Kevin Semlow, Illinois Farm Bureau director of state legislation, reviews the full plate of issues — including the budget, pension and expiration of the temporary income tax — that needs to be addressed.
Kevin Semlow, Illinois Farm Bureau director of state legislation, reviews the full plate of issues — including the budget, pension and expiration of the temporary income tax — that needs to be addressed.

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 issue.

“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, 2014.

“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 Republicans.

“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 72 Democrats.

“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 background.

“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.”