2014 Springfield Wrap-Up: Mixed Results

Listening and acting on the most pressing concerns of our communities directs our legislative work at CRS. Consequently, we take on big problems and work hard for meaningful change to unjust systems and practices. Overall this was a very difficult legislative session in the Illinois General Assembly. But, as we often sing, “We Shall Overcome!" We are not giving up or slowing down. 
 
Lamenting the Challenges to a Fair Economy 
 
The endless fiscal crisis in Illinois is taking the toll on our most vulnerable neighbors. Long term the Fair Tax -- with lower rates for lower incomes and higher rates for higher incomes -- is still what’s best for Illinois. While legislators did not take action in time to put the Fair Tax amendment on the November 2014 ballot, we will continue building on the broad state-wide momentum to pass the Fair Tax. 
 
After the Fair Tax deadline passed, we shifted gears and, together with the statewide Responsible Budget Coalition, advocated for making the regressive 5% state income tax permanent in order to stop deep budget cuts that would hurt children and families in every legislative district in the state. Lawmakers adjourned without taking action on the state income tax.  
 
The General Assembly passed an unsound budget that borrows from special funds, increases the state’s backlog of overdue bills and significantly cuts critical programs. This “flat” budget continues Illinois’ tradition of operating in a perpetual fiscal crisis, resulting in constant threats to funding vital services, such as education, human services and public safety. Due to costs that rise every year, a budget maintaining current funding levels still results in cuts to programs. What’s more, this flat budget is an irresponsible, short-sighted, one-time solution.  
 
We also advocated for building fairness into the state tax system by doubling the Illinois Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). In addition to boosting local economies and making our tax code fairer, the EITC lifts more lower-income workers out of poverty than any other poverty tool. Illinois lawmakers did not take action on doubling the EITC.
 
Criminal Justice Delayed
 
The Cook County Drug Field Test Pilot Program HB 2897 unanimously passed the Senate, but was not assigned to committee by House leadership. The bill would eventually save the county millions of dollars by significantly reducing the amount of time pretrial defendants wait in Cook County Jail. Read more in our blog, Step toward Justice Delayed, We March On!
 
We will continue negotiations on HB 4432 and HB 4580 with stakeholders and community leaders to remove barriers to jobs for people with records in schools and health care. The General Assembly did not take action on these bills. This summer we will partner with community advocates and legislative champions to convene a subject matter hearing and bring attention to this important issue. Stay tuned for more information.
 
We Shall Overcome
 
Together we introduced and moved some important legislative initiatives. While we have some victories to celebrate, our work to bring justice and fairness to our state is not over.  
 
Between now and the veto session in November, we will continue to build on the momentum that your extraordinary actions created. Your collective actions are a powerful force. Your calls and e-mails to your legislators, in-district visits, Faith In Action trips to Springfield, door-to-door canvassing, participation in the Fair Tax Prayer Vigil, interviews with reporters, letters to the editors, testimonies in your congregations, sharing actions on Facebook and Twitter and, of course, your steadfast witness and prayers continue to make a difference. 
 
Join us in re-committing to our ongoing work for justice.
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