Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”
If you hadn’t noticed, road construction is all around us and will certainly be here to stay for years. Today’s update has news on I-80 as well as some state updates, announcements and of course the latest on the economy with reactions to the student debt announcement.
*Government Affairs Roundup brought to you by CITGO & Silver Cross Hospital*
Upcoming I-80 Lane Closures
Construction on Interstate 80 in Joliet is ramping up, and the Illinois Department of Transportation wants the public to be aware of lane closures, ramp closings and the likelihood of traffic congestion in upcoming weekends.
I-80 will be down to one lane, initially for eastbound traffic and later for westbound motorists, during the weekend work, which starts Sept. 8 and continues for seven more weekends, including Fridays. The work will take place between Raynor Avenue and Gardner Street.
IDOT officials said they want to get the word out to truckers and other motorists to find alternative routes if possible to lighten what is likely to become a congested construction zone.
“There are literally not a lot of good alternatives to I-80,” John Baczek, engineer of program development for IDOT, said last week in a meeting with media. But the options are fewer for truckers, Baczek said. IDOT will encourage truck drivers to seek alternative interstate routes through the Chicago region as the work progresses. Motorists are advised to find alternative routes through Joliet to avoid construction.
“We are looking for people to think big when they’re passing through the area,” Baczek said. “Try to avoid the area if possible.” Traffic on I-80 typically is about 80,000 vehicles a day, and 25% of that is trucks, according to IDOT.
The work being done this fall is prelude to an expansive I-80 upgrade that will continue until 2028, as IDOT replaces the Des Plaines River bridges, rebuilds interchanges and adds auxiliary lanes to ease traffic at entrance and exit ramps. That project is expected to begin next year and will be done in segments along a 16-mile stretch from U.S. 30 in New Lenox to Ridge Road in Minooka.
The work this fall is focused on pavement upgrades in the Joliet area. On Tuesday, IDOT created a new configuration on I-80 eastbound, splitting traffic between Richards Street and Hickory Creek to open the road between the two lanes for reconstruction. The split-traffic configuration was the latest alteration to the Joliet stretch of I-80, which became a construction zone last year as IDOT began to replace bridges in eastbound lanes.
Construction over the past year has already involved occasional weekend work and lane closures, leading to backups at times. IDOT wants motorists to know that the upcoming weekend work and lane closures not only will proceed for eight consecutive weekends, weather permitting, but also will include Fridays. The weekend schedule starting Sept. 8 will run from 10 p.m. Thursdays to 5 a.m. Mondays.
“It’s going to have an impact on rush-hour traffic,” IDOT spokeswoman Maria Castaneda said. “That’s very important. Historically, Friday traffic can be nice and light or really heavy.” IDOT is encouraging motorists to prepare for the worst and plan for alternative routes for work and weekend travel. Motorists should expect “significant travel delays,” said Isaam Rayyan, engineer of project implementation.
The eastbound ramp to Richards Street was closed this week and is not expected to open this fall. The ramp from Chicago Street to eastbound I-80 will be closed on Sept. 8, but reopen on the following Monday. “Not all ramps will be closed at the same time, and I-80 will only be reduced to one lane in one direction at a time,” Rayyan said, indicating IDOT’s efforts to minimize the impact on traffic. The lane closures Sept. 8 will involve eastbound traffic only. Detours will be posted for ramp closures.
The work includes patching, milling, resurfacing and pavement striping to keep the pavement in acceptable condition until the larger corridor project can begin, according to an IDOT press release. According to IDOT, the work will minimize future emergency closings “that have occurred with increasing frequency in recent years.” The planned repairs also will give motorists an opportunity to plan for alternative routes, according to IDOT.
Make sure you bookmark this Facebook page to refer to all project updates now and going forward:
Illinois Residents to See Income Tax, Property Tax Rebate Payments
In the coming weeks, Illinois residents will begin to see rebate checks showing up in the mail or their bank accounts as part of a tax relief program from which the one-time payments will be made.
Illinois residents will see a rebate of between $50 and $300, with the lowest amounts being paid to those who filed as being single on their taxes and with the highest amounts being paid for residents who claim dependents on their taxes, the Illinois state comptroller’s website said. The payments will begin to go out on Sept. 12 and are part of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Family Relief Plan. The rebates come from income and property tax relief payments and could take up to two months for residents to see show up, Comptroller Susanna Mendoza said.
Qualified recipients for the income tax rebates must have filed their taxes in 2021 and must have made less in adjusted gross income than $200,000 individually or $400,000 if residents filed jointly on their taxes, officials said. Residents must have also paid their property taxes on their personal property in 2021 and 2022.
For property tax rebates, residents must have made less in adjusted gross income than $500,000 if they filed jointly and less than $250,000 if filing as an individual. Residents will receive $50 if they filed as an individual, $100 if they filed jointly, and can receive $100 per dependent, up to three, officials said.
Income and property tax rebates will be automatically issued to all the estimated 6.2 million taxpayers who qualify under the Family Relief Plan based on information included in their submitted 2021 tax returns. Comptroller Susanna Mendoza will issue the rebates and expects to begin to cut checks the week of Sept. 12. Distribution will take roughly eight weeks after the rollout begins.
Taxpayers who did not file their 2021 individual income tax returns but want to claim the individual income tax rebate (both the property tax and individual income tax rebates) or solely claim the property tax rebate are able to do so, state officials announced in July.
Rebates will be sent to residents automatically using the same method original refunds were transmitted if they were sent directly to residents by state officials. If residents used direct deposit, the individual rebate will be deposited directly into a taxpayer’s account, the state said. If there was no refund or a paper refund was issued, the rebate will be mailed to the address on file.
Amendment Remains on November Ballot
Illinois’ 4th District Appellate Court has affirmed a Sangamon County court’s decision from June that blocks a petition that tried to remove Amendment 1 from the November ballot.
Amendment 1 would create a state constitutional right for employees to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their choosing to negotiate wages, hours, and working conditions and to protect their economic welfare and safety at work.
The case, Sarah Sachen v. Illinois State Board of Elections, was brought by parents and teachers from Chicago Public Schools and claimed the proposed amendment would unconstitutionally enshrine union powers in the Illinois Constitution. This week, the appellate court gave its final ruling, blocking the petition, which means the amendment will be on the November ballot.
If approved by voters in November, the amendment would prohibit laws that interfere with, negate, or diminish collective bargaining agreements, including agreements that require union membership as a condition of employment, according to the measure’s language.
Pritzker Administration Launches State-Wide Employment and Retention Strategy
Governor Pritzker today announced new measures as part of the ongoing efforts to address staffing shortages in the State of Illinois’ agencies that provide essential health and safety services to Illinois’ most vulnerable residents. The State is working to fill vacancies and hire thousands of frontline staff in the Departments of Human Services, Corrections, and Veteran’s Affairs. Interested individuals may visit work.illinois.gov to apply and search for jobs by agency, title, or county.
“Since COVID-19 upended our State—and world—we have experienced severe labor shortages that disproportionately impact our most vulnerable residents,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “That’s why we are launching a laser-focused recruitment and retention strategy to attract quality professionals in the social services and healthcare fields. No matter the challenges of today’s job market, our administration is mobilizing every available resource to make sure every resident has access to the critical services they need and deserve.”
Like many employers across the nation, including other governmental bodies, the State is facing an increasingly challenging job market. In the two years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government sector in the U.S. has lost over 600,000 workers, which is more than manufacturing, wholesale trade, and construction industries combined. Additionally, the healthcare industry has suffered significant labor shortage issues due to burnout from the pandemic. To address the staffing challenges faced by many of our service agencies, the following immediate actions will be taken:
- On an emergency basis, the Department of Central Management Services (CMS) will develop and implement a State-wide recruiting campaign focused on direct care staff serving in State mental health centers, homes for persons with developmental disabilities, and veterans’ homes, as well as staff supporting the State’s corrections facilities.
- On an emergency basis, CMS will assess, draft, and implement retention measures targeting employees at facilities that are open 24/7, which are unique and may require specialized resources. Given the financial and operational costs resulting from extensive employee turnover and unfilled positions in these vital functions, it is critical the State take as many steps as possible to address retention.
- CMS, working with the Departments of Human Services (DHS), Veterans’ Affairs (DVA), and Corrections (DOC), is directed to leverage all existing State resources and community partnerships available. This includes expanding their recruitment teams and partnering with the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) to amplify available vacancies to those individuals who are experiencing unemployment. Additionally, IDES is directed to send targeted outreach to those receiving unemployment insurance benefits or participating in the State’s Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessment program.
- CMS, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and IDES are directed to leverage existing local workforce partners to encourage additional targeted outreach intended to bolster the applicant pool of qualified candidates for State jobs. These agencies are also directed to increase virtual job fairs across State platforms to recruit new workers.
The announcement emphasizes Governor Pritzker’s commitment to increasing the State’s workforce and ensuring employees have sufficient resources to continue to provide the service that Illinois residents expect. Through these efforts, the State is looking to build and retain its workforce with concentration in the following positions: correctional officers, physicians, nurses, mental health technicians, support service workers, social workers, security therapy aids, security officers, and other critical positions that support the health and safety of the State’s residents.
These steps are the latest in a series of initiatives designed to prepare, attract, and retain the necessary talent pool for roles in State government. Continued efforts include:
Marketing and Recruitment for Critical Vacancies
Since taking office, Governor Pritzker’s Administration has worked to implement practices to attract talent to its workforce:
- Revamped Hiring Processes – The State has implemented a new electronic application and hiring processes for all State positions which allows job seekers to search for and apply to jobs online, including using mobile devices. Visit work.illinois.gov to learn more about job opportunities with the State of Illinois.
- Expanded Outreach – The Bureau of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) within CMS administers the State’s workforce diversity programs and coordinates closely with the Governor’s Office of Equity and the African American, Hispanic, Asian-American, and Native American Employment Plan Advisory Councils, made up of community activists from across the State. Over the last two years, CMS has created or participated in more than 69 outreach and recruitment events.
- Increased Recruitment – Since the beginning of 2021, State agencies, including CMS, DVA, DHS, and DOC have participated in 549 job fairs and hiring events. Recruiting teams also met with prospective employees at the 2022 Illinois State Fair in Springfield and the State Fair in DuQuoin. Applicants are encouraged to visit the Governor’s Tent at the Illinois State Fair in DuQuoin to learn more about State employment, set up job alerts, and apply for vacancies on the spot.
- Improved Career Counseling Services – CMS counseling staff work with internal and external candidates to evaluate their education and experience as well as employment interests/preferences, salary expectations, and geographical location to determine job titles that are the best fit for their future success. Career counselors also assist applicants with applying to State positions for which they may qualify.
Retention of Existing Staff
State employees make a difference every day in the lives of their fellow residents. Nowhere is that difference more tangible than in residential facilities, where State employees are entrusted with providing safe, healthy, and thriving environments. The benefits of State employment include more than just the satisfaction of purpose-driven work. In addition to generous healthcare benefits, robust paid time off, including paid parental leave, and pension benefits, the State has continued to implement and enhance employee benefits and retention measures:
- Career Mobility – Upward Mobility Program (UMP), the career mobility program administered jointly with the State’s largest labor partner, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), is designed to give State employees an opportunity to advance to more challenging, higher paying positions through targeted career counseling and direct-paid educational and training opportunities.
- Ongoing Professional Development – CMS University, a web-based, continuing education and professional development site to assist all State employees. Through curated sessions and live events, employees can expand their knowledge or brush up on tools to support their work.
- Be Well Illinois, the State’s employee wellness program, launched in January 2021 by CMS to improve the overall health and wellness of the State’s workforce. Be Well Illinois uses a comprehensive approach to wellness and incorporates educational resources and activities designed to improve physical, financial and mental health and raise awareness about the benefits of healthy eating, exercise and cultural topics.
- MyBenefits Plus program, an expanded voluntary benefits program to attract prospective employees and support retirees and active employees of the State. This program includes legal services, pet, auto, home, hospital indemnity, critical illness and accident insurance offerings that complement State-sponsored programs.
- Purchasing Power program allows employees to make major purchases such as computers, appliances, electronics and more when paying with cash or credit is not an option. Participants receive their product up front and pay over 6 or 12 months directly from their paycheck.
- COVID-19 support programs for employees throughout the pandemic including a specialized mobile-enabled micro-website, with information about vaccinations, workplace updates, and resources guides for employees.
Today’s announcement is another important step in addressing the historically challenging job market and increasing critical staff to ensure the State’s most vulnerable residents are receiving the quality service they deserve.
Not So Bad News on the Economy
The U.S. economy didn’t shrink as much between April and June as the federal government had first calculated, according to revised data. Here are some of the specific numbers, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA):
- Consumer spending: Rose 1.6 percent, rather than the initially estimated 1 percent
- Spending on goods: It dropped 2.4 percent instead of the 4.4 percent drop that was previously estimated.
- Spending on services: Rose 3.6 percent.
Reaction to Loan Debt & Inflation
President Biden’s plan to cancel at least $10,000 in student loan debt for most borrowers is coming under fire from some high-profile economists. Former Obama economic advisers Jason Furman and Larry Summers argue it could inflame inflation.
Do experts agree? Some do, some don’t. Experts are divided over the inflationary effects Biden’s plan. Most agree, however, that even if student loan relief does lead to higher prices, the change will be marginal.
Why? While Biden’s order will likely give student borrowers a total of at least $300 billion in relief over a decade, most experts don’t believe it will ignite a surge of consumer spending akin to previous rounds of stimulus checks doled out during the height of the pandemic.
Executive Vice President
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry