Winger's Weekly Wrap-Up for April 16th

Chicago-Area Homeowners Pay Higher Property Taxes than 93% of U.S 

Homeowners in the Chicago area are paying higher property tax bills, on average, than 93 percent of the country, according to a new report.  The average 2017 tax bill on a single-family home in Lake County was higher than nearly 99 percent of the 1,414 U.S. counties covered by the report, released this week by Attom Data Solutions.

The region's other counties aren't far behind. The average bill in DuPage County is higher than nearly 98 percent, followed by Kane County and McHenry County (both 96 percent), Cook County (94 percent) and Will County (93 percent).

The report covers only counties with 10,000 or more single-family homes. In all, the nation has 3,144 counties, or more than twice the number in Attom's study. The report includes
a county-by-county map of the average property tax bill for single-family homes. Read more in Crain's.

Property taxes are especially high in Illinois due to the state’s overall high-tax political environment. State Representative Christine Winger has supported property tax reforms, and legislative measures such as HB 4066, which have sought to enact comprehensive property tax reforms, including freezes on the levels of property tax “extensions” demanded by local taxing bodies.  However, these measures have all been bottled up in the House Rules Committee by the Democrat majority and have not been allowed to be debated or voted upon.

State Needs Full-Year Balanced Budget 

Speaking to the press on Monday, April 9, Governor Bruce Rauner framed his overall legislative agenda around the State’s need for a balanced, full –year budget for FY19. The Governor’s call came in the context of widespread rumors in Springfield that some people may want a partial budget or a deficit budget for non-policy reasons. 

Illinois’ budget picture has been clouded by the State’s continuing inability to enact permanent reforms to its pension systems. Illinois is legally responsible for $130 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, an expense which must be paid by state taxpayers. The unfunded pension crisis is a key element in the continuing decision by New York’s three major credit-rating agencies to rank Illinois debt at close to “junk bond” level.

Rauner and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin are calling for the State to return the traditional practice of determining and certifying the revenues that the State of Illinois can reasonably expect to receive in FY19, the fiscal year that will begin on July 1, 2018. Once the revenue estimate is determined, the State can develop a budget and spending plan, including appropriations bills, to spend no more money than will come in. Fiduciary experts believe that a repeated demonstration by Illinois that it has returned to sound budget practices will enable the State to slowly retrieve the lost ground that it has suffered in its now-near-junk-level credit rating.    


New Case Count of “Fake Weed” Outbreak

In new figures released on Monday, April 9, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) reported 107 Illinois cases of severe health complications from ingestion of synthetic cannabinoids. The cases included 56 hospitalizations and at least two deaths.  The fake “cannabis” implicated in the outbreak had been laced with brodifacoum, an anticoagulant that is often used as mouse and rat poison.  Ingesting brodifacoum can cause users to develop uncontrollable bleeding from their eyes, nose, gums, and urinary tract.     

The rogue drugs are sold in “head shops” and fly-by-night retail establishments under a variety of names, but are often referred to under their street names of “spice,” “K2,” and “fake weed.”  Synthetic cannabis, if it contains THC or other cannabinol derivatives, is banned in Illinois under Section 3 of the Cannabis Control Act.   

Quick action against the synthetic cannabinoid outbreak has been helped by the Illinois Poison Center, a nonprofit partnership and clearinghouse (1-800-222-1222) of information on toxic substances to which Illinois residents have been exposed.

Increased Penalties for Texting While Driving

The General Assembly has previously taken steps to sharply discourage the practice of “texting while driving.”  Blamed for numerous traffic crashes, the habit of taking one’s eyes off the road and onto a cellphone to text is no longer legal in Illinois. 

However, current law allows a police officer who stops a motorist for texting-while-driving to let the motorist go with a warning.  HB 4846 would change this law and provide for a $75 fine for a first offense.  The act of texting while driving would become a formal moving violation with impact upon the driver’s motor vehicle insurance status and rates.  The House committee vote on Tuesday, April 10 was 9-0-0, sending the measure to the full House for discussion and debate.

Illinois Bicentennial

Illinois upcoming 200th birthday will be observed by the creation of new Bicentennial Plaza.  The open-space plaza is being redeveloped immediately north of the Governor’s Mansion on Capitol Avenue, the processional way in downtown Springfield.  Once the site of a major downtown hotel and a YWCA building, the city block has stood empty since the demolition of the buildings that stood on it.  Extensive remediation of the block is taking place, including installation of large pipes to flow out the groundwater that wells up under this block.  The block, a wetland in Abraham Lincoln’s time, is the actual site of the spring of water for which “Springfield” is named.

Illinois, which became a state in 1818, has celebrated each of its previous 50th birthdays with major projects in the state capital city.  In 1868, Illinois laid a cornerstone (now on display adjacent to the building’s northeast corner) for the current Illinois State Capitol building. By 1918, the State Capitol was no longer big enough to hold all of Illinois’ government offices, and the State began the construction of the nearby Centennial Building (now the Howlett Building).  In 1968, Illinois purchased and rebuilt the Lincoln-era Old State Capitol. 

All three of these buildings, the Old State Capitol, the current State Capitol, and the Howlett Building, contain historical reminders of Illinois’ history and heritage.  Adjacent to the Bicentennial Plaza, the Governor’s Mansion has been extensively remodeled over the past two years, funded by private donations.  The Governor’s Mansion work will conclude with the reopening of the building this summer.           

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