BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – The newly-seated General Assembly will
have the serious task of addressing “a perfect storm” in the upcoming months.
The budget, pension and expiration of the temporary income
tax are lurking on the horizon for legislators, according to Kevin Semlow,
Illinois Farm Bureau director of state legislation.
“Probably the biggest issue is the continuation of the
pension debate and negotiations,” Semlow said at the recent Illinois
Agricultural Legislative Roundtable hosted by IFB.
Heading into the final two days of the lame-duck session,
Semlow said there was optimism that action would be taken to address the
“There were great expectations, and then the tire went flat
and it fell off,” he said. “In looking at what is in front with the pensions,
it’s going to be huge.”
The pension’s unfunded liability currently is estimated at
$100 billion and is expected to increase by another $1 billion this year.
“These issues are going to really drive the state budget
process.” Semlow said. “There are some out there, especially on the Democrat
side, who say it may take a huge budget crisis to finally say that they can’t
fix a budget with these gimmicks and small cuts and they’re going to have to
make some deep cuts in some big programs.
“If they don’t get hold of this, about one-third of all
general revenue funds will have to go for pensions alone.”
Without any action, deep cuts could be made in funding for
Medicaid, education and other programs.
“They’ve been able to kind of avoid those areas. They’ve
made some trimming, but they haven’t made major cuts. That’s going to be on the
chopping block pretty soon,” Semlow said.
“Then to top that off, you have the third front of a perfect
storm coming and that is the temporary income tax increase sunsets Dec. 31,
“This General Assembly will have to deal with sometime in
the next two years.”
“They need to address that issue because they’re counting on
that revenue to make those pension payments and fund that budget,” he said.
“So the budget, the pension and this income tax question is
going to force their hand to really take a hard look at this issue.
“Hopefully, we’ll bring some reality into the legislators
that think they can just keep finding little gimmicks to get through this and
finally face the issue that they have to make some major changes and the first
being the pension.”
Semlow said among the agriculture-related issues that may be
considered is a change in Illinois Farmland Assessment law that’s being sought
by the Illinois Department of Revenue to maintain the fair and equitable
assessment of farmland.
According to Semlow, the proposal would make a change in the
process how the certified values of farmland are determined.
The proposal would limit changes in the certified values of
soils to 10 percent for Illinois’s medium cropland soil rather than the 10
percent limit now imposed across all soil productivity indices.
“The Farm Bureau supports that legislation, and we will be
working with them to make sure we can keep that law fair and equitable across
the board,” Semlow said.
Other issues that may be addressed include GMO labeling,
fracking, gun control and same-sex marriage.
The recent election literally has changed the face of the
General Assembly. The House of Representatives now has 71 Democrats and 47
“That is one vote more than they need to be what’s called
veto-proof. That is a super-majority,” Semlow said. “During veto sessions or
bond obligations and those types of issues, it takes a super-majority of 70
members. The House has one more than that.”
The last time the House had that was in the mid-1990s with
“The bigger surprise was in the Senate where there is now an
even larger majority of Democrats. Out of 59 senators, 40 are Democrats. In the
Senate, you only need 36 votes to have a super-majority, so they even have more
to spare than the House does,” Semlow said.
“That’s going be a big difference, and that’s going to
change the dynamics of how things work.
“We went back when this happened before and pulled the
notes. When Speaker Madigan was in a super-majority and a couple years later he
was in the minority, he kind of went on a road trip and went around talking
about his experience.
“He said the two worst times in his career was one, when he
was a minority, and two, was when he had a super-majority. It was rather
difficult to keep his caucus focused and moving forward.
“So now we’re going to have two caucuses facing that, and as
we’ve seen here lately, the Senate’s Democrat caucus has that tendency to be a
little independent in their decision-making and now it’s probably going to be
even broader. So now it’s a new dynamic.”
Of the 118 members of the House, 33 of them are new.
“Twenty-two of those are brand-new faces. Nine of them are
members that were appointed and put in this last year and ran for election for
the first time. One of the members sworn-in had previously served in the House
and another was in the Senate,” Semlow said.
There are 18 new members in the Senate, including 11 who
have not previously served in the Legislature. Four of them were pre-appointed,
and three of them were in the House and have moved to the Senate.
“So there is going to be a lot of differences in people.
There will be a lot of education on the issues,” Semlow said. “These last couple
of days of the lame-duck session, all of that history and experience from those
very painful long days will be lost with these new members.
“It also gives us a great challenge in going out and meeting
with most of these legislators because most of them have not agriculture
“There are two new members of the House that are actually
farmers, so that’s good news. The rest of the colleagues are mostly urban
legislators that have no agricultural experience at all, so that will be a great
challenge for us to go and educate them on how agriculture really works.”