Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

All alone

State lawmakers across the country have given their residents permanent tax relief over the last two years. In all, 22 states have cut individual tax rates since 2021 as a result of booming state-government revenues. Michigan is the latest state to cut its income tax, triggered by overflowing coffers. That means every single one of Illinois’ neighbors have cut taxes within the last few years.

Instead of tax cuts for Illinoisans, Sen. Robert Martwick, an ally and surrogate for Gov. J.B. Pritzker, recently filed new legislation calling for a progressive tax scheme – never mind most of the country is moving away from progressive taxes and toward flat structures, and that Illinoisans rejected a similar proposal in a 2020 referendum.

A renewed call for a progressive tax hike is bad news for Illinois in the nationwide competition for people and businesses. We’ve documented in detail how Illinois continues to lose population and businesses to other states. Illinois’ lack of competitiveness is made all the worse as other states make themselves even more attractive through permanent tax cuts.

All of Illinois’ neighbors have made and are making significant moves to lower taxes:

  • Iowa passed laws in 2021 and 2022 to accelerate the state’s already-planned move from a progressive tax to a flat tax. The state’s top income tax rate was dropped from 8.53 percent to 6.0 percent in 2023 and Iowa will fully transition to a flat tax rate of just 3.9 percent by 2026.
  • Missouri passed a law in 2022 to accelerate the state’s already-planned drop in its income tax rates. The state’s top income tax rate decreased from 5.3 percent to 4.95 percent in 2023. Missouri’s top tax rate is on income above just $8,968 a year, so it’s effectively a flat tax state.
  • Indiana passed a law in 2022 that dropped the state’s flat rate from 3.23 percent to 3.15 percent in 2023. The law also requires the rate to fall to 2.9 percent by 2029 if specified financial conditions are met.
  • Kentucky passed a law in 2022 that dropped the state’s flat 5.0 percent rate to 4.5 percent in 2023. The law also requires the rate to fall to 4.0 percent in 2024 if specific financial conditions are met.
  • Wisconsin passed a law in 2022 that dropped the rate of the state’s 2nd-highest income bracket (income between $24,250 and $266,930) from 6.27 to 5.3 percent.
  • Lastly, Michigan’s flat rate of 4.25% is set to fall to 4.05% next month, the result of a 2015 law that requires tax cuts when specific financial conditions are met.

Read more here.

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Under the Paid Leave For All Workers Act, which Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed Monday, Illinois employees will accrue one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked up to 40 hours total.

Starting next year, Illinois will be the third state in the nation to mandate paid time off to be used for any reason.

On Monday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the Paid Leave for All Workers Act, which gives employees at least one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked. The governor’s office said approximately 1.5 million workers will begin earning paid time off starting in 2024.

“Employers benefit from allowing employees to tend to the urgent personal matters of their lives,” said Pritzker. “Workers’ productivity increases, and they often gain greater passion for their job when they can manage the stresses they face outside work.”

Employees can begin using their time once they have worked for 90 days.

Maine and Nevada also allow workers to decide how to use their time, but some exemptions apply. Maine’s Earned Paid Leave law only applies to employers with over 10 employees, and Nevada’s exempts businesses under 50.

During debate of the bill in the Illinois House, state Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville, said the mandate would be difficult on small businesses in Illinois.

“It’s the mom-and-pops that have five, 10, maybe 13 employees,” said Davidsmeyer. “This has a significant impact on their budgets.”

More here.

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AP ComEd

Anne Pramaggiore, former president and CEO of ComEd, at a news conference at the Illinois Institute of Technology on Jan. 4, 2012, announcing new job growth related to the development of smart grid technology and the opening in Chicago of a Utility Training Center by ComEd. (Chris Walker / Chicago Tribune)

Of all the players in the sprawling ComEd bribery investigation, the powerful politicians, connected lobbyists, precinct captains, consultants and door knockers, it’s the business executive with the background in theater who stands out as miscast in the still-unfolding drama.

Former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, a theater major from central Ohio who became a rising star in the male-dominated corporate world, often came off as a brainy mix of business savvy and homespun directness that put people, including public officials, at ease.

Pramaggiore seemingly rose to the challenge when she inherited a massive utility that had been floundering in the late 2000s, with aging infrastructure prone to widespread power outages and growing dissatisfaction from its 3.8 million customers.

But to pull the company up, prosecutors allege, she made a calculated decision to embrace the Springfield power structure, joining forces with then-House Speaker Michael Madigan of Chicago and his straight-from-central-casting cronies.

Now, Pramaggiore, 64, finds herself in the most unlikely of roles. She’s among the criminal defendants in one of the biggest political corruption scandals the state has ever seen: “The ComEd Four,” who go on trial this week.

Her indictment in 2020 on allegations that she participated in a widespread scheme to influence Madigan by funneling payments and other perks to his associates capped a fall from grace that left many in Chicago’s business and legal community stunned.

The disconnect between Pramaggiore’s public persona and the actions described in the indictment has only deepened as recently surfaced emails and wiretapped conversations from the investigation portrayed her as someone at ease with Illinois’ old-school, “where’s mine” pay-to-play political system.

In some of the conversations that jurors in the trial will hear, Pramaggiore even adopts the some of the vernacular of her co-defendants, sounding more like a hard-boiled character in an old gangster movie than a button-down chief executive.

“You take good care of me, and so does our friend, and I will do the best that I can to, to take care of you. You’re a good man,” Pramaggiore allegedly told co-defendant Michael McClain in one September 2018 secretly recorded call, referring to Madigan as “our friend” instead of by name.

Pramaggiore, of Barrington, is charged with bribery conspiracy along with McClain, longtime former ComEd lobbyist John Hooker, and Jay Doherty, a consultant, lobbyist and former head of the City Club of Chicago

Read more here.

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lap dog

Legislation advancing at the Illinois statehouse would get motorists in hot water for letting their pet ride on the driver’s lap.

House Bill 2910 provides that a person who holds an animal in the person’s lap while operating a motor vehicle is guilty of a petty offense. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Jawaharial Williams, D-Chicago, said pets aren’t covered under distracted driving laws.

“The new law would allow police officers to pull you over if they see that you are driving with an animal in your lap, whatever the animal may be,” Williams said.

Offenders would be subject to a $50 fine. The measure moved out of the transportation committee and is headed to the House floor.

More here.

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Personal Finance

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford is pushing a bill that would require all high school students to take a semester-long personal finance course before graduating.

Senate Bill 1266 strives to make sure students learn about managing money before earning a high school diploma, with the course covering everything from banking, to bill payment, to investing, to managing credit and paying for college.

The bill would affect the freshman class of the 2024 to 2025 school year, with those students required to take the course as a junior or senior before receiving their diploma.

The proposed bill comes on the heels of a new Wirepoints report that outlines how Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) data shows not a single student at no less than 53 schools across the state can do math at grade level. The numbers are nearly just as bleak in reading, where the report looked at 30 schools with at least 22 of them being part of the Chicago Public Schools system.

Overall, researchers found that only 1 out of 10 kids or fewer can do math at grade level in 930 schools.

Wirepoints President Ted Dabrowski, who co-authored the website’s schools report, isn’t sure how much difference Lightford’s proposal will make, even if it becomes law.

“Every kid should learn about finances and how to manage their financial future, but the first priority for Illinois leaders should be to assure that kids can read and do math and today that’s not happening,” he told The Center Square. “Instead of adding another mandate for this they should mandate that schools massively elevate the percentage of kids who can read and do math in Illinois schools.”

Read more here.

Editorial note: We’re all for requiring practical educational topics. Heck, we’ve got an incumbent Board of Education member with an advanced college degree seeking reelection who can’t (or won’t) even complete a simple election qualification form even when we pointed out his omission a month ago (see, “Who’s minding Leah and Barry’s campaign finances”)!

However, apparently, he can tell you the ins and outs of pornography etiquette if you let him.

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While proponents say it’s greener than traditional burial, critics doubt its dignity

Religious and environmental ideals are at odds for some in the ongoing debate around what to do with human remains.

A proposal at the Illinois Statehouse would legalize and regulate “natural organic reduction,” a process in which human remains are rapidly decomposed into compost. The process is also known as human composting or terramation.

That process turns human remains into dirt over the course of several weeks. Companies that offer this service place a person’s remains in a vessel with wood chips, straw and other organic material and heat it to accelerate the growth of microbes that break down the body. This is distinct from “natural burial,” in which a body is buried with no casket or in a biodegradable container.

The measure, House Bill 3158, passed in the House Energy and Environment Committee on Tuesday on a 16-10 vote. It now goes to the House for consideration, although its sponsor, Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, said an amendment to the bill is likely.

If lawmakers approve the proposal, Illinois would become the seventh state to legalize this process. Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, California and New York have already made the process legal, according to the human composting company Recompose.

Recompose pushed for the legalization of human composting in Washington. Its website notes that a body will stay in the vessel for four to seven weeks before the resulting soil is allowed to cure for two to six weeks. A person’s loved ones are then left with approximately one cubic yard of soil.

“Natural organic reduction is, in fact, the most environmentally friendly death care option,” Haley Morris, a representative of the human composting company Earth Funerals, said during the committee hearing.

“It’s less resource intensive than any other option and it reduces carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 90 percent relative to traditional options,” Moris added

Representatives of several environmental groups around the state have also voiced their support of the bill in witness slips filed with the committee. These include the Illinois Environmental Council, the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club and Go Green Winnetka.

Read more here.

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Group seeks clarity on whether Illinois State Police are enforcing gun ban deemed unconstitutional


“It’s good to be the king”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday that despite his million-dollar donations to two Illinois Supreme Court justices last year, they are independent and should not have to recuse themselves from two high-profile cases before them in which the governor is a defendant.

Pritzker donated a total of $2 million from two separate accounts to then-Illinois Supreme Court candidates Mary O’Brien and Elizabeth Rochford, $1 million each. Those candidates are now justices on the bench of seven who will hear separate challenges to the state’s no-cash bail provision (next week) and to the state’s gun ban and registry (in May). Pritzker signed both the SAFE-T Act and the gun ban into law and is a defendant in the lawsuits challenging their constitutionality.

Responding to a question about the donations, Pritzker said it was “ridiculous” to suggest that anyone who received money from him should have to recuse themselves.

“If you’re suggesting that the fact that I gave money to let’s say the Democratic Party or the committees that supported candidates means that everybody who’s received any money has to recuse themselves from anything to do with the state of Illinois, that’s ridiculous,” Pritzker said at an unrelated event in Springfield. “And I’ve certainly never asked anybody to vote a certain way or decide on a case a certain way. I would never do that. I never have and I never will.”

Independent observers say judges should recuse themselves where there is any hint of conflict of interest.Chris Forsyth with the nonpartisan Judicial Integrity Project in Colorado told The Center Square that trust in the judicial system is crucial in American society.

“If we don’t have confidence in the opinions the judicial branch issues then our judicial branch is failing,” Forsyth told The Center Square.

Pritzker also said Wednesday that he didn’t violate campaign finance laws he signed last year in making the donations. The 2022 law capped contribution limits in such campaigns to $500,000 from “any single person.” Pritzker’s $2 million in donations $1 million each – came from two separate counts, $500,000 to each from both Pritzker’s political campaign and his revocable trust.

More here.

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Murray Mouth

Anne Stava-Murray

A bill that would make Illinois the first state to require warning labels on gas stoves passed the House’s Consumer Protection Committee this week.

The legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, a Naperville Democrat, would require all new gas stoves sold in Illinois to have a warning label detailing asthma risks associated with gas stove emissions. The bill would apply only to gas stoves manufactured on or after Jan. 1, 2024.

In a news conference to tout the bill Tuesday, Stava-Murray was joined by public health advocates from the Respiratory Health Association and the Illinois Public Interest Research Group.

“Studies have linked gas stove usage and asthma risks for more than 50 years, yet lack of education and federal regulations leave consumers largely unaware,” a news release from Stava-Murray’s office stated. “Labeling new stoves would help Illinoisans make informed decisions about what products to put in their homes.”

The bill would not ban gas stoves or require existing stoves to be modified or removed, the release said.

The label, which would be required to be attached to the gas stove “in a conspicuous location,” would read as follows:

“WARNING: Gas stoves can release nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide inside homes at levels exceeding the EPA’s standards for outdoor air quality. The presence of these pollutants may exacerbate preexisting respiratory illnesses or lead to the development of asthma, especially in children. Gas-powered stoves should never be used without a ducted vent hood to reduce exposure to these emissions. Visit (website link) for a guide on how to choose the right range hood for your stove.”

Read more here.

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220 White Hats

Katey Baldassano, Leonard Munson and Matt Sheriff

The League of Women Voters of the Palatine Area will be hosting a series of candidate forums beginning next week to help voters make informed choices in the April 4th election.

Next in this series will be Barrington Unit School District 220 Board candidates (virtual forum), from 10:30 AM to Noon, Saturday, March 11th. Registration and other information can be found here.

The forums will be recorded and made available on the group’s YouTube channel via lwvpalatinearea.org.

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SAT scores are dropping for high school students in Illinois and Chicago. Here’s how Illinois’ 20 largest school districts compared to the state average in reading and math.

Illinois’ 11th grade students will again take the SAT in April, a measure of their reading and math abilities that tells the state how well it is educating high school students as well as how ready they are for college.

Statewide, there’s been a decline. In Chicago, the story is the same.

The 20 largest school districts are mainly in Chicago and its collar counties. Here’s a look at how students did statewide and how the largest 20 districts performed against the statewide average.

Statewide performance on the SAT

Illinois 11th grade students scored on average 486.4 on the reading portion of the SAT and 473.8 on math in spring 2022. This marked a nearly 10- and 13-point drop in reading and math since the previous academic year, and an 11- and 23-point drop since 2019, the last test year prior to the pandemic.

Since 2017, the first year in which Illinois used the SAT rather than the ACT to measure high school students’ academic progress, average SAT scores statewide have decreased each year.


Illinois bucked the national trend of decreased participation on the SAT, because Illinois requires all high school juniors to take the SAT to graduate from high school.

SAT scores in the 20 largest school districts in Illinois

Among Illinois’ 20 largest school districts based on 2022 enrollment, nine districts scored above the statewide average in reading on the SAT. In math, 10 scored higher than average.

Of those 20 districts, the highest performing was Naperville Community Unit School District 203, with an average reading score of 567.1 and 564.7 in math. Waukegan Community Unit School District 60 registered at the lowest with a reading score of 418.6 and math score of 402.4. Districtwide, nearly 70% of Waukegan’s student body is low-income, but just 15% of Naperville’s students classify as low-income.

Read much more here.

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