LAME-DUCK PUSH FOR PENSION CHANGES?
While a Chicago-based business organization has declared that state’s public pension problem is “unfixable,” the Governor is targeting an early January lame-duck legislative session as a possible time to push through pension law changes.
The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago released letters to Governor Pat Quinn and members of its own organization that paint a grim future for Illinois. The organization is calling for severe steps to rein in teacher and public employee retirement costs.
In recent days, Quinn has said he wants the Legislature to take up pension changes in January, most likely during an extended lame-duck legislative session before new members of the General Assembly are sworn in. Legislative leaders have scheduled a 6½-day lame-duck session beginning January 3 and running through the weekend to mid-day January 9, when a new General Assembly is to be sworn in.
Two years ago, majority Democrats used the lame-duck session to impose a 67% income tax increase on Illinoisans. Some lawmakers are concerned the upcoming January lame-duck session will be used to push new costs onto local school districts that could lead to massive property tax increases.
The pension cost shift has been strongly opposed by suburban and downstate legislators who argue that it would simply result in high property tax bills for homeowners without reducing pension costs. Chicago Democrats have argued that city property taxpayers already pay for most of the pension costs for Chicago public school teachers. But others say that is offset by formulas that have been skewed to give Chicago more money than its schools would be entitled to under a fair distribution of school aid, including poverty and special education formulas.
In essence, the current state formulas give greater weight to poor and developmentally disabled children in Chicago than children in other school districts with the same incomes or disabilities.
CIVIC COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATIONS
The Civic Committee wants legislators to do at least four things: eliminate cost-of-living adjustments promised to retirees, cap the maximum salary that can be used to calculate pension benefits, increase the retirement age to 67 and gradually shift annual costs to local school districts.
The Civic Committee has argued that the benefit changes would not run afoul of a state Constitutional prohibition on reducing retirement benefits for current employees, but public employee unions disagree.
The business group argues that without these steps, Illinois will be unable to meet its obligations to schools, public safety, social services and health care.
RENEWED PUSH FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA
Bolstered by election results in other states, advocates of medical marijuana are likely to renew their push to legalize the substance for medicinal use in Illinois.
Colorado and Washington state voters’ recent decision to approve the recreational use of marijuana means Illinois will likely see the issue debated again in the upcoming legislative session. But the vote results may be used by both sides to bolster their respective cases. Proponents are likely to view the election as a reason Illinois should consider allowing medical marijuana, but opponents are likely to see the results in Colorado and Washington as evidence that the ultimate goal is complete legalization of the drug.
This past year saw one hotly debated medical marijuana bill come before the Illinois General Assembly. House Bill 30 would have allowed people with cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and other diseases to buy marijuana if the condition causes them pain. Under the legislation, the state health department would have overseen the program and dispensed marijuana purchase licenses to those with the specified illnesses.
The measure came within three votes of passing the House earlier this year, but ultimately failed after many lawmakers expressed concern that medical marijuana laws in other states were being abused by those not truly in pain. A sponsor of the bill has said he will try to pass similar legislation during the 2013 spring session.
As the holiday shopping season approaches, advocates of small and local businesses are urging shoppers to spend part of their gift-giving budget with them.
November 24, or “Small Business Saturday,” is an initiative to encourage consumers to do a portion of their holiday shopping at smaller retailers. The promotion, first launched in 2010, is timed to follow the “Black Friday” sales promotions of national retailers.
Another organization, called the 3/50 Project, is an enterprise that is “saving the brick and mortars our nation is built on.” The group provides marketing and strategy tips to smaller companies to help them build their customer base and expand employment opportunities.
The 3/50 Project has a listing of independent businesses in Illinois that are participating.
Small businesses make up 60 to 80 percent of the net new jobs created in Illinois. A U.S. Labor Department study in 2009 showed that if half the buying population spent $50 per month at locally-owned businesses, it would generate an additional $42.6 billion in revenue.