Government Affairs Roundup
“Your Timely Roundup of Local, State, and Federal Updates”
Governor JB Pritzker signed the Fiscal Year 2024 budget into law today. According to the latest press release from the Governor’s office, “The Fiscal Year 2024 General Funds budget plan reflects projected revenues of $50.611 billion and expenditures of $50.428 billion, resulting in a $183 million surplus.”
We are getting ready to announce our June state legislative session recap luncheon on Thursday, June 29th. We’ll plan to cover not only the budget, but a number of additional topics with our local state senators and representatives.
*Government Affairs Roundup brought to you by CITGO & Silver Cross Hospital*
Illinois EPA Announces $12.6 Million in Grants for Public Light-Duty Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA) Director John J. Kim announced $12.6 million is being awarded to 10 applicants for electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. The grants will fund 348 new Direct Current Fast Charging (DCFC) ports at 87 locations throughout Illinois. The awards are based on a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) issued in the fall of 2022 seeking publicly accessible locations in the three priority areas outlined in the Volkswagen (VW) Beneficiary Mitigation Plan (BMP). These grants were made possible after the Pritzker Administration committed to focus Illinois’ remaining VW Settlement allocation on electric transportation and infrastructure.
“Here in Illinois, we are proud to boast a nation-leading EV ecosystem—from EV manufacturing and tax credits for companies and customers alike to a rapidly-growing EV charging infrastructure,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “Today, I couldn’t be happier to announce that, through our remaining VW Settlement money, we are dispersing $12.6 million to build 348 new fast charging ports up and down the state. This doesn’t just expand access for residents and visitors—it also brings us one step closer towards our mission of achieving 100% clean energy by 2050.”
“We are excited to see EV charging infrastructure expanding throughout Illinois, providing much needed access, and complementing the State’s goals to expand EVs in Illinois,” said Director Kim. “We look forward to announcing additional opportunities to fund EV charging infrastructure through the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, which will further expand accessibility for Illinois residents and visitors.”
The Illinois EPA is funding DCFC light-duty charging stations at publicly accessible locations (shopping centers, retail stores, gas stations, hotels, etc.) in the three priority areas outlined in the VW BMP and specified in the initial NOFO. Grant awards in the priority area/counties are as follows and include 42 sites in Environmental Justice areas:
- Priority Area 1 = 34 Sites: Cook = 6, DuPage = 11, Kane = 8, Lake = 3, McHenry = 2, and Will = 3, Grundy County = 1
- Priority Area 2 = 22 Sites: Madison = 11, Monroe = 2, and St. Clair = 9
- Priority Area 3 = 31 Sites: Champaign = 7, DeKalb = 2, LaSalle = 4, McLean = 4, Peoria = 2, Sangamon = 3, and Winnebago = 9
Grant applicants were required to include a minimum of two projects in two or more of the priority areas. Applications with a minimum of three projects, one in each of the three priority areas, were prioritized for review, scoring, and funding.
As part of the VW Settlement, Illinois’ revised VW BMP focuses on reducing nitrogen oxide emissions in areas where the affected VW vehicles were registered. The revised BMP takes into consideration areas that do not meet federal air quality standards for ozone and bear a disproportionate share of the air pollution burden, including environmental justice areas.
Legislation Focused on Reducing Health Insurance Premiums of Small Business Passes
The Illinois General Assembly passed legislation focused on protecting small businesses from excessive premium increases and increasing transparency so that consumers can understand the cost drivers of health insurance. This is a big win for small businesses that want to provide affordable, quality health insurance to employees.
House Bill 2296 passed both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly and will head to the Governor’s desk. This legislation will:
- Give the Department of Insurance the authority to approve, modify or deny premium rate increases for individuals and small groups. Illinois will join forty-one states that provide for prior approval of health insurance premium increases.
- Require the Department of Insurance to post proposed rates and rate filing summaries on its website and provide a 30-day comment period.
- Require Department of Insurance to publish an annual Coverage Affordability and cost Transparency Report to examine the trends and cost drivers of health care in the state along with the availability of financial assistance to consumers and small businesses.
This legislation will apply to health insurance plans in 2026, providing ample time to implement the process for prior approval.
Legislative Win for Small Businesses Seeking State Contracts
Winning a state contract can be a game-changer for a small business. Last week, the General Assembly passed and sent to the Governor for his signature HB 2878, which adds important reforms to the bidding procedures for state contracts.
HB 2878 requires an annual report on the progress state departments and agencies have made on meeting the mandated targets for contracts awarded to small, minority, and women-owned businesses.
HB 2878 adds additional requirements to the good faith exception rule that allows state departments and agencies to sidestep contracting goals by declaring that there are no qualified small, minority, or women-owned businesses to bid on a contract. State departments and agencies are now required to report the reasons for their declaration of no qualified small business for the project.
HB 2878 establishes a pilot program within the Department of Transportation that allows select small businesses to post a letter of credit rather than a surety bond for awarded state contracts. Current law requires all companies to post a surety bond, which is expensive and oftentimes difficult for a small business to secure.
Invest in Kids program may be renewed this year, but with changes
Despite the Illinois General Assembly taking no action in extending the Invest in Kids school choice scholarship program, the governor says it still may be approved this year. The program, which grants tax credits to people who use private dollars to fund scholarships that allow students to attend private schools, is scheduled to sunset Dec. 31, if legislative action isn’t taken.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said lawmakers could approve an extension during a special session or during the fall veto session, but that the tax credit portion of the program needs to be reworked. “I think we should have tax credits that support education and other things in state government, but we also have the federal government willing to cover about 40% of the cost,” Pritzker said at an unrelated event in Champaign. “Why have we created a program in which we’re paying for 75% of it and not having the rest of the country essentially paying 40%?”
Nearly two-thirds of Illinois voters surveyed support school choice, according to a poll conducted for the Illinois Policy Institute by Echelon Insights. The poll found 62% supported school choice compared to 28% who opposed it. Critics of the program say that it damages underfunded public schools in Illinois.
Over 9,000 students in Illinois received the Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship during the last school year. Once a child receives a scholarship, the family income cannot exceed 400% of the federal poverty level.
Legislator Pay Raise Questioned
Governor J.B. Pritzker has signed the Illinois state budget that looks to spend $50 billion next fiscal year, including the pay raise state majority Democrats approved for themselves. Some question whether the pay raise is constitutional.
Pritzker has been touring the state, talking up more taxpayer funds for education, infrastructure and new programs like an early childhood education initiative and programs to address homelessness and so-called grocery deserts. At a stop in Quincy, he defended increasing pay for legislators. “It seems like an enormous bump to have one year where you’re going up 17% as happened, I think last year, but it was in part because literally pay had been frozen,” Pritzker said.
Earlier this year, during lame duck session for the 102nd General Assembly, base pay for legislators was $72,906 a year. A supplemental appropriation approved before Jan. 10 started the 103rd General Assembly base pay at $85,000. The budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 increases the base pay to nearly $90,000.
State Rep. Mike Coffey, R-Springfield, was with Pritzker last week in Springfield at a budget news conference touting increased higher education funding. He explained why he did not support the spending plan, which included Republicans being kept out of negotiations.
“When I decided to take the office, I think the salary was $68,000. After I was appointed, it went to $85,000 and then I’ve been in office three months and they moved it to $89,000,” Coffey said. “So that was one of the big sticking points for me personally.”
During early morning debate on the budget last month, House Minority Leader Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, said the raise to nearly $90,000 base pay is on top of a raise legislators approved for themselves earlier this year. “This raise is in direct violation of the Illinois Constitution. A raise can only take effect the next General Assembly,” McCombie said. “You have created a constitutional problem with this budget.”
Article IV, section 11 of the Illinois Constitution dealing with the legislature states, “A member shall receive a salary and allowances as provided by law, but changes in the salary of a member shall not take effect during the term for which he has been elected.”
Regardless, Pritzker said he will sign the budget. “There are things in the budget that I don’t love and things in the budget that I proposed and think are the right thing to do like funding our universities and community colleges,” Pritzker said. “You look at it as a totality and make a decision as governor about whether to sign it and I intend to sign this one.”
The Illinois Constitution states the governor may reduce or veto any item of appropriations sent to his desk. Any such item vetoed “shall be returned to the house in which it originated and may be restored to its original amount in the same manner as a vetoed bill except that the required record vote shall be a majority of the members elected to each house. If a reduced item is not so restored, it shall become law in the reduced amount.”
I55 Managed Toll Lane
A plan to add lanes to gridlock-prone I-55 in Chicago and the suburbs has suddenly gained traction — and criticism — after years of obscurity. In the waning days of the legislative session, state lawmakers approved a resolution that lets the Illinois Department of Transportation pursue a public-private partnership to create express toll lanes from I-355 near Bolingbrook to the Dan Ryan Expressway.
It originates from an IDOT study during Gov. Bruce Rauner’s tenure that concluded toll lanes with dynamic pricing were the best alternative to fix traffic jams on the corridor. Although common in states from Texas to Washington, toll lanes on the same corridor with free ones would be a first for Illinois.
Not only does the project give drivers options, but it would also move trucks faster, said state Rep. Marty Moylan, chairman of the House Transportation: Regulations, Roads and Bridges Committee. “When they’re stuck on the expressway for hours, they’re spewing diesel into the air. This will help keep them moving,” the Des Plaines Democrat said.
Many Republicans, including Rosemont Mayor and state Rep. Bradley Stephens, also signed on. “I am all for roadway projects that will address gridlock and traffic congestion as this project does by increasing the amount of lanes within the existing footprint,” Stephens said. The plan involves one managed lane in each direction on I-55 between I-355 and I-294, and two lanes in each direction east of I-294 to I-90/94.
Community and environmental activists warn it would drastically increase emissions from vehicles in neighborhoods near I-55, such as Little Village, which already has high air pollution and asthma levels. “The problem with adding capacity is induced demand — you end up encouraging more people to drive and congestion gets worse,” Environmental Law and Policy Center Deputy Director Kevin Brubaker said.
Sen. Mary Edly-Allen was among a handful opposing the legislation that was strongly backed by construction and labor lobbies. “It really appears to be adversely affecting minority populations that are already struggling with high levels of air pollution,” the Libertyville Democrat said.
The ultimate decision, however, is up to IDOT and Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Neither gave a definitive thumbs-up. “The governor looks forward to reviewing the proposal,” Pritzker spokesman Alex Gough said.
IDOT “is not pursuing these plans at this time and will be reviewing and evaluating next steps,” spokeswoman Maria Castaneda noted. Illinois tollway Executive Director Cassaundra Rouse had no comment.
Variables to watch include dynamic pricing that typically charges more during rush hour and whether carpoolers could hop on for free. Also in flux is the project price: In 2018, costs were estimated to be $812 million based on 2021 dollars. So far, “funding for the construction has never been identified,” Castaneda said.
Another gray area is the public-private partnership. Details are scant other than optimistic wording in the resolution stating such a partnership enables IDOT to deliver “the safest, most efficient, and most cost-effective” project. However, former tollway director and state Sen. Bill Morris cautioned “anytime you do the ‘public-private partnership,’ there’s the thing called profit that has to be figured in.” He also questioned the need for a third party when the Illinois tollway has “got the money and they have the expertise.” The hitch might be “politically no one wants to designate a part of Chicago as a tollway,” Morris said.
Lawsuits against state can be filed in only two counties under measure signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker
Governor J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday signed into law a measure that requires lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of executive orders or state laws to be filed in either Cook or Sangamon county. The Democratic-controlled state legislature passed the bill along party lines last month. Democrats who supported the legislation said it was necessary to prevent people with a grievance against the state from selecting the county in which to file a lawsuit based on where they think they can get a favorable ruling.
Supporters also said the measure will conserve resources for the attorney general’s office, which represents the state in court. Sangamon County is home to the state capital, Springfield, while Chicago in Cook County is a second base for state government.
Republicans called the measure a power grab by the Democratic majority. Senate Republican Leader John Curran of Downers Grove said in a statement on Tuesday it “is clearly an attempt by the governor and the attorney general to send constitutional challenges to courts that they believe will be more favorable to the Administration.”
“In doing so, they are discrediting judges in suburban and downstate Illinois, and creating geographic barriers to citizens accessing our court system,” Curran said.
The new measure takes effect immediately.
Bill extends cocktails to-go through 2028
In an attempt to help shuttered restaurants, bars, and venues during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, State Senator Sara Feigenholtz championed a law permitting mixed drink delivery and takeout. To many establishments this effort was vital, enabling them to keep their doors open during the extended stay-at-home order. This week, Governor Pritzker signed a five-year extension for cocktails to-go into law so that establishments can continue this wildly popular practice.
“The pandemic has changed the dining out habits of many. At the time, cocktails to-go was necessary, and many continue to enjoy the convenience for entertaining at home,” Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) said. “The hospitality industry is filled with food and drink artists who are in constant reinvention mode. Giving them room to create their craft is how Chicago has become the number one culinary destination in the world.”
The proposal allows bars and restaurants to continue the practice of delivering and allowing carryout of mixed drinks through Aug. 1, 2028. The current law, commonly referred to as ‘cocktails to-go,’ was set to expire Jan. 1, 2024.
“Times have changed,” said Feigenholtz. “In 2015, I fought to pass the Culinary and Hospitality Modernization Act to restore creativity, flexibility and growth to Illinois bars and restaurants who had been facing revenue challenges as they were prohibited from offering happy hour deals and drink specials. Extending the sunset on cocktails to-go continues this fight to support our world-class culinary institutions by allowing a safe, creative and modern approach to happy hour.”
Senate Bill 89 was signed into law last Wednesday and takes effect immediately.
Executive Vice President
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry