As the state of Illinois’ spring legislative session came to a close, a bill raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, a bill legalizing the purchase and possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana and a $40 billion spending plan, among other proposals, landed on the desk of Gov. J.B. Pritzker for approval.
On Tuesday, state Sens. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, Don DeWitte, R-St. Charles, and Craig Wilcox, R-McHenry, held a town hall-style meeting at Crystal Lake City Hall to discuss how they voted on these key issues and why before taking questions from attendees.
One of the first bills that spurred vigorous debate this session was the minimum wage bill – Senate Bill 1 – which passed both legislative chambers along party lines in February and was signed by the governor days later.
Starting Jan. 1, 2020, the minimum wage would go from $8.25 an hour to $9.25. It then would increase to $10 an hour in July and reach $11 an hour Jan. 1, 2021. After that, the minimum wage would grow by $1 a year to $15 an hour by Jan. 1, 2025.
Local businesses in McHenry County are concerned about how they can sustain such a wage.
Wilcox, a freshman lawmaker, said the committee discussions and comments from the bill’s sponsors indicated that opportunities to negotiate options weren’t available.
In June, a bill legalizing recreational marijuana – one of the flagship pieces of Pritzker's agenda – was passed out of both chambers and sent to the governor.
Wilcox had said during his campaign that he potentially was in favor of the proposal if it is viewed as a privilege instead of a right and comes with the understanding that increased usage will have a number of implications.
However, Wilcox said he was critical of how much money would be going toward prevention efforts, law enforcement and paying off state debt.
Once allocations have been made to cover administrative and legal costs, 35% of the revenue from taxing recreational marijuana will go to the state’s General Revenue Fund; 25% will go to the Recover, Reinvest and Renew Program, which targets underserved communities in the state; 20% will go to mental health services and substance abuse programs; 10% will go to unpaid bills; 8% will go to prevention and training for law enforcement; and 2% will go to public education and safety campaigns.
McConchie said the amount of drug education revenue equates to about 50 cents per student as opposed to Colorado, which spends about $32 per student on drug mitigation efforts.
McConchie also discussed his opposition to the Reproductive Health Act, which was sent to Pritzker on June 4.
Members of the McHenry County Citizens for Choice holding signs saying “Keep Abortion Legal” and “It’s Pro-choice or No Choice” stood outside city hall to protest the GOP lawmakers’ votes on the bill.
McConchie said in addition to making abortion a fundamental right, the bill would repeal a number of provisions of current state law, such as a state ban on partial-birth abortion and sex-selection abortion, a requirement for a coroner to investigate a maternal death resulting from abortion and limits on fetal experimentation.
“This undercuts, in my estimation, good and safe procedures for women’s health,” McConchie said.
Legislation allocating $45 billion to be invested into capital improvements over the next six years also was approved.
To achieve this, a number of funding mechanisms would be put in place, including an increase in the motor fuel tax from 19 cents a gallon to 38 cents a gallon and an increase in cigarette taxes from $1.98 a pack to $2.98 a pack.
DeWitte said universities did well in the capital bill, considering they haven’t seen legitimate funding in 15 years. He also complimented the bipartisan discussions as the bill was drafted.
“I think the benefits outweigh the risk factors,” DeWitte said.
At the end of the extended session, a $40 billion budget was sent to the governor’s desk.
McConchie said there’s an insatiable appetite to spend people’s money in Springfield, but even as a superminority, Republicans must come to the table. In doing so during the budget talks, Republicans saw important tax credits for manufacturers to keep them in Illinois and perhaps draw others to the state.
“My goal is to be at the table and make as much a difference as possible,” McConchie said.