it, with the package of bills called at the last possible moment, right before junk status hits. I call that “blackmail.”

But on reflection, I realized this isn't just the way Illinois passes budgets.

On June 28, the General Assembly passed a bill reauthorizing 9-1-1 services for Illinois, which had to happen by July 1. For several months, the provisions of that bill had been making their way through the General Assembly, largely agreed. But at the last minute, Speaker Mike Madigan and the Democrat majority added on a near-doubling of fees on suburban cell phone lines, setting them more than 50% higher than a nonpartisan commission had found was required to run the 9-1-1 system. They also added large increases to Chicago residents’ cell phones, which Mayor Emanuel secured from Madigan to get more money for city pension funds.

Governor Rauner wasn’t sent the bill until July 1, and that same day, he issued an amendatory veto, removing these unnecessary fee increases. However, Madigan and his majority Democrats refused to allow the bill to be considered without those fee increases. Madigan gave us one choice: either override the governor and support the bill with the unnecessary fee increases, or risk 9-1-1 services shutting down in many parts of the state. By waiting till the last minute and providing us no alternative, Madigan literally threatened us with callers to 9-1-1 getting no answer, all to get additional cash to Chicago. I call that blackmail.

And like a slow-moving freight train, there’s another crisis headed down the tracks at Illinois taxpayers. In the spending part of this blackmail budget, Governor Rauner identified what he called a “booby trap.” It turns out, the billions of dollars allocated for K-12 education funding is restricted—the money won’t be sent to local schools, unless a new school funding formula is put into law.

You see, the Democrats recently rammed through a new school funding bill on partisan lines. That bill would give hundreds of millions more dollars to Chicago Public Schools, specifically because its pensions are underfunded. But, that underfunding is because Chicago aldermen put nearly nothing toward those pensions for decades. They kept property taxes low in Chicago and didn’t make pension payments, while our suburban property taxes skyrocketed. The new school formula would make suburban taxpayers cover the tab for those decades of malfeasance, not the Chicago residents who reaped the benefits of low property taxes. With property taxes in Lombard already 40-50% higher than those in Chicago, this additional burden on us is insane.

The governor has promised to veto that new school funding bill as soon as Madigan puts it on his desk. You know what will happen then. Madigan will hold off until the last possible moment, and the argument from Democrats will be that legislators must override the governor’s veto, or else no one’s schools will open. We would have to approve a massive gift to Chicago or risk ruin for the rest of the state. That’s high-stakes blackmail.

The people of Illinois deserve better than blackmail legislating by their General Assembly. Madigan and the special interests in Springfield get away with these practices because Illinoisans don’t know about them. These bad actors thrive in darkness and confusion. But if folks learn what’s going on, I hope they’ll get mad. I hope they’ll get so mad that they spread the word to their family, friends, and neighbors. And once enough people see what’s going on, the spotlight will be so bright on Springfield that there will be no place for these bad actors to hide. That’s how we’ll change our government. That’s how we’ll turn Illinois around.

Breen Speaks Out Against Price Gauging in 911 Bill
In the final days of the summer special session, members of the House of Representatives used their veto override authority to force a 911 bill that had received an amendatory veto by Governor Bruce Rauner into law. Whereas 71 votes were needed for the veto override, the final House vote on the measure was 90-22-1. While I favor improvements to our telcom system and recognize the importance of reliable 911 service, I voted against the override due to outrageous fee increases included in the bill that had nothing to do with the actual cost of providing 911 service. Click here to watch my full floor comments.

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