Update from the Capitol 5/13/2016



One proposed Constitutional amendment clears both houses
Only one of the many proposed Constitutional amendments made it through both houses in time to be submitted to the people of Illinois for possible ratification this fall. HJRCA 36 would put all revenues from transportation taxes and fees into a “lockbox” that can only be used for transportation purposes.

Under HJRCA 36, the money generated by these taxes and fees could only be spent for road construction and repair, enforcing traffic laws, and paying off transit-related debt.  Cash flows that would be affected by this amendment include the state tax imposed on motor fuel of 19 cents per gallon of gasohol and 21.5 cents per gallon of diesel fuel.  Sales taxes also imposed on motor fuel are not defined as specifically transportation-related taxes and fees, and would not be affected by this amendment.

A proposed amendment to abolish the office of the Lieutenant Governor passed the House, but did not get through the Senate. Another amendment to change the way Illinois draws legislative districts also passed the House, but the Senate passed a different version and the differences between the two could not be reconciled in time. The state constitution requires that all proposed amendments receive a 3/5 vote in both the House and Senate, and then must receive approval from 3/5 of the voters at the November election.

Some progress on the budget
Last week I told you about the groups of rank-and-file legislators from both parties and both chambers who are meeting to try to hammer out a budget agreement. We are also working in the appropriations committees, including the two on which I serve, to put a budget together for the agencies under each committee’s jurisdiction.

On Thursday, the House passed stopgap legislation to fund some human services through the end of the fiscal year. I was disappointed that in spite of our efforts to include them, funds for Corrections and human services facilities were not part of the bill. The legislation provides a short-term lifeline to providers who have been serving the public without state funding for more than ten months. It is not the solution to our budget problem, but it will help keep these agencies afloat while we move toward a resolution.

Everyone is mindful of the fact that because of the state’s dire fiscal situation and years of financial irresponsibility, the final budget deal, whatever it ends up being, is going to be painful for everyone. But as legislators we have a responsibility to make difficult choices and do our best to move the state out of the mess it is currently in.

This week, news came from several sources that progress was being made on a budget for the current fiscal year as well as next year, though there were still some differences to be resolved. We still don’t know what the final budget package will look like, but unlike this time last year, there seems to be a genuine desire on all sides to get something done. There are still many issues to be addressed and gaps to be bridged, so please stay tuned.

Illinois Toll Highway Authority announces summer 2016 plans
Drivers headed for the Chicago area will see some changes on the Illinois Tollway this summer.

The changes, according to Executive Director Greg Bedalov, will include the institution of all-electronic tolling on Route 390, also known as the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway.  Vehicles using this road will be expected to have transponders for automatic payments of tolls due, although Bedalov stated that drivers without transponders will also have the right to go online and make subsequent payments.  Online payments will be due no more than 7 days after the non-transponder vehicle passes over the highway.  No Route 390 toll gates will accept cash. Cashless tolling will begin on July 5.

The movement in Illinois towards cashless tolling parallels policies instituted by toll roads and bridges in other states.  California, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington have instituted cashless tolling for certain toll roads, bridges, and high-speed toll lanes.  According to the Illinois Toll Highway Authority (ITHA), 90% of drivers using Illinois 390 already have I-PASS, an ITHA-approved transponder device, which matches a driver with a financial account and automatically deducts toll payments due.  The ITHA will charge an electronic toll of $1.90 for drivers traveling the entire 10-mile length of Illinois 390.  The ITHA has published a map of the expanded highway and its segments on which tolls will be charged.   The Route 390 east-west toll road offers access from Hanover Park, in far northern DuPage County and northwestern Cook County, to Bensenville, adjacent to O’Hare International Airport. 

Governor Rauner signs executive order to improve administrative hearing process
Governor Rauner signed an Executive Order last Friday to begin a pilot program in an effort to reduce the backlog of administrative hearings in Illinois. Executive Order 16-06 will create the Bureau of Administrative Hearings at Central Management Services to analyze current administrative procedures to improve government efficiency and services for Illinois residents.

To reduce and eliminate the backlog of hearing requests, the pilot will explore the creation of a centralized panel of adjudicators to conduct hearings for multiple agencies. In addition, it will draft Model Rules of Administrative Procedure that can be used across all agencies to reduce confusion and legal costs.

More than 100,000 hearing requests are filed in Illinois every year by businesses and taxpayers, and many agencies have a significant backlog. For example, it can take up to two years to conclude a hearing at the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR).

A large focus of the Executive Order will focus on data collection and improving technology. Currently, each agency uses its own system to track hearings with some using technology that is nearly 20 years old. One-fifth of hearing requests are filed with agencies that do not have an electronic case management system. A central administrative hearing model is used in 30 other states, and many cities, including the City of Chicago.

National Nursing Home Week
This week we marked National Nursing Home Week. It is an opportunity to salute our seniors and the thousands of hard-working professionals who care for those in Illinois’ nursing homes. We appreciate your service to the community!

Busy session schedule ahead
The House will be back in session next week, starting on Tuesday. After a break for the weekend, the House is scheduled to be in session every day through the May 31 adjournment deadline. The Senate has the same schedule. There is much important work to be done between now and then, and I am hopeful that we can see some important bills finalized in the coming days.

Keeping in Touch
As always, you can contact me via webform at www.repbennett.com.