Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”

Chamber members:

Both the House and Senate are in Springfield for session this week and should be locked in for the next three if they’re going to stick to an April 8th adjournment. Look for introduction of a Democratic anti-crime package in the House either this week or early next. Out in Washington D.C. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s nominee to the Supreme Court, began her confirmation hearings before a Senate panel.

*Government Affairs Roundup brought to you by CITGO & Silver Cross Hospital*

Wage growth for American women is increasing at a faster rate than for men, a stark shift from earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic. But there still remains a wide pay gap between men and women. Female wages were up 4.4% in February from a year earlier, compared with a 4.1% rise in male wages, according to the Atlanta Fed’s wage tracker, marking the sixth straight month women’s wage growth outpaced men. Female wage gains exceeded male gains by 0.5 percentage point in December, matching the widest margin for records tracing back to 1997.

Women account for a disproportionate share of lower-wage service-sector jobs in personal care, food preparation and healthcare support, which saw steep cuts when the pandemic struck.
Businesses in these industries widely reopened last year. Since then, many have struggled to find employees, lifting pay for workers who typically face greater barriers to employment.

Consumers aged 65 and older are boosting their spending as Omicron fades, and analysts say that could help fuel economic growth in the months ahead.

More on the Time Change Question
Bipartisan legislation to make daylight saving time permanent passed the Senate but the House is hesitating. Leaders made clear they are not in a rush to take up the legislation. Reasons: House members say they need to weigh the time-change ramifications, and the Ukraine crisis is a dominant focus on Capitol Hill.

The debate is the latest bid in a long history of initiatives by big business to regulate America’s clocks. Corporations have lobbied for years to increase the hours per day in which U.S. consumers are tempted to enjoy spending on entertainment, sports and leisure activities during daylight hours. Industries that have favored the change include restaurants and bars, golf, aviation and tourism.

Illinois business leaders: Boost workforce & economy through early childhood investments
Recovery of our workforce and economy demands that Illinois pursue an expert, bipartisan plan for improving our early childhood system, a group of business leaders announced Friday.

new report from the ReadyNation Illinois group points to the recommendations issued by the state’s Early Childhood Funding Commission nearly one year ago — a blueprint for strengthening access, equity, and quality in our system of early care and education.

“Two years of pandemic pressures have worsened long-standing problems in child care and other early childhood supports — problems that affect children, working parents, their employers and our entire economy,” said Wendy Pfiel, President and CEO of the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce and a member of the nonprofit ReadyNation organization. “But the commission’s recommendations represent a good path forward, a good business plan, for resolving these challenges.”

“Manufacturers have more than 800,000 open jobs across the United States, underscoring the significance of these issues,” said ReadyNation member Sarah Hartwick, Vice President of Education & Workforce Policy for the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association. “It will take years of investment, hard work, and commitment to realize the commission’s suggested improvements in the early childhood system that’s so critical to the stability and success of our workforce. The time to act is now, building on some important first steps our state has taken.”

The report Early Care & Education: A Business Imperative reiterates extensive research demonstrating the economic significance of childcare, preschool, and vital birth-to-3 services. High-quality services support the workforce of today by increasing employees’ attendance and productivity, as well as giving parents the peace of mind they need to fully engage in their jobs. Early care and education also shape the workforce of tomorrow by laying the skills foundation for academic and career success.

Research shows that high-quality early learning opportunities develop both technical skills and “soft skills,” such as teamwork and perseverance. These programs are more important than ever, with State Board of Education data showing that only three out of 10 Illinois kindergartners were considered fully ready for school entry in fall 2019; the results were even more troubling for low-income students, children of color, and English learners.

However, nagging deficiencies in programs’ access, quality and equity prompted Gov. Pritzker to appoint a bipartisan commission in late 2019, tasked with studying and suggesting improvements in our system of
birth-to-5 services. Business leaders representing ReadyNation joined other partners in testifying at hearings and town-hall meetings in support of this effort.

Among other things, the commission found our state is spending only about 14 percent of what’s truly needed for a fully funded early childhood system. Its recommendations called for an investment of far greater resources, in addition to consolidating the system’s multiple funding streams and governing agencies to improve focus and efficiency.

“Now that we have this plan in hand, it’s crucial that we put it to good use,” said Ashley Villarreal, a ReadyNation member who is Executive Director of the Kankakee County Chamber of Commerce. “Delaying action means tapping the brakes on our own economic recovery at a time when our workforce and employers need help the most.”

Indeed, ReadyNation’s research shows that — even before the pandemic — childcare challenges were costing Illinois’ economy about $2.4 billion annually: costs related to workers’ foregone earnings, employers’ reduced productivity, and other factors. And this price tag accounted only for problems emanating from insufficient infant-and-toddler care.

The good news is, Illinois has taken some early steps toward improvement. In addition to important, short-term measures to preserve childcare during the pandemic, fueled by federal pandemic-relief dollars, the state recently launched a Birth-to-Five initiative of regional-planning councils to identify local needs and discuss ways of meeting them.

Further momentum is necessary, ReadyNation members said, including top priority on improving the compensation of early childhood teachers and staff — a significant “workforce behind the workforce.” Low pay and benefits have too long undermined the quality and stability of services.

To this end, ReadyNation has joined several allies in requesting a 10-percent increase in resources for key, early childhood programs as part of the state’s FY23 budget. These include not only preK and childcare, but two sets of birth-to-3 services: voluntary, home-visiting programs that offer “coaching” help to new and expectant parents, and Early Intervention therapies for youngsters with developmental delays or disabilities.

Such an FY23 increase would serve as a “down payment” toward further realizing the commission’s long-term vision for early childhood system improvements, said ReadyNation members, who also recently testified before the Illinois Future of Work Task Force on these topics.

Time is Running Out in Springfield
It didn’t seem like much happened last week in Springfield as the House took limited floor action and the Senate had its final week off before April 8 adjournment. But things continue to progress behind closed doors, according to a budget update from House Democrats. Things should begin to pick up this week when both chambers return to the Capitol.

Notably, when the Senate returns this week, their committee hearings will be fully in-person for the first time since the pandemic began, and the elevators giving reporters and the public access to Senate offices will be unlocked for the first time as well. Lobbyists, reporters and the public will still be required to prove a negative COVID test to obtain a wristband to enter Senate areas, however according to an internal Senate memo.

As truckers take on rising fuel costs, Illinois consumers can expect to pay more for goods
Lawmakers in Springfield have been pitching ideas to lower fuel prices in Illinois. Members of both parties have said it’s an issue they are working on. As of Friday, the state had an average gas price of $4.526 per gallon which was about 25 cents higher than the national average and the 10th highest in the country, according to AAA. The national average gas price has increased by 48.2% since last year.

The trucking industry is particularly susceptible to changes in fuel prices, according to Don Schaefer, executive vice president of the Mid-West Trucking Association. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Commodity Flow Survey, 71.6% of all goods shipped in the United States were transported by truck in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available. “It used to be the most expensive thing you put in a truck was the driver,” said Schaefer “Now, fuel is up there.”

Schaefer said filling up a truck can cost as much as $1,000, hundreds of dollars more than it would have cost a year ago. The increased fuel costs have led to many truck operators adopting a “fuel surcharge” for deliveries, which he said is often passed on to the consumer. Prices for diesel, which is what most large trucks use, tend to be higher than gasoline. The average price for diesel in the U.S. is $5.066 and $4.933 in Illinois, according to AAA.

The increase is being driven by instability, according to Jim Watson, who lobbies lawmakers on behalf of the American Petroleum Institute, a trade organization representing oil and natural gas companies. Watson said fuel prices, because they are closely linked to the price of oil, is affected by destabilizing events in the industry, such as signaling from the Biden administration on a shift to clean energy, the war in Ukraine and changing plans for pipeline projects. “In some ways, you could argue it’s a perfect storm,” said Watson.

West Texas Intermediate is a type of oil traded on commodity markets. On Monday, a barrel of WTI oil cost $103.22 per barrel, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This is similar to what it cost in 2011 and 2018, when it reached $108. WTI oil was at its highest in the summer of 2008, when it briefly reached $145.16.

At the state Capitol, lawmakers say they are working on ways to address the rise in fuel prices. Republicans have introduced several bills to cap taxes, though none have been sponsored by Democrats in the majority. Democratic legislators have yet to come forward with a specific plan but have said they are working behind the scenes. “There’s a couple different ways to do that and folks are looking at those,” said Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, the House majority leader.

In February, as part of his annual budget proposal, Gov. JB Pritzker announced a plan that would freeze the motor fuel tax at its current rate. That would need approval in by the General Assembly. Republicans in the House introduced HB 5481 this week which would suspend the motor fuel tax altogether if the Consumer Price Index, a measure of the cost of consumer goods, is more than 3% over the previous year. In February, the CPI increased 7.9% compared to last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Rep. Patrick Windhorst, R-Metropolis, also introduced a bill, HB 5723, with the same language as a bill introduced last week by Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Cherry Valley. That proposal would cap the sales tax on motor fuel at 18 cents per gallon. “The families we represent deserve better,” said Windhorst.

The effects of the high fuel prices also are affecting municipalities, which often run fleets of vehicles for public works or police departments. Rep. Mark Luft, R-Pekin, is in a unique position on the issue because in addition to serving as a state representative, he’s the mayor of Pekin. He spoke in support of House Republican legislation to limit taxes on motor fuel on Wednesday.

“Every mayor in Illinois is looking at these numbers and having to make choices,” said Luft. “Do we cut services? Do we raise taxes?” When asked about the Republican proposals to limit tax on motor fuel, Harris said that there are “a whole bunch of different options” that Democrats are considering. “There’s pros and cons to each of them,” said Harris.

Rising fuel prices are taking a toll on other small businesses as well, prompting owners of everything from furniture retailers to swimming-pool service companies to trim services and revise contracts as they try to soften the financial hit. Some small businesses are also looking for ways to reduce the sting of rising fuel prices on employees. U.S. Energy Development, an oil-and-gas producer in Arlington, Texas, recently began adding $50 to worker paychecks to offset higher gas costs.

Microchip manufacturers could win tax breaks to expand in Illinois
One year after Governor J.B. Pritzker adopted a plan to “decouple” the state from the 2017 Trump era tax cuts, support is swelling in the statehouse to create a new tax incentive program to lure microchip manufacturers to the Land of Lincoln.

“As we’ve seen, the pandemic creates these stresses and cracks in the global supply chain,” Rep. Mike Halpin (D-Rock Island) says. “I’ve got a bill that would incentivize manufacturers to make microchips semiconductors, other component parts, right here in Illinois.”

The proposal has bipartisan support in the House. It cleared the Senate unanimously last month. The Illinois Chamber of Commerce, and Illinois Manufacturers Association, and University of Illinois are among the groups supporting the idea.

“We have to compete with states like Ohio and Indiana,” Halpin said, “and until we can convince either the federal government or our sister states to stop that race to the bottom, we need to provide what we can to good Illinois companies that want to expand their operations here.”

Republicans criticized Pritzker and Illinois Democrats for phasing out tax breaks at a time when the jobs market was still recovering from pandemic-induced layoffs, but corporate profits and the broader economic production figures have proven resilient.

“Those parties have a vested interest in trying to make Illinois look as bad so they can come in and try to ‘fix it,’ Halpin said. “Illinois is a great place to live. It’s a great place to work. It’s a great place to do business.”

City of Joliet Houbolt Road / Hollywood Road (US Route 6 – I-80) Reconstruction Public Information Meeting Invitation
The City of Joliet invites you to attend a Public Information Meeting concerning the reconstruction of Houbolt Road / Hollywood Road between US Route 6 and I-80.

Date: Wednesday, April 6
Location: Houbolt Road Construction Field Office – 1116 Houbolt Rd., Unit B, Joliet, IL 60431
Time: 4:00 P.M. to 7:00 P.M.

Visitors will be able to discuss the project with City officials and project leaders, while also viewing renderings and final plans of the improvements. A proposed construction schedule will also be available.

Stay well,

Mike Paone
Executive Vice President
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry
815.727.5371 main
815.727.5373 direct