ILLINOIS STATEHOUSE NEWS | ANALYSIS

After busy 2013, Ill. Statehouse may see quieter 2014

2014-01-06T00:00:00Z After busy 2013, Ill. Statehouse may see quieter 2014Kurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com
January 06, 2014 12:00 am  • 

After a year in which state lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn signed off on some landmark proposals, you could argue that 2014 might be a bit quieter.

Think about it: While the politicians in Washington D.C. were doing virtually nothing except creating and responding to manufactured crises, their Illinois counterparts signed off on concealed carry, gay marriage, a pension overhaul and a ban on talking on cell phones while driving.

You know it was a busy time in Springfield when the approval of regulations allowing fracking and medical marijuana had to share top billing on the legislative highlight reel.

So what’s ahead in the new year? Here’s a look at some of the things you might be talking about:

-- BUDGET WOES

Gov. Pat Quinn is scheduled to unveil his 2015 budget proposal on February 19.

It wouldn’t be a shock if he asks for an extension until after the March 18 primary election.

After all, who wants to be the spreader of doom and gloom at a time when you want people to vote for you.

Here’s what has Quinn spooked: The state’s temporary income tax increase expires during the second half of the next fiscal year, which will essentially blow a $2.2 billion hole in the state’s spending plan.

In order to present a balanced budget, Quinn will have to either lobby for extending the tax hike or outline what he plans to cut.

Lawmakers should not give Quinn the opportunity to wait until after the primary election.

Forcing Quinn to explain how the state is going to operate if the temporary tax expires also would force the four Republican candidates for governor to start talking.

Thus far, the GOP candidates have been reluctant to offer any specific plans for life after the tax hike.

Voters need to know where all of the candidates stand before they go to the polls.

-- ELECTION SPENDING

If 2014 is the Year of the Horse on the Chinese calendar, it will be the Year of the Horse Race on the Illinois election calendar.

Without doing any research whatsoever, there is no doubt the upcoming election will be the MOST EXPENSIVE EVER.

Not only is this generally true of every election cycle, but this time around Illinoisans are watching a guy who made $53 million in 2012 run for governor.

Republican Bruce Rauner already has spent and raised millions of dollars more than any of his rivals in an attempt to introduce himself to voters.

He’ll continue to do so right up until the March 18 primary.

-- WHO WILL WIN?

Republicans have given up on trying to beat U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Secretary of State Jesse White.

Therefore, I am predicting re-election victories for each of them in the coming year.

-- FILLING EMPTY PRISONS

Rather than leave a handful of state prisons and juvenile facilities empty for another year, I'm predicting some lawmaker is going to propose using them as pot-growing facilities.

The state’s new medical marijuana law is being implemented over the next few months. It calls for pot to be grown in secure locations.

What’s more secure than a prison? And, Illinois has a number of facilities just sitting around doing nothing.

Along with the prison in Tamms, other facilities that could become super-secure pot growing farms include the shuttered prisons in Dwight and Joliet.

It would be an ironic twist. Prisons that once held people for selling pot would now be used to grow pot for sick people.

-- PAYCHECK POLITICS

Quinn recently called on lawmakers to approve an increase in the minimum wage from its current level of $8.25 an hour to $10 an hour.

Don’t be surprised if the Democrats who control the legislature go along with the plan by phasing in an increase over the course of a couple of years.

-- CONSTRUCTION STALLS

This year marks the end of a five year statewide construction program that saw improvements to roads, bridges, schools and university facilities.

Quinn recently proposed closing some corporate loopholes to generate money for a new construction program.

Don’t bet on that happening.

Corporate loopholes were a favorite target of Rod Blagojevich. The no-imprisoned ex-governor and Quinn have been mostly unsuccessful in getting any money out of them.

Plus, shouldn’t any new revenue go toward paying down the state’s $7.6 billion in unpaid bills?

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