Poker runs, cosmetic beads, home-baked cupcakes, Chicago pensions and cell phone taxes are all among the topics of legislation from the 2014 session of the General Assembly that have started moving to the Governor for his review and signature.
At the same time, Governor Quinn’s explanations for his Neighborhood Recovery Initiative continued to unravel as a major newspaper reported his administration sought to push money out the door prior to the 2010 election. This despite the Governor’s earlier claims to the contrary. A well-known watchdog group also reported new cases of funds being channeled to the politically connected.
Other states improve credit – not Illinois
As the Governor began signing the state’s budget measures, the state stands at the brink of another credit downgrade. A recently published chart from Pew Research shows just how out-of-step the state has been with the rest of the nation.
It’s well known that Illinois continues to have the worst credit rating in the nation, but a historical comparison of the states since 2001 highlights a disturbing trend. As Illinois’ falling credit rating runs in the opposite direction of the rest of the nation, other states are either improving their credit rating or remaining stable.
While surrounding states such as Indiana, Missouri and Iowa have excellent credit ratings, Illinois continues to regress as economic uncertainty continues to plague the business community. Even California—which was once tied for last place with Illinois—has improved its rating significantly as it paid down debt and restored a balanced budget in 2013.
Indiana shows an interesting contrast. The Hoosier state hit a low point in 2004 when its Standard & Poor’s rating fell to AA status. In the following years, it has climbed back. Today Indiana’s AAA rating is the highest ranking available and higher than that state’s ranking at the beginning of the 2000s. Illinois on the other hand, also had an AA ranking in 2004, but has steadily fallen since then and now holds an A-, which is lower than any other state.
Neighborhood Recovery stories unravel
Despite Governor Quinn’s claims that his controversial $55 million Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI) did not distribute any funds until well after the last gubernatorial election, e-mails obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times indicate his administration did in fact attempt to distribute large amounts of taxpayer dollars just three weeks before the November 2010 election.
The revelation is the latest to emerge as several investigations into the failed program continue. A scathing audit of Governor Quinn’s NRI released in February has so far given rise to federal and state criminal investigations and an ongoing investigation by the bipartisan Legislative Audit Commission, which has scheduled a meeting July 16.
Meanwhile, the Illinois Better Government Association reported new instances of funds being channeled to politically connected individuals and groups, including a grant of more than $466,000 to an organization tied to a strong political supporter of the Governor. The group paid teens and young adults $8.50 an hour to pass out anti-violence literature at public events.
New laws being signed
With the General Assembly having wrapped up its spring session at the end of May, legislation is now being moved to the Governor’s desk for his signature or veto. The legislature has 30 days after a bill passes to send it to the Governor and the Governor then has 60 additional days to either sign or veto the bill. Listed below are some of the more noteworthy measures signed into law recently.
Poker Runs (SB 3312/PA 98-0644): Addresses a problem with “poker runs,” which are typically charity events in which participants travel from one location to another collecting cards, with the winner being the person who, at the end of the day, has the best hand. The events are particularly popular with motorcycle enthusiasts. Typically, the winnings are either split with or donated to a particular charity.
A problem arose because the events were being regulated under the Charitable Games Act, forcing up the costs of compliance and making them impractical for the small fundraisers they typically represent. The measure moves “poker runs” from the Charitable Games Act, which is regulated by the state, and into the Raffles Act, which is regulated by counties.
It also authorizes a system for licensing poker runs at one "key location" so that the license covers the entire poker run. The license may not exceed $25.
Cosmetic Beads (SB 2727/PA 98-0638): Establishes a ban in Illinois on "microbeads" which are small plastic beads often used in cosmetic products like exfoliating face washes. Concerns have been raised that these beads are getting into the water supply and releasing toxic chemicals like PCBs which are consumed by wildlife, and then in turn consumed by humans. Over-the-counter drugs containing microbeads will not be sold in Illinois after December 31, 2019.
Cupcake Girl (HB 5354/PA 98-0643): Seeks to correct a situation that occurred in January 2014 when the Madison County Health Department shut down 11-year-old Chloe Stirling's cupcake business. She primarily sold her products to friends and occasionally at fundraisers. This legislation is an attempt to loosen the regulatory burden on small, home-based food-preparation operations.
Senate amendments pushed by the Quinn administration would have significantly increased regulation, effectively reversing the original intent of the legislation. However, those amendments sent the bill to a resounding defeat on a first attempt, forcing the Senate sponsor to allow a vote on the bill in the form it passed the House.
Although Governor Quinn signed the measure at Chloe’s home, he did not acknowledge his agency’s efforts to pile on additional regulations.
Chicago Pension Changes (SB 1922/PA 98-0641): Requires the State to enforce the City of Chicago's higher pension payments to the Chicago Municipal Employees and Laborers' pension funds.
The City's revenue-sharing payments from the State would be garnished if the full pension payment is not raised. Also reduces the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) on benefits of current retirees and current employees, and raises employees' contributions.
Chicago Cell Phone Tax (HB2453/PA 98-0634): Allows Chicago to increase fees on telephone land lines, cell phones, and pre-paid phones by up to 56%.
The Chicago telephone tax hikes are seen as a way to partially offset planned increases in city property taxes associated with the Chicago pension changes (SB 1922/PA 98-0641).
Gives Chicago the authority to increase fees: for landlines from $2.50 to a maximum of $3.90; for cell phones from $0.73 to a maximum of $3.90; and for pre-purchased fees (phone cards) up to 9% (currently 7%).