* The Illinois Policy Institute on legislative fiscal impact notes…
From March 2015 to January 2017, the 99th General Assembly passed 938 bills that were ultimately signed into law; however, only 2.9 percent of the bills contained fiscal notes. A fiscal note essentially acts as a price tag for a bill and contains details about how much the state will pay for a particular law its legislature passes.
Though problematic, this lack of fiscal notes is nothing new for Illinois.
Between 2011 and 2012, less than 3 percent of the 1,173 bills passed by the 97th General Assembly and enacted into law contained fiscal notes. The trend continued into the 98th General Assembly, and in 2013, only 3.4 percent of the bills passed in that year contained fiscal notes.
While not every bill passed relates to fiscal matters, many bills, even those of seemingly little consequence, can have an effect on the state budget. Other laws, which may contain notes pertaining to pensions, land conveyance appraisal and other issues, don’t always have fiscal notes, even though they have a direct or indirect impact on the state’s finances. Illinois’ financial problems are legion, and yet only 27 of the 938 bills passed in the 99th General Assembly have fiscal notes.
The solution is simple: Require every bill to have a fiscal note.
The idea is not uncommon. At least 10 states require every bill to have a fiscal note, according to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures. But in Illinois, the state’s current fiscal notes law only requires fiscal notes on bills that pertain directly to state revenues or debt impact bills. Despite this requirement, many pieces of legislation that have financial implications do not include fiscal notes.
One example is recent legislation relating to Illinois’ tax credit program, which often benefits large corporations. Senate Bill 513, which would later go on to become Public Act 99-0925, extended the Economic Development for a Growing Economy tax credit program through April 30, 2017, potentially costing taxpayers millions. Yet, the bill did not contain a fiscal note when it was introduced because it did not fall under the narrow criteria set forth by the current fiscal notes requirements. House Bill 2685, now Public Act 99-0238, became law Aug. 3, 2015, and allows the Regional Transportation Authority to borrow over $100 million through bond sales – yet there was no fiscal note. Without real reform, politicians will continue to pass bills that do not tell their true impact on the state’s finances.
Ironically, the most important thing missing from this analysis is a cost estimate. And that might be high. The analysis only reports on the number of bills passed, but about 6,200 bills have been introduced during this spring’s session. The GOMB would have to hire a whole bunch of people to prepare all those notes.