Friday, May 04, 2007

Round 'em up

This first week of May kept us on our toes. Lawmakers endorsed or rejected the governor’s budget plans, tons of teachers rallied at the Capitol, the speaker calls a special committee hearing and interesting legislation advanced. We also had some deadlines to meet, so we couldn’t get to as many things as we would have liked to. But here’s our weekly recap:

GRT “has no life in the House:”
Who’s for and who’s against Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s gross receipts tax? In the legislature, House floor debate this week circled around a GOP-drafted resolution opposing the GRT, saying, “This proposal is poor tax policy, criticized by economists and economic development experts across the nation as exactly the direction Illinois should not go if we hope to enjoy a growing economy.” More than half of House members, including Democrats and Republicans, signed on. “Gross receipts tax has no life in the House,” said Minority Leader Tom Cross of Oswego. It’s a non-binding resolution that never got called for a vote, but it sends a strong signal that the governor lacks the votes to pass his GRT plan as is.

The Latino Caucus previously issued a letter opposing the GRT and supporting the alternative tax swap plan designed to reform education funding. On the House floor this week, Rep. Susana Mendoza, a Chicago Democrat, said it’s not good for the state’s business climate when companies are seen as “fat cats” when they’re not. “We need to believe in responsible legislation,” she said. She took jabs at the governor by saying lawmakers should “govern by governing and not by press release,” adding they should “stay here as long as it takes and get it right the first time.”

Rep. David Miller, sponsor of HB 750 tax swap plan, called his peers out as using “political rhetoric” to avoid making difficult decisions. “If you’re not for GRT, [and] you’re not for 750, what are you for?” he said on the floor. “How are we going to fund a fair system for education?”

A strong Blagojevich ally, Democrat Rep. Jay Hoffman of Collinsville, defended the governor’s plans by saying those who signed on to the anti-GRT resolution are ignoring that they all have the same priorities. “We may disagree with the plans, but we’ve all said it over and over again,” that they’re fighting to improve education funding, health care access, infrastructure and $41 billion pension liabilities.

On the same day, thousands of teachers marched to the Capitol to rally in support of more education funding. But the teachers' union leaders stopped short of endorsing any of the tax plans on the table. The lack of GRT support in the House, however, means something’s got to give. So House Speaker Michael Madigan called a rare committee of the entire chamber to debate tax reform next week. He didn’t take a stance on the GRT, either, but he has let the tax swap proposal get some debate time among House members.

Legislative roundup
Undocumented immigrants are one step closer to being able to drive legally with a driver’s certificate. A Senate committee approved a measure that would allow people without Social Security cards to get the certificate, which would enable them to get car insurance and learn the rules of the road, supporters say. Opponents say the measure would reward people for breaking the law; however, lawmakers sponsoring the measure say the bill is strictly about improving public safety. The House already approved the measure.

The full Senate approved a measure that would provide public funding for Illinois judicial campaigns. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, also would set mandatory contribution limits for judicial races. In a press release, state Comptroller Dan Hynes urged the House to follow the Senate’s lead. “This public financing initiative will help maintain an independent judiciary and help eliminate financial barriers to attaining office,” Hynes said. The legislation comes in the wake of public scrutiny over the millions of dollars spent during the last Supreme Court judicial race between appellate court Judge Gordon Maag and Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier.

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