Democrats vying for best tax relief plan with 2 days left

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Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Tinley Park, outlines legislation to track car jackers with a database set up by automakers that allows law enforcement to find cars using GPS technology on Wednesday 6 April 2022 in Springfield, Illinois. On the left is the House Legislation sponsor, Rep. Martin Moylan, D-Des Plaines. There were nearly 2,100 carjackings in Cook County last year, more than the number reported in New York and Los Angeles combined. (AP Photo/John O’Connor)

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Illinois is in the rare position of having a surplus in its bank account, which means Democrats who control the Legislature are vying election year over who can give back the most to taxpayers.

House Democrats introduced a budget proposal on Wednesday that offers $1.35 billion mostly in refunds to taxpayers, a 40% enhancement to Gov. JB Pritzker’s “Illinois Family Relief Plan.” Not to be outdone, Senate Democrats late last week, leaning on the Capitol’s slogan this spring, “higher-than-expected income,” rolled out a plan to put back 1.8 billion dollars in the pockets of voters.

With just two days left in the scheduled session, lawmakers also picked up the pace in substantive areas. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart traveled to the Capitol to present a proposal to stem a string of carjacking crimes in the nation’s third-largest city. The proposal would push automakers to create a database accessible to law enforcement to track stolen cars via GPS, but progress has been slow.

“I told them at the beginning, I’m not going to sit and wait while people get guns put to their heads,” Dart said.

The Democratic governor presented a budget in February that tries to relieve the pressure of annual inflation of 7%. His $970 million proposal would raise the sales tax on groceries for a year, freeze a fuel tax cost-of-living increase and provide a property tax rebate.

The House plan would add more than $383 million in a permanent expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a credit for low- and moderate-income people they can claim to reduce their tax liability; and an additional $100 discount in the coming year for each EITC registrant, plus $50 for each child. To facilitate city hall spending, $100 million would be added to the state’s revenue sharing with local governments.

“This plan is responsible. It’s balanced. It targets those who need help the most in these times of high inflation,” said House Revenue Committee Chairman Michael Zalewski, a Democrat from Riverside.

With critical funding finally available for long-delayed capital construction work, transportation supporters oppose Pritzker’s plan to freeze the fuel tax at 39.2 cents when it was amended in 2019 for the index to inflation. Zalewski said the House plan would freeze the increase but replace the $135 million in the road building fund with money set aside to clean up leaking underground fuel storage tanks.

House Democrats are also proposing $250 million in new public safety spending, including $124 million to local police departments for body cameras, automatic license plate readers, non-lethal equipment such as stun guns and more, said Deputy Majority Leader Jehan Gordon-Stand of Peoria.

Pritzker later said he was still reviewing the plan, but seemed to “buy into my goals of achieving a balanced and fiscally responsible budget and providing tax relief to families who need it most.”

Rep. Martin Moylan of Des Plaines and Tinley Park Senator Michael Hastings, both Democrats, are sponsoring the carjacking plan, which came a day after other measures were introduced to toughen penalties for the crime, especially for adults who recruit minors for this task.

Since 2019, carjackings in Chicago have increased by approximately 200%. The 2,060 seen in Cook County in 2021 was more than New York and Los Angeles combined, Dart said.

Cars made since 2015 have been fitted with the necessary technology, but Dart said automakers often cite proprietary, legal or privacy reasons to deny access to data, even when the car owner requests tracking.

Proponents agree that a federal approach would be better, but they don’t want to wait.

“We want to make sure law enforcement officials have all the tools they need to tackle this problem,” Hastings said.

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The House Democrats’ anti-inflation bill is HB1497, their budget is HB969. The carjacking bill is SB4205

Bonny J. Streater