The General Assembly adjourned for the spring on Saturday, May 23, 2020. Adjournment followed a four-day special session (May 20-23) that represented the first days the General Assembly had been in session since early March as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2020 spring session stands in stark contrast to the 2019 spring session. The 2019 spring legislative session will be remembered as extraordinarily eventful, with the General Assembly approving noteworthy legislation including a capital infrastructure program, cannabis legalization, internet sales taxation, a minimum wage increase and legislative enactments to lay the groundwork for a possible graduated income tax.
Far less was accomplished during the 2020 spring session in large part because the session was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While always unlikely to see as many big ticket items approved as in 2019, few would have predicted there would be such an absence of activity.
The spring session saw a leadership change in the Senate following the November 2019 announcement that Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) would be retiring.
On January 19, 2020, the Senate elected Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) as the 39th Senate President in Illinois history.
ISACo congratulates Senate President Harmon and looks forward to working with him, his leadership team and Senate Republican leaders to champion issues that benefit counties and their residents.
This report provides a general overview of the more consequential legislation approved during the brief number of session days held during the second year of the 101st General Assembly.
SFY21 State Budget
The House and Senate approved the State Fiscal Year (SFY) 2021 budget prior to adjournment. The bills are as follows:
- SB 264 (P.A. 101-0637 - linked here) (Sen. Harmon, D-Oak Park/Rep. Harris, D-Chicago) is the appropriation bill.
- HB 357 (P.A. 101-0636 - linked here) (Rep. Harris, D-Chicago/Sen. Harmon, D-Oak Park) is the Budget Implementation (BIMP) bill.
- HB 64 (P.A. 101-0638 - linked here) (Rep. Hoffman, D-Belleville/Sen. Harmon, D-Oak Park) is the capital infrastructure appropriations bill.
- SB 2099 (P.A. 101-0630 - linked here) (Sen. Harmon, D-Oak Park/Rep. Zalewski, D-Riverside) is the federal borrowing legislation.
The SFY 2021 budget appropriates $42.861 billion in revenues and anticipates revenue collections of $42.885 billion. The SFY 2021 spending level generally remains consistent with SFY 2020 levels and relies on almost $5 billion in federal borrowing. The SFY 2021 budget includes SFY 2020 supplemental funding for capital infrastructure projects.
SB 2099 authorizes the Governor, with the approval of the Comptroller and Treasurer, to borrow up to $5 billion from the Federal Reserve Bank. This revenue source will be utilized as a line of credit upon which the state can draw when necessary. Legislators indicated they hope to be able to repay amounts drawn using revenue from a possible future federal relief bill that provides funding to states and local governments. The SFY 2021 budget situation could become dire in the absence of another federal financial relief bill.
State Shared Revenues
The SFY 2021 state budget includes several funding sources collected by the state and shared with local governments. The following funding sources are relevant to counties:
Local Government Distributive Fund
The county share of Local Government Distributive Fund (LGDF) revenue as a percentage of state income tax collections will actually increase slightly because a 5 percent cut that existed in both the SFY 2019 and SFY 2020 budgets was eliminated. While this does not return LGDF to a full 10 percent of total income tax collections, it restores LGDF to the percentage shared with counties and municipalities as recently as the SFY 2017 state budget. Beginning with the SFY 2018 state budget, the state cut LGDF by 10 percent and then reduced this cut to 5 percent in SFY 2019 and SFY 2020. In our meetings with the House and Senate Local Government Working Groups, ISACo emphasized the need to protect existing revenues shared by the state with local governments. ISACo is pleased that the General Assembly did not extend a 5 percent cut into another state fiscal year. ISACo will continue to advocate for a restoration of a full 10 percent share of LGDF revenue to counties. ISACo has prepared more information about LGDF in a Policy Brief available via this link.
Personal Property Replacement Tax
The budget includes $311.9 million in total diversions from Personal Property Replacement Tax (PPRT) revenues that would otherwise be distributed to local governments. PPRT diversions have been increasing annually for several years. The SFY 2020 state budget diverted approximately $350 million from PPRT. ISACo has prepared more information about PPRT in a Policy Brief available via this link.
Local Government Pass-Through Funds
Local government “pass-through” funds [Motor Fuel Tax (MFT), Use Tax, Video/Casino Gaming, Statewide Emergency 9-1-1 funds, etc.] are fully funded within the SFY 2021 budget.
CARES Act Funding
The BIMP bill includes an allocation of $250 million in federal CARES Act funds to local governments for expenditures consistent with federal guidelines associated with the COVID-19 emergency response. This represents a portion of CARES Act money provided to the state that is being shared with local governments. The funds will be distributed by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) from the Local Coronavirus Urgent Remediation Emergency (CURE) Fund. The 97 counties that did not receive direct CARES Act funds, as well as eligible local governments within those counties, would be the only jurisdictions receiving this money. Per the BIMP bill, municipalities within the five counties that received direct funding from the United States Treasury Department must get CARES Act funding from their counties based upon amounts those counties are willing to share. ISACo is pleased that counties that have not yet received federal CARES Act funds will receive funding on a per capita basis. ISACo engaged our lobbyists to advocate to the Governor’s Office that the 97 counties that did not receive federal funds directly from Treasury receive a portion of the state’s share. This request was followed-up with a letter to the Governor and legislative leaders (available via this link) urging support for an equitable distribution on a per capita basis.
ISACo continues to work in partnership with the National Association of Counties (NACo) toward another federal relief package that would provide direct funding to counties with the ability to use those funds to offset lost revenues caused by the economic shutdown.
Capital Infrastructure Funds
HB 64 includes $104 billion in “pay-as-you go” and $20.8 billion in bonded capital projects. The bill leverages $10 billion in federal funds and distributes $3.6 billion to units of local government.
The Governor signed these budget and capital infrastructure project bills into law. The budget becomes effective on July 1, 2020.
Legislation of Interest to Counties
The following bills were approved by both chambers and signed into law by the Governor. Election Omnibus Bill SB 1863 (P.A. 101-0642 - linked here) (Sen. Morrison, D-Deerfield/Rep. Burke, D-Oak Lawn) is an omnibus election bill that affects how counties administer elections. The primary provisions within the bill are intended to facilitate an application process by which eligible voters can obtain and utilize mail in ballots and to make changes to ensure the safety of, and enhanced participation in, the 2020 general election. The bill is only applicable to the 2020 general election. During floor debate in the House it was mentioned that the mail-in ballot applications would be sent to approximately 5 million voters based upon the provisions of the bill. ISACo has prepared an analysis of SB 1863 available via this link.
Deferral of Property Tax Late Payment Penalties
SB 685 (P.A. 101-0635 - linked here) (Sen. Koehler, D-Peoria/Rep. Zalewski, D-Riverside) was enacted based upon conflicting opinions from states' attorneys about whether county boards have authority to waive penalties on late property tax payments. More specifically, the bill provides that in counties other than Cook (which has home rule powers) the county board may adopt an ordinance or resolution under which some or all of the interest penalty for the delinquent payment of any installment other than the final installment of taxes for the 2019 taxable year that otherwise would be imposed shall be waived for all taxpayers in the county for a period of (1) 120 days after the effective date of the Act or (2) until the first day of the first month during which there is no longer a statewide COVID-19 public health emergency as evidenced by an effective disaster declaration of the Governor covering all counties in the state. This is a permissive grant of authority ISACo requested in our meetings with the House and Senate Local Government Working Groups several weeks ago. Several Illinois counties previously elected to move forward with waiving penalties for late property tax payments. More information about that is available via this link.
The bill also includes a provision delaying the annual tax sale in 2020 as well as provisions allowing for certain property tax exemptions to be renewed without application for the 2020 tax year. ISACo wrote a letter to Governor Pritzker requesting that he sign this bill into law. The letter is available via this link. Open Meetings Act Change Among other provisions, SB 2135 (P.A. 101-0640 - linked here) (Sen. Sims, D-Chicago/Rep. Burke, D-Oak Lawn) amends the Open Meetings Act (OMA) to allow public bodies (but not the General Assembly) to conduct meetings by audio or video conference during a disaster declaration and under certain conditions without the physical presence of a quorum of the members. The bill was approved by both chambers. This is another issue ISACo raised during our meetings with the House and Senate Local Government Working Groups and urged legislators to adopt. ISACo wrote a letter to Governor Pritzker requesting that he sign this bill into law. The letter is available via this link. Workers’ Compensation Change
HB 2455 (P.A. 101-0633 - linked here) (Rep. Hoffman, D-Belleville/Sen. Holmes, D-Aurora) represents an agreement between labor and business on changes to the workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance programs. With respect to workers’ compensation, this bill creates a temporary rebuttable presumption for first responder and front-line (essential) workers who contract COVID-19 on the job.
Hospital Assessment Program
SB 2541 (P.A. 101-0650 - linked here) (Sen. Steans, D-Chicago/Rep. Harris, D-Chicago) renews the hospital assessment program in Illinois to enable the state to capture $3.9 billion in federal funds for treating Medicaid patients. This represents an increase of $450 million over previous years. The assessment bill includes a Medicaid physician rate increase and prioritizes funding for critical access and safety net hospitals.
SB 516 (P.A. 101-0648 - linked here) (Sen. Cunningham, D-Chicago/Rep. Rita, D-Blue Island) makes various changes to the gaming bill passed in 2019. SB 516 extends the time that casino operators have to pay the reconciliation fee from 2 to 6 years. The bill also reduces the tax rates for the Chicago casino and makes a technical fix for the Danville casino. Due to the pandemic, the bill moves the due date for fees associated with gaming and sports betting license and positions from July 1, 2020, to July 1, 2021. Finally, the bill makes technical fixes to ensure video gaming can occur at the Illinois State Fairgrounds and DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.
Graduated Income Tax Constitutional Amendment Ballot Question
SJR 1 - linked here (Sen. Harmon, D-Oak Park/Rep. Madigan, D-Chicago) establishes the wording of the arguments both in favor and in opposition to a graduated income tax that will be submitted to voters ahead of the November 2020 General Election. SJR 1 also establishes how the question will be presented on the ballot. Voters will have an opportunity to decide whether they want to amend the Illinois Constitution to allow for implementation of a graduated income tax.
Health Care Affordability Act
SB 1864 (P.A. 101-0649 - linked here) (Sen. Hunter, D-Chicago/Rep. Harris, D-Chicago) was approved by both chambers and would create the Health Care Affordability Act to empower the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS) to better respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill also includes a provision for DHFS to work with the Illinois Department of Insurance (IDOI) on a feasibility study intended to investigate options to enhance health care affordability for Illinois residents.
ISACo Legislative Agenda
ISACo is a county association predicated on taking action. We're not here to simply tell you what happened, but to make things happen.
In furtherance of this ambition, ISACo developed our first legislative agenda during the summer and fall of 2019 and introduced several bills for consideration by the General Assembly in 2020.
Our agenda (available via this link), known as the Illinois County Action Program (ICAP), consisted of 13 bills. Sponsors were found for each bill and most of the bills were assigned to substantive committees before the pandemic truncated the legislative session. We are very appreciative for our sponsors and look forward to our continued work with them in support of counties.
While ISACo is disappointed that these bills did not advance to the Governor in light of the General Assembly not convening for a full session, we will reintroduce these and other bills for consideration by the General Assembly in 2021.
Despite the lack of a traditional legislative session, ISACo continued to advocate in support of issues important to counties at both the state and federal level. A summary of our efforts is available below:
- On March 18, 2020, ISACo contacted the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to inquire about the plan and timetable for releasing federal funds intended for local governments that would first pass through the agency. The funds in question were part of the initial $8.3 billion package approved by Congress and signed into law by President Trump on March 6, 2020.
- On March 23, 2020, ISACo issued an Action Alert to Illinois county officials requesting that they contact Senators Durbin and Duckworth to encourage support for the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. ISACo also engaged our federal lobbyists to communicate our support to the Senators’ staffs. The CARES Act includes provisions providing financial assistance to local governments.
- On March 25, 2020, ISACo sent a letter to Illinois State Comptroller Susana Mendoza urging that the distribution of revenue collected by the state on behalf of counties be prioritized during the inevitable decline in state and local revenues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. On May 13, 2020, ISACo had a virtual meeting with the Comptroller's Office to further discuss this issue and was assured that fund distributions to counties would occur on the usual schedule. Furthermore, ISACo was informed that the Comptroller's Office would be flexible in forgiving late filings of reports required to be submitted by local governments that result from operational changes during the pandemic. ISACo appreciates the cooperation we have received from the Comptroller's Office.
- On April 1, 2020, ISACo sent a letter to each member of Illinois’ Congressional delegation requesting that Congress include direct financial assistance to counties with 500,000 and fewer residents for costs incurred because of the COVID-19 public health emergency. This letter was sent following enactment of the CARES Act that included a provision limiting direct financial assistance to only those local governments with more than 500,000 residents.
- ISACo shared some of our legislative priorities intended to provide financial relief to counties with the Illinois House and Senate at their request. On Wednesday April 29, 2020, ISACo met with the House Local Government Working Group. On Thursday, May 7, 2020, ISACo met with the Senate Local Government Working Group. Our specific requests were included in an April 9, 2020, letter (available via this link) we sent to working group members. In addition to the issues outlined in the letter, ISACo requested that the Open Meetings Act (OMA) be amended to allow for the occurrence of remote meetings during emergency situations and advocated for an amendment to the property tax code to provide additional clarification that counties have permissive authority to waive penalties and fees for late property tax payments under specified circumstances. Both the OMA provision authorizing remote meetings and the property tax penalty waiver authority clarification requested by ISACo were approved by the General Assembly during the May 20-23 special session.
- On Friday, May 15, 2020, ISACo sent a letter (available vis this link) to the Governor and legislative leaders requesting the distribution of CARES Act funds to the 97 counties that did not receive direct funding from the United States Treasury Department. Our contract lobbyists were also advocating with the Governor's Office for counties to receive a share of the State’s CARES Act funds in accordance with the letter. ISACo is pleased that the General Assembly included within its approved state budget a distribution of these CARES Act funds.
ISACo Testifies During Joint Commission Hearing
On Wednesday, January 15, 2020, ISACo Executive Director Joe McCoy participated in a hearing of the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform in Chicago.
The Commission is gathering information to learn what local governments are doing with respect to registering lobbyists seeking to influence local decisions. ISACo provided an overview of what some counties are currently doing in this regard. The work of this Commission in ongoing.
ISACo is appreciative that we are increasingly being sought out by the General Assembly to provide input on policies that affect counties. This request for input continues a trend that began last year when ISACo was asked to represent counties on a working group developing taxation policy for the cannabis legalization law. ISACo was instrumental in ensuring counties received the taxation authority they presently have. ISACo was also invited to participate in a sub-committee meeting of the General Assembly's Property Tax Relief Task Force in 2019. The Task Force issued a draft report, but missed its final deadline. ISACo has a dedicated webpage available via this link with information about the Task Force.
In lieu of the need for regular communications about legislative issues as a result of the General Assembly cancelling most session days, ISACo issued 24 e-mail memorandums to date with information relevant to counties concerning the emergency response. These communications are available on our Coronavirus Resource Center page via this link. ISACo has issued more than 20 of our "News and Views" e-newsletters since January. We have also published two editions of our County Quarterly Newsletter so far in 2020. This publication is sent through standard mail. ISACo will continue to prioritize useful and timely communications with county officials. This 2020 spring legislative session summary will be updated as necessary. In the coming days, ISACo will release our "2020 Bills Approved by Both Chambers" report consisting of all legislation approved by both chambers affecting or of interest to counties.