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Cunningham makes it easier to access senior property tax break

Published: Thursday, November 14, 2019 03:24 PM

cunningham 111419SPRINGFIELD – A requirement forcing Cook County seniors to reapply annually for a tax break will soon be eliminated under a measure co-sponsored by State Senator Bill Cunningham.

House Bill 961, passed by the Illinois Senate Wednesday, would eliminate the need for residents of Cook County residents aged 65 or older to reapply annually to receive the Senior Citizen Homestead Exemption, a property tax exemption designed to assist senior citizens financially.

Seniors would be required to reapply once more for the exemption in 2020, and would then be grandfathered into the program through 2024. Similar legislation, House Bill 833, was signed into law this summer, but required seniors to reapply in both 2020 and 2021.

“Seniors shouldn’t be forced reapply for the Homestead Exemption an extra time. It’s just common sense,” said Cunningham, a Democrat who represents portions of Chicago and the southwest suburbs. “You only turn 65 once, and there’s no reason to put seniors through a confusing reapplication process for this exemption when they’ve already proved that they qualify for it.”

Currently, every county in Illinois other than Cook may allow seniors to receive the exemption without reapplying.

The measure also requires Cook County agencies to record events that would end the exemption, such as property transfers, to ensure that ineligible property owners do not accidentally take advantage of the tax break.

House Bill 961 passed the Senate without opposition. It will now head to the governor’s desk.

Bennett strengthens coal ash pollution protections

Published: Thursday, November 14, 2019 02:00 PM

bennett 050219SPRINGFIELD – To continue efforts to protect Illinois communities from toxic coal ash pollution, State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) addressed unresolved issues with the legislation passed in the spring.

Senator Bennett passed legislation to keep coal ash out of our water earlier this year. This new law directs the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) to begin a rule-making process to require power plant operators to safely dispose of coal ash or ensure that pits are properly enclosed, impose fees on coal ash pits to pay the costs of hiring IEPA staff to oversee enforcement, and require power plant operators to set aside money to pay for cleaning up pits in the event a plant is shut down or a company goes bankrupt.

“The bill itself was about being proactive for our future generations,” Bennett said. “It provides the protections, regulations and financial assurances to prevent coal ash crises from happening in Illinois.” 

Numerous negotiations took place between labor and industry, as well as the IEPA and environmental organizations. It was agreed that a trailer bill would be introduced to address some lingering issues with the bill regarding insurance and training provisions. This trailer bill indicates who is responsible for conducting cleanup in the event of a coal ash spill – and how those involved in cleanup will be protected from exposure to toxic chemicals.

“The thing that concerned me about the original coal ash bill was that there were no protections in place for clean-up crews,” Bennett said. “The improvements to this bill will create a training program that includes instruction in the operation of heavy equipment and excavation, ensuring safety for those doing the physical clean-up of the toxic sites.”

Under this measure, more insurance options are available for those that maintain the coal ash pits to allow for coal ash plants. In addition to the insurance option, a trust fund, surety bond guaranteeing payment or performance, an irrevocable letter of credit or insurance that is not self-insurance are also acceptable forms of finance assurance.

The trailer bill is Senate Bill 671, and passed the Senate 39-12-1 Thursday. The legislation moves to the House for consideration.

Stadelman votes for legislation to prevent Rockford-area job loss

Published: Thursday, November 14, 2019 01:57 PM

airplane mech 111419SPRINGFIELD – State Senator Steve Stadelman (D-Rockford) joined fellow lawmakers to pass a measure that would prevent the loss of hundreds of good-paying jobs across the state, including dozens in the Rockford area

The legislation would reinstate a sales tax exemption for aircraft maintenance materials. Most other states offer this exemption, so Illinois needs it to remain competitive. Illinois neighbors Wisconsin, Missouri and Indiana all offer similar exemptions, as do major competitors like California and New York.

“Companies like Emery Air provide good-paying jobs in the Rockford area,” Stadelman said. “We need to keep Illinois open for business and support these aviation jobs.”

Over the last four years since the exemption expired, aviation repair companies didn’t charge any sales taxes along with their services. The Department of Revenue failed to identify or collect missing tax revenue. The legislation forgives the companies for unintentionally not collecting taxes.

“These companies shouldn’t be penalized for not collecting the tax when they didn’t know the tax credit had expired,” Stadelman said. “I’m urging the governor to reconsider signing this crucial legislation. Hundreds of Illinoisans’ jobs depend on it.”

House Bill 3902 passed the Senate 48-1-2, and it will now be sent to the governor, who has already pledged to veto the measure.

Koehler votes to consolidate police and firefighter pensions

Published: Thursday, November 14, 2019 01:07 PM

koehler 111419SPRINGFIELD – In an effort to save taxpayer money, State Senator Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) voted in favor of a measure today that will consolidate police and firefighter pensions.

“The passage of this bipartisan legislation was years in the making, and I’m thrilled my colleagues and I were able to work with the governor’s office to address a part of our serious pension problem,” Koehler said. “We’re saving taxpayers money and increasing retirement security for those who risk their lives on a daily basis.”

Under this legislation, the roughly 650 separate pension funds for downstate police officers and firefighters will be consolidated into two individual and separate funds. The fund consolidation will happen over a 30-month transition period beginning upon the legislation becoming law and is estimated to save Illinois taxpayers nearly $160 million annually while not affecting individual pension amounts.

“I understand the concerns people may have about giving the state control over a pension system,” Koehler said. “For that reason it’s especially important to keep in mind that local pension board control remains in place under this legislation.”

Under this legislation local pension fund boards and their authority to rule on benefits would remain firmly intact. Additionally, balances of other pensions would be untouched. The proceeds from one fund’s investment will not be used to make up for another fund’s shortfall.

This legislation now awaits the governor’s signature.

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