Illinois lawmakers pass bill to extend EDGE program; House debates property tax freeze

Illinois Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, talks with Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, on Monday at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. | The State Journal-Register via AP
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jan. 10, 2017 8:45 pm Updated: Jan. 10, 2017 9:48 pm

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Relieved of the pressure to pass a complicated, multipart state budget, Illinois lawmakers focused on smaller victories and some symbolic victories during Tuesday's lame-duck session.

A property tax freeze with no chance of becoming law drew lengthy debate before it was approved in the Illinois House.

State Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, sponsored HB 6630, which would have instituted a permanent property tax freeze. After long and sometimes pointed debate, Batinick agreed with a colleague that there was no chance the Illinois Senate would take up the bill before the new legislative session starts Wednesday. That made it impossible to become law.

Even though it was a symbolic victory, the passage drew praise from Gov. Bruce Rauner.

"We have the highest property taxes in America, and a property tax freeze where you control whether your property taxes go up or not will help change the system in Illinois, create jobs, and keep families from fleeing the state," Rauner said in a news release.

Many Democrats were absent Tuesday from the Legislature, opting instead to go to Chicago to hear what had been billed as President Barack Obama's farewell address.

Attendance also was less critical after Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, on Monday announced that a bipartisan budget compromise would not be ready for a vote during the lame-duck session. Cullerton promised to refile more than a dozen bills in the new legislative session after new lawmakers are sworn into office Wednesday.

There were enough lawmakers around Tuesday for both chambers to approve a four-month extension of a corporate tax incentive program that Rauner's spokesman said will be signed into law.

The Economic Development for a Growing Economy program, or EDGE, was to expire at the end of last year. It offers businesses tax breaks in exchange for agreements on creating and maintaining jobs.

The House and Senate approved the extension Tuesday with wide support. Rauner appears poised to sign the measure, but he had urged support for a Republican-backed plan to overhaul the program.

Rauner made changes to the program in 2015 after suspending it months earlier.

Some lawmakers argue that the program needs reform because it benefits larger companies over smaller ones. Others say a short-term extension is the way to go for now.

The Associated Press provided information for this story.