Democrats compete for best tax-relief plan with 2 days left
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois is in the rare position of having a surplus in its bank account, which has meant Democrats who control the Legislature are competing in an election-year contest over who can give the most back to taxpayers.
House Democrats popped a budget proposal Wednesday that offers $1.35 billion essentially in refunds to taxpayers, an 40% enhancement of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “Illinois Family Relief Plan.” Not to be outdone, Senate Democrats late last week, leaning on the Capitol catch-phrase this spring, “higher than expected revenue,” put up a plan to put $1.8 billion back in voters’ pockets.
With just two days remaining in the scheduled session, legislators picked up the pace in substantive areas as well. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart visited the Capitol to advance a proposal to stem a spate of carjacking crimes in the nation’s third-largest city. The proposal would push automakers create a database accessible by law enforcement to track stolen cars by GPS, but progress has been slow.
“I told them at the beginning, I am not going to sit and wait while people are having guns put to their heads,” Dart said.
The Democratic governor in February introduced a budget that attempts to relieve the pressure from 7% annual inflation. His $970 million proposal would lift sales tax on groceries for a year, freeze a cost-of-living increase in motor fuel tax and offer a property tax rebate.
The House plan would add more than $383 million in a permanent expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a credit to low- and moderate-income earners which they can apply to lower their tax liablity; and an additional $100 rebate in the coming year for each EITC filer, plus $50 for each child. To ease spending by city hall, $100 million would be added to state revenue-sharing with local governments.
“This plan is responsible. It’s balanced. It targets those who need the help the most during these times of high inflation,” said House Revenue Committee Chairman Michael Zalewski, a Riverside Democrat.
With critical funding finally available for long-delayed capital construction work, transportation proponents oppose Pritzker’s plan to freeze the motor fuel tax at 39.2 cents when it was changed in 2019 to index it to inflation. Zalewski said the House plan would freeze the increase but replace the $135 million in the road-building fund from money set aside to clean up leaking underground fuel-storage tanks.
The House Democrats are also proposing $250 million in new spending for public safety, including $124 million to local police agencies for body cameras, automatic license plate readers, non-lethal equipment such as stun-guns and more, said Deputy Majority Leader Jehan Gordon-Booth of Peoria.
Pritzker later said he is still reviewing the plan, but that it appears to have “adhered to my goals of achieving a fiscally responsible balanced budget and delivering tax relief to families that need it most.”
Rep. Martin Moylan of Des Plaines and Tinley Park Sen. Michael Hastings, both Democrats, are sponsoring the carjacking plan, which came a day after other measures were introduced to toughen penalties for the crime, particularly for adults who recruit juveniles for the task.
Since 2019, Chicago carjackings have increased in the neighborhood of 200%. The 2,060 seen in Cook County in 2021 were more than New York and Los Angeles combined, Dart said.
Cars manufactured since 2015 have been outfitted with the necessary technology, but Dart said often, automakers put up proprietary, legal or privacy reasons for denying access to the data, even when the car’s owner requests the tracking.
Proponents agree a federal approach would be preferable, but they don’t want to wait.
“We want to make sure that law enforcement officials have all the tools necessary to attack this problem,” Hastings said.