SPRINGFIELD -- A tax increase, Medicaid reforms, education reforms and workers’ compensation reforms.

SPRINGFIELD -- A tax increase, Medicaid reforms, education reforms and workers’ compensation reforms.

Those issues plus a raft of leftovers from the veto session await Illinois lawmakers when they return to Springfield in January.

Just four weeks after wrapping up the official veto session, lawmakers will be back at it again just after the new year, trying to wrap up issues before a new General Assembly is sworn in Jan. 12.

The House is scheduled to return to work Jan. 3, although the Senate won’t resume until Jan. 4. The House has eight days of session scheduled before Jan. 12, but the Senate calendar currently calls for only four session days.


Tax increase

More and more lawmakers believe they’ll be dealing with a tax hike proposal when they return.

“That seems to be the plan,” said Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield. “It sounds like they are calling all of their members to see if they are open to a tax hike.”

During the post-veto session break, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, surveyed members on a variety of options for increasing state revenues -- also known as a tax increase.

“He’s polled members on several variations,” said Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, a member of Madigan’s leadership team. “One of the big problems we face is revenue. We have to figure out what it will be. The is not one member who doesn’t understand the scope of the problem.”

Gov. Pat Quinn has continued to push for a 33 percent increase in the income tax, raising the personal rate from 3 percent to 4 percent. The Senate already has approved a bill raising the income tax by 66 percent tax and expanding the sales tax. That bill is still pending in the House.

Mautino said many downstate lawmakers he’s spoken with want to make sure that, if a tax hike needs to pass, it will actually be enough to solve the problem so the legislature doesn’t face the same issues in a couple of years.

“They want to do it once,” he said.

Poe argued the November election showed voters are against taxes, even though Quinn, a tax hike proponent, won.

“Quinn won in three counties out of 102. That leaves a lot of legislators outside of those three counties getting the (anti-tax) message,” he said.


Workers’ comp/Medicaid

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, initiated the reform movement on these issues by forming special committees to recommend money-saving changes. The House quickly followed suit.

“The Senate president fully expects to vote on workers’ compensation and Medicaid reforms. The exact nature of the proposals remains in play at this time,” said spokesman John Patterson.

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, hopes the Senate will act on meaningful reforms in early January, said spokeswoman Patty Schuh.

“We need to ensure we are taking time to address good public policy, not just hurrying to pass a bill to pass a bill,” Schuh said.

Mautino is on the House Medicaid reform committee. He expects that, among other things, a reform bill would require Medicaid recipients to prove annually that they are still eligible for the program, promote greater use of lower-cost generic drugs and reduce income limits in order for people to qualify for Medicaid. Such a measure also is likely to promote community care settings for recipients in need of long-term care.

Workers’ compensation changes would be aimed at reducing what businesses pay to support the compensation program. The Illinois Chamber of Commerce said Illinois workers’ compensation rates increased more than 16 percent since 2006 at the same time rates across the country dropped by 17 percent.

The chamber is pushing for changes like requiring that the workplace must be more than 50 percent responsible for an injury before a workers' compensation claim can be approved and reducing or eliminating claims if a worker is found to be impaired by drugs or alcohol on the job. The chamber also wants employers to have input into the doctors used to treat a workplace injury to reduce cases of "doctor shopping.”


Education reform

On this issue, Madigan first formed a special committee to look at reforms and the Senate followed suit. While the House committee has held hearings, the Senate committee isn’t scheduled to hold its first hearing until Jan. 3.

“While the topics are the same as those being studied by the House, the Senate has their own process,” said Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon. “The committee will take as much time as they need to make informed legislative recommendations.”

The House, though, seems on a path to deal with education reforms in January.

“We have every reason to believe there will be an attempt to move a bill,” said Charles McBarron, spokesman for the Illinois Education Association.

“I think there’s going to be (a bill),” said Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville, co-chairman of the committee.

Eddy said he thinks a bill will deal with issues like making it more difficult for teachers to obtain tenure, making teacher performance rather than seniority the criteria for layoffs, and making it easier and less expensive to dismiss poor performing teachers.

Changing the rules to make it more difficult for teachers to strike could be another issue.

“The real question mark is legislation relating to strikes and bargaining,” Eddy said. “The potential to have an agreement on that is slim, but the potential for change is great.”

Teachers’ unions are vehemently opposed to what McBarron described as “attacks on collective bargaining.”

“What we have here is something laid on the table without any input from teachers, and we are supposed to react to that,” McBarron said. “We weren’t a party to these proposals.”




During the veto session, the House approved a bill that will pave the way for construction of a $3.5 billion clean-coal technology plant in Taylorville.

But when the bill arrived in the Senate, Sen. Deanna Demuzio, D-Carlinville, was advised it didn’t have the votes to pass and to try later.

Supporters said the plant will create and support thousands of jobs and provide a market for Illinois coal. However, business interests, including power generators like Exelon, said the plant will result in higher electric bills for commercial customers, and that, in turn, will cost thousands of jobs.

Demuzio said she’s talking with other senators during the holiday break in an attempt to win votes for the plant. She still wants to have the Senate vote on it before Jan. 12.



A massive gambling expansion bill passed the Senate during the veto session and is pending in the House. Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, said the House will consider the bill, but will probably make changes to it.

Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, isn’t concerned about likely House amendments.

“I don’t think the changes will jeopardize the bill,” Link said.

As it stands now, the legislation calls for a casino in Chicago, new riverboats in Rockford, Danville, Lake County and south suburban Cook County. It also allows existing riverboats to expand their operations and allows the state’s six horse racing tracks to install slot machines.

Even if the bill passes the General Assembly, Gov. Pat Quinn has expressed reservations about it because of the scope of the expansion.


Pension borrowing

The Senate still has to act on a plan to make this year’s state $3.7 billion pension payments by borrowing money. Quinn has said borrowing the money would be far less costly in the long run than skipping the payment, a possibility facing the cash-starved state.

The House has approved the plan, but it stalled in the Senate. Not all Democrats support the plan, meaning they need at least two Republican votes for it to pass.

Republicans, though, have refused to vote for it unless a comprehensive plan is developed for dealing with the state’s financial problems.

Cullerton expects to make another attempt to pass the borrowing plan in early January, Patterson said.


Death penalty

A bill abolishing the death penalty passed out of a House committee during the veto session, but was not called for a vote in the full House. The Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty said it is gearing up efforts to get the bill passed in early January.

A group of state’s attorneys testified against repeal saying it is too big an issue to be rushed through the General Assembly in a matter of days. Sen. Dale Risinger, R-Peoria, said he agrees.

“That needs to be aired out and vetted more,” Risinger said, adding, “People aren’t talking about capital punishment.”



Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527.