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State

On final day, major bills still waiting to be unveiled

Taxes, budget, capital plan and gaming bills all still in development

Gov. JB Pritzker is joined by minimum wage advocates in his office for a news conference Feb. 7, following the Senate’s vote to approve Senate Bill 1, which raises the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour over a 6-year period. He was joined by Sen. Kimberly Lightford (left), D-Maywood, the bill’s Senate sponsor, and Rep. Will Guzzardi (right), D-Chicago, the bill’s House sponsor.
Gov. JB Pritzker is joined by minimum wage advocates in his office for a news conference Feb. 7, following the Senate’s vote to approve Senate Bill 1, which raises the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour over a 6-year period. He was joined by Sen. Kimberly Lightford (left), D-Maywood, the bill’s Senate sponsor, and Rep. Will Guzzardi (right), D-Chicago, the bill’s House sponsor.

SPRINGFIELD – Gov. JB Pritzker is counting on a host of new revenue streams to fund the budget he proposed to the General Assembly. Those include higher taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products, higher taxes on video gambling machines, a new plastic shopping bag tax, and a new assessment on managed care organizations that manage the state’s Medicaid program.

But as lawmakers head into the final scheduled day of the 2019 spring session today, none of those bills has been passed. In fact, no one outside the General Assembly has even seen a final draft of them.

Nor, in fact, have they seen a final version of a budget bill, the multi-year capital improvements plan or a gaming bill that would include the legalized sports betting that Pritzker has proposed.

“Stay tuned tomorrow,” Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, chairman of the House Revenue and Finance Committee, said in an interview late Thursday evening.

His counterpart across the rotunda, Senate Revenue Committee chairwoman Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, said Thursday morning that the revenue package is still being negotiated.

“That is actually in discussion right now,” she said. “So far, the leaders have been discussing how all that’s going to come together and we’ll start to get updates. This is literally very, very fluid.”

Pritzker proposed levying a new assessment on Medicaid managed care organizations as a way to draw down additional federal matching funds. That was expected to free up about $390 million in general revenue funds to be used for other purposes.

He also proposed raising cigarette taxes by 32 cents, to $2.30 a pack, and levying a new tax on e-cigarettes to generate about $65 million a year, which would also be earmarked for Medicaid costs.

The higher tax on video gambling was expected to generate another $89 million a year for the state’s capital projects fund, plus another $18 million for local governments.

So far, lawmakers have all but ruled out any tobacco tax increase for anything other than a capital improvements plan. And the idea of a tax on plastic bags appears to be dead for this year, according to several sources. But many other tax and revenue proposals remain on the table.

Zalewski, who has served in the House since 2008, said that in his experience, it is unusual to see so many large issues left unresolved going into the final day.

“But I think this session shaped up to be very productive very early, and I think we’re going to keep up the momentum tomorrow (Friday),” he said.

Hutchinson also said she was not alarmed by the volume of big issues waiting to be decided Friday.

“We don’t know the full agreement that people have on the revenue structures. That is always the hardest thing to get to,” she said. “Once we have that piece in place, then you’ll start to see bills pass.”

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