May 29, 2024

Eye On Illinois: Permit fee waiver mandate an example of politics as perception

Government is about working for the public. Politics is about perception.

Consider Senate Bill 2751, which the Senate passed 59-0 Thursday and forbids counties, townships and municipalities from charging building permit fees to any veteran with a disability who needs to modify their home as an accommodation.

Proponents frame this as legislative thankfulness for those injured while serving our country. That’s a popular position, as indicated by a unanimous vote on legislation introduced by a Republican (state Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods,) and bipartisan sponsorship.

But opponents could argue this plan represents another attempt by state government to chip away at local control, obligating small governments to continue delivering services while barring them from collecting payment, which forces either budget cuts or an increase of fees elsewhere in municipal planning departments.

No one will say these things, of course, because veterans with disabilities are possibly the least assailable demographic group. We don’t mind the property tax credits or discounted bus fares because it seems like the literal least we could do in gratitude. I certainly can’t take the position after years of writing about the various ways the state and federal governments fail to address the long-term needs of all veterans, especially those in need of advanced physical and mental health care.

But the political fact no one will say these things makes them no less true. This plan does represent the state dictating to local governments. It’s the same way lawmakers nearly unanimously imposed rules on nonprofit animal shelters last year through House Bill 2500, forcing them to waive pet adoption fees for veterans once every two years. The General Assembly didn’t offer to make up those fees, nor does there seem to be compensation for the loss of building permit revenue.

Change the subject, and the political winds blow differently. When the subject is eliminating the state’s grocery tax, Gov. JB Pritzker backs letting cities enact their own replacement taxes. Republicans proposed Senate Bill 3725 (stalled in committee) to cover lost revenues.

Consider this Kankakee Daily Journal quote from state Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville, who co-sponsors both SB 2751 and 3725.

“We need to look at getting rid of a lot of the mandates we’ve put on [local governments] from law enforcement training to everything else, because the small communities in my district simply can’t afford Springfield.”

Plummer, who was a U.S. Navy Reserve intelligence officer and also is vice president of his family lumber business, clearly understands veterans’ issues, the construction world and local government cash flow. He can make convincing arguments for his legislation.

Still, these proposals demonstrate the role of perception in politics. Who are we helping? Who might we hurt? Wise lawmakers always know the score.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.