Capitol Report | Summer 2022
2022 General Election: Ignore the Ground Noise
Here are some campaign season highlights to help you decipher the real messages ahead of the November general election.
Marty Green, Esq.
Senior VP and Legislative Counsel, Illinois CPA Society
There was no shortage of political candidates, commercials, or campaign cash for Illinois’ delayed June primary election. As with every political campaign cycle, there was a great deal of ground noise obfuscating and overshadowing the signals worth listening to—and more should be expected until November’s general election. Here’s what I’ve deciphered so far.
Illinois voters will elect a U.S. senator, governor, five executive constitutional officers, 177 members of the Illinois General Assembly (every member) in newly drawn legislative districts, 17 members of the Illinois congressional delegation (down from 18 due to census decline), and two downstate Illinois Supreme Court justices.
As we saw leading up to the June primary, there were two Democratic candidates for governor (including incumbent Gov. J.B. Pritzker) and six Republican candidates. Of the six Republicans, three are financed by wealthy supporters. This influx of campaign cash has allowed for more advertising and television commercials, leading us to the first signal.
One well-financed Republican stated that he wouldn’t reduce the sentence of former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan if he’s convicted of pending federal charges. Ground noise! The problem with that statement is that Madigan has been indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice with 22 charges. The governor’s clemency power doesn’t extend to federal convictions.
Another Republican candidate has run commercials stating he’ll eliminate the grocery tax and “Pritzker’s gas tax.” Ground noise! Illinois’ grocery tax raises about $360 million annually for the General Revenue Fund, which funds state government operations. The state’s gas sales tax typically raises an estimated $800 million annually. When gas was around $4.50 per gallon, the sales tax revenue was projected to climb to approximately $1.2 billion. The gas sales tax has been around since before 2000 and is not to be confused with the motor fuel tax. These sales taxes are enormous sources of revenue that would be difficult to replace—especially when you consider our state’s financial picture is brighter than it has been in recent times, and all three major bond rating agencies have upgraded the state’s bond ratings for the first time in decades.
On the Democratic side, there’s a commercial with a person on the street talking about the “freezing of the gas tax” and linking the gas tax to “profits of oil companies.” Ground noise! The signal to be heard here is that sales tax on a gallon of gas was not frozen. Rather, the scheduled inflation-adjusted increase on the motor fuel tax was delayed until July. As outlined earlier, the proceeds of the sales tax on gas goes to the state’s General Revenue Fund, with a portion going to municipalities. High gas prices equal more tax revenue. The Illinois Constitution requires proceeds from the motor fuel tax to be used to fund transportation infrastructure improvements. These improvements include road and bridge repairs and construction, as well as mass transit projects. By delaying the scheduled motor fuel tax increase, monies for transportation infrastructure will be forborne, and the actuarial cumulative impact will be significant. Further, neither the sales tax on gas nor the motor fuel tax revenues flow to oil companies as inferred in the political commercial.
Commercials also highlight tax forbearance totaling $1.83 billion included in the FY 2023 state operating budget signed into law. The $45.9 billion state operating budget includes an additional $200 million contribution to the state’s pension fund that’s required and $1 billion for the state’s rainy-day fund.
The signal here is two-fold. First, will the cumulative impact of the $1.83 billion forbearance drive the state off a fiscal cliff? Both the governor and Democratic legislative leaders have said that the state’s fiscal condition is significantly improved due to greater than expected tax receipts, greater returns on investments, and reduced debts that have liberated the state from onerous interest payments. Fitch Ratings, Moody’s, and S&P Global—the big three credit rating agencies—have all opined on the stabilization of the state’s fiscal condition.
Second, I see an absence of focus on the efficacy of state government operations and the restaging and integration of state employees in our post-COVID environment. The COVID-19 pandemic response put state government into crisis mode. The delivery of government services and public protection are the touchstone of state government operations, but we’ve seen challenges in fulfilling services, from driver licenses to CPA licenses, and I think we have further second- and third-order effects to identify.
Another item you may be hearing more about throughout the summer and fall is a proposal to amend the Illinois Constitution with a “Workers’ Rights Amendment.” The Illinois General Assembly approved adding language to the Illinois Constitution guaranteeing the fundamental right to organize and bargain collectively. The appearance of this question on the November ballot is being challenged in Sangamon County Circuit Court. The basis of the litigation is that the proposed amendment that would appear on the ballot is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act and violates the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution.
This is just some of the ground noise I identified that could distract voters from hearing a clear message on the issues impacting our state. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of listening for the true signals. We’ve all become acutely sensitive to today’s political environment. Be factual, objective, respectful, and involved. Vote and be civil.