May 21st 2019 Newsletter & Springfield Update

The 2019 legislative session is set to adjourn on May 31. We have a number of critical issues that we'll be tackling in the next two weeks. Here's an idea of what's on our plate:

  • The budget. After four years of Governor Rauner's budget crisis, we're trying to stabilize our state's finances. As I wrote in our last email, the long-term solution here is transitioning to a fair income tax, but that won't happen until we can amend the Constitution by referendum in November of 2020.

    In the mean time, we're hoping to pass a balanced budget that responsibly funds our obligations in human services, health care, education, and public safety. We plan to increase funding to K-12 schools by $350 million. We also aim to raise wages for providers of direct services to seniors and people with disabilities. And we will pay our obligations to the state's pension funds.

    How will we do all that?
     Well, we got some good news recently: the state's income tax receipts this year were a lot higher than expected. That will help a lot. And we're considering a few new sources of revenue to help make up the difference.

  • Legalizing adult-use recreational cannabis. This is a big potential revenue stream. I've been a proponent of this, as long as we do it the right way. For me, that means three things. First, criminal justice reform: we need to make sure that people with cannabis-related convictions have their records expunged, and people in prison for cannabis-related offenses can petition to reduce their sentences. Second, inclusion: we need strong provisions that ensure that people who have been disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs have access to the benefits of the cannabis economy. Third, reinvestment: a considerable portion of cannabis revenues should go toward services and investments in neighborhoods that have suffered from over-policing and violence due to cannabis prohibition.

    I think we're close to a solution on all three of those issues, and if we can get there, I'll be glad to support this idea.

  • Gaming. The US Supreme Court recently ruled to allow states to license online sports betting. We're coming up with a plan for how to do that. We need to legalize and regulate this black-market activity, while making sure we capture considerable revenues for the state and provide protections for people who might be susceptible to addiction. In addition to this discussion, there are ongoing conversations about opening new casinos in Illinois, including the possibility of a casino in downtown Chicago. I'll keep you posted as these discussions continue.

  • Capital. On top of all that, we're considering borrowing a lot of money to fix our state's crumbling infrastructure. Rebuilding roads and bridges, expanding mass transit, and funding construction projects at hospitals, schools, nonprofits, and state-owned buildings. This would be a huge undertaking that would create tens of thousands of jobs and stimulate our state's economy. We'll need some revenue to pay back the bond, however. We're contemplating a number of ways to pay for it, including slight increases to the gas tax or the cigarette tax and taxing e-cigarettes and vaping products.

That's a lot of moving parts! And we've got two weeks to bring them all to fruition. It'll be a busy time for me in Springfield, but I'll do my best to keep you informed as to how this all shapes up.

More soon,

-Will

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