Illinois Legislature rushes to complete huge to-do list

Illinois lawmakers are rushing to complete their spring session chocked full of hot button issues. The session was supposed to end Friday but was extended into the weekend, at least for the House.

They have checked off two historic votes on their to-do list. Legislators approved asking voters to decide in next year's election whether to change the state Constitution to allow replacing a flat-rate income tax with a graduated one based on income. And Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker says he will sign a law to make Illinois the 11th state to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Here's a look at what's been done and - despite Democratic control of every segment of state government - what remains to be done.


The Legislature voted to send a constitutional amendment to the November 2020 ballot asking voters whether they want to switch from a flat-rate income tax to one based on income. If approved, the new scaled approach would take effect in January 2021.

In separate action, Pritzker was sent legislation establishing the rates should the new system be enacted. They top out at 7.99% for the state's wealthiest residents. Pritzker contends that 97% of taxpayers will pay no more than they do now because those earning less than $250,000 would pay, at most, the current 4.95% rate that applies to the flat tax.


With House approval Friday, Pritzker will get legislation to allow residents to buy and possess up to one ounce (30 grams) of marijuana for personal use. Pritzker is expected to sign the measure to make Illinois the 11th state, along with the District of Columbia, to allow recreational use.

Supporters say the new law also will remedy to past injustices to minorities who were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. The plan allows scrubbing of criminal records for anyone convicted of possessing 30 grams of marijuana or less and offers incentives to minority investors who want to enter what will likely be a burgeoning new marijuana industry.


Both the House and Senate Friday night approved $39.9 billion spending plans for the budget year that begins July 1, a 2% increase over the current year's spending plan. Republicans agree it's balanced and it provides a $375 million increase to public education to fund the school-aid formula revamped last year, a 5% bump.

The plan includes increases for higher education, fully funds the required $9 billion pension contribution and allows borrowing $1.2 billion to pay down a lingering, $6.7 billion pile of overdue bills to save interest payments.

And it increases by $100 million funding for the Department of Children and Family Services. The agency is reeling from criticism over its inability to save three children in its care who have died this year.

While the Senate completed its budget work, the House returns Saturday to consider revenue and budget implementation legislation.


The Senate also OK'd a $45 billion dollar statewide construction program for roads, bridges, mass transit, schools and other public works. It calls for a variety of new and increased taxes, such as doubling the gas tax to 38 cents per gallon and increasing vehicle registration fees by 50% to $150, lower than what Pritzker proposed. It increases the per-pack cigarette tax by $1 to $2.98.

It also cut out potentially contentious taxes, such as a $1-a-ride fee for ride-sharing services and a 7% tax on cable, satellite, and streaming video services. But it now counts on hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue from legalized sports betting and casino expansion.


There's been no shortage of discussion about a proposal to legalize sports betting after the U.S. Supreme Court OK'd it outside of Nevada in a ruling last year. The plan for Illinois surfaced Friday night. So did a proposal for expanding existing gambling, likely featuring added casinos in places such as Chicago and its south suburbs, Rockford and Danville, and expanding table games at horse racing racks.

The construction program is counting on gambling for revenue, the largest contribution of which would be $500 million for startup costs for the sports-betting industry.

Neither House nor Senate has taken up these issues, and the Senate adjourned Friday night, ostensibly until fall. But it's likely if the House takes action Saturday, the Senate will return sooner.


After at least a half-dozen Republican-controlled states have adopted steep restrictions on abortion , Illinois Democrats have answered with legislation to provide statutory protections for the procedure. The House adopted the legislation which rescinds prohibitions on some late-term abortions and 45-year-old restrictions such as criminal charges against doctors who perform abortions, none of which has been enforced because of court orders.

Senate approval Friday night after an emotional debate sends the measure to Pritzker, who was on the Senate floor hugging and congratulating its supporters. He has pledged to sign it.