St. Louis Public Radio News
1:45 pm
Wed March 26, 2003

IL Senators Pass Tax Credits, Popcorn Legislation

Springfield, Ill. – The Illinois Senate passed a number of pieces of legislation Tuesday that range from keeping a tax credit for the working poor on the books to taking some drivers off the road.

EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT

Senators voted 45-0 to continue a tax break for the working poor. The state's earned income tax credit applies to people who qualify for the federal version of the credit. Illinoisans get to reduce their state tax by five-percent of their federal tax credit.

It cost the state $44 million dollars last year. The program was originally designed to help about 760,000 families, but it also came with an expiration date. Now many lawmakers hope to make it permanent.

But some lawmakers also questioned the thinking behind passage of such legislation before Governor Rod Blagojevich proposes a state budget.

RAINY DAY FUND

Another measure passed in the Senate Tuesday would require the state to automatically set aside state money during good economic times. The vote was 33-13 (it needed 30 to pass).

The state's Comptroller Daniel Hynes proposed the idea; it would apply in years when state revenues grow by 4% or more. Each year, more money would be set aside until state government was spending only 99-percent of its revenue (and saving 1%). That saved 1% would be used in case of economic emergency or to pay off debts.

Critics say the plan contains loopholes and that it's wrong for the state to take more money from taxpayers than it needs.

YOUNG DRIVERS

A third vote in the state Senate was to limit the passengers brand-new drivers could have in a car. Drivers under 18 would be limited to just one passenger under the age of 20, except for relatives. The restriction would last for six months after getting their license.

The measure passed 39-to-16; supporters say the proposal comes from the National Transportation Safety Board. Sen. John Cullerton (D-Chicago) says studies show passengers easily distract new drivers.

He says a teen driver with a teen passenger is 45-percent more likely to get into a fatal accident than when driving alone.

POPCORN, ANYONE?

And popcorn is halfway to becoming Illinois' official snack of choice. The Senate voted 56-0 for a measure that would name popcorn the official state snack.

The measure was proposed by a group of elementary students from Joliet. They approached Senator Larry Walsh to push the idea after researching it on the Internet last fall.

Walsh says he was glad to do it because the second and third graders showed such initiative in coming up with the idea. Some lawmakers joked that popcorn shouldn't be favored over other popular snacks such as Cheetos or Cheez-Whiz.

But the idea passed easily to cheers from the students who were sitting in the Senate gallery at the time.

All of the proposal now head to the Illinois House.