SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers will return to Springfield next week for the first time in more than two months to take up a state budget and other critical matters while following strict social distancing and public safety guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During teleconference caucus meetings Wednesday, House and Senate Democrats were told the special session will run from Wednesday, May 20, through Friday, May 22.
Before returning to the capital, lawmakers are being asked to sign a pledge stipulating they will be tested for COVID-19 and a number of other precautionary measures.
The House will meet in the Bank of Springfield Center, a convention center a few blocks from the Statehouse. The Senate plans to meet in the Senate chamber of the Capitol.
Lawmakers have not met since March 5. They were scheduled to be off the week of March 9-13 to campaign in advance of the March 17 primary. They were also scheduled to take a two-week spring break April 6-17. All other session days since then have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawmakers have been meeting remotely in informal “working groups” during the shutdown, mainly to gather information they will need when they return to session, but those working groups were not authorized to draft legislation or hear testimony on bills.
Much of the work ahead is expected to focus on passing a state budget in light of a severe drop in revenues that has resulted from the closure of nonessential businesses, a statewide stay-at-home order and the delay in the state’s tax filing deadline.
Newly revised estimates from the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, or CoGFA, project that total revenues for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, will be about $2.2 billion lower than the previous estimate released in March. Net income taxes are expected to be $1.7 billion lower than the March estimate.
Revenues for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, are expected to be $4.7 billion lower than previously estimated.
The state has the ability to borrow money from other funds to shore up the general revenue fund. Officials also will be watching closely to see if the U.S. Congress approves any federal aid for states.
Despite the falloff in revenue, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said he wants lawmakers to pass a COVID-19 financial relief bill that will specifically target small businesses that have been unable to access federal relief funds.
“Obviously, as I’ve said for some time now, we have real challenges with the loss of revenue because of COVID-19,” Pritzker said during his daily briefing Wednesday in Chicago, “so we need to rely upon the federal government and its support for all the states in order for us to provide the services that people need, in order to pay for the education that our kids need and for us to support our businesses and our families in the wake of this curve as we’re dealing with this COVID-19 crisis.”
Meanwhile, many legislative Republicans have been calling for weeks to reconvene the session, arguing the governor has no legal authority to extend the disaster declaration beyond the original 30-day time frame, and they hope to put the governor’s authority up for a vote. Among them is Rep. Lindsay Parkhurst, a Republican representative of the 79th District.
Should such a debate be allowed — House Speaker Mike Madigan is charged with setting the agenda of a special session — Parkhurst says she will advocate for a safe, regional approach that doesn’t lump her district in with Chicago. The 79th District includes much of Kankakee, Will and Grundy counties.
“The 79th is grouped with the Cook County and Chicago and suburbs,” she said. “I will continue to push for the 79th to be removed from the Northeast Health Region. The 79th COVID numbers are significantly lower than the Chicago Metro numbers. We should be able to reopen at our own pace according to our COVID numbers and not be bound to Chicago Metro COVID numbers.”