Illinois House Democrats put down their election-year tax-relief marker Wednesday, proposing nearly $1.4 billion in savings in a competing, mid-sized plan that joins tax-cut packages already on the table from Gov. JB Pritzker and Senate Democrats.
The rush to provide tax relief is being underwritten by surging tax revenues but also the need to quickly curry favor with Illinois voters to stave off a potential wave of Republican wins nationwide this fall.
Beyond talk of tax relief, work continued in Springfield on an anti-crime agenda as Democrats picked up some surprise help from Grammy-winning singer John Legend in tamping down GOP efforts to gut a criminal justice reform law the party pushed through last year.
Crafting both a crime package and a new state spending plan brimming with tax cuts represented the two big issues remaining on the state legislature’s agenda as a scheduled Friday adjournment of its spring session loomed.
The smorgasbord of possible tax cuts is made possible by surging state income and sales tax revenues. A recent report by the budget-forecasting arm of the General Assembly showed state revenues up by $2.9 billion at this point in the state fiscal year compared to one year ago.
The House Democrat tax-cut package, paid for by the unexpectedly flush state treasury, includes Pritzker’s earlier recommendations to suspend a 1% state tax on food for a year, block an automatic tax increase on gasoline this summer and property tax rebates.
But the House Democratic framework also built on the governor’s plan with offerings to low-income Illinoisans — an idea the governor appeared to quickly embrace.
“My early observation is that House Democrats took a comprehensive approach and adhered to my goals of achieving a fiscally responsible balanced budget and delivering tax relief to families that need it most,” the governor told reporters in Springfield.
The governor’s tax-cut plan came at roughly $1 billion, while Senate Democrats last week outlined a $1.8 billion tax-relief plan.
Under the House Democratic proposal, one-time payments of $100 per adult and $50 per child would go to those eligible to receive the state Earned Income Tax Credit. It also would put in place a “permanent expansion” of that tax-credit program for those with low incomes, costing nearly $104 million.
Internal Revenue Service data shows that about 883,000 Illinoisans claim $2.1 billion under the federal Earned Income Tax Credit. Those who receive the federal credit can receive up to $627 under the state Earned Income Tax Credit.
Democrats want to expand the state program to include those between the ages of 18 and 24 and those older than 65, among other things.
The House Democratic package also provides a one-time $100 million payment to local governments.
The plan also devotes additional dollars to public safety. In all, $236 million would fund police body cameras, automatic license plate readers, a pilot program that incorporates social workers into policing, and grants to entice police to work beyond their scheduled retirements, among other things.
“This plan is responsible. It’s balanced. It targets those who need the help the most during these times of high inflation, and I’m proud to stand with my colleagues to support it,” said state Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside, chair of the House Revenue & Finance Committee.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans, Republican DuPage County State’s Attorney Bob Berlin and Democratic Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow called on lawmakers this week to rewrite last year’s SAFE-T criminal justice law to block a new cashless bail system from going into effect next year.
Glasgow said his office is prosecuting nearly 180 prisoners charged with murder and class X offenses awaiting trial who could wind up being released from Will and DuPage county jails when the cashless bail system takes effect.
“If this act is not significantly amended or repealed, our communities will be in grave danger,” Glasgow said.
Neither the governor nor Democrats in Springfield have shown any inclination to address that controversial provision of the law this week even though Republicans have been hammering the issue relentlessly. Crime is a major theme the GOP has teed up to use against Democrats during the fall elections.
The Democrats’ status quo position on cashless bail was bolstered unexpectedly Wednesday by a tweet from singer John Legend.
“The next 48 hours are critical to preserving the Pretrial Fairness Act which will #EndMoneyBail and decrease pretrial jailing in Illinois next year,” Legend said on Twitter. “Tell Illinois legislators to stand with communities against attacks to this historic legislation.”
Dave McKinney covers Illinois politics and government for WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter @davemckinney.