Superlatives like “blockbuster,” “epic” and “historic” have been flying through the air in Springfield after the close of a legislative session that delivered freshman Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker big political wins on a scale not seen in decades.
From abortion rights to marijuana legalization to a massive infrastructure package, the Democratic governor is going to have a summer full of bill signings on an array of issues he campaigned on. He could use those issues to his benefit if he seeks reelection in 2022.
Lawmakers churned out so much since Friday that one longtime political observer, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, said he’d seen nothing like it during a Springfield career that dates back almost 25 years.
There most assuredly were more than 10 things of substance that state lawmakers did this spring, but here is a list of some of the most important things sure to affect the lives of most Illinoisans fairly quickly.
1. Income tax amendment
It was perhaps Pritzker’s top issue as a candidate: changing how Illinoisans are taxed. Democrats in the House and Senate voted to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2020 ballot, asking voters to scrap the state’s 4.95% flat income tax. A new set of income-based tax rates that tops out at 7.99% for the state’s highest earners awaits action by Pritzker and would be contingent on voter approval of the constitutional amendment. But that will be no sure bet in a high-turnout presidential election. For the amendment to take effect, 60% of voters or the majority voting in the election have to vote yes.
2. Paying more for gas and tobacco
Starting July 1, gasoline in Illinois would get more expensive. The gas tax would double from the current 19 cents per gallon to 38 cents per gallon. Chicago, Lake County and Will County will have the option to tack on additional taxes beyond the 38 cents per gallon.
Parking garages would also see their taxes increase, so it will be more expensive to park your car for hourly, daily, and monthly spots. Annual vehicle registration fees would increase to $148 per year. The tax on a pack of cigarettes would go up to $2.98. Vaping and e-cigarettes will be treated like tobacco.
3. Not all taxes are going up
Earlier in the year, Pritzker had proposed new or additional taxes on several industries to either help balance the state’s budget or to pay for a massive infrastructure bill. But have no fear: Tax increases on ride-share companies like Lyft and Uber, beer, wine, liquor, internet streaming services like Netflix, cable TV, satellite TV and plastic bags were all dropped during negotiations. That doesn’t mean those taxes won’t come up for debate at a later date.
When WBEZ interviewed Pritzker last April, the governor acknowledged he last used marijuana in college more than three decades ago — back when it wasn’t considered legal. But soon, acting on another campaign pledge of his, Pritzker could make Illinois the 11th state to legalize adult-use cannabis.
Last Friday, the House gave final legislative approval to a measure allowing possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana — roughly 60 joints — beginning on Jan. 1. Supporters like state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, believe recreational marijuana can generate as much as $500 million annually in state tax and licensing revenues within five years. Those with past marijuana-related convictions also would have an opportunity to wipe their criminal records clean under the legislation awaiting Pritzker’s action.
Illinois could be home to six new casinos in Chicago, Waukegan, Chicago’s south suburbs, Rockford, Danville and Williamson County in southern Illinois. The bill allows for the Chicago casino to have up to 4,000 slot machines and table games. That would make the city’s first casino larger than many of the casinos in Las Vegas or Atlantic City.
A location for the Chicago casino has not yet been announced. Unlike many other iterations of the casino expansion bill, the Chicago casino would be run by a private company — not the city. Existing Illinois casinos would have the option of expanding their current operations, as well.
6. Sports betting
After the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gambling on sports last year, states across the country have been racing to set up their own parameters for how they want to regulate it. In Illinois, online sports gambling companies like FanDuel and DraftKings would have to wait 18 months before being fully operational. That would allow existing casinos to have time to set up their own sports gambling enterprises.
In addition, Chicago’s large sports venues like Soldier Field, the United Center, Wrigley Field and Guaranteed Rate Field would have the option to include gambling inside the arena, or located within five blocks of the stadium. Gambling on college sports will continue to be banned in Illinois.
Pritzker has pledged to sign abortion-rights legislation known as the Reproductive Health Act, which the state Senate gave final legislative approval to Friday. Supporters widely regard it as one of the most sweeping abortion-rights packages anywhere in the country and a safeguard for Illinois should Roe v. Wade be reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The legislation in Illinois repeals a 1975 state law that subjected doctors to criminal penalties for performing abortions, which has been largely blocked by the courts. It also eliminates targeted regulations on facilities that provide abortions, removes a law that let husbands block their wives from having abortions and requires health insurance carriers in Illinois to cover abortions.
8. Infrastructure improvements
The gambling expansion and increase in the gas tax would help fund a massive $45 billion worth of construction projects. Those projects range from simple road paving to bridge repairs to upgrades on the Chicago Transit Authority to the construction of new school buildings and even community theaters.
For instance, the bill calls for the CTA’s Blue Line to receive $81 million in upgrades. The University of Chicago would get $100 million to build a new facility for the Chicago Quantum Exchange. The TimeLine Theatre in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood is in line for $1 million in renovations to its theater. At least $400 million is designated for expanding broadband internet access across the state, and at least $100 million in grants would go toward infrastructure needs for early childhood education.
9. State budget
After four years of turmoil and an all-out partisan war that resulted in a two-year-long state budget stalemate under former Gov. Bruce Rauner, Pritzker put together a full-year state budget that passed with both Republican and Democratic support.
In addition to beginning to pay down the $6.6 billion backlog of bills, the budget allows for $100 million in additional money for the state Department of Children and Family Services, according to House Republican Leader Jim Durkin. DCFS has recently come under much scrutiny after multiple high-profile deaths of children whose families had had contact with the department’s workers.
The state budget also appropriates $230 million for reconstruction of the state-run veterans’ home in Quincy that has been the site of multiple deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks. The state’s mishandling of those outbreaks was the subject of a year-long WBEZ investigation. During the gubernatorial campaign, Pritzker heavily criticized the Rauner administration’s handling of the outbreaks.
10. Stricter gun regulation fails to pass
A gun-control measure driven by last February’s mass shooting in Aurora stalled in the Illinois Senate. The measure would have required fingerprints for all gun-license applicants, imposed a hike in gun permitting fees and enhanced criminal penalties for illegal gun purchases.
The House narrowly approved the measure, which gun-rights advocates described as one of the most onerous gun-control attempts in the country and an infringement on the Second Amendment. The gunman who opened fire in an Aurora workplace, killing five people, was a convicted felon who slipped through a criminal background check to buy the weapon used in the killings. Even though the legislation is not on its way to Pritzker, the Senate still can act on the measure this fall or next year.