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

Chamber members:

It looks like it may be a few long days’ worth of work in Springfield at the end of this week. Lawmakers technically don’t have to sign off on the state budget until May 31, but their goal is to wrap it up Friday along with all their other legislative work. Not many details have emerged as of this message send. Watch our social media channels for any announcements.

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

Debt Ceiling Update
Congress and the White House are racing against the clock, and the House and Senate schedules, to find a path to avoiding default on the nation’s debt. President Joe Biden has truncated his international trip. All of this points to the possibility of late-May recesses being on the chopping block.

Tuesday’s talks yielded a set of official proxies for President Biden in the talks and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) voiced optimism about the new “structure” of discussions. But as the key players keep talking, time is ticking. And each chamber is scheduled to be in Washington just a handful of days before the potential June 1 X-date (and not at the same time, either).

House Democrats will resume a long-shot end run to bypass the sticky debt ceiling and spending negotiations, as a “discharge petition” ripens on the vine today. They’ve waited for the mandatory seven days and can now start gathering the 218 signatures needed to force the speaker to bring it up. But Democrats securing a handful of GOP votes is improbable and the procedural timeline — another seven days wait and then two legislative days before consideration — makes getting this done before the earliest projected X-date a fantasy.

Heading into this new phase, here is where things stand on Capitol Hill:

House GOP: House Republicans maintain that their job is done. They passed the bill. And now they are waiting for Biden to make a move towards agreeing to the spending restrictions outlined in their bill.

McCarthy signaled Tuesday that he sees Biden’s appointment of Louisa Terrell, Steve Ricchetti and OMB Director Shalanda Young, a Hill and approps veteran, to continue negotiations as a positive step. Though he said there’s “now a better process” on debt ceiling negotiations, “that doesn’t mean we’re going to get to an agreement.”

On the idea of a discharge petition from Democrats, Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) dismissed the idea that any of his conference would support it. “No way. Ain’t gonna happen,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), a centrist in the GOP caucus, said Tuesday on the discharge petition idea. “No, no, no. We’ve been clear – they need to negotiate,” said freshman Rep. Juan Ciscomani (R-Ariz.).

House Dems: Though Democrats are making the move on the discharge petition, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) was noncommittal on proceeding with that when he returned to the Capitol Tuesday afternoon. The New York Democrat said he hadn’t made a decision yet and was going to consult the White House and other Democrats on the strategy. But, Democratic leaders are expected to tee up the move as soon as Wednesday morning, when they can start collecting signatures.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) said that in addition to trying to hold the line against GOP proposals, Democrats also need to “do a better job of explaining to the American people what these cuts will mean.” He sees a messaging problem. “I’m very concerned because I don’t like the perception of credibility for what the Republicans are doing. What they’re doing is not credible. It’s a hostage situation,” he said Tuesday.

The White House attempted to quell progressive angst late Tuesday night with a statement saying that Biden will “fight” to keep GOP proposals on expanding work requirements for food security programs out of any final deal. The president had flirted with the idea over the weekend, to the dismay of progressives.

Senate GOP: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) remains in the backseat and he’s not backseat driving. “This shouldn’t be this hard,” McConnell said Tuesday. “We know we’re not going to default.”

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) also isn’t sweating, calling it “the same old song and dance.” The Indiana Republican is confident “they’ll get something worked out.” Meanwhile, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is confident of something else: “I’ve got confidence that Kevin McCarthy can’t really negotiate a bad deal, and get it passed in the House and retain his speakership,” he told Burgess.

Senate Dems: They’re eyeing both the clock and the speaker. “I trust President Biden. I’m just very skeptical that there’s going to be an agreement in time,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “We’re gonna get to a point where McCarthy has to decide whether he’s willing to proceed to default.”

And an eight term House member now in the Senate, Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), has thoughts on his former colleague: “It’s about the House. Kevin’s in shackles. He’s in leg, arms and hand cuffs. And frankly I don’t think he’s got much capacity to negotiate. And very little capacity to advance a deal,” Welch told Burgess.

With tax revenues falling, Governor Pritzker’s office revises Illinois’ outlook
Governor J.B. Pritzker said this week that the state remains “on a great trajectory from a fiscal perspective,” even as his office decreased its current-year revenue estimates in light of falling tax revenues. The Governor’s Office of Management and Budget this week shaved $616 million off its estimate for current-year revenues, marking a downward revision of about 1.1 percent. The move corresponded with a $532 million, or roughly 1 percent, increased revenue estimate for the upcoming fiscal year.

The governor’s office now projects the current year will end with $50.7 billion in revenues collected. In his February budget proposal, he had proposed about $790 million in supplemental spending for the current year that would have brought total spending to $51.2 billion — an amount exceeding the new revenue estimate.

The proposed supplemental spending included $490 million in increased appropriations for state agencies, a $200 million added pension payment and $100 million for additional capital improvements at early childhood centers across the state. Pritzker suggested at an unrelated news conference Thursday that spending for the current year could be brought in line with revenues by slowing the pace of agency spending.

“We’re talking about approximately 1 percent of the entire budget,” he said. “So knowing that this might be coming, we’ve ramped down some of the spending here and there within all of our agencies to make sure that we could cover that 1 percent difference.”

The downward revision to the current Fiscal Year 2023 estimate was due to revenues for the month of April coming in $849 million below what GOMB had projected, an indicator that pandemic-era state revenue spikes are beginning to slow.

“We understand that the broader economy is slowing down a bit,” Pritzker said at a Wednesday news conference. “And we also understood that the benefit to the economy of some of the stimulus that was put into it in prior years will also wane.”

As for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2024 that begins July 1, GOMB’s revenue estimate rose to nearly $50.5 billion. The governor’s office now projects to have $840 million more in revenues than the $49.6 billion spending amount he proposed for FY 2024.

That increase was partially driven by an expected influx of income tax revenue tied to an annual reconciliation process for prior-year business taxes. Recent changes to state and federal tax codes have led to a greater-than-normal amount of money being subject to the statutory reallocation process, according to the Illinois Department of Revenue, although GOMB warns some of the revenue bump will be “one-time in nature.”

Still, that upward revision for the upcoming year would not be enough to cover a shortfall created by a cost overrun related to a state expansion of health care to noncitizens who would otherwise be ineligible for Medicaid benefits.

Those programs, which provide health care benefits similar to Medicaid to noncitizens aged 42 and older, are now expected to cost about $1.1 billion next year – a 400 percent increase from the original estimate of $220 million included in Pritzker’s February budget proposal.

The program was an initiative of Illinois’ Legislative Latino Caucus, passed in 2020 during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic when Latinos were getting sick at a higher rate than white Illinoisans. It officially launched in 2021 for those age 65 and older but exceeded its anticipated cost within one month.

It has since been expanded twice to cover noncitizens age 42 and older, and the Democratically controlled legislature is considering expanding the program to noncitizens between the ages of 19 and 42. Under the state’s pre-existing AllKids program, noncitizens age 18 and under are already eligible for Medicaid benefits.

The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services noted recently that the agency expects the federal government to cover about $100 to $120 million in health care costs in FY 2024 for noncitizens who are seeking asylum in the U.S.

Pritzker said last Wednesday that he is hopeful lawmakers will come up with a solution for defraying some of the rest of that projected cost. On Thursday, he gave suggestions for solutions that he said were made possible by the flexibility the state has since the program is not subject to the same regulation as Medicaid, which is a joint program administered by the state and federal governments.

“It is possible, for example, that there could be – for some people at certain income levels – copays that would defray the costs of the program,” he said. Another example, he said, would be to reexamine reimbursement rates. “These are all things that I think are reasonable to consider to make sure that we’re reining in the cost but also serving the people who most need this health care,” Pritzker said.

The recent upward revisions to estimated program costs have prompted sharp criticism from Republicans. But in a news conference earlier in the week, state Rep. Lilian Jimenez, D-Chicago, pushed back against calls to end the program.

“Many immigrants in the state of Illinois do contribute to taxes. They pay their taxes when they work, they file their taxes with an ITIN number,” she said. “They are taxpaying members of this state and should be treated as such. And they’re also human beings, most of all, and we have to remember that when we talk about cutting this or cutting that.”

Former Governor Quinn suggests Governor Pritzker, legislative leaders should call special session for ethics reform
Former Illinois governor Pat Quinn was back in the Capitol complex last week advocating for ethics reform following the ComEd Four trial. The Democrat brought letters to Gov. JB Pritzker, Senate President Don Harmon, and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch suggesting they should call a special session to address corruption in Illinois politics and government.

Quinn told reporters that lawmakers should pass a constitutional amendment to allow voters to enact stricter ethics laws through petition initiatives and binding referendums. He would also like to see a law banning lawmakers from voting on legislation involving any personal, financial, or family conflicts of interest.

“We need our governor and our legislative leaders today to see that this verdict last week is frankly a clarion call from the everyday people of Illinois to the leaders of our state to do something, to take action, and especially to empower voters,” Quinn said.

The former governor also suggested Illinois should have a law prohibiting pension payments for corrupt lawmakers and former legislators convicted of felonies. Quinn said lawmakers should also give the Legislative Inspector General subpoena power to properly investigate misconduct.

Quinn said Illinois needs to restrict campaign contributions and charitable donations from regulated utility companies and monopolies like Commonwealth Edison. He also noted that lawmakers should pass bills to strengthen the revolving door prohibition for legislators who quickly become lobbyists. Quinn’s final suggestion is stricter requirements for income tax disclosures for all statewide constitutional officers and legislative leaders.

A spokesperson for the Pritzker administration said the governor believes we must restore the public’s trust in government. Alex Gough said Pritzker will continue to work with the General Assembly to ensure that those who violate that trust are held accountable.

“Since taking office, Gov. Pritzker has advanced the cause of ethics reform in key areas, especially in bringing more transparency to the process and tightening requirements for lobbyists,” Gough said.

The administration noted that Pritzker has approved legislation to increase the level of detail required on statements of economic interest. Gough said Pritzker also increased the disclosure requirement for lobbyists to include whether they are elected officials in Illinois, lobby for units of local government, or subcontract. He also explained Pritzker approved a measure requiring the Secretary of State’s office to create a publicly accessible and searchable database combining disclosures, contributions, and statements of economic interest by lobbyists.

“On top of those important reforms, the clean energy package signed into law by the Governor also included additional reforms to address transparency and reporting for public utilities and their lobbyists to address the alleged conduct cited in the deferred prosecution agreement involving ComEd,” Gough added.

Meanwhile, the Senate President’s office said they appreciate Quinn’s input and look forward to reviewing his letter. Harmon spokesman John Patterson said the people involved in the ComEd Four trial were convicted because what they did was already, and always has been, illegal.

“Senate President Harmon will continue to be a champion on ethics,” Patterson stated. “The point he has been trying to drive home is that what we need in public service are good people focused on the state’s welfare rather than their own self interests.”

House Ethics and Elections Chairman Maurice West (D-Rockford) responded on behalf of House Democrats. West said ideas for strong ethics laws are always something lawmakers should closely examine. Although, West noted that lawmakers also recognize that when bad actors are being tried and convicted, that is a sign laws are working.

“When we passed our comprehensive ethics package in 2021, we always said it was an important step and we would continue to find ways to strengthen our laws,” West said. “I am committed to that. I look forward to fully reviewing the former governor’s proposals.”

Salary Transparency
As the General Assembly prepares to wrap up its spring legislative session this week, Democratic lawmakers are advancing a bill that would mandate job postings to include a salary range in a move they say would promote equity within the workplace.

Democrats in the Illinois Senate last week approved a measure that would require employers to list a pay scale and expected benefits for any position listed on a job posting. It would also create a regulatory structure for the Department of Labor to investigate violations of the proposed law.

“We know that more and more employers have begun to include these pay ranges in their job postings as it becomes starkly clear that doing so is crucial to attracting talent,” bill sponsor Sen. Cristina Pacione-Zayas, D-Chicago, said in debate last week. Pacione-Zayas said the bill would prompt employers to interrogate potential “unjustified disparities” between employees’ pay based on things like race, ethnicity, gender or language.

House Bill 3129 passed with a 35-19 vote. Because it was amended in the Senate, it now goes back to the House for consideration. The bill would require expected pay disclosures from employers with 15 or more employees in the state and would apply to things such as job board listings, newspaper ads and postings made by a third-party on behalf of an employer.

Sen. Win Stoller, R-East Peoria, called the proposal “divorced from reality,” noting the bill does not account for the unpredictable hiring process. “As a small business owner myself, we’ve had situations where we find the right person and we’ll restructure a department,” Stoller said. “We’ll rearrange some roles to take into full account, to take full advantage of their skills and abilities.”

Business groups opposed the bill when it was introduced, although that opposition has lessened. While amendments have brought powerful groups like the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce to neutral positions on the bill, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the Technology Manufacturers Association opposed the bill in a House committee Tuesday morning.

If the bill becomes law, Illinois will join a growing number of states considering ways to make compensation more transparent in the job application process. New York passed a law last year that requires all job postings include a minimum and maximum salary or wage. Colorado passed a similar law that requires disclosing pay range and a general description of benefits in 2019. Some states, such as California, Nevada, Maryland and Rhode Island, require employers to disclose pay ranges to job applicants on request.

The salary transparency bill follows similar efforts in recent years aimed at making hiring practices more equitable, including a 2019 law that made it illegal for employers to ask about an applicant’s salary history as part of the interview process.

Lawmakers consider state grants for grocers
Lawmakers are considering creating a grant program that would send state dollars to grocers in Illinois communities that have few options for buying food. Senate Bill 850 would direct the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, or DCEO, to establish the “Grocery Initiative,” a program that would study “food deserts” in Illinois and provide grants to new or existing grocery stores in these areas.

The grants would be available to grocery stores that are organized as independently owned for-profits, co-ops and nonprofit organizations as well as grocery stores owned by units of local government. “It’s incredibly expensive to run a grocery store,” bill sponsor Rep. Mary Beth Canty, D-Arlington Heights, said in an interview. “It takes a lot of product and your margins are very thin.”

The initiative was first introduced in Gov. JB Pritzker’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which called for $20 million to fund the program. Canty, who is sponsoring the proposal in the House, said she will continue to work on it in the next two weeks as lawmakers craft next year’s budget. Canty said she views the proposal as a way to interrupt violence and alleviate some of the root causes of crime. “Without food security, people are desperate and desperate people do desperate things,” Canty said.

The bill defines food deserts as low-income communities that are at least a half-mile from a grocery store in urban areas and at least 10 miles from a grocery store in rural areas. Approximately 3.3 million people – about one in four Illinois residents – live in a food desert, according to a 2021 Illinois Department of Public Health report that used data from the United States Department of Agriculture. This dataset was first published in 2019 and was last updated in 2021. The USDA also measures food access in communities using other thresholds. One-mile and 20-mile thresholds would still include 1.1 million Illinoisans – about 9 percent of the state’s population, according to that IDPH report.

Tito Quiñones, who works on legislative affairs for the DCEO, spoke to lawmakers at a hearing on the bill last week. “This is a statewide issue and I think it connects different parts of the state over this issue of food insecurity,” Quiñones said.

According to a weekly survey from the U.S. Census Bureau that has tracked things like food insecurity since the start of the pandemic, about 9.4 percent of households in Illinois reported “sometimes” or “often” not having enough food to eat over a seven-day period early last month.

This figure is higher for people of color. About 14.4 percent of Hispanic and Latino households reported that level of food insecurity during the same period. About 18.5 percent of respondents who reported two or more races on the survey indicated they also struggled. For white households, the figure was 8 percent.

The bill would require any grant recipients to carry a “substantial variety of perishable foods” including things like meat and fresh produce, items not typically carried by dollar stores or convenience stores.

Sean Park, a program manager at the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, spoke to lawmakers about the proposal at a House Revenue Committee hearing last week. “If there was money to be made from the convenience stores doing this, they would already be doing it,” Park said, referring to selling meat and produce. “What we’re proposing in the bill is support for new models.” Those new models might not need to rely as heavily on a profit motive for operating the grocery store. The bill would grant DCEO the authority to limit the kinds of grocers that would be eligible based on factors like annual revenue or physical size.

Some Republicans said they want to make sure the bill wouldn’t require any municipalities to use this model. In committee and in a follow-up interview, Canty clarified that no such requirement exists. Rep. Martin McLaughlin, R-Barrington Hills, told his colleagues on the revenue committee that he was uncomfortable with the level of government intervention in the proposed program.

“This is unbelievable to me that we are going to suddenly be the financiers of the private capital market, which should be driving the decision,” McLaughlin said. He later cited this concern as a reason that he couldn’t support the bill, comparing the idea to socialist nations that formerly made up the Soviet Union

The Illinois Fuel & Retail Association, a lobbying group representing convenience stores, is opposed to the bill as well, although that’s because those stores – which include gas station mini marts –would be excluded from grant eligibility under the legislation as currently written. “Our ask is simple: to let convenience stores at least apply for some of this funding,” IFRA CEO Josh Sharp told lawmakers.

The state has been considering what to do about food deserts for several years. In 2017, the state began tracking the prevalence and locations of food deserts. Last year, Pritzker signed a bill that allowed DCEO and the Department of Agriculture to begin the process of creating a “Healthy Food Development Program,” which would offer financial assistance to grocery stores.

Lawmakers look to end ‘common carrier’ exemption for ride-share companies
Ride-share companies such as Uber and Lyft would be subject to the same level of liability as other forms of public transportation under a measure moving through the General Assembly. House Bill 2231 would classify ride-shares as “common carriers,” meaning the companies can be held liable, rather than just the drivers, for accidents or injuries to passengers.

Currently in Illinois, “common carriers” include taxicabs, railways and elevators, among others. But the state’s 2014 Transportation Network Providers Act specifically exempted ride-share companies from being deemed “common carriers.” The law stated ride-shares, defined as Transportation Network Companies, and their drivers “are not common carriers, contract carriers or motor carriers, as defined by applicable State law, nor do they provide taxicab or for-hire vehicle service.”

An amendment to HB 2231 would deem that common carrier exemption “inoperative” as of Jan. 1, 2024. The amended version passed the Senate on partisan lines last week, sending it back to the House for a concurrence vote. A previous version passed the House on partisan lines in March. Under the amended HB 2231, the entire Transportation Network Provider Act would be repealed on Sept. 1, 2028, extending its review period from one year to nearly five years.

Bill sponsor Sen. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, said the amendment changed some opponents’ positions on the legislation to neutral. Lyft, in particular, has shifted its stance as a result of the amendment, Martwick said.

State of Illinois Launches Blue Collar Jobs Act Construction Tax Credits for Illinois Businesses
Governor Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) today announced the launch of the Blue Collar Jobs Act (BCJA) Tax Credit application for eligible companies. BCJA is a bipartisan legislative package designed to promote economic expansion and growth in Illinois by incentivizing construction projects. The legislation makes $20 million in tax credits available per year for eligible companies.

“From my administration’s Rebuild Illinois Capital Plan to the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, we’ve put economic opportunity at the forefront in legislation passed and policies implemented,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “Today, I am proud to announce yet another investment in our communities—the Blue Collar Jobs Act Tax Credit—to promote construction projects in underserved areas, while creating more good-paying jobs up and down the state.”

“Illinois continues to put policies and programs in place that support our working families and their tremendous impact to our state economy,” said Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton. “The Blue Collar Jobs Act Tax Credit will create jobs and opportunities in areas that need it the most by broadening avenues for new construction and projects that will take our state even further.”

The BCJA amended legislation for Illinois’ premier incentive programs to provide tax credits attributable to the wages paid to construction workers on eligible projects. Eligible companies include those who are located in an Enterprise Zone (EZ) or a River Edge Redevelopment Zone (RERZ), companies designated a High Impact Business (HIB), or companies with an agreement under the Economic Development for a Growing Economy (EDGE) Program. Companies that completed construction projects in 2021 (the effective date of the legislation) or later are eligible to apply for credits.

“By offering tax incentives through the bipartisan Blue Collar Jobs Act, the State is bolstering construction projects and supporting economic development throughout Illinois,” said DCEO Director Kristin Richards. “The innovative tax credit structure will help create new, good-paying construction jobs while encouraging businesses to increase investments in Illinois’ communities.”

Eligible companies can receive tax credits equal to 75 percent of the income tax attributable to construction workers on eligible projects located in an underserved area, or 50 percent for projects located in other areas. The BCJA is designed to further incentivize major capital investments in communities across Illinois and create good-paying construction jobs.

Providing tax incentives specifically for construction projects supports job creation and additional investments in communities. DCEO currently leverages this innovative tax credit structure for construction jobs as part of the Reimagining Energy and Vehicles (REV) and Manufacturing Illinois Chips for Real Opportunity Act (MICRO) tax credit programs.

DCEO will host a technical assistance webinar to share details regarding the BCJA program application and processes on Monday, June 26, 2023, from 1 p.m. – 2 p.m. Click here to sign up and RSVP; companies looking for information are encouraged to email or visit the BCJA website.

Stay well,

Mike Paone
Executive Vice President
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry
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