Democrats flex muscle to kick off final month of session as revenues remain on track

Democrats flex muscle to kick off final month of session as revenues remain on track

By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
[email protected]

SPRINGFIELD – With about three weeks to go before the Illinois General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn its spring legislative session, supermajority Democrats showed their strength this week as fiscal forecasters noted state revenues remain on track.

April is typically a make-or-break month for state coffers, as income tax filings can often yield higher- or lower-than-expected returns, affecting the current budget just as lawmakers sit down to approve a spending plan for the year ahead.

But for fiscal year 2024, which ends June 30, revenues are generally on track with where Gov. JB Pritzker’s office predicted they would be in his February budget address. That means as budget negotiations enter the final stretch, any new state spending would largely rely on redistributing funds the governor proposed allocating elsewhere, rather than on new, unexpected revenues.

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, which is the legislature’s fiscal forecasting agency, noted that April revenues finished $373 million ahead of last year’s output. But that’s partially due to the month having two more weekdays to process tax collections this year.

Read the report: COGFA’s April monthly briefing

“While this is welcomed growth to State coffers, the overall increase seen this month is largely in line with the Commission’s latest forecast,” Revenue Manager Eric Noggle said in the commission’s monthly report. “In other words, there is no ‘April Surprise’ from final income tax payments contained in this month’s numbers that will significantly modify this year’s revenue outlook.”

COGFA’s current outlook anticipates the year to end with $52.6 billion in revenue. That’s about $2 billion more than what lawmakers projected when they passed the fiscal year 2024 budget last May, and $374 million more than Pritzker estimated in February’s budget address.

Read more: With recession fears subsiding, new state economic forecast expects ‘firm but steady growth’

But that doesn’t mean lawmakers will have a sudden multi-billion-dollar revenue surplus to spend. Pritzker accounted for excess revenues in his budget proposal in February and planned for $1.2 billion in supplemental spending.

Noggle, however, noted there’s still room for the needle to move, but it doesn’t appear likely.

“While some adjustments (both positive and negative) to individual revenue lines is possible, these potential changes may not necessitate an official revision, as it appears, at this time, that the bottom-line revenue totals will not see a significant modification,” Noggle wrote in the report.

Pritzker, meanwhile, said on Wednesday he was encouraged by the revenue performance.

“We’re always pleased, you know, to know that our revenues seem to be on track,” he said, later adding, “I feel pretty good about where we are.”

Pritzker also downplayed any concerns that the state’s fiscal landscape was worsening after several years of revenue growth.

“People have made more of what I said in the State of the State (Address) than I think is appropriate,” he said. “You know, it’s a tight year. But this is not like, it’s not like we’re running a massive deficit and we need to panic about how we’re going to balance the budget.”

Read more: Pritzker proposes over $2B in spending growth, backed by tax increases for corporations, sportsbooks

The governor’s office is projecting about $53 billion in revenue for the upcoming fiscal year 2025 when including several of Pritzker’s proposed tax law changes, such as increasing the tax that sportsbooks pay and extending a cap on corporate net operating losses that businesses can claim on taxes. Factoring in those changes, the estimate is right on par with COGFA’s latest projection.

Lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn on May 24 this year, but they have until May 31 to extend session without requiring a higher vote threshold to pass a budget in time for the July 1 start of the fiscal year.

Elections bill’s hurried passage

This week also saw the first major muscle flex from the majority party in the final month of session. Democrats introduced a major elections bill Wednesday morning before clearing it through both chambers and sending it to the governor for his signature, all within 48 hours.

Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, introduced Senate Bill 2412 making several changes to state election laws – most notably including a measure to protect incumbents. That change bars political parties from appointing a candidate to a legislative general election race if no candidate ran for the seat in the primary election.

Pritzker on Thursday described the measure as “actually an ethics bill,” while Republicans accused Democrats of ethical failings for moving the measure with little time for substantive debate or public input. The governor signed the bill Friday morning.

Read more: Democrats muscle through changes to ballot access, advisory questions | Capitol Briefs: Senate advances elections bill, measure targeting ‘predatory’ lending

Republicans in both chambers voted “present” on the bill in protest, while a handful of Democrats voted against it or skipped voting altogether.

House Minority Leader Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, noted at a news conference Wednesday that the GOP has grown accustomed to legislation moving with little public notice – but it usually happens closer to the General Assembly’s end-of-May adjournment.

“But we don’t understand the sense of urgency right now, unless the goal – the end goal – is to stifle the democratic process through the changes on slating candidates,” she said.

The GOP contended the measure was specifically designed to block one candidate – former Edwardsville police chief Jay Keeven – from challenging Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, in November in the 112th House district. Keeven filed his nominating petitions to the State Board of Elections on Thursday afternoon. Another candidate, Daniel Behr of Northbrook, filed petitions to run in the 57th House District, a race that Democrat Tracy Katz Muhl was otherwise slated to face uncontested. Behr’s petitions were filed six minutes after Pritzker’s signature was recorded on the bill.

The state GOP noted in a news release at least one other candidate, a challenger to Democratic Sen. Mary Edly-Allen of Libertyville, had intended to seek ballot access under the now disallowed method as well. An official with the Senate Republicans’ political arm confirmed that candidate had already been slated but hasn’t turned in candidate petitions.

Democrats maintained the ballot slating change works for both parties and is an effort to prevent party powerbrokers from having more sway than voters.

The measure would also put three nonbinding referendum questions on the November ballot, crowding out citizen-led questions by hitting the statutory limit of three for a single election. Those questions would ask voters if they favor civil penalties for candidates who interfere with election workers’ jobs, whether health insurance plans that cover pregnancy benefits should be required to cover in vitro fertilization, and whether the state should adopt an additional 3 percent tax on income over $1 million to fund property tax relief.

The measure also moves back petition gathering and filing deadlines for the 2026 election cycle by 28 days, among other changes.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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