Fiscal Focus
Published in

Fiscal Focus

FROM THE STATEHOUSE

COVID-19 DOMINATES SPRING LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Social distancing, masks, and other precautions to prevent the spread of a deadly coronavirus were required when the Illinois House of Representatives convened at the Bank of Springfield Center in Springfield for four days to wrap up the spring legislative session in May.

Business was anything but usual for state lawmakers this spring, as the COVID-19 pandemic effectively canceled most of the legislative session in Springfield.

Members of the Illinois House and Senate did not meet at the Capitol for scheduled session days between March 18 and May 20 in an effort to limit large gatherings and stop the spread of COVID-19. It was the first time in modern history that the legislative session was interrupted to such a degree.

When lawmakers did meet, it was for a limited special session that began May 20 and ended May 23 to consider only the most important and timely measures to help Illinois fight the global COVID-19 pandemic.

State senators met in their chamber at the Capitol, while state representatives convened at a convention center about a mile away. Lawmakers and staff were asked to seek testing for the virus before attending session and to self-isolate after session adjourned and they returned home.

In addition, each chamber adopted special rules requiring face masks and social distancing measures. One state representative who represents communities in southeastern Illinois refused to wear a mask and was removed from the House floor after a bipartisan vote of representatives.

Despite the unique circumstances of the session, lawmakers debated issues critical to moving the state forward, such as the fiscal year 2021 budget that took effect July 1 and expansion of vote-by-mail procedures in anticipation of the pandemic’s potential impact on the November 2020 general election.

Balancing the budget for fiscal year 2021 proved to be a herculean task as state revenues took a nosedive because of the virus-driven economic shutdown and the state’s extension of its income tax filing deadline. Budgeteers in the General Assembly were faced with two options: make devastating cuts of 35% across all state agencies or increase borrowing to maintain the status quo.

Ultimately, the $43 billion operating budget passed along partisan lines. It is a mostly flat budget, with increases in human services line items and Medicaid to address growing needs because of the COVID-19 crisis. Lawmakers also approved the necessary appropriations to expend an estimated $5.5 billion in federal CARES Act funding for Illinois.

To balance this maintenance budget, the General Assembly relied on potential federal relief and various borrowing mechanisms. Gov. JB Pritzker signed the budget package into law on May 29.

Lawmakers approved several measures to help local and state government function safely during the pandemic. Notably, they created two legislative commissions to oversee the governor’s actions on the budget and on implementation of the governor’s plan to reopen the economy. Both are aimed at providing legislative oversight while still giving Illinois’ chief executive the flexibility needed to deal with the economic and health crises.

Another hotly debated measure addressed the health and safety of voters during the November 2020 general election. This included an expansion of Illinois’ vote-by-mail program, creating curbside and drop-off ballot boxes, and making Election Day a state holiday to allow schools to be used as polling places. The measure passed along party lines in both the Senate and the House.

Finally, lawmakers approved gambling legislation that is key to strengthening the state’s capital construction plan and the economy. The measure changes the tax structure for a possible Chicago casino, making the project more feasible. It also allows casino operators an additional four years to pay reconciliation fees, providing more flexibility amid casino closures.

The General Assembly is not scheduled to return to Springfield until the 2020 veto session, which begins Nov. 17 in both the House and the Senate. ■

--

--

--

This publication is designed to provide fiscal information of general interest. Fiscal Focus is published by the office of Illinois State Comptroller Susana A. Mendoza, 201 Statehouse, Springfield IL 62706. Questions or comments may be directed to 217-782-6000.

Recommended from Medium

A Navy Carrier Amid Covid19

Logical Fallacies in Political Speech

This Election Was the Safest in American History

Trump’s Broken Promises: Workers

Green New City: Affordable Housing and Homelessness in Berkeley

Inside the Darkest Corner of the U.S. Justice Department

Welcome to Washington, Amazonians

We Are All Accountable

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Illinois State Comptroller

Illinois State Comptroller

The official account for Illinois State Comptroller Susana A. Mendoza. Follow us for office services and #ILbudget updates.

More from Medium

GenZ Vs. Millennials: How They View Jobs & Employment

Domestic Violence: Time To Make Your Voice Heard

Let’s Be Courageous

Virtual Wine Tasting: Does It Work?