Politics & Government

Legislators made statements about issues ahead of session. Did they follow through?

State Rep. Katie Stuart discusses 2019 session

Illinois State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, discusses her influence during the 2019 spring session. She was involved in the gaming bill, got a teacher minimum wage bill passed, and had some influence over the marijuana legalization bill.
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Illinois State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, discusses her influence during the 2019 spring session. She was involved in the gaming bill, got a teacher minimum wage bill passed, and had some influence over the marijuana legalization bill.

During the last few years, state Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, has been one of the proponents of a casino license at Walker’s Bluff in on the eastern side of the Jackson County-Williamson County border, as well as allowing slot machine gambling at Fairmount Park.

Schimpf even stood at a news conference with other Southern Illinois lawmakers during the last few days of the 2019 spring session calling on legislators to include Walker’s Bluff in a gaming bill expansion.

But when the long sought after gaming expansion came up for a vote in the Senate on the last day of the 2019 spring session, Schimpf voted “no” on the bill. The bill did include an increase in the cigarette tax beginning in July. It also increases the tax on video gaming terminals to 33 percent in July of this year, if it is signed by Gov. J. B. Pritzker.

“While I support the gaming expansion for Walker’s Bluff and Fairmount Park, this bill was tied to major tax increases with no corresponding cuts in state spending,” Schimpf said in a statement. “The continued growth of state spending and higher taxes are hurting Southern Illinois families and making our state less competitive for job growth. This is why I reluctantly voted no on this legislation.”

In May 2018, Schimpf even expressed disappointment when a gaming expansion bill that allowed for Walker’s Bluff to have a casino and would have allowed slot machines at Fairmount Park failed.

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Paul Schimpf State Senator Joe Bustos jbustos@bnd.com

“I’m disappointed the Illinois House has failed again to move forward on a gaming bill that would have spurred economic growth in Southern Illinois,” Schimpf said in a news release at the time. “I supported this legislation in the Illinois Senate for two reasons. First, it would have allowed Walker’s Bluff to bring a casino license to their winery. Second, it would have authorized Fairmount Park to offer electronic gaming at its racetrack.”

As the spring session of the Illinois General Assembly has come to a close, many pieces of legislation were approved by the general assembly. How did legislators vote compared to previous statements?

How did they vote on a gambling expansion?

The gambling expansion was one of several bills to pass during the legislative session’s last week. It is planned to be the funding source for a capital infrastructure bill.

It included support from most of the metro-east contingent, including state Rep. Nathan Reitz, D-Steeleville. Reitz’s father is former state Rep. Dan Reitz, who lobbied for a provision to allow Walker’s Bluff to have a casino, according to state records. The Daily Line reported the father and son said the casino license was part of a larger bill that included sports betting, cigarette tax increase and expansion of casino gaming around the state.

State Rep. LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis, in January had not initially committed one way or another on a gaming bill. She wanted to make sure whatever expansion that occurred did not hurt the metro-east and did not hurt East St. Louis, which relies on the Casino Queen for revenue.

Ultimately, the bill included revenue sharing of Fairmount racino dollars between Collinsville, East St. Louis, Alton and other metro-east communities.

“I know the agreement will assist the Casino Queen,” said Greenwood, who voted yes on the gaming expansion. “It’s a percentage of revenue the city as well as the Casino Queen will receive, from the language that’s in the legislation.”

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State Reps. LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis, and Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, speak in the metro-east in this August 2017 file photo. Zia Nizami News-Democrat

State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville was heavily involved in the gaming bill during the session as the representative of the House Women’s Democratic caucus. She was chosen to be the caucus’ representative because of her involvement with Fairmount Park issues.

“I delved right in, I learned a lot, and I went to many meetings, many times, multiple meetings on the same day, where things changed from minute to minute,” Stuart said. “I’m really excited about what came out of that, it’s kind of telling not every party walked away happy, no party walked away fist pumping like they won everything. So I think it shows you it was a pretty fairly negotiated thing between our brick-and-mortar existing casino and racetracks, plus the entities that want to get involved in the sports betting, the pre-existing Fan Duel and Draft Kings folks.”

The gaming bill was among the several bills Stuart had influence over in the last days of session.

As Fairmount Park prepares for the start of the 2019 season legislators are discussing sports gambling in the state. Will this be an answer for the financial struggles Fairmount Park has faced for years.

Stuart also was able to get a commitment from marijuana legalization bill sponsor state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, for follow-up legislation to allow other counties around the state to be able tax marijuana at the same rate as other counties.

Stuart sponsored legislation, which passed both chambers and has been sent to the governor, to require high school seniors to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also knows as the FAFSA form, or sign a waiver, in order to graduate.

For the second year in a row, a teacher pay bill, which would set the minimum compensation for teachers at $40,000 a year by 2023-24, was passed by the General Assembly. Stuart, a former math teacher, presented the bill in the House. This legislation was previously vetoed by former Gov. Bruce Rauner, but heads to Pritzker for his consideration.

“I respect teachers, and not because I was one for a long time, but I know the impact that they make every day in our students lives and our future as an entire state. I know there are areas, right here, an area that we think is a well-paying school district, I know teachers personally, (and) it’s not their only job. They work, then tend tables at restaurants over the weekend to be able to afford their bills, they have other businesses like selling Avon and other products, just to make ends meet. I would rather have my kids’ fourth-grade teacher to be able to make lesson plans, versus busing tables. “

Toward the end of the session, Stuart’s name was being mentioned on the House floor by other legislators for her input on key bills.

“I always thought I had a strong voice, but I had opportunities I guess, more opportunities to be vocal and I think my colleagues got to know me and got to know I was not going to back down on my stance to support and protect the metro-east,” Stuart said.

Capital spending and taxing

Most of the area legislators voted for the $45 billion Rebuild Illinois Capital plan, which includes six years of spending to address road, bridge, transit and state building construction work.

In order to pay for the roadwork in the capital package, there would be an increase in the gas tax. It would double from 19 cents to 38 cents per gallon beginning July 1, as well an increase in vehicle registration fees next year.

State Rep. Monica Bristow, D-Godfrey, Reitz, Stuart, and state Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, and state Sens. Rachelle Aud Crowe, D-Glen Carbon, Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville, and Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, voted “no” on the legislation that included the motor fuel increase.

Among local legislators, state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, who sponsored the legislation in the House, Greenwood and state Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, and state Sen. Christopher Belt, D-Cahokia, voted yes on the bill that included the gas tax increase, among other horizontal project revenue sources.

Meier had previously said he would be OK with a minimal increase to the gas tax. He also had previously called for an increase in sticker fees for electric vehicles, which were included in the capital bill funding plan.

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State Rep. Charlie Meier Derik Holtmann dholtmann@bnd.com

“We can’t grow our economy and create jobs without adequate infrastructure. The fact of the matter is, quite a few of our roads and bridges are not safe,” Meier said. “We have major potholes on I-255, the Jefferson Barracks Bridge had to close for several days and is in desperate need of repair. We couldn’t sit back and do nothing as our roads and bridges would continue to put our public safety at risk while at the same time place our infrastructure system at a disadvantage.”

However, Crowe, Bristow, Stuart and Reitz, joined Belt, Greenwood, Hoffman and Meier to vote yes on the capital spending bill, which appropriates money for infrastructure projects around the state, including dollars for local projects.

“The capital spending that shows where our investments are, what our priorities are as a state, and those I agreed with,” Stuart said. “The gas tax, I don’t believe it’s going to fairly impact everyone across the state equally. Right where we live, here in the metro-east in Southern Illinois, we’re more spread out. We have public transportation, but not at the level that they do in Chicago and surrounding areas. We have families that don’t have the option, to, ‘Well instead of driving, I’ll start taking the train,’ because there is no train or bus that gets them where they need to go. I just could not see, especially making that large a jump in the gas tax.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker discusses his desire for a capital bill. He also talks about possible funding sources.



Second Amendment rights

Several metro-east legislators maintained their support for Second Amendment rights.

Reitz, Bristow, Stuart, Meier and Schimpf co-sponsored legislation that dealt with when FOID card renewals, worked to ensure the World Shooting Complex in Sparta is not impacted by recently passed gun restriction laws, and restructured the validity of concealed carry licenses by stating that licenses may expire five years from the expiration date of the prior license rather than five years from the renewal application date.

The legislation passed both chambers.

“I am grateful to leaders from Southern Illinois who worked to ensure that the World Shooting and Recreational Complex event vendors will not be adversely impacted by gun dealer licensing laws,” Schimpf said. “This legislation will allow the World Shooting Complex to continue to attract top-tier events and help boost the surrounding economy.”

Each representative from the metro-east voted against the Fix the FOID bill, which would have required fingerprinting for people who have FOID cards.

The bill still passed the House, where Democrats have a supermajority, however it did not come up for vote during the spring session in the Senate.

Cigarette taxes

Meier voted against raising the smoking age to 21 saying it would lead to more people going to Missouri to buy cigarettes. Ultimately the capital bill package included an increase the cigarette tax to use for construction and maintenance on state buildings. It specifically was in the gaming expansion bill.

Meier said he wished the cigarette tax increase was a stand-alone bill, because he wasn’t for an increase in the cigarette tax. However he ultimately voted for the whole package. He also voted for the budget, which ultimately included pro-business reforms.

That gaming expansion included provisions for new revenue sources at Fairmount Park. It will allow more races and horses at the track, which means “more money we bring back into area,” Meier said.

‘No’ on the appropriations bills

Even though the state’s 2020 fiscal year spending plan, came about after bipartisan discussions among legislative leaders and Pritzker, there was still opposition from several Republicans, including state Rep. Wilhour, Plummer and Schimpf.

State Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville, discusses Illinois' fiscal issues. He has said Illinois does not have a revenue problem, but rather a spending problem.

“I have serious concerns with the financial condition of the state where we have record revenues and we spend all of the money. We have a backlog of all the bills that’s not going to be paid back completely, we have significant pension issues which aren’t being fully addressed,” Plummer said. “If a family has lot of credit card debt and they hit the lottery, they pay down their credit card debt, they don’t go buy a bunch of new Porsches and ignore the debt. I’m very concerned we’ve been blessed with the significant tax receipts because of the strong economy and we should be using those monies to get our fiscal house in order and not spending it all.”

Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referendums.

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