Area lawmakers tout successes


Even though the Illinois General Assembly has yet to decide how to deal with a $13 billion budget deficit, area lawmakers were able to get some of their proposals approved during the legislature’s spring session.

Here’s what they had to say about the measures that made it through, and those that didn’t.

Peoria area

*Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, said he was able to get several important bills passed this session, including one that would allow hospitals to receive Medicaid revenue faster.

Under Senate Bill 3762, the state would receive money from the federal economic stimulus program by forwarding its projected bills before the program ends Dec. 15.

Mautino said the state might lose the money if it submitted the bills after January. He said the state expects to get $1.2 billion in federal money and $32 million in one-time gains.

Mautino said passing House Bill 4797 was another of his top priorities. It extended the sunset date for a statewide property tax assessment standard for wind farms from 2011 to 2016.

Mautino said he wanted to boost the construction of several new wind farms in his district.

He said the money from the assessments provides farmers with extra income and provides clean energy.

One Mautino bill that fell short was House Bill 5296, which would make the Vermilion River navigable.

Despite the setback, he said the legislation was “a good framework for negotiations,” and that the river will be open for public use this summer.

*Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, said aside from leaving town without a budget plan, this year’s session was productive.

“Obviously the budget stuff is pretty ugly, but I wasn’t expecting anything different,” he said.

He said lawmakers made substantial progress on funding the new capital projects program – more or less the crown jewel of last year’s session – by allowing video poker in bars and restaurants throughout the state.

Two bills that are still in the works could significantly help his district, Koehler said.

Senate Bill 2559, which remains in the House, would give historical sites a 25 percent income tax credit for qualified expenditures.

Senate Bill 2647, also backed by Koehler, would enable the Peoria public building commission and Peoria School District 150 to use school construction money to reduce taxation for school construction.

Rep. David Leitch, R-Peoria, co-sponsors the bill in the House. He said the measure could save the district more than $50 million in construction money.

Leitch said District 150 is planning $80 million in construction.

Koehler said the elephant in the room continues to be the budget.

He said a bipartisan budget agreement before the May 31 deadline is “wishful thinking.”

“I’m concerned about the House, because they don’t have the supermajority needed for certain bills,” Koehler said. “Plus, there is no interest in doing anything with revenue until we get back after elections.”

“And that is the only thing that will get us out of this mess we are in.”

Rockford area

Rep. Jerry Mitchell, R-Dixon, said he tried to find ways to save money for the state.

House Bill 4888 would have required only rear license plates on vehicles in Illinois, for an estimated savings of $800,000 annually. But law enforcement organizations opposed the idea, and it stalled in a House committee.

Mitchell said it was ironic that State Police opposed the measure when Gov. Pat Quinn proposed deep cuts within the agency.

“I told them at the time, ‘Which would you rather have, more police officers on the highway or two plates?’” he said.

Mitchell also sponsored a measure that would have required state employees to receive their paychecks through direct deposit. House Bill 5083 was unable to get out of a House rules committee.

Mitchell did get one bill passed that would allow school districts that merge to build a school.

“They still have to have the matching funds,” Mitchell added.

Rep. Dave Winters, R-Shirland, was able to land a victory for people who are unexpectedly annexed into a municipality.

House Bill 5603 would allow property owners with less than 60 acres of land to receive a tax refund for the portion of the year before they were annexed.

Winters also saw passage of House Bill 5178 through the House. The bill, which is awaiting a vote in the Senate, would allow townships to receive their portion of the motor fuel tax.

Failing to drum up support was House Bill 4706, which would have eliminated 50 percent tuition waivers that state university employees’ children receive after their parents have been on the job for seven years.

A push by Sen. Brad Burzynski, R-Rochelle, that would allow current and retired correctional officers to carry firearms off duty failed to garner support in the Senate.

Burzynski said he plans to reintroduce Senate Bill 3314 next year.

Burzynski is backing another measure that would require updates on the number of unfunded programs in Illinois.

Senate Bill 3281 awaits a vote in the House.

Burzynski said he believes lawmakers passed nearly 250 bills this year that were subject to appropriations.

“I think that is a practice that needs to stop,” he said.

Lawmakers approved Senate Bill 2801, which would allow the Kishwaukee Community College District to issue 25-year bonds, instead of being limited to a 20-year borrowing period, for an expansion project.

Voters would have to approve the sale of bonds in either case.