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    Legislative Update: April 2020 Miscellaneous bits and pieces

    Legislative Update: April 2020
    Miscellaneous bits and pieces
    By Hugh Brady

    First, some bad news: thanks to the Covid-19 virus pandemic, it looks like the area NAMI legislative town hall/forum on mental health issues will have to be canceled.

    But there’s good news too:

    First, kudos to State Representative Daniel Didech from Buffalo Grove. Several people from area NAMIs were part of a conference call with Representative Didech on March 16 to discuss NAMI legislative priorities. Top on our list were three bills to increase the supply of affordable and supportive housing for low income people and people with a mental illness or other disability:

    · HB 5465 which will establish a pilot program to provide supportive housing for the heaviest users of mental health and substance abuse services,
    · HB 5554 which will establish a state low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) similar to the federal LIHTC program which provides construction funds to help build supportive housing for low income people with mental illnesses or other disabilities, and
    · HB 5275, which will provide property tax breaks for new or substantially rehabbed apartment buildings that keep certain percentages of their units affordable.
    Representative Didech agreed to co-sponsor all three bills. Thank you!

    And some more good news. On March 17th the voters in Elgin and Dundee Townships in Kane County, gave approval to small tax increases to create township mental health boards, sometimes known as 708 Boards which use the money from the taxes they collect to provide mental health and substance abuse services in their respective areas.

    Even better, the vote wasn’t even close. In Elgin Township the vote was 8,231 in favor and 3,535 opposed, and in Dundee Township it was 4,568 yes and 2,432 no.

    And in Rockford, voters approved a ½ cent sales tax with the proceeds to go toward mental health, addiction and homeless services.

    Six years ago – November, 2014 – there was an advisory referendum on mental health services on the ballot in Cook County, “Should the General Assembly appropriate additional funds to provide necessary mental health services?” More than a million people voted yes and the measure passed 86% to 14%. The catch was that the ballot measure didn’t mention where the money would come from or whether or not taxes would have to be increased to provide the services. Some commentators thought the vote would have been quite different had a tax increase been part of the question.

    But now it looks like the voters in Elgin and Dundee Townships have shown that they are willing to pay more in taxes in order to see improved mental health services..

    Now let’s work with other townships in our area to create similar 708 Boards.

    Now some not so good news: Some excellent pieces of mental health legislation have been introduced to the Illinois state legislature this spring. But the spread of Covid-19 virus has forced the General Assembly to cancel most of its spring session. So it’s likely that none of those bills will be considered. As of now – and this may change – it looks like the legislature will pass a budget, and leave the rest until later in the year, or maybe even until 2021.

    It also looks like the legislature will pass two budgets, one based on revenue generated from the passage of the proposed Fair Tax Amendment, and one based on its not passing. Due to the many business closing and rising unemployment resulting from the spread of the Covid-19 virus, Illinois is facing a serious loss of revenue for the remainder to this fiscal year, and so will start the next fiscal year, which begins July1, in a precarious financial situation.

    An opportunity: If the Fair Tax Amendment, which will be on the ballot this November, passes, the new tax structure will go into effect January 1, 2021, halfway through the 20-21 fiscal year and will generate an additional $1.5 billion for state programs for the remainder of the fiscal year and an additional $3 billion for the following full year. A large part of that money will be used to improve the state’s human service programs, including mental health services.

    If it does not pass, we will keep our current revenue system which does not generate sufficient revenue to provide adequate mental health services. That, coupled with the revenue losses from the Covid-19 virus, will make our already inadequate mental health services worse.

    The opportunity is there, however, to avoid that simply by passing the Amendment.
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