Illinois’ new Governor outlined his spending plan for the coming year, and a controversial minimum-wage measure has been signed into law.
Also during the week, two environmentally-minded legislative packages, which have gained bipartisan support, would offer communities greater protections from ethylene oxide, and help protect the primary water source for Central Illinois.
Gov. J. B. Pritzker delivered his first Budget Address Feb. 20 to a joint session of legislators in the House of Representatives Chamber.
The Governor’s proposed budget represents a starting point for further negotiations; however, there are concerns about references to more spending, more tax increases and budgeting gimmicks that tried and failed in the past. Although lawmakers will have time to analyze the fiscal details, many have already expressed their concerns about proposals to address the pension system, the Governor’s calls for a graduated income tax and other revenues from such actions as legalizing medical marijuana and sports gambling.
“Illinois’ financial situation has been critically wounded by years of reckless taxing, spending and borrowing. We should learn from past mistakes, not repeat them in the manner proposed by Gov. Pritzker," said Barickman. "I encourage the Governor to moderate his approach so that Democrats and Republicans can come together to craft a more reasonable approach to a budget. We can do this by avoiding gimmicks, controlling spending and putting reforms in place that will allow our economy to grow. I believe this is our best chance to put our state on stronger financial footing.”
Fiscal Year 2020 runs from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020.
Governor signs controversial minimum wage hike
Less than a week after Democrat legislative leaders forced through a minimum wage hike, Gov. Pritzker signed Senate Bill 1 into law on Feb. 19. The controversial legislation was advanced by the Senate and House on party-line votes, despite economic concerns from employers and public groups.
The plan would raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour over six years, and to $13 per hour during the same period for those employees younger than 18.
Opponents of the plan noted the vast differences in the cost of living across Illinois. They also raised concerns that the incremental increase could have far-reaching implications for employers across the board, including an increase in annual costs for state agencies, local school districts, human service providers and hospitals.
Greater protections from ethylene oxide
A package of legislation unveiled Feb. 19 will address the public health crisis caused by Sterigenics and their release of ethylene oxide into surrounding communities.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issued a seal order Feb. 15 against Sterigenics, which forced them to cease operations. The legislation will also ensure the proper policies and protections are in place to safeguard Willowbrook and all Illinois communities from the impact of this public health hazard.
Senate Bill 1852 requires:
- A facility to notify all affected property owners and local governments within 2,500 feet when an ethylene oxide leak has occurred.
Senate Bill 1853 provides that:
- The IEPA shall reevaluate the current CAAPP (Clean Air Act Permit Program) permit of any facility emitting ethylene oxide, and conduct a 90-day public hearing process on such permits.
- No permit shall be renewed if the facility is in violation of any federal or state standards or current studies pertaining to ethylene oxide.
- A facility emitting ethylene oxide at levels higher than federal or state standards must cease operations until the level of emissions are reduced below the federal and state standards.
Senate Bill 1854 provides that:
- No facility shall have fugitive emissions of ethylene oxide above zero.
- Each facility is subject to regular and frequent inspections and testing to ensure that no fugitive emissions of ethylene oxide exist. Inspections shall be unannounced and conducted by a third party chosen by the municipality in which the facility operates.
- Each facility is subject to fence line ambient air testing, at random, once within every 90-120 days for a duration of 24-hour samples of no less than six consecutive days. Testing is done by a third party chosen by the municipality.
Protecting Mahomet Aquifer
Also during the week, a legislative package was introduced to protect the Mahomet Aquifer, the primary water source for Central Illinois.
The package of bills is supported by a bicameral and bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives who are working to pass them into law, based on recommendations from the final report of Mahomet Aquifer Task Force.
Senate Bill 2073 creates a permanent body, the Mahomet Aquifer Council, to serve as a watchdog and to provide oversight for the Mahomet Aquifer.
Senate Bill 2071 would provide $1 million in funding for equipment for the University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute (PRI) so that the organization can continue to research and study the aquifer.
Senate Bill 2072 would provide $2.3 million in funding for ongoing PRI operations.
Senate Bill 2070 would appropriate $4 million for the utilization of helicopter-based time-domain electromagnetics technology for the purpose of mapping and studying of an area of the aquifer known as Zone 2. This zone is where a recent leak of natural gas occurred.
Senate Bill 2074 would allow State Treasurer to accept restitution payment from Peoples Gas, if a court finds the company liable for a recent leak of natural gas into the aquifer.