Illinois Legislative Session Preview

December 6, 2018

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Enhanced Democratic Supermajorities

Following the 2018 election, Illinois will be the bluest it has ever been in modern history. With incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner resoundingly losing his re-election bid to Democrat J.B. Pritzker, all statewide elected offices are held by Democrats.

After the inauguration of the 101st General Assembly in 2019, Democrats will control 74 House seats, to Republicans’ 44, a net gain of seven seats. This is three more than the 71 seats required for a three-fifths supermajority to override gubernatorial vetoes and pass constitutional amendments. The positive Democratic margin of 30 seats is the largest since the early 1980s. In the state Senate, Democrats already held a supermajority, but they expanded it to 40 seats, to Republicans’ 19. 

With expanded Democratic supermajorities in the legislature, and a Democrat in the executive branch, the state can expect an increase in progressive, anti-business legislation.

Top Agenda Items for 2019

  1. Progressive Income Tax. The centerpiece of Pritzker’s campaign was the adoption of a progressive state income tax. Currently, Illinois has a flat income tax rate, 4.95 percent for individuals and 7 percent for corporations. The Illinois Constitution mandates a flat tax, so adoption of a true graduated income tax would require a constitutional amendment. This means a three-fifths majority in each chamber (36 votes in the Senate and 71 in the House) would have to approve the amendment, which would then go before the voters for their approval at the next general election. Polls indicate public support for such a measure is high enough to pass. The earliest the issue could go before voters is 2020. For the interim, Pritzker previously proposed creating an artificial graduated income tax structure by increasing the flat rate, with tax credit offsets for those of middle and lower incomes. However, the governor-elect appears to have backed off that proposal. As noted above, with their supermajorities, Democrats could pass a progressive income tax without any Republican votes.
  2. Legalization of Recreational Marijuana. Governor-elect Pritzker also campaigned on the legalization of recreational marijuana and has indicated it will be a focus early in his term. Illinois already has a medical marijuana pilot program under which a limited number of conditions are approved. Recent studies indicated the legalization of marijuana would result in more than $500 million in new annual tax revenues for the state. This could help defray the costs of some of Pritzker’s spending priorities, which include more money for primary and higher education.
  3. Minimum Wage Increase. During the campaign, Pritzker supported a $15 minimum wage. Illinois’ current statewide minimum wage is $8.25. In Chicago, the minimum wage is now $12, set to rise to $13 in July 2019. The legislature tried to pass a statewide minimum wage increase to $15 by 2022, but Gov. Rauner vetoed it.
  4. Capital Bill. The state has not passed a major capital bill in approximately a decade. Rumors of a bill to fund much-needed road, rail and other infrastructure projects constantly float around the state capitol. Favored by legislative leadership in both parties, passing a capital bill would provide Governor-elect Pritzker an opportunity to establish a productive tone with legislators and generate positive press coverage. If this item is not addressed in the lame duck session, expect it to be considered early in 2019.
  5. Gaming Expansion. Gaming expansion is a perennial topic in the statehouse. However, with the Supreme Court’s decision allowing states to legalize sports betting, Illinois may actually pass a comprehensive gaming bill. Negotiations are ongoing, but such a package would include six more riverboat casinos, video gaming and slots at racetracks, sports betting and fantasy sports.
  6. Miscellaneous. Other issues likely to be introduced include data privacy legislation and healthcare expansion, particularly a Medicaid buy-in.

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